Severus did not sigh. It would not do either of them any good. In fact, it would probably put them in danger. So Severus ate another tomato from the buffet and then just stood in silence, his expression blank as he watched the newest soon-to-be death eater being introduced. Black stood straight, swelled with pride as the other members greeted him.
Above all, he looked young. Severus wondered if he had looked this young when he had joined a year and a half ago.
The other Black would be so proud, Severus thought, not sneering. His own brother joining the movement that stood for all he hated. But then, the older brother had been the odd one out, not that Severus had ever had much to do with the younger one.
Severus held out his hand as Black stepped before him. “Welcome. I hope you’ll do well.”
Chances were he would not survive otherwise.
Severus took out his sandwiches. The grease of the canned meat had soaked through the paper he had wrapped them in and they were slightly squashed, but that didn’t bother him. He bit into the one of the spam sandwiches and looked back towards the house they were observing.
“Are we allowed to do that?” Black asked beside him.
Severus shrugged. “Why not? Nothing has happened in over an hour and it isn’t likely that anything will happen soon. If I’m wrong, I can still stop eating.”
They lapsed into silence again. Black’s stomach rumbled loudly.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t have a chance to eat earlier and I didn’t think to pack something.”
Severus wordlessly handed him a sandwich. At least Black would have enough manners to eat properly. He shuddered to remember his stakeouts with Goyle.
A fly buzzed lazily above the long grass. A slight breeze rustled the leaves of the tree above, creating shifting dappled patterns on their hideout. The house below continued to be lifeless.
“His nose looks strange,” Black remarked some minutes later, plucking apart a piece of grass. “Not what I had expected him to look like.”
“Don’t,” Severus said harshly. “Not in front of me, not in front of anybody. Just don’t. Understand?”
Black had dropped the piece of grass and his tone told Severus he did. “Yes, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…”
“It does, though,” Severus did not know why he said it.
Black stared at him. Then he burst into laughter, quiet snorts quickly stifled into a hand so as not to draw attention to them.
Severus felt his mouth twist into a smile and his stomach quake in amusement.
Black leaned over and clapped a hand on Severus’s back and when he returned to his previous position in their narrow hideout, his arm was still brushing against Severus’s.
Severus was not used to physical contact. Nobody instigated it and he didn’t seek it. Still, he didn’t move. It actually wasn’t unpleasant to have Black’s arm brush against him and rest warm by his side.
Their next stakeout together was in a rather less pleasant setting. They were in an old brick house in a shabby town, sitting in the attic and watching the house across the street from a tiny attic window. It was rather draughty and cold and it was getting dark.
“Are you hungry?” Black asked eventually. “I figured it is my turn and I have some leftovers. Family party.”
“I wouldn’t mind some food,” Severus replied, slightly surprised.
Black took out a little bag, which opened to reveal a much larger space.
“I have some pastries and cake, the other dishes would have been a bit unpractical,” Black said with a quirk of his mouth. “I don’t want to leave a trail of gravy.”
“No, that would have its drawbacks,” Severus replied.
He reached for a pastry and took a bite. “Not bad at all.”
Black grinned. “You can say what you like about us Blacks, but we do know the value of good food. At least that’s what my uncle Alphard used to say. I’m more than happy with a jam sandwich.”
Severus briefly wondered whether Black was still living with his parents or was living on his own, surviving on jam sandwiches when he couldn’t be bothered to cook. If Black had even learnt to cook. Perhaps a house elf was taking care of him? Severus swallowed the remark that rose to his mind. Black was being courteous and while Severus had no need of a friend, he didn’t want to make an unnecessary enemy either.
“What will happen to the people we are observing?” Black replied after a few minutes of eating and watching in silence.
Severus swallowed and just barely managed not to choke on his pastry. “It depends. If they deserve it, there will be a raid.”
It didn’t really depend on that, Severus had come to realize. There had yet to be a house or person being observed that hadn’t been attacked later. His first raid had been rather different than he expected. He had thought they would attack, capture the people in question, maybe quickly kill the ones that posed too big a threat. That had not been the way it went. It had been weeks before he had been able to sleep through a night without nightmares.
“Try to volunteer for your first raid. It shows your loyalty and enthusiasm. Doing so will also let you volunteer when someone with good judgment is leading the mission. Karkaroff, Malfoy or Travers would be good choices, though there are of course other good choices too.”
Severus briefly wondered why he was giving Black advice. It might put him into difficulties. But Black still seemed so young and inexperienced, listening to Severus’s advice with rapt attention. Severus wanted to spare him the experience he had been through.
“Someone grounded and efficient is good, someone who will give clear orders and make a clean job of it.”
