Sitting between her two daughters beneath a gray and somber sky, Lilith let the numbness sink deep into her. Rose sat on her right, rejecting any attempts at comfort from her mother, her eyes hard and cold--that light blue of Lucius' that always chilled Lilith to the bone. On her left huddled Violet, only thirteen and yet faced with more than any child should be. Tears were leaking down her pale cheeks and Lilith knew she would suffer the most. While Rose was angry, coldly furious, Violet was her daddy's little girl.
And her daddy was a murderer.
As the funeral began, Lilith tried to focus but all she could think about was escape.
She felt Remus' somber eyes on her and turned from the dresser carrying a stack of clothes.
"You don't need to leave."
"Yes, we do."
"No one blames you, Lilith."
"Not yet, but soon we'll all be guilty by association and I won't subject my daughters to the cruelty of children hurt and shocked by Professor Dumbledore's murder." She stumbled over the last word, still finding it difficult to think about what had actually happened and who was responsible.
"You don't give them enough credit," Remus stressed gently.
Lilith opened another drawer and paled as she realized it was one of his. Slamming it shut with suddenly shaking hands, she went to the wardrobe instead and pulled out several dresses. "It's inevitable, Remus. Everyone will look for a scapegoat. I've been one once in my life. Never again."
After a moment, as she continued to pack her trunk, Remus finally nodded in resignation. "Where will you go?"
"Where no one will think to look for us. Into the Muggle world.
Six months later, in a small, peaceful midwestern American town...
Caught completely unawares, Lilith stared at her husband as he strode through the door and past her into the main room. Automatically she closed the door and turned, her hands going damp with sweat, fear spreading rapidly through her.
"How did you find me?" she managed to whisper the first question that came to mind.
The sneer he gave her was answer enough and she shivered, pressing herself back against the door as her knees grew weak. The cloak slipped from his shoulders and was discarded on the back of a chair, leaving him in unrelenting black. Lilith swallowed hard but couldn't move as he pinned her with his unforgiving eyes.
"You thought you could hide from me, Lilith?" His sibilant voice sent more shivers through her as terror choked her. "That I wouldn't find you wherever you went? Wherever you took my daughters?"
"I thought...you wouldn't care to find us," Lilith finally admitted.
"Well, that was a mistake on your part, wasn't it." As he spoke, the words light yet with incredible menace in them, he walked towards her, trapping her against the door. "My allegience to my Master didn't erase my desire for my wife." The back of his hand brushed lightly over her pale cheek and she flinched as if he'd backhanded her. "You should be scared." Taking her trembling shoulders, he yanked her from the door and spun her into the front room. "My needs have too long gone unmet." A wave of his wand closed the curtains, plummeting the room into mid-afternoon gloom, and a snap of his wrist sent Lilith to the floor at his feet.
Unbidden memories swamped her--not of her husband, but of Lucius from so many years before, forcing her to the floor, straddling her hips with strong legs in black leather boots, that dark, hungry look on his face, and the lust that would not be gainsaid--and she closed her eyes and moaned in fear and confusion.
As Severus dropped down on her, his hands catching her shoulders and digging into her soft flesh, she began to fight him as she never had before, hitting out at him, squirming and bucking, gritting her teeth and biting back curses, all the while tears stung her tightly closed eyes, and disbelief flooded her.
What seemed to her like hours passed before she felt his mouth encircle her nipple--her camisole easily having been tugged up to bare her breasts--and one hand delve between her legs, pulling down her knickers as her skirt tangled around her hips. His other hand pinned both of hers to the carpet above her head, making one wrist ache where his thumb pressed into the nerve. She tried to kick out and only aided him in tugging free the scrap of nylon and cotton, exposing her to his sight and touch. She felt him lower to her, the wool of his trousers rubbing roughly against her sensitive skin, and she felt his erection straining against her.
Lilith's eyes flew open, tears spilling down her white cheeks, and she bit into her lower lip to hold in her cries and pleading.
She wouldn't beg.
Pride kept her silent, but also fighting him, and she freed one hand and lashed out at him, scratching her nails down the side of his face. Severus jerked his head up, an angry sneer on his lips, the marks she'd caused red on his pale skin. He easily caught her hand before she could do more damage and pinned it back down hard. She couldn't help the whimper of pain, but continued to fight him, arching her back off the rug in a desperate attempt to knock him off her.
The sneer broadened and then his mouth was on hers, his tongue forcing its way between her lips. Lilith gagged and twisted, breaking the kiss, but it had shattered her long enough for him to unbutton his trousers.
When he came down on her again, shoving her thighs apart with his hips, she felt him probing her, and the fear returned to the forefront. She was dry and tight and not ready.
And he so obviously didn't care.
More tears blinded her, and she rolled her head, squeezing her eyes shut again as he entered her, his hands still pinning hers above her head, his legs forcing hers to sprawl wide. He hadn't even bothered to do more than open and push aside their clothing.
All of this was so wrong.
As Severus filled her, forcing her open, Lilith bit back whimpers of pain and loss and retreated to that place in her mind she'd created all those years before when she'd been Lucius' plaything.
So, she didn't hear, after Severus reached completion, his softly murmured plea of "Forgive me."
Lilith came back to herself when the air conditioned air blew across her bare thighs and breasts. Forcing her eyes to open and her shivering body to move, she tugged her clothes into place, ignoring everything around her until she was covered. Her body ached, the muscles pulled taut from fear and disuse, and she felt filthy, but the pragmatist in her had her on her feet within a few minutes. As she wrapped her arms around herself in an attempt to stop the trembling, she slowly turned to face him. Severus stood before the mantle, looking at still photographs of their daughters, seemingly untouched by what had just happened between them.
Stamping down on the sudden desire to fling herself at him and beat him over the head with the fireplace poker, Lilith swallowed convulsively and forced herself under control.
She would not break again.
"Where are the girls?" he asked conversationally, as if he hadn't just forced himself on his wife, taking her on her living room floor.
Lilith swallowed again and dug her fingers into the sides of her skirt. "At school." She glanced at the clock next to the pictures he was perusing, and paled. "They'll be home any moment."
"I've missed them."
"They haven't missed you," she shot back.
Turning, he gave her an enigmatic look, and she noticed he'd healed the wounds on his cheek, leaving him once more austere and cold, portraying the facade he often used in public, but had never used with her in private. Lilith felt a painful clenching in her chest, and wondered how he could still hurt her after all he'd done.
Severus took the few steps forward to bridge the distance between them and Lilith held her ground, not even flinching when he lightly brushed a hand over her hair. "Go tend yourself, Lilith. You don't want the girls finding you with tear stains on your face."
Instinctively she snarled and jerked back, anger racing to the fore and pushing aside the fear and pain. "Bastard!" Spinning on her heel she grabbed up her discarded knickers and ran to the powder room, slamming the door behind her. She was shaking, and a glance in the mirror made her duck her head down. One glimpse had shown her how pale and shattered she was, and she hated looking and feeling that way. Forcing her hands to move, she turned on the tap and slowly splashed cold water on her face, wiping away the dried tears.
Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to look up again. She didn't want to see what she looked like, but it was important that her daughters have no clue as to what had happened between she and Severus. She replaced her knickers, ignoring the twinge of pain between her legs. Removing a comb from the drawer, she pulled it through her tangled hair, smoothing the curls. A bit of lipstick covered the red spot on her lips where her teeth had caught and held. There was little she could do for the redness of her eyes, but the girls would understand she was upset.
