24th December, 1976
The owl arrived just as Severus was watching his mother through the kitchen door, making trifle: custard powder mix over cube-jelly, aerosol cream on top, maybe with hundreds-and-thousands and a glacé cherry - because it was Christmas, after all.
Large, plush and haughty, it was an eagle owl, no less - with beak upturned and eyes half-closed in studied boredom as it's whiskered ear-tufts simulated a frown. Severus fancied that he knew that bird.
The creature cawed impatiently, making Tobias half-wake from his sprawl on the sofa. "Whaa...Whaaa?..."
"Nothing, Dad. Go back to sleep."
"Mmmfff." Reassured, Tobias' snores resumed, in sluggish counterpoint with the remains of 'Match of the Day' blaring from the television. Only when Severus was sure he would not be watched, did he turn his attention to the animal; having to explain how wizards communicated to his father had long since passed 'tedious'.
The owl had settled lightly upon the back of Eileen's good armchair, poised on the tips of its talons as if hesitant to sit down fully in such insalubrious surroundings. With impatience, it held out a foot for Severus to remove the parchment that was tied there, then squawked in demand for food. Rolling his eyes, Severus cast around for something suitable. A half-open bag of crisps gaped near his father's limp hand and he extracted one, holding it toward the pointed beak. His efforts received nothing but an avian sniff of disdain, however, and the bird launched itself through the open window, leaving as rapidly as it had arrived.
Clearly, the sender of the message felt no need for a reply, then. Severus settled into the sagging sofa and unfolded the note, aware that the parchment was crisp and thick, and a coin was wrapped within it.
You are hereby invited to spend Christmas Day with Mother, Father and I at the Manor.
The enclosed portkey will activate at 10am; we look forward to your arrival.
Severus blinked as he read the note a second time, then a third. Lucius; Lucius Malfoy. What in Merlin's name would the Malfoys want with him?
"Mmmm?" She didn't look up from the bowl, stubborn cornflower-lumps resisting the heated milk no matter how much she stirred; Eileen never had quite got the hang of cooking without magic.
"It, err... it looks like I won't be here tomorrow, after all."
At that, she turned to face him, bowl forgotten, even though the contents might curdle. "What are you on about, Severus?"
"I just got this, by owl." He handed her the note, and watched as his mother read it, and deflated. Her mouth turned down more than usual - but she looked sad, not cross.
"But, your Dad's bought turkey, and-"
"-It's the Malfoys, Mum. You don't say 'no' to the Malfoys."
Eileen sighed, and Severus fancied he could see all those wizarding memories flash before her eyes; blood purity and disgrace and exile, giving in and giving up and making do. At times like that, he could almost forgive his mother for leaving, for raising him there. Almost.
Finally, she shrugged. "It's alright. I s'pose we can have it on Boxing Day, then. The sprouts'll likely keep."
25th December, 1976
"Severus, how marvellous to see you!" Lucius called from a few yards away. It was difficult to believe that the blond boy had only just left school; he looked so very self-assured in his fine clothes and gleaming hair, strutting toward the point Severus had materialized, with a cane. Money brought confidence, Severus supposed - and once again cursed his own lot.
Relieved that he hadn't fallen when the portkey deposited him, Severus tried to straighten his tatty robes - slumping a little to disguise the fact that they were too short - and nodded in greeting. He still wasn't clear as to why such favour should have been granted him. Lucius had been a Slytherin prefect and had always made a point of pleasantness to the boys of whom he approved, but they had not been particularly close. He would have thought that the Malfoys had a thousand better things to do on Christmas Day; the mixture of apprehension and excitement somersaulted in his stomach, overlayed with a very large slice of curiosity. Eagle owls didn't visit Spinner's End every day of the week, after all. Maybe - just maybe - this could be his ticket out.
"How say I give you the tour? I'm sure you'll like it here."
Severus took in the grounds about him: knotted gardens and topiary, trickling fountains and orderly borders - and beyond, rolling lawns and fields and trees. Tales of the Malfoy family wealth had not been exaggerated, it seemed - and it made him think in sickened contrast of the yard from which he had apparated. Their's was a minuscule patch of gravelled dirt, ringed by the grimy front wall and the doorstep that his mother scrubbed by hand when she thought the neighbours had started to talk. Nothing would grow there; it was almost as if the plants could tell not to bother emerging from their seeds. "Thank you. Yes, I'm sure I will."
