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Narcissa took a bath. It was impossible to feel in control of the situation until she was clean, exfoliated, moisturized and powdered. Then she slipped on a dressing-gown and went to sit in front of the mirror on her dressing-table. Dawn-light was starting to filter in through the high, ivy-covered windows. It gave everything a greenish tinge.

She dabbed and dusted herself with make-up until every tell-tale sign of emotion was covered. And then, after hiding the trail, she constructed a false one. Blusher, to make her look as though she was open and artless; an opalescent foundation, to make her look as though she was in a state of radiant health. Because, if your emotions were painted on, you could control them. You could smooth them out, or wash them off.

It soothed her, all this dabbing with brushes; she felt as though she was bringing herself back to life, bringing herself to a state of perfection. It was an act of creation; or, at the very least, reformation.

Some people used self-help books, therapy, diets, and day-planners to turn their lives around; Narcissa used brushes, powders, perfumes, lacquers and oils. Change the way you looked, and the way you lived would follow. She could already feel an aura of power growing around her: the fumes from her trusty Hemlock and Vanilla perfume. She could already feel the gazes and gasps that her scent would draw from the rest of the students when she ventured out of the dormitory.

She stared at her radiant face in the mirror, and tried to think of a fitting way to punish that insolent mudblood.  

Nobody stole from the Black family. And that was exactly what this was – theft. Malfoy was hers. He was the only creature on earth who was worthy of her. He was handsome, rich, powerful and clever – not quite as clever as she was, but that was just as well. An unequal alliance of minds – where the balance was tipped in the woman’s favour – was an excellent thing in a marriage.     

And, over and above all that, he was… exciting. He lived on his wits, despite all that money, and all that respectability. He made her feel as though there was nothing he wouldn’t do for her.

And Snape’s mudblood had taken him away. It must have been her. Only a woman would be so spiteful, and only a Gryffindor would cross the Death Eaters. And how many female Gryffindors would deliver revenge lists to Severus Snape?

She needed to see Malfoy. The bitch had probably put him under the Imperius Curse, or slipped him a love potion. He hadn’t written that letter of his own free will, she knew that much. But that could wait. Retribution first – and then she would take back what was rightfully hers.

She would have to contend with Severus now, of course. Whatever they said about the red-haired mudblood breaking up with him, he would still protect her.

But Lily Evans didn’t want him to protect her, did she? She would push him away; she wouldn’t listen to his warnings. She had a streak of conceited independence that was going to be very useful.

So, what would hurt the mudblood? She could use poison, of course, but somehow that felt too simple… too impersonal. It would be handing over the most enjoyable parts of her revenge to a chemical mediator. Besides, Severus would be expecting it. He would be watching her.   

She wanted to hurt the mudblood the way the mudblood had hurt her. Take away her sources of pride, turn her loved ones against her.  

And it must have been the promptings of her noble blood that gave her the answer, because it fell upon her in an instant, like the stroke of an axe. She knew what she was going to do, even before she realized how she was going to do it. And, for a moment, she was too entranced by the big picture to look at the little details.

She would take away the mudblood’s magic – such pitiful magic as a mongrel like that could possibly have. Lily Evans had always been told that she didn’t belong at Hogwarts. She had always thought of it as her personal responsibility to change people’s minds about mudbloods – as though that was a possibility. But, if her magic was taken away, she would be just another muggle. She would be powerless. She would be forced to admit that she had no right to live in this world.  

Narcissa met her own eyes in the mirror and sighed contentedly. She had missed these moments of mirror-gazing. Designing wedding-dresses didn’t offer enough scope for her creativity. Her ancestors had been great hostesses and fashion-designers, but their real talents had resided in their ability to inflict pain. But judiciously – not all at once, the way Bella did it. Apply pain with the same lightness of touch with which you would apply blusher, so that your victims hardly know they’re being tortured at all. Control the ebb and flow of their pain, and you could control their every move.



Severus hurried along the corridor to the library, feeling as though anyone he made eye-contact with would have to drop down dead, because nobody could survive a blast of such concentrated rage without suffering some kind of fatal malfunction.

He’d passed a miserable night in the Slytherin common-room, waiting for the dawn – waiting until the corridors were bustling with students again, and the Gryffindors were out of their common-room. He’d tried – masochistically – to talk to Narcissa, but she was shut-up in her dormitory, staring at her reflection in the mirror. Her pale, painted face was practically the only source of light in the room. Its image burned into the retinas like a candle flame. And Narcissa was transfixed by it, like a sedated moth.   

Severus had tried to reason with her, but reasoning in whispers with a spoilt princess who could be stubborn enough even when she wasn’t hypnotized was a hopeless endeavour. He wasn’t supposed to be there, anyway. If one of the slumbering Slytherin girls called for Slughorn, he would be prevented from guarding Lily by a month’s-worth of detentions.   

