FIC: "Salazar's Curse" for magnetic_pole Recipient: Magnetic_pole/Maggie Author/Artist: ??? Title: "Salazar's Curse" Rating: Mature Pairings: Severus Snape/Yaxley Word Count: ~7300 Medium: fiction Warnings/Content Information (Highlight to View): *None*. Summary: Yaxley is confused but intrigued by powers that don't conform to his life-long expectations. Author's/Artist's Notes: Thanks to Delphi for enticing me to think outside of my box. Thanks to my betas for help and consideration!
Severus watched Bellatrix as she apparated, her back tall and straight, her satisfaction making her seem larger. Or maybe it was the sword that she believed to be the real sword of Godric Gryffindor.
It was an image that he had no trouble reconciling with the woman he had known for far too long.
Decades. Longer than he'd known most other wizards, certainly the ones that remained alive.
"How lovely it must be," Amycus Carrow said softly from behind him. "To have the Dark Lord's consort so pleased with you. Bellatrix is more paranoid than the Dark Lord himself. It appears that you have won her over."
Severus turned from the gate that separated Hogwart's from the outside world, closing it quietly and murmuring the locking spells even as he itched to direct his wand at the creature with whom he was cursed to share control of the school. "It's best you watch your tongue," he hissed, his wand spitting sparks in time to the cadence of his words. "The Dark Lord would not think well of anyone speaking badly of his chief supporter."
Carrow shrugged, unconcerned. "It was, of course, meant as a compliment, something that the Dark Lord would like. But then, being as it involves witches, you might not understand that." It was a subtle rebuke, so subtle that Severus wasn't certain the other wizard had actually intended it. Subtlety was not Amycus Carrow's strong suit.
Carrow turned his back on Snape, heading up the path toward the school. For a few seconds, Severus's fingers itched to point his wand and cast The Killing Curse, or even the Cruciatus. But the desire passed before he gave in to it. There was too much at stake now, too much he had already gambled on this insane plan. Getting himself killed before it was necessary was a waste of all he had sacrificed so far.
Instead, he stepped forward, following his fellow Death Eater back to the school. His back twinged and his legs ached, almost as much as his head. It had been a long day already, plotting both with and against The Dark Lord, ever cautious about what he said and how he said it. This evening, hearing Bellatrix's litany of curses and condemnations had not helped. How he hated the woman, truly hated her. A one-track mind, committed to her cause. To her love for the Dark Lord.
A blind, stupid love. At times, Severus almost felt sorry for her, unable to see the truth before her very eyes. So like all the other Blacks. Perhaps the critics were right, that interbreeding among the pure-blood families was, indeed, leading to instability. Or perhaps she was just reflecting the Black family genes themselves. They went back to the earliest generations, or so it seemed in the histories he'd seen, the secret books that he had locked away in his trunks at Hogwarts.
But Bellatrix had been a minor irritant in the bigger picture of the evening. Now he had the true sword of Godric Gryffindor to protect, to find a way to get to that brat Harry Potter without anyone from either side – Death Eater or Order of the Phoenix – knowing. Damn Dumbledore and his stupidity, getting himself poisoned and having to abandon the fight. Having to have Severus kill him.
The memory of it was like a rock in his belly, a sharp, bilious rock that made him want to vomit fire.
As they neared the castle, Carrow slowed, waiting for Severus. His voice was low as he said, "Shall I escort you to your office, Headmaster? One never knows where those damned troublemakers are going to turn up."
Severus looked at the other man, a different kind of nausea roiling through his stomach. "If I cannot protect myself against the likes of 'Dumbledore's Army'," he said with as much disdain as he could muster, "then I am not only incompetent as an headmaster but also as a Death Eater. Are you attempting to suggest that?" Without thinking, his fingers twitched and the tip of his wand made small circles in the night, sparks glinting like embers in a dying fire.
"Of course not," Carrow said, his face scrunching in a frown that suggested that he was trying to work out exactly what Severus meant. "I just thought you might be lonely, up there in that tower, all alone. I know I would be."
Severus closed his eyes for a second, struggling between laughing at the absurdity of it and crying at Carrow's utter stupidity.