At sixteen and fourteen, they didn't need to know just how dark their father had become.
Or had always been.
The shaking started again and she silently cursed herself for letting him get to her. She smoothed down her skirt until the shaking in her hands was under control, then left the powder room.
Severus had remained standing, his hands clasped behind his back, his legs braced, waiting for her. As his eyes traveled over her, she stiffened her spine and glared back at him.
"I want you to leave."
He snorted, not even dignifying her demand with a response.
"You got want you wanted!"
At that his eyes narrowed hotly, sending a shiver through her. "What I want?" he asked, his voice holding that soft yet deadly quality that reminded her too much of Lucius. "I want my family back."
Lilith shook her head in denial. "No, I won't give you that."
"You have no say in it, Lilith."
"We're not in our world anymore, Severus," she snapped back. "This is the Muggle world and I have rights. I'm not your chattel."
"I've allowed you this freedom, Lilith. I can take it from you in the blink of an eye."
The dare of 'try it' was on her lips, but she bit it back, changing tacks. "Do you know who you sound like? Do you know what it does to me to hear you speak like that? To know what you truly are?" Her voice broke with emotion and she shook her head again, turning from him, unable to bear looking at him.
His hands caught her shoulders, pulling her back against him, and she shuddered in distress. "I am what I have always been, Lilith. A consummate liar." His lips brushed the shell of her ear and a whimper broke from her of such sorrow, she felt her heart cracking as well.
The front door opened and Severus released her and stepped back. Swallowing convulsively, Lilith watched first her youngest than her eldest daughters enter the house, chatting with each other. Violet had her head turned, listening to Rose, and it was only when Rose's voice cut off with a gasp that she looked at what the elder was seeing.
"Daddy?" came the shocked cry from the fourteen year old.
"What is he doing here?" Rose snarled, slamming the door behind her and pushing past her sister into the living room. "Make him go away!"
"Rose..." Severus began, only to be confronted by her fury.
"Murderer! You destroyed everything. Ruined our lives. We had to leave our home because of you. We had to hide who we are. I hate you!"
Violet was the one to intervene, rushing between her advancing sister and their father. "Rose, shut up! It's daddy. Whatever he's done, he's still daddy."
Lilith felt her heart break even more at the fury on Rose's face and the sorrow and confusion on Violet's. She reached out for her daughters and Rose knocked her hand away, rounding on her.
"He's not my father. He never was."
All the color fled Lilith's cheeks and she stumbled back into her husband. Rose wasn't just ranting. She knew.
"Don't be stupid, Rose."
"You don't be stupid, Vi. You may be his daughter, but I'm not. I've known for years who my real father is." Her eyes snapped to her mother. "I always thought I got off really lucky having this one raise me." She laughed angrily. "Yeah, and then he turns out to be the worst Death Eater of the lot. A hundred times worse than Lucius." The sneer that crossed her lips was pure Malfoy and Lilith felt a wave of dizziness hit her.
She'd never expected this. How had Rose found out?
"Rose, I am your father in all ways that matter." Lilith felt Severus stiffen against her back and tried to draw away from him but her knees nearly gave out. Nausea flooded her and she closed her eyes against the horror her life had suddenly become.
"There are no ways that matter," the girl shot back, her fury turning her ivory skin red, her eyes snapping like blue ice. "I hate you. I'm glad you're not my father." Turning on her heel, Rose dashed out of the room and took the stairs two at a time.
"I...don't understand," Violet murmured in confusion.
Lilith opened her eyes to see the hurt shining in her youngest daughter's. "Vi..." Fresh tears stung and she blinked them away, desperately wanting to follow Rose and hide forever. Instead, she found the strength to pull away from Severus and turn on him. "Why did you have to find us?!" Fury and pain and fear had her blindly raising her hand to hit him, and he caught it, squeezing her wrist until she gasped.
"Don't." With a hard look, Severus released her and reached for Violet, drawing her into his arms. "I'm sorry that my appearance has been a shock. I wish I hadn't stayed away so long. I've missed you desperately."
"Daddy," Violet sobbed, breaking down and becoming a little girl again in her father's arms. "Oh, daddy, I've missed you so much. Why did all this have to happen?"
Lilith watched Severus comfort and soothe Violet for a moment, a part of her hating that he could be so tender with their daughter and so cruel with her, before she forced her trembling legs to move and carry her towards the foyer. She felt his eyes follow her, but never turned back, climbing the stairs to confront her oldest daughter.
Rose was in her room, the door closed against all intruders. For a moment, Lilith thought about knocking, then quietly opened the door and stepped inside. Her daughter sat in her window-seat, dry-eyed, but no longer furious. Her knees were drawn up to her chin and she was staring out the window. She turned her head at the intrusion, then looked back.
"Leave me alone," Rose muttered hoarsely.
"We need to talk, Rose."
"You need to get that monster out of our house," she slammed back.
Lilith winced but walked across the room to sit on the edge of the bed, only a few feet separating them. "Rose...Do you think I haven't tried?"
The girl unfolded herself, setting one foot on the floor, propping the other against the opposite end of the window seat, and turned surprised eyes on her mother, who felt herself flushing under their ice-blue intensity. "You didn't invite him?"
"Of course not. We've been hiding from him for six months. I thought he wouldn't even bother to look for us." Shame filled her that she hadn't hidden them better and she clasped her hands together in her lap, feeling how cold her own skin was.
"Why is he here?"
"...He wants us back."
Rose shook her head wildly. "No. He's...he's...He killed Professor Dumbledore. He's lied to us forever. He's evil!"
"He's still my husband and still your father."
"He's not," Rose blazed. "Are you going to keep lying to me about that?"
Slowly Lilith shook her head. "No. Physically he's not your father, but he is legally and in every other way. He was there when you were born and was the first to hold you, and he raised you and loved you. I have to believe that his love for you and Violet isn't a lie."
"It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter up against every other lie he's lived for my entire life."
"You may be right," Lilith replied faintly in response to Rose's bitterness. "I never saw this. I never saw past the facade. I never...saw." The guilt she'd felt since discovering Severus' betrayal returned full force and she bit back a sob.
"Mum, it's not your fault. No one realized."
"But, I'm a seer. If anyone should have known, it should have been me. I feel like I've failed us all."
"No," Rose said strongly. "Don't take any of this on yourself, mum. He's to blame. He's the murderer." Her eyes turned towards the door and narrowed. "And Vi's down there, cozying up to him."
"Rose, don't. Violet can't help her feelings any more than you can. You're angry with him and that's outweighing everything else, but I know, down deep, you still love him." As Rose automatically shook her head in denial, Lilith continued, "I know, because in some ways, so do I. None of us can turn our emotions on and off like a tap. I've wanted to hate him. I have hated him. But..." She shrugged helplessly as bitterness welled in her. "I remember so many instances, so many tender moments, unguarded moments. They can't all have been lies."
"Why didn't you just raise me on your own? Why did you marry him? I wish you'd never married him!"
"He offered me a way out of the darkness," Lilith said faintly, trying to think of a way to explain all this to Rose, while not going into too much detail. "I thought he was one of us. I truly believed that. But..." Shame forced her eyes down to her tightly clenched hands. "I was weak. I still am."
"All the stories of how you met again after Hogwarts and fell in love and got married, they're all lies, aren't they."
"Yes, but necessary ones. We didn't want to hurt you. When you were younger, we didn't know how to explain without confusing you, and then...I didn't realize you knew."
