It was unfortunate that the scraggly, scrawny storm-scarecrow's name came at the late middle of the alphabet. If only he'd been the first one on the stool, or even the last. Then the six minutes of scowling, jolting silence that looked like someone having a flaming row more or less inside their own head (it was), followed by the alarming wisps of actual flame and smoke that started flickering around the screamless brim could have been stirring, dramatic.
If only the pause had been dramatic, instead of an annoying delay of the meal everyone had been waiting all summer for. Then it might have gone some way to mitigate, instead of underlining, the things that had happened on the train.
"Oh, Seth," the titchy redhead with the luminous eyes grabbed his wrist to mourn as he passed the Gryffindor table, looking like he'd just won a very annoying battle whose memory was annoying him in his moment of triumph by still being annoying. "You said you wanted Ravenclaw!"
Shrugging rattily robed shoulders gamely at her, he told her, his unmitigated Lanky as thick as the groundskeeper's Yorkshire, that he had tried reason but it had just kept on being insulting. "An' doan' call me tha' here."
Luke Malfoy (don't call him that to his face; he has a way with the hall statues and the prefects) welcomed him to the table with a warm smile, and made an example of him as soon as they hit the common room.
This was for a) looking violent on his first day so that it couldn't take anyone by surprise later, b) getting Slytherin on the bad side of the teachers by attacking a school relic, c) failing utterly to understand Slytherin, as evidenced by obviously having done damage to said school relic with his own hands and in public, d) talking to mudbloods, e) having no name worth mentioning and a blood-traitor mother and therefore f) being a knutless upstart who couldn't contribute anything to the house, g) looking like a disgrace, and finally, h) sounding like one.
Seth—Severus Severus SEVERUS he was Severus to everybody now—stared up at him through hooded, swollen eyes, and through the crushing disappointment and betrayal and the sheer horrific strangeness of having his body altered by a hex for the first time, a clinical voice, his own and not his own, cold and detached and not for the first time, passed through his mind. He's got the house under his thumb and I won't fall for that smile again and nobody's going to help me.
Just like home, then.
1. As stated, this story is variably compliant with later books. Frex, my basic character and backstory conceptions were formed before we knew how old Narcissa was, and I'm keeping them. If both Narcissa and Lucius were both five years older than Severus, one has to do a lot of tap-dancing to come up with a nonsleazy explanation for why Professor Snape and Mrs. Malfoy were so close she'd trust a homely halfblood climber with a bad attitude who works for a living with the life of her son the daddy's boy using an emotional appeal (for pity's sake (haha)).
She didn't bargain with Snape. She didn't offer him something in return for his risk and his trouble. She just asked, and expected her distress to move him. For pity's sake, these are two Slytherins we're talking about! Yes, there could have been legilimental communication. Yes, this could have been a follow-up conversation to previous negotiations. Yes, it could have been implied and understood that Narcissa would owe him a favor—although in this last case, she had never been so poorly positioned in her life to be a good prospect for providing competent Slytherins (as opposed to Slytherins both sleazy and short-sighted) with the sort of open-ended IOUs they would find tempting enough to be worth substantial risk and trouble.
However: Narcissa expected Bellatrix to expect Snape to be moved by Narcissa's distress. She behaved the way she did, took the tack she did, in front of Bella, who manifestly thinks Snape is a slimy, conniving, selfish, cowardly weasel. If Bella, who firmly believes Snape is out for himself, is unsurprised that Narcissa would appeal to Snape's better nature and doesn't bother to ask YTF Narcissa thinks this soulless toerag cares how upset she is about her only son...
...maybe Bella thinks Snape does care about Narcissa, yeah?
Rowling seems to like the childhood sweetheart model a lot, but a five-year gap with an older husband was considered pretty much ideal for arranged marriages. This is useful for various reasons including fertility maximization and giving the husband an experience advantage to help him keep the reigns and not be shamed by being outclassed by his wife.
I don't just mean that the Malfoys are totally and obviously new money and touchy about it; it's a known phenomenon that girls trend about seven years above boys in terms of emotional maturity.
2. The author whitehound has made a good case for putting Spinner's end in Manchester, but I have it in Nelson, Lancashire. Although this former textile mill town didn't have any serial killers running around it during the '60s, to the best of my knowledge, it also doesn't seem to have been nearly as bright and cheerful and busy and successful as Manchester was at that time. It also has the advantage of being near the beautiful Bowland forest, great for gathering plants and a potential attractor for summer homes. That's important because I don't believe Lily could have lived up North for years and escaped without Harry noticing something about her voice, when Hagrid's was so clearly differentiated and Gryffindor doesn't seem to make Seamus feel a need to iron out his accent.
3. I've explained about the Seth-among-muggles thing in my story Album of the SangReal. Of course I'd love it for people to go read that, and please do, but the subject won't come up again.
Chapter 2: Brainwashing: 1970-76
Chapter by nightfall rising (potionpen)
In which pranks aren't funny and pride isn't helpful.
There would never, as a matter of fact, be any discussion of the time (ahahaha) he was ambushed and petrified and carried off and ‘had his hair washed for him in the hope that some of the clean would rub off on his nasty little mind’ in the ghost’s loo.
This was because, looking limp and defeated and half-drowned and half-conscious until their backs were turned, he returned the favor and cleaned their minds: of the incident.
And Myrtle’s, too. He felt that obliviate was, like leglimency, an intrusion in a category with rape.* Or, more properly, roofies, if you thought there was a two-way distinction. That might have had something to do with the natural propensity towards occlumency he would later turn out to have, or maybe not.
Either way, he felt, as it happened, rather badly about it, as though he was rotting his own marrow with Artemis’ gangrenous arrows. But the dead girl was, while ostensibly harmless if you were an idiot, a slavering, hand-rubbing gossip and peeping Thomasina, and no one was sodding well knowing about this ever.
The bastards succeeded at this about twice a year, up until sixth, any number from an avid two to a fretful four of them. He occasionally considered letting them remember it. That way, even if he had to live with letting them remember the victory, he wouldn’t have to keep going through it because they thought it would be funny and original (if something you read in a comic book about Morton Miggpin the Merry Muggle, or whatever the pixilated moron’s name was, could be called anything like original), but…
He had to admit it would be the sensible thing.
Sensible isn’t always possible.
* Failing to convince himself that he'd initially been wrong about this caused him considerable distress in later life, although quite a large part of successful occlumency is the ability to pass beyond both denial and method acting and twist one's own reality into a funhouse mirror without actually running mad.
It's Martin Miggs the Mad Muggle, for the record, and I strongly suspect Arthur Weasley is on the team as, at the very least, a consultant. But I couldn't guess at whether Molly knows. ;)
Chapter 3: An Aura: 1972
Chapter by potionpen
In which Pomona has to deal with the thing killing all her plants every Tuesday.
This is not completely my idea (and is probably silly, although Severus doesn't think so), but then, it's fanfic and late in the life of the fandom, so is anything going to be my idea, completely? If I had original ideas, I'd write publishable stories. Only I wouldn't bother trying to publish them due to a profound faith in a hostile universe that does not want to pay me money. Does anybody else find writing Snape is bad for their mental health and creates optimism deficiencies?
It was a miracle that he managed an Acceptable on his Herbology OWL, given that he’d been forbidden to ever set foot in the greenhouse again three years before. The Sprout was embarrassingly motherly about it, to the point where Severus wasn’t sure the usual sort of The Talk would have been worse. Nothing like Severus’s mother, though; Eileen would have slapped statistics and diagrams in front of him, made a few pragmatic noises about exercising his limits and potentials and staying the bleeding hell away from her rosebush from now on, given him a list of exercises to do in his room or in the Bowland and a brisk pat on the arm, and gone off to do the washing-up.
Sprout was kind, even gentle. Enough to make him want to hit her all over, although matter of fact enough that he could just about control himself.
I hear you’re very good at potions, she said. Is it true that you can do wandless temperature magic, she said. Yes, he told her, it was the first magic he’d been able to do, he hadn’t forgotten how just because he’d gotten a wand.
The first time he’d known it was strange had been when he’d been four, taking a walk with his parents in winter. His father had complained about freezing to death, and then been frightened by his trying to help. Severus still maintained their mittens wouldn’t have caught fire if Da hadn’t scared him with all the shouting.
It must give you a special affinity with the cauldrons, she said, being able to handle them no matter how hot they are, being able to tell how hot they are. Yes, she’d thought it might, she’d thought he could tell that. She expected he could always tell the temperature. Oh, he could? And it hadn’t escaped her that he was much better at remembering what plants looked and smelled like and what they did than how much sunlight and water they needed.
Do you know that some wizarding children are born with special abilities, she asked, like parseltongue and metamorphmagery and the green thumb?
When he was able to tell her what those were, she asked him if she knew that some of them had side effects. He hadn’t. When she asked him about it, he was able to puzzle out that not having a stable body size could make a person clumsy for their first few decades, due to never being as sure as other people about where their knees and elbows were, just like it took kids who grew up bilingual longer to be fluent in their first languages before they became better than most at picking up new ones.
He could work out that being able to effortlessly make plants grow just by touching them could be a problem in the stillroom, where you needed plants to be dried a lot of the time, and not burst into new freshness, and you always needed them to stay the size you’d measured for, and not grow.*
Did he know, she wondered, that just like parseltongue had an opposite, which was why so many people in fairy tales could talk to birds, although they were both so uncommon these days, so did the green thumb? Oh, yes, it did, she said, and neither was inherited as uncomplicatedly as parseltongue and birdspeaking, but they both showed up once in a while, maybe once in a generation…
Did he know that every time his year had class with her, an hour or two after she waved them goodbye, all the plants around where he’d been working were anywhere from withering to dried on the stalk?
It wasn’t his fault, she said.
They worked around it, although he wasn’t allowed in the greenhouses again until he’d been teaching for years and could reliably keep his magic inside his skin. When he scraped an Herbology OWL in spite of his Troll subscore on the practical, she went to the Board and got the practical waived for him on the NEWT. She was surprised at how unusually ready old Mr. Malfoy was to expedite the career of a nobody. Maybe he’d heard Miss Black, who was less nobody-like than anyone in the world except her oldest sister and her cousin in Gryffindor, speak well of the boy.
Less luckily, Pettigrew had stayed after class to hear what the Sprout was being all comforting to Snivellus about. The ‘even plants know he’s so disgusting they die in self-defense if he comes near them’ rumor delighted the school for weeks.
* Much later, Severus found out that the reason Longbottom never wore dragonhide gloves and aprons to his class, and so of course blew it up periodically, when his gran could damned well afford the damned gear, was that Pomona had left it up to Severus to tell him. For five years. Just because it was his class. Even though she was the next thing Longbottom had to a substitute mum. Even though Severus’s shadow could make the boy flinch like a house-elf and knock important things over, even when he was trying hard to be gently (or at least only brusquely) neutral towards the errors dragonhide wouldn’t have helped. Even though everybody, including her, knew both these things. He found this out when she gently reproached him for not explaining matters to Slughorn; after all, if the Potter and Weasley boys were getting a second chance....
Minerva was deliciously smug about somebody from some other house getting the face full of towering castle-rocking fury-boojum instead of the more common snark for once, although of course she took Pomona’s side while Severus was still bellowing and shooting sparks out his gesticulating fingers and making everybody’s tea burst into steam.
Filius, ever pragmatic, tried to steer him through the steam which had been Sibyll’s, er, tea. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough left to get him drunk enough to sit down and shut up and sulk.
Chapter 4: Enormity: 1973-74
Chapter by potionpen
In which life as a teenager is totally unfair. Except when justice is sweet and results in other people breaking their own undersized noses.
Puberty has all sorts of traps for the unwary. Even or especially those who are wary but refuse to understand that it’s safer to be a bit exposed in the stillroom under old Sluggy’s supervision than to snarl at peer pressure and try to bite it in the throat by not giving a damn about one’s looks. Especially if one’s method of not giving a damn involves dosing pubescent hair and skin with protective topical potions. Those really do take care of fume exposure and most accidental spills and even, it turns out, mild hallway hexes, but are sadly oily with a yellow sheen. Being one’s own walking advertisement for obviously having a good recipe for acne and dandruff cures does help a mill shrew in the pocket department, though.
All sorts of traps. Ever-changing limb-lengths that make you constantly wrong about where your elbows are, which is a real problem when the popular kids think you’re their prey and almost no one argues. Growing pains in the bone. All your shallow, shallow classmates getting suddenly obsessed with each others’ hormones and new bulges as though feeling good today is all that matters. Your own incomprehension and distaste come back at you, mirrored—or is the mirror yourself?
