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Get Back | Tomorrow Never Knows

By the third week of March, Severus was getting defiant.

So he hadn’t told Black yet — what of it? Perhaps he wouldn’t tell him at all. Perhaps Lucius should learn he couldn’t run Severus Snape’s life the way he ran everything else; perhaps it was good for him to know Severus had other takers for his charms besides one pampered little nancy boy and his spooky old pimp. Malfoy wasn’t the only horny rich boy out there — if nothing else, Black proved that — and Severus could always find another rung on the ladder. Perhaps that rung might even be Black himself. Since the cloak incident and Bellatrix’s betrayal, Black had been very nearly human to him, and if the idiot managed not to get himself totally disinherited by the time they graduated, he could prove useful.

And, honestly, what was there to be afraid of? Lucius? That was a laugh. Fully-trained or not, Lucius wasn’t half the wizard Severus was; he wouldn’t last five minutes in a head-to-head duel, and he knew it as well as Severus did. Bellatrix? Much more of a challenge, and much, much meaner, but nothing he couldn’t ultimately handle. He ticked off the rest of the list on mental fingers — Avery? Rosier? Nott? — and it was no contest. Spell-for-spell, not one of them could hope to match him.

Actually, now that he thought about it, there were probably only two wizards in all of Hogwarts who could match him, and he was fucking one of them. Who just happened to be the other one’s best friend.

So Lucius was no real problem, and his merry minions were no real problem, and that left only…him. Him, also known as Lord Voldemort, also known as the spooky old pimp. And that…well, that could prove to be a very real problem indeed. If Severus lost Lucius’s support, he would likely lose Lord Voldemort’s as well, and he wasn’t sure he could afford that. He supposed it depended on how powerful Voldemort ultimately got. If, as he reportedly aspired to be, Voldemort was one day Minister of Magic, it would not do for Severus Snape, rising young potions genius, to be on his bad side. If, on the other hand, Voldemort turned out to be just another radical or troublemaker or outright loony — and, gods knew, the wizarding world had seen hundreds of them over the years — it would not do for Severus Snape to get caught in the fallout, either. It was hard to be a rising young potions genius when one was rotting in Azkaban.

Or dead.

The trouble was, Severus didn’t think Voldemort was just another radical or loony. He was far too brilliant, and far too powerful. Severus had felt that power immediately upon meeting him, the first glance like a fist to the face. If Voldemort wanted to take over their world, Severus could think of no one — save, perhaps, Albus Dumbledore himself — who could stop him.

But Voldemort seemed content to bide his time and build his legend. Thanks to his clever self-promotion, he was already a hero to many and an almost mythic figure to others -- and, as many mythic figures are, he was already draped in shadows of misdirection, contradiction, and outright lies. He was a visionary. He was a criminal. He was a savior. He was a devil. He had legions of followers, yet only a handful of people had ever seen his face. Their entire world was abuzz with his name, yet many were wary of even speaking it aloud. Having met the man, however briefly, Severus could well understand. One look in those eyes had made him feel like falling to his knees, spreading his legs, and running like hell, all at the same time.

(Drink your drink, Severus. The liquor is not the reason he hits you.)

Severus pushed at the memory, willing it to go. It would not budge.

(He hits you because he fears you, child. He knows you are already ten times the wizard he will ever be.)

That cold, high voice. That implacable tone.

(That’s why he broke your arm. You were only six; you didn’t even know what you had done. But he knew. Oh, yes. He saw your power, even then, and he feared it. And he punished you for it, as he’s been punishing you all your life for it. Punishing you simply for being what you are.)

Words he knew would stun the young wizard before him; words he knew that same young wizard hungered to hear.

(I wouldn’t punish you for it, child. I would reward you, honor you, cherish you for your power. And together, we would make that Muggle-loving waste of magic wish he’d never been born.)

Severus had never told anyone that his father had broken his arm. Not another living soul. Certainly, he’d never told anyone how often he had longed for revenge, real revenge, in countless dreams that ran with blood and rang shrill with his father’s screams. No, Voldemort had just taken those thoughts right from his head, like a man plucking a ripe peach from a branch and taking a great juicy bite — and the look on his face had said he found them just as sweet, just as tasty.

I told you, Severus. Lucius’s voice. He just…he just knows things. I think he might be a Leglimens.

Leglimency. The art of sensing the thoughts and images and feelings of others. Severus had looked it up. It was an ancient and rather obscure magic, rarely practiced anymore. As with all types of magic, it could be studied and mastered, to varying degrees, by any witch or wizard, but a very select few were apparently born with the gift. Severus supposed it was what Muggles would call mind-reading.

Or what his grandmother had called the Reach.

Severus shivered. The thought of having anything in common with Lord Voldemort made his skin crawl. The man was evil. Oh, surely not in the crazed, comic-book way the Ministry and the papers were painting him — Severus certainly didn’t believe the wilder stories, of wholesale Muggle slaughter in backwater villages, or bands of white-masked torture squads sent out in the dead of night — but definitely evil. Amoral. Power-hungry. Dangerous.

Abruptly, Severus opened his bag and began unloading ingredients, each jar hitting the scarred desktop with a hard thump. He was angry. His resolve, all his wonderful, defiant resolve, was slipping away again, and why? Because he feared reprisal from some old fart who never cut his nails and called himself “Lord”? It was absurd. It didn’t even make any sense. Even if “Lord” Voldemort was the most evil, most powerful wizard who ever lived, he posed no threat to Severus Snape. Severus Snape was just some dumb kid; Voldemort was a major political player, a man who wanted to be Minister, who wanted system reform on a massive scale, who wanted to “deal with the Muggle problem, once and for all.” Did a man like that really care whether or not one greasy teenager joined his campaign?

Probably doesn’t even remember meeting me, he thought. Probably doesn’t even remember my name.

Right.

He unpacked the last jar of Himalayan hen’s teeth and stuffed the bag under his chair. A small but dense cloud of dust rose up. He sneezed, looking around him with a sneer. Gods, Professor Prozac was a slob. This workroom was filthy. Just from watching him in class, Severus knew that Prozac was messy and lazy — both unforgivable failings for a potions master, in Severus’s opinion — but at least the classroom was a common area and the house elves could tidy it up. They must be afraid to come in here, he thought. Severus supposed he couldn’t blame them. Prozac was no real threat if you knew how to get around him, but he was also a crusty, cranky, creepy old horror. From what Severus had read in Hogwarts: A History, the Potions master was nearly always a crusty, cranky, creepy old horror, though nobody quite knew why. It was something of a school tradition.