"About Lucius." It wasn't a question. "I look like him, mum. I don't look anything like da...Severus. I didn't know how to ask you. I didn't...The thought of you being...with him, with my uncle.... I don't understand how you could do that to your sister. I tried to ignore it. I figured I got lucky to be raised by Severus, especially after Lucius went to prison as a Death Eater and I saw how hurt and confused Draco was. He's my brother," Rose said, a bit awed. "Does he know?"
"I don't know."
"Would you ever have told me?"
"I don't know that either, Rose," Lilith replied honestly. "It was a time I prefer not to think about."
"I know you loved Sirius Black and went to prison with him. You never told me that, either, but I hear things. Rumors. I've always been able to sift out the truth. Did you go from him to Lucius?"
Paling even more as she realized all the secrets were nearly out, Lilith shook her head helplessly. "Please don't ask these questions, Rose."
Rose turned to face her mother, lowering her other foot to the floor, determination in every bone. "I have to know how I came to be. Don't you understand that?"
"It will hurt you."
"I'm a big girl. You don't think it doesn't hurt being completely betrayed by the man I loved as my father for nearly sixteen years?"
Lilith looked at her daughter for a long moment, really looked at her, and saw her all grown up. The image of Rose at almost sixteen slid into one of a cool, calm, beautiful woman with a quirky smile on her face. The smile that was purely her own, coming from neither of her parents.
Shaking her head slightly to clear it, Lilith took a deep breath, summoning the courage to explain Rose's creation to her.
This was going to hurt so much.
"You're right, I went to Azkaban with Sirius, the man I'd loved since childhood. Neither of us were guilty, but in those days of terror, we were condemned without a trial for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We found Harry's parents only moments after their murders, and since Sirius was their secret keeper, or so it was widely thought, it was immediately supposed that he had betrayed them. I got swept into it by association."
Lilith glanced down at her hands, trembling again, in her lap, then steadied herself and raised her eyes to Rose once more. "I was only in Azkaban for a few months until my father convinced the Ministry that I was Sirius' unwilling accomplice, and they set me free, though I'm sure there was a large bribe involved as well. The real reason he got me freed was that through our unique twin bond, whatever I suffered, Narcissa suffered, and she'd never recovered from Draco's birth the year before and was weak. He sent me to take care of her, and, since I had nowhere else to go and no one to turn to, I went."
"Couldn't you have just said 'no' and left?"
"I was broken, Rose. You can't imagine the horrors of Azkaban and I never want you to know them. Even in the short time I was there, I nearly went mad. If I'd given it much thought, I was much worse off than Narcissa, but, then, my tending to her was only a ploy."
"What do you mean?"
Lilith lowered her eyes again, unable to face her daughter as she explained the truth of her conception. "My father and Lucius wanted to punish me for, I guess, not being a dark wizard like them. Whether my father knew what Lucius planned or not, I don't know. I don't think he would have stopped him. There's a reason we have no contact with my father. He despises me. I think he would have happily cast me from the family if Lucius hadn't wanted me." Another silence fell and then Lilith took a shuddering breath before pleading, "How can I tell you this, Rose?"
"You have to," her daughter replied, her own voice strangled by emotion. "I can guess. Oh, mum, I can guess."
Glancing up, Lilith saw there were tears of shock and shame in Rose's eyes and she reached for her daughter's hands, gripping them tightly. "I love you, Rose. I have always loved you."
"How? How can you after...I can guess what he did to you. I can guess," she sobbed, breaking down into the little girl she could sometimes be. Their arms found their way around each other and as Rose sobbed brokenly on her shoulder, Lilith drew them to the floor between the bed and window seat.
And Lilith found the strength to finish it. "He raped me, Rose," she murmured, "over and over until you were created, but I have never, ever blamed you and never once did I not want you. You were a gift I got, a gift of hope that saved me from a horrible situation." Her own shaky hands stroked down her daughter's violently trembling back, trying to soothe her. "Your existence freed me from Lucius--the scandal would have been too much for my sister--and while they thought they were again punishing me by forcing me to marry Severus, for sixteen years I lived under the delusion that I was safe and loved."
Her own tears were flowing now, and she buried her face in her daughter's soft hair, praying they both would heal.
Later, they both rose a bit stiffly and sat on the bed side-by-side, brushing the tears from sore cheeks and eyes, sniffling into Kleenex, and calming down.
"I've never...I've never told anyone even that much," Lilith whispered. "I've kept it locked inside me for so long."
"You mean, dad...I mean, Severus...he didn't know?" Rose wrapped her hands around one of her mother's and clung tightly.
"He knew, we just never talked about it. He knew Lucius very well, and he also knew I would have been unwilling, but I told him I never wanted to talk about it, and he respected my wishes."
"And, Lucius? He knows about me, right?"
"Yes, but he never would have let the secret be known. For a man of his former standing, having a child with another woman wouldn't have been a big deal, but not when that other woman was his wife's sister. In reality he didn't keep the secret to protect Narcissa, he did it for himself."
"I don't like him. I've never liked him," Rose said softly but firmly. "When I started to suspect, I was just confused, but while I was confused, I was also so grateful for dad."
"Lucius would never have been a true father to you, Rose. He's a horrible man and a horrible father. Look how he's twisted Draco, turning the poor boy into something he never should have become. Despite what Severus has done, he's been a true and good father to you. While I was heartsick at all that had happened to me, I was grateful that they chose him as my husband because I knew--or I thought I knew--that he wasn't on their side after all. While they thought that marriage to him would be a punishment for me, it set me free." Fresh tears stung her eyes and she blinked them harshly away. "Or so I thought."
"It all sounds so horribly Victorian. This is the modern world. Despite being wizards, there are laws and women aren't slaves. I don't understand how you could be forced to marry someone!"
"It is a modern world, except for the society in which dark wizards reside, and, until recently, they were most of the wealthy and powerful families. They could do almost anything they wanted. Arranged marriages were still quite common in higher society. I was kept a prisoner at Malfoy Manor, wandless, behind wards. Marrying Severus was my escape from all that."
"But...why did you stay with him? Why didn't you go to the Ministry and file charges? Mum, you were kidnaped and raped."
Lilith sadly shook her head. "They wouldn't have believed me. I was still a convicted murderer to too many. And a simple spell or potion and I would have been back under my father's wing. I was kept a prisoner until I spoke my vows. My father assumed Severus would continue to hold me by force, but, on my wedding night, I made the decision to build a family and a life with my husband, and not try to run. At the time, I was still emotionally fragile, much more so than I am now. The strength that took us from Hogwarts and England was built in me by Severus."
"I bet he hates that," Rose snorted.
Lilith softly sighed and stiffened her spine. "We need to go talk to him."
"I want him to leave."
"Can you make him?"
"I'm not that strong. It's not like I can call the police and get a restraining order. He has all the dark arts on his side and no hesitancy in using them." Lilith rose to her feet and resolutely straightened her shoulders and smoothed down her skirt. "What we do, Rose, is survive." She took her daughter's hand and drew her up as well. "Can you face him?"
Slowly Rose nodded, her blue eyes darkening to storm clouds as strength filled them. "I won't let him hurt you."
Lilith smiled tremulously. "Aren't I supposed to be the one saying that about you?"
"If he loves me like you say he does, he won't hurt me. And, if does, then it'll just be that much easier to despise him." Giving her mother's hand a squeeze, she strode past her and out the door. Lilith followed, her stomach clenching in expectation of the next confrontation.
