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It was another one of those stupid Death Eater parties. Dull, dim-witted, debauched and ineffective. Full of expensive dress-robes and arrogant posing, as though they all had to get together once a month to show off, just in case they forgot how self-evidently superior they were. As though overthrowing the Ministry was only an excuse to wear evening dress. They were playing spy-games to massage their egos. None of them knew what it was really like to be conflicted, or frightened, or hurt, or remorseful. They had such a limited emotional range. They didn’t understand the cost of what they were doing, because they all assumed – as they had ever since they were pampered toddlers – that they could afford it.

It made him sick to his stomach. But dimly. Because, in his Occlumency state, there was a time-delay and a diminishment before he perceived his emotions. He felt as though he was floating above himself, and he only caught the echoes of his feelings. It was like playing Chinese whispers with himself. He might have been feeling sick to his stomach, or he might simply have been feeling hungry.

The gathering was being held in Narcissa Black’s town-house in Diagon Alley. Severus walked through the throng like a ghost. He watched the scene with lazy disdain, through half-closed eye-lids. With every step, he could feel himself getting buried under the weight of his own disgust. It was like drifts of snow filling up a skylight, steadily blocking out the sun.

The scene slowed to a grinding pace, until Snape was watching all their familiar, disgusting, predictable movements in slow-motion.

Regulus was twirling his wand in one hand and holding an empty bottle of Firewhisky in the other. He wouldn’t realize it was empty until he’d taken two more attempted swigs. Then he would go and beg Narcissa for more money, just so that he could collapse in an alley-way on his way home and be copiously sick. Forgetfulness demanded such a high price. You had to pay for your drink before and after.   

Once every half hour, Regulus would glance at his cousins and shudder. It was regular as clockwork.

Bella was talking to Walden Macnair. He’d heard about her sadistic sexual preferences and was trying to get some tips. After all, she had experience. She knew how tight to make the hand-cuffs, and the best place to buy whips. Macnair wasn’t so happy to experiment; he didn’t have her confidence. In fact, that was the reason why he liked hurting people to begin with. If he was hurting them, he could be reasonably sure they weren’t laughing at him.

Macnair was determined to compensate for his insecurities. The big moustache, the axe he took with him everywhere, the Ministry job where he got to ‘discipline’ savage animals – it was all pantomime. Everything was there to insist upon his manliness. The insistence was so hysterical that Severus had begun to wonder whether Macnair had actually been castrated at some point.

When she was flirting, Bellatrix overdid the playful punches. Macnair was backing away from her at a rate of two inches per minute. But his back was almost against the wall. Bellatrix always stood too close to people when she spoke to them. She liked to see the fear in their eyes.

In about two minutes, Macnair was going to buckle under the pressure and bring out his axe. He would run his finger along the blade in a screamingly suggestive way, but Bella wouldn’t back away. She would call his bluff. She always called everybody’s bluff. If Macnair had been castrated as a child, Bellatrix was going to find out. There was nothing that idiot could do about it.   

Snape sighed. These people could have been made from clockwork. He could have made them all up. They could have all been figments of his imagination.

They felt about as real as dreams, with their slow-motion flirting, their achingly predictable little games.

Narcissa was leaning against the mantelpiece, talking to Alecto Carrow about her wedding plans. As she spoke, she was looking Alecto up and down with barely-concealed delight. Her eyes flicked regularly back to her pocket-mirror, comparing her own flawless, alabaster complexion with the Carrow woman’s blotchy, red one. Dumpy, dull-haired, red-skinned… Narcissa rarely got to entertain herself with such a delicious contrast.

She batted her eyelashes three times a second. They blurred over her dead, grey eyes like hummingbirds’ wings.

Severus couldn’t take it anymore. He felt weary to his bones, but hungry to his marrow. He stepped out of the open door – typical, pure-blood arrogance, leaving the door to your illegal meetings wide open – and onto the cobbles of Diagon Alley. Even the rain was falling in slow-motion, slanting in the wind.

He felt it soaking into his clothes dimly, as though his real skin was several inches under the skin that everyone else could see. Nothing reached it there – not cold, or heat, or pain, or pleasure. He could barely feel anything. He recalled the beginning of the evening with vague distaste. What had he been afraid of? These morons? They didn’t even have brains to shut the door when they were plotting revolution. They thought they were above suspicion. If he’d come right out and told them he was a spy, they would never have believed him.

Even Voldemort had tells. Hardly anyone noticed them, of course, because they were so blinded with horror at the flattened nose and the burning red eyes but, once you got used to the horror, you realized that there was a play of expressions on his face too.

They were alien expressions – not like a human being’s – they weren’t exactly smiles or frowns or grimaces. They basically consisted of various stages of baring his teeth. But there were recognizable types: the gleeful cruelty look, the I-can’t-take-any-more-of-your-incompetence look, the lazily-basking-in-everybody’s-adulation look.   