"What, exactly, would we do?" he asked, trying unsuccessfully to keep the sarcasm from his tone. "Do you wish to discuss the fine points of brewing a fidelius potion? Or the latest research on Muggle social organizations? The infatuation that Muggles have with this new technology they think they have invented? Or perhaps you wish to play a game of - "
"Was thinking I'd fuck you," Carrow cut in, his tone low and the words hard. "Or let you fuck me, whichever."
The bluntness of it caught Severus unprepared, and he stared, no words immediately coming to mind.
Carrow grinned then, and his eyes narrowed in triumph. "No fancy words for that, eh, Snape? So, you interested?" He leaned in closer, his nose almost touching Severus'. "Be a lot more fun than doing all that school work, what? Seems to me that you could use a bit of sport."
'A bit of sport'. The words rolled around in Severus' head until he shook it, scattering them like leaves in a wind. "Thank you for your kind offer," he said as evenly as he could, "but I have work to do."
Carrow shrugged. "As you wish," he said, with a nonchalance that Severus knew wasn't feigned; Carrow didn't have that capability. "Offer's open, anytime. Well, unless Alecto wants me."
The retort was right on the end of Severus' tongue, a snide comment about the perverse relationship the Carrow siblings seemed to have. But it would hardly do him any good, he reminded himself, drawing a deep breath and pulling back the words. If Amycus actually understood the slight, if he even took it as a slight, it would make enemies of both of his deputy headmasters, two wizards who, though not smart, were quite deadly. And two wizards who were, together, strong enough to eliminate him if they wanted to.
They were also, he reminded himself, spies for Voldemort or, at the least, Bellatrix. Of that he had no doubt.
He sighed, making his way carefully through the corridors of the school to his rooms – his new rooms, he had to remind himself as he almost made the turn toward Slytherin's dungeons, his new rooms in the Headmaster's tower.
Part of him wanted to laugh – even as that same part stopped to calculate the probability that The Dark Lord actually had had the ability to arrange this last little scene. But it seemed unlikely; The Dark Lord had little interest in the liaisons among his followers, not even for his own titillation. Severus was convinced that any physical relationship between The Dark Lord and Bellatrix Lestrange existed only in the strange plateau of the witch's unstable mind.
So what, then, had Carrow actually wanted? The idea that it was a physical attraction to him was preposterous. He had no illusions about his lack of attractiveness to men or women. Carrow was not a beauty himself but Severus knew that Carrow had had lovers other than Alecto. And with Alecto here at Hogwarts, Carrow was not desperate.
So what had he wanted? But as he trudged up the stairs to the Headmaster's Office, he knew: his power. He had surprised them all when he had killed Dumbledore. They all believed that Dumbledore's power was so strong that it would take a group of them to do it, or the Dark Lord alone, to kill him. They had all been prepared for Draco to fail so that in the end, after an assembly of them had finally defeated Dumbledore, they could put the boy before the Dark Lord as a sign of the failure of the House of Malfoy – the elite, beautiful, silver-edged scions of the full-blood wizarding world.
They certainly had not been prepared for Severus to do it. Not a half-blood, certainly not the son of a squib.
Another debt to add to that ever-growing list of debts owed to him by his father. The Great Bastard.
He reached the door to his office and muttered the unlocking charms, a vast series that he had developed over the decades for his own rooms, and a few new ones he had added here, just to be safe. Once he was inside, the fire sprang to life, burning brightly, warmly, almost making these rooms feel like home. He sat down heavily in a chair near it, and a house elf appeared instantly with a glass bottle of wine and a plate of cheese and bread. He nodded as he took a glass of wine and the elf set the plate on the table beside the chair before vanishing with a barely audible 'pop'.
He appreciated the burn of the wine as it went down – strong, it was, and powerful. Not enough, though, to stop the memories from rolling around in his head, as the seeped from behind their respective mental doors.
'He has your eyes,' the old man said, leaning in close to Severus. 'I knew this was a good arrangement.'
Severus tried to take a step back, not liking the way this man looked at him, but his father's hands pressed on his shoulders, heavy.
'Then can't we show them?' his father said, his tone cutting with anger, enough so that Severus winced, dreading what he expected next. 'Can't we take him to Grandfather Cygnus and show him how wrong he was - '
'Tobias.' The other man's voice was just as angry, just as hard, and Severus felt his knees give way. But his father's fingers clutched at his shoulders, now, holding him in place. 'They will not believe until he is older, until the summons comes from Hogwarts and he is duly accepted as the power he will be.' The old man smiled, his teeth brown and pointed, like a dog's. 'You will make us proud, Severus,' he said, drawing out the sound like a snake. 'You will prove that I was not a Squib.'