And it was a mark of how tired and worried he’d become that he even tried reasoning with her. You had to bribe, blackmail or cajole pure-bloods into seeing your point of view. Reason wasn’t on their wavelength. They operated at a higher frequency. He had nothing Narcissa wanted anymore – not secrets, not influence, not information – and that meant he was invisible to her.  

So he scribbled a quick note to Lily in their journal, and told her he would wait for her in the library. They could still meet up to exchange information and warnings. But it wasn’t friendly. They met like secret informants, acting overly casual, and pretending they just happened to be sharing the same space as the result of an unlucky coincidence.

Severus secretly enjoyed these meetings. He liked to test the limits of her coldness. Lily couldn’t be aloof for any sustained period of time: if she didn’t lapse into smiles, she lapsed into moments of fuming, blushing, fizzling exasperation. And he loved seeing her like that: he loved the thought that he was making her heart beat faster.

Besides, when you were as besieged with bastards as Severus Snape, it was exhilarating to see other people losing patience from time to time.

When he got to the library, she was standing behind a book-case – her bright eyes and soft curves partially hidden behind the rows of books. Severus knew better than to walk around the book-case. She had taken up that station for a reason. She wanted him to keep his distance. And, much as he enjoyed making her lose patience, he had to pull back whenever he sensed her annoyance growing to dangerous levels, or she would stop agreeing to see him at all. He had to temper his excitement, for fear of never feeling excitement again.  

He scanned the visible parts of her hungrily. This was all the time he got to check that she was looking after herself – to satisfy himself that she was warm and well-fed and hadn’t been poisoned. It would have been strange for Narcissa to act so quickly, though. She was a slow, languorous thinker – but the thoughts she arrived at were just as black and twisted as her sister’s, however long she took to get there.

For the first time in days, it seemed, Severus breathed out. For this moment, everything was alright; nothing could hurt Lily, because he was with her. He couldn’t feel calm, exactly – not with her glaring at him from behind a bookcase – but calm was starting to seem more like a possibility, and less like a meaningless word.  

“What did you want to see me about?” she asked. Severus couldn’t see her mouth, but her eyes had dark circles underneath them. He wondered if she was still sleeping in the Hospital Wing.

“I’m going to see Bruiser tonight,” he said. “I wondered whether you wanted me to take him a message.”  

That couldn’t wait until after breakfast?”

Snape shrugged. “I know you’re busy these days.” His voice darkened. “All those pervy, Quidditch-playing morons, pretending to be ill, must be very taxing.”

She glared at him, but didn’t shout. He wondered whether that was because she knew he had a point. He wondered whether any of those slack-jawed bastards had tried to ask her out. But she started talking again before he could dwell on these horrible thoughts.

“Why are you going to see Bruiser?”

“He’s got me tutoring his daughter.”

Lily snorted with laughter. “How did he manage that?”

“He said I could use the library in the Valance House.”

There was a silence. He could feel Lily’s eyes on him, but he didn’t look at her.

“I can just imagine you as a teacher,” she said at last, and her voice was warmer now. Her mouth was hidden behind the rows of books, so he couldn’t tell whether she was smiling, but the lines around her eyes grew crinkly, as she imitated his sternest voice. “‘It’s about confidence, you idiots! Now get confident with this spell, or I’m coming back with the cane.’”   

This time, Severus moved into a better position to see her. She was grinning with girlish audacity. He wanted to be offended, but that look was so familiar from their childhood – so charged with happy memories – that he was sorely tempted to smile back.

“At least I’d teach them how to thrive under pressure,” he said stiffly.

“You’d teach some of them how to thrive under pressure,” she corrected. “And the other ones would simply learn how to dislike you.”

“That seems to be instinctive,” Snape replied acidly.  

“Oh, no, it’s not instinctive. It’s understandable, but it’s not instinctive.”

Severus raised his eyebrows. “Clearly, you have to get all this abuse out of your system. Is there anything else?”

She fixed him with one of her smouldering looks. It almost nailed him to the wall. Any anger he’d been tempted to feel a few moments ago was swept away by that look. It made his stomach lurch, and his palms sweat. It made him feel hot and stupid. It made him feel as though the problems of finding the Boggart-Lily and delivering her to the Dark Lord would be nothing compared with the challenge of getting out of this room without making a fool of himself.

One day, he thought, I won’t want her so much, and then we’ll be able to have a normal conversation. The idea of slipping into his Occlumency state before these meetings was quite an appealing one.

But it would make her mad. She could spot his Occlumency state. Apparently, it was all in the way he held his shoulders. On a normal day, they were hunched defensively but, in his Occlumency state, they dropped down. She said it looked like the tail-end of a shrug.

Snape had found this information completely terrifying. The idea that people could tell when he was using Occlumency – and not by magic, just by looking – had frightened him more than anything else Lily could possibly have said. Only the words: “So I’ve started dating Potter,” could have struck as much terror into his heart. But he had tried to suppress the panic. And, as soon as he could get away without making her suspicious, he’d gone back to the dormitory and practiced sinking into his Occlumency state in front of a mirror, until he could control the movement of his shoulders.