A huge yawn took him by surprise. Last night catching up with him, no doubt. He stretched into it, bones cracking pleasantly, a little of his anxiety and uncertainty bleeding away. He allowed himself a small smile. Last night. Last night had been…Merlin! More nights like that were just what he needed to chase the boogeyman away. Whatever the risks, the mere possibility of having Black like that again, of taking him like that, made them seem distant and foolish and small.

Black on top of him, his handsome face taut and strained, his eyes squeezed shut as he lowered himself onto Severus’s prick. Black beneath him, arching into every brutal thrust, slamming back every time he was slammed, relishing the violence and the pain. Severus had topped before; he had been the man, so to speak, with Lucius, with Rosier and Avery, and of course with the girls — Bellatrix, Narcissa, even Avery’s little bird, Roselle. His physical endowments alone made him the belle of every Malfoy ball. But he had never topped with Black before. He had never had Sirius Black beneath him and all around him, opening for him, surrendering to him, urging him on with grey eyes gone a lusty silver and that reckless, ruthless, heart-stopping grin.

And afterward, when Black had buried his face in Severus’s neck and warned sleepily, “Remember, if you kill me, we never get to do this again” before lapsing into blissful unconsciousness, it had been Severus who lay awake in the darkness, arms a tentative circle around his prize, chest tight with emotions he dared not name.

“Don’t you look like the kneazel who ate the canary.”

He turned toward the door. Lily Evans bustled over, her color high from the cold, her arms laden with packages. Severus automatically stood to help her, and she said, “Watch it! That black one on the very top is the thestral ribs, and I had to pull teeth to get them.” She waited until he took the slim black box and placed it on the table, then put down the rest of her things with a groan. “The good news is I got them at cost.”

“No doubt,” Severus snorted. “Old man Ashwinder’s a hound for young girls. I’m surprised he didn’t gift-wrap them for you, too.”

She gave him a sour look. “For your information, sexist pig, it was your friend Tom who saved the day. Ashwinder didn’t want to sell them to me at all. Even after I showed him my letter from Professor Prozac, he gave me a time; if that Tom hadn’t stepped in, I’d probably still be standing there arguing.” She shrugged off her coat. “You might have wanted to mention to me, by the way, that thestral ribs are on the school board’s list of banned substances.”

“Everything but rose petals and fairy farts is on that bloody list. And Tom knows that, which is why he’s the only one in the place who isn’t scared shitless of the Board.” Tom Montague was the assistant manager at the Toil & Trouble Apothecary in Hogsmeade. A serious, soft-spoken man not much older than the Hogwarts crowd to whom he catered, Tom was everything Severus thought a proper apothecary should be: well-informed, well-supplied, and politely disinterested in what his wares were used for once they left his shop. “Didn’t I tell you to ask for him in the first place?”

Ask for him? What do you—?” Her face cleared, and she shook her head. “Oh, no, Severus, I didn’t mean that To—”

“You didn’t get the quail eggs.” He was rummaging through the packages.

“Yes, I did. They’re in the bottom of that green bag.” She pulled off her gloves. “And don’t you go muttering at me, I didn’t pack them. It was some idiot girl with a big chest and loads of pimples.”

He was aghast. “You let Bertha Jorkins pack the eggs? Are you daft? She’s clumsy as a troll!”

“I’m sorry, Severus, that I don’t have the shortcomings of the Toil & Trouble staff committed to memory.” She seemed torn between exasperation and amusement. “Next time, you can do the shopping.”

“I don’t need the extra credit, I’m not a prefect, and I can’t go into Hogsmeade whenever I please. Besides, shopping is women’s work.” He spoke absently, trying to get a rise out of her mostly from habit; he was checking the eggs for cracks, his mind already on the job ahead.

“So’s cooking,” she shot back. “Shall I make this potion myself, then?”

“As if you could.”

The barbs continued to fly back and forth as they unwrapped the rest of her purchases, but there was no heat in them. They bantered like this most of the time, as Severus, at least, found it easier than real conversation. He didn’t know why, really; he liked Lily, and he knew she liked him, though not in the way most boys would have wanted a girl like Lily Evans to like them. She was very pretty. She had beautiful hair, thick and shining, dark red without an orange strand in the bunch, and the clearest, greenest eyes he’d ever seen. She also had, from what he’d managed to glimpse on occasion beneath her voluminous robes, perky little breasts and mile after mile of gorgeous legs.

Severus was as bisexual as the next young wizard, and he appreciated Lily’s looks, but they were not the main reason he liked her. Mostly he liked her because she was…well, she was likable. She was smart, and she was serious about her studies. She had a good sense of humor, dry and a trifle dark, robust but never coarse. She had a capacity for letting go and starting fresh that Severus, with his penchant for melodrama, self-pity, and cherished grudges, both envied and admired. And she was kind, but in a brisk, no-nonsense, unsentimental way that Severus did not find offensive. In many ways, she reminded him of a much-younger, much-prettier Minerva McGonagall…and McGonagall, Head of Gryffindor or not, was one of the few teachers in the place who had ever given him a break.

If Lily had a major flaw — well, besides being a Muggle-born, though Muggle-borns didn’t bother Severus nearly as much as he pretended — it was that she was a bit of a crusader. Stomp out this, help save that….there was always some Cause that needed her unique blend of hustle-bustle and smarts. Severus supposed he couldn’t really complain; he figured Lily’s do-gooder tendencies were what had drawn her to him in the first place. Why else would one of the prettiest girls in school befriend an ugly loser? Beauty and the Beast, Potter liked to call them. Well, let him. It drove Potter crazy that Severus was on such good terms with Lily, whom Potter had been head-over-heels for since second year, and who wouldn’t piss on James Potter if he were on fire.

Just one more reason to like her, as far as Severus was concerned.

