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Narcissa knew how to act impressed with men. She could command the pallor, and the wide, doe-like eyes. She had a stock of choice phrases like: “I can’t believe how big it is,” or, “I’ve never seen a man who could do that before’.

And right now, she was out-doing herself. It was because she was impressed, really. And she let that feeling float to the surface, where it would be visible; where it would disarm suspicion. The spectacle of Voldemort out-stripped everything she had been told about him. His flat-nosed, chalk-white face, the red eyes, the hissing, high-pitched voice that thrilled along every nerve in her body.

She let him see the terror and the awe. She let it overwhelm her ambition, and even her hatred of Malfoy, which had been festering at the pit of her stomach for some time now. She lowered her eyes in that coy way she had, and knelt in the ice before him, until she could feel her knees going numb.   

Her breath was steaming down here. The cliff on which the wizard-prison perched had been hollowed out, to make an enormous cavern, filled with blue-white ice. But the creatures of the Foe Fire were melting it. Narcissa felt as though she was in the middle of a massive, primeval thaw. The air was thick with steam and flickering shadows. There were little streams of melted water pooling around her knees.

And Idris Mulligan was being so obligingly stupid. She was fighting first, and asking questions later. She had seen Voldemort approaching her island with the Foe Fire, and had immediately set her Dementor and goblin allies on him. There were Dementors on fire. The creatures of the Foe Fire had been wary of them at first – had pawed them experimentally – because they seemed to be mere concentrated shadows – but it seemed they could burn, just like any other substance, and they were doing it with a vengeance now; they were crackling away like kindling.  

The goblins were staying away from the Foe Fire. They had decided to fight the Death Eaters instead. The air was thick with arrows, feathered and sharp, like a flock of demonic birds.

And, amidst all this chaos, Narcissa knelt in front of the Dark Lord, and tried to be frightened, above all else. Her grandmother had told her that fear made Legilimency difficult. It scrambled your thoughts and your emotional responses. Only moronic Gryffindors scorned fear. Slytherins had learned to befriend it. Just like everything else, it had its uses.    

“Let’s go over this again, Narcissa,” said Voldemort lazily, flicking his wand, so that her spine was forcibly bent forward, and she was pushed into a crouching bow. “You say Snape and Rosier are here?”

“Yes, my lord,” she gasped. “But they only came because of the Mulligan woman. I told you, my lord, that she has been plotting against you – and that Severus Snape has known of it for weeks. I believe, in his foolishness, he thought he could take care of it himself, without having to burden you with the knowledge of it. That is why he ran away tonight, with Rosier and Caladrius. But I am not so confident of his abilities, my Lord. And you are too valuable to us…” she trailed off, allowing her fear to make her tongue-tied. “You are hope to the pure-bloods who dream of regaining their ancient rights, who resent hiding their talents from non-magical beings no better than cattle. Severus is too confident, my Lord – it has always been his weakness, but I could not risk losing you through his complacency. We need you.”

“Enough,” said Voldemort, who was looking into her eyes inscrutably. “You will make more sense, Narcissa, or you will be silent.”

“Yes, my Lord,” she gasped, trying to get her breath back. “I apologize, my Lord. Idris Mulligan is the Ministry’s Liaison Officer to Azkaban, and she - ,”

“The one who is immune to the Dementors?” Voldemort interrupted.

“Yes, my Lord,” Narcissa replied, allowing him to see the flush of surprised admiration that spread across her face. “Of course you would know of her. She commands the Dementors of Azkaban with this immunity. And she is plotting a rebellion against the Ministry – and, more specifically, against you, who she believes to be on the verge of taking over. She wants the Dementors to harvest the souls of muggles and wizards alike, in order to make the world peaceful.”

Voldemort had clearly heard of this woman, and her mad ambitions, because he finally looked away from Narcissa. Knees trembling, she looked down at the icy ground again. Her head was throbbing, and there was a strange, metallic taste in her mouth.

It was only when she took out her handkerchief to wipe her nose that she realized it was bleeding.

Legilimency was not always gentle. It could be done without the victim being aware of the intrusion, but of course Voldemort wouldn’t bother with that. He hadn’t been gentle, and Narcissa had a delicate constitution in any case. Images were swimming around her head – things that she hadn’t thought about in years: the lessons her mother had given her as a child, about putting on make-up. The solid gold set of Gobstones that she’d been given for her eleventh birthday, that sprayed you with perfume if you made a mistake. Images of herself, throughout her life, looking in the mirror, seeing a slightly different woman every time – watching with pride and anxiety as her features developed – using her wand to smooth down wrinkles or suppress blushes, until she was the perfect specimen of lifeless, alabaster beauty.

“You are a vain and frivolous girl,” said Voldemort, “but you care about the purity of magical blood. And that is a beginning.”