Rose had stopped at the entrance to the living room, her arms crossed belligerently over her chest. Severus and Violet sat on the couch, dark heads close as they quietly spoke. A flicker of his eyes to the doorway had him drawing away and rising to his feet.
Lilith felt the fear and shock threaten to sweep over her again and fought them. Survival was the key. She would be strong enough to survive just as she had too many times in the distant past, and never thought she'd have to again.
"Are you going to leave?" Rose asked, her voice dripping ice.
"Not before I'm ready," Severus replied smoothly. "We're going to talk first, Rose, about the respect you owe me."
"Fuck that," the girl yelled, shocking her mother who had never heard her swear before.
Anger blazed across Severus' face and he took two long steps across the room towards Rose before Lilith snapped out of her shock and blocked him from the snarling girl.
"Mum, get out of the way. I'm not afraid of him." Rose physically shoved at her mother's back, but Lilith refused to budge, strongly meeting Severus' furious eyes. She might not be able to stand up for herself against him, but she'd protect her daughters to the death.
Severus stopped in front of her, breath coming harshly from him as he fought for control.
"For sixteen years you buried every darker emotion behind a facade, didn't you, and now that they're free, you can't control them, but you better learn, Severus, because regardless of what you do to me, if you lay one finger on my girls, I will kill you," Lilith swore softly.
Her words seemed to startle most of his anger away and the flush faded to pallor as quickly as it had come. "I would never hurt them, Lilith."
"Why should I believe you?" she asked, snideness slipping into her voice and when he had no answer, a grim smile crossed her face and she stepped aside. A sideways glance at Rose showed her the girl was glaring furiously back at her father, her lips tight and colorless. "So, how long will you be staying?"
If he said forever, she might just crumple into a heap.
"I must return to Court tomorrow." Relief flooded her and must have shown on her face, because his lips twisted. "Don't look so relieved, Lilith. Now that I've found you, I'll be here as often as I can get away from my duties to my Lord."
"We'll run again. We'll hide much better."
Severus' eyes settled on his brash, eldest daughter as he smoothly replied, "No, you won't."
"Why wouldn't we, Severus? Will you put us under the imperious curse to keep us here?" Lilith wondered if he would actually dare.
"I won't need to. You have two options, Lilith. The Dark Lord is eager to have my daughters introduced at Court and take their places at my side."
Lilith felt dizziness assail her as the horrible image filled her mind.
"I don't want that, Lilith. Does that surprise you?" He continued without waiting for her response. "They haven't been raised as dark wizards, despite their blood. As a Gryffindor Rose, in particular, would find it nearly impossible to fit in."
"Like I'd ever try!"
"You said we had two options." Lilith forced herself to remain calm.
"I mollified the Dark Lord by explaining that none of you had the nature to join us but that I would reclaim my rightful place as head of our family and keep all of you out of the fight to come. So, you're other option is this, Lilith. I come and go as I please and at the pleasure of my Lord and you at least be civil to me." His eyes shifted briefly to Rose. "All of you."
"No," Rose yelled. "Don't you dare accept that half-ass offer, mum. We don't want to have anything to do with a murdering, cowardly liar."
"Speak for yourself," Violet chimed in as she angrily bounced off the couch and over to the rest of her family. "He's still my father and I love him. Neither of you understand him. You haven't even tried, Rose." Her fingers entwined with her father's. "I would go to Court with him if he'd let me."
Cold and frightened anger filled Lilith. "Don't you ever say that again, Violet Snape. Don't you even think it. You will become a follower of Voldemort's over my dead body."
Violet reddened, her eyes sparkling, and as she opened her mouth to respond to her mother's threat, Severus smoothly cut her off.
"Lilith, I won't allow her to attend Court now. I already told you that. What she does as an adult is out of either of our control, though."
"This is all your fault," Rose blazed. "She wouldn't be ready to follow in daddy's footsteps if you hadn't betrayed us. You're the snake Harry always accused you of being!"
"Yes." His cool demeanor and penetrating dark eyes startled Rose out of her fury and she deflated, reaching blinding for her mother's hand.
Lilith looked at her husband and youngest daughter standing in front of her, then at Rose beside her, and felt something crack even further inside her. "Light and dark," she murmured, "Two sides of the same coin, the same family." The vision came fast and furious--Severus, yanking off his hood, face pale and determined; Rose, bleeding from a cut on her cheek, wand trembling from effort; Violet on the ground, tears streaming from bruised eyes; herself on her knees before Voldemort, hands wrapped in his robes, eyes pleading...
"Lilith?" Severus barked sharply, jarring her from the vision. Shaking her head to dispel the smell of smoke that had accompanied the battlefield scenes, Lilith realized she was falling even as Severus reached forward and caught her. As she began to weep helplessly, he effortlessly lifted her into his arms. "Girls, your mother and I need to speak in private."
"If you hurt her..." Rose hissed, then stomped out of the room and up the stairs. Violet followed her, looking back once in confusion. When they were out of sight, Severus sat on the sofa, still cradling Lilith, stroking her and soothing her as he had earlier done with Violet.
The comparison, the feel of his hands on her, twisted her stomach into knots and the tears fled. Pushing at him, she scrabbled free and flung herself into the corner of the sofa. "Don't touch me," she gulped out, swallowing down the few remaining sobs. Refusing to cower, she swung her legs over and put her feet firmly on the floor, then straightened her spine and smoothed down her skirt. She could feel his eyes on her and pressed her lips together.
"What did you see?"
"War," was her flat reply. "It's where I hope you'll pay for murdering the best man who ever lived."
"We'll see." He changed tacks. "So, what is your decision, Lilith?"
Swiveling her head to face him, she glared with all her suppressed fury. "There is no choice. You'd have to curse me to get me to Voldemort's court. If you want to play house, we'll play house."
Severus seemed unperturbed by her anger or sneer, simply nodded in acceptance of her decision. "This place is as good as any, I suppose."
"It's a nice, quiet American town with absolutely no magic."
He shuddered in disgust and her sneer deepened. "I hope you're keeping up the girls' training."
"I am, but only because I don't want them accidently turning the school bully into a newt. We don't use magic in this house except for practice. We live as Muggles."
Now he was the one to sneer. "Don't expect me to do the same."
"I assume you'll do whatever you want, isn't that the point?"
"I'll never forgive myself for not seeing the truth of you, and I'll never forgive you for being the man my father and Lucius believed you to be all along."
Severus shrugged his shoulders in the face of her sorrow. "Life is a series of disappointments and compromises."
"Something I didn't want my daughters to learn about so young," she snapped back.
"Speaking of our daughters, I won't put up with that attitude from Rose."
"And how will you stop it? You said you wouldn't hurt her, so how do you plan to punish her? Anything you do to her is going to make her hate you more. You can't fix this. She hates with the blinding passion that only the young can feel."
"Then she'll learn to keep her hatred behind tightly closed lips or she'll spend her time in her room," Severus replied coldly. "She's not a child, despite the way she's acting." The chill seemed to leave him for a moment, replaced by a hint of sadness that softened his eyes. Lilith felt her stomach flip again and wondered if she'd feel sick every moment she spent with him. "When did she discover the truth, that I'm not her father?"
"A few years ago, apparently. She never said anything. She never asked me anything."
"Does she know what really happened?"
Lilith's eyes fell and she rose to her feet on trembling legs. "I told her. She was confused at why I would sleep with my sister's husband, so...I told her. I need to make supper," she added faintly, moving towards the kitchen.