It was a wise move to watch him. You should never take your eyes off somebody that powerful – especially somebody who thought life should be just like a story-book. But it was a mistake to watch him with fear. Fear was the enemy of all clear-thinking. Of course, so was confidence. You had to strike a balance.

You should watch him with just enough fear to sharpen your reflexes, but not enough to paralyze your wits.  

Severus walked out into the streets of Diagon Alley, which were still bustling with late-night shoppers. But even they were bustling in slow-motion, swinging their bags in predictable arcs, pushing each other out of the way with predictable regularity.

They wanted to get home for curfew. It was unwise to be out on the streets at this time of night, especially this close to Knockturn Alley. They were almost flattening each other in their haste to get back to their timid wives and snotty-nosed children.

But adversity didn’t exactly unite them. They could have made each others’ lives a lot easier as they hurried home. They could have helped each other. They could have shared short-cuts or given each other a leg-up over the nearest fence.  But, instead, there was just a mad scramble to get away. They weren’t trying to out-run Voldemort; they were just trying to out-run each other. They elbowed and jostled; they trod on the hems of one another’s cloaks.

It was sickening. Each man was bullying his way through the crowd, propelled by the force of his own self-importance, glancing at his watch at regular intervals, pushing and shoving his way home at a predictable speed. Severus could dodge them easily. He threaded his way between them with half-closed eyes, listening to the dull, grinding rumble of their feet on the cobbles.

Only one of the throng was paying him any attention – a figure standing still at the end of the street, away from the press of people. She was short, dressed in school robes, and standing under a tavern sign with a look of audacity that mocked her littleness and her school uniform.   

She was holding a finger to her lips, motioning him to be silent.

And, suddenly, the scene returned to real time. The slow-motion walkers speeded up, jostling and shoving him as they passed by. The background rumble grew to deafening levels. Goose bumps shuddered down his arms, from his shoulders to his finger-tips.

The world was exciting and terrifying again. Because he had literally no idea what she was going to do.

“I need your help,” she murmured – her voice was quiet, but the sound was quite clear against the bustle. Severus had tuned into the right frequency now, and it was all her. It meant that he couldn’t predict the movement of the crowds. The people who had seemed so lucid, so tiresomely predictable, a moment before, were now just a lot of static, like a badly-tuned radio.

“You wanted to help… didn’t you?”

Severus still had enough Occlumency-calm left to realize that saying anything at this point would be a very bad idea. He couldn’t keep his voice steady. She was here – she was talking to him – and she was about ten feet away from the open door of a Death Eater orgy. There were too many sensations crowding in on him at the moment. He was frightened of looking stupid and desperate – but, so much more than that, he was frightened that, as soon as he opened his mouth, she’d take offence and run away again, maybe slapping him in the face before she left for good measure.  

He thought of asking to see her left forearm, just to make sure that she wasn’t the Boggart – but found, when he looked at her face, that he was prepared to risk it.

If she went away – if he lost this chance just because of some silly scruple about not getting murdered – he would never forgive himself – always assuming he lived long enough to get the chance.

She led him through a door and down some steps, into a cellar bar. He could tell right away that this was not an upmarket drinking establishment. It had none of the pure-blood trappings of luxury or self-importance. The Hanged Man – before it burnt down – had housed ancient mahogany tables and stuffed werewolf-heads, but this place clearly wasn’t so proud of its history – or didn’t have a history to be proud of. It looked less like a hunting lodge and more like a muggle café. The furniture was mismatched; some of it looked old, but most of it was simply functional. The floor was linoleum, and there were little booths lining the walls – tables walled-in with high-backed leather chairs, like in an American diner. The table-top was covered with those sticky ring-marks caused by overflowing coffee mugs.  

Severus tried to pay attention to his surroundings, so that he wouldn’t have to look at her. Her wet hair was plastered to her forehead, and it was reminding him unpleasantly of the last time he’d seen her, slumped forward at Madam Pomfrey’s desk, shivering in her sleep and blue with the cold.

He wanted to shout and sneer, but he was so afraid that she would go away. The ability to think before you spoke was such a curse.  

Her eyes were blazing and hard, and that was the worst part, because he knew that look: it always preceded some extravagant self-sacrifice on her part. It was the look of a zealous martyr.

“I’ve got a better idea than you think I have about where you go at night,” she murmured, and Severus locked his jaw, sensing another tirade of accusations.

“And about those lessons you have with Dumbledore,” she added in a low, fierce voice. “I think maybe you didn’t want to scare me – or you didn’t want to show off – or you just hated talking about it – but it doesn’t matter: you don’t have to say anything now. In fact, it would probably help me a lot if you didn’t.”

Snape was more than happy to oblige.

“And I know you’re still doing it,” she went on, “– even after you told me how horrible it was – and how it wasn’t worth it - ,”

“I didn’t say - ,” Severus protested, but she held up a hand again, her eyes blazing harder than ever.

“And I think you were the one who left me that book. Am I right?”