Severus’s first mission had been led by Bellatrix. It was far from clean, or efficient. The torture had gone on for what seemed like hours, the screams echoing in Severus’s ears for days afterwards and the scent of blood lingering in his nose. The screams had also caught the attention of neighbours and the officials had nearly apprehended them. The Dark Lord had not been happy to hear of this, and Bellatrix had not been the one to pay.
Severus could only hope that Black knew his cousin well enough to not consider her efficient, grounded and with sound judgment. Severus certainly wasn’t risking his neck to warn him of her.
“Thank you, I’ll keep that in mind,” Black said as Severus finished his pastry.
Severus could hear him shifting about in the dark. The idea of actually taking part in attacks did not seem to be as thrilling as joining an exclusive club and pleasing his parents.
“Here, you really should try one of these tartlets,” Black said.
Severus stretched out his hand. Black’s hand collided with his in the darkness and they fumbled around slightly until they managed to transfer the tartlet into Severus’s hand.
It tasted even better than the pastry. Either the Black family house elves were amazing, or one of the family members had way to much time and energy to spend on baking. But Snape wasn’t complaining. Instead, he surprised himself again.
“I assume you have a basic understanding of occlumency. It won’t hurt if you work on perfecting it.”
Black stopped chewing. There was silence for a moment.
“Were my thoughts so easy to read?”
Severus felt his brow wrinkle. Had there been something he should have picked up on? He didn’t make reading the minds of his fellow Death Eaters a habit. It wouldn’t be a particularly healthy habit either.
“No, I just meant that it can’t hurt in the eventuality of being captured. Knowing how to hide that you are hiding something can be a very useful skill if the Order of the Phoenix wants you to reveal things.”
“Oh, alright. Thanks. I’ll work on that then.” There was an air of relief on Black’s voice that did not quite fit with the prospect of being interrogated.
For some reason, Severus could still feel the ghost of Black’s fingers on his.
There was an urgent knock on the door. Severus sighed, set down his book and went to open the door.
Black stood in front of him grey-faced and clutching his arm. His arm was soaked in blood and there was a hunted look about him.
“Black, what happened? Come in,” Severus said, ushering him inside lest the neighbours notice something.
“The raid went wrong. The Order was already waiting for us. It was a trap.”
Severus cast a look at Black’s arm. There was a long gash in it, probably from a cutting spell. By luck, it seemed to have missed the artery though Black still seemed to have lost quite a bit of blood. It would need to be cleaned and closed as soon as possible.
“Why did you come here instead of getting this treated by Avery?”
Black stared at him. “I don’t know. I’ve never been injured on a mission before and I didn’t know we were supposed to go to him... You are good at potions so I thought you might be able to... There was chaos and I wasn’t thinking clearly...”
Severus mentally swore and interrupted Black’s rambling. “Who was in charge of this mission?”
“Did he give the order to retreat?”
Black stared at Severus. “Yes, I wouldn’t...”
Severus breathed a sigh of relief. “What was the emergency meeting point he stated beforehand?”
“I... I can’t remember. I’m not sure he gave us one.” Black turned even paler. “Will they think I...”
“I doubt it, but after we get your arm fixed up, you need to send word as soon as possible, or maybe go to the headquarters. Were any other Death Eaters injured?”
Black nodded. “Nott got a spell to his chest and Crabbe dragged him out of there. And Mulciber got hit with another cutting spell.”
“That means that Avery will be busy anyway and will most likely be thankful if you get this fixed yourself. Come along, we need to get this cleaned to see how bad it is. A cup of tea will do you good too.”
Black followed Severus to his cramped kitchen. He settled onto the chair Severus gestured towards and took the cup of tea Severus handed him. Severus pulled up the sleeve of his robes, filled a bowl with warm water and got out a piece of cloth. He carefully began cleaning the arm of blood.
“Did you get hit by any other spells?” Severus asked.
Black shook his head. “Only this one, and it didn’t hit me fully.”
“Yes, and a good thing too. Two centimetres further down and it would have nicked your artery and you would have lost a lot more blood.”
Severus dabbed at the wound and Black winced. Severus took a careful look at the gash.
“I’ll be able to close it up fairly well, but there will still be a cut left. I’ll put some healing salve on that and it should close up in one or two days. Now hold still.”
Severus held Black’s arm still with his left hand and took out his wand with his right hand. Black’s skin felt warm and smooth under his hand, if still slightly sticky from blood.
“Ready?” Severus asked glancing at Black’s face, even though the question was completely unnecessary.
Regulus – Black, that was – exhaled and nodded. Severus could feel his breath glancing off his skin. This was closer than he would normally feel comfortable being, but somehow, he didn’t mind.
He looked away from Black’s eyes and down at the wound, speaking the incantation as he moved his wand over the gash. When it wouldn’t close any further, Severus got up.
“That’s about as far as I can close it with that spell. I’m going to get the salve from my potion cupboard. You can clean your arm up a bit more while I’m gone.”