"That must have hurt her very much," Severus murmured, but she didn't respond, simply walked through the dining room and turned into her cluttered kitchen. Shutting down all thoughts but those on cooking and food, she mechanically began to prepare a simple meal of grilled salmon, rice, and peas.
As she was unwrapping the fish, Violet slipped into the kitchen, her shoulders hunched, confusion written plainly on her face. She leaned against the counter top and stared at her feet. "Is it wrong of me that I can't hate him?"
"No sweetheart, it's not. I'm glad you don't hate him. Hate has torn our whole world apart."
"Rose thinks I should feel just like she does."
"Rose has always seen the world in black and white. Her anger burns hotly. It's easier for her to hate than to be conflicted, but she doesn't really feel that way about him. She hates what he's done and what that's done to our lives. It's not the same thing."
"And, what about you, mummy? Do you hate him?" Violet hesitantly asked.
Did she? Lilith's heart began to sink as she realized the truth. "No." Turning resolutely back to the stove she slapped the fish steaks on the grill, then washed her hands and checked the rice. "That doesn't mean I want him in our lives, Violet. I'm sorry. I know that hurts you."
"It's okay, as long as it's okay that I do want him here."
Lilith brushed her hand lightly over her daughter's head as she nodded. "I can live with that, Vi. I can live with having him here. There's no option."
"But, there was one. I mean, he..." Violet's voice trailed off at the intense look from her mother.
"No, Vi, that would never be an option."
"But, why is it okay for daddy, and cousin Draco and so many of my friends?"
"It's not okay. It's not how I raised you. I feel sorry for your friends and especially sorry for Draco. They're not going to win, Vi. Your father is not going to win."
"Rather optimistic there, aren't you?" came Severus' voice from the opening between the kitchen and dining room.
"That good will defeat evil? Yes." She ignored his snort and turned back to stir the rice. "Violet? Please set the table and tell your sister we have ten minutes until supper." As Violet started opening cabinets and drawers, Lilith turned the fish and sprinkled lemon juice and herbs on the other side. "There's a bottle of Chardonnay open in the refrigerator, Severus."
She felt him approach and steeled herself for his hands landing lightly on her shoulders.
"Very domestic of you, my dear," he murmured. "Is this how it will be?"
"Did you want me to fight you every second, Severus? I'm too much a pragmatist to live my life that way. You won. I lost. I won't ever be happy about it and, let me make it very clear, I don't want you here, but I know you'll win any battle and I don't plan on being broken again."
"You have too much strength in you to ever break, Lilith."
The hint of pride in his voice confused her, but, as he released her and moved to the refrigerator, she didn't address it, simply focused on not burning the rice and fish. A quick microwaving cooked the peas, finishing the meal, and as she filled bowls and the platter, she heard the angry tromp of her eldest daughter's feet on the stairs.
Rose stuck her head in the kitchen. "I'm not hungry."
"Then you can sit quietly at the table with the rest of us," Severus said firmly as he poured two glasses of wine. "And if you swear at me one more time, I'll silence you," he added before Rose could mouth off at him again.
Rose went red and yelled, "I'm really sorry that Harry didn't kill you that night!"
"Rose, please..." Lilith said faintly, shifting her eyes from one angry face to the other.
"This is how it's going to be?" She rounded on her mother, arms flailing. "One big happy fake family? How can you do this, mum? How can you pretend everything is normal?!"
"Because if I don't I'm afraid I'm going to start screaming and never stop," Lilith yelled back, surprising even herself. "Life is unfair. All we can do is play the hand we're dealt."
"Stop throwing cliches at me. This will never be all right. It sickens me that you won't fight him. You won't even try!" Starting to cry, Rose spun and ran back up the stairs.
Whole body beginning to shake, Lilith managed to set down the bowls before she dropped them. Severus handed her a glass of wine, then guided the rim to her lips.
"Drink. You're as white as a sheet."
Lilith drank and shuddered and drank some more until her hand stopped shaking and Severus released her. Taking a deep breath, she picked up the bowls again and carried them into the dining room. Violet fetched the platter of salmon and Severus joined them with fresh glasses of wine, taking his place at the head of the table with an ease that just left Lilith weary. Her appetite was non-existent, but she took a bit of each dish as they were passed, knowing her body needed nourishment.
This time, it was only one day. One day she had to suffer with her nerves frayed and her daughters torn and confused. Next time...it might be weeks of endurance. She'd need her strength for that.
They'd become a house divided, but what really hurt was that they always had been.
As Lilith took tiny bites of food that tasted like sawdust in her mouth, she listened to the quiet conversation between Violet and Severus--school and hobbies, sports and boys--her daughter filling him in on their life in America.
"It's very different here, everything is, but I like it. It's all so big and new."
"And living as a Muggle doesn't bother you?"
"No, it's kind of weird, but no more weird than living without magic during term breaks from Hogwarts. I don't know why some of my friends hate Muggles so. They're not stupid or mean, no more than anyone else is, and some of them are really nice." Violet gave her father a hesitant look. "I don't feel superior to them, to anyone."
A relieved smile crossed the girl's face. "I was afraid you'd be disappointed in me for making Muggle friends."
"I have no problem with you making friends with Muggles, sweetheart. Now...marriage..." At his wry grin, Violet burst into giggles.
And Lilith's heart broke a little more.
After supper and washing up, while Severus helped Violet with her homework, Lilith warmed a bowl of rice and peas, sprinkled it with soy sauce, and carried it up to Rose's room. This time she knocked.
Ignoring her, Lilith opened the door and stepped inside. The lights were low, incense burned filling the room with jasmine, angry girl music was on the cd player, and Rose was on her phone.
"I told you to go away. No, not you, Mick," she softened her voice as she spoke into the phone. "I have to go. My mum's being intrusive again." Hanging up, she tossed the phone aside, then reached over and upped the volume of the music.
Frowning, Lilith set the bowl down on the desk and pushed the power button, turning off the music.
"My room, my things," Rose barked angrily.
"You know, I hate to agree with your father over anything at the moment, but this attitude of yours is too much. He's here. It's a fact we have to live with. Making it hell for all of us isn't helping."
"So, you just appease him? We're learning about that in world history. The theory led to World War II."
Lilith rolled her eyes in frustration. "Way to blow everything out of proportion, Rose."
"I don't want him here," Rose snapped each word angrily.
"You've made that perfectly clear, but he's here."
"Only for one day. I don't have to see him. Just leave me alone and let me know when he's gone."
"And next time? What if he stays for weeks? Are you planning to hide out here and starve to death."
"It's useless talking this round and round anymore. Eat that before it gets cold again. Learn some civility."
Rose sneered. "Oh yes, let's all be civil to the murdering bastard."
Unwilling to listen to the vitriol anymore, Lilith turned and was almost at the door when Rose stopped her, her voice now hesitant and soft.
"Mum?" When Lilith glanced over her shoulder, she continued, "Is he going to stay with you? In your...room?"
Lilith silently cursed her fair skin for its reaction as she felt the flush build from her neck up her cheeks. "Yes."
Rose flushed as well, but didn't look away from her mother who grew more uncomfortable every second. "But...you don't...you don't love him, right?"
Turning back fully, Lilith walked back to the bed and sank down facing Rose. "Rose, I didn't love him when I married him. Love isn't...always necessary." And she wasn't sure she didn't still love him in some ways.
"You're not his sex slave, mum!"
