The Last Battlefield
Chapter 19 - Snakes
"Are you going to move or not?"
Severus glanced up with a growl. Black lifted his eyebrows and waited in expectant silence. Scanning the board, Severus finally picked up his queen and slid it across two spaces. Two moves later, she was smashed to splinters by an overly ambitious pawn.
"You mangy cur! How dare you?"
"Lighten up, Severus. It's only a game." Black dusted a few last traces of the queen from the board. Off to the side, the rest of Severus' captured pieces kowtowed as they fumbled to put her back together. "You'll get the hang of it."
Severus pursed his mouth into a pale, thin line. "I have got the hang of it, Black," he hissed. "You took something, didn't you? You couldn't play to save your life when you were against Harry!"
"I was going easy on him. Wouldn't have done him any good to be trounced. It's your move."
"I know that! I do know how to play!"
"Allegedly." Black grinned, his nose wrinkling. "Who taught you how to play anyway?"
"My grandmother. She was fifth in the country in her day."
"Oh." Black looked less than impressed. "My dad was second, 'sixty-nine to 'seventy-four. Still in the top twenty."
"I thought you said he had something to do with brooms."
"Yep. But in his spare time, he does this." Black's knight charged across the board and left yet another of Severus' pawns a mangled heap. Biting back a grin, he asked, "Did I ever tell you I played competitively for three years after we left school? Was in the top ten, on my way to the top five, for a while."
Severus glowered at him. He turned it to his pieces. "Kill."
They looked up at him, expressions of stunned impotence on their tiny faces.
"I didn't mean the other pieces." He leaned on his elbow with a sigh, kicking one foot beneath the dining room table. "What on Earth are you still doing here? At least Molly and Arthur had the decency to leave after two weeks."
"Only because the twins asked if they could have a party at the Burrow since it wasn't being used."
"Do you seriously believe anybody would have noticed? The place could tip over, and nobody would be able to tell the difference!"
Black shrugged. "Wouldn't know. Never been there."
"Give it time."
A smirk twisted half the mongrel's mouth. He shoved his hair out of his face, actually managing to keep it more or less where he stuck it, and tapped one of his knights on the head. It moved without question into a spot that Severus realised was about to put him in check. "Actually, Molly invited the four of us to stay Christmas Eve," he said, still smirking. "Remus was the fourth one, by the way."
Severus stiffened. He lifted his eyes, fixing them with Black's. "I suppose you're looking forward to Christmas," he hissed.
"Of course I am. I love--that's not what I meant." His smirk vanished, replaced with a glassy stare. "For god's sake, Severus, you of all people ought to know--"
"I know that you threatened to send my husband--"
"--My husband to a padded cell no matter the consequences to him. Believe me, Black, I find no need for that despicable day to arrive any sooner than it has to."
"So you agree with me that if he were going to get better on his own he'd have done it by now?"
"On the contrary, I've seen marked improvement." Or had until I bollocksed everything up.
Severus arched an eyebrow. "You aren't with him every waking minute, are you?"
"Neither are you."
"Am more than you are. Much more." Severus lowered his head until he glared up at Black from beneath his brows. His mouth sealed itself in a thin, puckered line.
Black lifted one eyebrow in puzzlement. "What are you--oh." The other rose to join it in surprise, then fell a moment later. "Not fucking likely."
"You haven't had another heart attack, for one."
"We were careful."
"He'll still barely shake hands with anyone that I've seen."
"Then I suppose it's a very good thing neither of us is an exhibitionist! Otherwise, you'd be in for a viewing!"
Slowly, Black shook his head. "Don't believe a word of it."
"I see my word still isn't good enough for you."
"It's not that." Black motioned to his face. "You've still got this hungry look in your eyes, especially whenever Harry's in the same room. I've... noticed it in the last few months, since about the time we moved into the house. It's like you're starving at a banquet."
"Less starved than you." Severus rose to his feet, taking a moment longer than he would have liked to steady himself. Nobody followed as he marched towards the stairs.
"Master Severus?" a tiny voice squeaked.
"What?" he growled without looking down.
Something fluttered just below his elbow. "Sir, Dobby is... Dobby is finding this," the elf finished in a whisper.
Severus glanced down. Dobby was staring at the floor, holding out an envelope in one hand. Time ran brown across the face of it, and a single word was written in Perditus' meticulous block print: Severus.
"Sir, please do not be angry with Dobby. Dobby is only trying to--"
"Where did you find that?"
