Author's Note: Part of the Severus Snape Fuh-Q Fest (response to: Scenario #32: Hogwarts holds some sort of quiz/comp/gameshow. How competitive is Snape, and who is his rival? What will he do to make sure he wins?; and Easy Pairing #23: Snape/Avery.) I have taken Certain Liberties with the canon timeline. Specifically, Rita Skeeter is now a year younger than Our Boys. I don't hear her complaining.
DISCLAIMER: I don't owns 'em. That's J.K. Rowling, don'chaknow. I just slips 'em out in the dead of night and makes 'em have little tea parties. Don't sue me. It'll all done in fun, I don't make a penny from my efforts (as the world at large seems so intent to remind me), and the most valuable thing I have is a kitten. If you sue me, she'll be sad. Do you hate kittens?
Part 9 - Dark Lords Have Strange Taste
The letter from his mother left no doubt in his mind that she didn't agree with his "choices", but he was still her Ajit. One from his father, obviously written at his mum's insistence, tried to apologise, but it was strained. There was no mention of welcome, or any sort of restitution or agreement. Severus crumpled it and wanded it to a black flower of ash.
The blank parchment next to him came to life. We really are so very much alike, then, aren't we?
"Yes," Severus said softly. He picked up the sheet and let it droop against his chest. The touch warmed him. In his mind, he could hear a low voice murmuring soothing words that, from anyone else, would seem trite and senseless.
Snape shifted against the headboard. It snagged his vest and pulled the loose knit around his back. His bare shoulders looked pale next to the dark green of his bedspread. That was understandable, really; he'd just lost his entire family thanks to his dear father's idiocy. Or his own, it could go either way.
There was a tug at his curtains and Severus yanked them back. Lucius stood there, a rucksack thrown over his shoulder. "Sure you don't want to sneak out?"
Severus nodded. "Yeah, thanks. Don't want to get kicked out of school, now, do I?"
"I suppose not." Lucius shifted the weight on his shoulders. He was the last to leave: Wilkes had bounced out before anyone else had finished packing, eager to visit his mum, a Gringotts curse breaker in Cairo; Rosier, too, left as soon as he could, babbling something about his cousin from Cardiff promising to take him to meet the Holyhead Harpies over holiday. Nagendra was someplace with Devi, and Avery had wandered to the common room an hour earlier with his beloved Arithmancy book. "I've got to get out of here. Don't be too hard on Emeric, okay?"
"Why would I do that? I've got Gryffindors to play with." Lucius chuckled. "Yeah. A big one and a little one at that. Too bad the rest of them aren't staying."
Severus managed a weak, painful smile. "Fuck off, Luc. I need to owl Mum."
Lucius blinked, but he nodded. They both knew perfectly well that Snape would never contact his family by his own choice. "See you next year." He leaned in and kissed Snape softly.
Severus returned it, glad for the comfort but wishing it were someone else. "Yeah, next year." He waited until the door clicked shut before closing his curtains again.
The parchment curled slightly as if to push itself away from Severus' body. He picked it up and read, It's not easy being king, is it?
Snape snorted. Nobody - nobody - but Tom had any right to say that. "I wish you were here, Tom."
So do I.
"What was it like to be alone over Christmas?"
The parchment paused for a moment. Lonely, the green script read. That faded, and a minute later was replaced with, But I survived, as will you. The King of Serpents sheds one skin, only to grow another.
"I hope you're right."
I am. Trust me.
"With my heart and soul." Severus smiled as the parchment wriggled happily in his hand.
Too great of praise for the likes of me.
"No. Nobody else has ever listened to me like you do." He stroked a corner of the page. "Sometimes..."
Snape blushed. "It's stupid."
Nothing you say could ever be stupid. People's reactions, maybe, but not your words.
A warm tingle flooded out from Severus' sternum. "Sometimes," he said, averting his eyes, "I think I love you."
The page went stiff. If Snape didn't know any better he'd have said it was stunned. The words that rose were very small and shaky and looked like they'd been written by someone humbled beyond his own comprehension. I love you, too, Severus Ajit.