Framed within the grand front entrance, Abraxas Malfoy was tall and imposing. Blond just like his son, but thicker-set with muscle and ire, he sported a precisely-trimmed moustache and beard, and reminded Severus of those drawings of Vikings in his primary school picture books - graceful negotiators and builders, but impossibly war-like beneath the surface. This was clearly not a man to be crossed.
As they approached the Malfoy patriarch, Severus couldn't help but ruefully compare his own father - drunk, bumbling and as magical as a rock - and wonder how life might have been, had his mother married the Bulstrode to whom she had been betrothed.
Lucius lengthened his stride in the last few yards and extended his cane in a flourish. "Father, allow me to present Severus Snape."
Feeling the force of scrutiny upon him, Severus resolved not to fidget. "Pleased to meet you, sir," he said, remembering his manners and trying to forget his accent.
"Well then, welcome, young Severus," Abraxas intoned, voice treacle-deep and apparently amused with himself. "Lucius tells us you have done very well. Considering your... disadvantages, that is."
"These can be your rooms while you're here." Lucius pushed open a grand double door off the third-floor landing and beckoned Severus inside. "There should be everything you need, but if something else comes to mind, just call an elf - we have plenty and the little bastards ought to work far harder than they do."
Severus nodded as he took in the elegant suite before him. There was a lounge, dominated by an grand fireplace, before which lay a luxuriant chaise upholstered in silks and piled with cushions. To the left was a drinks cabinet and beyond that, a window. Of the doors leading off the lounge, two were ajar - a bedroom, resplendent with a huge canopied bed, and a bathroom of gold and gleaming marble.
"I'll just leave you to dress for dinner, shall I?"
At that, a sinking feeling overcame Severus. He had no clothes with him other than those on his back, and they seemed woefully inadequate, even for the daytime.
As if reading his thoughts, however, Lucius cocked his head toward a large wardrobe in the corner of the bedroom. "We had to guess sizes, but I doubt they're far wrong. Choose whatever you like."
A moment's pause, just to check it wasn't some kind of joke. When no snipy remark followed: "Thank you."
"Pfft. Nothing at all." And then in sardonic tone: "It is Christmas is it not? Oh, and if you have time to go in there," Lucius waved toward a third, closed door leading from the lounge, "We'd appreciate your opinion on the Potion in the far cauldron. If you can turn that mess into Draught of the Living Death, Father would be most grateful."
"Ok, I'll have a look."
Lucius granted him a charming smile, and then flounced from the room, cane before him and coat tails swishing in his wake.
Only when Severus was convinced he was alone, did he dare to relax. All of these beautiful rooms, just for him? It felt almost to good to be true. Why, their whole house would likely fit into the lounge alone. He turned to examine the furnishings - wallpaper with thicker flock than the carpets they had at home, and silk so buttery it could pass as blanket, were it not for the lustre.
He opened the wardrobe to find several opulent sets of robes: emerald and burgundy and jet, they sheened knowingly from their mahogany bed, like fish-eyes in oily water. A green set was his eventual choice, and he laid it out reverently, with a shiver of pleasure and disbelief in imagining how many galleons must have changed hands to procure such a thing. It was practically obscene; Severus thought he liked it.
He instinctively shivered when he removed his clothes - only to find that it wasn't at all cold. Quite the opposite, in fact; the fire blazed warmth and comfort, and the carpet-pile snogged his toes as he padded around the room. Then, seized by a childish abandon, Severus jumped upon the enormous bed, revelling in the feel of the satins upon his skin and the goose-down cloud enveloping each scrawny limb. Oh, if only I could stay, he thought, if only Mother hadn't...
There was little time, however, to lament the fall of the Princes and his own sorry bloodline. The Potion that Lucius had mentioned waited for him, and Severus so wished to prove himself capable. He had been invited here, had he not? Perhaps Abraxas Malfoy, despite his beautiful house and beautiful son might be willing to acknowledge Severus' talent. - Unlike his piggish Potions Master, that is, who had no time for beak-nosed students from drop-out families. You could get away with being either ugly or Mudblood with old Sluggy, if you were clever - but not both.