Still, he found it hard to summon his Occlumency state around her. Why would you want to be cold as ice and hard as rock when you were surrounded by smiles and softness? You would miss everything. So he enjoyed the smiles and softness and tried to forget that it cost him all his dignity.  

“I’ll let you know if I can think of any more abuse,” she said thoughtfully.  

Severus was surprised. He had offered her an opportunity to insult him. She was flushed with enthusiasm and irritable with tiredness – and yet she was holding back. Somebody who felt so strongly shouldn’t be able to hear the voice of reason over the rushing in their ears, but Lily could. And it struck him that he wasn’t the only one who was having to tip-toe through the conversation. He wasn’t the only one who had to pull back, for fear of bubbling over.  

And he wanted to tell her that she could say anything she wanted – but he knew there were things he’d never be able to forget, and never be able to excuse. He wanted her to be completely open with him, but he didn’t know what would happen then. What if she said she was ashamed of being seen with him? What if she said she was attracted to Potter? What if she said she really had been trying to kill herself, that night she had put on wet clothes and opened her windows to the cold? He was afraid of hearing her real thoughts. He always had been.  

He made himself look away. He grabbed the book-case to steady himself, trying to make it look as though he was simply interested in the section on Summoning Charms. When he looked back, she had selected a book from the shelf and was reading it. Her cheeks were glowing.

“Remember what Yeats said about education,” she murmured. “It is not the filling of the pail, but the lighting of the fire.”

Severus made a face. “A bad metaphor when you’re teaching an age-group so proverbially fond of playing with matches.”

Lily giggled, and then shook her head stoically. “There’s just no helping you.”

“That’s funny,” Snape replied. “I was about to say the same about you.”

He hesitated. The part of him that was always outside, watching – the part of him that just wouldn’t melt – cleared its throat officiously and declared that they had things to discuss, before this temporary truce was over. He had to warn her about Narcissa.

They’d almost built a bridge over the gulf that separated them, but now the waters were rushing in again. Snape shuddered involuntarily, as the weight of all their troubles dropped back onto his shoulders. He’d forgotten, for a moment, the litany of impossible things he had to do in order to survive long enough to get her back.  

“You need to watch out for Narcissa,” he said abruptly, feeling his stomach sink to the level of his knees.   

“Why?”

“She thinks you’re the reason Malfoy broke up with her.”

“Why?” Lily repeated, in a much frostier voice.

Snape sighed. “Because, when things go wrong, you blame a muggle-born. It’s standard pure-blood procedure.”

“That’s not the real reason, is it?”

Snape hesitated. “It’s half the real reason,” he said eventually. “Maybe as much as two-thirds.”

“She believes all those ‘soulless redhead’ stories, doesn’t she?”

“Not really. You’re muggle-born; she didn’t think you had a soul to begin with.”

Lily took this information in her stride. It was obviously not new. “Why would she think I’d want anything to do with Malfoy?” she asked with distaste.

“It might have something to do with his subscription to a magazine called Mud-Wrestling Mudbloods,” Snape suggested.  

Lily made a face. “That’s very disturbing, but it’s not an answer.”

Snape experimented with the phrase: your worst fear has taken on a life of its own, and she’s attacking people in your body, with your voice, your face, your magic, and your intellect. Fortunately, she also has your heart. That’s the only thing that might save me.

It didn’t sound like a very sensitive way to break the news.

“I know,” he said soothingly. “Listen, I can’t tell you everything I’d like to. The less you know, the safer you’ll be.”

“When has that ever been true of anything?”

Severus risked glancing up at her. She was being deliberately argumentative. That was a good sign. When she was in a bad mood with him, she just shook her head in disgust and left him to his own opinions. But, when she tried to reason with him, it meant she cared. Reasoning with him had never achieved anything before, but Lily’s optimism was dauntless. She wouldn’t give up on old friends – not if they gave her the tiniest bit of encouragement. Snape wasn’t sure he had given her the tiniest bit of encouragement, but perhaps she was making his case a special one.  

Their arguments were healthy – not to mention exciting. If one of them was won over to the other’s point of view, it would be a sad day for both of them. This continual struggle provided balance, and magic was all about balance. That was probably why their magic went haywire whenever they were alone together.  

“It’s true now,” he insisted. “Just trust me, OK?”

He could see her folding her arms behind the book-shelf. “Seems to me that you need to give trust in order to be worthy of it.”

“You couldn’t be more wrong,” he said flatly. “Tell a secret to someone who trusts no-one and you know it’s not going to go any further.”

A book fell off the shelf above him, narrowly missing his head, and causing Madam Pince to hiss warningly through her teeth. Severus – afraid that the librarian might bustle over and throw them out, thus putting an end to their truce – hastened to pick it up. When he straightened up again, Lily was blushing.

