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Narcissa didn't like having to play dumb. Still, it was sometimes necessary. Men needed to be convinced of their own superiority – or at least their own worth – before they would propose marriage. It was no good captivating a man with your charms if he was then going to moon about hopelessly, agonizing over the fact that you were too good for him. You had to tone down your own intelligence if you wanted to be thought of as a suitable prospective bride.

Narcissa's ancestors had been wonderful at this. Her great-aunt Lavinia had successfully convinced her own husband for twenty years that she was an innocuous half-wit. He was probably still under that impression when he was lying on the living-room carpet, dying of arsenic poisoning. A nasty way to die, but not one which afforded you much capacity for rational thought.

Narcissa had liberated the box containing the Dark Snitch from her family vault that morning. It had been buried under an altar, surrounded by ominous carvings about deadly curses and avenging angels. As a daughter of the House of Black, she naturally understood that these warnings didn't apply to her.

And now she was standing in front of Madam Hooch's locker, listening to the sounds of male, moronic gooning from the Quidditch-changing-rooms next door, and wondering why Potter wouldn't hurry up and discover her already.

Severus was right about the intelligence-dampening effects of the boy's ego. It had been a good Quidditch practice. Narcissa had watched it from the stands – wondering all the time why the ability to zoom after a mechanical ball at high speeds was supposed to make you a worthier human being. Potter looked… well, undignified, when he was zooming after those things. He looked like he was actually trying. His cheeks were red – his untidy hair was flapping about in all directions – he was making very unattractive faces, as though he was lifting dumb-bells or straining on the toilet – and still, his little fan-club of girls were down on the pitch, swooning at this formidable display of effort.

Narcissa had never found effort attractive. She would have had incredibly low self-esteem if she did.

So now Potter, validated by all that attention, was behaving very incautiously. She was sure she had slammed the door when she came into the Quidditch-rooms, but no-one – not even their little servant Pettigrew – had come out to investigate her presence. Perhaps it was time to forego the subtleties.

She dropped the rosewood box onto the floor, watching it bring up clouds of dust, and cursed as loud as she could.

Well, Potter might be over-confident, but he was fast. He was standing in the doorway of the changing-rooms within a few seconds, leaning against the door-frame and looking smug.

Narcissa managed to stare at him. It was all she could do not to sigh.

"What are you up to, 'Cissy?" he asked, as Sirius, Lupin and Pettigrew poked their heads round the doorframe behind him.

Narcissa flinched at the annoying nick-name, but didn't rise to it. "I…" she stammered. "I was… I was looking for Sirius."

"Oh, yeah?" said Sirius, swaggering out of the changing rooms with fury in his eyes. He always got that look whenever he was confronted with reminders of his family. "What about? And what have you got there?" His eyes flicked down to the rosewood box which was lying, prone but fortunately not open, at her feet. "Wormtail, pick it up."

Wormtail, his face shining with eager or apprehensive sweat, did as he was told. He passed it to Sirius, and Sirius turned it over in his hands. Narcissa waited until he had almost undone the clasp, and then hissed: "Don't!"  

Sirius raised his eyebrows, and examined the front of the box in more detail.

"Hey, I know what this is!" he said, turning triumphantly to Potter. "This is in our family vault. It's got the crest of Ulysses Santacruz on the lid."

There was a shocked silence. Everyone, it seemed, had heard of Ulysses Santacruz, and his most treasured, never-possessed, possession.

Narcissa saw them taking in her position by Madam Hooch's locker. Thank heavens she wouldn't have to do any more guilty stammering.

"I reckon your cousin was trying to plant something nasty in Madam Hooch's locker, Padfoot," said Potter slowly. "Now why would a nice girl like her want to do a mean thing like that?"

Narcissa simply raised her eyebrows. Now, she judged, would probably be the right time to find her courage. "You can't prove anything," she said. "I was here with one of my family's possessions. It doesn't concern you, or any other blood-traitor who happens to be in your entourage."

Sirius – never very good at suppressing his emotions – was beside her in two bounds, pinning her wrists up against the locker. Potter and Lupin were shouting his name, but Sirius ignored them.

"You disgust me," he growled, pressing his face very close to hers. "You and everyone else in that in-bred asylum you call a home."