Entering the indicated anteroom, Severus found it to be neatly wooded and whitewashed, and immensely well-stocked with ingredients and supplies. The contents of the cauldron in question, was, as promised, a complete mess. It honestly looked as if someone lacking even a basic grasp of Potion technique had been commissioned to make poisons to order, or something. Shaking his head in disbelief, Severus examined the brown, gelatinous substance congealing at the bottom of the cauldron, and cogitated.
Five minutes later, though, he had found the problem to be remarkably simple. It was just a case of adding four-and-a-half pixie wings, stirring in a figure-of-eight motion five times, neutralizing with a rare form acromantula venom, distilling until on the cusp of sky blue and cornflower, and decanting into vials not larger than twenty-three drops in capacity, to preserve potency.
There were still a full forty minutes until he was due at dinner, so Severus dared to pour himself a vintage firewhiskey and savour the expensive burn of it as he settled upon goosedown cushions, and scornfully thought of his parents swilling lager in front of the telly at home. This is what wizarding Christmasses should be like, he determined, nothing less.
Lucius' mother, Dominica Malfoy, was a feisty, buxom female whose natural curves were subjugated into an exaggerated hourglass by severe corsetry, and whose eyebrows were plucked and painted into a permanently supercilious arch. She had the look a woman who could inflict just as much pain as she could endure, and thought anyone incapable of the same to be a fool - and it was that very look that greeted Severus across a table dressed in rigid linens and overhung by a chandelier so wrought, it could have been a cage for diamonds.
The furniture groaned with exquisite, exotic food; caviar and foie gras and roast peacock, sauces and pies and fancies, puddings and creams and sweets, some things for which Severus did not even have a name.
Abraxas stood and raised his glass. "To our victory!" he proclaimed, and mother and son smiled knowingly as they echoed the sentiment, heads haughty, expressions hungry. Yet, it was apparently not the feast that they craved; the impressive spread seemed more for display than indulgence. They took the choicest cuts and partook in slow in stately fashion, silver-gilt cutlery gleaming under candlelight filtered through crystal, more interested in veiled conversational gambits than food and drink.
Severus was not so restrained, however, tasting and devouring all of those fine things as if he had never eaten before in his life. Graciously, Lucius refilled his glass - once, twice, and then several more times that all blurred into a third.
They made comforting sounds about him being one of them, and clearly such a skilled Potion-maker; it was a darning needle to the tatters of his confidence.
"We must do something, Severus," whispered Lucius, covering his fork-clutching hand with a cool palm and perfectly-manicured fingers. "We wizarding folk deserve better. You deserve better."
Severus could not but help react to the touch - no-one touched him on purpose in ordinary life - and it felt dizzy-electric, little fireworks going off in the skin of his knuckles and sending their sparks along his arm. Lucius hair fell before his fine-features in a silver-gold curtain, almost glowing in the candlelight, and Severus found himself tracing the undulations of his throat as he talked - smooth and pale and disappearing into the ruffles of a white dress shirt. "... I really do think you could make a difference, Severus."
"You could have a bright future ahead of you, dear boy," purred Dominica from across the table. "Just be sure to... make the right choice."
"Politics, do you mean?" asked Severus, feeling slow and unintelligent as the fine wine bathed his brain, "The Ministry?"
Abraxas barked a laugh. "Perhaps. In a manner of speaking, that is."
No further explanation was forthcoming, but Severus was not a fool. He had heard of Lord Voldemort - some of the Slytherins might even have joined his Death Eaters. Yet, he knew that the beautiful Malfoys would never associate with something so crude, so horribly self-styled; they were slaves to no-one. And besides, they were not killers. He was certainly not a killer, either, Severus thought, while helping himself to more goose. If there was one thing his mother had taught him, it was that there was nothing worth getting your soul chewed-up for, and that Muggles counted all the same.
...Damn them, he mentally appended, more out of habit than heat, and then eyed the roast potatoes at the far end of the table. There was no way he'd get tied up in a cult like that.
When they stood from drinks in the cavernous main drawing room, Severus was woozy-excited: more loquacious than usual and abundantly thanking his hosts - a sentiment that they received with patience and decorum.
