The lead up to Samhain every October always put Severus in an awful mood, especially now he had Harry bloody Potter traipsing around Hogwarts like the Ghost of Bad Decisions Past. He did his best to avoid unnecessary reminiscing of course - a challenge aided by perfectly healthy amount of denial and a nightly glass of firewhiskey while he was reading before bed - but short of Obliviation he couldn't rid himself entirely of the memories and wasn't even sure he would if he could. Having the memories (however painful they might be) was still better than having nothing at all, and even the constant nightmares were preferable to the idea of surrendering for good to the laundry list of personal weaknesses and flaws which had defined his adult life.
Speak of the devil. "Miss Potter, what exactly happened to your uniform?"
The blasted girl paused on her way to Merlin knows where she was determined to cause mischief on a Saturday afternoon and looked up at him, blinking quizzically through her ridiculous round glasses. "Is there a problem Professor?"
He resisted the urge to grit his teeth by only the barest of margins. "Yes, with your school robes. Why are there decorations on them?"
She glanced down at the school robes she was wearing over a scruffy pair of black jeans and an oversized jumper with snitches on it, which instead of being a solid black with Gryffindor red piping as they should have been were also delicately trimmed in intricate gold and silver embroidery around the edges of her sleeves. "They're runes Professor."
"Yes you stupid girl I know what runes are." He snapped, not remotely in the mood for her cheek. "Why exactly are they on your robes?"
"Oh all sorts of reasons." She said with a shit-eating grin which gave him some very uncomfortable flashbacks to his own schooldays. "Some are to prevent ink spots when I use a quill, and the bindrunes are to invoke --"
Think of the firewhiskey. "Yes that is what they are Miss Potter, but you have yet to tell me why they are there."
Potter looked a bit confused, as if she wasn't quite sure if he'd somehow gone stupid or not when she wasn't looking. "They're there because I put them there Professor. It's my extra credit project for Ancient Runes."
"My Ancient Runes extra credit project. I had to research and then implement an inventive but minor everyday application for runes, then keep a diary of the effects for the remainder of the term and submit it as half of the grade." She waved her hand over the hem of one sleeve, and the runes glowed softly in the wake of her touch. "Lovely isn't it?"
Severus felt dangerously close to simultaneously exploding in fury and recoiling in absolute horror. "Do you mean to tell me you're wearing thread runes in a school? Do you have any idea at all how dangerous making runes in something as impermanent as thread is? The slightest interaction with a strong, unstable power source - such as an overly emotional and irresponsible witch - could cause them to explode!"
Instead of apologising for poor judgement and wilful endangerment she was still looking at him as if he was a simpleton. "Of course I do Professor, that's why they're in metallic thread. It's a pain and a half to work with yeah, but it means they're perfectly stable. I had my design proposal checked off by Professor Babbling who approved me going ahead with the project, and then she approved it again once the embroidery was complete. We'll be reassessing it together every week for my research diary, and if there's a slightest hint they're degrading we'll unmake them immediately. I have a note if you need to see it."
Merlin's sagging ball sack, if she was being honest this was runework on the level of someone achieving their mastery. And she was a bloody sixth year!
With great difficulty he reigned in his shock at this entirely unexpected evidence of scholastic achievement and refocused on how annoyed he was at her very existence. "Be that as it may, it is still against the school rules to modify your uniform for anything but medical or cultural reasons."
"But I got permission from my Professor, my Head of House, and the Headmaster for the project." She said simply, clearly annoyed but keeping her face as blank as possible to hide all traces of the smugness he knew she must be feeling.
"And how exactly did you manage that?"
"I asked nicely."
Of course she did. Fan-fucking-tastic.
Clearly having expected something like this to happen at some point, she reached into an inner pocket of her robe and pulled out a neatly folded piece of parchment which with a sinking feeling he could already see bore the Headmaster's (quite literal) seal of approval, holding it out to him with the ghost of a smirk.
Barging into Dumbledore's office before dinner he knew before he even got past the bloody gargoyle that it was going to be an exercise in futility, but in a fit of contrariness or maybe the last ragged death throes of blind optimism he still couldn't stop himself from trying.
"Did you really give Potter permission to wear active thread runes in a bloody school?" He snarled as soon as he pushed his way inside, slamming the door behind him.
Albus looked up from what appeared to be a three dimensional puzzle made out of commemorative teaspoons with a jovial smile, completely ignoring his spy's little tantrum. "Ah yes, I did indeed. Young Bathsheda was most insistent, talked my ear off for an hour about it just last week over tea. Apparently they've been having a ball with threadmagic of all things, and it seemed that with all the pressure young Harry has been under it wouldn't hurt to let the girl have some appropriately educational fun."