Puberty can be beyond satisfying, though, if you can stifle your hand-waving instincts for a while, while your voice is cracking, and don’t let on you’ve perfected your public-school drawl until you’ve settled into a Turkish-coffee baritone that makes girls and half Potter’s little gang walk into doorframes (Black only let himself be surprised once, but Lupin and Pettigrew keep on getting hypnotized like earth-tone baby birds; it’s fantastic).
As I recall, this little story got written for this prompt because, despite being better (before Azkaban) at keeping an aristocratically blank face (when he cared to) and keeping track of microgeography than his friends, Sirius strongly felt the whole voice thing was vastly unfair.
Also, while I am, yes, aware that in the unmagical world people have unmanageable hair and scalps and skin, the guy is a budding potions master. In Slytherin. Very probably with canny and ruthless housemates who understand that a grubby-looking housemate makes them look bad. I don't believe that he would have been allowed to get away with bad hygiene or carelessness, even if his very prissy manner of dress in later life weren't suggestive. Which it is. Plus, defense nut. So this is my answer to that question, although I also have a certain amount of mad love for the answer (see: Reera The Red's The Horse) that says the crap hair is magically connected to crap self-esteem or depression. But this is mine. Because defense nut potions swot probably means defensive potions gonna happen.
Chapter 5: Fashion: 1971-77
Chapter by potionpen
Which is very short and mostly about Sev's killer eyelashes. :D
It’s a shame he can’t afford a look to match his voice, but he needs ingredients, he needs to save, and Potter and Black and Pettigrew will keep destroying everything he owns.
Usually the latter, the ha-ha-petty little weasel. The taller, wealthier boys don’t seem to think that property damage is inconvenient enough to be worth their time, except in passing.
So continuing to patch and transfigure Mam’s old robe it is. Spilled milk can go hang: no time for crying when the bucket’s overflowing and the cow’s still mooing a disconsolate udder-ache.
And he does not, actually, need Narcissa’s damn charity eyeliner.
Chapter 6: Lone Wolf: 1972-77
Chapter by potionpen
In which all of Slytherin would like to own your ass kplzthx, yes, yours, and Severus is, thank you, yes, aware.
One of the best preferred games in the Common Room might have been called, if Slytherins named their games, Put Snape In Debt. He wasn’t singled out for it, not really; leaving others owing you was The Great Game of Slytherin, bar none and no holds barred. However, where others with good blood could afford high-level, high-stakes games of mutual predation, and get very interesting and convoluted with it, and where the few other poverty-stricken suckers who were bright enough to know there was a game on also knew their position was hopeless without a sponsor and were easy prey, Snape was just…
“Cauldron cake, Snape? Go on, my aunt sent an entire box; they’ll go bad.”
“You can’t manage a simple stasis charm?”
^w^ ^w^ ^w^ ^w^
“Out of quills? Well, we can’t let Pettigrew think he’s hobbling one of ours; I’ve got a few spares.”
“…This is about my History notes, isn’t it. That was an excruciating hour of my time you blithely batted your eyelashes through, Wilkes; it’s worth more than a quill I can repair in two seconds. Tell you what, get me a pass to the Restricted section as well and we’ll call it square.”
^w^ ^w^ ^w^ ^w^
“Severus, darling, Reg and I are going to kidnap you now.”
“We can’t pick out your Christmas present without seeing if it fits you!”
“…Narcissa? I didn’t think you could apparate in Hogwarts.”
“…Apparition doesn’t leave a dust cloud, Reg. Or a future corpse.”
^w^ ^w^ ^w^ ^w^
“Salazar, but it’s roasting in here. Anyone want some Ice Mice? Severus?”
“…Well, go on, then.”
“No, thank you.”
^w^ ^w^ ^w^ ^w^
“Are you going to spend every Hogsmeade weekend mouldering down here? We’re going to the Three Broomsticks, why don’t you come?”
“Can’t afford it, go away.”
“Come on, Spike, I’ll spot you.”
“Okay, I’ll buy some of that hand cream off you, then will you come?”
“You’ll buy it as soon as the cold hits anyway, and then I’ll be able to put it towards next year’s books and not be obligated to fritter it away on butterbeer. I don’t even like butterbeer.”
“What’s wrong with butterbeer?”
"Ev. Evan. Ev. First, it has less class than Avery and Mulciber put together. Second, it is less subtle than Wilkes. Last and most importantly, if you want to be punched in the mouth by a faintly alcoholic sugar rush, I have about thirty flavors of mead in the footlocker. Some of which were flavors you suggested. Which won’t require you to trust that the barmaid’s charms are up to snuff and mice haven’t widdled in the barrel overnight. Also your idiot cousin says she’s snogging him, which is probably a lie but do
you really want to rely on she doesn’t think his pranks are funny?”
“I expect it’ll be safe enough if you’re not there to be seen. Come on, I’ll bring you back a bottle.”
"Bring me back a dry cider and I’ll swap you for a bottle of the rosemary and tarragon.”
(So Rosier wasn’t really playing. One had to keep in practice.)
^w^ ^w^ ^w^ ^w^
“Oi, Snape! I hear your mum was aces at Gobstones. Come try your luck; buy-in’s just a knut.”
“No, thanks, Mam didn’t teach me how to gamble.”
“Oh. Well, we could—”
“She taught me how not to.”
^w^ ^w^ ^w^ ^w^
“Oi, Snape! You weren’t really playing Exploding Snap with Lupin and McKinnon, were you?!”
“I was, in fact.”
“But they’re Gryffies!”
“I am aware.”
“I needed a new quill.”
“I thought you said your mum told you not to gamble.”
“Taught me not to.”
“And betting on Gobstones with Slytherins is gambling. Betting on Exploding Snap with the manebrains isn’t.”
“We could play darts, if you like.”
“…Golly, what a lot of homework I have to do.”
^w^ ^w^ ^w^ ^w^
“Snape, what are you doing with that nasty old cloak?”
“…Keeping warm in it?”
“But what happened to the one I gave you for your birthday?”
“Oh, I exchanged it.”
“What? But the blue made your hair look almost like, you know, normal hair!”
“…You’re really too kind. I'm blushing, really.”
“You said it was tasteful!”
“It was. I liked it. I told you I liked it.”
“So why did you exchange it? I spent ages picking it out!”
“You spent five minutes picking it out, with the clerk’s help. I can’t get used to having things that nice until I can afford them myself, it didn’t have enough protective charms for Those Three not to have successfully taken it as a challenge, and it would have looked ridiculous over the rest of my clothes. Now, if you don’t mind, this is the last night of waning gibbous and if I can’t get into the Owlery before Filch locks it I won’t be able to make more of that ‘hand cream’ for you until next month.”
^w^ ^w^ ^w^ ^w^
“Snape, try the new jelly beans with us! Go on, everyone’s having a go; they’re supposed to come in every flavor there is!”
“…And you’re eating them?”
“Well, yes, Snape, that’s what you do with sweets. Here, pick up with hand, open mouth, insert…”
“You people have no imagination.”
“Every flavor, Avery?”
“That’s what it says on the box!”
“And what does it say on the ingredients list? Does it even reveal the ingredients list? I didn’t think so. More bodily excretions and substances than milk and eggs and steak have a flavor, yes? So do a considerable number of poisons. But enjoy your beans. And no, you may not take my bezoars unless you pay me triple cost for time unprotected.”
^w^ ^w^ ^w^ ^w^
“Look, Snape, no one cares that you don’t get packages from home! We know you’d share if you could! Go on, have a chocolate frog.”
“No, thank you.”
“The world will not end if you share the frogs like everyone else, Snape.”
“But I don’t like sweets.”
“But you said you wanted the ice mice.”
“I was being polite.”
“…But you didn’t eat the ice mice.”
“There are limits to my politeness. Note the pointed stare I am now giving you over the top of my Arithmancy book.”
…difficult. Unfortunately for him, the only House that was not, as a House, magnetically attracted to ‘challenging’ was Hufflepuff.
Chapter 7: Drunk: 1976
Chapter by potionpen
In which no one but Evan understands what the hell is Snape's problem with beer (and there is an angry bull).
It wasn’t that Severus was philosophically opposed to harder drinks than butterbeer, they knew that. He made them himself. Sold them to the population at large, traded mead for honey with Hagrid, even left Sprout anonymous gifts of herbal wine in thanks for her blind eye towards what he nicked from her greenhouses.
He was happy to put the whiskey Wilkes sometimes snuck in into his coffee and cocoa, if you could ever catch him between book and cauldron and the dueling club’s target room. He could do terrifying things with juice and herbs and baker’s yeast, and the Vodka-Flavoring Competition of ’76 was legendary.
When Narcissa and Regulus decided to make a Project out of teaching him to understand wine, once they’d gotten that formerly-embarrassing voice of his under control and made him be facile with table settings practically at knife-point, he dedicated himself to it with such frowning ferocity that everyone knew he was pathetically grateful for these lessons as well.*
They never saw him drunk. He switched to cranberry juice or coffee without fail the moment he moved from glowingly, fluently, expansively obsessive about whatthehellever it was today to looking like he was thinking about being friendly in some kind of normal way—but it clearly wasn’t because he had an objection to alcohol, generally speaking. They just reckoned it was one more way their crazy ace was a complete control freak.
Like when Wilkes scored some grass from Tessa, the Sprout’s niece. After the first time, at least, when he’d had a minor fit over not being able to want to move his fingers (he could move them, he just couldn’t want to) and accused everyone of trying to hobble his OWL studies with vile, smelly muggle head-poisons and had to be smacked and sat on. After that he settled for laughing his bony arse off at the rest of them from behind a bubble-head charm in a way he wouldn’t have dared to if they hadn’t been up with the kites.
So no one understood why, when they got a keg of ale past Filch for celebrate Avery’s birthday (Avery being one to openly appreciate something that was so clearly slumming, thereby giving the rest of them an excuse), Severus walked into the room, looked disturbed, flared his freakishly accurate nostrils, winced theatrically, sighed dramatically, found the keg, turned it into an sodding great cow with horns on, spun on his heel, and locked them in with it without saying a word.
Rosier noticed that he hadn’t so much winced as flinched as though instinctively dodging a blow from above, but the only one he shared that kind of gossip with had just locked him in a room with eighteen panicking snakes and a drunk and angry bull. So he probably already knew.
* The ones on how to dress initially seemed not to have taken, but once he'd been forced at practically wandpoint to pick out clothes that wouldn’t embarrass an employer,** Narcissa could be seen looking very smug.
** even Malfoy's creepy dad
Chapter 8: Slytherin House: 1972-78
Chapter by potionpen
In which it is shown that Severus knows who the real snake is, and who is merely green.
Severus didn’t have a Gang of Slytherins, and no one but Black was demented enough to think he fought one-to-four (a lookout serves a valuable role in a public fight; Lupin counted as an asset to their side) for any other reason than no choice. Although, to be honest, he can’t imagine willingly owing allies for their help, or having to be careful of them in a scrap. All the same, the delusion impressed him with Black’s powers of observation. Not that wild horses (or even wild tortoises) would have dragged the admission out of him. Only Black would have thought that, but if you looked at the politics from Black’s deranged worldview, it made sense.
Black, who always said ‘I’m bored,’ thereby setting Potter on Severus, right when Potter had been restlessly, aimlessly, calculatingly looking at Pettigrew. Black, who bound Lupin tight to him with secrets and hair-ruffling and smiles (and probably otherwise-unaffordable weed, and who knew what else). Black, who made sure Pettigrew was grateful to him for study help by being impatient but gracious about it (so, okay, Severus could just about manage that one, although long-suffering had to stand in for gracious). Black, who bubbled with wicked ideas to keep his mates occupied, egging them on, instead of scrabbling and sweating for plans just wicked enough to keep them interested and out of real, adult, frightening trouble. Black, who was forgiven anything for a sheepish smile, and used his leeway to cover for his friends out of instinct and amity, earning ferocious loyalty instead of strained tolerance for his lack of trouble.
Black, who hung about with people who liked him, who liked his ideas, who were interested in his interests, who were always waiting avidly to plunge in where he suggested they lead him. Black, who had taken three roommates who were hatefully afraid of his background and forged them within two months into Leader/Champion, Scout/Requisitions, and Lookout/Voice Of Reason/Cleanup Crew, apparently just by lounging about and being charmingly selfish.
Black, who thought they were all just friends, who thought that was what friends did, and how friends worked, and had ripping good fun while doing it.
Severus, who was just scrambling to survive here, bitterly wished he had half the beautiful bastard’s scales.