“Am I allowed to talk now?” he asked coldly.

He watched with spiteful pleasure as her cheeks coloured. Actually, it wasn’t entirely spiteful. He loved it when she was flushed with anger, and when her eyes flashed with impatience. But he still felt as though talking to her was like wading through piranha-infested waters. There was practically nowhere he could step that wouldn’t cause him pain.

“I didn’t ask you to do this, Severus,” she muttered angrily. “In fact, I asked you not to.”

“Well, you can’t stop me,” he snapped.

“What is it?” she sighed, exasperation softening into helplessness. “Is it just because you want to prove that I can’t do it on my own?”

Severus glared at her furiously. “Well, you’ve got me, haven’t you?” he said, every syllable echoing with grim sarcasm. “That’s exactly why I’m doing it. I have nothing better to do than spend all my free time in the library, trying to make you look bad.”

“If you’re trying to help Madam Pomfrey, why don’t you just say so?” she hissed, leaning forward over the table. “If you feel bad about what you did - ,”

Feel bad?” Severus echoed incredulously. “You’d be in a coma if I hadn’t done it!”

“I’d rather be in a coma!”

“Oh, don’t think I don’t know about that!” he growled, leaning over the table-top too, until his face was inches from hers. “Trying to freeze yourself to death at night, sleeping on desks, refusing to eat – I know all about your stupid death-wish! How is that helping Madam Pomfrey?”

Lily fell silent. She stared down at the table top, as though she’d lost momentum.   

Severus lowered his voice, but he didn’t soften it. He’d tapped into the reserves of his anger now, and they were keeping him talking, even though every instinct for self-preservation was screaming at him to shut up. His anger usually made him completely inarticulate but, just for tonight, it wanted to talk. He felt as though he was just an instrument for the fury to get out – as though he wasn’t really a person; just some kind of elaborate speaking-tube, so that all this festering resentment could be spoken.  

“Can you even begin to imagine what it was like finding you there, half-dead from hypothermia?” he whispered fiercely. “You don’t let me see you and then you stop looking after yourself? If you wanted to hurt me, you didn’t have to tie me up first. I didn’t think Gryffindors did that. I thought it was dishonourable, or some such bollocks.”

“No, I can’t begin to imagine what it was like!” Lily replied angrily. “I didn’t know it would hurt you, because I didn’t know I could hurt you! You never even told me that you liked me!”

“I assumed you could read between the lines,” Severus growled. “You’ll read between the lines for everyone else. With your stupid Gryffindor friends, you're prepared to ignore the lines altogether!"

“I’m not a mind-reader, Severus!” she snapped, tears beginning to well up behind her eyes. “You have to say these things.”

How in God’s name could you not know?” he demanded.  

There was a silence. Severus was dimly aware that he’d made himself vulnerable, so he decided to start the fight again.   

“Oh, and you know what might cut more ice with you?” he added with brittle brightness. “You made Meg Valance cry. I heard her talking to Professor McGonagall about the way you’d been hiding away and torturing yourself, and she was in tears.”

Lily gave a muffled sob and Snape clenched his fists. He wanted to shake her by the shoulders until she was sorry. He channeled the anger into dripping sarcasm instead. “Oh, now you’re starting to regret it, are you? Can’t hurt your precious Gryffindors, can we? Suddenly, killing yourself isn’t such a bright idea.”

“I didn’t say it was a bright idea!” she snapped.

Snape was suddenly startled by the tears welling up in her eyes; they must have been blinding her but she wouldn’t shed them. He felt as though he’d come to the edge of a cliff. He’d been hurtling along with such momentum, and now he saw how fragile his footing was. If he took one more step, there would be nothing but darkness and rushing air. He didn’t want her to cry.

“I’m sorry if I don’t hate you as much as you hate yourself,” he mumbled angrily. “I can’t help it. I’m glad you’re not in a coma, but I’m not glad Madam Pomfrey’s in a coma. Can you understand that?”

“Yes,” she said shortly, still looking down at the table-top.

Severus could hear the tears in her voice, and the urge to comfort her was so strong he had to grab on to the table-top until his knuckles were white. He couldn’t believe how quickly his emotions were swinging around. A few minutes ago, he had wanted nothing more than to make her cry, and now he would give anything to make it stop. He wanted to stick pins in himself for starting it.

But she didn’t need him to comfort her, did she? She was Lily. She had the tears under control in a few seconds. She blinked them back and looked up, her eyes red, but her voice fiercely businesslike.

“So, you’re saying you’re sorry?” she prompted, in a voice of pure, red-eyed calm.

Snape stared at her. Did she know what she was doing? Could she tell that her tears would lower his defences? For a moment, he even entertained the idea that she really was the Boggart, and she had been playing games with him the whole time.  

“If you’re sorry about trying to kill yourself…” he muttered sullenly.

“Well, maybe I am.”

“Then maybe I am.”  