Severus' heart stopped for a single beat before doubling to make up for lost time. His hands trembled. Before he really understood what he was doing he lifted the sheet and pressed his lips against it. Something on the other side felt like it was straining hopelessly to get through. Stroking the edge, he whispered, "Wherever you are, Tom Riddle, I'll find you."
Tom didn't say anything, only curled around Severus' hand, and settled flat and warm when Snape once again cradled him against his chest.
There were only three of them at the Slytherin table: Severus, Emeric, and an annoying sixth year named Rita Skeeter. Severus and Emeric looked at each other, forlorn, as she chattered on and on and on; Severus started to wonder if life in Azkaban might really be all that bad.
"... And, of course, that dreadful Narcissa insisted that she was prettier. Really, just because Lucius Malfoy - you two know Lucius, of course, he's in your year - always goes to Hogsmeade with her doesn't mean anything. I told her, of course. She still insists that she's going to marry him. You know what I said? I told her, 'Listen, Narcissa, just because he pretends to like you doesn't mean he really does. I've seen the way he and Snape hang around each other-' Of course, no offence intended! But, really, the two of you ought to know by now that when two men treat each other the way you two do rumours are bound to spread." She finished with a chuckle.
"If you don't shut up I'm going to hex you."
She blinked. A slimy smile crept over her face. "Is that an admission I hear?"
"No, it's a threat."
Skeeter sniffed. "Well. I only thought you ought to know what people are saying about you."
"Rita, everybody in the House has known about Severus and Lucius since fifth year," Emeric pointed his fork at her heavy-jawed face. "Including Narcissa. Last I heard it didn't stop her from letting Lucius ram his tongue down her throat every chance he gets."
Severus leaned on his elbow, crushing one side of his face and looking utterly bored. "Are we finished? My supper's going cold."
Rita sulked. "Still doesn't change the fact that I'm prettier than she is."
"No, Rita, you're not. Narcissa is a goddess, and you are a trout in a bad wig."
Skeeter dropped her fork. She pursed her mouth and patted her elaborately curled hair. "Exactly what I'd expect from a queer, Severus Snape!"
"Oh, please. Just because I - not to mention anyone with an ounce of self-respect - won't give you a pity shag doesn't mean I'm queer." The fact that he, at heart, was didn't change the fact that Rita Skeeter was going to find herself in his bed when Hell reported an ice age.
She growled and picked up her fork. "I'll get you for this, Snape," she muttered under her breath.
"I'm so scared." Severus rolled his eyes and scooped up a fork of jacket potato.
In reality, he was. Lately, he'd seen some slippage in his absolute power. His mind was as sharp as ever - sharper, even - but since the match with Gryffindor he'd felt like he was falling to the same level as the rest of the school. The fact that it coincided more or less with the onset of his odd paleness and a slight irritable edge to his personality wasn't lost on Severus. He'd have to ask Tom if he knew anything about it.
Just to avoid looking at Skeeter's slit-eyed grimace, he looked over the other tables. Four students sat at the Ravenclaw table, avidly discussing something he couldn't make out and didn't care about anyway. A lone Hufflepuff had leaned over and apparently been adopted into Ravenclaw for the holiday. And, far across the Hall at the Gryffindor table, two eerily similar figures chattered happily, oblivious to the fact that nobody cared enough to keep them company.
Before the pang of sympathy secured itself, Severus turned his attention back to his plate. He took a few more bites and pushed the plate away. "Want me to stay?" he asked Emeric.
Avery shook his head. "I'll be fine."
Severus cast a quick glance at Skeeter, who was more interested in ignoring them than in being annoying, and left.
The common room didn't sound like a terribly pleasant place to be. In fact, it sounded downright dull for some reason. Severus went to fetch his broom instead, and went outside to practise his defencive flying.