So basically the old coot was trying to crawl his way back into the Chosen One's good graces and was willing to bend school rules to achieve his goals, nothing new there.
"So you're not concerned that an unstable pubescent witch with a Dark Lord on her tail and enough latent magical ability to level everything from here to Hogsmeade is waltzing around Hogwarts wearing the magical equivalent of live ordinance? The slightest flaw in the working or an unseen complication and you'll be down one Chosen One and whatever else is within range."
An unconcerned hand was waved, as if this wasn't a very real possibility for death and mayhem and merely Severus overreacting like a cranky toddler. "I looked over both the proposal and the completed robes in question myself with Bathsheda and it's all above board, and they know to be on their guard about the risks. Really dear boy, I wouldn't let it bother you."
"Don't let it bother me?" Sometimes he honestly wondered what it would take short of Voldemort himself rocking up to the castle to rattle the old goat.
"I'm actually glad you stopped by Severus." He said, putting his spoons away in a fuzzy knitted sock. "There was something I wished to discuss with you."
Fan-fucking-tastic. "What is it Albus?"
"Oh nothing too pressing, just wondered if you'd heard anything about our missing Durmstrang Headmaster."
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose as he sank into a chair, running through his mental catalogue of current intel. "Last I heard Karkaroff had disappeared, no doubt into some remote European bolt hole to wait out the oncoming storm. As far as the Dark Lord is concerned as long as he doesn't stick his head out anytime soon he's the Continent's problem for now."
Albus hummed thoughtfully. "That doesn't seem very in character for Tom. Usually he's very fond of making examples of people who have displeased him in some way."
"Oh he hasn't been forgotten, it's just that the Dark Lord isn't currently willing to devote any time or manpower towards finding someone who is no actual threat to him. The man is harmless, not to mention that he knows when it comes to someone like Karkaroff the waiting for the sword to drop will do half of the work for him." Severus shook his head. "Mark my words he'll get his eventually when the Dark Lord is good and ready to give it to him, and no doubt when he least expects it."
He paused, taking in the thoughtful expression on the older wizard's face and not liking it one bit. "What's this about Albus, why the sudden curiosity?"
"I don't think I like Tom being so focused on this mystery ritual he has in mind for Harry." The Headmaster looked for all the world like he was only considering a particularly bold chess move, or whether or not it would be prudent to have a second slice of cake before dinner. "Maybe we should attempt to track down Karkaroff ourselves instead. I'm sure there's information he never shared about Tom's activity on the Continent which could come in useful, but far more importantly the man would never sit back and allow someone else to take away one of his toys. It might divide his focus, possibly even give us some more time to uncover what he's planning."
Severus did what he usually did when confronted with mad schemes he needed to run damage control over, which is to say he sat there and thought very hard about all the ways it could go the most horribly and catastrophically wrong and then worked backwards.
Reaching a temporary conclusion he sighed in defeat, and hoped whatever ghosts his choice was about to make wouldn't haunt him any more than all the others already did. "You're right in that he is indeed single-minded; even his concentration would be broken by something like this. My only concern would be the potential for collateral damage."
"Oh I'm sure that between us we can plan out the contingencies well enough for it to not been an issue. For now letting Tom know we're planning something even if you're not sure precisely what should do a good job of whetting his appetite."
"Very well, I'll go see him tomorrow." It wasn't urgent and it had been a long fucking week, Merlin knew he needed a good night's sleep before having to deal with any more of this.
"Don't look so worried my boy, with his attention being split I'm confident this will all go well."
He snorted, not feeling remotely charitable. "If everything seems like it's going well you should look again, because clearly you've missed something."
Albus just smiled cheerfully, as if they were planning some minor alterations to a lesson plan and not using another human being as bait for a psychopath to distract him from a teenage girl. "Ever the optimist Severus."
"I'm a spy Albus, I can't afford optimism."
"You're not the one who has to look the abyss in the face and let it look back into you." He sighed, standing up and turning his back on his employer.
"What are you up to now my dear boy?"
"Losing the will to live." Severus said over his shoulder as he made a beeline for the door, thinking again of his firewhiskey and wondering if this Samhain was going to be the last stand in his steady slide towards alcoholism. "You?"
Another bloody Sunday, another visit to Malfoy Manor while nursing a hangover and swearing at the fucking peacocks on his way up the drive. Because really, which pretentious twat decided that a horde of shrieking albino miscreants was the ideal option for avian-themed garden ephemera when perfectly sufficient (and perfectly silent) statuary existed?
"Good morning Narcissa." He drawled upon being greeted by the witch in the Receiving Room with a kiss on the cheek, quietly passing her a paper bag of nicotine contraband. "I need to speak to the Dark Lord."