Only once had Lily’s save-the-world streak come between them, but that once had nearly ended their friendship. The previous summer, after O.W.L.S., Potter and Black had attacked him by the lake. It had been an exceptionally humiliating attack, even by Marauder standards — they had hung him upside-down in mid-air, his robes over his head, his underpants in a tree — and completely unprovoked. Lily had stepped in to defend him; Severus, in an agony of embarrassment, had lashed out at her. He had called her Mudblood, a word so bad it would have prompted his old man, had he heard it, to beat him within an inch of his life. Stunned and hurt, she had lashed back. Called him “Snivellus,” which had hurt a hell of a lot more than any beating. It had certainly hurt more coming from her lips than it ever had coming from Potter or Black or that fat little waste, Peter Pettigrew.

Two weeks later, on the last day of the term, she had come up to him in the library, looked him right in the eye, and without preamble said, “I’m sorry. I had no right to interfere. I had no right to call you that name. I had no right to call you dirty or make fun of your clothes. But you had no right to call me Mudblood. Nothing can excuse that. Are you sorry? If you are, fine. We’re still friends. If you’re not, and you really meant it, well, I won’t like it, but I’ll respect your wishes and leave you alone. So, Severus…are you sorry?”

Once Severus had stopped blinking and gotten his mouth to close again, he had managed a nod. Lily had smiled. They had chatted a bit, their feud apparently over. Severus, feeling like he’d just been run down by one of the horseless carriages waiting to take them to the train, had to admire her style. Only Lily Evans could apologize to herself and still give someone else the credit.

And he was glad. He hadn’t wanted to lose her. They were not real friends, though Severus suspected Lily didn’t realize that — Severus knew very well he was incapable of the kind of trust true friendship requires. But she was someone to chat with during a break in class, or to study with in the library. She was a partner he could choose, without fear of permanent disfigurement or public humiliation, for Potions or Defense Against the Dark Arts. She was not a friend, but she was the closest thing to it he’d ever known.

As Severus rolled up his sleeves and prepared to shave the thestral ribs, she scanned the recipe in the heavy leather book he had spread open on the table. “‘Slice spiders into segments precisely one-eighth of an inch thick and boil with jellied quail eggs for one hour,’” she read aloud, then stopped, a guilty look on her face. “Severus, this is going to take forever! I’m sorry, I had no idea Memory Enhancer was so complicated.”

“Wait until you see the other one.” He pointed. “Hand me that small silver knife. And start slicing the spiders. About a dozen should do.”

She gave him the knife and picked up the bag of spiders, but she didn’t open it. “You’re sure you have the time for this?”

He nodded.

“And I’m not…keeping you from anything.”

“No.”

“Not interfering with any plans, or…or anything.”

He turned on her, exasperated and perplexed; this vague, clumsy girl wasn’t at all the forthright Lily Evans he knew. And she was… blushing. He had never seen Lily blush, never, not at Potter’s crudest come-ons, not at anything. Not even the sight of her good friend Severus — all of her good friend Severus — dangling in mid-air with his bits gaily waving in the breeze.

“What are you talking a—Shit!” The knife slipped; a small bead of blood welled. Severus dropped the knife and healed the cut with a hasty flick of his wand, his heart pounding a bit harder than usual. Close one, that. Even a drop of blood, especially wizard’s blood, could imbue the most benign potion with deadly and unpredictable powers. “What are you going on about? I told you I’d help you with this months ago.”

“Yes, but that was before—”

She stopped so abruptly she might have been slapped, and suddenly Severus knew, even without Reaching, exactly what it was she was trying to ask. “Before what?”

She sighed. “I’m not very good at coy, am I?”

“As good as I am at sweet.” It came out sharper than necessary. “Spit it out, Lily. Before what?”

“Before Black, Severus. Before Sirius Black.” Her eyes were fixed so closely on his face that he could almost feel them, light, fluttering like tiny wings. “Everyone says you’re sleeping with him.”

Severus turned quickly back to his rib shaving, jaw set tight. “‘Everyone’ says a lot of things about me.”

“I know that, you dope. That’s why I’m asking you, straight out. Are you sleeping with Sirius Black?”

He said nothing, only shaved faster, curling slivers of bone flying furiously. That, and his flushed face, seemed to be all the answer she needed.

She leaned back against the table, her mouth round with astonishment. “Holy shit,” she breathed. “You are.”

“Shut up.”

“Holy shit.

He gritted his teeth.

“I can’t believe…I never thought…” Her hands made vague little fluttery gestures. “You…and Black…holy shit.”

“Will you stop saying that?” Of all the Muggle expressions he’d ever heard, holy shit had to be one of the more exquisitely stupid. Right up there with half-assed, dingleberry, and fuck a duck. “And stop gawping at me. You look like a bloody codfish.”

“I do that, sometimes, when I’m in shock,” she deadpanned. “Gawping like a bloody codfish is a standard Muggle reaction to the utterly absurd.”

He glared at her, risking his fingers again, and she threw up her hands.

“Oh, for God’s sake, Severus, how do you expect me to react? It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard! Not five minutes ago, I would have bet my life you wouldn’t touch Sirius Black with a ten-foot pole, and now you’re telling me you’re…he’s…you’re…” She paused and delicately cleared her throat. “You’re involved.”

Severus snorted a laugh. Well, that was one way to put it. Although it was as good a word as any, he supposed; when it came right down to it, he and Black had been “involved” since the day they met. “You really didn’t believe it? Even with what Bellatrix said in class? Even with all the talk?”

“Are you joking? Bellatrix and that lot? Those are the same people who swear that you brew illicit potions in your dorm with unicorn blood and the fat of boiled babies.” She opened her bag of spiders at last and began picking through them, discarding some, laying others in a careful line on the table. “Mostly, though, I didn’t believe it because you never told me about it.”

“Why would I?”

She gave him a level look. “Because that’s what friends do, Severus. They talk, they tell each other things. I tell you things.”

“Nothing like this.”

“But I’ve never had anything like this. Nobody’s ever had anything like this.” She closed the bag and grinned at him. “You have to admit, as gossip goes, it’s awfully juicy.”

He made a disgusted sound. “You’re as bad as the rest of them.”

“Why? Because I have about a thousand questions I’d like to ask you right now? Please. I’m human, Severus. Of course I’m a bit curious.”