Narcissa, too mortified to speak, simply nodded.  

“And, if you are willing to over-rule your constant self-interest in order to advise Lord Voldemort, then it would seem that you are a faithful follower. Whether or not you are a useful follower remains to be seen.”

Again, Narcissa said nothing. She simply bowed her head and wondered how much blood she was losing.

Her grandmother had told her that Legilimency was clumsy magic. The mind was too tangled, too complicated, to be read outright. There were too many symbols, codes, short-cuts, dead-ends, delusions and doubts for anything resembling a fact to be extracted from it. Legilimency simply conjectured facts from impressions. Voldemort could see the kind of thoughts she indulged in, the kind of memories she cherished, and, fortunately, they would all lead him to suppose that she was too vain and selfish to cross him.

She was lying with the truth; that was the beauty of it.

It was a grim assessment, but Narcissa could work with it. That was the advantage of being a Slytherin: you always knew who you were, and what you could do: you weren’t hampered by any delusions of honour or compassion. Your priorities were startlingly, bewitchingly clear. Life was an obstacle course – there were walls to climb and pits of filth to swim through – but it didn’t matter how dirty and bruised you got, as long as you reached the finishing line.

People thought Narcissa’s vanity was all there was. Because it was so startling, because it occupied all her time, they thought her beauty was her only priority. They thought it was an end in itself. And, for a while, she had thought so too. But Malfoy's betrayal had taught her that it was only a tool – her favourite tool, certainly – a beloved weapon – possibly even an enchanted or invincible weapon, like Excalibur or the mythical Elder Wand – the kind that you would spend hours polishing and preening – but she didn’t care what filthy uses it was put to. It was, when you got right down to it, just a functional thing. It wasn’t sacred. She could dangle it in front of men’s eyes, or even under their hands, in order to get what she wanted.

She was more than just a pretty face.   


Regulus was feeling flushed dizzy. Being a Death Eater was not what he’d expected. He had pictured it as a defence; stemming the tide of muggle-born interlopers that were invading his beloved magical world – but here they were tracking down Idris Mulligan, the last surviving descendant of a very prominent pure-blood family, and fighting magical creatures. There wasn’t a muggle in sight. Not even a half-blood – for heaven knew where Snape had escaped to, or why Narcissa was doing her best to save him from Voldemort’s anger.  

But it was glamorous, he supposed. He got to fly on a broomstick, accompanied by a menagerie of flaming animals. He was wearing a swishing black cloak and a mask. The Hogwarts students had gaped at him with fear and envy when they’d looked out of the castle-windows and seen him outside the gates with the Dark Lord.

But there was still something not-quite-right about it. There was blood. Magical combat had always seemed so elegant, so… tidy. You could torture and kill people without leaving a mark on their bodies. There were scars, of course – dark curses always left scars – but there were no drops of blood flying through the air, splattering the elegant black robes of the Death Eaters.  

But nobody here seemed to want to be tidy. The two old Death Eaters, Avery and Lestrange, had swords in one hand and wands in the other. When they weren’t cursing, they were hacking. The violence wasn’t sanitized, as he’d always imagined it would be.

And he was sinking into the trance-state in which he shouted proverbs far more often than usual. It was taking over. Everything was starting to look different. All the Death Eaters – in their dark, swishing robes – were starting to look unimaginably ugly. When Regulus slipped into his trance-state, he could see their magic, looming behind them like an aura, each one a different shape and colour. Avery’s was a rich, rotting purple that dangled over his shoulders like over-ripe grapes.

Lestrange’s was liquid – it was deep red and it pooled around his heels like a puddle of blood. But it was spreading, somehow. From nowhere, drops landed in it, swelling the banks of the pool.

And Narcissa’s… well, at first, Regulus had not been sure she had a magical aura. But then he’d noticed that the shadow she cast when she walked in the light was in the shape of a gigantic, horned beast. He looked at her now, kneeling in front of Voldemort, and saw that shadow stretching across the ice behind her, absurdly large and lumbering for the silver-haired slip of a girl who was casting it.    

But Voldemort’s was the worst. Voldemort’s was a blinding wreath of flames. It looked as though he was standing at the opening to hell – as though he was guarding it. And there was Narcissa, bathed in this demonic light, casting a monstrous shadow behind her. It was the strangest thing he’d ever seen – and he had grown up in the magical world – the world of talking mirrors and fanged Frisbees. He’d grown up talking to his dead grand-mother through an oil painting. He’d played fetch with a three-headed dog. But this was different. This, he couldn’t help feeling, was a portent. A taste of things to come. The monstrous shadow would get free. And the doorway that Voldemort guarded was going to widen and swallow people.   

Narcissa got up and walked towards him. Regulus, feeling the mist of his trance-state clearing, watched her monstrous shadow disappear.

“You said we’d throw him someone expendable,” he whispered, through gritted teeth.