"I'm sorry Severus but our Lord is presently... indisposed." Said Narcissa, clutching the bag of cigarettes and face even more purposefully devoid of emotion than usual.
Severus paused halfway through removing his cloak and narrowed his eyes. "Indisposed?"
"He is…" Her voice trailed off for the second time in two sentences, and if he needed any indication that something was very, very wrong or at least very, very weird there it was. "He is entertaining a guest. Privately."
What the actual sodding fuck.
"Well then, do you have any idea when he will no longer be…indisposed?" Great, turns out the awkward pauses were contagious today.
"Not as such, no." She replied, and if he didn't know better he could have sworn she was holding back a smile. "The guest in question only just arrived, so it could be hours."
Mother Magic and the Witchfather, he didn't know if the violent lurching in his stomach was a sign he was about to start hysterically giggling or throwing up his breakfast.
Okay, so the Dark Lord was entertaining and would be for the foreseeable future. Whatever the hell that meant he wasn't entirely clear, but as Narcissa was a Black by birth anything from necromancy to recreational torture wouldn't have been alarming to her or even all that out of the ordinary for their mad boss.
"Is the guest in question here regarding business, or for personal reasons?" He asked, unable to help himself.
"To the best of my understanding it is a little of both." Narcissa replied, still holding tightly onto the carton of Parliaments as if they were the answer to a world gone topsy-turvy and hell, maybe they were. "Or maybe a lot of both. I would never presume to understand the full scope of our Lord's intentions or make inferences as to his personal life."
"Ah. Well then." Severus tried desperately to think of an appropriate response to the distinct possibility that the Dark Lord was currently getting his rocks off and came up woefully short. "With how tirelessly he works I was unaware our Lord took the time to have a personal life."
"It's a recent development." She admitted.
Alright, time to get back on track before he went fucking blind. However much it was literally his job to poke his nose into other people's business, Severus decided he truly (madly, deeply) didn't want to know. No really, he could go to his grave not knowing who Lord Voldemort was entertaining and how and be perfectly fine with it.
"Can I leave a message for him then? The matter I came to report isn't time-sensitive or anything which would make him particularly upset I don't think, but it's still something he'll want to know."
Narcissa hummed thoughtfully. "He's generally available by the early evening so why don't you come for dinner? There will be a few of the others from the Inner Circle dropping by and it's been too long since we've sat down together and shared a proper meal. You can have an audience with him beforehand to get it all out of the way."
Reporting to the Dark Lord and then sticking around to have dinner with the man sounded like the absolute worst way to spend a Sunday evening he could think of which didn't involve thumbscrews, but bugger it all if Narcissa didn't look so bloody hopeful. Saying no would be like kicking a unicorn, and with everything else currently taking up space in his brain he just didn't have the energy for it.
He sighed. "I will return to make my report in the evening Cissa, and if our Lord isn't upset with it or me I will stay for dinner."
"Oh how wonderful ducky!" She said gleefully, clearly pleased as punch at getting her way. As if there was any chance at all in any universe that she wouldn't.
Whatever else you can say about them, Dark Lords are all about style. To that end there's a certain level of presentation expected for those in their Inner Circle as well, and even if that hadn't been the case everyone knew better than to present themselves at Narcissa's dinner table looking anything less than perfectly poised and polished.
Sitting there feeling pleasantly underdressed in the one set of robes he owned which weren't for teaching in, fighting in, or protecting himself from noxious potion ingredients, Severus wondered if now he was back as an active participant in this world of blood and finery instead of skulking around the edges if he was going to have to bite the bullet and go visit a fucking tailor. While tonight's dining companions were mostly the less annoying bigots in a group of radical bigots there was still some ghost of his working class upbringing which enjoyed his prominence in a group of well-bred aristocrats thanks to nothing but his own skill and brilliance, and there was a certain amount of spiteful enjoyment in the plain austerity he radiated to remind them of this fact.
It was certainly an interesting mix of faces. Lord Voldemort was holding court at the head of the table occupied with what was either a very in-depth conversation with his familiar, or an excellent excuse for ignoring all of them. Lucius was at the other end of the table, discussing something political and boring with Theophilus Nott and a Marcellus Avery who looked relieved to be away from Bellatrix and all the other former Azkaban tenants for an evening, while Narcissa was deep in quiet conversation with Angerona Yaxley and Harlow Montague. Only he and Barty Crouch Jr seemed to be uninterested in the riveting company, quietly eating and answering in monosyllables when the others tried to drag them into contributing.