If anyone's curious, this chapter is not set in 1971 because I have some vague recollection of Sirius and James not getting along initially. While this fic is only variably compliant with DH, that idea made sense. The chapter could also probably apply through 1995, or whatever point Sirius got stuck in GP and resumed being visibly demented after his sojourn in the tropics. Trivial context, but contextual trivia.
Chapter 9: Liasons: 1975-78
Chapter by potionpen
In which Minerva and Lucius Take Notice, bathrooms are unsafe, idle Rosier vines twine everywhere, Arthur has pressing fashion questions, and the house's heart is a skittish fourteen.
Warnings: This chapter contains:
* Chronology which is off even within this series. I have no idea what years Poppy and Arthur were at Hogwarts except that in both cases it was probably earlier than this. Frankly, I was too tickled by this image to care about the math. Mea culpa!
* Pressure-cooker parenthetical prose. Please do not blame me for Severus's brain-seethery run-ons—although I don't know why you wouldn't...
Of his three room-mates, Avery is an arrogant bear of very little brain, amenable to manipulation. He’s not especially belligerent, or, at least, doesn’t actively look for fights to pick, but neither is he pleasant company unless you really, really like Quidditch. Or darts. Or sex.
Severus enjoys sports in practice, when they’re not blood sports with the Gryffs. He is, however, of the unpopular opinion that there’s only so much you can say even about the former without the entire team and a blackboard present, and trying to talk to him about the latter is a bad idea. Severus is a private person. He may not be able to kill with a look but you and Madam Pomfrey will both damn well know he was trying.
Mulciber, too, is pleasant enough to look at, in a slender and sandy-haired way. He’s also a twisted naff who creeps everybody out long before any of them have hormones to speak of. Once they develop, he starts fixating on bindings and riding crops, the kind of charms that aren’t quite Dark but are hard to find harmless applications for, and the kind of Knockturn potions Severus would rather know how to counter than brew (although never turn down a recipe; you don’t have to let on you know it). He’s not particularly interested in other boys, thank god, but he likes nothing better than to ‘show the Gryffie blood traitor-girls their place,’ which gets Severus into huge and sometimes terrifying fights with Evans.
It’s hugely and unendingly frustrating that she doesn’t understand that the people she wants him to noisily repudiate sleep in his bedroom. And have been taking down Mummy’s scary pureblood-heirloom wards from around the biscuit tins since before Severus knew what biscuits were. Let alone that some kids got to eat them more than twice a year. And really never mind what wards were.
His last roommate, even once elevated by his shiny, shiny badge, is lazy as all hell. Everyone sneaks glances at him when they ought to be studying, whispers about who’s foxier, him or Black. He does passably well in classes with a minimum of studying, and apparently without cheating. He tends to be a little selfish and a touch preoccupied, if not with his red-gold curls, then at least with his ridiculous waistcoats and getting his shirts perfectly starched. These things ought to make Severus despise him with the passion of a thousand disinterested moons.
Except that he’s the sharpest-eyed gossip in the snake pit, which is saying something. It’s true that he’s delighted to take credit for things he wanted done but didn’t exactly do himself, such as homework and his boring, boring prefect duties. These are meant to include getting the baby snakes’ nightmares settled without bothering Sluggy (who strikes everyone as being just a bit too jolly and fulsome to not be completely suspicious in a position of power in a co-ed boarding school). His casual willingness to let someone else carry the burdens of his glory is, certainly, annoying. But he’s also happy to take credit for things he didn’t do that other people wanted done, if they’re not things he objects to. Even to help, if it’s not too much like work.
And he's so attached to not doing any work that he's turned himself into a genius of efficiency. He doesn't do anything, ever, but everything somehow gets done anyway, and without other people doing things for him. Severus will never admit how envious he is of that, but if he's honest, he's really too much of a workaholic to even want to blow things off like that. And Evan not only failed to argue about being coopted to solve Slytherin's problems for Severus but seems to feel that avoiding it would be more work than not. Which, for him, it is, the space alien.
Which means that any change Severus wants made in the house, by sixth year, is by-Salazar made. All right, so Evan gets the accolades for study groups driving the baby snakes’ grades up. So everyone thinks it was Evan’s idea that Slug Club members should start to routinely bring back snacks and news tidbits and networking tips to stop the house being quite so bitterly divided between those who benefit from their Head’s attentions and those who get coldly ignored. As though Ev ever thought much about what other people would like. He was as bad as his cousin Bellatrix, six years above them, and Slughorn: fail to enrapture him to the point of obsession and you didn’t exist.
So Severus always has to preface his late-night platitudes with ‘I’m sure Rosier would say if he were awake’ whenever his studies and even his sleep are interrupted by snot-nosed homesick brats with nightmares and keep them from quite realizing that their prefect is never actually awake, or even wakeable, to do the consoling himself.
So Severus still gets stalked and beaten and hexed and humiliated and sabotaged and otherwise harassed almost every day while his housemates look on expressionlessly. Because Severus, for all his innovation and dedication and impatient contributions to their grades and complexions, is still a swotty jumped-up dirt-poor milltown mudblood river rat climber in patched and faded hand-me-downs with serious impulse-control problems unbecoming in the green. Still a mill shrew who makes the House look bad all the time no matter how fiercely he tries to be a credit to it (poor slob doesn’t even realize that doing anything with obvious ferocity means you’ve already failed). Not even Evan or Narcissa can stick up for him openly* without losing credibility both in and out of the dungeons. Not even with the teachers, most likely, since they don’t seem to reward enforcement of civilized behavior.
So what? He never expected anyone to stick a hair out for him, let alone a neck. Wouldn't want anyone to, and can't afford the debt. The grades improve. The house gets stronger, and Slytherin pride slowly, slowly, starts to mean other things than different gradations of blood. Like it used to. Like it’s supposed to.
The kids look at Evan in slightly cowed and deeply moonstruck admiration, but it slowly starts to be Severus they come to for more than homework, and they learn to solve their problems in the ways he knows Slytherins are supposed to (even if he can’t quite manage them himself in practice, in the pounding tunnel-vision heat of various moments). The prefect’s bathroom is amazing, and Avery can’t get to him there. Admittedly, this is not a risk to take every day, even when his back and neck are acting like well-battered plate mail, but he just has to time it so as not to run into any actual, official prefects.
People he has to avoid in there do not include the Head Girl and Boy, who both are totally onto Ev in an as-long-as-everything-gets-done, delegation-is-part-of-leadership-and-we-do-not-have-time-for-this-Slytherin-fuckery-in-our-NEWT-year sort of way. They tend to wave absently at Severus and either remind him that the bath has jet streams and aromatherapy oils that are good when you have a headache (Pomfrey) or (Weasley) pin him against the towel rack and grill him about telly and plumbing and is it really true that muggles these days are wearing bells on their bottoms?
Like them, the people who are worth showing his hand to, who are powerful enough to matter or bright enough to take into account, they notice, one by one. When he gets cornered, onlookers begin to meet his eyes in paralyzed support, or break away in obvious, deliberate disgust. Although Potter and Black don’t seem to notice it’s not always disgust with him. Or perhaps it’s that Potter doesn’t notice and Black doesn’t give a flying titmouse. It’s still infuriatingly cowardly, but it’s something.
In his shoes, it’s a lot, compared to his earlier seething over why no one had broken out the popcorn and had done with it yet. It’s a sea-change in the politics. And it’s not, it’s not because of that time after That Night that he broke down and had a panic attack in Transfigurations when his body as well as his intellect registered that they were all sitting behind him.
(He likes to think it might be a little bit because he verbally bit the mediwizard on the ankle and toweled off and went back to class as soon as he could breathe again and sat in the same damned seat and Vanished his damned newt on the second try, and when the McGonagall kept him after class and tried to talk to him kindly instead of congratulating him on his breakthrough, with half the class clustering google-eyed at the doorway, he snarled at her very politely about never having explained that you had to do your visualizing at the cellular level, no wonder people had trouble, and she said SNIFF most people didn’t have to Mr. Snape, as evidenced by the way the discipline had worked before cells were discovered, and he stared at her for about twenty seconds and said if there’s more than one way to skin a snake she should have explained that, too, and she stared back at him and sent him off with a piece of basil shortbread and a smile that was sort of gleeful and evil and pretty and not pitying at all and extra homework, nominally for being cheeky but it sounded really interesting for once, and Reggie Black gave him an indecipherable double-take in the hall and wasn’t the only one.)
And Evan, well, he’s gorgeous, he’s blond, but he’s not blind in the way that teenagers are blind. He may be lazy, he may be quite clear about having to produce an heir at some point and be constantly working to keep his broodmare options open, and, in fact, is. Disgusting attitude; it’s the only thing Severus is openly sharp at him about. In his mam’s voice. That’s because you can’t think about girls like that or they’ll skin you alive and leave you paralyzed and twitching while they take off with your heir, your estate, your family jewels of both the carbon-based and silicate varieties, and their nice new matching humahide handbag and shoes, and as Evan’s ally it’s his duty to remind the idiot of that.
That’s why he’s sharp about it. Not for personal-attachment-weakness reasons beginning with a J which wouldn’t be respected. No, nay, never, perish the thought.
All that said, Rosier’s Slytherin to the core, and he can appreciate power behind his throne as true power. He can appreciate a mind that’s fascinated with everything, and the uses of someone who’s silently screaming to make things better without caring about credit. Can enjoy a well-honed turn of phrase, especially in a silk-and-midnight voice.
Can, in fact, look past a beak to a pair of bird-bright black eyes, past stained fingers to their elegant bones, past an oily sheen to its aromatically herbal rather than unwashed scent. Will make jokes about being tragically born out of Roma Mater instead of about sleeping in coffins and dirt, and not be put off in the least. Appreciates, along with Severus, albeit with considerably less outraged I-am-a-private-person-he-dieth-slowly-come-the-morn ire, how cringingly hilarious it is to hear, from behind the curtains, Avery pout and sulk at being left out and try to sneak pictures.
* Never openly, but it turned out that the reason Luke Malfoy had offered Severus the run of his library, stables, and dueling instructor the summer between fifth year and sixth (an offer Severus knew even at the time he shouldn’t have accepted but was too sick and rattled not to grab at) was because Ev had teamed up with Narcissa and Reg to pull his platinum-gilt strings.
It may or may not have been coincidence that Sirius and his parents waved each other a less than fond faretheewell that summer; that thought never occurred to Severus. In fact, he didn’t understand it at all at the start of sixth yearwhen Ev’s parents came to him at King’s Cross and pulled him into a corner and hugged him until he nearly panicked and clawed at their faces, and thanked him for teaching their lazy-arse, glass-headed son how to rear up off his coils and be a man.
Chapter 10: 10. A Demon: 1974 (advice from the Common Room)
Chapter by potionpen
In which the Slytherin Common room has a word of advice for those who would obtain assistance from the twitchy swot in matters academical. Good advice, too! Just ask Bagman!
Don't try it.
No—look. Lots of people try to hit Snape up for study help, okay. He'll usually give it, too—or at least sell it, although we find it most entertaining and inexpensive to loudly get something wrong in front of him and be corrected at length with wild gesticulation.
We still make sure to ask outright sometimes, though. After all, he isn't an arrogant idiot like ikkle-Twitchy-Forktongue-the-other-swot (Crouch, right? First year, the Minister's son? Probably, yeah, first or second, something like that. Ravenclaw. Good name for him, Crouch, the titchy little tit). He'd catch on if we made as if he'd converted us to Academic Interest with his loud flailery and asked him questions afterwards, and then he'd be loudly done. For probably weeks. Months. If not the rest of the academic year. Asking openly on occasion but usually sighing in oh-shut-up-you-incredible-dig-and-let-us-waste-our-study-time-on-fun exasperation works much better in the long run, and it's so much more amusing and edifying and cheap.
Besides, the bribes and attention are a good way to keep him wanting to be a good team player—and anyone who screws that up for the House is dead, you understand? Dead. It may be merciful if it was an accident, but it will be swift. You want to take on the pussywillows in the stadium with their beaters paying attention to the game instead of just one chaser? We rest our case.
And even if he is a sour, surly little git and it's generally understood that spending time with him might be informative but isn't going to be any fun or visually appealing, well. There's something about the way he just sort of lights up when he's sure you understand something for the first time that can make a person keep coming back.
So, sure, ask him for tutoring. You'll get help, and it'll be the most pleasant half-hour you could possibly spend with him. He's actually not all that bad-looking when he forgets to look sour, and when he bends in to correct you you'll find out that oily sheen isn't reeking body grease, is dizzyingly herbal. Compellingly, if you like that (Something we ought to know here, Allie?). So, yeah, go for that, go right ahead, just be sure you offer him good value for his time.