"In Master Perditus' study, sir. I is sneaking in to look yesterday when you is in there. I is only trying to--"
Severus snatched the envelope from Dobby's hand. It collapsed in his grip. "You deceitful little... I want you out of this house and back to Hogwarts before sundown."
"Sir, Dobby is only..."
"You. Do not. Go in there." Severus turned on his heel. "Tell Minerva I want a proper house-elf this time. One who listens to orders!"
There was a quavering whimper, followed by a moment of silence. "Dobby is only trying to show Master Severus that Master Perditus is not as horrible as you is thinking. Dobby is not reading it, sir, but Dobby is not finding anything else. Dobby is going."
"I should hope so." Severus waited, head bowed and breathing calm by force, as Dobby's tiny feet shuffled away. Still crushing the letter in his fist, he took the stairs as quickly as he could. It wasn't nearly quickly enough. Just short of the top landing, he paused.
Eversor had taken refuge in their parents' frame. He hid behind Arian, dwarfing her, just shorter than their father. When he saw Severus, he beamed. Severus snarled, then turned to face his father.
"What sort of monster were you?" he hissed. "You weren't content with trying to destroy my life once?"
Perditus arched an eyebrow. Even if he could have spoken, the tension of his mouth said he wouldn't have.
Severus lifted his chin. "I beat you. I lived. And I've got Harry and my friends, and I've done what Gran would have wanted me to do, and there's nothing you can do to take that away, now, is there?"
Much to his annoyance - and perhaps a pang of something he didn't want to name - Perditus only looked bored. Eversor put a hand on his father's shoulder; when it wasn't shaken off, Severus stormed away. He kicked Eversor's bedroom door as hard as he could on the way. Much to his satisfaction, a pale dent appeared in the dark wood.
He stuffed the envelope into the drawer of his bedside table. Slamming it, he leaned against the table, hands folded and forehead resting on them. It seemed to take a long time to get air into his lungs. "You son of a bastard," he growled. "Why did you have to be born in the first place?"
Silence. After growing up with the monster, he hadn't expected anything else.
Severus was still kneeling there by the table when the door creaked open. "Sev?" came Harry's soft, somewhat urgent voice.
"I know. Could see you breathing. Are... are you hurting?"
"No more than usual."
"All right. Um." Another envelope rustled in his ear, just on the edge of his peripheral vision. "Just got an owl from Arthur. He, um, wants us to come there, right now. Says Zabini's mother was found dead this morning and, uh, he wants to talk to you."
"Yeah. Want me... We've still got Errol, and I think he might have one trip left in him. Want me to write back and say we can't come?"
Severus held up his hand for the letter. "At least let me read it first."
The parchment nudged his palm. Snatching it away, Severus plucked the folded sheet from its envelope and scowled down at the page. His eyes throbbed as he fought to take in the words without his glasses.
This morning, Frances Zabini's body was found. (I doubt you ever met her, but she was Blaise Zabini's mother.) It looks like she was murdered. Blaise is understandably upset, and he keeps insisting that he wants to talk to Severus because he doesn't think anyone else will listen to him. We've been trying to help, but he'll barely say a word to us.
Molly and I are at our wits' end - I'm afraid the poor boy's going to do something drastic. Is there any way at all you can convince Severus to come to the Burrow? You, too, of course. Blaise is terrified that what happened to his mother is going to happen to him next. I know he looks up to Severus and still thinks of him as his Head of House. I'm a bit worried that if he doesn't see Severus, he'll try and find your house again, and there's no telling how Severus will react to that.
If you can't come, well, we'll think of something. I know Severus isn't keen on Aurors in the slightest, and I can't blame him. This is sort of an unusual situation, though. I wouldn't ask if it weren't. If you can convince him at all, we'd appreciate it.
Please don't breathe a word of this to anyone but the three of you.
Severus chewed his lip, brow furrowed in thought. "I hadn't realised Frances was still alive."
"Was she a Death Eater, too?"
Severus shook his head. "She was... frail. I knew her in passing. It wouldn't have taken much to kill her."
"Arkady was never entirely convinced she was as weak as she was, I think. I didn't know Blaise growing up, but I remember his father complaining that Frances was taking too long in hospital when he was born. Not entirely sure what happened, there."
"Does Zabini--Blaise have any brothers or sisters?"
"None that he ever mentioned." With a sigh, Severus hauled himself to his feet. "Right then. Get your cloak. I'd appreciate it if you could fetch mine as well."