It was a clear evening, with the moon near first quarter. There wouldn't be a werewolf problem until after Christmas, and that fact buoyed him somewhat. A thick, white blanket gleamed in the pale light. On the pitch it was ruffled only by the rings of footprints from Slytherin practise. Snape hadn't felt the slightest qualm at making them run in the snow. He had, however, felt an odd tightness in his chest and a weakness in his legs.
A little regular exercise ought to clear that up. Finishing the cigarette he'd rolled on the walk over, he settled on the bleachers to stretch. A few minutes later he set out at a slow jog, steadily upping his speed. His legs felt like they'd been filled with daggers. Severus didn't stop, only dropped to a slower pace with a sense of puzzlement. Much to his chagrin, the pain spread into his chest again, and out to his shoulders and arms. It felt like pushing atrophied muscle harder than it was ever meant to be pushed. Between Quidditch, heavy books, and regular sex, Snape had no idea when they could have atrophied.
In the end, he gave up on running and set to the air. That would doubtlessly get rid of the pain. It occurred to him that, perhaps, it was only the cold affecting his muscles. Yes, that must be it, only the cold. Making sure his hat was secure, he stretched out along his broom's handle and set into a dive from above the goals to nearly the layer of snow. Just before he plowed into it, he pulled up and came to a hovering stop twenty feet up.
The cold air left him feeling pleasantly isolated from the world. Closing his eyes and letting himself slip into a mild trance, Severus gripped the broom and, carefully, lifted himself so his legs were straight up in the air. His arms were pleasantly stiff, his back effectively rigid. He'd not held the position for less than five minutes comfortably since he was fifteen.
This time, though, his shoulders immediately began to tremble. One elbow buckled and, with a squawk, he crumpled. Breathing hard, Severus righted himself from his tenuous, one-handed and one-kneed grip. He was more than a little shaky when he set down.
His first thought was to go see Madam Pomfrey. That would lead to tests, though, and being kept overnight, and the last thing he wanted was to be used as a guinea pig. Snape found himself on the bleachers, gripping his skull and vibrating in unfamiliar fear. The odd thought that, somehow, Tom's salve had done something struck him. He shook it off.
"What's wrong with you?"
Severus snapped his head up. "What the fuck are you doing here, Lucius?"
"Came to see you." Lucius delicately brushed snow off the bench next to Snape and sat down. "I was going to ask if you wanted to go meet someone, but from the look of things you'd do better to lay down."
"How'd you get here? Did you miss the train?"
Severus looked up. Lucius looked smug. Severus blinked. "Excuse me?"
"You don't have your license yet."
Malfoy snorted and waved a black-gloved hand. "Dad taught me before we went to America. S'the advantage to having a place where the Ministry can't detect what goes on." He smiled, his tilted eyes gleaming. A blush had risen on his face in the chill. "Need to get inside?"
Severus shook his head and stood up. "I'm tired, that's all. What's this about meeting someone?"
"How would you like to meet the Dark Lord?"
Snape frowned. "You're barking."
Lucius shook his head. His smile widened to a grin. "I'm perfectly serious, Sev. He's eager to meet you."
"Is that who you introduced Adam and Evan and Emeric to?"
Lucius nodded. He looked innocent, and angelically beautiful in the warm silver light. "Please?"
Severus folded his arms. "I don't think so, mate." He prodded Malfoy's left arm. "I'm not walking out with one of those things."
"He doesn't want to recruit you, he only wants to meet you. Honestly. I've told him all about you, and he seems to think you're... how did he put it? A 'like-minded individual'."
Snape scowled. A biting feeling in his gut told him that, no matter how the Dark Lord phrased something, he wasn't Tom. Just because they used the same phrase once didn't mean... well, anything. His curiosity had been piqued, though. "How am I supposed to get there? I can't Apparate."
"It's not that far, we can fly."
Severus thought for a minute. He looked at his broom. Despite his steady adamancy that he didn't need any sort of self-proclaimed "Dark Lord" to guide him, there was something enthralling in the idea that the man would want to meet him. "I have to be back soon."
