It's dark in their bedroom when she swings her legs from under the covers and gathers her robe from behind the door. The living room is bathed in the pale glow from the street light outside and the curtains are askew, having been hastily pulled open. She glances at the front door, hoping to see his discarded boots on the mat, but a trail of grit and mud leads her to their tiny kitchen instead.
She finds him peering at a sickly flame, twisting the knob on the stove one way and then the other, both to little effect. After a long moment, he huffs, whips his wand from his sleeve and casts. The gas catches with a low roar, and a blue flame spirals high into the air. He steps back, waiting for it to calm with a small smile of triumph, and levitates the frying pan from the draining board to the hob.
He doesn't spot her in the doorway, and she pulls her dressing gown more firmly around her as she watches him move between the fridge and the cooker. He drops far more lard than necessary into the pan, followed by black pudding and bacon, bread and then eggs. It's at that moment that she notices that he's swaying slightly. The smell is intoxicating – the dainty salmon salad she ate five hours earlier, although exquisitely prepared, has left a gap.
"Have you ever cooked anything that's not deep fried?"
His head jerks up, and a broad smile fills his face. "I thought you were asleep." He scoops the fried food onto a plate, and – with an egg and two slices of bacon left in the pan – he points the spatula towards her. "Hungry?"
She is, and she nods. Another plate is pulled from the cupboard, and he eagerly fills it with a mountain of food – far too much for a midnight feast. He grabs the half eaten loaf of bread – half eaten already? – and takes a fresh slice, whipping it around the pan until the grease is mopped up, and then places it on the side of her plate.
"I haven't set the table," he says, extinguishing the flame with a flick of his hand, and levitating both plates towards the sofa. He sits, and leans over the arm, pulling yesterday's Prophet from the magazine rack. She sits next to him as he pulls the newspaper into two unequal halves, folding each and dropping one on her knee, the other on his. Then, he plucks his plate out of thin air and places it on his now-protected lap. "Well?" he says, between gulping bites. "Dig in."
She follows suit, pulling the warm plate onto her half of the newspaper. The food is hot and greasy, and it's difficult to eat in a dignified manner with the dish balanced on her knees. He looks over, knowingly, spearing another whole slice of bacon onto his fork, bending it over and back again until it's pierced four or five times. Then he opens his mouth wide, taking it all in at once and chewing with gusto. His eyes flash with amusement at her horrified look.
"Come on," he says, his voice muffled by food. "You're not at Tuney's now."
She stiffens at the mention of her sister, but he doesn't notice. He barrels on, not pausing between mouthfuls to swallow his food properly, and she's convinced that if she stops watching him, he could choke at any second. She finds herself entranced by a thin smear of wet yolk that's escaped from the corner of his lips, appalled and disgusted by his gluttony, and not for the first time, left wondering how she came to be sat here. The contrast between her home and Petunia's home - or, more plainly, her boyfriend and Petunia's husband - couldn't be more stark.
He senses her watching him, and he raises his thumb to his chin. He makes contact with the livid orange smear, and then grins bashfully – apologetically. He balances his cutlery on his plate and licks his fingers, rubbing his stubbly skin. "Sorry," he says, and she can tell he means it. He picks up his cutlery once more and makes quick work of the remains of his food, his knife and fork scraping painfully loudly across the plate. With a quick movement, he's up – still chewing his last mouthful – and coils his fingers in a mime. "Cuppa?"
She nods, and prods her fork at her rapidly congealing food. It's now cool to the touch, and far less appetising than it had been five minutes earlier. She half wonders if he had been right to wolf it down, his fingers gripping the plate with a possessiveness that felt as if he was certain someone was about to whip his meal from him.
And then he's back, a freshly brewed drink levitating before her. He holds out his hand for the plate.
"I've not finished," she protests, but it's half-hearted, and he grins – his forefinger rummaging in his mouth, picking between his teeth. "And Severus, must you?"
"We're not in public," he grumbles, whisking her plate away. "You're meant to be in bed, anyway."