It was late - very late, in fact - but Severus did not find himself quite tired when he arrived back in his rooms. Instead, he poured another large measure of late-bottled 'fifty-five and settled once more upon that luxuriant chaise. The fire was more blazing and stoked than ever - those elves must work pretty hard, after all, he mused - and so warm that Severus shed the top layer of his robes and undid several buttons at his throat and cuffs.
He had not been there very long when the knock came, and Lucius glided in. "I saw you were still up from the light, and thought we might share a nightcap." The other boy poured himself a measure and settled lightly, very close to Severus and smiling like a cat.
The flames were licking and dancing and the liquor made his skin flush and glow - but just then, Severus felt heat of an entirely different sort. It was of the same flavour as the moment earlier when Lucius had enveloped his hand, only more intense, more exciting; their legs pressed together from knee to hip through flimsy silk under-robes, Lucius insouciant while Severus' insides did somersaults at the extraordinary touch.
Severus felt himself stiffen, his breathing quickened and his fingers fumbling in a knot. He fought to control his body's reaction to the beautiful blond boy, heat from his lithe body radiating through both layers of their clothes, his graceful fingers caressing the rim of his glass as it were a lover. Yet - perhaps it was the fire, or perhaps it was the drink, or perhaps it was the fact that Lucius was so very attractive and so very close - Severus' usual iron will seemed to be flimsy. He knew that he should move away - retreat to the bathroom, or at least go and pour another drink, so as not to embarrass himself - but his limbs felt sluggish and his head was soaked and fuzzy, and a small rebellious voice was insisting that he didn't want to move away, that he didn't want to loose the exotic pleasure of Lucius' thigh against his own.
As if reading those very thoughts, Lucius gave a merry chuckle. "Severus, my dear, you do look tense. Here..." - and fluidly he moved to kneel behind Severus on the chaise, knees straddled about his hips and fingers massaging his shoulders. It was utterly shocking, and altogether exquisite.
The attentions that followed caused tongues of both ecstasy and panic to lick about Severus' numbed thoughts. His belly was over-full with rich food and the fine wine swimming in his veins made every touch seem both exaggerated and fuzzy. He was at once hazy and soporific, and yet his skin was alive to even the tiniest brush of finger pads – dancing as they were along his neck, at the base of his scalp and in the indentation just behind his ear, in a way that made him gasp and lean into the touch. It was as if his nerves had never felt before, and all of a sudden they were waking for the first time.
Severus' eyes drifted closed, and a hand dipped over the hill of his shoulder, tracing the valleys of his collar bones, then down further upon his chest, within the robes. At that, though, Severus tensed, suddenly self-conscious, unsure whether to flee.
"Shhhh..." crooned Malfoy, and stroked his neck a little more, keeping the other hand moving in tender circles just below Severus' throat, “...Just relax.” The voice was so calm and honeyed, Severus found himself obeying. Indeed, when Lucius pressed gently on his shoulders, it was without real thought that Severus allowed himself to pulled backward, off-balance and nestled in the other boy's lap, leaning against his chest. It just felt so comfortable, so natural, and Severus' vaguely wondered why he had never been like this with a person before.
When Severus had fully melted in his arms, Lucius slipped his hands fully below the silk robe. He parted the fabric deftly and and ran his hands across Severus' chest, making his nipples twinge with arousal and harden, down across bony ribs and over-full belly. Severus moaned a little as his body was explored - and then the hands roamed further, reaching past pants into Severus' lap, where he was already hard.
The first breath of a touch made Severus cry out, eyes squeezed shut, head rolling back upon Lucius' shoulder.
“Yesss...” hissed Lucius, from just behind his right ear - and Severus trembled as he felt five refined digits carefully wrap around his erection and begin to glide up and down, causing sensations that he hadn't even thought possible to shoot through his frame, as all the while the wine made him throb and glow.
But that was when he saw it.
A whisper of graceful white wrist peeked from the sleeve of Lucius' robe - and then the limb stretched, bareness extended outward to show the skull and serpent sickly creeping beneath the skin while those elegant fingers snaked and grasped around Severus' cock. Lucius was a follower; a slave; a murderer. The reason for his own invitation suddenly rang clear, and Severus could not believe he had been so naïve.