There was another silence. Snape felt very annoyed with himself. He was sorry; and he wanted her to know it, but he didn’t want her to know it like this. But, dimly, beneath the anger, he recognized that she was making this much easier than he deserved. She hadn’t made him say it. That was something.

“Well, I’m glad we got that straight,” she muttered thickly. She took a deep breath and continued:  “So you want to help. Well, it just so happens that I could use your help. If you’re going to go on putting yourself in danger anyway, you could find out about that Curse Cloud while you’re doing it.”

“I’ve tried,” he said in a leaden voice. “He created the Curse-Cloud on his own. Nobody helped him. And he keeps saying he’s not going to talk about it until all the curses have run their course.”  

“I know,” said Lily. “It’s some kind of a test. He hates Healers, did you know that? He thinks they’re iconoclasts – unpicking his spells, ruining all his hard work. I think he’s mad because he never got the Light Mark.”

Snape frowned. “That thing that lets you open a window into another world? Why would he want to do that? It’s defensive magic. It’s hiding. He hates hiding.”

Lily shook her head. “I don’t know. I just know that he wanted a Healer to fall under this curse.” She ducked down and rummaged in her bag, covertly wiping her eyes on her sleeve as she did so. Snape pretended not to notice.

She pulled out a small, ornate, wooden box – the kind of thing Narcissa would have used to store earrings or surplus arsenic. The Slytherin coat of arms had been carved onto the lid, along with his motto: ‘An ending is never a happy one’.

“Have you ever seen anything like this before?” she asked eagerly.

Severus stared at her. “It’s the Slytherin coat of arms. It’s on everything. It’s carved above the fireplace in the common-room. Where did you get this? What’s in it?”

“Nothing anymore,” she said significantly, swinging the lid back on its hinges to show him the velvet-lined interior of the box. Green velvet, of course – for Slytherin. Severus wondered how it had come to be his favourite colour. He wondered if Salazar Slytherin had known a green-eyed girl when he was young.

“It’s actually a remarkable piece of magical engineering,” said Lily. “The hinges were bewitched to respond to a certain type of magic.”

“What kind of magic?” he asked impatiently.

“Healing magic. In the presence of counter-curses, the lid was programmed to swing open. It was found by the St Mungo’s Healers in Trafalgar Square. I even remember seeing it when I was helping Madam Pomfrey cure that guy with the tusks. It was already open then, of course. They knew it couldn’t easily belong to any of the victims, because they were all muggles. Why would a muggle own something with Slytherin’s coat of arms on it? So they started to think maybe it had been dropped by one of the Death Eaters. Then, when they realized it had been programmed to open in the presence of healing magic, they started to wonder if maybe it had been planted by one of the Death Eaters.”

“And what was in it?”

“What do you think?” she asked darkly.   

Severus frowned. He didn’t like her to spell things out for him, but there was such a thing as being too subtle – hard as that was for a Slytherin to admit.

But then it started to make a dubious kind of sense. “You think it contained the curse that Madam Pomfrey’s suffering from?” he asked slowly. “Like some kind of Pandora’s Box? You think the box opened when you were curing the muggles, and the curse fluttered out and infected you?”

He thought about it, while she nodded grimly. You could seal a curse – even a potent, virulent, infectious curse – in an object like that, for hundreds of years. The Ancient Egyptian wizards had done it all the time. It would be perfectly safe to handle the box until it was opened, as long as a fairly competent wizard had performed the sealing charm. And Voldemort was probably the most competent wizard there had ever been.

“But this is so obvious,” he protested. “Leaving a box with Slytherin’s crest on it amongst a load of muggles? He must have known it was going to be found. It’s as bad as writing your name on the bloody thing.”

But then, since when had Voldemort ever tried to commit his crimes anonymously? He wanted everyone to know it was him. He probably even wanted them to admire his handiwork. Even Lily had admitted that it was remarkable magic.

He was an ostentatious wizard. Tattooing his followers, conjuring a mile-high skull image above the houses of his victims… It wasn’t exactly subtle. If there was one thing the Dark Lord craved, it was attention.

Lily shrugged. “Dumbledore says he likes stories – that he wants to be a myth. Pandora’s box is all about someone sticking their nose in where it’s not wanted, and that’s exactly what he thinks Healers do.”  

Severus frowned. “But, then, what does he want? He’s left you clues as though he wants you to solve it. That sounds like a trap to me.”

Lily shrugged. “It doesn’t matter if it is. We have to save Madam Pomfrey.”

Severus passed a weary hand across his forehead. “That’s exactly the kind of stupidity he’s counting on, Lily.”

“No, because, now we know what he’s up to, we can be careful.”

“How?” he demanded.

She struggled for a moment, and then gave up. She gave him a hard look. “You leave that to me, OK? You said you wanted to help – so just find out about the box. Find out where it comes from – that might give us a clue about what kind of curse was in it.”

Severus took the box gingerly, and experimented with the hinges. It was quite brilliant, to get them to respond to a certain type of spell. If you had done your homework, you could even get them to respond to a certain Healer. Each of them had their own signature charms that they favoured.