But don't, don't, don't, do not: do not ask him to help you cheat. How to explain this…
One soggy, humid November day in fourth year (and let's be fair, now, the wet chill and low barometer had even normal people surly and touchy) he walked out of a Runes exam, stiffarmed Bagman against the wall, spoke a quiet word to him, and padded away.
Right, right, a nothing, sure, and that's what everyone else thought, too, only once he was gone it took Lupin and Evans and two of Bagman's mates to lever him, quivering, out of his steaming puddle and drag him to the infirmary, where he babbled for hours about endless frozen depths of hell rising up to spear him through the nose with unholy blasting black flames of icy scornful pitchforky death.
"What?" Severus asked blankly, when told. "I said—I asked him to kindly remember that it was my grading curve he was mucking with, that's all, sir. No, I didn't use any hexes in the hallway in front of six other Gryffs! And, no, I didn't punch him in the bladder! I just asked him very politely to be more respectful of other people's hard work in future and walked away, there had to have been twenty witnesses! ...Oh, I see. You interrogated all of them before talking to me. How… thorough of you. Sir. Oh, for Chr—for Salazar's sake, Headmaster, I just sod—I just looked at him, all right? …Studying legiliwhich in my spare time? I will not never mind—put me down! Don't you close your gargoyles on me when I'm asking you a perfectly fair question! —Oi! Did you just—You just tried to obliviate me through the door, I saw that! TYRANT! I'M LOOKING THIS UP, YOU KNOW!"
For the record? I adore Albus (especially Danny's). And also do not for one moment think him a plaster saint to be rubified with thrown tomatoes, the smug, twinkly, ruthless, manipulative bastard. ♥
Chapter 11: Unresolved: 1974-76
Chapter by potionpen
An intramural survey on the Great Rivalry What Rivalry HA As IF I'd Stoop To Being Rivals With THAT of the Class of '78.
There were competing stories about the Great Rivalry What Rivalry HA As IF I’d Stoop To Being Rivals With THAT of the Class of ’78.
The Slytherin girls all agreed that Evans played the boys against each other like a champion, almost like a real witch instead of the mudblood she was. It just went to show that animals could be cunning too. Pity she was only subhuman, she might have made a decent Slytherin with better blood. Not that this meant they were going to talk to her. If she wasn’t going to be their clueless prodigy’s pet like a good pusspuss, no treats for Miss Nose In The Air.
The Gryffindor girls all agreed that Lily was far too nice to that weird oily kid with the nose, even if they were childhood friends. It was just giving him ideas and making trouble, and she could have James, Lily, James, who was so cute and smart and funny and good on the pitch! If she’d just cast him off for good, James would probably leave him alone, too, so really she’d be doing her charity case a favor.
The teachers didn’t discount the power of hormones, by no means. But they thought it mostly had to do with the way Evans, Snape and Lupin would occasionally turn in essays with nearly identical reference lists during lulls in the fighting, and the way Black and Potter appeared to think it was a terrible social gaffe to be seen to study.* They suspected things would have been much defused if the few Ravenclaws of that year who were brighter than they were punctilious plodders hadn’t been uniformly more interested in personal projects than in being head of the class.
The Ravenclaws thought Gryffindors were idiots and barbarians, but access to Snape’s notes weren’t worth prolonged exposure to his personality. Or the way he twitched whenever someone came into a room or moved abruptly. He had a sound sense for when a teacher was going to put something on the exams without emphasizing it obviously in class, but half the time his notes were incomprehensible. Most of the ravens foundered on his cramped save-the-trees- handwriting, and the rest on the leaps of logic or imagination he didn’t bother to deconstruct or label in writing. So they mostly stayed out of the way of the hexing and didn’t waste their time or energy thinking about it much except to guiltily thank Merlin their year’s awkward-swot-to-be-unmercifully-bullied-all-his-days was someone else and not wearing blue for once.
Probably the most popular theory was that a) Snape was wildly jealous of the Gryffie boys’ tight friendship and good looks and Quidditch prowess and easy access to grades he had to study hard for, while b) Potter and Black thought Snape was the embodiment of everything Black’s family stood for (the less biased, mostly in Hufflepuff, would add that Snape was a lot easier to rebel against than Black’s scary mother or his cool-eyed cousins or his frankly adorable, earnest, and often flustered little brother) and c) were against him and his hygiene on general principles, with the other two tagging along in less-impassioned agreement with idols, in Pettigrew’s case, and out of… er. Well. Who knew why Lupin did anything, except that he was incredibly good at avoiding arguments and even cutting Snape-tirades short.**
James thought Snivellus wanted into Evans’s knickers. It was one more piece of evidence that he was a bad lot who was going to die in Azkaban and nobody would notice the difference when he had his soul sucked out, because obviously Evans was madly in love with him, James. You could tell by the way she took everything he did personally and acted like she had a right to smack him around and tell him what to do. She wouldn’t care if she didn’t care, right? Right?!?
In a marginally similar vein, Sirius was going to seriously kill Snivvy someday if he didn’t stay the fuck away from Moony, and also and especially from Reg and prissy-Cissy, who might be sorta-salvageable some days but were keeping bad company. Like Sniv. Keep him in the hospital wing for long enough they’d grow away from him, that was the ticket. Preferably on the pitch so crushing the lithe bastard out of the sky would be legit.
Lily thought James should learn that no means no, that he and his stupid friends were a bunch of gormless chuckleheads with nasty senses of humor. She also thought Sev should learn to keep his temper, take care of himself better, and make new friends that weren’t vicious creeps. She asked for Remus’s support in persuading at least one of them, but Remus knew that having an opinion would do him harm and no one much good. Badges are only shield-shaped, and don’t work on those who think authority is a joke.
Severus thought Potter should die in a kiln (Evan agreed, less passionately), Lily should stop being a self-righteous political naïf (Severus, in Ev’s opinion, was indulging in unsightly optimism there), and Severus should somehow stop seeing red, when attacked, long enough to be a Slytherin instead of a Prince and a Snape: should learn (somehow, how??) to pretend to lose gracefully and save up his wrath for the cool and quiet later.
Everyone in green agreed with Severus on that count—Evan most emphatically included, although Evan himself was never emphatic. And Slytherin as a whole, whatever they thought about Evans, considered that Severus was giving them a bad name and embarrassing himself more than his clothes did, if that was possible. Since he was providing an amazingly effective distraction from everything they were doing, though, they made sure the morons kept it up.
Peter was inclined, on the whole, to think along the same lines as the Ravenclaws, and to allow absolutely nothing to jeopardize his good luck. Sirius would be mean to anyone if you caught him in a bad mood. Even James would if Lily hadn’t noticed him lately. And neither of their different kinds of hyper spells were something a bloke wanted to find himself in the spotlight of.
* Since the boys’ work was entirely credible, there were more than a few jokes in the staff lounge about what Minerva’s little lions must be shamefacedly getting up to behind closed curtains at night when any normal, healthy, slightly less rabidly-trying-to-look-cool boys would have been, er, shamefacedly getting up to things.
** Several years worth of kids took his example to heart and believed their mothers when they said that the best way to stop a bully is to fail to react. Many of them ran into trouble this way, through not realizing that a) Snape wasn’t a bully who enjoyed pushing people around or flattering his ego by slashing others down. Although the result may have been the same for the recipients of his acid tongue (coffcoffNevillecoff), he was a ranter and a deeply frustrated idealist without social skills or the first clue how to do more than get very loudly and cuttingly angry when the world disappointed him. People who treated him like a deliberate oppressor sure of his victory were using the wrong tactics and in fact jamming his buttons harder. Lupin didn’t bore Snape away by failing to react to the yelling, he drove him mad by demurely enjoying it while being the enemy.***
*** This probably explains a lot about Professor Snape’s resentfully besotted orientation to his Headmaster General, once the two of them had stopped circling each other like wary coyotes waiting for tricks and betrayal at every turn. If elderly coyotes wear heliotrope with silver spangles.****
**** They probably do. One the benefits of tricksterdom, as of Destined Heroism, is wearing whatever the heck you want and looking just right anyway. It’s in the manual, but that’s in mirror-written triple-code wrapped around a needle in an egg swallowed by a water dragon at the bottom of an enchanted lake at the top of a glass mountain surrounded by a moat of intoxicating and horny mobile rosebushes. They just want to hug you, honest. Really tight.
Chapter 12: Smarts: 1973
Chapter by potionpen
Will the Half-Blood Prince discover holistical magical theory, or will Madam Pince throw the tome-defiling little hooligan out on his scruffy arse first? Betting opens in 5... 4... 3...!
Severus lasted about a month in Divination, as compared to the eight Granger would grit her teeth through twenty years later. He realized later he should have stayed to learn the shadows-and-incense tricks: how to see people’s tells at a glance, how to throw out bait and notice what widened their eyes. At the time, though, he couldn’t stand knowing what rot he was wasting time studying when there were really useful classes he’d dismissed for glitter.
It wasn’t just because he was less impressed by teacherly expertise than Granger would be, although he very much was. His professor was less eyebrow-raising, in any case; she didn’t look like a frizzy moon-moth or predict so many deaths per week that the continued existence of Wizarding Britain proved her a fraud every year by November. So if teacherly expertise had been the issue, he might have lasted, oh, a fourth as long as Granger would.
The main problem was that Divi had no unifying theory and he had to learn a new set of images for every bloody method. Then there was the way true prophecies were apparently something only one person in two thousand could have, and then not from trying. And then they didn’t even remember, so it was up to other people whether they got to interpret them themselves.*
There was the way the centaurs thought human divination was stupid and all the evidence was in their favor. There was how he didn’t die the week after he saw a bear-sized black definitely a dog on the grounds (although that week he wouldn’t actually have minded not waking up one day, the way Lily was starting to look at him: like he was holding her down and getting her dress dirty by breathing her air and she was determined to be nobly above minding). Worst of all, all omens were subject to interpretation, in effect hugely subjective.
No, the subject made him incandescent with baffled fury on its merits alone, no coke-bottle glasses required. Or sherry glasses.
He had to do a lot of make-up work, and fast, before the professor would let him into Arithmancy after classes had started. Tt was rough going. You couldn’t be as good as Severus was at potions without having a solid grasp of algebra on least an intuitive level, but the other maths were not his strong point. To thrive in arithmancy you needed geometry and calculus.
Mam had thought Latin was more important for a young wizard, and the teachers at his primary had mainly given up on life. Or given up, at least, on staying sober enough to be useful on their salaries in a neighborhood with no diversions, whose children had no prospects, whose fathers were jealously contemptuous of wine-drinkers and pipe-smokers and book-lovers and everything else lower-middle-class and up.
A lot of work, and tough work, but Digitalin was willing to give him some time after class. And over Christmas break, with his active tormentors home for the hols, he could relax a little and spread his homework over an entire table without worrying about someone else spilling ink on it or causing someone to vomit in his direction, and that made the hours fly.
He was, one day, staring blearily at two textbooks. His tired eyes had crossed, so that he was seeing an array with neat rows of runes juxtaposed on it, almost medieval style. Something clicked.
The Pince had to drag him, wild-eyed and clutching at a volume of Paracelsus with white knuckles, out of the Restricted Section by the collar (he didn’t have a note) and dump him bodily back in his seat. Not a problem; she was quite fit for a librarian at that age, and he was constantly forgetting to eat or too upset for it, a frankly shrimpy nearly-fourteen. He stayed where he was put, but then she had to stand behind him and keep snatching the quill out of his hand before he started scribbling on her books as well as his own, which was sacrilege enough.
Ordinarily this kind of behavior would earn a boy the boot. The vehemently underlined diagrams with all the exclamation points he was scrawling into his potions book were making her curious, though, and there wasn’t anyone else around she had to keep an eye on. And it was Christmas, after all.
* He didn’t tell Voldemort the prophecy, exactly. He gave him about half of what he’d heard, with historical precedents and competing interpretations, picked apart so thoroughly over ten feet of closely-written parchment that the Dark Lord seriously considered getting glasses, made him learn more legible handwriting, and didn’t decide to do anything about it until his horcruxes were scattered and he’d gone completely around the bend.
Chapter 13: Guidance: 1973-75
Chapter by potionpen
Most years, there will be a student or two who excels. In ten years, there may be one student who will be great. Sometimes it's the wrong one. (Horace copes.)