He made to pull away, to cry 'no' and move and escape; he so desperately wanted to, needed to. Yet his body once more would not obey - it seemed very much to need something else - and he listened distantly to his own breathless gasps and wanton groans as the words died on his lips and Lucius' sweet torture made him sing and want like he never had before.
Lucius' rhythm quickened, becoming driving and forceful, and Severus felt everything begin to deliciously tighten as he neared his end. Close... so close...
-And then the stroking stopped. Severus whined gracelessly, hips bucking into empty air, only to be stilled by firm hands clamping his hips, and then a voice, tight and poisonous, coiling into his ear: "Say you'll do it, Severus, say you'll join us."
A forlorn sob as his cock bobbed before him, red and hard and desperate.
It was too much. "...Okay! Just keep-"
"Good boy," said Lucius smoothly, and returned to his slick ministrations - rhythm and grip perfectly practiced; just the right speed and pressure, a nice little twist at the end of each stroke to add edge - and within seconds Severus stiffened in Lucius' embrace and came, his orgasm ripping through his senses and copiously spattering both Lucius' hand and his own stomach.
There was barely time for a cleaning charm and rearrangement of robes before the door opened. "Good evening to you both," intoned Abraxas, "I was just passing and had the uncanny thought that someone might be in need of a Bonder." There was menace below the bonhomie, and Severus shivered, despite the heat and his blurry state.
"What do you mean?" he managed, fearing the worst.
"The Unbreakable Vow, dear boy. You were speaking in earnest, were you not? I'd hate to think a talented young man such as yourself could prove to be... duplicitous."
Severus was cornered. His own wand had clattered to the floor even as Abraxas held his outward, eyes set, and an Unforgivable hovering on his tongue. From his prone position on the chaise, Severus could see the pulsing mark within the man's sleeve; father and son alike. His mind was white with orgasm and fright. "No, but-"
"-Good. Then clasp hands with my son and repeat after me."
As if in a dream, the flames licked about their hands and soon it was done: Severus would join the Dark Lord or die.
As he moved his arm backward, Severus shook his head to try to clear it, but everything still felt fuzzy - the heat, the smoke, the wine - lending a sense of the unreal; the hypothetical.
Yet the sickness that gathered in his stomach spoke that what had just taken place was very real; very real indeed; it seemed that he was poised on the edge of a precipice, the pathway behind him having just fallen away. For the first time since he had started experimenting with the Dark Arts - those spells and brews that he had used to cloak himself in an alternative to self-esteem and a little confidence against the bullies - Severus felt so very young and foolish. He hadn't meant it - at least not like that. He'd been a child; had merely needed some months and a stern word to put those dangerous toys back in their box before someone got seriously hurt. But now it was too late.
Abraxas straighted, clearly pleased with himself. "Excellent. You can stay with us from here on; we'll have a room made up for you on a permanent basis until you finish at Hogwarts - there are plenty spare.” A weighty pause. “The Dark Lord would not have his newest recruit consorting with... Blood traitors and Muggles, after all."
Severus swallowed hard. His family – or to be precise, just his mother and father – were not much, but were all he had. His heart ached as bindings were pulled and snapped; bindings about it that he had not even recognized were there. He wanted one more chance, and thought fervently to snatch it. "Can I... at least go home and collect my things?"
"And what things might they be?" Abraxas asked, with incredulous tone. "I seriously doubt there is anything of value in that... dwelling... of yours that cannot be replaced here."
Severus squirmed. "My Potions notes, and cauldron, and-"
"-Oh, very well, if you must. We'll collect you in the carriage tomorrow evening." And with that, both Abraxas and his son swept from the room, leaving Severus alone with the roaring fire that suffocated, the fine silks that made his skin prickle, and the knowledge that his life was no longer his own to command. He would likely kill before the month was out.
Drifting fitfully to sleep that night, Severus dreamed he saw his elder self, mourning the drab life from which he had just turned, and his soul, split like shards of glass into a million sharpened pieces.
There were clearly worse things than being raised with Muggles, after all.
26th December, 1976
As promised, they did have the turkey on Boxing Day. That, and presents; wrapped in loud paper the misshaped packages nestled beneath the threadbare artificial tree waiting for Severus when he returned - socks and a scarf, nuts and oranges. Nothing exciting, but he thanked his mother, nevertheless.
