Severus Snape was not particularly a fan of the discipline of Divination. He found it overly theatrical and outright silly. Teacups and tarot cards and imaginary animals in the sky did not seem to him to be a particularly reliable way to foretell events, most especially when he believed that merely being a very careful observer of current events will do precisely the same thing with far more accuracy and far less drama.
Thus he thought it extremely odd at first that the contentment that finally settled over him while he was at Jane’s cottage would also bring about an answering unease. It was as if he knew something terrible was about to happen. Now, he knew the severing of his relationship with Jane would be difficult, but by his account, that was more than two months away. It was not even remotely logical to break off his relationship with her until at least the end of term (when both of them would of necessity be parted anyway). Snape had planned it out. He would separate himself as cleanly and as kindly as possible, and assuage whatever pain was involved with a full plunge into the company of Roland Gash and his daughter. By August he would be engaged, his life determined, and completely past this impermanent little dalliance with Jane (gloriously pleasurable though it was). Until then, however, Jane was his. He told himself two months was an eternity. An eternity to enjoy her until they had to be parted for yet another, immeasurable eternity.
They still had, of course, the rest of that glorious week. And Severus Snape did not get sick of her, or of her tiny cottage, or of Penzance. After his initial reticence, and the unnerving visit from Jane’s mother, they were left blissfully alone.
And bliss it was, once he stopped resisting it. Jane fed him (often and well), and she made love to him (also often and well), and she took him on endless walks around Penzance and up and down the Promenade by the sea. The only annoyance was the Muggle clothing he had to wear when they left the cottage. The shirt and sweater he had procured were comfortable enough, but the belt and trousers were intolerable. He did not know how Muggle men endured them.
But Jane seemed to deeply appreciate them, for some odd reason. The first time he wore them they did not make it out of her cottage until Jane had unbuckled and unzipped and generally indulged herself. He had just fucked her quite animatedly that morning, so when she pushed him up against the wall as they were about to leave (giving him the feral, hungry look with which he was so happily acquainted), he told her in no uncertain terms he was “not some sort of trained monkey who can perform on command.” She ignored him, roughly jerked at his buckle and pulled at his zipper, then, yanking his trousers to his knees in one swift tug, and falling to her own, she went to work.
Apparently, he was wrong. He was a trained monkey. Her trained monkey, making simian noises as he rose up on his toes, arching into her exquisite mouth. Perhaps belts and trousers weren’t so bad after all, if they inspired such impulses.
He had one terrible worry, that they would often end up staring at each other in an uncomfortable silence, having nothing to say. This worry actually did materialize, in a fashion. Except the silences seemed to him quite natural. Jane did not seem inclined to pepper the air with useless words any more than he did. When he sat on her small couch to read his book of ancient Chinese curses, she would sit, and place her feet in his lap, whereupon she would either knit or read as well (she could not resist her mother’s gift, and took up the needles almost as soon as Eva Pellarin was out of the house). He did not mind this, as this afforded a very nice look at her legs, and Jane seemed to make a habit of unceremoniously slithering across the couch to straddle him, most especially if he began absent-mindedly rubbing her feet. Reading melted into sex which melted into eating which melted into taking a walk to town which melted into teacake and tea at a teahouse which melted into a visit into a local bookstore which melted into more walking, more reading, and more sex.
She knew well enough not to lavish attention on him in public, as it would have embarrassed him, and anyone might have thought they were brother and sister, or even an officious pair of coworkers, unless they watched carefully enough to observe the sensuous way she tended to lean just slightly against him, or how his hand would curl possessively around her elbow as she whispered into his ear.
It was a golden time, but alas one not to last. They could not escape the wizarding world or their other lives forever, not even in Penzance.
Because Snape, as it turns out, did not even have until June.
He had, precisely, until Easter day.
That morning, Jane was gone to church, and Snape had made himself comfortable again on the couch and had taken out his quill and set of tests he had brought with him to grade. He had avoided grading them all week, but they were leaving this evening and now was the only private time he had left to him, as Jane had planned a rather elaborate Easter supper, and he hoped to monopolize the remainder of their afternoon after that with a couple of slow, delicious hours in her bed.
Napoleon had quite oddly decided to make himself a nuisance as Snape graded. For some reason he had discerned that Snape needed a little owl on his shoulder, and no amount of growling or poking seemed to dislodge him.
