Late summer found Lilith sitting on a bench next to the duck pond reading a silly Muggle mystery novel and occasionally tossing bread crumbs to the ducks. Through the open kitchen windows she could hear music playing, pans rattling, and the occasional curse from her husband. He was making something new for dinner and it was apparently more complicated than he'd thought.
A smile flitted across her face and the baby kicked playfully. She patted her stomach beneath the Indian cotton dress and lightweight cardigan. "Daddy's making a mess."
Setting the book aside, she stretched her legs out in front of her, groaning slightly at the pull on her muscles. She was becoming lazy. Severus was pampering her too much.
Not that she really minded.
The smile deepened and she continued to caress her stomach, pulling the dress tight across the mound. She was definitely showing now, and the baby had been moving and kicking for over two weeks. Their little girl was growing strong and hearty, and the miracle of her made Lilith spend most of her time alternating between smiling and crying from joy.
So deep in her thoughts of her baby, she didn't notice a foreign presence until a shadow crossed her. Startled, she looked up and let out a scream.
As the figure removed its black hood, the scream cut off sharply, but then Severus was at her side, wand at the ready, and a look of black menace on his face. Instant recognition had him automatically lowering his wand, and the look slid from him, his expression turning neutral.
"Uncle Snape," Draco acknowledged with his customary smirk. He stuffed the hood in the back pocket of his black jeans as his eyes drifted over his aunt. "I see congratulations are in order."
Lilith instinctively wrapped her arms across her stomach and watched her nephew's eyes narrow slightly, then he turned back to Severus.
"I'm rather surprised I haven't heard the good news before this." He was fishing but Severus was a master of the bait and switch.
"Why are you here, Draco? Surely not to check on your aunt. She's been here for nearly nine months and you haven't visited once."
The younger man flushed. "I was sent to fetch you two to Court tonight."
Severus frowned. "Rather a waste of a young Death Eater's time, I would think."
"For some reason our Master doesn't trust you'll bring her. Maybe that's because it's been over a month since she's been to Court. I assume that's why," he pointed to her stomach, though neither looking at her nor addressing her. "I'm surprised she's that far along, Professor."
"I was your prize pupil, remember? I know what Obfuscare often does to a fetus and a pregnant woman."
And it hit Lilith why Draco was basically ignoring her. She forced her expression to go blank and stared at the ducks.
"She'll be fine," Severus said shortly. "And, yes, I've kept her safe and quiet through the early part of her pregnancy."
Draco snorted. "Not that she has any choice on being quiet. If she's anything like my mother, being mute does nothing for her personality."
"She's not always mute."
And Draco's eyes narrowed even further, as he turned to Lilith. "You know, I just realized...she screamed when I arrived," he stated, his voice dripping with suspicion. "She shouldn't even have noticed me unless you pointed me out. What's going on, professor?"
"It's time for her daily dose," Severus replied noncommittally.
"It should have built up in her system to require several days to wear off." Draco took a menacing step towards his aunt as he said, "Perhaps I should just take her now to the Dark Lord. I'm sure he can tell her true condition." He reached for her and Lilith instinctively flinched back, panic racing across her face. "I knew it." Draco shot his former teacher a triumphant look. "She's not on Obfuscare at all."
Severus stepped in front of his wife, forcing the younger man back as he raised his wand.
Confusion crossing his face, Draco did the same.
"No," Lilith protested, her voice strangled as she reached up and grabbed Severus' wrist. "Please, no."
"Why did you keep it a secret?" Draco asked.
Severus shot him a withering look. "Because our Lord would never allow her off the potion, Draco, and I won't risk my child or my wife. She is under my control and is no threat to us."
"No. She's just too smart to throw her life away on a futile attempt at escape."
Lilith frowned at the lie, then peeked around Severus to see if Draco was buying it. He looked puzzled, but was lowering his wand. Severus did the same, but a light touch on his back told her just how tense he was.
"So...what now, Draco?"
The young man shrugged. "I still have to take you two to Court tonight, but, you know, I'd rather see my aunt alive and well and off the potion than sick with a deformed baby. Blood's thicker than water, I guess." He shrugged again. "What you do once at Court is up to you. I'm guessing she's managed to fake it so far?"
"You can speak to me directly, you know," Lilith said softly, finally rising awkwardly to her feet to stand next to Severus, who immediately tried to block her from her nephew. "Sev, he won't hurt me."
"You, my dear, are too damn trusting."
"And brave. It's a Gryffindor fault," Draco added, finally pocketing his wand.
"I don't think that's a fault," Lilith groused, finally breaking the tension as Draco chuckled and even her husband managed a slight smile.