Lilith squirmed. For some reason, this discussion was even more difficult than the earlier one about Lucius. Glancing down at her hands in her lap, she tried to figure out how to respond, then slowly rolled her hands so they were palm up.
Around each wrist were darkening finger marks.
"Mum," Rose gasped, reaching for one hand and gently touching the bruises. "Oh my god, mum, what happened?"
Lilith drew her hands away, hiding the bruises in her skirt, answering numbly, "I shouldn't have shown that to you. I just don't know how to talk about this."
"So, he's as bad as Lucius that way, too?" Pain reverberated in the girl's voice and Lilith winced.
"I...don't know. Maybe....Maybe I shouldn't have fought...I shouldn't be talking to you about this. I'm your mother. I'm..."
"Being abused," Rose bit out, her eyes flooding with tears. "And you think we should be civil to him?"
"I don't want this to be any harder than it has to be. I just want us to get through it with as little pain as possible."
"He hurt you." Rose gritted her teeth. "And worse, and you plan to just go be with him now?"
"I shouldn't have fought him," Lilith said, her voice strangled, every muscle in her body beginning to tremble.
"Are you saying you deserved it, mum?"
"No." That was stronger, and she shook her head as she turned to Rose who was so angry and hurt. She shook her head again. "No. I didn't deserve it. I tried to stop it. I..." Her eyes fell again beneath that youthful intensity. "Rose, you think it's appeasement, but I can't win in a physical battle. He's already proven that. It's compromise, one I have to make, no matter how distasteful."
"I would never stop fighting," Rose swore.
Raising a trembling hand, Lilith brushed away the lone tear slipping down Rose's cheek. "Don't say that, Rose. I love your strength and your passion, but I would never wish pain on you. Fight if you can. Win if you can. But, sometimes surrender is the only option. It took me a long time to learn that. I never stopped fighting Lucius, but I don't have that willpower anymore, and my feelings for Severus are involved as well, a big muddled mess, but a part of all this. And, there are more important things than any sense of honor I might have. How hard do you think it would be for him to drag us all to Voldemort?"
"So, he's threatened us?"
"No, but I don't want to give him that opportunity. So, yes, I'll appease him, and if you think less of me, I can't help that. I'll fight the battles I can win. Protecting you and Violet is my priority. If the price I have to pay is sleeping with my husband, it's something I can bear."
"It shouldn't be something you have to bear," Rose sobbed in frustration. "Ever since you first talked to me about men and sex and marriage, you've stressed it should be something wonderful, a willing sharing."
"And it should be and I pray that it always is for you, but that's not always reality." Leaning forward, she brushed a kiss across Rose's forehead, then rose to her feet. "Please eat something and get some sleep. Everything will be all right."
"No, you're wrong, mum. Nothing will ever be all right again." Swiping at more tears, Rose turned away from her mother, and Lilith slipped from the room.
Lilith spent the remainder of the evening in her room balancing her checkbook, paying bills, and placing catalog orders for furnishings for sprucing up her bathroom. Mundane, necessary things that filled her time and occupied her mind. Turning off her computer, she rose and stretched her back, and winced as muscles in her thighs and hips twinged. She frowned and thought briefly of digging out her wand to heal herself, then sighed and shook her head.
She wanted him to see the bruises.
Feeling a momentary satisfaction, Lilith walked to the bed and began to turn it down. She wondered if she really would be able to do this, but acknowledged that she had no real choice, and she would do it and she would survive. Hidden reserves of strength were coming to the fore inside her, bolstering her nerve, and she fluffed the pillows with a grim, determined look on her face, before gathering up her nightgown and retreating to the bathroom.
When she emerged twenty minutes later, face free of make-up, teeth cleaned, wearing the simple and unrevealing pink floral cotton shift, she was greeted by the sight of Severus standing at the end of the bed, unbuttoning his cuffs. One of those unbidden pangs of pain went through her chest at the familiar image.
Once upon a time she'd loved watching him undress.
He glanced up at her briefly, then returned to the task, his long, lean fingers slipping ivory buttons free from expensive linen. Lilith dragged her eyes from him and walked to her side of the bed.
She couldn't do this.
Panic saturated every nerve, her heart-rate increased, her breathing grew shallow.
And Severus broke through it with a simple question. "How is Rose?"
The panic fled, replaced by a cold calm and Lilith turned to him. "Angry, confused, scared and hurt. Very hurt." Their eyes met and held, both pairs so very cool.
"I'm sorry for that, I truly am." Severus was the first to look away as he slipped his shirt from his shoulders and carefully draped it over the back of her desk chair where he'd already placed his jacket. "She'll get..."
Lilith interrupted him. "Don't say she'll get over it, Severus. She won't. She has a stubborn streak a mile wide. One of the few, thankfully, legacies from her father."
He looked back at her, a frown creasing his lips. "You never refer to Lucius as her father."
She just looked back at him until he frowned deeper and sat down on the end of the bed to remove his boots. With his back to her, she found the strength to slip beneath the quilt and rest her head on the soft pillows. Hands clenched around the top of the quilt, she pulled it up to her shoulders, and waited, trying not to think about anything. Severus rose and disappeared into the bathroom and she let out a sigh of relief but knew it was short-lived.
She also knew it was useless to pretend to be asleep.
When he returned, nude and damp from a quick shower, she looked away. The room went dark and the bed next to her shifted as he joined her, and then one of his hands was on one of hers, tugging her fingers from the quilt. She felt his shoulder brush hers, his thigh slide along hers, his skin warm, the muscles taut, the light scattering of hair rough and familiar.
Lilith let the quilt go and it skimmed down her body to her feet. The hand that had pushed it, returned, gliding lightly over her legs, then the thin cotton covering over her stomach and breasts to touch the pulse in her neck before cupping her cheek and turning her to face him.
"No more fighting?" he whispered.
She shook her head, dislodging his hand, as their eyes, adjusted to the darkness, met. "It'll be empty, Severus, so empty," she murmured in return, then closed her eyes as he leaned forward to kiss her.
His lips were soft yet firm, teasing hers with light flicks of his tongue, relearning her. Lilith let her lips part under the slight pressure, tasted his tongue, moaned softly in distress.
It was so much easier when he was harsh with her, but the anger was gone, and she had no plans to fight him, which left her vulnerable to unwanted desire. She tried to hold onto the truth of his betrayal, to her fear, to the earlier violence, but her body was so accustomed to his and he knew hers so well, that she feared that remaining cold would be impossible.
Severus broke the kiss as his fingers skimmed her breasts, tugging through the cotton at nipples already hardening. "I've missed this closeness."
"It's not real." Her heart broke yet again--and she wondered just how much more it could hurt.
"It's real enough," he replied softly before lowering his head and his hot lips to her cleavage, his fingers tugging open the laces to free her breasts for his kisses. Lilith raised her hands to wrap them around his neck, then lowered them again in confusion, one down her side, one above her head where the fingers wrapped around the edge of her pillow. When Severus' lips fastened over one of her nipples, she gasped and felt a spark light deep in her womb.
He shifted and she felt his arousal pressed against her hip and sorrowfully begged him, "Please...don't make me want you."
He looked up, his eyes glittering down into hers. "It'll make it easier."
"No, no it won't."
For a moment, she thought she saw sorrow in his expressive eyes, but then they went hard and cold and he frowned grimly. "If that is your wish." A knee parted her legs and he moved to cover her. Lilith closed her eyes and tried not to flinch as he pulled up her gown. She lifted her hips to aid him but then lay still, except for the annoying quivering of her thighs. As he pressed forward, she dug the fingers of her other hand into the sheet and tried not to wince.