It was only later, alone with his mother, that he had dared to ask.
He thought of her now, her brownish-red hair hanging around her thin face, her pale green eyes blinking down at him. 'Something you are not, my sweet boy,' she said in her soft voice. 'A person born into a magical family with no magic. Your father's father was cursed so, and it is because of him that we are trapped in this.'
He poured more wine into his empty glass, thinking once more about the irony of it all. His grandfather, the son of one of the scions of the Black family, Cygnus Black, had married Violetta Bulstrode, of another pure-blood family. They had produced four children, only one of whom had actually continued the line. The other three had failed; one daughter, Cassiopea Black, had never married, though it was rumoured she had had more than her fair share of lovers; the other daughter had married Charlus Potter, by whom she had produced James Potter. It was a fact that never failed to make Severus queasy, the realization that he was related to his greatest nemesis, the bastard who had stolen Lily from him.
But it wasn't as bad his own grandfather, who had been an aberrant, a throw-back. A Squib.
Somehow, Marius Black had found a witch to marry, a woman who Severus had never known. She had died soon after giving birth to his father, and it had been her name that his father, and then Severus himself, had carried: Snape.
It had been the name his mother had been cursed with, too, when she had been forced into the marriage with his father, to bolster her own parents' failing economics. Another pure-blood family with little ability to support themselves, nothing of value except their blood quotient.
'You just remember,' she had told him most nights as she tucked him into bed, 'you're a Prince and a Black. It's because of the Prince family that you have the magic, but it's the Black that will make you invincible, no matter what they say.'
He'd made the mistake of saying those words once to his father, late on a hot summer afternoon, when he wanted to go inside and lie down and read, when he was sick of trying to make the stones rise out of the garden and his fingers were blistered from holding the wand for so long and his throat ached from saying the same stupid charm over and over and over.
It was the first time his father had hit him in the face. He never forgot that blow, but more than that, he never forgot his father's words: 'You will show them, you will make them understand that they can never disrespect the blood!'
The wine bottle was empty, and he felt as drained as he had that summer evening so long ago, when his seven-year-old innocence had been stripped away. His mother had tried to protect him, but it was never the same after that.
Not for her, either. A Prince, one of the last. A wizarding family that had bred itself out of existence, his mother the last one of the name.
He had promised her, on her deathbed, that any child he had would carry that name, not the name 'Snape', and certainly not the name 'Black'.
And now, that would never happen.
There was a flare in the fire as a door nearby creaked open, one of the secret doors that led up from the tunnels below. He stiffened, catching up his wand and turning toward it as the door closed softly. "Snape! What in the hell are you doing here – still hard at work, thinking on new ways to make the new generation understand?"
Yaxley. The voice was unmistakeable, and the timing, of course, perfect. Another one of his 'cousins'.
They all were, a little voice whispered from the back of Severus' mind, they were all cousins, through his father. Most of them knew it, too, the 'secret' that wasn't secret.
The 'secret' that he had suffered from the first day he had walked into Hogwart's.
"This is quite the place, isn't it? It's been a long time since I was here, but it doesn't appear to have changed much. Except that you're here, now. Who would have thought?" He moved around the room, looking at the portraits on the wall. Most of them were empty, headmasters who had abandoned this office when Severus had moved in. "I have to say that I am so surprised by how powerful you are, given his – well, his nature." He continued his stroll around the room, slowly, easily, as if he were in a museum. As he neared Severus, he paused. The soft light of the fire and the various candles cast shadows under his high cheekbones and in the lines of his silver-blond hair. In the world of pure-bloods, he was one of the elite, one of the 'white', closer to a Malfoy than a Black.
Though not quite close enough; as he turned to glance at Severus, the firelight caught his blunt features, his wide, flat nose, his square chin. None of Lucius' delicate lines and sharp angles, only Yaxley's cheekbones and his fair hair and eyes connecting him to the pure-blood royalty. "If I didn't know better, I'd swear I smelled – Bellatrix's scent? Or is that the general smell of mold and mildew in this old place?"