Had Voldemort been after Lily? Was he annoyed that the curse had settled in Madam Pomfrey instead?

Lily swung her bag back onto her shoulder, and gave him a look that was half-fuming and half-proud. As complicated as it was, he knew that look well. He always seemed to inspire it.

“And thanks,” she said, blushing slightly. “For the book, I mean.”

Snape raised his eyebrows. “Was it helpful?”

She made a face. “It’s possible I could summon the curse into one of her limbs and then amputate it. That’s Plan B. I’m hoping it won’t come to that.”

“When is the Specialist coming from St Mungo’s?”

“He keeps sending me excuses. I guess they’re busy with all these muggle attacks.” She paused, running her finger over the sticky ring-marks on the table. “What happened with Greyback?”

“I found him there,” said Snape shortly.

“Who attacked him?”

“I don’t really know,” he replied.

She picked up on the ‘really’. Suddenly, the half-fuming, half-proud look was simply fuming.

“Be careful, Severus,” she said – and it could have been an expression of tenderness or a threat – he had absolutely no idea.

She left before he got a chance to say anything else, and Severus felt that, on the whole, that meeting could have gone worse. She didn’t want him back, that much was obvious. But she needed him again. And that was an intoxicating feeling.

He waited in the bar until he could get his feelings under control. It was a while before he felt the calm of his Occlumency state running down his limbs again. Lily tended to shatter it beyond retrieval. Then he went back to the party, and was told by a smug-looking Narcissa that the Dark Lord wanted to speak with him.  

Voldemort was in the back garden of Narcissa’s town-house, gazing inscrutably at Moribund Prince in his glass coffin.

“Ah, Severus,” he murmured. “I wondered if you had seen your ancestor before?”

Snape looked down at the coffin. There was lichen over everything, so he couldn’t see Moribund Prince’s face. Apparently, the House Elf cleaned away the weeds and moss every day, but they always grew back again by evening. Snape was quite proud of his ancestor’s unfailing instinct for concealment. He felt as though it must have run in the family.

“Yes, my Lord,” he answered. “Narcissa showed him to me last summer.”

“He was a remarkable wizard.”

Severus didn’t say anything. Voldemort was like Dumbledore – he didn’t often require a response. Much as he enjoyed all the protestations of loyalty and devotion, Snape got the feeling that he was always tired of them by the end of the evening. When that happened, he would call for Snape – who never said much – who was steady and clever and considered – and just the tiniest bit tainted with muggle blood.

Voldemort seemed to see echoes of himself in Severus – a useless muggle father, a thirst for power, and a tendency to hide in dark corners. And he loved repetition because he loved stories. Severus was only just beginning to realize why.

Stories made one or two people special, distinctive, when, in reality, they would just blend in with the crowd. In reality, there would always be someone smarter, or stronger, or better looking. And, even if you managed to get to the top in any of those fields, there would always be someone else to challenge you. Even where supremacy was achievable, it could only last for a couple of years, at best – because people were continually growing and learning and withering and competing. The balance of power was always shifting.

But stories made it seem as though that didn't have to be the case. Stories maintained the fiction that their heroes and heroines were special when, in reality, they were no different from everyone else.

The problem with stories was that they were highly infectious. People heard stories about an unbeatable wizard – a wizard who was always victorious. He had other trappings of a good story-book hero too. He was the last descendant of a famous wizard. He was an orphan. He travelled the world and transformed.    

And he was more powerful than everyone else – because that just sounds good.

Nobody could be victorious all the time. Nobody had unrivalled power. That was impossible. There were too many people in the world – too many whirring brains, too many striving hearts, too much blossoming magic.

But, in stories, you could have an unbeatable wizard, or an unbeatable wand. In stories, you could reduce all the millions of variables that there were in the real world.

And people were attracted to the stories about Voldemort. He made you feel as though you wanted to be a part of his story, rather than your own. So you swapped a starring role for a cameo appearance. Because his story is a very, very good one. It’s easier to conceive of the world in terms of last descendants and unbeatable wizards.

And, once you’re part of his story, you think you can’t beat him. And, if you think you can’t beat him, you’re dead already.

“There are a great many legends concerning your ancestor,” Voldemort murmured, running his long, white fingers over the glass. “He seems to attract them. Most of them concern his awakening, of course. The usual superstitious drivel. He will awake when the Black family is in dire peril, or when the muggle filth is finally driven out of our world.” Voldemort paused delicately. “Of course, the last witch in Britain to carry his name ended up marrying a muggle. I don’t quite know how the storytellers manage to reconcile these two facts.”

Snape said nothing. He had a vague idea that he ought to be expressing disgust about his muggle roots, but he was also certain that Voldemort wanted to talk – that he had something very important to communicate and would only be irked by fervent protestations of loyalty.