She was curious, and a damn sight more than a bit; he could feel her interest crawling over him with every sweep of that bold green gaze. “Well, then, why don’t you ask Black? He’s the one doing all the talking.”

“I wouldn’t take a Chocolate Frog from Sirius Black if I were starving to death,” she said, her lip curling in pretty disdain. “Anyway, Black’s not talking. Not even to his friends, from what Potter and Lupin say.” She picked up her own knife and began slicing. “That’s another reason I didn’t believe it, actually — you know what a big-mouth Black is, and he fancies himself such a stud. Every time he gets himself a shag, it’s practically in the Daily Prophet, so why would he keep quiet about this?”

Severus pushed the delicate bone shavings into a pile and wiped his hands. They were trembling a bit. Just a bit.

“Perhaps I’m not up to his usual standards,” he said carefully. He managed to keep the bitterness out of his voice, but just barely. So I’m good enough for him to fuck on a regular basis, but not good enough for him to admit it? How typical of Black, ever the Gryffindor hypocrite.

“You’re so far above his usual standards it’s not even funny,” Lily asserted. “You can talk, for starters. Big words, like ‘think’ and ‘book’ and ‘school’ and ‘brain.’ That puts you in the lead right there, as far as I can see.” She stopped slicing and gave him a measuring glance. “And you look good, Severus. No, really. It’s amazing what a shampoo and a spot of exercise can do — Oh, don’t you dare make that face at me! I know perfectly well what you were getting at, and it’s rubbish. So Black’s prettier than you. So what? He’s prettier than me, too” — he couldn’t help a snort at that — “but I’m not about to put a bag over my head. There’s nothing wrong with your looks that a bit of care hasn’t fixed, Severus, so you’d do well to find another excuse if you want to feel sorry for yourself.”

He didn’t quite know how to respond to this little outburst. She meant it, any fool could see that; she was genuinely annoyed with him, and that pleased him almost as much as her words— somehow, it made the words more believable.

A small, warm glow came up in his chest as he opened the jar of hen’s teeth. He poured a handful into a mortar and began to grind. “Well, if I’m so bloody wonderful, why is Black denying everything?”

“I never said you were so wonderful” — her mouth quirked mischievously — “and I never said Black was denying anything.”

“But—”

“He’s just being very cute about it, is all. Playing games. Doesn’t say yes, doesn’t say no. Just sits there and shrugs and smiles this incredibly smug, satisfied little smile.” Her mouth twitched again. “You know — a lot like the smile you were wearing when I came in here.”

Severus felt his face heat. He ground the hen’s teeth a bit harder, putting a little more muscle into it than was necessary. Still, the glow in his chest got even warmer. So Black was smiling, was he? And he wasn’t denying their affair. No, he was being coy — and even a dumb shit like Black had to know that being coy was as good as a tally-ho to those intrepid souls who manned the Hogwarts grapevine. It was practically an admission.

“You’re doing it again.”

He looked up. “Hmm? What?”

“Smiling. That cat-in-the-cream smile. What’s so funny?”

“Oh…I…I was just wondering what everyone else is saying,” he lied. “What’s the official Hogwarts theory? Has Black been hit with an insanity hex? Or did I slip him a love potion in his pumpkin juice?”

“Well, some fourth- and fifth-year girls were saying something like that, that you’d hexed him or whatnot, but nobody paid them any mind.” She laughed merrily. “Oh, they’re terribly jealous of you, Severus! They’d like to scratch your eyes out, the lot of them. But nobody’s laughing at you, if that’s what you’re worried about. Most of them are dead impressed. They think you’ve landed quite the catch.”

“What do you think?”

She screwed up her face. “You know what I think. I think Black’s an arse. A handsome, charming, useless, bullying, big-headed arse. I can’t imagine what you see in him, and I hope it’s not some stupid joke you’re running on him or he’s running on you, and I think you should be extremely careful. Past that, I don’t care, so long as you’re happy.”

Her expression said this was a dubious hope at best, and the words I am, the reassurance she obviously needed, trembled on the tip of his tongue. He bit them back. Happy he was — for now — but she was right; he still had to watch his back. “I’m always careful. And just for the record, I think Black’s an arse, too.”

“Well, I should hope so,” she said, and for some reason the prim tone made him laugh out loud.

They worked in silence for the next fifteen minutes or so, chopping, peeling, stirring. Outwardly, Lily appeared content to concentrate on her tasks, but Severus knew better. He wasn’t trying to Reach into her head; it was just happening, as it sometimes did, without any conscious effort on his part. Flickers of her thoughts, from concerned to amused to downright salacious, danced across his own. How the hell did it start? I can’t believe Severus would trust that creep, even for a second. When did it start? Black’s been staring at Severus like a drooly old dog for months now, but — no, it couldn’t be as long as all that. They’d have killed each other by now. I wonder how they look together. Why is that so sexy? Oh, I’m horrible. I wonder what they do. Who shags whom? Or do boys take turns?

He did his honest best to filter it all out, but it was very difficult. Not to mention distracting. It also meant that she was distracted as well, and that made him nervous. Despite their complexity, he could make the Memory Enhancer and the speed-reader potions in his sleep, but combining any two potions was tricky business, and it required superior concentration. One mistake, and the least they would have would be a useless mess.

Still, he said nothing. There was no way he could say anything without letting on that he was poncing about, however unwillingly, in her head. Only when a shockingly accurate vision jumped full force into his mind — him, Black, the two of them naked and impossibly intertwined — did he finally speak up.

“If I could talk about it, Lily, I would.”

“I know.” She didn’t deny her curiosity, or pretend not to understand what he meant. Nor did she argue or cajole or pout. He knew his silence hurt her; he could feel her disappointment that he still didn’t trust her as she felt he should. But she did not press the issue, and he loved her for that more than he could say.

And then she said, “Hand me the hen’s teeth, will you? Quickly, Severus, while the temperature’s right — there we go. Brilliant!” and he marveled anew at her capacity to simply let a thing go. “Oh! Is it supposed to be that color?”

He gazed at her affectionately, trying not to smile. “It’s fine. Just lower the flame about half an inch.”