"The feeling is more than mutual," she replied calmly.

"Padfoot!" said Potter, louder this time. "Let her go. She's only a fifth-year! Regulus probably put her up to it."

There was another growl from Sirius, but he released her, muttering incoherent threats that culminated in the sentence: "Maybe, one day, you Slytherin scum will find you've bitten off more than you can chew."

"We don't bite," said Narcissa, massaging the circulation back into her wrists. "We're not animals."

There was a silence. Potter and Sirius were looking at her with shocked – and then amused – faces. Gradually, the silence turned into laughter. "Well, you're missing out," said Sirius, between snorts. He picked up the rosewood box and dusted it off. "We won't tell Madam Hooch you've been here if you let us keep this box, huh? How's that for a deal, Princess?"

Narcissa smoothed down the creases in her skirt and shrugged. "It's your funeral."

It was half an hour later, and they still hadn't opened the box. They were all aware of how restrained they were being, and three of them were adament that this entitled them to some kind of Dark-Snitch-based reward.  

James, Sirius, Lupin and Pettigrew were sitting in front of the fire-place in the Gryffindor common-room. The rosewood box containing the Dark Snitch had been placed reverentially on the carpet, where it was juddering from time to time, and making Pettigrew jump.

They clustered around and watched it. James and Sirius knew how to loll properly; they were both stretched out luxuriantly on the carpet. Pettigrew was standing up through sheer excitement, shifting his weight from foot to foot, but Lupin was sitting in an arm-chair, his back ramrod straight, his fingers tapping restlessly on the front cover of his library book. James could tell he was preparing to voice some kind of objection, or take some kind of stand, so he attempted to forestall it with his usual bright-eyed enthusiasm.

"My dad told me about Ulysses Santacruz when I got my first broomstick," he said, into the reverential silence which had descended around the rosewood box. "He said no-one these days knows what he looks like, because, in every photograph of him, he's whizzing around like a bluebottle. I can't believe we found his snitch!"

"People would be talking about it for ages," said Sirius thoughtfully. "There isn't a Quidditch team in the country who wouldn't sign you on the spot if you managed to catch the Dark Snitch."

"I think it's dangerous," said Lupin at last, keeping his eyes fixed on the front cover of his library book. "It's called the Dark Snitch, after all. Has it ever occurred to you that it could be dark magic?"  

Sirius rolled his eyes. "It's Quidditch, mate. Quidditch is beyond good and evil."

"You don't say that when the Slytherins cheat," said Lupin grimly. "What about the time Avery used that Severance Curse to split Boyd's broomstick in half down the middle, and the different pieces tried to go off in different directions, until he was doing the splits in mid-air fifty feet off the ground?"

James and Sirius shared a sheepish look. If Boyd had been a Slytherin, they would have found that particular stunt hilarious. Since he was a Gryffindor, it was, of course, an outrage.

Sirius was the first to speak. "Well, obviously, if you're a git, you can still get caught up in dark magic on the Quidditch pitch. But Prongs here isn't a git." He patted James on the shoulder, and then added diplomatically: "Not the regular kind, anyway."

"I don't think the Dark Snitch cares how good your intentions are," said Lupin. "The last time it was released, all the spectators had their memories wiped clear and were instantaneously transported to Paris."

"Free holiday!" Sirius protested, with a wave of his arm.

Lupin didn't respond. Automatically, all eyes swiveled in James's direction, as they usually did when there was an argument. Lupin and Pettigrew were too timid to be the final arbitrators, and Sirius – although no-one dared admit it – was too cruel. There would be no reconciliations if Sirius was in charge. The four Marauders would have stopped talking to each other long ago, if it hadn't been for James's diplomatic softness. So the final decisions were usually left to him. But it was immediately apparent that he wasn't going to be able to make this one impartially. He was staring at the rosewood box with longing in his eyes.

"Listen, Moony – no, listen," he added, as Lupin's face fell. "You don't understand what a find this is!"

"It's dangerous."

"That's what makes it fun!" James protested, laughing. "What's the matter," he went on, spreading his arms wide, "you think I'm not good enough to catch it? Is that it?"