"That's fine. I'm sure he'll understand."
Slowly, still a little uncertain, Severus mounted his Nimbus. Lucius slid on in front of him. He wriggled back so he was pressed firmly against Severus' chest and groin. Severus wrapped his arms around the smaller body and held tight, his chin resting on a cloaked shoulder. Lucius turned his head for a small kiss.
Snape got the distinct impression it was a loaded statement.
It was a modest cottage, well kempt, set in a small, rocky valley where one could avoid the world for decades. Jagged granite mountains shielded it on all sides. Lucius touched down just outside the white picket fence. It made a startling contrast to its stark surroundings, even with everything hidden in a soft blanket of snow. The windows shone with light, and smoke rising in the windless night gave evidence of a pleasant fire inside.
"Doesn't look like anyplace I'd expect to find a Dark Lord," Severus remarked dryly, eyeing a thick holly bush dappled with red berries like blood.
"He's not what you'd expect. A bit homey for my tastes, but a nice enough fellow." Something in Lucius' voice was strained, but he covered it well. With only the slightest hint of hesitation, he trotted to the gate and touched it with his wand. It opened. "Wouldn't want to try going over it, mind. You'd be lucky to escape with only your bollocks cut off."
Severus grimaced. "If I leave missing any parts, Lucius-"
"You won't. Just be friendly. You'll get on fine."
Keeping a sharp eye open for any sort of movement, Severus followed Lucius through the gate. As soon as he did, power tingled on his skin. It felt like warm water running over him, purposeful. A few tendrils tried to inspect his head; he shook them off. He could have sworn he heard a laugh.
Lucius paused before knocking. His head was down, his eyes wide. He took a deep, shaky breath and brought his hand down on the door too quickly, three times. He took a step back and, if Snape didn't know better, cowered.
The door opened. "Lucius! This is a pleasant surprise!"
"For me as well, My Lord." He spoke into his chest. There was no surprise involved. Very quickly, Lucius knelt, brushed the hem of the man's robe against his lips, and stood. "I've brought him."
The man turned to look at Severus. He had black hair, dry as straw, that fell past his hips and was pulled back at his shoulder blades with some sort of hoop. His smooth skin was chalk white, nose oddly squashed as if it had been broken and not properly set, and there was something strange about his rusty eyes. Severus realised with a start that his pupils were vertical slits, like a cat or a snake. The buckled green robe that shrouded him, though, was supple and comfortable-looking, and his thin-lipped smile was warm. "Severus Snape, I presume?"
"Indeed." Snape kept a bit of distance - if the man expected his robes to be kissed he was sorely mistaken. There was something calming in the soft tenor voice; at the same time, it held a low hiss. It had to be due to his nose. Snape glanced down to see what he was standing on to bring their eyes level. To his slight surprise, the man was every bit as tall as he.
The hand Severus was presented was long and spindly. "I am Lord Voldemort. You may call me Voldemort, if you wish."
Suspiciously, Severus shook his hand. He was able to make out the line of a clavicle through the heavy wool of the deep green robe. "A pleasure, sir."
Voldemort laughed. It was a thin sound, sibilant and sultry. "You're suspicious and you know it. Excellent trait, that, nice to see it's still in the House." He motioned to them. "Come inside, it's freezing."
Lucius murmured his thanks and stepped over the threshold. His head was bowed, his movements a bit stilted. A large radiator stood next to the door and he quickly lay his cloak on top of it. It was an oddly Muggle device to see in the home of the Dark Lord. "Lucius, take your friend's things."
"Yes, My Lord." Lucius bowed low until Voldemort swept out of the small entryway.
Peeling off his cloak, but keeping his hat, Severus leaned close and whispered, "If he's so nice, how come you're acting like he's going to Cruciatus you if you breathe funny?"
Lucius stiffened. "I'm not. Just because he's nice doesn't mean he doesn't deserve respect!" A fleck of foam flew from Lucius' mouth. As quickly as he could, he left Snape's cloak over the radiator, and knelt to untie their shoes.