Severus soon returned with a little jar and a small vial. Black looked up at him and smiled. Severus found himself smiling back.
“Let me know if it hurts,” Severus said and began applying the salve. It occurred to him that this was something Black could do himself, but it somehow felt right to finish treating him.
His patient winced slightly when Severus treated the deepest part of the wound.
“Sorry, Regulus. I’ll try to be more careful.”
“You’ll want to apply the salve twice a day. Your arm should close up completely within a few days, but you should keep using the salve for a few more days if you don’t want the scar to be too big.”
“Thank you, Severus.”
Severus’s mouth was suddenly dry. He concentrated on spreading the salve, even though it already covered the entire remaining gash.
Finally, he decided it was enough. He got up to wash his hands, gesturing at the vial on his way to the sink.
“I brought you a blood replenishing potion. You lost enough that it ought to be useful. I wouldn’t take it right now though, since it can make you drowsy and perhaps slightly nauseous. Better wait until you are home.”
Regulus nodded. “Alright, I’ll do that.” He tucked it into his robes and took out his wand to clean and repair his sleeve.
“You should probably go to the headquarters now,” Severus said quietly. “It wouldn’t be a good idea to wait too long and by going to the headquarters instead of just sending a message, it won’t seem like you are avoiding the consequences.”
Regulus swallowed. “How bad do you think it will be?”
Severus shrugged. “Probably not too bad. Someone else will have carried the brunt of bearing the bad news. Stopping at a safe place to take care of your injuries is usually alright too, though I wouldn’t mention you had my help. If Dolohov failed to name an emergency meeting point, you’re even more in the clear. So any punishment you will get probably won’t be too harsh.”
Regulus nodded, pale and tight-lipped. He rose and followed Severus to the door.
Before Severus could open the door, Regulus grasped his hand.
“Thank you, Severus. I... it means a lot to me that you helped me out tonight.”
Severus clasped his hand in both of his. “You’re welcome. And I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
Regulus nodded, clearly trying to look brave.
“You know, I’ve been thinking about getting out of town a bit in two weekends time,” Severus found himself saying. “Maybe a daytrip to the seaside, though of course it’s not the right time of year. If you like, you could join me. You don’t need to decide right now, obviously. Just something to consider.”
“I will,” Regulus replied with a small smile.
Severus smiled back and gave Regulus’s hand a slight squeeze. “Now go. Good luck.”
When Regulus had disapperated, Severus returned to the kitchen to clean up. His thoughts swirled like the bloodied water churning in the sink.
The wind was cold and the grey clouds hung low as Regulus and Severus walked through the seaside town. Severus had apparated them to the edge of town to avoid detection.
“Not really the right weather for a seaside visit,” Severus commented. The drab brick houses lining the streets with their arrays of chimneys were the same as in any other British town, at least in the parts of the town away from the sea.
“That means there will be fewer people on the beach,” Regulus pointed out. “And at least it’s not raining.”
“Yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if it started to rain at any moment.”
Regulus laughed. “Ever optimistic, aren’t you?”
They both fell silent as they passed a group of young men their age. Only when they had passed two corners did they begin laughing.
“Did that one guy have a safety pin through his ear?” Regulus asked.
“Not just one, several,” Severus replied. “And the colors of their hair were more than tasteless.”
“Granted,” Regulus replied. “But the pins... that has to hurt. Not to mention that it is unsanitary. I’m pretty sure that causes quite a few infections. Do muggles even know how to treat them?”
“Yes, in a fairly crude way,” Severus replied.
Regulus shook his head. “I don’t understand it. If this is what they are doing to themselves, well, what we’re doing almost seems redundant.”
Severus laughed. “It does make you think that, doesn’t it? They do make pretty good ice cream though. Not in as many flavours as Fortescue’s has but good nevertheless.” He gestured at an ice cream shop he had spotted. “Want to get some?”
Regulus raised an eyebrow. “In the middle of winter?”
“It’s not quite winter yet, only November,” Severus pointed out. “But if you prefer not to...”
“I don’t have any muggle money,” Regulus admitted.
“I’ll have to treat you then. I assume there will be those tartlets again at the next family party you attend?”
Regulus held out his hand to seal the deal. “Alright, ice cream against tartlets. I never would have guessed you had a sweet tooth.”
“I need something to balance out my dark and bitter personality,” Severus said drily. “It was that or embracing it in my food choices too and living off coal and liquorice.”
Regulus stared at him for a moment then burst into laughter, clapping a hand onto Severus’s back. His hand lingered for half a moment and Severus felt warmth rising to his face that had little to do with the warm shop they were entering.
When they left the shop a few minutes later, Severus holding a cone of strawberry ice cream and Regulus one with chocolate, they startled a couple of seagulls picking scraps from a fallen rubbish bin. They headed down the last stretch of road still separating them from the sea as the gulls’ screams followed them.