Severus wasn't sure he'd ever seen Lucius hitting the wine quite so hard when not out on a bender, but it seemed that either he wasn't coping too well post-Azkaban or the grim realities of a live-in Dark Lord were proving hazardous to his nerves. Narcissa didn't seem worried though, and not in the way which said she was hiding her thoughts about something serious but more like when she knew some especially juicy gossip which other people didn't and was feeling smug as all hell about it. And if the way Harlow kept glancing at her out of the corner of her eye he wasn't the only one to think so.
"Congratulations on Lucius' acquittal by the way." He said to the law-witch on his left. "I heard Madame Bones was so furious that afterwards she nearly had kneazles."
The brunette smiled like an especially pleased shark. "Oh thank you Severus, you're too kind. Thanks to our Lord it was a forgone conclusion that he would be freed of course, but that's all the more reason to put my best foot forward you know? A witch mustn't give the wrong impression by slacking on the job, and besides it was far too fun an opportunity to pass up."
Severus smirked. "I'd say I pitied your victims but we both know I'd be lying."
"And you never lie, do you Snape?" Sneered Barty, sitting on his right and doing an excellent impression of a bratty idiot with his elbows on the table.
"No more than anyone else does." He replied blandly. "It can be hard to keep track of the faces we wear to the world can't it Barty, especially when the original is so very problematic."
The irritable wizard snarled under his breath, hands tightening on his cutlery until his knuckles were white. After sitting at the same dining table for an entire year while the other Death Eater had been masquerading as Alastor Moody it was an oddly familiar sight.
"There's no face more problematic than yours, you filthy bloody spy." He spat, glaring up at him from under his mess of dirty blonde hair.
Severus smirked lazily, realising the best possible way to get under the skin of someone who clearly disliked him this much. "Come now Barty, if you don't stop trying to pull my pigtails like this I'll have to assume you like me."
It must have worked, because Barty went so furious and furiously red that he nearly caught fire and Harlow, who had been shamelessly listening in, almost choked on her pinot gris. "What the bloody hell Snape?"
Ten points to Slytherin.
Previously content to ignore the quiet bickering happening further down the table while he ate and hissed with Nagini, it was apparently passing into the realm of annoyance and Voldemort looked up from his contemplation of the magret de canard with a placid expression. "Is there a problem children?"
Suitably chastened and more than willing to take the one and only warning for what it was, Severus and Barty fell silent and around the table all conversation ground to a halt.
"No my Lord."
"Of course not my Lord."
The Dark Lord raised a non-existent eyebrow. "Must have been my mistake then."
For all he was about ready to have a heart attack Severus had to admit to no small amount of enjoyment from watching the table's other occupants freeze while trying to work out if they were supposed to agree with their boss, or protest that he couldn't possibly be mistaken about anything and therefore admit that some of their number had been acting like children. Because while there was almost no chance he was doing it on purpose, if the planets had aligned in such a way as to temporarily give the Dark Lord a sense of humour and he was indeed doing it on purpose? Well, that would just be beyond fucking hilarious.
"Please excuse me my Lord, I just recalled something." Bless you Narcissa, you are a bloody saint. "This afternoon I was in the library and happened to come across that book I was discussing with your guest just last weekend. Would you like me to have it sent to your study so you can pass it along the next time the two of you see each other?"
Distracted from his deployment of the Eyebrow of Certain Doom, the Dark Lord actually looked pleased. "Excellent work Narcissa. Have an elf bring it to me after dinner, I would like a chance to read it myself before the damned hellion gets her hands on it and talks about nothing else for the next month."
The ghost of an honest to gods smile floated across her face like a gentle summer breeze, while Lucius paled and drained his mostly full wine glass. "Of course my Lord."
Um, what the actual sodding fuck?
He didn't appear to be the only one who was confused either. The general consensus seemed to be abject confusion and no small amount of trepidation, while Barty was apparently over his snit in favour of curiosity and Harlow looked like a bloodhound who'd just scented some wild gossip bleeding in the underbrush. It was clear that only the Malfoy's had any idea what was going on, but it was also clear that they wouldn't talk come hell or high water.
Severus sighed and knocked back the rest of his wine, nodding gratefully when Harlow refilled it along with her own and not even blinking when Barty held his own out across Severus' place setting to get a top-up as well like the unmannered child he was. The three of them drank in companionable silence, mulling over what had just transpired while Narcissa struck up a conversation about Samhain preparations and everyone joined in so as to not appear to be too invested in what looked disturbingly like their Lord's personal life.
Well, he decided with a ghost of a smile of his own while reflecting on how shit this entire weekend has been from start to finish, whatever the actual fuck was going on in this bloody house at least for once it didn't have anything to do with Harry bloody Potter.