“Well, you don’t have to worry,” she said sulkily. “I’m always watching out for Narcissa.”

“She’ll probably try to poison you. I know the way she thinks.”

“Yes, I expect you do.”

Severus wasn’t sure what to make of that comment, so he ignored it. “You know how to test things for conventional poisons, right?”  

Lily rolled her eyes. “Since I was twelve!” she protested.

“Undetectable poisons are trickier - ,”

“Oh, shut up, Severus!”

Snape finally cottoned onto the fact that she didn’t want to talk about Narcissa. It made his stomach lurch with hope, and he hated himself for it. When he was around Lily, he was like an over-trusting dog. No matter how many times he got kicked, he always thought that this time, this time, there would be biscuits.

She didn’t need to be jealous in order to dislike Narcissa. She had plenty of other reasons.

And yet it was odd for her to dislike anyone. She had trained herself to hunt for the little flashes of courtesy and kindness that people were half-ashamed of, most of the time. She spotted traces of her loved ones in complete strangers. He’d often wondered what it must be like to be her. To stand on a crowded train-platform and see, not a mob of drones, but an endless succession of individuals. To see the crowd bristle with Hagrid’s beetle-black eyes, or Meg’s bouncing walk, or the look of bemused nausea you got when you were in love. For everything you saw in strangers to be familiar and beloved – as though every shoving commuter was a cherished old friend.  

She was just born like that – born with the kind of brain that fell into step with the rhythms of somebody else’s heart. To Severus, who saw everyone else as a greedy, hostile, shoving threat – and who had only survived by learning to shove even harder – the way Lily saw the world was, at worst, terrifying – at best, miraculous. She had been shoved her fair share too, after all.

Last summer, in Diagon Alley, she had tried to point out the redeeming features of the students swarming all over the cobble-stones. They had sat under the multi-coloured sun-shades outside Florean Fortescue’s ice-cream parlour. Lily had moved very close to him, and whispered facts about the students hurrying past them. There was always something going on, she said. Tenderness could be as clandestine and sheepish as crime.

They had that in common, at least. They were both observers of the human race – always outside, watching. It was just that she was charmed by the performance, while he was sickened by it.

“That’s Beatrice Reagan,” she said. “She’s in my Arithmancy class. She breeds Thestrals. Worked the whole summer so that she could turn her double-garage into a paddock for them – you know, with spacial distortion charms.”

Snape raised his eyebrows. “Breeding Thestrals is kind of a morbid occupation, isn’t it?”

“Not according to her,” Lily replied eagerly. “She says they’re really very gentle creatures. They get a bad reputation, just because they’re associated with death, and they’ve been hunted to the brink of extinction in most parts of the world. They’re half-starved in the wild now. She says they’re not supposed to look that skeletal.”

“Who did she see die?”

“I never asked.”

“You never asked?”  

Lily shrugged, and took another sip of her lemonade. “It didn’t come up.”

He stared at her incredulously. “You’ve got an unforgivable lack of curiosity at times, you know that?”

“Only about certain things,” she said cheerfully.  

Snape’s eyes followed Beatrice Reagan along the street. “She’s muggle-born, isn’t she?”   

You could always spot the ones who had grown up in the muggle world. They weren’t used to walking on cobble-stones. They wore open-toed sandals or stiletto heels, and spent the whole day wincing and staggering.

“For all she knows,” Lily said. “She grew up in a muggle orphanage. Her adopted parents are muggles. Apparently, they’re very supportive about her hobbies.”

Snape raised his eyebrows. “They probably think she’s breeding a paddock full of invisible friends in their garage.”

Lily nudged him sharply, and then pointed out a girl with bronze curls and shiny, apple-red cheeks. She was well-built – over thirty per cent bosom – and looked like some kind of Valkyrie.

“Claudia Kitson,” she whispered. “A Hufflepuff fourth year. She’s really creative. Works in her father’s bakery. She’s always creating new pies and pastries.”

“I can tell. Does she eat her mistakes?”

Lily ignored him. “She names them after things that have happened in her life, or inspirational stories she’s read, or news events. She made a maple syrup cake in honour of the Montreal Olympics. And she always smells of freshly-baked bread.”

“She’s probably got a yeast infection.”

Lily choked on her lemonade. “Sev!”

He couldn’t help smiling at her outrage, but he pulled the corners of his mouth downwards as soon as it was possible.  

She needed him to say these things. If he didn’t voice them, she might start to think them. But he took her cynicism further than it would ever go on its own – so far that she was able to laugh at it. It was a kind of exorcism. She laughed it away. And, as usual, she would never know she needed him for that, and he could never tell her. If he drew her attention to what a fragile thing her innocence was, it would probably shatter from pure self-consciousness.

Lily tried to persist with the frowning, but it was hopeless. Her pout twisted inexorably into a smile and from there she collapsed into a fit of giggles. When she had recovered, she didn’t bring the frown back.