"Leaving you free to indulge in all of your bad habits?" she calls after him, leaning up and arching her back over the sofa. "And don't think I haven't seen you stamping around in your boots." He doesn't answer, and she sits back down, plucking her tea from the air. She warms her hands on the mug, the colour of the drink the perfect shade of tan. She sips, knowing it will be far too hot to enjoy properly, but she's keen to wash away the taste of fried bread – and it's then she registers the cooling charm he's cast on the liquid, just enough to make it instantly drinkable.
He returns, and drops down onto the sofa, sliding his hand into hers. "Sorry about my boots-" he starts, just as she begins to thank him for the tea. "You first," he says, but she simply squeezes his hand. He waits for a moment in case she changes her mind, taking a swig of his own drink, but when she doesn't speak again, he breaks the silence. "So? How was Dunderhead Dursley?"
He snorts. "C'mon Lil, he is a dunderhead."
"Tuney's talking about having a baby."
"Ugh," he groans. "She's not, is she?"
"I just said-"
"No," he interrupts, moving his hand in front of his stomach, in a mime of a pregnancy, "I mean, she's not already, is she?"
Lily shakes her head. "Least, I don't think so. But they're trying."
"They are bloody trying," he mutters.
"He's offered you a job. Again."
"Daddy thinks you should consider it."
He sits back, clearly affronted. "And what did you tell Daddy and Dunderhead?"
"I just said you were working hard-"
"Or hardly working, is he?" he retorts, his voice distorting into an eerie mimic of Vernon.
"That's creepy, don't do that."
He grins again. "I'm right though, aren't I?" She doesn't answer, and his smile grows wider. "Bloody hell, he's like a record with a scratch in."
She shifts uncomfortably. "You were late back tonight."
"Thought I wouldn't be missed." She bristles, but he misses it, his head now between his knees as his fingers fight with the tight knots in his thinning laces. "You stayed over last time," he continues, by way of explanation. Again, the tension drops from her shoulders – he's right. The last time she'd attended a dinner party at her sister's, she'd had one too many of Petunia's daiquiris and had spent the night in the Dursleys' spare room, with a hastily transfigured bucket by her bedside. It's at that moment that she suddenly remembers that she didn't transfigure the hideous dog ornament back to its original form, and Petunia's boring non-alcoholic evening suddenly makes a lot more sense.
"She thinks I stole it."
His head jerks up, his eyebrows knitted together in a frown. "Stole what?"
"Last time I was there." Her hand is now raised to her mouth, laughter escaping from behind her fingers. "I transfigured an ornament."
He stops what he's doing, and sits back, forcing his boots off with an angry kick to each heel. He takes her hand from her mouth and kisses it. "Kleptomaniac."
"It was hideous, Sev! A ruddy awful porcelain dog. I reckon his sister gave it to them-"
"Sounds like you did them a favour." He looks up again, his eyes twinkling with mischief. "Remind me to transfigure a whole row of terrible dog ornaments for the fireplace for their next visit."
"You wouldn't." At this, he merely raises an eyebrow. Of course he would, and she knows it. "Sev, really. She'd never come over again."
"In that case, I'll do a whole bookcase of them."
"Speaking of which-"
She stands, and ties her dressing gown a little tighter. "I knew you'd say no."
"But Daddy insisted, so-"
She looks a little abashed, but raises her chin higher, a smattering of colour filling the tops of her cheeks. "He is paying for half of the rent on this place, Sev."
"Your half!" he sputters, angrily. "I pay my own way, thanks very much!"
She glances at his discarded robe, draped carelessly over one of the dining chairs.
"Don't!" And now he's standing, angrily stooping and picking his boots up from the floor. "Don't judge me for how I make ends meet, Lil." He unceremoniously drops his boots by the front door, and casts an anti-Alohomora at the lock. "You've been wined and dined and waited on hand-and-foot at your sister's, and I've been out working all bloody night."
"All night?" The enquiry is mild, but the faint scent of ale and whisky about his person is enough to condemn him.