It was easier after that. There was the rest of the potion to attend to, then the long wait before the final step, when they would add the thestral ribs. They passed the hour talking of inconsequential things. Their classes. The weather. Lily regaled him with a few stories from home. Severus had a pureblood’s instinctive distrust of Muggles, and a Slytherin’s disdain, but he was also intensely curious about them (as he was about most everything), and Lily managed to indulge him without ever letting on that she knew how much he enjoyed it.

When the hour was almost up, Lily stood and peered into the cauldron. “Time to add the ribs? The color looks right now.”

Severus joined her. “Mm, but it’s not thick enough. Give it another minute or so.”

“I won’t even ask what difference a minute could possibly make,” she said. “I know better.” She watched as he scooped most of the rib shavings into a glass beaker, leaving a small handful behind on the table. “How do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“How do you know the exact amount without taking a single measurement?”

He shrugged; his response would have been much the same if she had asked him how he knew to breathe in after he breathed out. “I just know.”

He added the shavings slowly, a pinch at a time, charming his wand to stir by itself. The potion hissed briefly; the milky pink surface went scarlet, then silver, then to a shimmering, opalescent swirl of color. Perfect, he thought with a rush. Merlin, he loved potions! It was a discipline like no other, art and science and logic and magic all working in precise harmony, and when he got one just right like this, just right on the very first go, he didn’t feel like a wizard at all. He felt like a god.

You’re amazing at this.

When she said nothing further, he glanced up at her; only then did he realize she had not spoken aloud. Her eyes were not on the potion, pretty as it was, although she dropped them there when she caught him looking at her. “It really is the purest magic, isn’t it?” She smiled into the cauldron. “To put all those horrid bits of things together and create something so beautiful.”

He nodded, pleased that she understood.

“Should we test it?” she asked.

“Of course.”

She was the one who needed the extra-credit, so she insisted on being the guinea pig, though Severus argued strenuously to take her place. “We don’t even know what we’ve created,” he protested.

“Certainly we do. The greatest study aid the wizarding world has ever seen.” He opened his mouth, and she held up a hand. “Severus. Can it kill me?”

He reviewed every ingredient and procedure mentally. It was at least the tenth time he had done so, and he came to the same conclusion each time. “No,” he said, almost grudgingly.

“Will it hurt me? Damage me mentally or physically in any lasting way?”

“No.”

She smiled and held out her hand.

“It won’t hurt you, but any potion can have unforeseen side-effects. Especially when combined. In theory, these two should be compatible, but that’s only theory, and…” He trailed off. One look at her face told him he was wasting his breath. He sighed and pulled out the last weapon in his arsenal, though he realized it was utterly lame. “It doesn’t taste nearly as good as it looks.”

“What potion ever does? Now give it here, Severus. And if I should turn into anything hairy or mad, just chain me to the table and leave me some meat scraps.”

She downed the potion. She made a decent job of pretending the taste wasn’t vile — only a slight clench of her jaw gave her away. Severus thought about calling her out on it, but decided against it. Despite the Black issue rearing its head, they had shared a rather enjoyable evening — he had nearly forgotten the simple pleasure her company gave him — and he didn’t want to spoil it.

Also, he was too busy watching anxiously for signs of impending hairy madness.

“How do you feel?” he asked finally.

“Fine. Better than fine. Sort of…sharp. And fizzy.”

Fizzy? So it was working. Brilliant. “All right. Now read this.”

She looked at him, dumbfounded. He was tapping a finger on the potions book, still open on the table. “What, one page? That’s hardly much of a test, Severus.”

“Not the page. The book.”

“The entire book? It’s over five hundred pages!”

He nodded and glanced at his watch. “You have ten minutes.”

“Ten minutes? But I can’t possibly—”

“If we did it correctly, you can.” He tapped again. “Read.

She read. He saw the amazed pleasure on her face growing stronger with every page, which she turned faster and faster until they were a breezy black-and-white blur. She finished with over a minute to spare.

“Test time.” Severus took the book from her hands and thumbed through it. He stopped about halfway through. “Now tell me what you read on page 278.”

“‘Ethically speaking, the Mesmer Potion is a highly dubious draught, nearly as powerful as the Imperious Curse. It was banned by the Ministry of Magic in 1834. It—” She stopped, her eyes going wide.

He gave her a small smile. “Congratulations,” he said. “For the next forty-five minutes, you are eidetic.”

“I have a photographic memory?” she clarified. He frowned questioningly. “Sorry. Muggle term. It means I can instantly memorize anything if I look at it for a few seconds.”

He nodded, slightly annoyed. “Yes. That’s what eidetic means as well.”

She laughed, “Oh, don’t be such a priss!” and jumped into his arms, knocking the annoyance (and most of the wind) right out of him. “My God, Severus, we did it! We actually did it! We invented a potion!”

“Yes…well…no…” Salazar! One hug, and he was a blathering fool? Get a grip, you twit! “Technically speaking, we modified a potion. Two potions, to be precise.”

She pulled back and favored him with a smile of such warmth and affection that it turned his knees to sludge. “And you are nothing if not precise.” This time, she hugged herself. “But, for once, I think you’re being too modest. You’re a prodigy, Severus. Some day your name’s going to be on everything from pain-killer to hair tonic, and I’ll say, ‘Oh, yes, Severus Snape, the bazillionaire Potions inventor? I went to school with him.’”

She was giggling, for Merlin’s sake. He tried to frown with the appropriate disapproval, but his face didn’t seem to know what to do. His emotions were all over the place, amused and embarrassed, pleased and still a bit dismayed by that hug. Especially by his own reaction to that hug. Gods, did all Muggleborn girls smell that good? Bella and Narcissa wore the best perfume galleons could buy, and they didn’t smell half that delicious, fresh and soapy and slightly spicy… “You’re mental,” he managed at last. “Completely off your head.”

“High as a snitch,” she agreed blithely, still giggling. She handed him a vial. “Here, prodigy. Bottle our invention while I clean up. Oh!” She jabbed a finger at him. “That’s what we should call it. The Prodigy Potion. What do you think?”

“I think you’re stuck on that bloody word.” He took the vial and carefully ladled the potion into it. He wasn’t being modest at all; she was making him genuinely uncomfortable. Praise always made him uncomfortable. He had received too little of it in his life to know how to react to it, and so he reacted as he always did when in doubt: with scorn and contempt. “The only reason you think I’m a prodigy at potions is that you’re hopeless at them.”