Her body was sore from earlier, but his kisses and caresses had aroused her more than she wished so his way was easy and he was being more gentle.
But, she'd been right. It was so very empty.
When he was done, Severus moved off her and onto his back, breathing hard and trembling from his release. Lilith slowly drew her legs together and shoved her gown down to cover herself. Opening her eyes, she blinked away the useless tears that had stung her eyelids during the whole mechanical process, and stared up at the dark ceiling.
"I didn't want it to be like this, Lilith," Severus said softly.
"How else could it be?" Emotion made her voice crack and she silently cursed herself for feeling anything.
"If you'd let me arouse you..."
"I'd have hated myself even more," she snapped back, reaching down to yank the quilt over herself. "Sixteen years since I've been in this position and you were the last man I could have imagined who would put me there again. I refused to let Lucius turn me into his whore, and you won't either, Severus Snape." Angrily she turned onto her side facing away from him, silently praying that sleep would take away the nightmare her life had become.
A hard hand yanking her back demolished that hope.
"You are my wife," he forced out from between gritted teeth.
"At the moment, that's the last thing I want to be."
"Aside from hiding behind a pathetically easy to guess surname, you've done nothing to end our marriage."
"And give you a reason to find me? All I wanted to do was get away from England as fast as possible."
Slowly Severus released her and his voice softened. "You do realize you were safer at Hogwarts."
"I couldn't stay there, not after what you'd done. I wouldn't subject my girls to the cruelty that they were sure to face. People may fear Voldemort for all he's done and all he threatens, but you...you betrayed us all. From right in our midst, you struck down our leader. Anyone with the name of Snape was going to be reviled by the government on down. I've suffered for years being accused of a crime I never committed. I wouldn't let my daughters face similar accusations."
"They're the daughters of a murderer," was her frosty reply. "They have to live with that, but they don't need to face it every waking second."
Severus' face went hard and ice coated his words. "I was always a murderer."
Lilith knew that was true--having seen some of the things he'd done for Voldemort as a young man--but it wasn't something she'd ever thought much about. He'd betrayed Voldemort, spied for The Order, fought alongside them to defeat the darkness.
She'd believed it to be true, his strive for redemption real. He'd always be touched by his crimes, but he worked so hard for forgiveness.
"How could I have been so wrong about you?" she asked plaintively.
"Not everything was a lie, Lilith."
Trying not to let the hint of sorrow in his voice affect her, she replied, "But what exists at a fundamental level, at your core, is. You were right earlier when you said you were the consummate liar. And I never saw it."
"For which I am very grateful."
Tears stung her eyes again and she hastily blinked them away. "And what would you have done to me to keep me from telling your secrets?"
"Anything I had to," he replied through tight lips.
And she believed him.
A shudder of fear and horror went through her and she curled away from him. This time he let her go, though he spoke again, softly, almost gently. "I'm glad it was unnecessary, Lilith. We had sixteen years together, good years. We created a family. We cared for each other. That's all real."
"And don't you understand that it would have been so much easier if I had suffered those sixteen years, and not allowed myself to be happy, only to have everything torn from me in one instant of betrayal?"
"You're not the first wife to discover her husband has lied to her, Lilith," he sneered, and she heard him shift on the bed and turn from her.
"And I'm not the first wife to discover her husband is a murderer. All you will have from me is this, Severus, sufferance, cold acceptance, and fear."
"Then sleep your martyr's sleep, Lilith, because you're stuck with me."
But she didn't sleep for many hours and only after cold tears had wet the pillow beneath her cheek and her mind had suffered through endless scenarios of a future growing more and more cold.
Lilith awoke feeling groggy and out of sorts, her body aching, her temples throbbing from tension. A quick glance showed her that her bed and room were empty, but Severus' jacket remained over her chair, so she knew he hadn't left. Another glance showed her she had less than an hour before the girls needed to leave for school. Sliding from the bed, she shuffled into the bathroom to take a quick, painfully hot shower. She tried to ignore the tender spots on her body and scrubbed herself as clean as she could get, ridding herself of his scent and touch.
Standing nude before the bathroom mirror, she piled her wet hair up on her head with a couple of clips, then stared at her reflection. Outside of the bruises around her wrists and the mark on her lip from her own teeth, she appeared remarkably undamaged. There was a pinched look around her lips and circles beneath her eyes, but that was to be expected.
Dry, her rituals of powder and lotion done, she pulled on a pair of navy capri pants and a loose white smock top over a blue and white striped camisole, and after taking a steadying breath, left the room. Sounds from behind both doors to her daughters' rooms told her that they were up, so she headed down the stairs, wary but as casually as possible.
The kitchen was empty but there was coffee brewed and she poured herself a cup. Severus was an early riser, and he also had fallen asleep much earlier than her. Lilith let that little resentment stew for a moment as she stirred in cream and sugar, then took a sip of her coffee and left the kitchen.
Breakfast could wait for a moment. She needed to know where her husband was.
The living room and dining room were empty but the front door was ajar, letting a light cool breeze in through the screen. Silently opening the door farther, she peered out and spied Severus leaning against a post on the porch, sipping coffee and surveying the neighborhood. He wore his black trousers but had changed into a white shirt, the cuffs rolled up to his elbows, and his feet were bare.
As Lilith watched, he arched one foot, revealing the sole, and she swallowed hard.
He had the most erotic feet she'd ever seen. It was one of the things that turned her on the most, and the sight of that arched foot, well-defined heel, and lean toes, was making her stomach flutter. Dismayed at herself, she thought for a moment of fleeing back to the kitchen, then got herself under control and pushed open the screen door to step outside.
Severus looked over his shoulder, his eyes cool and unreadable, then back to the quiet street. Lilith had chosen this house on a cul-de-sac for its quiet. Somewhere a dog barked and there was the sound of an early morning sprinkler across the street, but no one had left yet for work or school, and the distant traffic was no more than a buzz.
"It's very different from Willow Tree Cottage."
Their home away from Hogwarts had been in a small, mostly wizarding village in Herefordshire- -well off the beaten path from anywhere and nothing in the village had been newer than a hundred years. The cottages and shops rambled here and there around the village green, some squeezed together, some with large gardens. Nothing planned and measured like this neighborhood.
"I wanted something totally different," was her honest answer. "Something new and fresh."
"And how did you pay for all this? The ministry seized my accounts and last I heard were moving on the cottage. Did they give you access?"
"Oh, no. I knew that they were lumping me in with you when they locked me out of our joint accounts, so I used my inheritance from Great Aunt Gertrude, who must be spinning in her grave at the knowledge that I'm using her money to live in a Muggle town."
He looked at her again, his eyes darkening in anger. "How did the ministry expect you and the girls to live?"
"Apparently they didn't care," she replied cooly. "The families of murderers don't usually demand respect from anyone, let alone the government. Luckily, we dark wizards always have money somewhere."
His eyes narrowed. "Since when have you referred to yourself that way?"
Lilith shrugged her shoulders and moved up to lean against the other post, turned so that she had her back to it, facing his profile. "Everyone else thinks it, might as well."
"Bitterness doesn't become you."
"If you don't like it, you can always leave and never come back."
Severus snorted in dark humor and took another sip of coffee, his eyes never leaving her. As he lifted her cup to her lips to do the same, a frown wiped out the small smile on his face. Reaching out, he brushed his fingers over her wrist. "I didn't realize..."