“We have,” Narcissa replied. “Everything is going to plan.”

Regulus shut his eyes and forced himself to be calm. His cousin was a daughter of the House of Black, and they didn’t respond well to impatience. In fact, the angrier you were, the slower they talked. It was in their blood. “Firstly, this woman’s a pure-blood, and I didn’t sign up to fight pure-bloods. Secondly, she’s got a bloody great army of magical creatures!”

“Well, the Dark Lord would be suspicious if she wasn’t a worthy adversary,” Narcissa replied. “We couldn’t send him after a docile little lap-dog.”

“But the Death Eaters might get hurt,” Regulus hissed.

Narcissa gave him a pitying smile. “You’ve got to speculate to accumulate, Regulus. The Dark Lord understands that.”

The ice was creaking and hissing all around them. Stalactites were shifting uneasily on the cavern roof. The hiss of evaporating water was everywhere. And the Dementors… the Dementors were on fire. He hadn’t thought it was possible. He hadn’t thought Dementors had physical forms, let alone flammable ones. But those cloaks were going up in flames as though they’d been soaked in pitch.

And the goblins were pulling back. Perhaps Narcissa was right. Perhaps this would be for the best.

“Don’t count your dragons before they’re hatched,” he said absent-mindedly, and Narcissa raised her eyebrows at him.

“The Dark Lord wants us to patrol the corridors, in case Mulligan has sent for reinforcements,” she said, in her languid, disdainful drawl. “He wants you and Lestrange to take the West Wing.”

Regulus paled at the thought of spending his time alone in a corridor with Lestrange, watching that pool of liquid magic settle around his feet. Even though he knew it wasn’t real blood, he had a strange terror of it soaking into his socks.

“I’ll get started,” he said quickly. “Lestrange is busy with the goblins. Tell him he can join me when he’s finished.”

And, slipping occasionally on the melted ice floes underfoot, he walked out of the Archives and up the stairs, to the comparative warmth of the prison.  

Somebody had let the prisoners out. Perhaps Idris Mulligan had thought it would be a useful distraction. There were bearded, dark-robed figures scurrying around in the darkness, swarming up the stairs, like rats fleeing a sinking ship. Some of them were past thinking of ways out, but those ones were easy to spot. They were muttering to themselves, crouched in the shadows, or trying to fend off invisible assailants.

But one of them was walking towards him and, just at the wrong moment, as though he’d missed his mental footing, Regulus slipped into his trance-state, and the shadows in the corridor multiplied.

The palest of them was Snape. He was bruised and bare-chested. Every one of his ribs was showing starkly through that curdled-white skin. And his magical aura was unfolding behind him like dark, leathery wings. They were slightly crumpled in the narrow corridor – there wasn’t enough room for them to unfold properly – but Regulus got the feeling that they were immense – that they would dwarf the Foe-Fire eagle, whose wings were currently torching the ice down in the Archives. Snape’s aura had never assumed a definite shape before. It was always slinking back into the shadows, or snaking around the room, like tentacles. And there was no sign of the beautiful, organic transformation, where the aura turned vibrant green. This was a shade of black that shut out the suspicion, and even the memory, of other colours.  

And he was smiling – well, grimacing with vindictive pleasure in that way he had – he never actually smiled. Had he been smiling, Regulus would have run as fast as he could in the other direction.

But, as it was, he backed against the wall, relying on his diplomatic, Slytherin instincts to save him. There was no out-fighting Snape: even if Regulus hadn’t been able to see those immense, dark wings filling the corridor, he wouldn’t have tried it. Snape invented dark curses for fun. He read about poisons during break. And, it was popularly rumoured, he spent his summer holidays reviving muggle corpses with Necromantic rituals. If there was a way out of this, it was only going to come through talking.   

No jokes about the mud-blood, Regulus thought to himself. Or what it’s like to have a muggle for a dad. And, for God’s sake, no proverbs.  

“Severus,” he said, switching on his most dazzling smile. “How are things?”

Snape seemed to be considering the question very carefully. “They’ve been better,” he admitted at last. “How many are with you?”

“Only five,” said Regulus. “But they’re not here for you. ‘Cissa and me got Voldemort to believe you ran off because you wanted to take care of a threat to him from Idris Mulligan. He’s fighting her, down in the Archives. All you have to do is go along with the story.”

“And then what?” said Snape. His eyes were like black holes. They had a darkness that went beyond the mere absence of light. They looked as though they could have swallowed light. Regulus would not have been surprised to see stars and galaxies floating in them.

He paused. “I’m not sure I understand the question.”

Snape folded his arms over his skeletal chest. “I’m done with this stupid war,” he murmured. “I’m through listening to pure-blood arrogance and muggle-loving propaganda. I’m through making deals with you people.”