It was Napoleon that first seemed to know something unpleasant was imminent. He was restless, nipping at Snape’s ear as he graded, and moving nervously up and down his shoulder burbling little hoots and gahs almost as if the bird were trying to tell him something.
Then, out of nowhere, there was a rapping at the front door. Napoleon let out an angry shriek, but with one quick movement Snape caught him, holding him fast in his palm.
“Go upstairs and stay there, and if you come down again before Jane gets back I’m going to turn you into a budgerigar.”
The tiny owl’s eyes opened even wider than usual, and when Snape opened his hand the bird flew up the stairs and disappeared.
Snape ignored the knock. The knock came again. Again, Snape ignored it. But then, Snape heard from the other side of the door a murmured spell.
Snape stood quickly, his hand going to his wand, and stood, entirely prepared to defend himself.
The man who stepped in the door was the last person that Severus Snape wanted to see.
“Ah, Severus…” Lucius Malfoy said, closing the door behind him. He too was dressed in Muggle clothing, and over it a great grey cape. “I’ve spent the past week searching for you.” At this Malfoy let his gaze roam about the room, and his face betrayed more than a hint of distaste.
Snape’s wand arm rose to the height of Lucius Malfoy’s neck. “Get out,” he growled.
Lucius paid him no mind. “This is that Squib professor’s house, isn’t it?” he said, making a disparaging noise. “Charming.”
“Now, now…don’t be insulted. I would not have entered if you had not refused to answer the door. I have to speak with you.”
“Are you deaf, Malfoy? Get out!” Snape bellowed, beyond furious.
Lucius Malfoy crossed his arms in front of his chest. “What are you going to do? Kill me? You might get away with it, if you finessed it properly, as I did break in, but how would you explain your presence here to the Wizengamot? What on earth would people think?”
Snape knew exactly what people would think. They would think he was having an affair with Jane.
Lucius began to make his way slowly around Jane’s parlor, eyeing it with disdain as Snape tracked his movements.
“Your wand, Severus…” Malfoy murmured, “so unnecessary. I’m here out of concern for your welfare.”
Snape’s wand arm stayed exactly where it was. “You never do anything out of concern for anyone but yourself, Malfoy.”
Malfoy looked at the armchair, and then took a green silk handkerchief from his pocket, which he used to daub at the chair’s seat. Then he lowered himself into it, wiping his hands on the handkerchief after he did.
“Am I not allowed to be concerned for both of us?” he asked. “I am the facilitator of the marriage contract, you know. But you are its main benefactor. My needs are yours, and vice-versa.”
“My needs are not yours, and never have been.”
Lucius chuckled softly, and slightly mockingly. “You know, I’m seeing a similarity between you and another wizard of my past acquaintance, though doubtless you would not be pleased at the comparison.”
“As nothing you do could be a source of pleasure to me, no doubt you are correct.”
Malfoy clasped his hands and sighed. “Do you remember what happened to Sirius Black, Severus? Something ‘off’ about him from the beginning, wasn’t there? Out of the noble house of Black, toujours pur. He should have been Slytherin, like the rest of his family. How confusing it must have been for him, lost amongst the scarlet and gold. But the Sorting Hat had rightly perceived the defect in him, and of course the rest of his life bears it out. Disowned by his own family, blotted out as if he had never existed. Godfather to the Boy Who Lived. Sent to Azkaban for a crime he should have committed, but didn’t…”
Severus Snape had hated Sirius Black with every bone and fiber of his being, but to hear Malfoy recount Black’s life and death, he almost felt the urge to defend him.
“And from what I hear,” Malfoy continued, “before his untimely death at the wand of my dear sister-in-law, he was buggering that old school chum of his. Goes about in ragged robes all the time, looking like death warmed over. The great Sirius Black, handsome and clever, born with the purest blood there was flowing through his veins. But he died a homosexual, a blood traitor, fucking a werewolf.” Then Malfoy chuckled again, highly amused.
“That werewolf has an Order of Merlin, First Class,” Snape said quietly.
Malfoy ignored this, and gave Snape an appraising stare. “You seem a bit gold and scarlet about the edges, yourself, Severus. Look at you! I mean, taking a Squib or a Muggle as a mistress is not unheard of, of course, but following her to her quaint little cottage by the sea, like a stray puppy? What are you going to do next? Advocate universal suffrage for house-elves? Perhaps we should let Muggles attend Hogwarts!”