"You mean we're going?" Harry's lip curled in what looked like shock.
"Potter, the boy's mother has just died. He's specifically requested me as counsel. Do you really think I'm going to abandon my own student like that?"
"Would you rather send him to Emily? I'm fairly certain this shall require more than tea and firewhisky."
Harry shifted from foot to foot. "I don't know. Sounds a bit fishy to me. I mean, he's already friends with Mister and Mrs. Weasley. Why can't they get it sorted?"
Severus stiffened. He wheeled on Harry, glaring down his nose. "So what you are trying to tell me is that a boy little older than you, who has just lost his second parent in less than a year, is to be denied the one thing he asks?"
"You're the one who hates Aurors."
"In this case, I shall simply have to look beyond the uniform, shan't I?"
Harry gave him a very odd look, almost as though he were looking at somebody he didn't know. "Are you feeling all right?"
"I'm fine. Did it never occur to you, Mister Potter, that the most outcast House in the whole of Hogwarts might put some effort into taking care of its own?"
"Then I suggest you learn otherwise and do it quickly." Severus stormed out of the room. He was halfway down the stairs before he had to put his hands on his knees and rest, panting. From the corner of his eye he caught Curtus watching him with something between curiosity and disgust. Severus tried to ignore the reality of the Slytherin situation, very much contrary to what he'd just told Harry.
"Every man for himself, indeed," he muttered under his breath.
Rubber soles squeaked on the stair behind him. "Do I need to carry you?"
Severus shuddered. "No, thank you, Potter. I'm perfectly capable of walking down a flight of stairs."
"Don't look it."
"Well, I am." Gulping down a great lungful of air that felt far smaller than it had to be, Severus pulled himself erect and took the stairs one slow step at a time. Harry hovered behind him the whole way, wrapped in his cloak and carrying Severus'.
"Can you Apparate?"
"Of course I can Apparate."
"Sure it won't be too much--?"
"Only, you're not doing too well, and I know you couldn't--"
"Only while under the acute effects of a neurotoxin, Mister Potter."
"Yeah." Pause. "Um, how're you doing on your potion, by the way?"
Severus pursed his mouth perhaps a beat too long. "Well enough."
"You've got maybe five doses left." Harry swallowed hard. "I just don't... I don't want to have to watch you..."
"I've got my equipment. I'll work in the kitchen if I have to."
"Are you sure? I mean, we could always see if Ginny--or even Mister Jigger or Madam Slug--"
Harry broke off at the sudden stare Severus gave him. "Yes, Potter," Severus murmured, "and perhaps we ought to give whichever one is aiding my destruction a guaranteed chance."
"Was only a suggestion."
"And a very poor one at that." Severus barged into the dining room only to find Black poring over the Prophet. "We shall be visiting the Weasleys. I trust you shan't try to burn the house down before we return?"
"Do my best." Black pulled the paper closer to his eyes, squinting. "Anything I ought to know about?"
"Yes, I'm selling Harry to them as slave labour. He's barely larger than a house-elf, thought I'd take advantage of the fact."
"Good luck," Black said, still squinting. "If it doesn't work out, maybe he can get a little bit for you. Not as if you weigh much more than a house-elf."
"I resent that."
"If you took off your robes, Snape, we could use your chest for a xylophone."
"Why, Black, are you propositioning me?"
There was a pause, and then a hideous shiver coursed through Black's body. "I think that's the most disgusting thing anyone's ever said to me."
"I could do better."
The gagging noise that received was most heartwarming. "Snape, get the Hell out of here before I have to choke myself to death."
"And miss the entertainment?"
"Sev..." Harry touched his elbow. "Behave."
"I'll spank you."
More for Black's benefit than anyone else's, Severus glanced back and fluttered his eyes. "Should I call you Daddy?"
Black's, "For god's sake, don't do that to me!" was still echoing in Severus' ears as Harry dragged him off by the neck of his robes.
"Act your age for once," Harry hissed through his teeth.
"I'm merely showing your godfather the same level of maturity he shows me."
"I think not."
"What's he done that's so childish?" Harry shook out Severus' cloak and threw it around his maritus' shoulders, securing the clasp and tugging at the neck until it fell properly.
"Perhaps you ought to ask him yourself. It does concern you."
Harry frowned up at him. "What are you talking about?"
"Just as I said, ask him yourself."
Harry shook his head, rolling his eyes. "Git. Zabini really must be messed up if he wants you to be his reasonable adult."