"You're welcome," she replied, and there was a flash of the dignity she should have embodied; the Prince she should have been; clear, clever gaze and upright posture. It was good to see - but it seemed somehow unimportant, now. Then, checking that Tobias was still out of the room: "There's one more for you, actually."
Severus took the parcel that Eileen offered. This one was not swaddled in Woolworths' garish three-rolls-for-the-price-of-two, but encased simply in brown paper with string. It looked as it had been wrapped-up for quite some time. He removed the paper carefully, and was surprised to find a wizarding book therein - and not just any wizarding book, but the very text he needed and hadn't the funds to buy, having been forced to peer at others' copies during the year thus far. He genuinely smiled, and then a thing in his breast stabbed and twisted. "Thanks, Mum."
Eileen nodded, and for a moment, mother and son looked so alike a real wizarding family - content and confident with their books and their spells. Nothing fancy; nothing grasping or conquering - but just honest with themselves and the world at large.
It was gone quickly, of course. Something like pain lanced through Eileen's eyes and then she slumped into just-another-Muggle-housewife, with gingham housecoat, worn-out slippers and tired eyes. His mother shrugged, "It's not as if I have any use for it."
Contemplating the 'goodbye' that he'd never get to say, Severus had to agree: "No. I suppose you don't."
He was on his way upstairs - quiet and fitful, anticipating the midnight call - when Tobias stopped him in the hallway - lumbering into his path, a large hand placed upon his shoulder. It took all of Severus' better sense not to start and draw his wand.
Retracting a step or two, Tobias gathered himself, seeming to try again. "Um, Happy Christmas, son. I've, err... got something for you." He fished a small, ill-wrapped parcel from his jacket pocket and awkwardly pushed it into Severus' hand. Then, that boulder of a man looked down at the floor, apparently sheepish.
Taken by surprise atop his generally tense state, Severus managed to nod, "Um, thanks." He tore at the paper as it was clear he was expected to do, revealing a gold-metal oval on a chain; a Muggle pocket-watch, if he remembered such things correctly. Pressing the clasp at the top confirmed that indeed to be the case.
Severus raised his eyebrows in recognition, eyeing the old dial and clockwork hands, and Tobias then became a bit animated, his mission seemingly fulfilled. "It was me dad's. I thought... well, I thought I could pass it onto you. Only got one son, y'know..." He tried a chuckle, but it echoed falteringly in the hall against the whine and scrape of the radiators.
Severus tried to mirror his father's smile, but found his own lips stiff and unyielding. "Well, thanks," he settled-for, trying to mean it. "And goodnight, then."
"G'night, Severus." An uncomfortable pause as Tobias didn't yet move aside to let him pass; he seemed to be girding himself up for something else. "And, err, maybe we could go down the 'Rose 'n' Crown' and play darts tomorrow, eh? They've got a prize to give out, y'know - free beer until New Year's Eve!"
Severus regarded his father: face ruddy with drink, coarse hands and tongue, incompetent - even for a Muggle. Yet just at that moment, he was looking at Severus with something approaching respect in his eyes - or was it fondness? Or was it fear? Perhaps he really had done the best that he could, for all those years. Perhaps, for all his faults, Tobias Snape was not a bad man.
The idea was exotic and alien and strikingly adult; his resentments and curses suddenly felt like those of a baby, and Severus had an odd feeling of standing backward from the scene, scorning his own rash judgements.
Yet now it was done. Keeping his tone light, Severus palmed off a deceptive remark; he was good at deception, after all. "Yeah, maybe."
Tobias nodded, half-pleased, and moved aside to let Severus pass.
He was relieved that it was over, but still couldn't help but turn on the stairs and call over the chipped rail, "Goodnight, Dad."
A midnight the Malfoy carriage appeared outside his bedroom window, thestral-drawn and at risk of strangulation from its weight of gold curlicues. A velvet curtain was whipped back to reveal Lucius' face; now, it was sneering. "Well, get in, then. I'm quite sure we have no wish to loiter here, now do we?"
Severus stowed his trunk and his books in the vehicle, then turned to take a final look into his old bedroom: the shabby carpet and curtains his mother had sewn, the scuffed toys his father had made from wood, and now - on top of the pile - an old gold watch that he'd never get to use. "No. I suppose we don't."