Yaxley's smile widened, a double-sided insult to both Severus and to Bellatrix, who was possibly the one person less liked among the Death Eaters than Severus himself.
"What do you want?" Severus demanded, pulling himself up in his chair and concentrating on the man in front of him. The fog of the wine was clearing, as it did when he found himself on the defensive.
"The Dark Lord sent me to ask after you," Yaxley said, turning and dropping onto the chair across from Severus. He stretched out his legs and leaned back comfortably as if he visited here often. But this was another way in which Yaxley showed the superiority of his breeding; like a Malfoy, he could look comfortable almost anywhere. And like a Malfoy, the world did his bidding: an house-elf appeared instantly, a new bottle of wine and another crystal glass on a silver tray. The elf made short work of replacing the empty bottle with the new one, and of making certain that the pure-blood was immediately served.
As the elf disappeared, Severus replayed Yaxley's words. It was possibly true; The Dark Lord was paranoid after all. But since Dumbledore's death, and Yaxley's own very vocal shock and pleasure at Severus' performance that horrid night, Severus somehow doubted the truth of this statement. "The Dark Lord has his own informants here, in the form of the Carrows," he said sharply, lifting one hand without a thought to wave his fingers toward the hidden door Yaxley had just come through. "I hardly see why he needs to send you."
Yaxley smiled, his large white teeth flashing in the golden light of the room. He looked once more like Lucius Malfoy, his long silver hair pulled back to frame his forehead, his pale eyes bright with challenge.
For an instant, Severus felt the stir of desire that came as he remembered long winter nights in Lucius' bed, the two of them pleasuring each other, the beauty of all that silver hair and pale skin. The perfect pure-blood.
As if knowing his mind, Yaxley's said softly, "You caught me, dear Snape. The Dark Lord did not send me. I came of my own curiosity." He stared across the space between them, the corners of his eyes crinkling. "You fascinate me, dear cousin. All that power, enough to kill Albus Dumbledore. You're an enigma, you violate every belief we have held about the blood quotient."
Severus snorted. "So you wish to dissect me? Put me under study, see if I have created some sort of magical device that will allow me to pretend - "
"You're not pretending," Yaxley interrupted smoothly, his tone amused. "I have no doubt about that, none at all. There is no way that any one can fake that sort of power, that sort of control. What I want to know is how strong your mother was."
Severus felt the tension coil in his spine. "My mother is dead. She was the last of the Prince family, her mother was a Prewett."
Yaxley smiled. "And her father, your grandfather was the son of a Peverill – wasn't that his mother?"
The tension coiled higher, drawing together his shoulder blades so that they rubbed against the back of the chair. "Why the interest in my family history, Yaxley?"
Yaxley leaned forward then, resting his elbows on his knees and staring at Severus. His gaze was direct, predatory, and instinctively, Severus' fingers itched for his wand. "You are one of the most powerful wizards alive, powerful enough to kill Albus Dumbledore."
"He was weakened, as you know," Severus said, holding up his left hand to remind the other wizard.
"Indeed," Yaxley agreed, "but he was not that weak. Perhaps the only other wizard comparable to him is our own Dark Lord. We know how powerful he is."
Severus nodded, though he suspected that he knew where this was going. "Indeed we do," he said shortly. "He is the most powerful wizard on earth. There is no one who can compete with him, no one."
"Certainly no full-born wizard," Yaxley agreed, then he paused, and Severus drew a sharp breath.
"And no half-blood," he spat. "You would be wise to bear that in mind, to remember that the Dark Lord believes in the blood quotient."
"Indeed," Yaxley said, his voice light, as if they were talking about the weather or local politics or things that were so out of place that Severus could hardly think of them. "He studies you, you know. He believes that you prove what he is, that you are like him, powerful because you are half-blood. Because you are - "
"You would never be so stupid as to say it," Severus said, the tension finally forcing him up and out of the chair. "And if you do, then you are - "
"Your friend." Yaxley was suddenly standing in front of him, his large body solid, like a wall. Not like a Malfoy, not like one of the pretty pale elite.
"Friend?" Severus said, sneering. "You have no interest in my friendship. You are only interested in my power." He stared into the other man's face, refusing to step back, refusing to acknowledge the heat from the other body, the pleasant smell of Yaxley's cologne. Thinking only of the truth of his words. A truth that was only now becoming clear. He wondered just how much else he had missed as of late, preoccupied as he was with what he had done to Dumbledore.