"Are you quite finished?"
"Only for now." Harry's hand clamped down over his wrist. "I'll steer."
"I'm perfectly capable--"
"Yeah. I know. On three. One, two, three."
They reappeared in front of the rickety, shambling Burrow. Severus gazed up at it, arching an eyebrow. It looked like it had slumped even further since he'd last seen it; while it was probably his imagination, it didn't precisely fill him with confidence about stepping inside. A chicken came running and pecked at the hem of his robe. He kicked it. "Shoo!"
"Tell those little monsters to keep their bloodthirsty little beaks away from me!"
Harry rubbed his eyes. "You faced down the Dark Lord, but you're scared of chickens."
"They're bloodthirsty monsters disguised as feathered fluff! At least with Voldemort it was obvious where you stood!"
"You need some serious help, Sev." Harry frowned. He looked around, brow furrowing. "Um, you go inside, all right? I'll, um, be there in a minute."
Harry shook his head. "You'll see." He set off in the direction of what looked like a tin-walled shed with an air of blind concentration.
Severus frowned after him. He grasped the back door's knob, though. Another chicken scurried out to peck at his feet. He started to kick at the foul, feathered beasts. The door flew open, and Molly dragged him inside.
"It's been all we could do to keep him from falling apart," she said in a hurried, hushed voice. There was a kitten in her pocket, mewing in pitiful indignity. "The poor dear's at the end of his tether. I don't see how he's made it as an Auror. No wonder he wasn't put into the field, poor thing."
Severus found himself being dragged towards the sitting room. Molly muttered on and on, only about half of it discernible. Tangled curls stuck out here and there around her head, making it look like she was wearing a red halo. "Arthur's with him now, but neither of us can get a word out of him."
Indeed, Arthur was perched on the sofa. He looked as though he'd been blasted with Ministry summons from all sides. His eyes darted up; they found Severus, and a look of vehement relief washed over him. Severus arched an eyebrow. Blaise was nowhere to be seen.
Arthur reached over to the flowered armchair and patted something. "Severus is here. Do you want me to leave the two of you alone?"
"Hn?" Blaise sat up so his dark, curly head came into view. He looked around. Shadows filled the tense lines that had appeared on his face. Something desperate flickered behind his eyes. "Yes. Please."
Arthur patted him once more and got to his feet. He shuffled towards Severus, who didn't move. In a voice Severus could barely hear, he whispered, "I'm sorry about this."
"Hmm." Severus swept into the room. Settling himself on the couch, he glanced at Blaise.
Blaise was staring at the hearth across from him, hunched forward with his elbows on his knees. He wore not an Auror's uniform but a broken-in blue denim robe much like the one Harry had appeared back at Hogwarts in just after the previous Christmas. Threads hung from the cuffs and hem, and a dark patch sat on each knee. He picked at one with absent fingers.
Before Severus could say anything, Blaise mumbled, "Sorry, Professor. Didn't know where else to go."
"God," Blaise breathed. He gripped his hair. "She was all I had left. All I ever had, really. She'd just moved in April. Was starting a new life in the north. Had a lovely little cottage near Pendle Hill. Only, I..." He swallowed, staring at nothing. "Did Arthur tell you I found her?"
"No, he hadn't."
A bitter smile twitched on the corner of Blaise's mouth. "I went to see her before work, just to make sure she was doing all right. I check on her whenever I can. Only, when I got there this morning..." He huddled in the chair. "Some type of hex. Bonebreaker. Might have been a Boneshatterer. I've never been very good at telling the difference, not really important in an office. God. Fucking postal system." The bitter smile turned brittle. "Do they just not care?"
"I don't know," Severus said softly. He folded his hands in his lap, trying not to dig his nails too hard into the backs of his hands.
Blaise made a noise. "I'm sorry. I should have remembered. You've had trouble with that, too, haven't you? I'm sorry." He started to get up. "I'd better go."
"No. It's all right."
Blaise lowered himself back into the chair. "You're sure?"
Mumbling something that sounded like thanks, Blaise dug the heels of his hands into his eyes. "It's... The world's gone mad, hasn't it? You, my mum, god knows who's next. It's all his fault."
"You know whose."
Severus arched an eyebrow. "Quite."
"You know," Blaise said with a quaver in his voice, "I could understand... whatever this is... if it were only going after them. But, then, it starts hurting people like Mum. All she ever did was marry one of the sons of bitches. And you. You were never really one of them." He glanced up, his strained eyes begging for confirmation.