Regulus frowned. “It’s not a deal. It’s the only way to save you. The Dark Lord’s down there,” he gestured back down the stairs that lead to the Archives, where steam was rising from the melted ice-floes. “You don’t think you can hurt him, do you?”

“I know he can’t hurt me,” said Snape softly.

He took a crumpled cigarette out of his trouser pocket, lit it with his wand, took one drag, and then stubbed it out on his palm. There wasn’t so much as a flinch – no sharp intake of breath, no half-closed eyes – he looked completely serene. He held the cigarette against his palm until the corridor was filled with the sickly, almost sweet, smell of burning flesh, and Regulus could no longer keep a lid on his anger.

“What is it with you people?” he shouted, throwing his hands up in exasperation. “Everything’s about blood and guts and gore to you, isn’t it? You’re actually entertained by the sight of mangled human bodies, aren’t you?”

“Yep.” Snape had re-lit the cigarette and was smoking it peaceably.

“Well, I think you’re all sick!” Regulus snapped. “It’s not supposed to be like this – all this cutting people up! We’re soldiers, not surgeons!”

Snape seemed very amused by this. “Those barbaric surgeons,” he muttered, exhaling smoke through his nostrils. Then, in a more serious tone. “Go home if you don’t like it. Take your broomstick and fly away.”

“I’m not going to do that,” Regulus snapped. “I’ve wanted this since I was five.”

“I wouldn’t let a five year-old decide my future,” Snape replied.

Regulus narrowed his eyes. It was difficult to see past Snape’s magical aura, which was filling the corridor like raven-feathered smoke, but he thought there was something moving up the passage behind Snape. And what was more, it seemed to be wearing a cowboy hat.

Relief was replaced by the sudden dread that there was going to be more blood. Because this was Rosier, and Rosier couldn’t resist putting on a show.

Still, it wouldn’t do to work against him. Rosier had been – until tonight – the Dark Lord’s favourite. If he was going to warn Snape, he’d have to do it with subtlety – and the House of Black was not renowned for its subtlety. For the first time in his life – and it wouldn’t be the last – Regulus felt the uneasy thrill of breaking with tradition.

“Do you remember the first thing you ever said to me?” he said to Severus slowly, watching the cowboy hat draw nearer to them.

Snape frowned. “It was ‘shut up’, wasn’t it?”

“After that.”

It had been at the Sorting ceremony in Regulus’ first year. He’d been boasting, to the Slytherin table at large, about his Quidditch prowess – describing the match at his nursery school, where he’d knocked three Chasers out of the air in quick succession, as though running a gauntlet of Defenders, to get to the goal hoops. Snape – who despised boasting of any kind – had glanced up from his book, and murmured: “In real life, Black, your enemies won’t come at you one by one. And they won’t be nursery-school children.”

It took a while for Snape to retrieve the memory, but he managed it. Regulus could see comprehension dawning in his eyes. He turned round, just in time to look straight into the leering, grime-stained face of Evans Rosier. Little rivers of sweat were running down his bald head, clearing tracks through the dirt. It was as though he had hair at last.

Bizarrely, this horrible sight didn’t seem to be enough for Severus. He glanced over his shoulder and around the corridor, as though searching for something – although Regulus privately thought that the only important thing was the wand that Rosier was jabbing viciously between Snape’s ribs.     

“Looking for someone, Severus?” Rosier asked gleefully.

Snape gave a barely perceptible shrug. “Yes, actually. An old man, in his fifties? Kind of blonde-grey hair? You usually come running when he snaps his fingers, like a fat, bald puppet?”  

Regulus winced. This was going to be horrible. All he could see was Snape’s back. The magical aura was gone, but it didn’t make much difference: Snape was so thin that his shoulder-blades jutted out like wings of bone. It just looked as though the aura had shrunk under his skin. They looked fragile as butterfly wings, though. Regulus couldn’t help thinking how easily bones like that could be shattered. For a man who’d just stubbed out a cigarette in his palm, he looked incredibly fragile.  

“The old man’s gone,” said Rosier, grinning still more widely. “I wish you could have seen it. His pleas for mercy were very… eloquent.”

And, before Snape could even take the cigarette out of his mouth, Rosier’s wand whipped through the air, casting a spell that knocked him backwards against the cavern wall. He landed, sprawled, next to Regulus, who was trying to catch his breath, and repeating over to himself that Snape couldn’t feel pain; Snape was used to beatings; Snape had betrayed the Dark Lord and waltzed off with a mudblood.  

Still, whatever punishment Snape deserved, Regulus was damn sure that he didn’t deserve to witness it.

“That’s enough now, Rosier,” he said, sounding braver than he felt. “The Dark Lord wants both of you alive, for questioning.”

“In this pipsqueak’s case, I think he’ll settle for a nicely bruised corpse,” Rosier growled.  