Considering the way the experimentation over the next term went, one would think that in later years Professor Snape would have had enough empathy for Longbottom to do more than just refrain from insults while telling him what he’d done wrong, but… well, the list of justifications there could fill a telephone directory. The P(otter) and M(alfoy) sections, anyway. In any case, it wasn’t until the next year that the idea finished grinding itself out. Slughorn still didn’t even feel safe-ish going into the fourth-year Slytherdor class without a protego-enchanted dragonhide waistcoat and a belt of Dutch courage for months afterwards.
It was at about the same time that he realized that what he had on his hands was not a walking disaster too obstinate and fanciful to learn the basics, but a genius on a learning curve who already knew them from home and had been riffing on the quiet for years. One with no patience, who was more interested in working out the meaning behind answers than in reviewing what they were while his classmates memorized them.
Horace still preferred his delightful Lily, even before the boy’s essays started to give him the same kind of headaches he got from the Asian potions journals, although this was a boy For Whom Things Could Be Done and Horace dutifully did them.
He went on preferring her even after young Snape got the rudiments of the music of stirring patterns into his bones and started applying the astrology of metals and plants to his tool choices at a level most brewers didn’t begin to understand until halfway through their apprenticeships. Lily gave him fewer experiment-related heart attacks (he did feel companionable sympathy for Flitwick on both their accounts, and all the professors looked forward with morbid fascination to finding out what the latest colorful disaster that could be traced back to Black Major would be). And she listened to him more attentively, with prettier eyes.
Eyes that didn’t make him feel something was watching him with unimpressed testy keenness and a twitching tail from behind tall grass.
And Lily could be safely brought to a club meeting in the confident expectation that she would make the Potter lad (a must-have) behave like a gentlewizard. Instead of catalyzing a brawl that would leave anything from scorch marks to boil-hex pus on ceilings that would absolutely not end the evening the same tranquil shade they began at. Which young Snape could do, apparently, by breathing. Not even breathing loudly. And also by holding his breath.
At least the boy was Slytherin enough to understand, after this had happened twice (only the first time was his fault; the following talking-to had evoked a promise to keep his temper even if he had to bite right through his lip. It had held but done no good), that, “Club meeting tonight, m’boy,” meant, ‘And if you spare us both and stay away from it, there won’t be anyone in detention in the workroom, you know the password, don’t blow up the dungeons and I’ll save you a plate, there’s a lad.'
Chapter 14: Casanova: 1974-78
Chapter by potionpen
The first thing a principle does is kill somebody, and a cynic is only a frustrated romantic: That Godawful Mess About Being Friends with Lily.
To me, writing this chapter was like ripping the shell off a live crab and aiming a sunbeam at it through a magnifying glass. It frets and upsets me. For one thing, there were are so many more interesting ways to interpret the prompt: Casanova had much more in common with Our Antihero than the trope attached to his name would suggest. Why, then, gravitate to Lily? Because it's obvious? Not really...?
The character dissonance that necessitated settling for the obvious is that Casanova was, at least at according to himself, intuitively good at the very things Severus teaches-and-can't-do-or-even-imo-really-wrap-his-mind-around-even-though-he-can-probably-recite-the-rulebook-from-memory. He was such a better Slytherin than Severus is (although not nearly as good as Severus would like to be or has convinced others that he is) that I just couldn't make it work.
I'm including, at the bottom, alternate prompts I could and should have gone with, and if anyone manages to get anywhere with them, please let me know. I recommend you to read them even if you skip my prose: these are interesting, cogent, and relevant quotes from a man more fascinating than his two-dimensional legacy leads us to believe. All I, for example, knew about him before this, was that he was a lady's man and probably the suave sort of sleaze. Maybe you knew he was a spy; I didn't.
Back to the point: many people reacted somewhat less violently to the Prince's Tale than I did, and some even with pleasure, and if you, gentle reader, are one of these, then this is my gift to you. On the other hand, if you were as appalled as I was at what JOdel at Red Hen Publications (who is brilliant, and I hope I have her name right) called the 'badly-fitting personality transplant' that 'rendered [Severus] down into nothing more than Merope Gaunt lite,' then take this chapter as it was written, not posted: as some attempt at reconciliation (I seem to make these), not especially satisfactory, between what the character's creator inflicted on him and what has made him, to so many of us, more than the nasty little grinch and creepy stalker she evidently thinks he is.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Lily was: Beatrice, Dulcinea, Melpomene, Irene Adler, and also Gawain, for a while, to his Arthur, his Green Knight, and his Raganelle (he hoped for longer that she would, like Gawain, repent of her weaknesses and callow superficialities, but she instead became convinced they were strengths).
Medieval kings were at once, to their subjects, both peerless specimens of nobility, chivalry, and gentilesse and ruthless, carousing, politically savvy cold-or-hot-blooded killers not to be crossed. So Lily had two faces to him, neither far away while the other was showing.
She was very near an ideal of womanhood, the Maiden’s avatar on earth, with her vivid beauty, her vitality, her love for beauty in the world, her competence and power, her desire to elevate and protect. She was also a bloody annoying best friend to have: impulsive and demanding and, in her more earnest and more liberal way, at least as arrogant as any of his Slytherin friends. She was just as sure as they were that not only was she was right but that others were wrong, and bad.
Severus usually thought he was right, too. He’d been born under Janus into a souring household, though, and knew earlier than most that truth is multifaceted and subjective, causality circular.
She was his favorite person to spin magic and theory and philosophy with (until it got personal, which never went well) and the only person who could keep up with him in the stillroom and challenge him in Charms without resulting grievous bodily harm. But she wanted him to change himself. He must become someone to suit what he felt to be completely naïve ideals unattainable to someone with his position in the real world.
She made him long to be a better person—no, really, she made him. He was unable to defend realistic choices around her, was left admitting that yes, it would be better if such and such could be different, left foundering. Not only was he unable to bare the green secrets, but he found himself stumbling over what he might have said, unable to articulate the politics that would explain to her why these things could not be different now, left bitterly wishing they could so he could live in her dream world and fit there.
To Severus, clutching his soul’s unformed integrity like a rather spiky life-jacket in a drowning sea of blood and bone politics with quicksand on one side and gators on the other, her evangelism was more than a little unforgivable. He wondered bitterly (along with those few who didn’t just dismiss him as a creep or a hopeless case with a hopeless crush) if he should have been a badger: he always forgave her anyway, when she wouldn’t even try to understand him. Lily would only endure what she found grubby, or wouldn’t.
Guinevere Lily was not* to him, nor Isolde, no matter what Potter feared and Black thought. No matter what filth Severus would spout to Tom Riddle to explain his known interest. He would have brushed her hair happily and even with reverence for the honor of the intimacy, pulled the moon out of its reflection to present to her on a platter of paper-thin alabaster, gone into the most sickening of battles with her favor under black robes to chastise him, killed and died and put away his cauldrons and refrained from evil to be tortured and taken apart himself if he’d thought it would do any damned good.
If he’d been a different sort of man, one who wore his heart on his sleeve because he wanted to and thought it right, any suggestion that he hadn’t loved her would have resulted in an instant percussive loss of teeth. One might even have said he was in love. Certainly he was by any standards of classical romance or chivalry.
Some love, though, precludes desire. It can’t simmer in the hearts of every pair of best friends, not even the most devoted, not even in the heart of the one who loves most deeply, more deeply by far than does the beloved, and knows it. Not every need to chase and hold and never let go, not every jealousy comes from a sweaty yearning to share skin. Everyone knows this, on some level, who’s ever stayed up too late for their age because they can’t bear to be left out of the mysteries and antics the family might get into without them.
It was a betrayal, undying serpents roiling in his heart, that she could bear to date his tormentor, let alone be enthusiastic about it and pretty much completely fail at using her influence to protect him. Yes, she said ‘no more’ but then she just assumed she was obeyed, until an incident tripped over her. This repudiation by his first master might not have been responsible for his quickly-regretted oaths to his second,* but it certainly made them simpler and more natural.
It was also revolting that a man might touch her, an outcry against heaven and earth (being intellectually aware that one’s muse is a human person with human hormones of their own just doesn’t help in these situations). His disgust and despair at her taste and lack of judgment, at her allowing her lust to overcome her usually quite annoying righteousness and the good sense he missed, and at the corruption of her sense of humor, had nothing to do with her not wanting to be with him.
He would have been long over envy even if she hadn’t been Diana to him, even if he hadn’t had someone of his own, someone a hell of a lot more touchable and comfortable. Someone who really did like him for himself, who unaccountably wanted him, who knew how to use him to their mutual advantage. Someone who was, in short, all a Slytherin could desire in a partner and swordbrother, while the choices were easy enough for personal loyalties to survive.
No, even if things had been different, he wouldn’t have wed her. She only liked him for what she thought he could be if only he would be completely different, and wanted to remake him in her image. He’d seen firsthand, fist first, what the refusal to let a spouse be what they are could do to a marriage, and do to its children.
He wouldn’t have kissed her, either, not the Maiden, not his white shadow, not that infuriatingly self-righteous nag. Would never have, except on the flaming waterfall that served her for hair, except laughingly on her white and freckled hand, except to close her cold, cold eyes.
* If she was a Guinevere, then logically not he but Black would have been aaargh, aargh, bad image, brain bleach, obliviate, obliviate!
* Those had been almost inevitable from the moment his Gryffindor mother was disowned by her Gryffindor parents for, essentially, choosing her life heart-first with full conviction (otherwise known as being a Gryffindor). Their inevitability had been set in stone when his Sorting had sealed the deal and stopped even the stream of small gifts snuck to her by her mother his birth had begun and news of his first magic had strengthened.
In his own words
"I took the most creditable, the noblest, and the only natural course. I decided to put myself in a position where I need no longer go without the necessities of life: and what those necessities were for me no one could judge better than me... No one in Venice could understand how an intimacy could exist between myself and three men of their character, they all heaven and I all earth; they most severe in their morals, and I addicted to every kind of dissolute living."
"Thus did God provide me with what I needed for an escape which was to be a wonder if not a miracle. I admit that I am proud of it; but my pride does not come from my having succeeded, for luck had a good deal to do with that; it comes from my having concluded that the thing could be done and having had the courage to undertake it."
"What has infused my very blood with an unconquerable hatred of the whole tribe of fools from the day of my birth is that I become a fool myself whenever I am in their company."
"The man … must be a chameleon sensitive to all the colors which the light casts on his surroundings. He must be flexible, insinuating, a great dissimulator, impenetrable, obliging, often base, ostensibly sincere, always pretending to know less than he does, keeping to one tone of voice, patient, in complete control of his countenance, cold as ice when another in his place would be on fire; and if he is so unfortunate as not to have religion in his heart he must have it in his mind, and, if he is an honest man, accept the painful necessity of admitting to himself that he is a hypocrite."
"The same principle which forbids me to lie does not allow me to tell the truth."
-Giacomo Girolamo Casanova de Seingalt, via Wiki
Four weeks, after the midnight horror, of Severus and Lupin warily eyeing each other in the corridors with increasingly mild paranoia, stilted keeping-an-eye-on-each-other library sessions that slowly turned into decreasingly stilted study jams. Four weeks of uncertainty, of are we the same now. Of are our secrets so entangled that neither can destroy the other without destroying himself? Four weeks of hideous caution, of silence and secrecy and refusing to be hurt or pleased in case he was contagious. Four weeks of despair mixed with just enough hope to be torture.
Four weeks, and then release, relief, the knee-weakeningly welcome blow of getting their lives back more or less intact. And then, almost at once, Lupin let Black back into his life. He hadn’t meant to, Severus, after all.
Severus’s hands were still shaking at odd moments, he still had a disgusting tendency to freeze in the dark with jelly knees, and not even a warm bulk between him and the world could control his nightmares—some of which, admittedly, involved Lily’s cold eyes and retreating back, and some home, while others featured Avery’s damned hidden cameras and methods of enhancing his allowance. Most were darkness and snuffling noises and yellow glints, and the spiderweb and animal smells of the dusty, blood-smeared Shack, his own teeth in his own flesh.
The idea of making a werewolf angry at him left him green and white and wanting to throw up his heart with terror. After all, it wasn’t doing his circulatory system any good lodged at the top of his throat like that, cutting off his breathing.
But fury trumped fear any day of the week, thank you. He’d learned that before his letters. It had to.
His hands still shook, but they were steady and strong enough to brain the spineless dishrag with the single-volume version of the Encyclopaedia Botanica.
It wasn’t a question of it being worth the detention (or the point loss, or the united Scorn of Slytherin for acting like an Obvious Barbarian, or getting beaten up and hexed into the ground when the grapevine betrayed him into Potter’s ears, or even the annoyance of being unsuccessfully guilt-tripped with COMPLETELY NONEXISTENT life debts) in satisfaction, bitter or otherwise.