"I nearly have supper ready. You're welcome to join us, Draco," Severus offered as he slid his arm around his wife's waist and the trio began to walk towards the cottage.
Draco cocked an eyebrow in surprise. "You cook?"
"Someone has to. Lilith burns water."
"Is that a joke?" The young man snickered. "Did my very proper former Head of House make a joke?"
"I have been known to slip on occasion."
As Draco laughed, they entered the mud room and then the kitchen.
Severus looked down at Lilith and gestured towards the door to the sitting room. "Why don't you go talk with your nephew while I finish up in here."
Lilith led the way into the comfortable and cheery sitting room and settled herself in her winged back chair, putting her feet up on the tapestry footstool. Taking in the decor, Draco sat on the sofa, lightly resting one hand on the padded arm.
"Chintz is just about the last kind of decor I would ever suspect Professor Snape of having."
"Well, he inherited the cottage and I think he just couldn't be bothered with redecorating."
"He must have had an ancestor in Hufflepuff," Draco muttered, shifting awkwardly on the overstuffed sofa.
Lilith let her eyes drift over her nephew. Handsome still, with her own high cheekbones and silver gray eyes, but there was the look of his father around the mouth, and in the obvious strength of his muscular arms. He had discarded the robe, leaving him in a simple black t-shirt and jeans.
"So you became a Death Eater," she said sadly. She'd wanted so much more for the boy, but she knew she'd come into his life too late to be any influence.
Draco looked momentarily startled, then frowned and answered flatly. "There was never a choice."
"There's always a choice, Draco."
He snorted. "It was pre-determined before my conception, Aunt. I was always fated for this life."
"You could say I was as well, but I escaped."
His eyebrows went up. "You didn't escape very far. You may be living in quaint surroundings, but you're married to a Death Eater. One of the worst."
She felt her cheeks pale, and nodded. "I know, but inside me I'm still free. I'm still me."
"Under his thumb, held there by threats."
"You sound like you care, Draco."
The young man scowled at her, and she couldn't help but smile. "I've always been a survivor. I'll survive this, too, and," she patted her stomach, "I've gotten a great gift from all this mess."
"I doubt any of the others who offered for you would have bothered to take you off the potion," Draco acknowledged the life growing inside her. "I guess you were lucky in that."
"I was lucky in a lot of ways. I...Severus told me the names of a few of the other men. Even if they'd taken me off Obfuscare, I'd have wanted to drug myself again." She shuddered slightly as images of her possible fate crossed her mind.
"I was there, you know, for the wedding." He nodded at her startled look. "I'd just joined the Court a couple of months before and was due to be inducted into the Death Eaters in a few days when grandfather brought you in. Mother wanted to help you, but father..." He shook his head at the memories. "As the single men, and a few of the married, haggled over you, Professor Snape just strode forward and lifted you off the floor into his arms and said he would marry you. I think there was one objection but under that withering stare of his it quickly faded away."
"I...he never told me that much detail."
"It wasn't exactly a happy occasion. You were married in about ten minutes and then..." He suddenly blushed and dropped his eyes. "Well, I didn't hang around for what came next."
Lilith frowned. "What?"
He looked embarrassed. "The Dark Lord ordered Snape to...um...consummate the marriage...right there."
She felt heat flood her cheeks. It was bad enough that Voldemort mentally snooped on the two of them, but...in public? Before the whole Court?
"To his credit, he didn't look at all happy about doing it," Draco added quickly.
"No, he wouldn't have been," she replied faintly. Silence fell for a few minutes before she metaphorically stiffened her spine. "Well, we've made a life together despite all that."
"Have you?" He gave her another startled look. "I would think you'd hate him."
"Why? Severus saved my life, and, you're right, none of the other Death Eaters would have gone against their master and weaned me off the potion to protect our child."
"But...don't you love Black?"
A tender smile crossed her lips. "Yes, with all my heart, since we were both children, but...as I said, I'm a survivor and a pragmatist. I have no means of escape, and as long as I remain useful to the Dark Lord he'll let me live."
Draco's eyes narrowed again as a new suspicion formed. "Since you're not doped up, how do we know you're really telling the Dark Lord everything you're seeing."
Lilith froze. She hadn't thought of him coming to that conclusion. "I'm not a very good seer," she finally managed to stammer out the lie she and Severus had led Voldemort to believe.
Her cheeks flamed. "I don't try very hard."
A smile quirked Draco's lips. "Better."
"And, you, Draco? What do you do for Him?" she quickly turned the tables on him.
The smile disappeared, replaced by a rather distant look. "Whatever He requires."