Regulus tightened his grip on his wand. His hands were sweaty. “No, he was very clear on the ‘alive’ part.”

Rosier snorted. “He didn’t specify the condition, I take it?”

And he stooped to pick up a jagged piece of rock that had fallen from the corridor’s ceiling.  

The dread in Regulus’ stomach writhed. It was thrashing around, like a creature in its death throes. “Why do you people have such a problem with using your wands in these situations?” he hissed. “You’re no better than muggles!”

“There’s something to be said for the primitive savagery of muggle violence," Rosier growled, testing the sharpness of the rock's edge against his palm.

Regulus had shouted “Stupefy!” before he knew what he was doing. It had just risen unconsciously in his throat, like one of his proverbs. Except this meant a lot more.  

Rosier crumpled to the floor beside Snape, who was beginning to stir sleepily. He was blinking in confusion: those black-hole eyes were getting narrower - suspicious, as always, of any help.

“Why did you do that?” he asked.

“I’m not doing it again,” Regulus said sulkily, keeping his eyes trained on Rosier’s recumbent figure. The bloodless, bruise-less sight was comforting. This was how magic was supposed to be; not like a muggle brawl or a feeding frenzy. This was civilized – honourable.  

“He really was alone,” said Snape, prodding Rosier’s unconscious body with his toe.

“So?” asked Regulus.

“So my only ally is dead,” said Snape grimly.

“Well, you can forget about me helping you again.”

Snape gave him a curious half-smile. “I’d already forgotten about the first time.”

They stood side-by-side awkwardly, unsure of what to say to each other. Regulus shoved his hands into the pockets of his robes.

“It’s… messier… than I thought it would be,” he admitted.

“You’ll get used to it,” said Snape. “You’re from the House of Black. Your arrogant brother was playing catch with shrunken House Elf heads before he could walk.”

“But what if I’m different?”

“Do what everyone else does,” said Snape, with a shrug. “Pretend you’re not.”

A silence. Regulus experimented with several appealing futures in his head, before deciding that the only thing to do was go back to the Dark Lord. He’d come too far now. Trying to get out would probably entail just as much blood and terror as going onwards.   

“I’m going back to the Dark Lord,” said Regulus. “You fought off Rosier on your own, OK?”

“Easy to believe,” said Severus. “Much easier to believe than the idea that you Stunned a teacher."

“Yeah, well,” Regulus mumbled, unaccountably flattered. “We’re Slytherins, aren’t we? The lies have got to be plausible.”

And, with a last angry, shuddering, longing look at Snape, he turned away.
  

Severus continued down the corridor, following the smoke to its source.

He was angry. He was fuming. But the unexpected help from Regulus had knocked him off his stride. Guilt was slamming into the back of his head like a wrecking ball. You brought him to the Dark Lord – a fifteen year-old with delusions of grandeur! And now, if he doesn’t lose his innocence, it’s going to get him killed.

The only other person who’d ever stood up for him was… well, she was safe. He had let her go on sleeping, and conjured a Shield Charm around her, to protect her from the prisoners and the falling debris.

He would get back to her before the island dissolved around the creatures of the Foe Fire; but it was hard to be ruthless when she was around – and impossible to be invulnerable. He needed her out of the way, so that he could be… well, himself. She wouldn’t like that. She wouldn’t like all the horrible things he’d have to do to get them out of this. She’d probably be so sickened that she’d run straight into the arms of James Potter, have his spawn, and then die on the lawn of that split stone cottage, with a sycamore leaf clinging to her neck.

No, no, no, it wasn’t going to be like that. It didn’t have to be. In spite of the bruises and the terror, he had something now that had seemed as far away as the moon when he’d started this: he knew she liked him.

And that was the key to everything. That tiny, childish sentence – not even straying near the name of love because, for heavens’ sake, they were only sixteen, and the fondness of someone like Lily was quite enough to be getting along with – there was a world of self-belief, of confidence, that had only ever been opened up to him in dungeon classrooms, when he was staring down at the shimmering and deadly contents of his cauldron.

It was still a fragile thing, this self-belief; it hung by a thread; the slightest tremor could have shaken it. One of Potter’s insults, one of Narcissa’s disdainful looks, one of Bella’s fond but forcible punches to the arm, and he would be back where he’d started. But, if Lily could like him, then surely anything was possible.   

The world was horrible, and it was full of selfish people, but there was nothing scarier in it than himself; and nobody wanted anything more than he wanted to get Lily out of here. Voldemort’s lust for power, Narcissa’s desire to be adored, Bella’s unstoppable drive to hurt people – none of it was stronger than this. He had never wanted anything so much in his life; he was not going to make a mistake.

Bruiser was a little way down the corridor; he was sitting on the floor, his back pressed up against the wall, looking dazed. He was wincing, but there was no blood.