One Christmas in Spinner’s End, she had put on mood hair dye. This was a popular teenage potion – now banned at Hogwarts, because it was impossible to hide the fact that you hadn’t done your homework, or that you fancied your teacher. At any rate, Lily’s hair had instantly turned a pure, joyous gold, and Severus had determined – because he was a Slytherin, after all – to test it. He would say something mean but accurate about her sister, or Meg Valance, or Madam Pomfrey, and watch Lily’s hair darken. Blue-blackness poured down each strand, spreading from scalp to tip – infusing like ink that had been poured into water. And it would stay there for a few seconds, before shivers of gold ran across it again. He could see the darkness waver and then break. The bright, shimmering gold just couldn’t be kept under. Severus had the feeling that mood hair-dye wouldn’t alter his appearance in the slightest.

And it was the same with her face. You could smooth a frown off Lily’s brow in a second. It was as easy as flicking away a fly.   

“Why can’t you just be nice?” she asked helplessly.

He shrugged. “Because you’ve got that covered. I’m just trying to provide balance. Magic is all about balance.”

“But why does it have to be you?” she demanded. “The world’s full of people who are prepared to be mean and critical!”

Severus frowned. “I guess, when I’m with you, it seems like that isn’t the case.”

That got her to shut up – mostly because she was trying to work out whether it was an insult or a compliment. And precedent wasn’t really in his favour – he didn’t often compliment her. There were criticisms that she had learned to interpret as compliments, like “you’re too trusting”, and compliments that she would always interpret as criticisms, like “most muggle-borns would struggle with a spell that complicated”. It generally helped if they avoided relevant topics altogether.  



Jen Morgan was waiting for Snape in the Slytherin common-room. In all the commotion over Narcissa’s broken engagement, the Black sisters had forgotten that Jen was next on the attacker’s revenge list. Their desire to protect her had evaporated. Bella was now catching up on lost sleep, and Narcissa was planning to hunt the attacker on her own, presumably with the aid of a lot of lipstick, because she hadn’t budged from her make-up table since she’d first heard the news.   

Only Snape seemed to remember that she existed, and Jen still wasn’t sure she was happy about this. He had insisted she come with him to the Valance House tonight – and, while she was glad she wasn’t on her own, she still didn’t think she could handle an uninterrupted evening with him.   

He was creeping her out. It was those eyes. They were so dark - like hollow sockets. You thought they were bottomless until you smacked headlong into them. And they noticed everything: undone buttons, scuffed shoes, split infinitives. They pounced on every movement she made, as though she was a small, scurrying animal.  

Sometimes, she would be sure he was reading, or sleeping, or talking to someone else, only to see those dark eyes snap back to her whenever she moved. They would close on her like a trap. And then she would be afraid to move again, so she would sit quite still, willing herself to turn invisible, until he at least appeared to forget about her again. He was worse than triple-strength paralyzing potion!

Bella was frightening, but at least you could see the danger coming. She loomed and sneered and stomped, like a whole parade of Death Eaters. And, even though she probably combined all the dangers of a whole parade of Death Eaters, at least she gave you time to run. Snape melted into the shadows and watched you, just watched you, for hours on end. He was eerily patient. And you usually didn’t know what he wanted until after he’d got it.

He stepped through the portrait hole, and he looked different – almost flushed. He seemed to be forcing the corners of his mouth down, and pursing his lips, as though he was fighting a smile.  

“Let’s go, Jen Morgan,” he said coolly, giving her a look of distaste and sweeping straight out of the portrait hole again.    

“It’s Jen,” she hissed, hurrying to catch up. “Or ‘Jenny’, or ‘Jennifer’, or ‘Miss Morgan’, or even plain old ‘Morgan’. Stop calling me ‘Jen Morgan’, like you’re reading my name off that list! It’s creepy!”

Snape raised his eyebrows. “But you’ve always wanted to be a name on a list, haven’t you? – provided it was a list of rich pure-bloods. You’re part of this club now. You got your wish. Your muggle relatives are time-tabled for extermination. You’re not going to back out now, just because of a tiny little death threat? I assumed you knew what being a Death Eater would entail.”

“As long as it doesn’t entail me being constantly referred to as ‘Jen Morgan’,” she said, through gritted teeth. “I’m fine with it.”

Snape gave her one of his bright – and entirely humourless – smiles. “As you wish. Do you have a preference? Jennifer?”

“My preference would be to get out of your sight before I throw up,” she snapped.

“What a coincidence,” said Snape solemnly. “But we can’t always get what we want, can we, Jen Morgan? Now let’s go.”

“And that’s another thing,” Jen hissed, as they made their way out of the double-doors and into the grounds. “I don’t want to go to a muggle’s house. Muggles aren’t even a part of our species, as far as I’m concerned.”