"What the Hell are you doing, Luc?"
"You don't want to track snow all over the rug, do you?"
With a sigh, Severus reluctantly allowed Lucius to get his shoes off. They went beside the radiator, and a moment later Lucius' joined them. Severus reaffirmed his resolution not to become one of Voldemort's followers, if this was how they acted.
"Do hurry, Lucius. The tea's getting cold."
Lucius swallowed. "Coming now, My Lord." He grabbed Severus' arm and whispered squeakily, "Just be nice. Please."
"I'll be nice. I have manners, you know. More than you."
Lucius looked uncharacteristically grateful.
The inside of the cottage, like the outside, was tidy and quaint. The sitting room was painted dark green, with a soft braided rag rug on the oak floor. It was the same green as the walls, shot through with black and shades of silver. Cheery flames crackled away in the fireplace. A Slytherin crest hung over the mantle. Voldemort sat in one of three large armchairs around a small table, smiling gently at them. He motioned to the other seats. Severus scowled at the crocheted doily draped behind Voldemort's head.
"Sit down, please. If you would, Lucius?" Voldemort motioned to the array of cups and dishes set out on the green-linen-draped table.
Severus sat, never taking his eyes off his host. For a Dark Lord, he seemed fairly useless. Voldemort watched Lucius prepare tea, a hint of an amused smile still on his face. He sat straight, almost primly, hands on his thin knees. Severus felt a pang of disgust - this was what made the wizarding world quake in terror?
Lucius poured tea as quickly as his shaking hands would allow. Into the first cup he squeezed a bit of lemon and added a single sugar cube before handing it reverently to his master. Yes, that's exactly what Voldemort was, his master. Lucius, chief advisor to the King of Serpents, was a lapdog. Severus snorted.
Voldemort looked up inoffensively from his cup. "Yes?"
"How can you stand it?" Snape shook his head. "I thought you were a Slytherin, Lucius. Where's your spine?"
Lucius squeaked and nearly dropped the flowered teapot. Voldemort arched a slender black eyebrow.
"I'm sorry, My Lord. He's not normally so blunt." Lucius tipped milk into a second cup. It splashed out on the table. He whipped out his wand and cleaned it up.
"Bollocks." Severus grabbed the pot and poured his own cuppa. Sniffing it carefully, he took a tiny sip. For a moment he held it in his mouth, trying to decide if he tasted anything suspicious. No, it was simply very good Darjeeling. He took a larger sip and went on. "Anyone who acts like such a bloody lapdog deserves to be in Gryffindor. Or, worse, Hufflepuff. It's sickening."
Lucius leaned back in his own chair. He seemed to be slipping into a minor catatonic state. His teacup sat empty and forgotten.
"Very interesting theory, Mister Snape." Voldemort wore an expression that could, in an instant, turn to mirth or murder. "Could you elaborate?"
Snape glanced at the Slytherin crest over the hearth. It seemed to slide and slither in the flickering light. "For a thousand years, Slytherin has been pushed to the ground. We live in the dungeons, we're called snakes and monsters, and we're treated with all the respect of your average flobberworm, but we've thrived. If Gryffindor were put where we are the House would be gone in months. I don't care how brave that lot is, give them a real challenge, make them use their brains. You'd think anyone who dared call himself a Slytherin would remember how to use his spine." He took another mouthful of tea and stared coolly at his host.
For an instant the ambiguous expression hovered. Suddenly, it shifted and Voldemort laughed. "An excellent argument. Lucius, you should be ashamed of yourself."
"Yes, My Lord." Lucius lowered his head even more.
"Cringing whelp," Voldemort muttered. He picked up a delicate china plate and held it out to Severus. "Biscuit?"
Severus took on and set it on his saucer with a slight nod. He didn't eat it.
Voldemort seemed undeterred. He took one himself and dunked it in his tea. "Lucius tells me your specialty is Potions. Any favourite branches?"