"I haven't seen you at any of the Courts or Revels. I attended several before my pregnancy began to show."
"I was sent to Eastern Europe to lure some of the oldest wizarding families to the Dark Lord's side. The Malfoy name carries a lot of weight."
Reading the double meaning, Lilith replied softly, "I bet it does. You're very young to be given such a task."
He shrugged. "Same age as your husband when he reached the inner circle. He's rather a legend."
Curiosity gripped her. "Why?"
Draco gave her a startled look, then smiled a bit oddly. "Yeah, I guess his fame wouldn't be so well known by your side, would it. He's a whiz at potions, you know. Always has been, apparently, ever since he was a kid. I'll never forget that first speech of his in class. I knew right then I wanted to become a potions master."
Sadness filled the young man's expression as he shook his head. "Oh, I'm good. Professor Snape always said I had a natural talent. But my father..." Another shake of his head, and mockery entered his voice, "Potions, even the rarest and thus the most expensive, even the most deadly, are something in which a Malfoy only dabbles." He sighed. "I knew all along it was a pipe dream, but I studied hard, became the top student in potions in my class. But, then this happened." He gestured to his black outfit with a self-deprecating smile on his face. "And the Dark Lord only needs one potions master."
"Yeah. He's brilliant. Some of his potions back when he was my age actually extended our Master's life. He was richly rewarded. Until he betrayed Him. That took a lot of guts."
"Not enough to keep him from going back."
"Well, he undoubtedly saw the way the tide was turning. We're going to win, you know." Draco said it matter-of-factly, and the tone of his voice sent chills down Lilith's spine.
"We haven't won anything yet, and never allow yourself to get cocky," Severus admonished from the doorway, then lightened his tone, "Supper is ready."
Over supper they talked of superficial things--the weather, Lilith's garden, literature, a traveling art exhibit both men had seen--finally getting around to Court. Lilith sat quietly, eating her velvet chicken and fresh peas, and listened, watching her husband at work, playing her nephew.
He was brilliant. Completely relaxed, he spoke of their Master's plans as easily as he had the flowers bordering the cottage walls. Lilith was silently thankful that Severus was on their side. He was frightening in his cleverness.
"How is your mother?" Lilith asked in a lull in the conversation.
Draco appeared startled, but then smiled and replied smoothly, "I saw her for tea last week. She's fine. Content."
It was a telling word. "And how does she feel about your joining the Death Eaters?" She forced her voice to remain casual.
"That it was inevitable. She's accepted it."
As Lilith watched the conflict cross the young man's face, she had a flash, an image of Narcissa, sprawled across a bed, a bruise blooming on her pale cheek, tears trickling from her dulled eyes as she 'accepted' her son's fate.
Lilith paled and twisted her fingers into her napkin in her lap, slightly baffled. Was this the future? Possibly the present.
But, why did it feel like the past?
Her eyes met Draco's but he quickly looked away and asked, "How long has it been since you've spoken to her, spent any time with her?"
"I...I don't really know. A year or so after your birth. We never really had much in common after our first day at Hogwarts."
"And then you ran off to live with the Muggles."
"Your grandfather didn't give me any choice there, Draco. And now, he's the one who dragged me back into his world. Yet, because I'm supposed to be a zombie, I still can't have a relationship with your mother. I'm not sure that's possible in any case."
"She could use a friend," Draco replied distantly, lifting his glass to his lips to sip his wine. "But, you're right, it's more important that you maintain your pretense for the baby's sake."
"The illusion must be maintained," Severus stressed. "You must keep this secret, Draco."
"Don't worry. I'm a really good liar." The young man smirked.
Severus glanced at the clock on the mantle. "We need to get ready for Court. Do you trust that we'll appear? Or must you escort us?"
Shrugging, Draco rose from the table, absently helping his aunt to her feet. "If you show up, I don't think it matters. If you don't show up, it's my hide. I don't think Aunt Lilith will risk that."
"We'll be there." She squeezed his hand lightly. "Thank you for keeping my secret."
Turning, he brushed his lips over her cheek. "There was never any question." He turned and addressed Severus. "Thanks for supper. I'll see you in an hour." With a wave of his wand, he apparated.
Lilith sighed heavily and sank into Severus' open arms, muttering, "I hate this."
"You did beautifully, Lilith."
"I hate lying to him. I hate that he's become a Death Eater," she choked out, burrowing into her husband's chest. "I never wanted that for him. I don't want him to become his father, to become a sadistic killer." She started to cry and Severus held her tightly, murmuring soothing words against the top of her head.