“You know,” said Snape, without even glancing at her, “I don’t want to get too technical about this, but most scientists agree that, if you can have children with someone, then they’re a member of your species. You of all people should know that half-blood babies are not delivered by storks.”

Jen Morgan sighed. “I said: as far as I’m concerned.”

Snape shrugged. “Then maybe you should be concerned a little further, because, if you think wizards can’t breed with muggles, you’re going to get some nasty surprises later on. A snooty attitude is no substitute for a good contraceptive potion.”

“I don’t believe in contraceptive potions,” Jen sneered. “I think that’s interfering with nature.”

Severus gave her a patient smile. “I think someone who cares that much about nature should know the technical definition of a species.”

“How does the Dark Lord feel about your muggle fetish?” she snapped.

Snape blinked. “Am I going to have to explain the definition of a fetish too?”

“Well, you’re always defending them,” she insisted, blushing. “And you went out with a mudblood.”

There was silence. When Snape’s voice returned, it was distinctly chilly.

“First of all, I am aware that muggles are a part of our species. Not everyone would call that synonymous with defending them, but let’s say, for the moment, that it is. The Dark Lord still trusts me with important missions. He still asks me to recruit new Death Eaters. Perhaps we can assume from this that the Dark Lord values intelligence more than blind hatred. It doesn’t do any good to ignore the facts, Jen Morgan – no matter how much you’re snarling when you’re doing it.”

He took a deep breath. “Secondly, the mudblood was useful. She was close to Dumbledore. She had links to the Order of the Phoenix. She had information about other mudbloods who’d been evading the Dark Lord’s capture for years. Don’t think that you can serve him better by sneering than by using your head, Jen Morgan. This isn’t a champagne social-club. Death Eaters have to get their hands dirty.”  

They had reached the gates to the school grounds. Snape was standing with the sun at his back, which made it difficult to look at him without wincing – even more difficult than usual. His sallow face – creased with resentful lines and overhung with liquorice-black hair – was in shadow.  

And, as he stood there, casting a sour glance up at the castle, he looked… impressive. She had always seen him as an angry teenager before – admittedly, one that she wouldn’t want to cross – but it was only now beginning to dawn on her that he was a powerful dark wizard in training. And it was crucial that he was trained to be on her side.

“Now hold onto my arm,” he said calmly. “We’ll use Side-Along Apparition, since you haven’t passed your test yet.”

There was a hint of scorn in the way he said that, but Jen thought it best not to react. She took his arm meekly, and shut her eyes against the familiar, squeezing sensation of Apparition.  

They emerged in a country lane that passed by an impressive set of wrought-iron gates. Behind them, a gravel drive stretched up and out of sight. The Valance House wasn’t even visible.

“Why can’t we Apparate straight to the door?” asked Jen Morgan.

“You can’t Apparate within the grounds,” he told her. “There are Charms in place.”

“I thought you said he was a muggle.”

Severus sighed. “This is the Valance House. It’s nine hundred years old. It’s been besieged in five different goblin rebellions. Parts of it have been blown up by every dark wizard of note since the days of Salazar Slytherin. It’s not going to stop being magical just because the current owner is a muggle.”

“You’re a walking history lesson, aren’t you?” she muttered resentfully.

“It’s better than being a walking remedial science class, Jen Morgan.”

The gates swung open for them, and they began to walk up the gravel drive. It was overhung by horse chestnut trees, which were visibly losing their leaves with every gust of wind.  

Severus began to feel his apprehension melt away. Despite the fact that he was bringing the Boggart’s next victim into the house of someone he knew to be the Boggart’s ally, he felt suddenly as though he was in control of the situation. He could control Bruiser. Bruiser was no problem. Despite the occasional forays into smuggling, hired-killing and werewolf-fighting, Bruiser was essentially a decent person. He wasn’t mad, like the Boggart.

It was just a shame Jen Morgan wasn’t more pleasant company. Now that he looked at her closely, he noticed she was walking in an odd, jerky fashion, like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. It was as though she had tensed every muscle, and she was only moving onwards by wrenching and grinding them into motion. As though her joints had rusted. Even her fingers were held poker-straight at her side.  

And then there was her mouth. She had quite large front teeth, so it made sense that her lips would be parted when they were relaxed. But they weren’t – they were always clamped shut over her teeth, unless she was speaking. And, even when she was speaking, she didn’t open her mouth very wide.

He wondered what it was she was trying to suppress. Maybe she’d been trying to suppress it for so long that she’d forgotten what it was. She only knew that bad things would happen if she relaxed.

Well, Severus knew that feeling.

“Why do you want your father killed?” he asked. “All he did was leave. I wish my father had left.”

“It’s complicated,” she said shortly.

“Did you ever meet him?”

“Once.”

And that was all he was going to get. Jen Morgan clearly didn’t like to share. Most of the Death Eaters babbled their reasons for hating the world. They couldn’t shut up about their grudges. Even Voldemort had been known to mutter about his ‘filthy, muggle father’. But Jen Morgan clearly didn’t want sympathy: she just wanted to get things done. If it wasn’t combined with such a lot of stupidity, it would have been a charming quality.