Severus shook his head, his eyes falling half-closed. "No, I wasn't," he lied in a soft voice.
Blaise slumped in his chair. "Thank you," he whispered. "After my father... God. He was a monster. He tried to make me... He even... Have a look." Blaise pushed back his left sleeve and held out his arm.
In the middle of the smooth, olive skin below the crease of his elbow lay a familiar scar: pale, shiny pink, no more than a couple of years old. Severus stared. He reached forward with trembling fingers and brushed the edges. A thick ball of horror welled in his throat. "What happened?"
"My father." Blaise sneered. "The day I left school, he told me there was still work to be done. He...he took the tip of his wand and he... I don't even know. But it hurt more than anything. It... sort of lingered. Burned its way in. Wasn't any magic in it except to make the scar, but... god." Blaise shivered. "Next day I went to the Ministry and..." He snorted. "I nearly ran when I saw what the juniors' uniforms looked like. All they need is Dad's mask."
"How did you explain your arm?"
"Veritaserum. Dad had done a runner by the time they got to the house. Turned up again at Hogwarts."
"Ah." Severus leaned on his elbows, his hands folded and pressed against his mouth. "That sounds like the Arkady I knew."
"I never understood why Mum wanted anything to do with him in the first place."
"Perhaps she didn't know any better?"
Blaise scowled at him. "What are you talking about?"
"Your mother was... ill, was she not?"
"Yeah." Blaise licked his lips with a dry, sticky sound. "Was born that way. Mediwizards never quite managed to sort out what was wrong. Bit moot now, I suppose."
"I... remember your father saying that she was never as sick as she claimed. Rubbish, from what I saw of her." Severus swallowed; Blaise's dark eyes came to rest on him in silent expectation. "It's perfectly feasible that she'd been treated that way all her life, and she gravitated to him out of familiarity."
"Maybe." Sniffling, Blaise rubbed his nose on his sleeve. "Wish she'd never gone north. I wish she'd never heard of Lancashire!"
Severus drew back. "Lancashire?"
Blaise nodded. "Ironic, what? Arthur told me you'd got a hexed letter from somebody there. Same person, d'you reckon?"
"Probably wasn't anybody who lived there, even," Blaise said. His mouth creased and his brow puckered in pain. "Probably only using it as a base of operations."
"That sounds reasonable." Severus settled deeper into the couch, taking deliberate, steady breaths.
"Professor?" Blaise asked.
"Can I ask you something?"
"What was your mother like?"
For a moment, Severus peered at him with a little frown. Blaise only stared at the table in front of him where a half-full cup of tea sat. (Most of its contents seemed to have spilled out into the saucer beneath it.) Severus took a breath. "I don't remember. She died when I was very young. The only real memories I've got of her are of when she was dying. She went a bit mad in the end, didn't know me all the time. Thought I was... someone else."
"How did she die?"
"Cancer. She developed a cerebral magiblastoma."
Severus shrugged. "Nothing to do with you. You've no need to apologise for it."
"Sorry. Um, so your father raised you then?"
"My grandmother mainly. After she died, I lived with my cousin."
"Oh." Blaise ran a hand through his hair. His fingers tangled in the thick, dark curls, clutching and being clutched in return. "He's the one who made you...?"
"More or less."
"Did he hurt you?"
Severus pursed his mouth. "Not at first. For the most part, he was very kind. We had been very close since I was a boy."
"Doesn't sound like Draco was very much like him."
"They were more similar than you'd think, but, no, Draco primarily took after his mother much of the time."
"What was she like?"
Licking his lips, Severus paused. "Mad. Very dangerous. Sometimes very sweet. You couldn't trust her once you'd got to know her."
"Oh. Sounds like you're glad they're gone."
For a long minute, they sat in silence. Blaise's hand fell from his hair and went back to clutching at his knee. Finally, he murmured, "I'm sort of glad Mum's gone, too. She's not sick anymore."
"This is true."
"But I wish my father were still alive."
Severus frowned at him. "Explain this?"
"So I could kill him myself." Blaise's eyes were far, far too cold in his young face, ringed with shadows and etched with the first hints of strained lines.
Severus released a slow breath. "I assure you, killing out of vengeance is never as satisfying as one expects it to be."
"How would you know?"
"I'd rather keep that to myself."
"Oh." Glancing up, Blaise shifted in his seat. "Professor?"
"Why couldn't you have been my father?"