It wasn’t worth it. He’d known it wouldn’t be. Hadn’t expected to feel fulfilled, or triumphant, or righteous. That wasn’t why. Some declarations self-respect just demand, whatever the cost, or you might as well own yourself the trash under everyone’s feet they like to convince themselves you are. Like Lupin just had.
Chapter 16: Buried Treasure: 1973 and '76
Chapter by potionpen
Semantics are important! Ancient Runes lets Severus manipulate taboos (mostly) to his own advantage and make words mean what he wants them to... but not for long enough.
Semantics are important! Ancient Runes lets Severus manipulate taboos (mostly) to his own advantage and make words mean what he wants them to... but not for long enough.
Few Hogwarts students outside of Ravenclaw elect to take Arithmancy or Ancient Runes. Most of the ones who do take Runes take it as an auxiliary to Divination, or History (this had become an even smaller percentage since Professor Binns' wife ran away with his enthusiasm and a traveling architecture student), or Arithmancy, and not because runes are supposed to have any notable power of their own. Oh, the Druids had to make do with them, but that was before wands.
To a boy who'd heard from sophisticated and knowledgeable friends that what the ministry can track, over the summers, is magic as focused or powerful as wand-magic always is, runes and arrays were a godsent supplement to the home-brewed potions* he'd been helping his mother make since he was old enough to pick up fallen leaves, to stand on a stepstool and stir the stew.
Potions, after all, can change, mar, mend, reveal, hide, and even invite, but not prevent. To a child of hurt, that failure is gaping. A few runes on the lintel of the kitchen, though, can make the kitchen A Women's Place, and keep the naturally disinclined male feeling vaguely as though going in would be Not Done, pointless, and well, really, why?** Likewise, a simple array etched onto the bottoms of each of the table legs, sweating flat on his back with a screwdriver with one eye glued to the window in case anyone should come home early, went a long way towards encouraging peace at the table, if there was grocery money that hadn't gone to beer and the mortgage, if tempers weren't already too badly enflamed when they all sat down.
Severus, therefore, studied Runes with as much intensity as he studied everything else but History of Magic (also known as study hall to those who didn't call it naptime). With his focus on potions that was rabidly determined to be holistic it was perhaps inevitable that he should make the Chinese traditions his primary area of study in the field. Not that he overlooked the quick and dirty and very useful Nordic and Ogham systems. But China had been semi-scientifically brewing longer than anyone, after all, had produced still-reliable literature on potions-based medicine and life-flow while Europe was still debating the utility of crop rotation.
Professor Scrivens (retired and replaced by Bathsheba Babbling just before Severus's OWL year) introduced them, at the beginning of this unit, to the outdated symbols that preceded modern characters with the words SUN, MOON, FIRE, WATER, AIR, EARTH. Each of these had one rune written next to it—except for 'earth,' which had two. Scrivens drew a line from each of these, labeling them IRON and WOOD. "Many of you may have trouble feeling comfortable with this language system," he said, polishing his glasses. "While there are always more similarities than we think, given how much we take for granted about what must be normal for everyone since it's normal for us, as you can see, this one is different from the way we think on an, ahahaha, elemental level. Now, the qualities associated with these words…"
Before the end of class, Severus had passed a note to Lily Evans. She was, in their third year, still a close enough friend to take a class because he'd gone all enthusiastic on her and said it would be fascinating. Evans, who had also just been called a nasty name by Mulciber. It read:
If just Mgs have E in the Bl, PBls all air-fire-water flash and impermanence insubstantial go-with-the-flow. Just us MBls have iron to stand firm & wood to grow & create.
She wrote, Y!Y!Y! F&B's has no fiction section, only picture book4kids! & wwireless is rubbish, all copycat. Ms on the moon and Ws even outlaw flying carpets! Like innov. & imag. no good!
And he, Tradition rules, have to go slowly with them. & carpets about trade tariffs(?), Ev says. Anyway, blood is liq & iron & carries life & heat & oxgn, + not carnivores. So all rubbish anyway; need all five elements to live. Totally unstable w/o one. Squares unstable anyway in geom, tho pentagon not as good as tri or hex. Low-earth/iron = sickle-cell anemia?
And she'd given him such a grateful smile that he'd decided to be thoroughly convinced by his own argument and actually stopped needing to be defensive about his parentage, although he knew who not to share the theory with.
It was a knife in the throat, two years later, when she either didn't realize or wouldn't acknowledge that he'd obviously been speaking friend-code for are you mad, you can't help me, half this audience would help me if they wanted me to have help and they know where I sleep and your help is bad, bad trouble worst politics ever, and was relying on her to remember his opinions about language.
He was never sure, afterwards, which sort of betrayal it had been, deliberate or thoughtless forgetfulness. She had been under a lot of peer pressure, and he knew what that was like. He never dared decide which would have been worse, or find out.
* The fact that he had made them without being warned about expulsion had given him his first clue that the ban on magic over the summer wasn't as comprehensive as it pretended.
** This damaged Severus's standing with his father, since he spent so much time in A Woman's Place. The long hair, complete disinterest in footie, willingess to sit on brooms, and monstrous and well-articulated vocabulary didn't help, much less the public school accent he could slip on and off like a jumper. At least, though, it meant the kitchen was a safe place. As for Severus himself, although he knew himself welcome and didn't feel turned even gently away, once the runes were in place he began to feel as though stepping into a kitchen or a stillroom was a step into privilege, an almost sacred space that he was deeply fortunate to be welcome in. Over time, as he grew used to the feeling, he forgot where it had begun.
Chapter 17: Fearsome: 1971-78
Chapter by potionpen
To he who is in fear, everything rustles.
Wrote this one early on. Next one has more energy. Well, this one has plenty of energy, but it's all neurotic. One has to wonder, what the bullies of his year would have been like if they hadn't had such an easy and obvious and twitchy invitation to power games dangled in front of them. More like Harry once had cause to imagine them, maybe, or would they have just seized on someone else?
(Also, this Rookwood is owed entirely to spessartine. In fact, this chapter is most of what I was thinking of when the story was dedicated to the people of the Hex Files, a (late) livejournal game dedicated to the efforts and effects of the Riddle Wars. Lots of good stuff there, I recommend a look.)
(Also, if I am as confused about dates as the dates are confusing and this chapter makes it obvious, I apologize but am very limitedly fussed and am zomg not going to go fret over the interviews and extra-publication information.)
To get the obvious out of the way, the aptly-named Marauders probably wouldn’t kill him (he thought until proved wrong, ‘accidentally’ or bleeding well not), but he didn’t have to fear their making his life a misery. That was his past and present and future, nothing unknown, a constancy to be fought and endured, not dreaded.
Most of the Hufflepuffs would help the golden boys, in a low-key way, if they had some kind of justification that would let them think they weren’t being the mean, cruel little shiny-boot-lickers they were. Rumor, for this purpose, was usually more than sufficient. The Blacks were all good at rumor, and the Gryffindor one was no exception.
The Ravenclaws were not, by and large, scary. In fact, he would have been willing to employ a number of underhanded jinxes to secure himself the seat next to Lovegood in History, if anyone else had wanted it instead of being weirded out by those over-serious, dreamy, slightly bulbous eyes. He did try to pay attention in that class, if only for the sake of selling his notes. Besides, it wasn’t history’s fault that Binns was a soporific with no sense of relevancy.
When the monotone got to him, he could always look at Lovegood’s enthusiastically starry-eyed scribbles. They could let a person feel that there were corners of the world that were peaceful and whimsical for the enjoyment of harmless soft-sunshiny people who believed with all their hearts in flowers and warm puppies and that white clouds would stay fluffy and here there be dragons and unicorns an crumple-horned snorckacks that would chitchat and share mystical secrets instead of roasting and/or goring you on sight. He found that a restful thought, somehow pleasing despite his very marrow knowing that even if he died under a halo somehow and ended up in something like a heaven he’d never be able to relax, to trust enough to enjoy it.
Rookwood’s abstracted-adamantine eyes, on the other hand, made all his nerves tingle with avid curiosity until the sheer arrogance turned him off, convinced him he’d never get far enough into that head to make the game worth the candle, but he thought there might be a kindred spirit in there somewhere. At least, until a year or two after graduation, when he got told to lay off fiddling with the palliative and come up with a lycanthropy vaccine for his compatriots because wizard guy trying to aerosolize the virus wasn’t interested in that angle. Not the only nail in the coffin of his loyalty, but a good strong one, a heavy jolt of terror. As for the other Ravens… while not, by and large, scary, they were a strong threat. Not him, but to his class standing, and that was just unacceptable.
Most of the girls in their year were constantly bad-mouthing him to Lily, trying to make her drop him, and he could see her getting more and more tired of the tug of war with every month. She wanted him to make dramatic declarations, pose righteously and make more of a target of himself than he already was, kept begging him to jump off the crocodile’s back and into its teeth, between quicksand banks, in the rock-studded riptide of a two-hundred-foot waterfall. She wasn’t the only bright spot in his world, but she was the only one who was blazing and straightforward and could be relied on to mean what she said and love life so much he could almost feel it himself. They wanted to snatch her away, for no other reason than snobbery.*
Avery had a very matter-of-fact punch that he would employ, hard, as long as no one from another House was watching, and if they were, things were only postponed. Wilkes had fingers that could wander over from across the classroom, and Severus learned very quickly that he had to time his normal-WC showers precisely, because the nympho had no respect for boundaries and was good with wards.
Narcissa would stab you in the eyes if you mussed her hair even accidentally, although she would probably take you very sweetly to the Pomfrey afterwards if you weren’t an enemy or an ugly person. To do her credit, her notion of ugliness apparently had only a loose correlation with looks, for which Severus was eternally grateful. When the looks weren’t her own and she wasn’t expected to snog them, anyway, although blood was more of a hurdle.
Evan could make a persona even less grata than Severus chronically was with three words in the right ear—Regulus, with his parents, could probably do it in a way that would last a person’s entire life and leave them with a career of wiping glasses or passing hats, but he was easily managed.
And although Severus wasn’t actually trying to make Evan like him, well… he wasn’t trying, was the thing. Ev had been such a languid, arrogant, put-upon arse when they’d met (still was, really) that Severus had never even made an effort with him. That was scary in itself, because he didn’t really know what he was doing to have the effect. The liking could stop someday and leave him with a really quite subtle enemy or a front of cool contempt where he expected a partner and a friend, a hearth and haven, a left hand for his brain and a brain to be the right hand of. Or, worse, a false front. And he wouldn’t know why.
Half his housemates’ parents and older siblings could arrange for him to be killed or maimed without breaking a sweat. An unknown but definitely significant percentage of them probably would if begged with big enough puppy-eyes, since Severus was a no-name with no importance. Some of the alumni could unquestionably do it themselves.
Bellatrix nee-Black had, before the miscarriage, had the kind of brain-freezing combination of beauty and taste, self-confidence and grace, that sort of compelled you into falling a little bit in love with her even when your inclinations were firmly and comfortably nestled in someone else’s pocket, thanks. These days she was taking after her aunt, and starting to give the impression that meeting her eyes might turn you into, not the cool marble her hair increasingly suggested they might, but a steaming puddle of gore.
Her husband, while amiable in a country-squire way right out of Wodehouse, had an unfortunate habit of nearly dislocating Severus’s ribs (he was sure) with hearty back-slaps, and his eyes gleamed too much when the meat was rare, when he touched sharp things and strips of cloth.
His little brother, one year below Severus, was going the same way as Bellatrix, only for fun rather than because he was driven. He was less a serpent than a selfish, toxic little viper, and one of the five people in the castle that gave Severus the same feeling (i.e: get it away, get it away, don’t let it breathe my air, oh god don’t let it touch me) that he himself reputedly gave most people.
Reputedly. If you listened to Potter and Black. Most people did, and felt as they were told everyone would naturally feel, when they remembered to. However, people who weren’t hunting him tended not to notice him, especially if he sort of forced his shoulders and the muscle between his eyes to relax (not easy) and his spine to straighten, he was learning, and thought himself one with the cool grey walls, walked through them as a ghost or as one who belonged.
Sometimes, though, he’d get that crawling feeling on his neck even when he was completely absorbed in an idea, and look up and see that one of those five had gotten within six hundred feet of him, and have to decide whether to pack up his books and dive for the hills.