"You hurt me," she replied, her voice still cool and remarkably free of any trembling. Nor did she jerk away from his touch, simply drank her coffee, then lowered her hand to her side.
"If you hadn't fought me..."
Her eyes went hard as she glared at him. "If you think I'll let you blame me for my own rape, Severus, think again." As he paled, a grim satisfaction filled her and she turned back to the door. "Breakfast will be ready in ten minutes." Entering the house, she felt his eyes on her and a nasty smile crossed her lips.
Entering the kitchen, she set down her cup and started preparing a simple breakfast of English muffins, bacon and scrambled eggs. As she poured orange juice for the girls, Violet entered the kitchen.
"Is daddy still here?"
"Yes." Lilith handed her a glass of juice and a plate of toasted muffins, and nodded to the dining room. "Go on and start. I'll bring in the rest in a minute." Giving the eggs a stir on the stove, she quickly went to the bottom of the stairs and called for Rose, then went back to the kitchen just before the eggs burned. As she scooped them into a bowl, Severus walked past her and refilled his coffee cup, before heading to the table. Lilith placed the eggs and a plate of bacon in front of him, then went back through the kitchen to the base of the stairs.
"Rose? Breakfast is ready."
A door opened upstairs and Rose yelled back, "I'm not eating with him. I'll get something on the way to school." Then the door slammed again.
Sighing, Lilith joined the rest of her family at the table and stared at her empty plate for a moment, not hungry at all. The only sound was Violet's fork scraping her plate, until Severus shoved his chair back from the table and walked quickly away from the table and up the stairs. Lilith placed her head in her hands, the coffee turning to acid in her stomach.
A moment later a screech of anger came from upstairs and Lilith jumped to her feet, but then froze as Rose thundered down the stairs and past her, furious and bright red in the face. The girl flung herself into her chair and crossed her arms over her chest, pouting and panting. A moment later Severus joined them again and calmly sat, placing his serviette over his lap before resuming eating.
Lilith slumped back into her seat and tried to ignore the glowers from her eldest daughter as she wondered how Severus had gotten Rose to the table.
And what he'd threatened to do to her.
The bowls and plates of food sat between them and neither reached for them. Lilith managed a few more sips of coffee but Rose simply glared and pouted in silence, bringing a dark tension to the entire meal.
When Violet was finished eating, she asked to be excused and her father granted the request, and she left the table. Rose didn't ask and stormed after her sister. Unable to look at her husband, Lilith slipped after them and caught them in the foyer where they were collecting their bookbags.
"If he's still here when school's out, I'm not coming home," Rose hissed before slamming out of the house. Violet gave her mother a sad, confused look, then went back to say goodbye to her father before leaving out the backdoor to meet a couple of friends on the street behind them. After Lilith heard the back door close, she walked slowly back into the dining room and retook her seat.
Severus set down his cup and his fork, then wiped his lips and folded his serviette. "I expect I'll be able to return next weekend. At that time, Rose will have learned civility. She will join us for meals and be home on time from school. If she wants to keep her mouth shut and neither speak nor eat, that's her business."
"You're just making her hate you more," Lilith said, her voice barely above a whisper, haunted and cracking with emotion.
"Is that possible?" he asked, his voice reflecting a bleakness she felt growing stronger between them.
"We'll never be a real family again."
"Then I'll take what I can get, because I'm not letting you go again. You had the opportunity to leave me two years ago and you chose not to, remember that, Lilith."
"The biggest mistake of my life," she bit out, using anger to hold back the threatening tears. She was so damn tired of crying.
"And you'll have to live with that." He steepled his fingers, his elbows on the edge of the table, and gazed solemnly at her flushed and angry face. "Back to Rose, she threatened to run off to join Potter and his foolish band of do-gooders. Make it quite clear to her that if she does so, you and Violet will be at the mercy of the Dark Lord. I will not stop him from bringing you to my side. All of you are to stay out of the coming war. It's a condition on which he won't compromise."
"Two little girls and a lone woman whose fighting skills have severely lapsed? What threat could we possibly be?"
"No threat at all," Severus scoffed, "But think about how it would look, the family of his right hand turning against him." As he rose from the table, he added, "And I won't be forced into a situation in which I'd have to face you in battle, Lilith. I'd win."
"I know that," she replied, her voice like cracking ice. "You've proven that murder comes quite easily to you."
Two strides and he was at her side, pulling her to her feet, his fingers tight around her shoulders. "It's never easy," he swore. "Never. It would destroy me if I had to kill you or the children. Utterly destroy me, Lilith."
Gazing up into his glittering eyes, she shivered at his intensity, then gasped as his lips crushed hers. He pulled her tighter, kissing her hungrily, tasting like rich coffee and marmalade and smoky bacon. Lilith stiffened, tried to pull away from him, and was only caught even closer until every hard plane of his body was molded to her own soft curves. Her lips parted beneath his and she clutched at his arms, feeling their lean strength beneath her trembling fingers.
As he took her down to the floor, she moaned a denial, but could feel the arousal building deep inside her.
The first time, he'd been angry and rough and she'd fought him. The second time he'd been almost too gentle, allowing her time to keep herself cold and distant.
But this time...it was too familiar. Passion and heat and firm caressing hands and hungry, devouring kisses, and she had no defense against any of that. Desperately she tried to remember how he'd hurt her, how much his betrayal had destroyed her, how she couldn't possibly feel anything for him. Wrapping her fingers in his hair, she started to tug, only to stop and slide them through silky strands, and pull his mouth to her breast.
As his hands found the buttons of her pants and his lips and tongue found her nipples through her camisole, she whimpered and arched to him and blanked her mind.
Tears clogging her throat and burning her eyes, Lilith tried to put her clothes back on but only managed to replace her knickers and tug her camisole straps and bodice back up, before she broke down. Huddled on her knees, bent over, arms tightly around herself, she sobbed. When Severus' arms came around her, pulling her back against him, when she heard him murmuring soothing sounds to her, she only cried harder and accepted the only comfort to be had.
Later, Lilith sat on the couch, wrapped in a cotton throw, her hands cupping a steaming mug of sweet tea. Her cheeks ached and her eyes stung, but the tears were gone. It had been almost cathartic to cry like that.
She just wished he hadn't been the one to comfort her.
Wearing only his black trousers, his chest scored in places with red lines from her fingernails, his hair tangled from her caress, Severus crouched in front of her, carefully placing his hands on either side of her knees.
"Did that help?" he asked softly.
Lilith shrugged and took a shaky sip of her tea, unable and unwilling to meet his eyes.
"Did I hurt you?"
There was a moment of silence before she finally whispered, "You're destroying me."
"I'm sorry, but I can't let you go. I won't let you go," he stressed, his voice soft yet fervent. "I've missed you. I should have come for you sooner but I'd hoped some time and space would ease things between them. Instead, they've only made them worse. Your initial reaction and fear when I walked through the door made me angry and...I'm sorry."
"There's no hope, Severus," she replied sadly. "You truly committed an unforgivable act, and I couldn't live with myself if I let myself live with you. This is all you'll get."
Slowly he rose to his feet, looking solemnly down on her. "Then it will have to be enough."
He left shortly before noon, disapparating from her back patio in a wisp of black smoke. Lilith watched him go, then slowly turned to go back inside the house that was no longer a sanctuary.
To survive this with her heart intact, she was going to have to become much harder, but in doing so, what would she lose?
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