"Because I'd have rather been savaged by a den of lions than get close enough to Arkady to impregnate him."
A weak smile tugged at the corner of Blaise's mouth. "Right. I can't blame you. Past age eight, I wouldn't even give him a hug." He scratched his neck. "You've always been...?"
"Have you ever... with a woman? I'm only curious, I don't mean to pry."
"One. At the time, I thought it was expected of me."
"To have children?"
Severus caught his sneer before it could form. "No. Not precisely."
"Oh." Blaise rubbed his nose on the back of his sleeve. "Sekhmet - my fiancée, she's from Algeria - wants to have lots and lots of them. I just don't know. I mean, I know how to be a good mother, Mum showed me that, but after my dad... I just don't know what I'm supposed to do. God." He tipped his head back, sniffling hard into his sleeve, his eyelashes damp. "It all goes back to You-Know-Who. We're going to be suffering for generations even now he's dead."
Severus said nothing. After a moment, Blaise coughed into his hand and carried on.
"I'm not even allowed into the field because of what my father was. I'm never going to get full Auror status. I might as well be one of the lackeys down in Magical Law Enforcement. I was lucky to be made a correspondent with the Department of Mysteries."
He shivered. "It's not fair. I've never been loyal to Him. I saw what my father was like when I was growing up, and I decided I wasn't going to be anything he was, and then I went to Hogwarts, and he was so proud I was put into Slytherin. All I could do for days was wish I had begged that fucking hat to put me anywhere else. Mum kept telling me it wasn't so bad, Slytherin didn't automatically mean evil and horrible and that I should be proud I'd made my father happy. I nearly ran away my first night. D'you remember?"
"Yes," Severus murmured. "I caught you dragging your trunk out of the common room."
"And you took five points and told me to go back to bed or else you'd have to take me to meet Filch. I hated you for that, you know."
"You deserved it."
"I know. I didn't think you'd remember."
"I forget very little, especially small, terrified boys running away from school in their pyjamas."
Blaise smirked, a small, painful twitch of lips. "My father would have let me go. He'd have said I wasn't worthy of the House if he'd found out."
"You were eleven years old and justifiably upset."
Blaise made a noise, then lapsed into silence once more. A muscle in his cheek twitched every second or so. "Professor?" he asked very quietly.
"Would you be too upset with me if I told you I thought of you as my real father?"
Severus blinked. He opened his mouth with a dry sound, but it was a long moment before any sound escaped. "No, I wouldn't be upset at all. I don't understand why--"
"Because you punished me for what I did wrong, and you listened to me whenever I needed it. Dad wouldn't have come here. I... If I hadn't had you, I don't know what would have happened to me, but I know I wouldn't have a respectable uniform or Sekhmet or... or anything I've got now. I don't even know if I'd have myself."
His fingers were digging into his knees, trembling with the effort as their joints went white. Suddenly, a dark spot appeared in his lap, then another, then another. Blaise's voice cracked, "And now I haven't even got Mum, and she was so proud..." He trailed off, biting his lip and squeezing his eyes shut as heavy tears dripped from his jaw.
Severus rubbed the boy's shaking shoulder - Blaise really was only a boy in a way Harry had never been allowed. He wasn't entirely sure which of them initiated it, but in a matter of moments Blaise had traversed the distance from chair to sofa, and Severus found himself with his arms full. Blaise huddled in his lap, his face digging into Severus' shoulder.
Severus rested his cheek in Blaise's hair. "Shh," he murmured as though it were Ruby. His fingers sought out the dark curls and stroked them. "Nothing's going to hurt you here."
They neither spoke nor moved until Severus' robe had long since been plastered to his skin with tears. A flicker of movement caught the corner of his eye, and he turned his head just enough to see Harry standing in the doorway, watching. Their eyes met; Harry's flashed with something that might have been longing. Cradled in his arms was a dark, sluggish adder, its scaled body swelling and thinning as it warmed itself against his chest.
"I'm in the kitchen," Harry mouthed. Severus gave him a slow, acknowledging blink, and Harry backed out of the doorway, still watching the pair of them with a desire that had nothing to do with sex.
One of Blaise's hands had tangled itself into the collar of Severus' robe. The other was balled into a fist, pulled close between his chest and his folded knees. Slow, raspy breathing broke what would have been silence. Suddenly, he let go. "I've got something for you."