He’d never back down for Potter; it was a matter of principle. And also of a profound failure of good sense. Which couldn’t be helped considering how flooded with adrenaline his brain got on hearing that voice, smelling that throat-tightening mix of hair gel and Quidditch leathers and hearty exertion and abandoned corridor and fresh air and arrogance. But he had to admit to himself, if not his Housemates, that there was a deliberate decision there, too; there are things you can’t do and be the same person afterwards. Severus wants to always be able to meet his own eyes in the mirror, should he ever need to give a mirror the time of day.
He also didn’t want to give Pettigrew or Rabastan the idea that they could have that kind of power over him, although he did rather enjoy looking wary or stricken and sneaking away to make Pettigrew think he was hiding something really interesting, on dull days.
It was hard to tell what the creep factor was about with the lump. The others were easier. Rabastan had empty, covetous eyes and Potter had hot, avid, malicious ones, while Mulciber was (sigh and shudder) Mulciber. Andromeda Black, who he’d once been prepared to quite like, kept trying to hit him up for mind-altering potions.
Something, maybe, about the way Pettigrew always seemed caught between a pose of faux confidence and possibly genuine good-nature, sniffing for information and advantages like he’d argued with the Hat as successfully as Severus had, and shooting violently anxious oh-won’t-you-love-me sheep-eyes at his friends and every girl that crossed his path. Some of them would, apparently; he wasn’t bad-looking, in a plump and blond and ordinary way, and had an admiring smile. Severus thought the Marauders’ omega was like a frog: bright in the sunlight, something in him coiled up to stickily attack, clammy in his blood, clutching secrets to himself, inside his head, like a jewel. Fundamentally wet.
Severus didn’t know why the teachers thought he was the nasty one to watch out for, why they muttered darkly about his defense grades, his experimental facility with charms and hexes, his shuttered, scanning eyes and hunched shoulders, surely up to no good they swear, solemn and grave and regretting the unprofessionalism of their distaste but not enough to see past it. He was just trying to keep his head above water in a sea of swords.
* Contrary to the universal belief of those thoughtful enough to wonder about it, his teaching behavior had nothing to do with a spiteful desire to curse them and their children unto the nth generation. Although seeing the same vapidity and shallow, thoughtless infighting reflected back at him from the shorter eyes of the future was unutterably depressing and might just possibly in some conceivable world have had something to do with his liberal use of red ink. Not that he’s admitting anything.
Chapter 18: Protector of the Weak
Chapter by potionpen
In which Severus whines and pleads and begs and SCHEMES to be allowed to skip a year in Potions—but things aren't about how they begin.
This chapter contains brief. nongraphic mention of rough dubcon between imaginary nonsentient animals of opposite genders and the same species. It also implies that sexual harassment between students of disparate ages at a traditional British boarding school was not unknown (which is, by the way, implied even in Tom Jones, albeit more delicately, so there you are).
Otherwise, I think it's rather fun. 0:)
By the middle of fourth year, Severus was bored, bored, bored, bored with Potions. Not the subject, obviously, but the class? If he'd had a bit, he would have been champing at it and Black and Potter (and Avery, for if possible even less savory reasons) would have been snapping pictures.
Sure that Slughorn would do just about anything to cut down on the number of fights in lab, he deliberately got crankier and more volatile in class. Taking care, to prove that at this level he could do extraneous and demanding things without sabotaging his work, he started to play obvious games during simple jobs:
Disdaining the natural rhythm of the chopping knife in favor of AC/DC beats he was gambling on his housemates not recognizing, for example (Lupin choked and spent the next several minutes in an apparent coughing fit, and Evans thwacked him upside the head the very first moment Slughorn and the Potter-Black team were occupying each others' attention). Carefully and elaborately making sure his peels were even and unbroken when there was no earthly reason to do so. Convincing Evans (to at least humor him in his maniacal 'conviction') that astrological theory suggested there must be some benefit to arranging all the ingredients in order of planetary significance as related to today's horoscope on their desks, they could make up the time taken up in figuring out the order by preparing everything really quickly…
He gave it long enough that Sluggy started twitching again when he walked into the room. Even though behaving in ways meant to draw attention meant he was letting himself get drawn into more fights than usual (this may have been what the twitching was about; Severus didn't allow himself errors he could prevent), before he struck.
Striking, in this case, meant using mutually-assured-destruction grade weaponry: puppy eyes. He was good at them.
So he thought. What he was in fact projecting wasn't the soft, sad, deferential appeal of a puppy-dog but the mad, monomaniacal magnetism of a kitten locked onto a promised scrap of fish. Either way, they looked all wrong over his nose. Although his eyes were the perfect almonds to carry off the look, dark as doe or horse eyes (and he did not, in fact, need Narcissa's damned charity eyeliner), that same uniform monochrome made it effectively disturbing. People want to give him what he was asking for quickly: not because he was hitting their big-eyes-are-cute buttons but so that they could finish the conversation as soon as possible and back away slowly.
Still, the result was the same. Please, he said, please, please, he was going crazy here, he could do better and Evans could too, wouldn't Professor Slughorn let them test out or something and start on their OWL study?
The negotiation was extended, no prisoners taken. Slughorn had legitimate concerns about advancing students ahead of their classmates and managing a class with more than one recipe on the boil. He also had laziness concerns about drawing up extra lesson plans.
In the end, he agreed that if the two of them could manage a really advanced potion during extracurricular lab hours, he'd let them start on the first-term fifth-year work. Yes, yes, and give extra credit, although they'd take class along with the rest of their year. If it went well, he'd give them a condensed summer correspondence course and they could keep working ahead the next year. But Severus was to start behaving in class again!
This was an easy promise. Severus figured they'd just finish early naturally once he stopped screwing around, and they would (and did) discuss the project after wrapping up their classwork. Lily was all for it, her dauntedness only encouraging her to set-to and triumph.
Severus thought she was probably acting under pressure from her friends when she suggested they try Amortentia. Silly and soppy, but he wasn't going to jeopardize his chance by fighting over a lack of interest in the potion’s effects. it would be a genuine challenge to brew, even if he'd get guff from his room-mates. He reckoned that if they sneered too much, he could always tell them that the better part of valor is discretion over arguing with a Gurl over the validity of romantic shite when grades were on the line.
Which, come to think of it, was his actual reasoning made palatable to them. All the better.
The project took them several weeks, even with Lily rapping Severus's hand with her stirring rod about once every five minutes and reminding him to stick to the textbook instructions on the first run-through, at least, this was important! There were horrible smells and crawling mud-balls and arguments and explorations over the proper temperature for ashwinder eggs, 'frozen' being not very descriptive of the eggs in Severus's opinion, and 'fussy,' 'finicky,' and 'unbearably nitpicky' all being excellently descriptive of him in Evans's. Did 'eggs' mean raw or boiled? With or without the shells? What materials should the tools be to draw the best effects out of the ingredients? Were the best effects really the most appropriate ones for the potion? Was that a hint about a necessary stirring pattern in the description or not? On and on, and on.
It was so much fun that Potter became absolutely convinced that Evans' extra-credit line was a poor cover-up and Snape must have gotten into her knickers and be getting into them on a regular basis! Severus therefore found his promise hard to keep after all, but Slytherin's Head could tell the difference between getting into trouble and being dragged into it. His punishments for fighting were the usual ones; he didn't put an end to their chance.
Success, when it came, was an exercise in heroically restrained jubilation at the expense of two blood-sucking bugbears Hagrid was happy to save from traps for them.
A few drops in the food of one of the monstrous ‘little pets’ to test the solution, and they were both a distinctly non-Slytherin, not very Christmassy shade of green, completely disinterested in the idea of sex for several months longer than most of their classmates, and red-hot-rabid against the entire spectrum of sexual harassment from outright rape to unwelcome flirting, with magical persuasion right up in the centers of their dartboards.
In the end, Severus and Lily got their advanced study.* Lily also got the kind of heart-eyed following among the girls that's usually seen only in anime (which left less space in her life for Severus to fill), but Sirius and Peter started to think she was a real harpy.
Meanwhile, the drakelets began to feel obscurely that Snape was the go-to-guy for problems that were hard to talk about. Even if he got kind of scary (and, at first, extremely loud) instead of patting them genteelly on the backs and assuring them that everything would be taken care of, the way all the adults they knew did.
After the first few hallway duels (which accomplished little more than to get him into trouble and humiliate everybody involved), the problems just seemed to trickle to a halt, the trouble-makers to walk nervously around Snape and Rosier. And, for some reason, Avery. Admittedly, it was normal for everyone to avoid Avery, who was only marginally less subtle in his creepy staring than Snape was in his flinching and snapping, but the berths certain people gave him were getting very, very wide.
Lily thought the end of the yelling meant Severus had fallen off her bandwagon and was all talk now. She was bitterly disappointed in him, felt fundamentally betrayed. It was the first moral passion they had shared and agreed on, had given her hope for him.
And he'd dropped it when it got hard! Or maybe he'd just stopped caring when the first shock died away. She was never really sure which kind of a betrayal it had been, chauvinistic indifference or cowardice. She knew he had to deal with peer pressure, but that was no excuse when something was wrong. She could never quite bear to decide which kind of failure in his fiber would have been worse, or find out which it had been.
Slytherin's Head, though, didn't miss that the boy had finally started to use the networks as they were meant to be used, to use the despised foibles of others to make strength and allies, when it mattered. Or, possibly, when the problems, and so the humility and the debts to be incurred in getting help, weren't his own. Didn’t miss he’d learned to do it without making a useless fuss. He noticed the drop in kiddies loitering at his door needing cocoa at ungodly hours of darkness, and noticed that the number stayed down.
Years later, although not very many, when a haggard and haunted young brewer asked Horace very briefly and politely to resign in his favor, he remembered.
* And Lily's son got the diary of his most devoted detractor's worst childhood year, much scribbled in the margins, and Severus's godson got a nasty scar, and his mother, in her echoing manor, got so sharply terrified into examining her own loyalties and circumstances that she deliberately lost the war for 'her side' without a moment's hesitation. The butterfly effect may not usually smell of candied pineapples and greased handshakes, but that's chaos for you.
Chapter 19: Callousness: 1976
Chapter by potionpen
Severus really kinda sucks at nonviolent protest. Maybe.
(The first class after the Upside-Down Incident)
The first class they had together in Sixth Year, Severus made sure to sit directly in front of Potter. He might not have risked it if it hadn’t been Transfigurations, but McGonagall put up with no nonsense, and in this case he felt the tactically brain-dead move was strategically necessary. They would either try the new defenses he’d learned in Lucius’s family’s library and learn not to while publicly attacking someone from behind, or fail to rise to the unvoiced dare and start off the term with a decision to not attack him. Either choice would be informative and leave him with the initiative, and they wouldn’t do anything unbearable in front of the Tartan.
In either case, turning around to give the bastard a thoroughly blinding-black-light grin (a full set of teeth, anyway) with rage unslaked by time boiling out of his eyes was sufficient to declare his position, leave them thinking he had Plans (his plans consisted of defending the hell out of himself when attacked and finding one damned private place on the damned grounds where he could study without being whined at by his housemates or assaulted), and pin the professor’s attention squarely to the five of them.
The lesson was quite peaceful. Subdued, even. His hedgehog turned without excessive fuss into a whistle, as required. Since he’d made it a metal one, it didn’t even matter that it had turned grey, the way his transfigurations always did.* McGonagall noticed, but she had the tact to scold him for the cop-out only with her eyes, which he deeply appreciated given where he’d chosen to sit.
Afterwards, he had to walk into a loo, put up a silencing charm, and throw up. But he’d prepared to have some kind of reaction, and was in his seat for Charms on time, looking perfectly fresh (for him) and collected and cold, leaving one empty glass vial in the bin.
* They never lasted, either. It disturbed her a good deal, when he came back to prepare for his first year of teaching, to discover that while he’d solved the impermanence problem, usually-grey had become invariably-and-intractably-black. He asked for tutoring, and applied himself as well as he could through the listlessness. They didn’t get anywhere until Albus started forcing 90% hot chocolate down his newest project’s throat. It was almost unbearably bitter, being so dark, but it got the job done.
Chapter 20: The Ultimate Mystery: 1976-79
Chapter by potionpen
Pick a side, people, we're at war!
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here belong to the character at the time of expressing them. Neither the opinions nor the character belong to me. Especially the opinions. I am extremely serious about this.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It wasn’t that all the cool kids were joining up, or even that all his friends were joining up and expected him to as well (which they certainly did). It wasn’t even entirely that he thought he’d be materially, prospectively, or even physically hurt if he declined such gracious invitations (which he certainly would).