“Not anymore, baby!” She said this with such great, gloating satisfaction that Severus laughed in spite of himself. “And it’s not my bloody word, so don’t yell at me. Your friend there, old what’s-his-face — he’s the one who called you a prodigy.”

“Friend?”

“Tom. Tom whatever-his-name-is. From Hogsmeade.”

“Oh, Tom,” Severus dismissed. “Tom’s not a friend. We hardly know each other.”

“Seemed to me he knew you pretty well. He was singing your praises the whole time I was there.”

“I’m sure he was,” Severus said dryly. “I’m one of his best customers.”

He stoppered the vial, laid it carefully aside, and began filling a second. He very nearly dropped it when she startled him with an irritated hiss.

“Severus, do you ever listen to me? At all? I told you before, it wasn’t that Tom. You mean Tom Montague, right? Well, Tom Montague wasn’t even working today.” She finished packing up the last of her ingredients and tucked the jars and vials into her bag, repeating, “I told you that when I came in,” apparently in the event Severus was extremely stupid as well as inattentive and rude.

“Well, who are you talking about, then? I don’t know any other Tom.”

“Of course you do,” she said, in her best let’s-be-practical voice. She took a cloth from the cupboard behind them and began wiping the table. “You must. He certainly knew you. Perked right up when he overheard your name, and jumped right into the conversation. I was a bit annoyed at first — you know, he was eavesdropping, and butting in — but then he was such a help with Ashwinder and that business with the thestral ribs, I couldn’t really be angry. And he seemed very nice. Quite charming, and very handsome for an older man, too. And he thinks the world of you, Severus. Really. He couldn’t say enough about how smart and talented you are, how successful you’re going to be…”

“Really.”

“Really.” She stopped wiping and looked up at him, really looked at him, searching his face. “You honestly don’t have any idea who I’m talking about, do you?”

If only, he thought. Unfortunately, he did have an idea, or was beginning to, and it wasn’t a very pleasant one. It made his throat feel dry and his chest feel tight and the pit of his stomach feel like he’d swallowed a bludger. A very large, very cold bludger.

Quite charming, and very handsome for an older man, too.

“Perhaps he’s a friend of my mother’s,” he lied. The smooth, easy way the lie rolled out surprised him, although it shouldn’t have done — he had always been a very capable liar. “Perhaps I don’t know his first name. What did he look like?”

“Tall. Thin. Very pale. Dark hair. Handsome, as I said. Distinguished-looking, you know?”

Severus nodded. He knew, all right. “What about his hands?”

Her brow creased, but she said only, “I didn’t see his hands. He wore gloves.” She cocked her head at him. “Any of this ringing a bell?”

“What color were his eyes?” It was a stupid question, a pointless question, really, he already knew perfectly well who “Tom” must have been, but…

“Brown.”

“Brown?”

“Yes, Severus. Brown. Rather dark. Not as dark as yours, but dark.”

Severus breathed a bit easier.

“They were very peculiar eyes, though,” she went on, and his heart sank again. “They seemed to…to change. When the light hit them a certain way, they looked — don’t you dare laugh at me, now — they looked red.” She frowned suddenly and shivered slightly, and Severus could tell she wasn’t aware that she had done either one. “Anyway, I’m sure it was a trick of the light. I mean, nobody actually has red eyes, right?”

Severus swallowed hard. “Of course not.”

“At any rate” — she shrugged — “except for that, I quite liked him.”

“Why?” The question was out before he could stop it.

She gave him an odd look.

“I just meant…it’s just that you…you don’t usually take to people that quickly.” Which was perfectly true; a healthy wariness of strangers was, in fact, one of the few traits he and Lily shared. “What was so special about him?”

She folded up her cleaning cloth and laid it on the table. “I don’t know,” she said after a moment’s thought. “I just got a good vibe off him, I guess. He reminded me a bit of Professor Dumbledore. You know, he seemed very powerful — he felt powerful, just standing there chatting — but not dangerous.”

Not dangerous. In the years to come, those words would come back to Severus again and again, haunting him even in his deepest dreams. Not dangerous: Lily’s first assessment of Lord Voldemort, the man who would one day take her life.

“Severus, who is he? I can tell you recognized him from my description. How do you know him?”

“I met him last summer while I was apprenticing. He used to come into Mordred’s quite regularly. We talked potions a few times, but I don’t know him very well. I don’t even know his last name.” The lies continued to come readily, at his fingertips, as they always seemed to be. “I’m surprised he remembered me; I’d forgotten all about him.”

Lily shook her head. “He’d be a hard one to forget, I imagine.”

“To a bird, maybe.”

“I wouldn’t be too smug there, Severus. He was miles more interested in you than he was in me.” She waggled her eyebrows, her good humor obviously still intact. “And he did say the two of you could be, er…‘very good for each other.’”

He scarcely heard her tinkling laugh. The chill in his belly had moved up to his heart, which was beating a little too fast. He thinks the world of you, Severus. Really. He couldn’t say enough about how smart and talented you are, how successful you’re going to be. He wondered what else “Tom” had said about him. He wanted to know everything: every word, every gesture, every expression that had crossed that elegant face. No, not wanted — he needed to know. But he couldn’t keep asking Lily all these questions. She was much too sharp for that, and she’d get suspicious.

Of course, there was one other option.

You can’t do that, it’s practically rape, for the gods’ sake—

He ignored the voice of conscience and tried to consider the matter practically. Could it even be done? It was harder Reaching into someone’s mind deliberately than it was to simply receive their random thoughts, and it was particularly difficult when one was actively searching for a specific memory or image. But Lily, for some reason, had always been a very easy read for him — the level of his earlier link with her was not at all the exception for them — and the memory he wanted was fresh. He could probably do it. At the very least, he could probably get enough information to answer some of his hotter questions. Why did Voldemort want him so much? What was Voldemort offering in exchange for his services? What was charming, handsome, not-dangerous Tom’s attitude toward him? Was he angry, impatient, tolerant, amused? What would he say if Severus continued to refuse? More to the point, what would he do?