And he knew how it happened. It was hard to let go of the past, if you were wired a certain way. Most of the Death Eaters had trouble forgetting past humiliations – so they took it out on people who couldn’t fight back.

Severus knew there was a thin line separating him from the rest of them. The Death Eaters with festering grudges against the world – the ones who muttered to themselves, and shrieked things like: “They said I was mad!” – they were probably the ones he most closely resembled. It wasn’t exactly a heartening thought, but it helped him to keep patience with Jen Morgan. He knew how fast a downtrodden schoolgirl could turn into a cackling villain.  

And, when you couldn’t forget, it was difficult to make other people understand what it felt like. It was like being hand-cuffed to a dead body. It was like being thrown into a lake with weights tied to your feet.

You couldn’t un-see what you’d seen. What you had drawn up into your brain through your eyes – your willing, traitorous eyes – was going to suck parasitically at your attention, until you had none to spare for anything else. Until you were staring at the inside of your eyeballs, pretending it was the world.

You wanted to go back in time and scream at your past self to shut his eyes. You weren’t safe anywhere. You’d swallowed a razor, and now you had nothing to do but wait, while it slowly shredded your insides. You couldn’t outrun it. Sleep was no escape, because you dreamed about it. Drugs, alcohol and potions were all too unreliable. They might let you forget for a while, but when you remembered, the truth would come crashing down on you like a grand piano, shattering every bone.  

He remembered looking at his mother’s school photograph, back in Spinner’s End, and thinking: that girl has never been pushed, punched or kicked in her life. Look how plump her cheeks are! She’s never spent days nursing an unconscious husband or nights wondering whether he would ever come home. She doesn’t even know what whisky smells like – she’s certainly never had to clean it off the carpet. She’s never had to do the washing-up with a nose-bleed, and watch scarlet drops melt into the soapy water. She hasn’t spent years gnawing on her under-lip as she nursed a resentment she would never put into words.     

The first time Severus had ever seen Potter looking at Lily, with that slack-jawed, punch-drunk expression he always got when he was perving at her, he had known that his life was never going to be the same again. He had thought to himself: that moment just now, before you turned your eyes this way – that was the last moment of peace you will ever know.

He had learned strategies, of course. Nobody with a memory as sharp as Snape’s could have survived this long without developing strategies for self-preservation. He only needed something to focus on, like the bands of street-light that had filtered through the blinds on his bedroom-window in Spinner’s End – and nothing could hurt him.

It was a solution, but a pretty desperate one. He could become invulnerable – completely invulnerable – and not just to name-calling and snide remarks –to cuts and bruises, burns and abrasions, slaps, scratches, slashes, and the Cruciatus Curse.

And it was beguiling, that state. But he didn’t know what it would do. Like any other medicine, it had side-effects. He was afraid it would hurt Lily, or… force her…

Anyway, it was not an option, not yet. He could go on bleeding for a few more months. He would know when he couldn’t stand it anymore. He’d known the last time, after all.
Continuing from Smouldering [link]
Another very long one, sorry about that. I got carried away! This chapter contains my two favourite things: an aimless, meandering Sev/Lily conversation, and a scene where Snape gets to be mean and sarcastic to somebody not quite as clever as he is! Such things are impossible to edit! ;)
Hope you enjoy, and thank you for reading. :)
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:iconwearesevenstudios:
WeAreSevenStudios Featured By Owner May 25, 2010  Professional Artisan Crafter
Severus had the feeling that mood hair-dye wouldn’t alter his appearance in the slightest.
Aww.... :giggle:
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:iconvictory-gin:
Victory-Gin Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2009  Hobbyist Photographer
Ahh, I love this. Please, don't worry about the length! The longer, the better!

I really loved that scene with Lily and Sev. It's always so nice to see the two of them together bantering back and forth. Lily's opinion on Severus as a teacher is a great read too. I've always thought that Severus would be a wizardly scholar or something of the sort. If anyone were to be a teacher, Lily would be the one. She has that uncanny ability to see hope where others (like myself) would not. The idea that he would remain a teacher at Hogwarts for the prime purpose of protecting Harry Potter, is a miserable one indeed.
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2009
Thank you, I'm so glad you're enjoying the story (and that you don't mind me rambling on! ;)) :hug: I love writing Sev/Lily conversations so much that I tend to get carried away! Yes, I can see Lily being a really good teacher. My interpretation of her character is based on several people I know in real life, and one of them is a teacher, who always manages to see the hope and potential in people. Sev, clever as he is, probably shouldn't have tried it, because stupidity gets on his nerves, and he seems to see it everywhere! The fact that he stuck with the job out of love for Lily is a miserable one, as you say, but it shows just how brave and determined he can be! :heart:
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:iconmelorik:
Melorik Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2009
Ahoy from Israel!