"Of course," Yaxley grinned easily. "But then, I'm not the only one, am I. I suspect that it's part of why our dear Dark Lord is so taken with you. Because the two of you are so much alike, yes? The Gaunt family, now as precious as your own mothers. And you do share a common family line, the Peverell - "
"What do you want?" His voice was as hard as he could make it, coming out in a long, low hiss that just verged on Parseltongue – which had been his intent.
It worked as he had hoped. Instinctively, Yaxley took a step back, one hand moving toward the front of his robe as if he would draw his wand. But he caught himself, enough so to attempt a smile that didn't quite settle on his blunt features. "I want you," he said, his voice level but hoarse.
Severus heard the words and his mind immediately calculated all the possible interpretations. But even as his genius was preoccupied with that, Yaxley blinked then he reached up with one hand, the movement slow enough for Severus to stop it. His eyes followed the movement automatically, looking for overt danger, for a wand or the bending of a finger that would preface a spell. Looking for a physical threat, a slap or curled fingers to indicate a blow.
Instead, the tips of Yaxley's fingers slowly brushed Severus' cheek. They were warm and rough, and he could feel the calluses from wand and stylus. Yaxley wasn't an intellectual, or an artist, or any sort of thinker, he was an enforcer. Just like Carrow, like the men who had interrogated Severus after the First War, during the period when the only protection he had from violence and pain was Albus Dumbledore.
"You're shivering," Yaxley murmured as his fingers kept moving slowly, lightly over Severus' face. "I doubt it's the cold, and while I'd like to think that it was my words, I suspect that's not the case either."
Severus swallowed, forcing the past away. "Lying to me will do you no good," he said, annoyed when his words came out faint and uneven. He cleared his throat and lifted his head, drawing away from the contact. "We have known each other many years, too many for you to believe that his blatant lie will get you any closer to what you want."
Yaxley sighed and slowly dropped his hand, but he didn't step away or turn from Severus, his gaze just as direct and focused as it had been. "You're right, of course," he said, and Severus felt something small and bright die inside him, something that he'd refused to acknowledge. "We have known each other far too long for you to trust me, even if I am telling you the truth. But it is the truth, Severus." Severus' name rolled off his tongue with an ease that came from practice. "When we were in school together, you were always so aloof, you never wanted to have anything to do with the rest of us. I understand why – it's not as if we made it easy for you, not in the beginning. Everyone knew the truth of who you were, even if you did have the name of 'Snape' to hide behind."
Severus swallowed, the bile burning in his belly at the reminder of those early days at Hogwart's, the way his own house had treated him, laughing not only behind his back but to his very face, the accusations of 'squib' and 'mudblood' trailing after him no matter where he went. Right up until -
"And then Lucius came to your rescue." The words were sad but they carried a hint of anger. "Pretty, powerful, arrogant Lucius Malfoy. Oh, don't get me wrong," he said, turning away and stepping back over to the nearby chair. "He is my dearest cousin, of course, we share a very similar heritage, and, of course, blood quotient."
"Indeed," Severus agreed, relieved to have the distance between them. "So you deferred to him and it's taken you all this time, until he was out of the picture in Azkaban to find the courage to come to me?" He was pleased to hear the acid in his tone, to know that it had returned. He also moved, but unlike Yaxley, he stepped closer to the fireplace, further away.
"Yes, actually," Yaxley said. "You followed Lucius everywhere, we all saw it, we all knew it. Even after the First War, in the aftermath of it, Lucius had married and you had disappeared. By the time I realized you were here, well, there were questions . . . "
"About my loyalty," Severus smiled. "And we all thought the Dark Lord was lost to us, and no one wanted to provoke the ill will of Dumbledore or the Ministry."
"Of course we did not," Yaxley said, finally reseating himself. "You were one of us, one of the few who managed to remain free. I thought a number of times about contacting you, but my own position was so precarious. . . "
Severus turned to look at his visitor. "Were you not employed as a - "
"I did what I had to do," he said, his voice sharp. "Just as you did."
Severus studied him. "Is that what you're doing now? What you 'have to do'?"