Severus didn’t know if the answers to these questions were a matter of life and death, or just a matter of a good night’s sleep, but he knew he couldn’t take that chance.

He Reached.

Lily kept chatting, unaware as always to the intrusion; Severus chatted back, nodding and “mm-hmm”-ing in all the right places as he ran swift mental fingers through her head. He didn’t go deep — he truly didn’t want to violate her any more than was necessary, and that was what this was, a violation — but he skimmed over everything, like a man riffling through a book, looking for a particular page. Snippets of thought, in words and pictures, came and went with dizzying speed. The Prodigy Potion (for that was what she was calling it, at least in her head), shimmering in its cauldron. Him and Black, kissing. A thin, blonde, horse-faced girl he didn’t recognize. The word “sleep.” A white cat. The word “vial.” The face of Lord Voldemort, handsome indeed, and smiling, mouthing his name—-

Ah! There it was. Severus, he read on those sensual lips, and he could almost hear the hiss Voldemort enjoyed adding at the end. He liked Severus’s name, thought it the consummate Slytherin name; he had told him so that day in Hogsmeade, and he had pronounced it just like that, stressing the sibilants, rolling them around on his tongue the way another man might savor a fine wine.

“I told you a great many things that day in Hogsmeade, Severus,” Voldemort said now. “But it would seem you weren’t listening.”

Severus recoiled. Lily was no longer talking — in fact, her eyes had taken on a glazed, dreamy look, and her face was slack — but her lips were still moving, still shaping words. Shaping Voldemort’s words. In Voldemort’s voice.

What in the name of all the gods—?

Severus cut his link to Lily so abruptly he could feel the disconnect, a faint, painless, ripping sensation in the middle of his forehead. For a few seconds, a surreal kind of echo ricocheted through his brain as he heard Voldemort in Lily’s mind and also heard him aloud, and that did hurt — it was like getting a cold spike deep in each ear.

He needn’t have bothered. Cutting the link did nothing; Voldemort continued to talk through Lily, and there was something so grotesque about that hissing voice coming from her rosebud mouth that nausea passed over Severus in a clammy wave.

“I am not a man of great patience, Severus, but I am trying to be accommodating with you. I understand that you are very young, and that the young are often foolish. It is quite probable you have no idea what you need or want, or even ‘who you are,’ as the idiot Muggle head doctors like to say.” The sarcasm in his tone was brutal. “So I shall give you what I give only a very select few: a second chance.”

Severus opened his mouth — it was just reflex, he had no idea what he was going to say — but Voldemort held up his hand. Or, rather, he held up Lily’s hand. In either case, it was terrifying. Severus couldn’t even guess the depths of dark magic behind a spell like this, a spell that seemed to combine Imperio and Obliviate and Mesmer and at least a dozen others either restricted or outright banned by the Ministry.

“Don’t talk. I know you’re dying to, adolescents are always dying to show you how brilliant they’ve become in their piddling fourteen, fifteen, sixteen years, but don’t. My time in this state is limited, and what I say to you now I shall never say again, so listen closely. I admire your intellect, Severus. I recognize your power. I desire your service, and I offer untold rewards. All that you have ever most desired. Power. Success. Acceptance. Revenge.

“But the greatest reward is already yours. You have been chosen to serve a grand cause, Severus, and you have been chosen by the greatest sorcerer our world has ever seen. I would suggest you consider that honor most carefully before you refuse out-of-hand.

“I would suggest you consider a great many things carefully before you refuse me again.”

The voice ceased. There were perhaps ten or fifteen seconds of silence before life and awareness flooded back into Lily’s face, and then she began speaking again, this time in her own voice. With something like horror, Severus realized she was finishing the thought she had started when Voldemort’s spell took her over.

“--way he grades, but, even so, I can’t imagine he could get away with giving us anything less than an ‘O,’ can you?”

Her brilliant eyes found his, hopeful and questioning, and Severus saw nothing in them to suggest she had a clue what had just happened. Another dizzy surge of nausea seized him, and he sat down, hard. It was only fortunate circumstance that a chair happened to be there to catch him.

“Severus, are you all right?” She was at his side in an instant, and her face told Severus he must look very bad indeed. She put a hand to his forehead — why did women always do that? it was as useless as tits on a billybull — and frowned. “God, you look like death all of a sudden! You’re clammy, and white as a ghost.”

For once, no slick and ready falsehood leaped into his mind. “Am I?” he said idiotically.

“Don’t play games, Severus. What’s wrong? Do you feel ill? Do you want to see Madam Pomfrey?”

“No. No, I’m…I just felt sick for a moment. It’s going away now.” And it was, though he was still very shaken. I would suggest you consider a great many things carefully before you refuse me. “I just needed to sit down.”

She didn’t look at all convinced.

“Stop acting like a bloody mother hen.” He let just the right amount of irritation creep into his tone. “There’s some kind of stomach…thing going around Slytherin house. I’m sure it’s just a touch of that.”

“I’ve never heard of a stomach ‘thing’ coming on that all of the sudden. And I still think you should see Pomfrey.”

“I can make a better remedy than anything she has,” he said flatly, and Lily pursed her lips, but she didn’t say anything. She couldn’t; it was the truth.

Instead, she conjured a glass of water and handed it to him. “Here. Drink this while I pack up your things. And don’t argue with me, you know I’ll be careful.”

He had no intention of arguing — his hands were shaking so badly, he would have shattered every bottle and jar in his stores if he had tried to do it himself — and he drank the water dutifully. He didn’t bother to point out that he could have conjured it himself if he were truly thirsty; at least she wasn’t nagging him now, or asking any more questions. Gods knew, he was asking himself enough for both of them.

So much for a good night’s sleep.

It took her almost five minutes to cap and close all of his ingredients and put them back in his bag. Under normal circumstances, Severus felt, he could have done the job in half that time, but he knew he couldn’t complain — she was only being as good as her word, being careful as promised. And it gave him time to think. He needed time to think, time to parse and replay and analyze every word Voldemort had said to him, time to look at every angle and opening…Time to find some set of rationalizations that would allow him to pretend he hadn’t just received a death threat from the Dark Lord himself.

As a rule, Slytherins were very good at rationalization; they were hard-headed realists, true, but they were highly selective hard-headed realists. Unfortunately, Severus was the exception to the rule.