"Don't tell me it can wait. It's important, and I don't want to forget it." Fishing in his pocket, he soon came up with a small vial. He pressed it into Severus' hand. "The Committee for Experimental Potions is doing evaluations on this. Don't mention to anyone you've got it? Had to have a mate of mine nick one after I got a glimpse at the paperwork. Don't reckon anyone'll know any better if the forms say four vials instead of five."
Severus' breath caught in his chest. He opened his fingers to see a crystal cylinder filled with a familiar cyan-coloured liquid. Here and there, faint flashes of rainbows cracked the light as a faint tremor in his hand agitated the potion. A small label on the side read, "Snape's Serum, unit #5, E.P. 84791-D - HIGHLY VOLATILE, DO NOT HANDLE."
"Bloody Hell, Blaise," he whispered, squinting and reading a third time just to make sure he wasn't seeing things. "Where did you get this?"
"Told you, a mate of mine nicked it for me. Figured what with the shape you're in you need it more than they do. Saint Mungo's mixed it up."
"Do you realise what would happen to you--?"
"I'd be sacked. It's worth the risk."
"You'd be lucky to see outside Azkaban again!" All but crushing the vial in his fist, Severus hugged Blaise tight. "Never, ever do anything that foolish again!"
"I hope I don't have to!" Blaise clutched him back until his arms began to tremble. Pulling away enough to rub his nose on his sleeve, he murmured, "Thank you. I... don't feel like I'm about to break anymore." He grimaced; his eyes were red, but no more tears quivered on the surface. "I want my mum back."
"If I could change things for you, I would."
"I know." Sniffling hard, Blaise huddled into Severus' chest again. Underneath his robes, he was little more than sinew laid over bone. "I don't want anything to happen to you, either."
"For the moment, I seem to be safe."
"Your house is still on record. I checked. D'you want me to see what I can do about that?"
Pursing his mouth and taking a long, controlled breath to settle the sickened feeling rising in his throat, Severus said, "I don't want you doing anything rash."
"Nothing rash. I'll forge some documents or something. It wouldn't be much to declare it unlivable, at least. Only wish I could go into the field. I could make it carry more weight, at least. God, I hate my fucking father." Blaise shuddered.
"Settle down. He's dead."
Blaise gave a bitter sigh. Untangling himself, he slid onto the couch next to Severus, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. Severus folded his hands in his lap, watching him with a sense of neutral expectation.
Rubbing his eye with the heel of his hand, Blaise mumbled, "Sorry about that."
"Quite all right."
"Reckon I was a bit upset."
"As you should be, given the circumstances."
With a snort, Blaise slumped forward, resting his face on his folded arms. His voice was muffled by his robes. "I wish you could come to the funeral at least. Oh, god." His shoulders fell a little more. "I don't know how to arrange a funeral. Dad didn't have one so much, and all my grandparents are still alive."
"I arranged my father's. If you'd like what help I can offer, I'd be glad to give it."
Looking up in relief, Blaise said, "Thank you."
"I'm sure Arthur would be willing to help as well."
"Yeah." Shaking his head, Blaise pushed himself to his feet. "Do you want some tea? I want some. Or a shot of firewhisky. Or both."
"I'm afraid I'm allowed neither at the moment." Severus took the hand Blaise offered anyway and allowed himself to be pulled up. "Would you care for me to fetch it?"
Blaise shook his head. "I'm... I think I can see Arthur and Molly now without making a right tit of myself."
"Harry's here as well."
For a moment, what colour there was in Blaise's face flickered. He took a deep breath and turned to face the doorway. "I think that'll be all right." He gave Severus half a wry smile. "Suppose I ought to start thinking of him as my wicked stepfather then?"
"I wouldn't go that far. He can be a stubborn little wretch, but he's not wicked in the strictest terms." Severus slipped the vial in his hand into his pocket and had taken a step before he stopped, frowning. "Blaise."
"How did you know about this?" He pulled the vial out again just long enough to show it.
Blaise looked puzzled. "It's all over the Ministry. In my circles anyway."
"Because Unicorn Blood's used in Dark magic. Now there's a cure--"
"Same thing, isn't it?"
Severus snorted. "How on Earth did you reach my N.E.W.T.-level courses with that sort of attitude?"
Blaise shrugged. "A good teacher?"
"Flattery will get you nowhere." Smirking, Severus followed Blaise towards the kitchen, staying just behind him, close enough for his fingers to brush the barest edge of blue robes.