Yaxley tilted his head to one side, and the firelight danced again along his bright hair, casting it in shades of blue and red. "I have spent my life dedicated to the quest for blood purity," he said softly. "I doubted you the same way that everyone of us did – because you were a mudblood born of a squib, because you were Dumbledore's pet, because you were late to get back to the Dark Lord. I was no different from any of the others. And we were all wrong about you."
Severus turned back to look directly at the fire. The words sounded sincere, and perhaps they were. Yaxley had admitted to many things this night, many things that could not have been easy, not for the a believer in the power of pure-blood. Only the Dark Lord had been the exception.
Or perhaps it had been Azkaban. Yaxley had been there for a while now, since he had been captured in the aftermath of the events at the Astronomy Tower, the events he was so enarmoured of, the death of Albus Dumbledore by Severus' own hand.
There was irony in this, so many layers of it that Severus wasn't sure he could list them all. Yaxley believed that Severus had killed one of the two most powerful wizards in the world, yet Dumbledore had been not only weakened by the poison but he'd also been suicidal, waiting for those moments.
And now – now Severus was being seduced by a member of the perfect, pure-blood, silver-haired, elite for the same reasons he had been attracted to them so long ago: power.
Power that Yaxley wanted to use for – "I will not turn against the Dark Lord," Severus said flatly, turning his back to the fire to glare at Yaxley. "And if you have come here, or you and Carrow have concocted this plan - "
"Carrow?" Yaxley said, his face tightening. "What about Carrow - which Carrow?"
Severus hadn't expected that but he adapted quickly. "Don't pretend that the two of you – or more - didn't plan this - "
Yaxley stood up again, not smiling. "There is no 'two or more'. If anyone else has tried anything, if any one has - " He blew out a breath, words failing him. They had never been his strenghts, though, and he defaulted to his instinct. His wand was in his hand so quickly that Severus didn't see the motion, just the sparking of the tip as Yaxley walked away, toward the door.
Severus frowned. "Yaxley?" he said, confused. "Where are you – Yaxley!"
Yaxley didn't stop, didn't even look back, and Severus waved his fingers toward the door, murmuring another set of locking curses. When Yaxley pulled against the door and it didn't open, he cursed, pulled some more, then turned back, his face dark, to stare at Severus. "I'll kill him," he said, his tone hard and loud. "Let me out and I'll - "
"So you're not working with him? This isn't a plot that you two have concocted to challenge the Dark Lord?"
For the first time this night, Yaxley's face took on the expression Severus knew. His eyes were hard, the lines at his eyes and mouth deep and straight and sharp. This was the wizard who would lead the Department of Magical Enforcement when the Dark Lord had control of the Ministry, if their plans worked, which Severus expected. This was the wizard who Severus had known in the past, the wizard who knew how to intimidate almost as many wizards as The Dark Lord himself.
This was the bully, the flat-nosed, square-faced wizard who had haunted many of Severus' nightmares.
"I came here," Yaxley said flatly, "to see you, because I respect you. I don't know about Carrow, but if he insulted you, I'll make sure he never does it again." He turned back to the door, waving his wand and repeating, ever more loudly, 'alahambra', as if the door were deaf to the ineffective command.
Severus stared at him, so stunned by the idea that he wasn't even amused by the inanity of Yaxley struggling with the door. No one had ever come to his defense this way, certainly over something as trivial as a sexual overture. The very idea of it was so farfetched that . . .
He narrowed his gaze, concentrating on Yaxley who was cursing at the door now with a list of charms that included more than a few that Severus would have bet were beyond the wizard's ability. Yaxley's preoccupation and his anger made it easy for Severus to slip into his mind, to peer into the motivations that had brought him here.
He couldn't go deep, most of the Death Eaters did have enough training to understand how to protect themselves, but nothing that he saw supported the idea of an ulterior motive or a plot. Only sincere anger for Severus.
This 'proof' only added to Severus' confusion. Why in the world would Yaxley be so protective?
"Yaxley," he called once, then again more loudly. When Yaxley turned to him finally, his face red with frustration, his scarred knuckles white from his clench on his wand, Severus went on, "There is no need for this. Obviously Carrow did not succeed. Nor could he have; had I not wished his attentions and he persisted, I would have resorted to more forceful means of making my point. I assure you."