“Those legends do not concern me,” Voldemort went on, in that same soothing, sibilant hiss. “Wizards have always sought deliverance from the muggle plague in the wrong places. It is the legends concerning his magical coma which fascinate me. Incurred in an Egyptian tomb, was it not? Some people say that he is not really asleep. He has merely left his body, and is journeying through the spirit world. When he finds what he is seeking there, they say he will awaken to eternal life. You need to die a little in order to live forever, they say.”  

Again, Snape said nothing. Voldemort was watching him intently. He seemed to have given up waiting for a verbal response and was riffling through the pages of his head instead.

Memories were being dredged up in front of his eyes – almost too quickly for him to identify them. He caught a flash of his mother’s face, and Madam Pomfrey’s. Then the images turned and darted out of sight like startled fish.

But there was nothing he could discover there. Lily was locked away. Hidden under all his resentment for James Potter. As far as Voldemort was concerned, Severus only wanted Lily because Potter wanted her too. It was a good explanation. It fit in with everything Voldemort knew about him so far – his obsessive resentment, his tireless ambition, his teenage lust.  

Severus had no idea, of course, but he suspected that Dumbledore would be quite proud of this lie. The best lies were the ones that used elements of truth; just stuck them together in new and interesting ways.

“And do you believe the story, my lord?” he asked calmly.

Voldemort was clearly pleased to have been asked. “It certainly merits investigation, Severus.”

“But why would the ancient Egyptian wizards put a curse on their tomb that was the key to eternal life? How would that punish the intruder?”

Voldemort smirked. “The Ancient Egyptian wizards always rewarded daring, Severus. All right-minded people should.”

Severus didn’t think that was really an answer, but it was obvious that he wasn’t going to get a better one, because Voldemort turned away and began walking towards the lighted door of the house.

“Find me the person who is attacking my Death Eaters,” he said, turning in the doorway. “I do not give you sole responsibility for this, of course, but I have learned from experience that, if anything is going on, it is invariably going on at Hogwarts. You seem to be best placed for investigating.”

“But Greyback wasn’t a Hogwarts student, my Lord. And neither of the attacks took place at the school.”  

Voldemort held his gaze for an uncomfortably long time. “Trust my intuition on this matter, Severus.”

“Of course, my Lord,” Severus insisted, suddenly afraid that he had gone too far. He thought of saying: “I would trust your intuition to the death” but somehow he sensed that his complete lack of melodrama was the only thing Voldemort really liked about him.  

“Hogwarts attracts violence the way Moribund Prince attracts legends,” Voldemort declared. “It is all those teenage insecurities. They are not to be underestimated.”

“No, my Lord,” said Snape.

“Oh, and Severus? Are you bored of your mudblood yet?”

Snape kept very still. He got the impression that the slightest reaction would seal his death warrant. He had to stay in character, that was all. Pleading for Lily’s life would only kill her faster.  

“Not yet, my Lord,” he said, as calmly as he could.

Voldemort laughed. It was a horrible sound – cold, high-pitched and blood-curdling – but not unfriendly. He shook his head in mock exasperation. “Your taste, Severus…”

“Yes, my Lord,” said Snape, almost ready to collapse with relief.

“I am bored of her, you see,” Voldemort explained. “Tell her to keep away from Diagon Alley. If I see her here again, I will feed her to Nagini.” He paused, as though he was making up his mind about something, and then added. “I may also kill her if you fail to bring me the man who has been attacking my Death Eaters. I haven’t decided yet.”

Snape maintained eye contact. Parts of him were begging to collapse, but he had to stay in character. There was a way out of this mess – it was narrow and treacherous, and the ceiling had probably fallen in – but there was a way out, and it lay behind the character.

“I will not fail you, my Lord,” he said.
Continuing from Rosemary [link]
Another instalment - because, I can go for weeks without finishing a chapter, and then two seem to come along at once!
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:iconpolkadotpeony:
polkadotpeony Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2011
Can I just take a moment to compliment your incredible storytelling abilities? Cause they are amazing. You have created such an interesting multi-layerd story and it really echoes something JK Rowling would write, only better. :) I also LOVE your Voldemort and Death Eaters. You manage to explain their utter incompetence while also making them appear as a justifiable threat. I was never afraid of Voldemort in the actually HP series because first of all JK Rowling hardly showcased him or wrote about him other than his backstory, and second I felt like she never knew what to do with him. Like in my story I find myself not knowing what to do with him and I find it's because JK never gave me a good grasp on who he was in everyday scenes. But you write him so perfectly in these scenes and make they so believable. I am able to see his weaknesses and yet also see his strengths and therefore he becomes terrifying.

I was worried that Lily would somehow find out that Snape was working with the Death Eaters and take it the wrong way (that seems to be his luck) but I really LOVED this chapter and how she figures it out and even employs him to do something for her. Their relationship just moved to a whole new level of awesomeness. Imagining them meeting in secret at a seedy bar just makes me happy. And as always their conversations frustrate me. How they always dance around their feelings for each other. Like they are so afraid of the power of their emotions for one another they always skirt around them. Never embracing them and outright telling one another how they really feel. And the whole time in my head I'm screaming "just shut up and make out already!" lol
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2011
Imagining them meeting in secret at a seedy bar just makes me happy.