Arthur was sitting at the table, eyeballing the snake in Harry's hands with clear suspicion. Harry, however, was gazing at it with a dreamy expression, a soft smile on his lips. The snake made a soft, hissing sound; a moment later, Harry answered it with an equally soft hiss.
"Oh, that's right." Blaise pulled out a chair across from Harry and sat down gingerly. "You're a Parselmouth, aren't you?"
"Hmm." Harry beamed up at Severus. "She was half-frozen behind the shed. I saved her life."
Severus gave him a brief smile as he sat down next to Blaise. Harry flicked an eyebrow at them, but said nothing. For a moment, he looked as though he wanted to be across the table with them.
"I still think it's dangerous," Arthur said, following the snake's every twist and ripple with his eyes.
"She promises she won't bite anyone."
"Has she got a name?" Blaise asked.
Harry glanced at him before turning back to his pet. "You couldn't pronounce it."
"Oh. That makes sense, I suppose."
"Hmm." For a long moment, Harry let the adder wrap itself around his hand. "Um, I'm sorry about your mum. Same thing nearly happened to my godfather not long ago."
Blaise's hand flew to his mouth. "That's right, it was him, wasn't it? I'm so sorry."
Harry shrugged. "Not your fault."
"Is he all right?"
"Is now. Nearly took his leg off. Bone... something Hex."
"Boneshatterer," Severus murmured.
Blaise winced. He curled his fingers into the tabletop. In a soft voice, he said, "That must be the one that got my mum. Didn't... Wasn't her leg."
Harry shuddered. The snake jumped as his hands tightened; it hissed. Harry hissed and spat something back, the sounds hurried, until the snake went back to her long, smooth flow around his wrist. "I'm sorry. Is there anything you need?"
"Not so much. I've already got most of it, I think."
Harry grunted and went back to stroking the adder's diamond-patterned back. Blaise and Arthur fell into a low conversation about what Blaise needed to do and when. Molly bustled in a couple of minutes later and put the kettle on. Severus simply sat and listened and occasionally made the odd comment or suggestion, the whole time watching Harry and the gentle, protective look on his face. Something twinged inside of him; for a bare instant, he wondered how unfeasible life with a child of their own would really be.
The kettle screamed. In the midst of it, Harry's yelp echoed through the room. He jumped up, the snake falling to the table. It thrashed, hissing, its pale belly roiling and turning on the red tablecloth. Harry clutched his left wrist. In the web of his thumb, two drops of blood welled, mingled with a thin, yellowish liquid. The hisses coming from between his teeth weren't Parseltongue.
Severus was on his feet, leaning over to grab Harry's hand.
"Don't hurt her!" Harry yelped. "The noise scared her! Grab her before she gets hurt!"
"It tried to kill you! Molly!"
"I'm already on it." Molly banged through cabinets and rifled shelves, Arthur doing the same on the other side of the kitchen. "We keep Snakebite Potion on hand. Charlie never went a year without needing it. Ah-ha!"
She pulled a small bottle of thin, green liquid from a shelf and scurried over to the table. Pulling out the stopper, she put it to Harry's pale lips. "Drink it down, dear. You'll be fine."
Harry did as he was told. His throat worked as he strained for every drop of the stuff. Molly petted his hair, murmuring something too low for Severus to follow. He watched, mouth pursed. His hand closed over the snake's neck, and he picked it up, squeezing it just behind its heavy triangular head.
Harry frowned as he swallowed a last time. "Sev, don't squeeze her like that. She says it hurts."
"I'm not squeezing."
"Yes, you are." He reached out. "Give her back--"
"NO!" Severus felt something crack in his grip. Warmth rushed over his fingertips. The snake fell limp. He looked down, only to see its tail swinging loose, its mouth open in a futile strike, two of his fingers driven into its side. For a moment, he could only stare.
"You killed her," Harry said in cracking disbelief.
Not quite looking him in the eye, Severus laid the snake across the table. Its head lolled on its broken spine. "It hurt you. I don't abide that."
"But..." Harry stared at him, eyes wide and brows pinched, still clutching his wrist as the venom flowed out with a steady trickle of blood and potion. "She only got scared. It was what she thought she had to do."
"Then I suppose my actions weren't so very different from hers." Severus turned on his heel. "You'll have to excuse me. I'll be in the drawing room."
As he marched out, he caught a glimpse of Blaise staring at him. There was something very much like fear in his eyes, and for a moment Severus was reminded that they both, indeed, hailed from the House of the Snake.
Return to Archive | next | previous