Yaxley drew in a deep breath and the color in his face slowly paled. "Of course you would have," he said, shaking his head. Several strands of his long hair had come free of their binding and they framed his face, making it appear less square.
He wasn't Lucius Malfoy, not by a long stretch. But like this, his face framed by his hair, his eyes steady, his gaze direct, he was as almost as good.
"I spent my whole life thinking that only us pure-bloods were the strong ones, the ones with the power. Thought The Dark Lord was just a freak, coming as he does from – well, from his past. Hell, some of us even thought he might be unlike anyone ever could be, especially after he came back from death itself." The last he said very softly, his gaze leaping around the room, checking to make sure that none of the figured of the portraits had returned to overhear. "But then you did what you did to Dumbledore, you, with your – well, you . . . "
He hadn't finished the sentence, but he didn't have to. Severus could fill in the blanks. "And now you think you could be wrong?" Severus asked carefully. "You think we could all be wrong about the blood quotient?"
Yaxley drew along breath before answering. "I don't know," he said finally. "I just can't believe it. I – if it's true, then it means that there are probably more wizards out there as powerful as you and the Dark Lord, wizards who are not pure-bloods. I guess I can't believe that because if it were true, why wouldn't you have already gone up against us, already stopped this war?"
Why, indeed, Severus thought. The idea caught him off-guard, partly because of its novelty, but more pointedly because it was from this wizard – a wizard who was not capable of enough subterfuge or duplicity to be playing a game. He was serious and, more to the point, he was right. Was it more than just The Dark Lord and himself? It could be their shared family line, the Peverill, but then, that would also apply to a large number of pure-bloods. The Peverill family had been one of the largest families at one time.
It was thought, though, and one he needed to consider with a concentration. But at this moment, there was the other thought the demanded his attention. The thought that Yaxley had come to this awareness.
The thought that Yaxley was here in his office, his apartment, looking at him as if he were the center of the world.
"I can't answer your questions," Severus said slowly, softly. "I follow the Dark Lord, who is the strongest wizard alive."
Yaxley swallowed, tilting his head to one side. "Well, yes, but . . . "
Severus felt something odd, a sense of protectiveness for the other wizard. It took him a few seconds to actually realize what he was feeling; there were very few times in his life he had felt this, most of them before the end of the First War, before everything he thought he had known was proven wrong.
"What do you want from me?" Severus asked, not sure why he was asking now or even again. Not sure he really wanted to know.
Yaxley blinked, swallowed again, then said, "Thought I was making that clear. I want you."
The idea of it was perplexing. "Why?"
Yaxley looked even more confused, and he spoke slower still, as if he weren't certain of his words. "Because you're so powerful."
It was, of course, the appropriate answer, a true Slytherin answer. But there was something else under it, a lack of deviousness that confused Severus still.
"Is that all?" he asked.
Yaxley looked away, his tongue flicking out to touch his lips. "Well, you are – dark."
Severus frowned. "Dark? Of course, we're all practitioners of the dark arts."
"No," Yaxley said impatiently, shaking his head. More strands of his hair came loose from the ribbon, swaying with the movement of his head. Individual strands caught the light, seeming to glitter, "You're one of the dark ones, like the Black side of the family – pretty that way, not pale like most of us."
'Not pale like most of us.' The elite, the pretty ones.
Severus sighed at the inanity of it – until it occurred to him that perhaps he was in error. As the idea spiraled through his mind, taking shape, Yaxley put it to words.
"You, the Blacks, even that damned Sirius, Bellatrix, - you're all very powerful, perhaps more powerful than those of us who should be. All these years we thought it was the pale ones who were the elite, but I heard Bellatrix talking to Narcissa a couple of months back, saying something like 'the current elite have cross-bred themselves into decline'." He attempted to sound like Bellatrix, pitching his voice higher and dragging out the syllables in an exaggeration of her snide tone.
Severus could imagine that conversation, coming sometime after Lucius had been arrested and Narcissa was in need of help from anyone who would give it, to protect Draco. Help that Severus himself had ultimately been forced to give, along with that damnable blood oath. "You think she's correct?" he asked, studying the other man.
"Makes sense," Yaxley shrugged. "Too much sense. Explains why the Dark Lord, you, even Bellatrix are so much more powerful than the rest of us – those of us who should be."