Nor did he agree with all of their politics—certainly not. Growing up with muggles, going to primary school with them, sitting in the kitchen helping his mam brew up ‘teas’ while they spilled their troubles, there was no chance of thinking they were any more or less animals and monsters than wizards were.
There was this, though: he’d made damned sure no one who’d been at school with him was ever going to think of him as anything other than a potions swot. Even people who’d seen him fight (everyone) were more likely to remember the losses, his snarling, Potter and Black’s gloating, than the fact he always held his own for a fair time four on one. No one would ever want him for anything active. he was sure of that.
That would have sounded like a cop-out to Evans. His contributions would hurt people whether he doled them out himself and he knew it. But there was this: his friends were heading into a war.
Neither side was full of righteousness and rainbows. Both sides tortured the prisoners they could get their hands on, both sides killed without compunction. One side had on it people who would only pause, if at all, to piss on him if they found him bleeding, to toast marshmallows if they found him on fire. The other had people who had some grudging respect for him, people who treated him like a clever if not particularly appealing mascot, and even a few he could almost accurately call friends. There was the quicksand, there were the alligators, and at least the quicksand wasn’t actively out to smack their lips over his blood.
There was this: The Princes might not have wanted him, but his bones knew he was a Prince, for all he had the same cheekbones as Narcissa and nearly the same hair as the Black brothers (when he wasn’t using his own protective soap) and the same chin you could see in that portrait of Headmaster Nigellus, for all he clawed at his soul to form it serpentine against its every inclination. That stupid, Gryffish, Plantaganet charge-across-three-companies-of-traitors-with-a-double-handed-battleax sunne-in-splendour blood was hot in his veins, and for all his intelligence and strategy, even when Sluggy urged him with mounting desperation to an apprenticeship in Switzerland, to one in Shanghai, it never once occurred seriously to him that he might leave Britain for longer than a weekend. If there being a war on came into it at all, it only made escape more unthinkable.
Most deeply, there was this: no one had it right yet. He didn’t deceive himself that he knew what a good solution would look like. If he had known, he would have started whispers.
But, and but, and but, there was one side that had identified the problems in the world, and the other had its eyes screwed shut. No, complete segregation of the two worlds was not the answer, it was an impossibility. Witches and wizards were born to muggles all the time, whether anyone liked it or not, and they had to be dealt with. And it was stupid not to allow them to slow down the pureblooded world’s mad dash to inbreeding disorders.
Trying to become more or less benevolent rulers of the muggle world, as some wanted, wouldn’t work for long either. Not with the new weapons and enormous population disparity and the growing awareness that political and blood-and-skin minorities did and should have voices.
But you couldn’t have mixed marriages. You couldn’t. It wasn’t a matter of distaste or idealism or genetics. Let squibs marry muggles, let muggleborns marry purebloods, as long as there was a meeting of minds and of material resources. But you couldn’t have witches and wizards marrying muggles, you couldn’t.
Oh, maybe if the muggle was the woman, was from a deeply old-fashioned family, was content to let her husband be the power she admired and supported. If the wizard was ass enough to want a wife like that, fool enough not to know he was outclassed and giving her his soul to bind along with his hand and would be so ruled before the blush had worn off the bride that he’d meekly resign himself to never choosing his own menu again.
Or if they were both so outdoorsy or so intellectual that the question of magic was a purely practical or theoretical one, and they could walk amiably hand in hand planting herbs or wrangling philosophy over the supper table. Or if the witch or wizard was a have-not and the muggle was well-positioned and wealthy and clever. Severus didn’t give a damn what consenting equals did at the breakfast table or anywhere else, as long as he didn’t have to smile cordially and pass them the muffins before he’d had his coffee.
But you couldn’t have a man married to a woman above him in power as well as in spirit or intelligence, no matter how attracted they were, no matter how he admired her at first. Men, Severus knew well, muggle men, men who had to struggle to pull in a wage, who grew up in cultures of conformity, men whose mothers had cleaned house for their fathers and docilely yes-deared every commandment (whether it meant ‘yes, dear’ or ‘we will discuss this further after the children go to bed, dear, don’t think we won’t,’), whose mothers hadn’t had careers or brought in money… men weren’t strong enough for that. They wanted to think they were, but it would destroy them.
It would destroy the children. He ought to know.
Let me take this opportunity to fervently recommend Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time If it was forced on you as a child, try it again: it rewards and intrigues and may even infuriate. Also, it's short.
More, to those who've caught the genealogical line I've drawn and raised their eyebrows: first, do a google image search, although the striking image of the Olivier portrayal is a seduction that should be discounted (those in the dark can do a regular google search first, if they care to). Second, check it out: the man's one legitimate son died just before he hit eleven. The very age when wizards who know they're wizards get ready for school. He stood to inherit much, at the time of his death, but only technically: things were already souring dangerously for the family in a world full of major upsets to continuities we in these days take for granted, and getting worse. Hustling their boy out of the muggle world might have been the smartest and most loving thing his parents could possibly have done.
Yes, this is pure theory-spinning and without evidence beyond the thin face, the nose, and Eileen's surname, but it's not a line drawn at random and I would adore to discuss it further. :D
Chapter 21: No One In This Damn Town Knows How To Drive! (1977)
Chapter by potionpen
In which Severus has a cunning plan to save the world and Narcissa will totally ice you if you ruin her party.
The sun was just beginning to set, but actually it was midmorning in August. It was the long twilight of seventh year that stuttered before him full of dark corners, no starry night. The only star to wish on was the knotwork on this rather stained and frayed bell-pull.
He pulled it, jaw tight.
The rawboned, red-faced, half-blown-dandelion-clock of a man in the worn dragonshide apron who opened the door to him was obviously not the butler. So Severus told him, voice calm enough and even, through a tight throat, handing him a shabby leather-bound portfolio with a compartment that held three vials, “Horace Slughorn’s promised me connections in Switzerland and Xi’an, but I want to apprentice with you when you get your grant. This is my work.” Then he gave a half-bow, and walked away.
“OI!” Damocles Belby called after him, before he’d gone five steps. “You’ve got no damn manners, boy!”
“That’s right,” Severus called back, turning to walk backwards, eyes lighting with the determination that grabs at hope at the bemusement in the man’s voice. He’d expected anger, or possibly to have his portfolio chucked at his head. “I’ve got hands!”
“What’re you bringing ‘em to me for, all them fancy connections, then?”
“Nearly got eaten by a gormless twirp once.”
“So I say curses are made to be lifted,” he replied, nearly snarling and entirely bright-eyed with determination.
“If you’re any good I’ll work that cheek right out of you, you snotty little brat,” Belby threatened, but he was already holding up the vial of Felix Felicis to the light, with his stained and knobby-boned hands, watching it glimmer, swirling the dark eggplanty velvet of a Teacup Tempest by his ear, and biting back a smile. “My ducks have no time for opinions!”
“You can still reach me at Hogwarts until June,” Severus shouted back before apparating away, the fierceness of his adrenaline pressing out of his chest until he thought it might explode into a storm of white feathers, leaking out even into his mouth, “when you decide to say yes!”
That evening there was a gathering at the Black girls’ place. It wasn’t actually Narcissa’s birthday, but they’d spent the half of the summer in Italy, so she hadn’t celebrated with her friends yet. Besides which, it was a good excuse to impress the fathers of her male peers with her hosting skills.
Evan had explained matters, when Severus displayed his shocking ignorance and pointed out that she was practically betrothed and she and Luke didn’t just drool over each other but actually seemed to get on most of the time. No, he said, her aim wasn’t to get out of it. Her job was to get enough good offers over the next year to scare the Malfoys, with the prospect of losing their last little nouveau-riche chance of marrying into really good blood, into as one-sided a pre-nup as possible. Just in case. And, of course, if one was good enough, was better…
That made sense, Severus supposed, and he made sure to gleam at her, when she kissed his cheek in greeting, to whisper, "Ev explained. Bleed him dry." She slapped at his arm in rebuke, but she laughed.
It was an exquisite party—er, mixer—or, no, gathering was really the only word. Thoroughly grown-up, unutterably dull, all shaded in cream and soft chocolate browns. The most fun anyone had all evening was when Bast Lestrange mockingly accused Severus of accepting his robes as a gift, the implication dripping from his tone far too obvious for such a Slytherin do. Severus told him, eyebrow raised, that he didn’t know whether to be flustered at the flattering but very obvious lies about his charms or rush to owl the Tartan with the compliment to his transfiguration in hopes of giving her a heart attack before start of term.
It would have passed unobserved, but his slightly tipsy but socially acceptable brother snorted bits of snazzleberry-gouda tart all over the carpet and slapped Severus on the back so hard that he nearly stumbled into the house elf with the tray of mainly-fire-crab things that looked like Faberge eggs in various stages of hatching prawn-dragons.
That, pitifully enough, was the most fun anyone had, apart from enjoying the food and wine at a decorous rate: there were Adults Around acting all patronizingly approving. Anyone trying to relax and behave as though they were at a party with friends got either the evil eye or a kick in the shins from an invisible foot. It was as though Narcissa had eyes in the back of her head, and no one would have put it past her, either.
What one were allowed to do was chat politely. One could even speak with friends if it was Politely, but there was less of a sense of impending blue-eyed doom if one schmoozed above one’s age. Most of these conversations were a dizzying dance of finance, politics, and recruitment. Severus knew he’d be able to pick them apart later (if someone lent him a pensive), but they made his head swim when he tried to take part and show willing.
He therefore chose to play himself as a polite and shy lad too modest to clamor for patronage and too autistic to pick up on hints intended to beguile him: a working boy without pretensions.
He wasn’t very good at that particular role, he knew. It was the polite that was the problem. He could say the right words in the right order, but never quite in the unobtrusively correct way.
He also knew that no one was going to pick up on his world of bewildered. He was so utterly bad at hiding at how agoraphobic and explosively impatient he got at parties, with people jostling him and breathing fumes in his face and trying to talk to him about inanities when he could have been studying. And everyone knew this about him, would give him despairing and contemptuous credit for showing willing. No one would be surprised or taken aback by the unpolished abruptness of his efforts, or compelled to look deeper and find out how terrifyingly out of his depth he was.
Around him, his classmates were politely inquiring into the workings of various Ministry offices, of boards their parents friends were on, of funds they might consider investing in. They were being politely quizzed about their OWL scores and NEWT classes and Quidditch preferences. Had they thought about taking on any responsibilities after graduation? What measures they were looking forward to voting for? Inevitably, too, they were being given nudging little hints about Friends With The Right Ideas.
Severus knew for a fact that his classmates were all talking on bored reflex and would be moving forward on bored reflex, with the help of their parents’ advice and advisors, until the dance became habitual and perhaps interesting if they were lucky. He, as was only to be expected, had a slightly different conversation. Thirteen times. It began with the pressing question of What Was All That About With Young Lestrange, Eh, dipped awkwardly into I Went To School With Your Mother, You Know, Bad Business, That, before finding its relieved way into So I Hear You’re Quite The Hand At Potions And (Significant Pause) Charmwork, winding insinuatingly into You Never Know What Sort Of Opportunities Are Out There For A Young Feller With The Right Ideas Who’s Good With His Wand.
The pressing question for Severus, which he wasn’t allowed to sit down next to Evan on the silk-upholstered couch and ask until Narcissa was starting to look too tired to be party police, was, “May I punch them all in the mouth, please?”
“You do what you want,” Evan yawned, hiding it behind a flute of chilled hippocras, “but if I have to bail you out that’s your Christmas present spent. Could be your birthday present too, depending on who you hit first.”
“I don’t care,” Severus replied, and he didn’t smile, but let the pulse-pounding heat of the morning unfurl in his voice.
It wasn’t in Evan’s nature to jerk upright, but he did turn his head to Severus, eyes brightening over the yawn, which was a long one. “You did it,” he announced, when he could do it without displaying his tonsils to people whose influence he might want to use someday.
“I didn’t ask him for an answer today,” Severus tells him, “but he’s going to say yes.”
“Just have to go for that Order of Merlin, don’t you,” Evan teased languidly with a la, these infants today and their dreams eye roll.
“You can have it to melt down for a wand-handle,” Severus dismissed this with a sniff, glowing somber black-light happiness, and spread his hand—stained beyond scrubbing, long, tapered, calloused fingers hinged with large knuckles, a workman’s hand pale against his sleeve’s smooth, embroidered charcoal--as if it could cradle the sun. “I’m going to save the world.”
“You Princes,” Ev laughed, squeezing him. “Next party, come in red.”
“Well,” Severus amended dryly, dropping his hand to shrug more pragmatically, “my corner. From something.”