That made it worse, somehow. There was nothing to treat – no clue to which curse Rosier might have used on him.

Severus liked muggle violence better. He was better acquainted with it, to start with. It was there, and then it was gone. Magical violence was lingering and pernicious. It went on replicating inside people, like a deadly infection, and it didn’t leave any marks, any clues, that could help you treat it.

“Where’s Lily?” Bruiser asked immediately, through gritted teeth.

Severus hesitated. “You know what’s funny?” he said calmly. “Idris Mulligan was looking for her too. Now that I come to think about it, she didn’t ask me about you at all. She just wanted me to tell her where Lily was.” He gave Bruiser a look of maddening patience that did nothing to mask the world of anger that was crouching behind it, and said: “Now what would she have to do with all this?”  

“Maggie,” Bruiser wheezed.

“Guillotine Valance?” Snape asked sharply. “But she’s dead.”

“The memories are alive.” Bruiser was barely opening his lips now. Speech was clearly painful for him, but Severus didn’t care. He leaned forward and said, in a deadly whisper: “What have those memories got to do with Lily?”

A pause. “I kind of… sort of… got her to drink them.”

What?

“They were in the Polyjuice Potion she drank to look like Narcissa back at the Hanged Man.”

Another silence. Snape suddenly became aware of the throbbing pain in his palm where he’d stubbed out that cigarette.  

“Let me see if I’ve got this right,” he said, bringing a hand up over his eyes, because even the darkness of the corridor was getting too bright for them. “You let Lily drink the last memories of your dead wife – the ones that you say are conscious?”

“Maggie wanted to kill Mulligan herself,” Bruiser grunted. “We needed a Healer – someone with a highly developed sense of empathy, who could be possessed. And Rosier had seen Lily at the school, when he was teaching there. She was perfect. We noticed she’d developed a close friendship with Caladrius. So when you turned up at the Hanged Man with that poor, helpless old man, we knew she wouldn’t be far behind you.”

Snape glared at him. “So this was the plan from the beginning? Get Lily to Azkaban so that your dead wife’s memories could possess her?”

“We knew it would take a while – an hour at least – for Maggie to get full control of Lily’s body – knock down all her mental defences – so I let you keep Mulligan busy.”

“Keep her busy?” Snape shouted. “She showed me visions of - ,”

But Bruiser interrupted him. He was, to Snape’s astonishment, grinning. “S’what I said right before I let ‘er get you. Misery won’t kill people like us. I knew you could take it.”

“You bastard.”  

“The point is,” he said hurriedly, “that you have to catch cases of possession early.”

But Snape was still stuck on the previous sentence. “You bastard!” he repeated.

“This is important, Severus,” said Bruiser, speaking very quickly now. “Lily’s been possessed and, in about half an hour, that possession is going to become irreversible. I’d intended to conjure Maggie out of Lily’s body myself, after she’d killed Mulligan, but it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to do that anymore, so you’ll ‘ave to.”  

“Won’t she leave of her own accord after she kills Mulligan?”

Bruiser gave him a look that was half pitying and half guilty. “No,” he said. “She… well, both of us, but mostly her… got a bit crazy when they took our babies. If she gets a chance at life again… a young body… a pretty one, too… she won’t be so keen on letting go. She wants revenge on the goblins, as well as Mulligan. She’s a Valance, see. They’re warriors. If they’ve got a cause, and a couple of working limbs, they’ll fight for it, come what may. But me… I think our revenge should die with dear old Idris. I like Lily. She’s… sympathetic. That’s a rare quality. I don’t like to see it punished.”

Severus stared at him. Things had really got bad when you started hearing reason from a muggle, especially a muggle who had, until recently, displayed every symptom of insanity that Severus could think of.

“How do I get her out?” he asked.

Bruiser winced again, and shifted his weight against the wall. “It’s a very complicated spell,” he murmured.  

Snape leaned his back against the wall, and slid down it, until he was sitting beside the old muggle. His hand was throbbing with a hundred splintering aches, as though it had been used as a pin-cushion. The sheer enormity of the task in front of him was sapping his strength. And the blissful energy of the Occlumency Severus seemed worlds away.  

“But you’ve got to let ‘er kill Mulligan, Severus,” Bruiser went on urgently. “That woman took our children… carved ‘em up for treasure.”

“Let’s get one thing straight,” said Severus, passing a hand across his eyes again. “I don’t care about your bloody carved-up children!”  

Bruiser stuck out his jaw. “You’ll swear to avenge my bloody carved-up children if you want me to tell you the spell to get Guillotine Valance out of Lily.”