"And you want to do what?" Severus asked, still not sure he understood what Yaxley was getting to.
Yaxley smiled then. "Well, if they're right, then getting married and having children seems rather – pointless. We're just breeding the power right out of us."
"But you could marry - "
"No." The word was hard and fast. "I could never marry someone who wasn't a pure-blood. I know it sounds stupid to you, but I can't."
"But you could . . . " He fumbled for the word, not sure what Yaxley was saying. 'Fucking' and 'marriage' were miles apart on the scale. But they weren't, apparently, talking about 'fucking'. They were talking about something more like a – relationship? The very idea made his mouth go dry.
"I'm not talking about a lifetime commitment," Yaxley said and even he looked a little pale. "But I am talking about more than a quick tumble. Reckon we've both had enough of those these past two years, and I gotta say, I'm tired of finishing off then worrying about whether I'm going to be hexed or poisoned or killed. Aren't you? Reckon this way, we're both safe. And you can teach me."
There it was. "Teach you?" Severus looked around the room, as much to work out the stiffness in his neck as to remind Yaxley where they were. "You want me to be your headmaster, to educate you in how to be powerful?"
For an instant, Yaxley's eyes widened and Severus saw the hope in them. Severus reached instinctively for his wand, thinking to hex the bastard, but before he could pull it from his robes, Yaxley smiled wider and shook his head.
"Of course that's what I want," he said, "but I don't think you can do that. No, what I want you to teach me is all the mind stuff that you know, how to protect myself from others getting into it. How to use some of those older curses and charms, how to protect us better, all of us – the Dark Lord, too." He shifted, as if he were going to step closer but he stopped himself. "But mostly I want to ally myself with you. To partner with you."
His eyebrows lifted on the last part, leaving little doubt as to his meaning.
Severus drew in a deep breath. Certain parts of him had their own reactions, most of which he tried to ignore. Though it was difficult; it had been a long time, far longer than Yaxley realized. The wizard hadn't been wrong, there was little that was more frustrating than having to worry about the post-coital dangers. For that reason, he had avoided the exact situations Yaxley was now proposing.
He let himself once more slip into the man's thoughts. This time, there was no way to avoid the truth of it: Yaxley did lust for him. It was mostly for his power, but there was definitely a carnal aspect to it.
And under it, a layer of affection. A layer of respect.
It was the last part that was the most complicated and the part that finally broke through Severus' resistance. If there were a plot, if Yaxley was conspiring to hurt him, then he couldn't see it, not in the upper levels of his mind. It was possible that Yaxley was being protected by someone else, or that he had been trained over these last few years by someone, but in the long run, it didn't matter. Severus knew there was only one living wizard more skilled in legilimency and occulmency than he was and if the Dark Lord was using Yaxley, then it didn't matter at all. It was just one step closer to the inevitable, to the way things would end no matter what he wanted.
No matter what he did in the here and now.
"It is a long war," Yaxley said softly. "I will leave if you wish me to. But it is up to you. You would kill me otherwise." He smiled then, a soft smile that was at odds with his hard features. "You have no reason to trust me, and I know that you have tested me to see if I am lying. I am not, Severus. Though I admit, it is quite a strange feeling."
He drew a deep breath then reached out and once more lightly touched Severus' face. It was a gentle, quick caress of Severus' cheek, gone within seconds, then Yaxley was walking away, toward the hidden door that would take him back into the tunnels. As he spoke the charm to open the door he had come through earlier, Severus heard himself call, "Wait."
Yaxley glanced over his shoulder even as the door swung open. There was a glimmer of something in his eyes, something that could have been victory or it could have been, perhaps, hope. Severus still wasn't sure, as it was an expression he had little familiarity with.
"Perhaps a glass of wine before you go," he said, stalling. "It is a cold night, after all."
Yaxley tilted his head to one side in acceptance. It was a gesture typical of the pure-blood elite, almost condescending. But it was followed with a slight smile. It changed his features, made them into something that Severus didn't know. Something real. "It is cold," Yaxley agreed. He turned and came back to Severus, close but not touching. His fingers did brush Severus' as he took the glass but he was careful.
"To power," Severus agreed, "and the blood." He smiled into his glass before he drank. There was only one way this would play out. But for a time, perhaps he had someone to be with him. Someone who finally respected him.