Lupin made a face that was half-frowning and half-amused. "Of course I don't think - ,"

But James interrupted, bowled along by the momentum of his own enthusiasm. "You think I'd let anyone get hurt?"

"I know you wouldn't let - ,"

"Besides, full moon's weeks away, and you know we'll only get into trouble if we don't have some excitement to look forward to."

"Yeah, Moony," said Pettigrew, who felt safe joining in the argument, now that he knew no-one was going to back Lupin up.

"And who knows," said Sirius, slapping James heartily on the back, "maybe if you caught the Dark Snitch, it might even cause that ice-queen Evans to thaw out a little bit."

James coloured slightly, but said nothing. Sirius's voice was pretty loud to begin with, and it would only get louder if he argued. But nobody could have seemed further from an ice-queen to him.  Lily Evans was… well, she was like the opposite of Narcissa, with her tidy hair and china-white skin. Lily was all blushes and smiles and motion. She was all alive.

Granted, she had strange moods sometimes. She and James were not exactly friends, but he had spent a lot of time watching her, and you'd have to be blind not to notice them. She became strangely withdrawn and insular at certain moments, as though all the loud Gryffindor colours and loud Gryffindor opinions hurt her ears, and she was desperately casting her eyes around for something different.

But James wouldn't have liked her half so much if she'd been easy to figure out. Besides, for all her strangeness, there was something so familiar about her. She reminded him of his childhood somehow.   

The warm glow of her hair called to mind spices and red gold. In fact, her hair smelled of oranges and sweet spices: ginger, cinnamon and cloves – a scent that evoked both Christmas and warm, exotic lands - both comfort and excitement. Everything about her suggested adventure to James Potter – and adventure was irresistible to James Potter.

His father had been a curse-breaker for Gringotts, and had once taken James to South America. The place had made an impression on him. He'd seen crumbling temples, choked with vines, brightly coloured macaws, strange new constellations in the sky at night. His father had shown him the horrible magical booby-traps that the South American wizards put in place to secure their fortunes. He'd told him stories about the Desconfianza curse, which struck you down with a fever, and in this fever, you experienced despair (James hadn't known what despair was, so his father had had to explain it): "you can't imagine a future for yourself, and it hurts to remember all the things you love, because they torment you by their absence, and by the certain knowledge that they'll always be absent from you, forever." (James had given a small shudder to hear his father being so serious).

"The only way to counter this curse," George Potter had explained, "is to think about the good things, the things you love: just them: not how you'll see them again, nothing like that, because reason isn't on your side; reason belongs to the fever. Just picture them in your mind's eye, just cling to them, even while the fever is telling you they're gone, useless, tainted, unreachable. And don't let go of them. It's not hope you need, just stubbornness."

James had listened, wide-eyed. He had goose-bumps at the thought of his father being struck down by despair, being vulnerable. "What happened?" he breathed. "Did the curse lift?"

"After three or four days of struggle," George said grimly. "But I wouldn't let go of you or your mother. And, as she would tell you, stubbornness is not something I'm short on."

James had been struck by this. His father was strong and quick-witted and had never seemed to need anyone else. It was confusing to think that in a desperate situation he had been saved by the thought, just the thought, of James and his mother.

"You shouldn't be afraid of Dark Magic," George had said, "you should respect it; you should know what it can do; but fear is the principle under which these curses operate. That fever wanted me to feel alone, alienated, paralysed. Have you ever wondered why Dark Magic always involves grisly things like skulls, blood, shrunken heads, dead bodies? It's because these are the things that people fear. And fear is a powerful basis for magic. If you can govern your fear, I don't say you'll be immune to Dark Magic, but you'll be able to see it for what it is: you'll be able to see that it's vulnerable; that it, like everything else, has its weaknesses." At this point, George Potter had smiled slightly. "Mind, I don't say that confidence can't cloud your vision just as much as fear. But you'll learn, James, to govern one as well as the other. You're smarter than me, after all. Got your mother's logic."    

Some parts of this speech had made a stronger impression on James than others. He had wholeheartedly absorbed the notion that he was clever, that fear was not to be bothered with, that Dark Magic was disgusting, dishonourable trickery. But he had never been able to understand why confidence could make you just as vulnerable as fear. In fact, it would only be after he released Ulysses Santacruz's Dark Snitch that he would begin to understand that part of his father's speech.  