Snape shut his eyes. There was no time to argue. There was no time for anything anymore. But, if he could keep his eyes fixed on some distant land-mark, some remote prospect of happiness - the chance to see Lily comfortably ensconced in a bed in the Hospital Wing, gazing up at him with an expression of misty-eyed admiration while he listed all the heroic things he'd done to rescue her - then it didn't seem so bad.
At last, an update to the story! A continuation to Jaded (it's very long again, sorry about that!) I just needed to post something, whether it was any good or not, because I'd been tinkering with this chapter much too long, and it was driving me crazy!
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:icon28dragons:
28dragons Featured By Owner Oct 27, 2013
I'm loving how you're circling back to the beginning with this ^^ - possession, the myth of Guillotine Valance eating her children, etc. 
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:iconwearesevenstudios:
WeAreSevenStudios Featured By Owner May 13, 2010  Professional Artisan Crafter
I've read this before! Over the last dozen or so chapters, I started to remember a strange, but wonderful, fanfic I'd read somewhere on Deviant art. Then I found out that it was, in fact, one of the chapters in this epic story. When I first read this (I think I found it via an illustrative piece of fan art), I had no idea what anything was about, but I loved the writing and the characterizations, and even though the story within didn't make much sense out of context, I was completely gripped by the language and imagery. Now it all comes together. :D

Oh, my, gawd - I am so envious of your ability to describe visually imperceptible things in human terms. Regulus' perception of magical auras has been growing more faceted and complicated, until now I feel like it's my brain trying to process that which is not apparent to normal humans. (I'm told that watching Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix while stoned will do this also)
But then hed noticed that the shadow she cast when she walked in the light was in the shape of a gigantic, horned beast. He looked at her now, kneeling in front of Voldemort, and saw that shadow stretching across the ice behind her, absurdly large and lumbering for the silver-haired slip of a girl who was casting it.

:worship:

This entire chapter is really brilliant. I'm in awe, and not just a little covetous.
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner May 17, 2010
Thank you so much! I think you must have found the chapter through *Vizen's illustration here [link]

(I loved that one so much! A topless Sev, with shadows on his face, and dark wings! :faint: As usual when someone illustrated my story, I burst into tears and dissolved into a puddle of stammering gratitude! ;))

I'm so happy that you liked it, then and now! Regulus's ability to see other people's magic comes up a lot in the following chapters (although, so far, I've never managed to write about Lucius Malfoy's corona - I'm hoping to do that sometime soon, though).

Don't be covetous - your essay was amazing, and your comments on these chapters (although, of course, I'm biased! ;)) are always beauifully expressed. I can't thank you enough for all your kind, thoughtful comments - they've encouraged me more than I can say! :hug:
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:iconwearesevenstudios:
WeAreSevenStudios Featured By Owner May 17, 2010  Professional Artisan Crafter
Yes, that was the one! It's so fantastic. :D He was having a "bad boy" moment that Sirius (for all his natural bad boy charm) could only dream about. :blush:

Aw, thank you so much. :)
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:iconmalfoyfanatic:
MalfoyFanatic Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
The chapter really drepesses me! :sniff: Their self-doubt and what the Slytherins would do on the other hand to gain, what they want... I always considered myself as a Slytherin, but if I come to think about it... I wouldn't be so rude to Bruiser, for example. I would be angry with the proverb kid, sure, but as a reader I think is just so cute! It's lovely to see his development to be one of the good guys (or semi good at least).
The best part of your stories are usually the inventions of things I would have never dreamed of^^ In this case: the swords. It's really glamourus to have them fighting with swords ;)
Mostly I liked the description of Severus' aura. It was just awesome!! Sounds like a fallen angelkl :blowkiss:
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2008
Thank you! :hug: I liked writing Severus as a shirtless, skinny, bruised, fallen angel! :drool: :faint: I know what you mean - Narcissa has taken a few steps backwards in terms of morality - but don't worry, Malfoy is coming back, and then she'll have to choose between her heart and her evil schemes! And she managed to fool Voldemort when he tried to use Occlumency on her. That's not easily done. I think she's becoming less of a frivolous character, at least, and that's a start.
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:iconvizen:
Vizen Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2008
I think I have to read the whole story ! For the ideas you have, the sense of Sev's love for Lily (congratulations - I liked how you developped this matter of self-believe), the writting and some sentences like : Had he been smiling, Regulus would have run as fast as he could in the other direction. or and the House of Black was not renowned for its subtlety

:thumbsup:
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2008
Thank you! :hug: I'm so glad you liked it! I love writing interactions between Snape and Regulus, because they frighten, amuse and exasperate each other all at once! :) I'd be honoured if you read the my story, a lot of it has been inspired by your beautiful art!
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:iconvizen:
Vizen Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2008
Yes, I like how you write about Regulus, and also about Narcissa - very interesting and well-reasoned. I like what we see in them here - IMO it suit them, really.