At this Lucius began to chuckle again.
“You always did love the sound of your own voice, Malfoy,” Snape sneered. “And I know why you are here. I will sign the contract when and if I feel it to be the right time to sign. And I take your opinion, and your urging, to be of no consequence whatsoever.”
Malfoy sniffed dismissively, but when he spoke, his voice was low and vaguely threatening. “Don’t tell me you are wavering because of your…extracurricular activities, Severus. I must admit I am a bit fascinated. What draws you to the Squib? She must give awfully good sport if you are willing to endure her presence when she is not servicing you. She’s a ripe sort, yes, if one yearns for that breed of woman, but she is not exceptional to look at so far as I can see, so I’m wondering. Has she a clever tongue, Severus? Might you consider sharing?”
In a flash Snape had crossed the room and took Malfoy by the throat, pressing his wand to his temple. There was a look of pure, unadulterated fury on his face.
“Say one more word about her…jusssst one…” he hissed.
For a brief second an expression of utter terror skittered across Malfoy’s face, but then he smiled, a malicious smile tinged with gleeful pity.
“Oh, no, Severus…you care for her. I suspected as much. How…how embarrassing for you. You must be mortified. Oh, I am sorry.”
For a brief moment, Snape imagined murdering Lucius Malfoy right there, imagined the force of the Killing Curse severing Malfoy’s head from his body, sending it hurling across the room. But then Snape slowly lowered his wand arm. Killing Lucius Malfoy in Jane’s parlor was not the way he had wished to spend his Easter holiday.
Snape rose to his full height. “If you value your meager existence, Malfoy, you will leave,” he said, his voice a tight whisper. “Now.”
“Severus, be reasonable,” Lucius was saying. “Nothing prohibits you from keeping your little piece on the side if you like. I of all people certainly won’t hold it against you. I do like to bait you but actually think it’s rather quaint, you carrying on with her. Like a lord carrying on with a scullery maid. Many a Slytherin man has wound up thrashing about with worse. Just make sure she understands your position. And hers.”
Then Malfoy furrowed his brow, and though he would not meet Snape’s eyes, Snape could see he was wrestling with what he was about to say.
“I have a confession to make, Severus,” he began. “I admit to you now that I am a competitive man. No surprise, of course, as I am Slytherin. But I will also say now that if you have been envious of my wealth and my status, I have been envious of your talent and intelligence. Believe it or not, I know my own limitations, and I know your strengths. I came here because it is in the best interests of us all for you to sign the contract.”
Snape considered this as he probed Malfoy’s gaze. He was telling the truth, or at least what he believed to be the truth.
“Why now? Why not wait until Princilla graduates? Did Gash send you?”
Malfoy shook his head. Again, he was telling the truth, and Snape was glad of that at least.
“Under normal circumstances I would not have wasted a week of my time searching for you. I would think it your right to wait on signing as long as you saw fit, most especially since Princilla is your student and tongues will wag, to be sure.
“However the situation between my son and Miss Gash has become nearly unmanageable and the dangers of waiting now outweigh the possible perceived impropriety of you taking a student as your fiancée.”
“Explain,” Snape said tonelessly.
Malfoy pursed his lips, obviously frustrated. “The two of them seem to think that they should be free to pursue their relationship, and their own interests, rather than the interests of their respective families.”
Snape nodded. “And if I sign the contract…”
“Of course, then the contract becomes binding. If Princilla took it upon herself to marry someone else at this point, with the contract unsigned, the contract would become void. She may do what she wills, because she is neither legally or magically bound.”
Yes, Snape recalled that this was indeed the way marriage contracts worked. Once both the bride and groom signed, the contract became binding, with magical insurances that the parties involved could not take another spouse. Voiding it at that point required the consent of both parties, a third wizard who served as a witness, and a ceremony quite like the one used for an Unbreakable Vow, only in reverse.
Snape remained standing, staring down at Malfoy. “Would it not be better for you to encourage your son to keep up his relationship with Princilla, and to discourage me from signing the contract? You might be Gash’s in-law, if all went well. And you would not be in the position of betraying your own son.”
Malfoy did flinch at that, and then he stared off at what seemed to be a point beyond the fireplace.