Lily Evans reminded him of South America, but he couldn't immediately understand why. It was something more than the glow of adventure she inspired. It was something to do with his father's story about the Desconfianza fever. He couldn't understand it, so he continued to think of her jewel-bright hair and exotic scent as the explanation for the connection. If there was more, he would work it out eventually; he always did.  

Four floors below, in a store-room off the main Potions-dungeon, Severus Snape kneeled by the unlit hearth, listening to the echoes of loathsome Gryffindor voices as they petered out. After eavesdropping on Potter and his cronies this way, he always felt badly in need of a bath.   

The castle, though built of solid granite, with walls that could be five inches thick in places, was much more porous than its students realized. Any building with that many fireplaces needed a lot of ventilation. The entire place was honey-combed with chimney shafts and ventilation grilles. If you had intelligence, patience, and a lot of time on your hands – and, needless to say, Severus Snape had all three – you could work out, for example, which fireplaces shared a chimney-shaft with the fireplace in the Gryffindor common-room. Severus didn't have a magic map that showed him every floor of the castle, but he was incredibly good at visualizing structures in his head, and listening out for the tell-tale harmonics of his enemies' voices.

Potter and his cronies always clustered round the fire, because those were the best seats. They probably sweated like pigs next to the roaring flames, but they would only sit in the best seats. It was a moronic matter of pride.

And they never bothered to lower their voices. After all, they were worshipped among their fellow Gryffindors. Who would dare to tell on them? Potter had won the House Cup for Gryffindor four years running.

Besides, their inveterate hatred for Slytherins had given them the converse impression that everyone the Sorting Hat placed in Gryffindor must be a 'decent bloke'. They were going to be ripped apart when they got out into the real world.

But Severus couldn't wait that long.   

He spent so much time eavesdropping on them that many people would have been surprised to learn that he could go on hating them as much as he did. But he did.

Every flash of thoughtfulness or consideration displayed by Potter towards his friends was just more proof of the bastard's hypocrisy. He would treat you with respect if you were a Gryffindor – if you were prepared to worship him, flatter him, and let him have his own way.

Or – and this was beginning to rattle him more and more – if you were a pretty girl.

Potter only ever received insults from Lily Evans, but he still fawned on her. His bragging still got louder whenever she approached, and trailed off into sheepish mumblings when she walked away with her nose in the air.

It would have been funny if it hadn't been Lily.

But Potter always got what he wanted. Everyone knew that. How long could Lily go on refusing a rich pure-blood who was adored by the whole bloody school?

Well, in a sense, that was the point of the Dark Snitch. Maybe the school wouldn't adore him so much if they knew how casually he was willing to put them all in danger. Or maybe – better still – he would get horribly disfigured, or driven out of what could charitably be called his wits through sheer terror.

If there was any justice, it would be both.

That had been the idea originally, but Severus had lost hold of the point somewhere along the way. He couldn't imagine any future after he'd taken his revenge on Potter. It was as though his entire life had been building up to this one do-or-die, all-resolving point, and whatever resulted from Potter's agony was just a footnote on the final page of history.

And you couldn't avert it any more than you could hold back a tidal wave with your hands. The spring was wound up tight. Potter had been twisting it for six years, with his idle hexes and casual insults. It was going to uncoil itself. That was a physical inevitability. Every action had an equal and opposite reaction.

In fact, it seemed so inevitable to Severus that he began to wonder why Dumbledore hadn't planned for this.

Perhaps he had. Perhaps there would be no vengeance tomorrow – just a grave, twinkly-eyed old man, tapping his fingers against the rosewood box which contained the Dark Snitch, looking disappointed.

And that was the worst part of it. Dumbledore had been prejudiced against him from the moment he'd stepped off the Hogwarts Express six years ago; he had looked on indulgently while Severus was shoved, tripped, hexed and generally battered by the Gryffindors; and yet somehow, whenever Severus broke the rules to get even, he still contrived to look disappointed.

No, that wasn't the worst part. The whole was much greater than the sum of its worst parts. It culminated in the moment when Severus walked out of Dumbledore's office, having received a punishment ten times more severe than the punishment James Potter received for the original act of malice that had incited all this, and he felt guilty, because Dumbledore was disappointed in him.

