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Chapter 11: Unexpected Twists
The snow fell thick and wet from the sky as the students of Hogwarts began to file excitedly off of the train and into the arms of their waiting families on the platform. This year, Lucy could at least partially imagine what it must feel like for them, carefree children ready to go home to elaborate holiday meals and thoughtful gifts from loved ones, their midterm exams already flimsy memories shoved to the back of their minds.
As he offered her his hand to help her off the train, his shirt sleeve slipped up just enough to give her a glimpse of the ugly black tattoo. She blinked, trying to erase it as she accepted the gesture.
In the weeks since she had first discovered that Severus had aligned himself with the Dark Lord and his followers, Lucy had slowly grown accustomed to his new way of life. She knew that she should not ask questions when he left suddenly and reappeared in the middle of the night with equal lack of warning. After all, these questions only led to painful silences that were pregnant with the things he couldn’t begin to explain to her. She knew how to toe the thin line between ignoring his new crowd of friends, associates of her brother’s, and intruding on their conversations. She knew how not to see the looks of anguish that crossed Lily’s pretty face every single time they passed one another in Potions class.
Still, she was not perfect. She still jumped a little when the mark burned into her skin, which occurred every time he was summoned when they were in the midst of making love.
She tried to put these things out of her mind now, though she did not find it as easy as it surely must have been for the students who were merely concerned about the results of their exams. He must have noticed her mental absence, because he squeezed her hand, and she instantly snapped back to reality. A look at his face revealed an expression full of guarded excitement.
Together, they walked down the main thoroughfare of London, and Lucy thought she could barely go any farther when he suddenly turned down an alleyway. When they emerged from it, she found herself in an impoverished but quaint neighborhood. The snow had stopped falling, and small children made feeble attempts at snowmen in the center of the main street, providing the only noise for miles. Severus led her past them to a simple house at the corner of the street and another alleyway. Taking a deep breath, almost like he was saying a prayer, he knocked.
The door opened slowly, revealing a thin but fairly pretty woman with dark hair and green eyes. “Severus.” She smiled, giving him a hug. “I’m so glad you’re home.” She glanced at Lucy, taking her in with a look of surprise. “Do we have a guest for dinner?”
“Yes, Mum. This is Lucy, my…” He paused for a split second. “Girlfriend.” He finally settled on the appropriate word. “Don’t you remember? I mentioned her in my last letter.”
“Oh, of course!” The woman nodded. “Welcome, dear.” She offered Lucy a smile. “You’ll have to forgive me. The letter was quite some time ago…”
“Yes, Mum, just been a bit busy.” He explained hastily. “Can we come in?”
“Of course.” The woman stepped aside, revealing a simple living room with a battered sofa and a small kitchen off to the side. “Tea?”
“Yes, please.” Lucy answered, following Severus to the dining room table. He offered her a seat and kissed her on the cheek. “Got to use the restroom. Be right back.” He whispered.
Lucy watched him head upstairs, and the woman sat down, offering her a cup.
“Thank you.” She said, taking a sip. “English breakfast. My favorite.”
“Should be called something else. It’s good any time of day.” The woman smiled.
Lucy returned the smile. “You have a lovely home.”
“Oh, nonsense, it’s nothing.” Severus’s mother laughed. “But thank you all the same.”
The door opened just then, a mild gust of cold air filling the small space. Lucy looked up to see a tall, angry-looking man enter the house. If Severus’s mother had given him his best features, this man was clearly responsible for his worst. She could see elements of his temper, of which she had only seen brief flashes, his hunched posture, and his brittle, underfed body structure.
“Eileen, breakfast, now.” The man said, and then his eyes found Lucy. His expression changed to one of perverse delight. Lucy recognized the look immediately; it was very similar to the one her father and brother adopted when they’d come up with new ways to torture her at home.
“Who’s this?” He slurred a bit, and then he glanced up and frowned coldly.
Severus had just come back down the stairs. He immediately locked into the defensive stance he’d taken for so long when facing Sirius and James, but his face betrayed his anger. It was frightening, really, to be sitting at the table between two mirror images of rage.
“Thought you said he was going to be at work.” Severus was clearly addressing his mother, but he spoke through gritted teeth, not willing to take his eyes off of his father.
“I—I thought he was.” Eileen said nervously, skillet in hand.
“Quit.” The man proclaimed. “Well, sort of.” He smirked. “Seems they don’t much appreciate me drinking on the job.”
Severus glared at him. “How very shocking.”
The man glared back. “You know better than to speak to me like that, boy.” He snarled.
Lucy would not find out why he knew better. Severus came down off the stairs and took her arm, marching her firmly past the man and out the door. “Thanks for the tea, mum.” He called back.
He led her for several yards before she finally pulled away. “That’s your father?” She asked.
“Regrettably.” He looked at her, still angry. It melted away when he found her eyes, and he sighed. “I didn’t mean for you to meet him, or see… that. At all. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay.” She brushed his hair out of his face. “It’s not like you haven’t warned me about him. Besides, you’ve seen my home life. I’m not exactly new to this kind of thing.”
They stood there in silence for a moment, and then he reached for her hand.
“Can I show you something?”
They walked about a mile down the main road before they reached a very snowy playground.
“Come on, sit.” He took one of the swings, brushing off the seat next to him for her. She did as he asked, watching the children play a few feet away with a slight smile.
“This is where I met Lily.” He confessed softly. “We spent lots of time here getting to know each other. This is where she showed me her Hogwarts letter, the same day she received it.” He looked at her. “Lucy, you know almost everything about me. You’ve proven that I can trust you with just about anything. I brought you here because this place made me feel safe for a long time, and now you are the thing that makes me feel safe.”
She smiled softly, but she was confused. “It’s comforting, yes, but… I don’t understand.”
“I brought you here because I need to be honest with you about something.”
Her heart fell into the floor. He loves her too much. He can’t be with me. Oh, God.
“Do you remember when I brought you to the hotel, when I took you away from your parents? I told you they had let me take you. You remember?”
“Well, it didn’t exactly go like that.”
“I—They had to get rid of me. Get rid of you. They were afraid I would tell people what I had seen, and then your little family secret would be out. It would ruin the Malfoy image. So… they gave me a choice.” He took a deep breath. “I would agree to marry you, or they would kill you.”
Lucy stood up, coming to stand before him, blocking out the bleak sunshine. “What?”
“They were going to just hide your body and tell people you were on vacation or something.” Tears fell from his eyes. “It was brutal. It reminded me so much of my father. I—I couldn’t.”
She stared at him. “Severus, we are not married.”
“According to them, we are.” He finally looked up at her, and she could see the fear in his eyes. “You have to understand, I couldn’t let it happen. Please.” He took her hand. “Look, the only people who know are your family members. It’s not on the books or anything.” His eyes pleaded with her even as he uttered his next words. “You’re free to go whenever you like. I won’t hold you to it. I would never try to force you into something you weren’t comfortable with.”
“So, what, they just expect me to disappear into a life with you?”
“Essentially.” He sighed, defeated. “Lucy, really, if you don’t want—”
“It sounds wonderful.” She almost laughed. “I just wish it was real.”
He paused, taken aback, and then sat up slightly. “It—It can be.”
Her blue eyes stared at him questioningly as he pulled a small box from his pocket and handed it to her. She opened it gingerly, revealing a large round diamond on a white gold band.
“I saved for a year before I bought it. Took me forever to find the one I thought you’d like best.”
She pulled it from the box and put it on her finger, admiring it.
“Is that a yes?” He looked up at her, barely resisting the urge to grin.
The kiss she gave him next said more than any words ever could.