They walked into Court together, her arm wrapped around his, her face blank. He wore his usual black, silks and leather. She wore white silk, the only color a choker of black pearls around her throat. The draping of her gown concealed her pregnancy, but neither were concerned if it was discovered.
Severus nodded to several of his compatriots, noting the momentary relief on Draco's face as the boy lounged against a pillar talking to young Crabbe and Miss Parkinson. Lucius and Narcissa were present, the latter drinking deeply of the fine wine their Master provided. Wanting his wand hand free, Severus declined drink and food when offered as they circled the room. In her current state, Lilith wasn't expected to take any offers, only follow direct commands.
It was hard letting her eyes simply drift yet keep her mind sharp enough to prevent mistakes. When she saw Draco apparently so comfortable in this setting, chatting with his friends, her heart sank even further. She couldn't help feeling that somehow she'd failed the boy. Logically she knew she would have been allowed little influence on him, but she'd missed thirteen years of his life.
Silence fell suddenly as the double doors to Voldemort's apartments opened and he entered the Court. As he seated himself on a gilded throne, one of his minions brought him wine, another a selection of appetizers. His eyes passed slowly over the room, finally settling on Lilith, who forced herself not to tremble. She felt him probing her mind and strengthened the shields.
"Severus, so good of you to grace Us with your presence. Please, attend Us."
Severus bowed and led Lilith forward for a more private conference. "I beg your forgiveness, my Lord. My lady has been ill and I chose to tend her while working on the potions you requested. They are nearly complete. I hope you will be pleased with the results."
"You've never failed me, my Potions Master, not in that." Voldemort gestured to Lilith. "She appears to be healthy, almost glowing in her obviously delicate condition. And why have you not informed Us of your impending fatherhood?"
"I was concerned for both her and the child's well-being. Miscarriages occur all too often when the mother is on Obfuscare. I believe we have passed the dangerous stage and so we have come to Court to celebrate."
"I wish to speak with her."
Severus released Lilith's arm and stepped back one step. She stared at a spot on the throne just past Voldemort's head, unblinking and still.
"Well, my ice queen, what do you see of my future?"
Lilith remained silent for a moment, then spoke in a monotone, "Snakes devouring your enemies at your command. Poisons and potions used to destroy those who oppose you."
"Yes, yes, any event in particular?"
Ignoring his impatience, she frowned slightly, pretending to concentrate. "Something clouds my vision." Even as she spoke, an image formed in her mind and she nearly gasped in shock. She smelled burned flesh. Noises crashed over her, explosions, screams, young voices agonized and afraid. Heat hit her and she stumbled.
Severus caught her as she fainted, lifting her into his arms. "I'm sorry, my Lord. Perhaps she is weaker than I thought."
Voldemort scowled but waved them away. "Take her out of my sight."
Barely waiting for the command, Severus swept her out the doors and, once outside, apparated them home. As he hurried to their bedroom, she stirred, moaning softly.
"Lilith," he murmured, fear coloring his voice. "Wake up, luv, please." He settled her on the bed, then hurried into the bathroom for a basin of cool water and a cloth. When he returned, her eyes were fluttering open.
"What happened?" She tried to sit up, but he gently pushed her back. Sitting next to her, he began to bathe her clammy, pale face.
"You fainted. At first I thought you were faking it..." He tried to smile to show his relief, but she went paler.
"...Oh." The vision returned to her and a shudder ran through her, the moan she'd withheld earlier breaking free. "Oh no..."
"You had a real vision?"
She nodded. "I saw...felt...the war. I think I saw the beginning, but it was so muddled. Mostly heat and noise and...screams," she choked out. "I think it's coming soon." Lilith finally seemed to realize she was home. "What happened with Him?"
"He sent us home. No punishment or anything to worry about. He's not thrilled with your lack of sight, but not enough to harm either of us over it."
"I can't believe I fainted." She flushed slightly.
Severus frowned and set aside the bowl and cloth. "I'm summoning the midwife to examine you."
"No protests." His hand drifted over the mound of their child and both of them saw his whole arm tremble. "When I realized you weren't faking the faint, I lost a couple years of my life, Lilith."
"Really, Sev, I feel fine. Not even light-headed. It was just a really powerful vision. But," she conceded, smiling at his concern, "bring on the midwife to ease your mind."
Leaning down, he kissed her softly and left the room. The smile faded from her face as the final image of the vision--the one that had caused her faint--returned to her.
Hogwarts burning. If only she had seen more, seen when this would happen, if the fire was minor or major. Her warnings were useless without details.
For the thousandth time Lilith cursed the circumstances which had halted her training. What use was she when she couldn't make heads or tails of her own visions?
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