“My son does not know what is good for him, or our family, and he does not know Roland Gash. It is better to keep Roland’s goodwill than to shove our presence down his throat and force a familial tie that he abhors. He wants you for his son’s wife, and thinks my son inferior. Cowardly. Young and foolish. And on many of those points I myself would agree with him.”
Snape did not know what to say to that. His only thought was that he should stop punishing Draco. Certainly his father accomplished enough. And Lupin had been right. It had not helped to keep him from Princilla.
He was about to say something—he knew not what—when just then, the front door opened. It was Jane.
Lucius Malfoy recovered himself. He stood, and eyes gleaming merrily, he put out a thin hand.
“Ah, Professor…Flintrammel, isn’t it?”
Jane looked around a bit, utterly confused. She saw her lover, his face curdled in frustration, his hand at his hip, gripping his wand. And Lucius Malfoy, attempting to take her hand.
“Um, I…” Jane stammered, putting out her hand as well.
Then, “Charmed…” Malfoy said, in a voice that indicated anything but, as Lucius took it between his thumb and fingers as if it was something that had fallen in a Knockturn Alley puddle.
“Would you, er, do you wish to stay for Easter supper?” Jane was asking.
Snape closed his eyes, almost hearing Lucius’ laughter in his head, and the story he would tell Narcissa all about the silly, clumsy Squib Severus was fucking, and how the bint had invited him to Easter supper of all things.
“He will not be staying for supper,” Snape said firmly. “In fact, he was just leaving.”
“Severus…” Lucius chided, “and when your…companion has been so very courteous.”
Malfoy turned, then, to Jane.
“We do, however, have certain contractual issues to discuss, regarding Professor Snape’s private life, and his future,” he said, in a tone that one might use when talking to a small child. “You aren’t the only woman interested in him you know.”
Those words hung in the air a moment. Snape instinctively turned from Jane, his heart suddenly in his throat, and there was a long and terrible silence.
He knew then that this was the moment he had been dreading. This was the moment he had to choose. Really choose. Not just think about choosing, or project some future choice. Not ponder what was logical and right and best. But actually choose, and live with the consequences.
Because he could have exonerated himself easily. All it would have taken was for him to step to Jane’s side, and take her hand, and tell Malfoy and that he and the contract could go hang. Then, when Malfoy left, he could tell Jane everything. Confess to her about the arrangement with Gash. Apologize for hiding it from her. He knew her well enough to know that she would have forgiven him.
But that moment, alas, came and went, as Snape kept his eyes cast down. He did not have to be a Legilimens to know what she was thinking, or a wizard to feel her eyes on him, searching for contact, for explanation, for…something.
He could not give it to her, and in the end it was Jane that broke the silence, and she spoke not to Snape but to Lucius Malfoy.
“Of course,” she said stiffly. “I’m sure this is a matter for you and Severus alone to discuss. “I’ll be upstairs.”
Jane turned and ascended the stairs, and just before she closed the door to the bedroom, he heard Napoleon squawking at her, heard her soothing him gently. And then he heard nothing at all.
Suddenly, Snape felt old. He should have been angry with Malfoy, murderously so, but he could not bring himself to feel anything in that moment but a soul-crushing helplessness. And when he spoke, his voice was a defeated whisper.
“My misery and embarrassment—and hers—certainly cannot make me more disposed to accede to you.”
There was another long silence, then, where Snape would not look at Malfoy either. If he had, he would not have seen an expression of victory there, but only a slight discomfort and curiosity, as if he were witnessing an emotional response he could not fathom and did not want to be party to.
“Severus…” Malfoy began at last, “you must believe me when I tell you that I am concerned for your welfare. And she can’t honestly think that the two of you have any sort of public future together, can she? Certainly you would not have given her that idea…”
Snape cast an anguished glance at the stairs, and wondered for a moment what Jane was thinking up there, what she was doing. Finally, he turned to Malfoy.
“You are a loathsome little toad,” he said. “Go back to the bog you crawled out of, Malfoy, and leave me alone.”
To this Malfoy offered only a vague shrug, and at last moved toward the door. He turned one last time to make his final plea.
“I ask you to think on this, Severus. You and I both know your relationship with the Squib would never be recognized by Slytherin. It’s best she accept that now, and accept her place. If she cannot…and refuses you…” and at this his voice trailed off for a bit. “Well life is full of little disappointments, isn’t it? And those disappointments are better endured in wealth and ease, surrounded by people of influence.”