Severus was good at blaming other people for his misfortunes, but there was really nothing he could do to avoid hating himself in moments like that. He was just as stupid with Dumbledore as he was with Lily Evans. He knew they both hated him – he knew they preferred loud, brash, arrogant idiots – and yet somehow, incredibly, he still wanted them on his side.

What with all that, it was hard to see beyond tomorrow. It was painful to think of anything beyond the immediate present anyway. Severus's horizons had been narrowed by sheer hatred. Lily was lost to him forever. Both the future and the past were painful to contemplate. So, instead, he thought about Potter's pain. If there was to be no future, there could at least be satisfaction. It was the least the universe owed him.
OK, first thing I should say is that this isn't the next chapter of the main story! I know I've left that on a terrible cliff-hanger, so sorry in advance if this chapter is irrelevant and/or disappointing. The continuation to the story should be up soon, though. :fingerscrossed:

Since I've been editing the beginning of the story to put up on, I've realized that I'm going to need to write a few new chapters to tie up the loose threads I left hanging earlier in the story. The most obvious of these is Ulysses Santacruz's Dark Snitch (first introduced in Vengeance [link] )

So that's what this is - the first of the chapters in which I attempt to tie up the loose thread of the Dark Snitch. Chronologically, it comes after 'Knockturn Alley' and before 'Spilt Milk, Part One'.

(By the way, everything from 'Vengeance' to 'Knockturn Alley' has been drastically revised, and there is lots of new stuff, if you're interested.)

It was hard to think my way back into Severus's mind-set at the beginning of this story, but it has made me realize how far he's come, and how his experiences with Lily have really changed him for the better (The Sev in this chapter is extremely gloomy, I fear! ;))

The only thing in this chapter which isn't new is the scene between James Potter and his father in South America, which came from the chapter originally entitled 'The Wisher' (which is now called 'Meg and Guillotine' [link] , and has been drastically cut down).

Anyway, sorry for the long, rambling explanation. As ever, thank you for reading! :hug:
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FlameoftheWest7 Featured By Owner Mar 6, 2011
Narcissa's distaste for James' windblown, mussed up appearance is so funny!! I liked her interaction with Sirius. :)
ls269 Featured By Owner Mar 7, 2011
:rofl: I know, right? I was going to put in my artist's comments: 'Anyone who still doesn't understand why I love Narcissa, just read her critique of James Potter! She may be snooty, but at least she's not the sort of girl to be impressed by messy-haired Quidditch players!' ;)
WeAreSevenStudios Featured By Owner Feb 21, 2011  Professional Artisan Crafter
Cool! Your dedication to this story is inspiring.
Are you going to change the chapters you have on Deviant Art as well? Because, I have some sort of obsessive compulsion about hanging onto earlier versions of a revised work.
I think I will need to get myself over to and check this out. :D
ls269 Featured By Owner Feb 22, 2011
Hee hee, it's not really dedication, I just don't have very much going on in my life, and creative writing is always a comforting exercise! :blushes: I've been updating the chapters on DeviantArt too but, don't worry, I've saved all the original chapters on my computer. I like to hang onto earlier versions of work too!
WeAreSevenStudios Featured By Owner Feb 22, 2011  Professional Artisan Crafter
As long as they're not lost to oblivion, I can breathe easily. :)
loyanini Featured By Owner Feb 21, 2011
I'm so glad you're still updating! It always depresses me when a really amazing story doesn't get updated :3<333
ls269 Featured By Owner Feb 22, 2011
Thank you so much! :hug: Don't worry, I'll keep updating - I love writing about Sev and Lily! :heart: I've been going through some difficult times recently, so this story has really consoled me.
loyanini Featured By Owner Feb 22, 2011
Thats always good to hear! Yea, I've been kind of going through some things too and reading is a major catharsis for me, especially something like Sev and Lily my OTP<3 (My friend told me she ships Sirius and Sev @_@ and even James and Sev...I just can't envision it XD). It's nice to immerse yourself in drama to keep your mind of stuff ;3
By the way I forgot to ask, did Sev and Lily have a falling out? lol that may sound like a dumb question but this particular quote confused me ---> /Severus's horizons had been narrowed by sheer hatred. Lily was lost to him forever./
Did I miss a chapter or something DX?
ls269 Featured By Owner Feb 22, 2011
No, that's not a dumb question at all! This particular chapter actually takes place some time nearer the beginning of the story, so he's talking about their first falling out, when he called her a mudblood. You see, I've been editing the early chapters so that I can put them on, and I realized I had loads of loose ends to tie up in the beginning of the story, so I wrote this to kind of resolve some of them (I don't know if you've read the beginning of the story, but it's a total mess, because I didn't get myself a plot until about half-way through! ;))