The handful of souvenir shops by the seaside road were closed and the sea was dark and capped with foam. Severus took a deep breath of the salty air.
“Shall we have a race to see who gets to the water first?” Regulus asked as they descended the stairs to the beach.
Severus raised an eyebrow. “While holding ice cream cones?”
“Right. We probably don’t want to risk dropping them.”
Severus felt a sense of calm rising in him as he trudged through the dry sand towards the sea.
“Could you hold this while I take off my shoes? I can’t go to the sea and not at least put my feet in,” Regulus asked while stretching his ice cream cone towards Severus.
“Of course. Just don’t expect me to nurse you back to health if you catch a cold,” Severus replied.
“You wouldn’t do that?” Regulus said with a little smile, leaving behind his shoes and a speechless Severus. He probably would, Severus knew, but it surprised him that Regulus knew that too.
He watched as Regulus splashed his feet into the water and pulled a face.
“You probably won’t believe it, but it’s warmer in summer!” Regulus shouted over to him. “Want to give it a try?”
“No thanks!” Severus shouted back, grinning.
It didn’t take long before Regulus came back to where Severus was standing with the abandoned shoes and the ice cream cones. Regulus cast a warming spell on his feet after a quick look around to check that the nearest people were far enough away not to notice. He picked up his shoes, took back his ice cream cone and they started walking along the beach.
“I’m sorry for being a bit silly back there,” Regulus said. “Going to the sea always reminds me of my childhood. My mother hated the beach, with the sand getting everywhere, but my father took us there sometimes and even played with us like all the other fathers. I always raced Sirius to the sea. He wasn’t always the way he turned out to be, you know. Sometimes I just miss things the way they were before he went to school. On every mission, I hope that I won’t see him. You’re an only child, aren’t you?”
Severus nodded. “Yes, and that’s probably for the best.” His childhood couldn’t be wished on another person. “But I can understand that you don’t want to encounter your brother on a mission, not on opposite sides.”
The weather had kept most people away from the beach and the further they walked away from the town, the fewer people they saw. Occasionally, a seagull sailed past, eyeing their food. Mostly, they walked in silence, their shoulders so close together their dark coats occasionally brushed.
“What made you ask me to join you?” Regulus asked after a while.
“I needed some time away from everything, a little seaside wind to clear my mind. I figured you might need a little break too, or at least the idea of one to keep your mind on in case things got unpleasant after that failed mission.”
It was the truth, at least that part of the truth Severus had been admitting to himself for the past two weeks.
“It wasn’t too bad. I got off lightly, I suppose.”
The town behind them had faded into the coastline in the grey light. A little distance ahead, they could see a row of beach huts and even further behind that, the outline of a small village.
Severus flicked the last bit of his cone onto the sand between pieces of seaweed and some small shells. A seagull swooped down and grabbed it and they laughed as a whole flock of seagulls assembled from nowhere and flew after it screaming. Regulus tossed the remains of his cone onto the beach as well and they watched as the flock scrabbled over it until one flew away victorious.
“Do you ever doubt what we’re doing?” Regulus asked so quietly that Severus could have chosen not to hear it.
“We’ve made our decision,” Severus replied. “The only other decision we could make now is between morals and our lives. And that is not really a decision at all.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Severus could see Regulus swallowing.
“You’re right. We’re on the winning side and everything will get better once Voldemort is in power and peace is restored. Only a Gryffindor would be foolish enough to think otherwise.”
A gale of wind sent their coats flapping and droplets of rain hit their faces. They continued on in silence, ignoring the rain.
Another gale of wind hit them and all of a sudden, the rain became a downpour.
“Quick, to the beach huts!” Severus shouted and they ran.
They scrabbled to open the door of first one, then another, but to no avail.
“It looks like there’s a gap between those two!” Regulus shouted and they ran over.
They hastily crawled into the relatively dry gap and leaned back against the wall of one the huts, drenched to the bone.
They turned to each other laughing.
“We should have just used Alohomora,” Severus pointed out, still wheezing for breath.
And then Regulus’s lips were on his. Severus could still taste a faint hint of chocolate ice cream under the rain water. Severus wound his fingers through Regulus’s wet hair and pulled him closer.
“Where is your cousin? I haven’t seen him at the last few meetings,” Severus asked, as nonchalantly as he could.
“Don’t ask,” Narcissa hissed under her breath, glancing around nervously. “He betrayed us. I should have known he would turn out like his traitorous brother. He’s dead, I presume. Bellatrix certainly seems to think so.”
She turned away, clearly wishing to no longer be associated with Severus, or her cousin.
Severus did not swallow. He did not blink. It could kill him. Severus made his way over to the buffet. He did not look at the tartlets. He knew he would be sick if he did.