"I didn't think you were coming back. I only had a drink."
He doesn't answer, and this time she reaches for his robe. He darts in front of her, but his dulled reactions are too slow – she makes contact with the cloth, and his potion vials clink against each other.
"Slow night, I take it?" Her nostrils have flared, and he tucks his greasy hair behind his ears, as if readying himself for a fight.
"I didn't go up the Hog's," he finally admits. "I stayed at the Broomsticks. Had a couple with Ros."
"Worked up an appetite, did you?"
He opens his mouth, but thinks better of it. It's an effort, but he holds his dark sarcasm to his chest, and stalks back to the sofa, angrily transfiguring a cushion into a pillow, signifying his intent not to join her in their bedroom.
"Don't be pathetic."
"You really think I'm shagging Rosmerta, do you?"
"I just don't want you keeping secrets from me," she says, venturing a little closer to him. He's practically vibrating with rage, and she places a warm hand on his cool arm. "You always go up the Hog's if you're working."
He stills, a half transfigured cushion in his grasp. "There was a raid." And now it's her turn to freeze, her hand gripping his forearm more tightly. After a moment, he drops the cushion on the sofa, and places his hand over her own.
"You weren't caught?"
"Would I be here now?" He tosses his head. "They went early," he says, shrugging. "Aurors. Dunderheads, the lot of them. Raided the place at half nine according to Fletcher. He came sidling in the Broomsticks at just gone ten, you know what he's like. Looking for Polyjuice."
She shudders at the thought of Mundungus roaming the streets with a vial of Polyjuice. "You didn't sell it to him?"
"Not under Rosmerta's nose," he says, "do you think I'm daft? She'd skin me alive." He shakes his head. "Told Dung I'd see him tomorrow."
"But we're seeing Mummy and Daddy tomorrow."
"You're seeing Mummy and Daddy tomorrow," he corrects. "I've got a bit of business to make up for." She looks pained, and he raises his hand to caress her soft cheek. "Lil, I'm sorry. This is how it is. If I don't make a profit this weekend, I can't replace the ingredients in the stockroom, and if old Jigger notices when he does his stocktake on Tuesday-"
She takes a shuddering breath. "I think you should stop."
"Stop?" His eyebrows lift towards his hairline.
"It's too risky, brewing illicit potions. If you're caught-"
"I won't get caught. I didn't tonight, did I?" He wraps his arms around her waist. "Got an alibi and everything."
"And what about tomorrow? And next week? And the week after?"
"They don't know anything," he says, firmly. "If they had any intelligence, any dirt on me, they'd have raided after last orders."
"And what about Jigger?"
He wraps his arms around her more tightly, and nestles his nose in her hair. "Leave Jigger to me," he murmurs. "Serves the bastard right, anyway."
"What do you mean?"
"He gets far more out of me than he pays for," he grumbles.
She twists in his arms. "Don't risk your apprenticeship, Sev. If Jigger disowns you-"
"If Jigger disowns me, I'll find a new Master. He's hardly got a monopoly on Potions apprenticeships."
"If Jigger disowns you, you won't have the reputation to find a new Master. Once is a mistake, but twice…"
"I'm just saying, Sluggy won't be able to pull you out of a tight spot again." She kisses him firmly. "Don't go out tomorrow. Mummy and Daddy haven't seen you for ages."
He shakes his head. "I'm brassic. We're brassic. I told you, if I don't sell those potions-"
"I'll get the money."
"We're not taking more off your father." The small frown on his forehead deepens. "And you're not whoring yourself out down Knockturn."
He gives her a knowing look.
"I wasn't-" She pushes him in the chest. "You know that wasn't what was happening."
"I know that if I hadn't come down there, that's what would've happened." She opens her mouth to protest, but he grabs both of her wrists in his larger hand. "You didn't go there for that, but that doesn't mean that you wouldn't have been taken advantage of. You don't know what they're like."
"I know exactly what your old housemates are like, thank you very much." She prods him in the chest again. "I suppose I should be glad you're just a dealer, and not a Death Eater."