I wish I could inspire you. Actually, I would enjoy drawing such a semi-nude Snape in a dark corner - that"s could be very interesting to draw.
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Dec 20, 2008
OMG, I'd love to see you draw a semi-nude Snape in a dark corner, that would be amazing! :) He's such a visually interesting character, and I love the way you draw him - you can always capture his suspicious scowl!
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:icondronarron:
dronarron Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2008
I love the descriptions of everyone's magical auras, and this dark and gritty Severus.
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2008
Thank you so much, I'm really glad you're enjoying the story! Yes, I just adore writing the dark, Death Eater Severus - though he is getting beaten up a lot in this story recently, I should really put a stop to that! ;) Regulus's ability to see people's magic is first described in a chapter called The Corona, where he describes Snape's as dark and shapeless, but occasionally, for no reason that Regulus can really pin down, turning a vibrant green. Thanks again for your comments, I really appreciate them. :hug:
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:icondronarron:
dronarron Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2008
I originally thought these were individual short fiction, but now I see they are chained together but not in order from the first in your gallery to your last, I am getting totally lost as to what order I should read them in. It would be really helpful to post a chapter index, or at least link "previous" "next" in the artist notes for each one.
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2008
Yes, I'm sorry, the order of the chapters can be confusing! There is a list of the chronological order here: [link]
I put it as a header in my journal every week, so it should always be there.
The chapters did start out as individual pieces - but then a plot started to develop around them, and I had to sort them into order. Mostly, they started out as character sketches, or arguments between Sev and Lily (my favourite thing to write! ;))
Thanks very much for your interest in my stories, it means a lot to me! :)
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:icondronarron:
dronarron Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2008
"I put it as a header in my journal every week, so it should always be there."

Ah, okay. I don't subscribe to people's dA journals as a rule -- I have enough to keep up on on LJ and IJ as it is! -- so I never saw it. Thanks!
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:iconnorthangel27:
northangel27 Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Oh this is all getting so complicated. Poor Severus, poor Lily, poor Reg, even poor Bruiser. Gosh dang it, I hope you update soon. This story is like some sort of hope and joy inducing potion for me these days.

I am more and more enamoured with your DE Severus. He is everything of the real DE Severus, but in your little fictional universe there still seems to be a ray of hope for him, and if he can change at this stage.... Oh life will be so much easier, so much happier and so much more fulfilling for him later on.

And your Lily too... How I love her. I shudder to think of her so possessed. I hope Severus gets to her in time!
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2008
Thank you! :hug: I'm so glad you're enjoying it. There is entirely too much plot at the moment, and I'm no good at writing plot, I just want to get back to the Sev/Lily conversations and the elaborate descriptions of potions, I'm afraid! Maybe I can bring some into the next chapter... Still, it was fun to write scary Severus - I do love the fierce, emaciated boy with his gleaming black eyes!
Oh, and I must credit you for inspiring me to bring some cigarettes into the scene. Our conversation just planted so many images in my mind that I really wanted to write him smoking, just the once. :)
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:iconnorthangel27:
northangel27 Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
you can write him smoking all you like ;-).

The Severus you wrote in this chapter was painfully sexy. Not the kind of boy you would want to bring home to Mum or settle down and marry, but god... so sexy ;-).

I really do hope he can find healing through love, though. That is always my hope for Severus.
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2008
:giggle: I found him very sexy in this chapter too! Something about those fathomless black eyes and bony torso... :faint: I love him as the Occlumency Severus, where he regards the whole world with sneering distaste! But, as you say, not the type to bring home to mum... (am just thinking now what my mum would make of Severus Snape if I brought him home! She'd probably find something to like about him - she usually does - but she would have an irrepressible urge to feed him up! She'd look at that skinny boy with nothing less than wide-eyed alarm!) ;)
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:iconnorthangel27:
northangel27 Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Oh yes, mine would fuss over him horrible, until he looked over at me with pleading eyes, silently screaming "Help!". Mom's just love to fawn over hungry boys it seems. They see it as their personal responsibility to feed the starving, self-destructive masses :giggle:.
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2008
Until he looked over at me with pleading eyes, silently screaming "Help!"
Lol, I can just imagine that! Poor Sev, he really wouldn't like people fussing, would he? Which is a shame, because I think it would probably be my first instinct too!
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:iconnorthangel27:
northangel27 Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
It's always my first instinct. I am a constant source of frustration and irritation to my muse, I've no doubt.

:Shh: Sometimes I think he secretly craves it though. It just makes him uncomfortable because he's not used to it. I imagine that Mrs. Evans would have done that to him, if he had ever spent holiday at Lily's house.
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2008
Yes, I think she would have made a fuss of him, while Petunia got more and more irritated! ;)
He would probably allow a certain amount of fussing from people he respects. As long as it wasn't in front of his dunderheaded students!
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(1 Reply)
:iconmelissalianne:
MelissaLianne Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2008
Beautiful writing. :)
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2008
Thank you! :hug:
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