Imagine my surprise when Iog on and find this wonderfully entertaining chapter :D. I don't think I was exaggerating when I said that Sev is about to get caught in the middle of the biggest catfight in modern wizarding history.

Here's the thing though.. if Narcissa actually succeeds in taking away Lily's magic, I wonder just what Sev's reaction will be. We've seen him get rather angry... but righteous fury? Snape lashing out at Narcissa?. I wonder just what sort of 'encouragement' Sev could give Narcissa to stay away from Lily?

I'm also rather amused my Sev's behavior towards Jen Morgan. Mostly because it looks to me like he's subtly discouraging her from being a DE. He's just cloaking his advice behind a veil of biting insults.

Now you've got me impatient to see how this plays out ;).

Great work as always,

Sam
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2009
Thank you, I'm so glad you found the chapter entertaining! :hug: You made me laugh with this bit:

I wonder just what sort of 'encouragement' Sev could give Narcissa to stay away from Lily?

It had me thinking about Sev bribing Narcissa with kisses, which I'd never considered before! :giggle: She was quite interested in him at one point, after all!

I think Lily may have to deal with this threat on her own, though - Sev's got enough on his plate as it is, what with finding the Boggart-Lily and having to cure Madam Pomfrey.

I like writing Sev's response to Jen Morgan because I think, in a weird way, he sort of sympathizes with her. They're both half-bloods who've been mistreated by their muggle fathers, and they're both ambitious Slytherins. And it's probably easier for him to see eye-to-eye with people who've had to struggle in life, rather than the rich and confident Lucius, Regulus, Bella and Narcissa!

And, yes, I think he is discouraging her from being a Death Eater. I think he gets annoyed by people who see Death Eaterdom as just a glamorous way to rebel - but he also gets annoyed by people who only see half the picture: who think muggle-borns are just incompetent, and muggles are sub-human scum. I have this image of Sev as the only sane person in a completely mad world. The wizard world turned out to be just as blinkered and unfair as the muggle one, and he doesn't understand why people just can't see what's right in front of their eyes! Of course, it's this constant exasperation that makes me love him so much as a character, so I can't sympathize too much! ;)
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:iconmelorik:
Melorik Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2009
Heh,

All around me are familiar faces, Worn out places, Worn out faces....

Brownie points if you know that song. I think it pretty much expresses your Sev perfectly when he's around the DE's.

Well... if Lily has to handle Narcissa on her own, maybe we'll get to see more of Lily in action. Always a good thing :D

lol about Sev's exassperation.

Sev: "Dr. Bruiser, how does one cure stupidity?"
Bruiser: "Simple Charlie Brown. Take your subject's head in your hands, and then proceed to drive it into a hard surface repeatedly. Now go practice"
Sev: "Yes Professor!"

:D :D

Cheers,

Sam
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2009
:rofl: What a great image! I love your Sev/Bruiser interactions, you should totally write fan-fiction! Is the song Mad World, from Donnie Darko? I love that movie, and that song! You're right, it sums up Sev's attitude perfectly! :)
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:iconmelorik:
Melorik Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2009
Yup, it's Mad World.

*Hands you a Brownie baked by Melorik the Mad ;) *

I think Bruiser and Sev just bring it out of me. Writing fanfiction with those two would be quite fun.... as I'm sure you know ;).

Cheers,

Sam
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:iconflameofthewest7:
FlameoftheWest7 Featured By Owner Aug 29, 2009
Me too! I'm delighted to see my Cissa again, and I'm so curious to learn how she will take her revenge! The prospects are truly terrifying, so it's a good thing the real Lily is on her guard!

It is interesting to hear what you enjoy writing about the most. This chapter contains one of my favorite things as well--a nice lengthy passage where Severus ruminates about his hard-earned strategies for survival. ;)
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2009
Thank you! :hug: I'm glad you like the parts about Sev's strategies for survival. I'm not sure they're ideal strategies, but they have their own twisted kind of logic. More Narcissa coming soon! (although just how soon depends entirely on my ability to get off my ass and do some writing! ;))
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:iconnorthangel27:
northangel27 Featured By Owner Aug 29, 2009  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks for a new chapter. I enjoyed it immensely!
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2009
Thank you, my dear. :hug: I'm so glad you're enjoying the story! :)
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:iconnorthangel27:
northangel27 Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2009  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I'm always excited when I see a new chapter post.
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2009
:dance: I'm always so happy when people are excited by new chapters! This one was so long, I imagined the spirits of my kind readers sinking in a major way! ;)
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:iconnorthangel27:
northangel27 Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2009  Hobbyist Digital Artist
:D, no there was some Snape/Lily in there. That will make me patient with almost anything ;-).
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:iconls269:
ls269 Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2009
:giggle: Sev/Lily interactions have exactly the same effect on me!
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:iconnorthangel27:
northangel27 Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2009  Hobbyist Digital Artist
:w00t:!
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