Yay!! You must have been reading my mind, because I'm currently writing a chapter just like that! Will have to re-read this chapter and see how I handled it the first time (it's brilliant hearing your reactions to these earlier chapters, because it reminds me of parts of the story I'd completely forgotten about!)

I totally agree with you about Voldemort too. He's a bit devoid of personality - it was as though, despite all the back-story about his difficult childhood, JK Rowling wanted him to be just a personification of evil and power rather than a person. I think that's how Severus sees him in this story - he's not amazingly clever or devious or original, he's just the most powerful wizard there is. (And Sev is annoyed on principle that raw power should be more successful than brains but, frustratingly, that seems to be the way magic is! ;))

P.S. You really made me laugh with the "just shut up and make out already!" :rofl: I totally agree! There may or may not be future chapters dedicated to them shutting up making out... ;) :shh:
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:iconasmg:
asmg Featured By Owner Aug 1, 2011
oh my glad to start reading again :excited:

Snape sighed. These people could have been made from clockwork. He could have made them all up. They could have all been figments of his imagination.
They felt about as real as dreams, with their slow-motion flirting, their achingly predictable little games.


haah, poor Snape, at those meaningless death eater parties. Good thing he's got awesome Occlumency skillz! :XD:

I found it quite sweet when he saw Lily and everything went seemed to go back to reality for him :aww: and I jumped with joy on the inside when they finally started talking again! lol Gotta keep reading, even if it's getting late w00t w00t =D
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Aug 2, 2011
:w00t: I'm glad you're reading again too! :hug:

I have such a clear picture of that moment where Severus seems to be walking through the world in slow-motion, and then everything returns to normal speed when he catches sight of Lily! I love the idea that she is the only thing in the world he doesn't find sickeningly predictable, and that all that sexy unpredictability jars him out of his Occlumency state.

And I was sooooooo happy to have them talking to each other again at this point! I really don't know what to do in this story when Sev and Lily aren't together! Whenever they're apart, I keep having to write little flash-backs to times when they were together, because I just miss their conversations so much! :giggle:
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:iconwearesevenstudios:
WeAreSevenStudios Featured By Owner May 23, 2010  Professional Artisan Crafter
Severus couldn’t take it anymore. He felt weary to his bones, but hungry to his marrow.
I know it's completely overstated by now, but poor Severus. :(

“Oh, and Severus? Are you bored of your mudblood yet?”

...

“Not yet, my Lord,” he said, as calmly as he could.

That chilled me to read. Severus' skills at Occlemecny and espionage are fantastic, especially when considering his age. They must have been, though, since Dumbledore was so quick in the canon to take him on as a spy (this is my reason for thinking Snape was already a good Occlemens when he became a double agent, rather than believing that Dumbledore taught him everything). Back to this chapter, though, I love the conversation between Voldemort and Severus. So well done :wow:
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner May 24, 2010
Oh yes, Sev is an incredible Occlumens! That's one of the things I most love about his character - he has such deep, strong feelings, but he can still manage to keep them hidden. It wouldn't be a challenge for somebody who loved and hated less obsessively than he does - but, being who he is, his skill for Occlumency is a stupendous achievement. :faint: I'd like to write about another talented Occlumens with a really inspid character, just to highlight how amazing Severus really is! :)
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:iconwearesevenstudios:
WeAreSevenStudios Featured By Owner May 25, 2010  Professional Artisan Crafter
Your Narcissa is a nice Occlemency foil to Snape. Even though she, like him, lies with the truth, I can't help feeling that she still does not have too much depth of emotion (at least, not yet. She did expand her emotional horizons with Lucius, and I'm sure she will with Draco too). And what she does possess is, more often than not, frivolous - certainly in comparison to Snape.
That's not to say I would object to another original character, especially another Occlumens. :D
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:icondronarron:
dronarron Featured By Owner Aug 16, 2009
Bellatrix always stood too close to people when she spoke to them. She liked to see the fear in their eyes.

Hah! No kidding. Bellatrix all over.

My heart is aching for what's going on between Severus and Lily here, the way they both yearn towards each other, yet cannot allow it.

And eee, what a pickle Severus is in now!
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Aug 17, 2009
:dance: Thank you, I loved writing a chapter where they were together, for once, even though they weren't exactly being nice! They're both too stubborn for their own good sometimes. I wish they could just fall into each other's arms and get it over with! ;)
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:iconvictory-gin:
Victory-Gin Featured By Owner Jul 22, 2009  Hobbyist Photographer
YAY! Another two chapter update. Ahh, it's so wonderful to see Severus and Lily interacting again. And so tastefully, too! They didn't just make up and fall into each others' arms. Of course, there's that little hitch with the dark lord getting bored and that's never a good thing... yeah...