Still, he tried. And by the time she’d put the last jar in his bag and buckled it tight, he’d managed to convince himself that he was overreacting. All right, so Voldemort really did want him, for whatever reason, and yes, he was obviously irritated, maybe even insulted, that Severus hadn’t jumped at his initial offer. And certainly, he could make trouble for Severus, particularly once he got into power. He could play major havoc with Severus’s plans, could blackball him from good positions, keep him out of the right places and away from the right people. But, surely, thoughts of death threats were taking things too far. Weren’t they? The man was ruthless and he was amoral, but he wasn’t crazy. Was he? Certainly, he wouldn’t actually hurt Severus, or kill him, just because Severus didn’t want to take some bloody job for him.

Would he?

“Feeling better?” Lily, startling him from his thoughts. “Ready to go, or do you need to sit a while longer?”

He shook his head and stood slowly, testing his legs. They felt shaky, but they supported him just as they always had. He looked at his hands. Steady as ever. So far, so good. “No. No, I’m better now.”

“You do look a bit better.” She sounded slightly relieved at this, so he supposed it must be true. “Perhaps all you need is sleep. You’ve dark circles under your eyes like a raccoon.”

Severus stiffened, waiting for the inevitable reference to his recent nights with Black, but none came. He took his bag from the table and murmured, “Wingardium Leviosa.” The bag hovered obediently at his side. Magic was forbidden in the corridors at Hogwarts, and he’d likely get a detention if Filch or some brown-nosing Prefect saw him, but right now he didn’t much care. The bag was heavy, and Lily was right — suddenly, he was very tired.

Lily raised her eyebrows at the floating bag, but she didn’t say anything. She walked with him to the Slytherin Common Room entrance, Severus offering a requisite protest that she resolutely ignored. No portrait or statue marked this door, just a patch of stone barely discernible from the rest of the wall, but Lily, who had only been this close to Slytherin House three or four times before, stopped in front of it even before Severus did.

Too bad you’re not that sharp about people, Severus thought, a bit uncharitably. Maybe you wouldn’t have been standing there telling me what a jolly good fellow Lord Voldemort is.

“Good night, Severus. And thanks again for your help.”

He just shrugged, as uncomfortable with gratitude as he was with praise. “It was nothing. I’ll see you tomorrow; we’ll present the potion to Prozac before class.”

She nodded, but she didn’t move. She seemed to be deliberately stalling, something further on her mind, but Severus was not in the mood for games.

“Lily, you might want to leave before I give the password. I daresay you wouldn’t appreciate it if you heard it.”

“Oh, what, is it ‘Mudblood’ again?” She rolled her eyes. “My, that’s original.”

Actually, it was Muggleborn scum, though Severus saw no reason to share that with her. “Let’s just say it’s rather unflattering, and I won’t use it in front of you unless I have to. Now, please, Lily. I’m very tired, and I—”

“Has he done something to you, Severus? Something…something he shouldn’t?”

“Who?”

“That man. That Tom.” He stiffened again; she saw it, and rushed on before he could interrupt. “It just seemed to me that you didn’t like him. Maybe even that you were afraid of him. And there I was, making foolish jokes…you know, about him fancying you…but maybe…well, maybe I shouldn’t have done.”

Her point was clear enough, and, were he not so worried and weary, Severus would have laughed out loud. A man who called himself the Dark Lord wanted to recruit him for “a grand cause,” and she was afraid for his supposed virtue. What a silly little Mudblood she was sometimes. Sweet, in her own blunt-spoken way, but silly nonetheless.

“He’s never laid a hand on me,” he told her. “Never even tried.”

She said nothing, just narrowed those brilliant emerald eyes, and Severus’s dark humor faded. There was nothing silly about that look — it was scared and puzzled and suspicious, all at once, and it nearly pinned him to the wall. She knows, he realized. On some level, she knows what he is, how dangerous he is, how dark, and never mind good “vibes” and all that rot. Part of her knows he’s evil.

Just as Severus knew it, deep down where no amount of rationalizing or analyzing or self-delusion could reach.

It hit him then, all of it, and it hit him hard. The trap he had walked into, the dismal future he had created for himself — a future of servitude and fear not very different from the past he was so desperate to escape. He knew himself well, and he knew that, by morning, this would seem a bad dream; all that was Slytherin in his nature would ride to the rescue, and he would be back to looking for angles and loopholes, for weak spots in the web that Malfoy and Voldemort and the rest of them had woven so adroitly about him. But for now, here in the dark chill of the dungeons at the end of a long day, his heart knew the truth. He was trapped. He was owned. His dreams of freedom were ashes.

“Lily, you need to go now. Please.” His voice was not quite steady; he felt a horrible certainty that very soon he might weep, and once he started, he might not be able to stop.

“But—”

He closed his eyes and said it again, as fervently as a prayer — “Please, Lily, just go” — and perhaps she was sharper about people than he’d thought: when he opened his eyes, she was gone.

As soon as she was, he wanted her back.

A trace of her sweet scent lingered in the air; wisps of her thoughts — I’m your friend, I worry about you, I wish you’d talk to me — hung in her wake. He closed his eyes again and took them in, small comforts against his despair, talismans to take with him into the dark.

It was a very long while before he went to bed.

Chapter 5

Comments

( 1 Thing We Said Today — Dear Sir or Madam )
hogwartshoney
Jan. 31st, 2011 05:59 pm (UTC)
I've been enjoying this fic, racing through the chapters without commenting because I just want MOAR... but this chapter...... this one got me right in the gut.....

and this bit It hit him then, all of it, and it hit him hard. The trap he had walked into, the dismal future he had created for himself — a future of servitude and fear not very different from the past he was so desperate to escape. He knew himself well, and he knew that, by morning, this would seem a bad dream; all that was Slytherin in his nature would ride to the rescue, and he would be back to looking for angles and loopholes, for weak spots in the web that Malfoy and Voldemort and the rest of them had woven so adroitly about him. But for now, here in the dark chill of the dungeons at the end of a long day, his heart knew the truth. He was trapped. He was owned. His dreams of freedom were ashes.
nearly made me weep.
Fantastic. Really...
( 1 Thing We Said Today — Dear Sir or Madam )