"Given that the branches tend to be dependent upon each other, I've chosen not to focus on any one."
The Dark Lord smirked and took a bite of crumbling pastry. "Come, now," he said after he'd swallowed, "you can't tell me there's not a particular array that inflames your senses?"
Snape furrowed his brow slightly. No, this couldn't be Tom. Doilies, for god's sake? "How can you ignore a diamond to focus on one facet?"
The smirk widened. Voldemort dropped his eyes coyly. "It's been too long since I've heard anyone talk about potions that way. Not since... it must have been thirty years ago." He looked wistful, his serpentine eyes hooded.
"At Hogwarts?" Snape asked cautiously.
Voldemort nodded. "There was a student in my year named Tom. Tom Riddle. You remind me of him. He loved Potions, too. Very intelligent, very outspoken young man."
Severus blinked. He leaned forward slightly, teacup resting on his knee. "You knew Tom?"
The Dark Lord nodded again and sipped his tea. "Well enough. You've heard of him, I take it."
Severus nearly blurted out that he'd met the boy, adored the boy, spent every moment he could with the boy, but his brain stopped him before he could. "I've heard a few things. Do you know where I could find him? I'd like to talk to him."
Voldemort shot him an apologetic look. "I'm afraid Tom Riddle hasn't walked the Earth in quite some time. He vanished completely not long after leaving school."
"Ah." Severus had to set his teacup on the table to prevent it from falling off his knee. The inside of his chest felt like it had collapsed. Silently, he stood up. "I'm afraid I have to get back. I have things to take care of."
Voldemort stood as well, and motioned for Lucius to follow. He held out a hand. Severus shook it, trying not to act sullen. "I hope you'll come back soon, Severus. It's so rare to find someone... a like-minded individual." He smiled, a bit sadly. "If you'd like, perhaps I could tell you a little about Tom?"
Hesitantly, Snape said, "I think I'd like that, sir, thank you." There was still a great deal about Tom's background he didn't know: why his father abandoned him, why his mother died alone. If nothing else, at least he might be able to fill in some of the gaps.
"Tell Lucius when you'd like to stop by, he'll arrange it with me." Voldemort guided them to the door and even helped Severus on with his cloak. "Lucius, if you have a minute?"
Lucius went from white to deathly white. "Of course, My Lord."
"Good lad. I regret that I must ask you to wait outside, Severus. We won't be long."
Severus nodded and stepped out into the cold. From the stoop, he thought he heard Lucius nervously mutter a soundproofing charm. He frowned.
It was a couple of minutes later that the door opened and Lucius walked stiffly out. His eyes were bloodshot, and he looked ready to pass out. Voldemort smiled and said to Severus, "I hope you weren't too uncomfortable."
The Dark Lord smiled. "I'd ask you again to simply call me Voldemort, but it's a dreadful mouthful, isn't it?" He touched Severus' cold face. "So much like Tom." The warm smile came back, tainted with some distant longing. "Goodnight." The black door closed, leaving Severus and Lucius alone.
The half-hour flight back was silent. Snape held Lucius tight around the waist. Were he not so preoccupied with his privately shattering heart he probably would have asked what happened. Somehow, he suspected Lucius didn't want to talk about it.
Lucius staggered back into the woods with the tersest of farewells, and Severus dragged his broom back up to the dormitory. Emeric was in the common room, calmly reading, while Rita nattered on. Severus squinted - Emeric was wearing a pair of Zonko's Never-Get-Caught Earplugs. With a subvocal chuckle, Severus sneaked upstairs.
It was only going on nine. He dragged his clothes off anyway, left his Nimbus across his trunk, and tossed his hat on its customary bedpost. Tenderly, he pulled the blank parchment out of his drawer. "I found out what happened to you, Tom."
Yes? The page rippled excitedly. What?
"You're..." the word stuck in his throat. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
Tom said nothing, only curled slightly. Severus pressed the page to his bare chest and settled under the covers. He stayed like that, unable to find sleep, for a very long time.
Return to Archive | next | previous