Please update soon!
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2009
Thank you! :hug: It was great to write them together again! :) I really wanted them to fall into each other's arms, you know, but thought they would both be much too stubborn. Sigh. Maybe they can get drunk and fall into each other's arms. I think that's probably the only way it's going to happen!
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:iconmelorik:
Melorik Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2009
Two chapters again! :D

That was the first happy thought that went through my head the first time I saw your update. Be careful, you're going to end up spoiling all of us insatiable readers.

I was right! It was the Boggart doing the hit list thing. Awesome. And she's teaming up with Bruiser... heh heh heh... I guess you could say they might be an 'invincible' team no :p.

Couple of things I'm wondering though.

You had Lily waiting for Severus in Diagon Alley, as if she knew he would be there that night... but how did she know? Did she follow him to the Black house? did she use the wrist watch contraption she got from Caladrius?

Same sort of thing with Voldemort. He seems to allude to the fact that he knows that the two met in Diagon Alley earlier.. but if he knew that, how come he doesn't know the contents of their conversation (and more importantly, why is Sev still alive if he did?).. or did he maybe just have a spy watch the two from a distance.

Also.. when Voldemort told Sev to keep Lily out of Diagon Alley, did you mean to have him say Knockturn? Not to second guess but Diagon Alley is pretty much the place for magical supplies so it wouldn't really be possible for Sev to keep Lily out of there. Then again.. this is Voldemort so I'm sure he could make unreasonable requests with impunity :P.

Overall, I like how you're advancing the plot. The only thing to watch out for is making sure that the characters don't suddenly start to know things that they shouldn't be knowing. You have Lily sort of hint that she knows what Sev is doing now at those DE meetings (and the lessons with DD). But... how did she find out? Did the Boggart tell her? It's nothing plot breaking, and if you're not revealing these things for a reason then that's cool too. Or maybe I'm thinking about these things a bit too much ... ;)

Either way.. great job as usual.

Cheers,

Sam
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Jul 19, 2009
Thank you! :hug: I appreciate your comments. And I do recognize that it's a real danger to have the characters knowing things they shouldn't - but, in the case of this chapter, I really wanted Lily's presence there to be a surprise. I wanted her to have that unsettling effect on Severus, because I wanted to convey that she's the only person in the world he could never have made up. She sort of shocks him out of himself, because he finds her impossible to predict. And I don't think that would have happened if I'd explained how she knew he was going to be there. I guess I could have had her reveal how she knew during their conversation, there just didn't seem to be an occasion for it (they were busy with other things, such as shouting at each other! ;))

Lily heard he was going to a party at Narcissa's, and she guessed the real nature of the gathering (security at these things isn't very tight, because they're all so arrogant and think they're above the law). Voldemort did see Lily in Diagon Alley, but not with Severus. He knows about their relationship anyway, as I mentioned in The Rise, so I suppose he guessed that she was here because of Severus. He doesn't want her anywhere near his Death Eaters because he thinks she's scum. And, yes, he does mean Diagon Alley, not Knockturn Alley - he wants the request to be difficult to fulfil.

I hope that explains everything. You're right, I should have made it clearer. It might have come up in a future chapter, but I don't always know what I'm going to write before I write it, so I can't say for sure! Anyway, now you know. And thanks again, I really do appreciate the advice. :)
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:iconmelorik:
Melorik Featured By Owner Jul 19, 2009
Thanks for clearing that up :)

It wasn't a huge deal anyway, but it's definately helpful to plan for these things ;). The only thing that remains is the revelation of how exactly Lily figured out the nature of what it is that Sev does (and the lessons with DD). That part I think however, can be best left up to a future chapter ;). Surprises are good.

I enjoyed their little argument in the bar... especially the parts where he makes her mad on purpose because she's hot when she's angry :p.

I was just thinking about the Boggart + Bruiser combo and I had an interesting thought. If there's magic that can enhance an individual's strength, and Bogart-Lily cast it on Bruiser..... hmmmmm :D. Suddenly werewolves don't seem quite that intimidating anymore ;)

Keep up the great work,

Cheers,

Sam
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:iconflameofthewest7:
FlameoftheWest7 Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2009
But, in stories, you could have an unbeatable wizard, or an unbeatable wand. In stories, you could reduce all the millions of variables that there were in the real world.

Excellent! Great thoughts, and well-put.

I also really enjoyed the descriptions of Bella--I have always thought she would stand too close and talk too loudly, invading "personal space bubbles" in general. Also, I got a kick out of the Narcissa/Alecto interaction: Narcissa rarely got to entertain herself with such a delicious contrast.
That is definitely the kind of thing she would do!
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Jul 19, 2009
Thank you! :hug: I'm so happy you liked it! Yes, I imagine Bella as being someone who would just be all over your personal space! I love writing about the Black sisters, they are so much fun! :)
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