Anyway, chronologically, this chapter comes after 'Knockturn Alley' (You can see a list of the chronological order of the chapters in my journal here: [link] )

Sev and Lily are my OTP too! :heart: They always cheer me up (I can never understand Severus/James either, but I've read some strangely compelling Severus/Sirius fics, believe it or not...)
esperanza111 Featured By Owner Feb 21, 2011
Oh, have you begun to submit to the Could you give a link?
ls269 Featured By Owner Feb 21, 2011
Of course! :hug: You can find my stories on here: [link]

(Only the first ten chapters of the main story, Sympathetic Magic, are up so far, but there should be more soon!)
esperanza111 Featured By Owner Feb 22, 2011
Great! At last I'll be able to download the entire text! :dance: So, you found the title for the main story? I remember you telling it was a series of short stories, connected with one storyline, but without a title.
The only problem is that I can't find the indication at ff-net if a story is finished or it's still a WIP... so - I know the 'SM' is in process, but what's about the second one? Is it complete or not?
shyfoxling Featured By Owner Feb 23, 2011
The only problem is that I can't find the indication at ff-net if a story is finished or it's still a WIP...

The stories which are finished say "Complete" in the area where it also shows pairing/characters, category, genre, etc. Of course it only says this if the author remembers to set the story status to Complete when they've uploaded the last chapter (stories are not-complete by default, when you upload a new one).
esperanza111 Featured By Owner Feb 23, 2011
I see... thanks a lot!
ls269 Featured By Owner Feb 22, 2011
Oh, yes, Northern Comfort is finished. It's just a little three-part story about Sev's screwed-up home life, poor dear! :(

It took me sooooo long to come up with a title for the main story! :phew: Eventually, I settled on the name of Lily's favourite library book on healing magic.

Thanks so much for your interest in my story! :hug: I really hope you'll enjoy it!
esperanza111 Featured By Owner Mar 11, 2011
Oh, I answered to this comment for sure, but it vanished somehow... :(
I've read the NC, yap, poor Sev. :( Though, if Malfoys would have been such great friends to Severus... I was about to write 'in reality' - in canon, I mean :) - it would have made his life more tolerable.
There was something original and lovely about the story being a series of minies, not a long novel with chapters... but it's good this way too, I guess. :) Is it something conceptual about this change, something about the story being more coherent instead of a chain of small stories, or that's just a "technical" change? By the way, could you add the each chapter name to it's text, not only to the 'chapter box' at the top right corner (at the This way: [link] . That's a very angsty maxi, recommended by Vizen, but never mind - I mean this way the chapter name is copied together with the chapter text, otherwise it's lost, for you can't copy a chapter name in the box, so you have to type it by hand every time! :P Ooops, I,ve always got some technical issues with you works... ))
ls269 Featured By Owner Mar 12, 2011
Oh, I see - I hadn't thought of that! Yes, of course I can put in the chapter titles, I hadn't realized they wouldn't be downloadable with the rest of the text.

The change from a series of mini stories to one long, inter-connected story was a necessary one. I mean, when I wrote those disconnected chapters, I always intended for them to be joined up at some point, when I had more time and inspiration. And, as the story went on and the plot gathered momentum, I found myself writing the chapters in chronological order anyway - so what I had was a fragmented beginning to the story, (which probably put off new readers!) and then a continuous story that seemed to come out of nowhere. I felt as though I had to re-connect it to its beginning. Besides, the story is so long - and the plot so complicated - that I thought I'd better not create extra difficulties for my poor readers! ;)
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