And then Lucius Malfoy was gone, and Snape just stood there, staring at the door. It seemed to him that he stared at it a great long while.
Then Jane came down the stairs again.
He turned to her. She was wearing her traveling coat, and she had her handbag. Napoleon peeped out of her front pocket, staring at him accusingly. Jane’s stare, however, was remote. Something behind her eyes had snapped closed like a shutter.
“I assume that Lucius Malfoy was talking about a marriage contract,” she said. “Am I wrong in that assumption?”
Snape shook his head.
“Have you signed it yet?”
Snape shook his head again.
“Do you plan to?”
Of course, Snape did not want to answer this question. So he didn’t. “It’s more of a business arrangement, really,” Snape said weakly, but he did not meet her eyes.
“A business arrangement where your business partner fucks you and bears your children,” Jane replied, frostily, and Snape could not blame her.
He stood there, trying to think of words to make things right, somehow, to make her understand. In the end, he realized he was explaining things to himself as much as he was to her.
“Jane…” he began, “if I were to assume a public relationship with a Squib descendent of Muggleborns, no matter how charismatic her mother, I would become a pariah in Slytherin. It simply is not done. And though there is no precise rule against it, I would come under an enormous amount of pressure to abandon my position as head of house.”
Jane’s eyes widened, and her icy reserve melted. But he could see this was not because her attitude had softened towards him. He had wounded her.
“You’re ashamed of me,” she said softly.
Snape looked down again. He was less ashamed of her than he was of himself, but somehow he sensed that was not good enough. Again, he struggled for words.
“Slytherin do not…with a Squib, could not…as I said it is not done. You don’t understand, Jane. You cannot understand. I’m half Muggle as it is, I…”
Snape was searching for ways to absolve himself, ways to keep her, ways to restore the blissful and wonderful peace they had enjoyed. He failed at all of them.
“It has nothing to do with you.”
But Jane’s voice began to rise now, and Snape realized with a terrible finality that this was indeed the moment of hurled anger and recrimination that he had been dreading.
“You’re ashamed of me and you claim it has nothing to do with me! I saw the look on his face, as well as the look on yours. I know what Lucius Malfoy thinks! He thinks I am your whore!”
But at that, something in Snape rebelled. “You are not my whore!” he bellowed.
Jane flinched then, but was not cowed or mollified.
“What am I to you, then, Severus? What are we? Do you expect me to continue with…with…whatever this is…while you are actively planning on signing a marriage contract with another woman? If I tolerated that, how on earth would I not be your whore?”
For that Snape had no answer. So he said nothing. And the only noise breaking another long silence was a condemnatory gah from Napoleon.
When Jane spoke again, the formality had returned to her voice, and Snape knew not whether to be thankful or terrified. If she was angry, at least he knew that he could move her, get to her somehow.
“Well, let’s not make this any more difficult than it needs to be,” she said. “We both knew this day was coming. Joked about it, even. I am going back to Hogwarts, now. There’s a train in half an hour. Please see to it you lock up when you leave.”
And then she attempted to sweep past him, an attempt that was thwarted by Snape himself, whose hand, seemingly of its own accord, jerked out to grasp her arm.
Still, he could not look at her.
“Don’t go…” he whispered. “Please…”
Her arm was frigid in his hand for a moment, and he could feel her straining against him. But then her muscles relaxed, if only slightly.
“I know what you want, Severus,” she said. “But if I stay, if we continue as we have as you become engaged, as you marry someone else, I would end up hating myself. And in the end, you would hate me, too.”
Snape took both her arms, now, and held her fast in front of him. “I could never hate you, Jane…I could never…”
He did try to look at her, then, but she twisted in his grasp, turning her face away.
“You would, and you know it…I could not bear that, Severus. That would break my heart. So please let me go. Please.”
Jane’s eyes were filling with tears, and he could not bear to meet them for more than a moment. And he knew he could have kissed her then, and she would have softened in his arms, would have allowed it, and welcomed it, and welcomed as well his body in hers.
But what would that change? They would kiss, they would make love, and when they wakened from a drowsy nap the world would still be the same. He would hurt her all over again.
Severus Snape had no wish to do that to her, no wish to break her heart. So he did the only thing he felt he could, something he was used to doing, had much experience doing if the truth be known.
He broke his own.