Title: An Unwelcome Home
Characters: Severus, Regulus, Tobias, OFC Livius Prince, Orion Black, Walburga Black, Bellatrix Lestrange
Beta Reader: scarysnapey
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Angst, mild dark!fic, contains OFC.
Summary: Severus, sixteen and deeply embedded in the Dark Arts, can't stand living at home any longer. Like the rabbit in Home For A Bunny..."under a rock, or under a stone, where would Severus find a home?" Enjoy all the sarcasm.
Two weeks and two days and I return to Hogwarts, the sixteen-year-old Severus thought desperately. But he really didn't want to escape the enclosing shelves of books. He thought that the Restricted Section likely didn't carry more than half of them, these books that whispered enticing thoughts in his brain, teetering on the edge of dark and light magic. Most magic was grey. Accio, for instance. It wasn't a curse, hex or jinx, but it carried dark possibility.
Tearing his mind from the bookshelf, Severus sat straighter in his chair, and tried to remember what his maternal grandfather was teaching him, magic without a wand, just sheer force of will. Silence. Power. He concentrated. One of the books rose from the floor, and half-heartedly fell to the floor as Tobias entered the room.
Nothing ever went right when Tobias entered the room. Tobias cuffed him on the head, the ever-present smoke between his lips and the inevitable bottle of rum clutched in his callused hand. How many times had Tobias blamed him for his having to keep the job at the mill? Irrational, weak Tobias. Severus held no respect for him, but he did hold a great fear. His welts didn't come from gentle treatment. He'd tried to act like Tobias last year, with disastrous consequences. His mind traveled back, and he didn't want memories of cussing and drinking and acting like any inebriated fifteen year old would act. The hole in the wall where he'd kicked it was still not repaired. It was like looking at an open wound, and Severus turned away.
Tobias wasn't going to let Severus go so easily. "I told you not to read those books of your strangeness. You're not to learn madness under my roof." Severus felt his fear like an icy fist thrust into his stomach. He spoke rather coolly, however.
"Maybe there's no wand magic underage, but there still is magic of will, and unlike Mum, I'm not afraid to use it." Severus couldn't help but sneer at the man who was the source of half of his misery. "Toadspawn is more rational than you," taunted Severus.
Tobias thwacked Severus hard across the face. Severus had anticipated this, but it didn't make it any less painful. It was a humiliating thing, and spit flew from Severus' mouth as his face flew to one side. Tobias yanked his hand away at the sensation of pain. Severus' newest invention: invisible wounds. It hurt like the dickens and was impossible to heal. The spell was meant to wear off after an hour. Long enough to teach Tobias a lesson? Not to touch Severus with his filthy Muggle, mill-worker hands?
"Did you learn, learn not to touch me, Tobias, and to leave me be?" Severus asked with a small growl. His lank hair fell across his sharp-featured face, and he brushed it away. He looked underfed and un-cared for. He fit every inch that description. His clothes hung on him, and his hair was too long. He wore his father's old trench-coat like robes. He did not want to look ordinary. His walk was twitchy, but his back was straight. He had his pride. Wizarding pride. Slytherin pride. Pride in his magical abilities.
Severus, lost in his daydreams, had almost forgotten Tobias. But then the older man snarled "You! Teach me! I work hard for you, for this family, and you give me no respect. I'll teach you respect before you go back to that school." Tobias flinched at his invisible wound. "You put me right, or you'll feel the crop on your backside, your legs, your back, and wherever else leather can reach."
Severus was sick of this threat. The welts were proof. He wasn't going to be threatened by this filthy Muggle who liked Severus to call him Dad. Severus couldn't. He called him Tobias, and Mum cowing to Tobias' whims was just sickening. She wouldn't raise a wand against him. She wouldn't even raise a forefinger to stop Tobias beating him. A scowl appeared on Severus' face, and he bolted up the stairs three at a time and he dragged his trunk and a rucksack from under his bed. Then he thrust himself back downstairs, heavy footfalls echoing his heavy breathing.
"I'm sick of you. I'm running away where you can't find me," Severus snarled at his father. Pain tore at his brain cells, or that's what it felt like. He slung his bag over his shoulder, scuffed his trunk along and headed for the abandoned play park. He would wait, and then sneak back into the brick house he called home and Floo to his friend Regulus'. The Blacks wouldn't tell anyone if Severus hid there. Severus knew what they thought of his parents. It was lucky that they tolerated him. Lily's parents hadn't liked him. They thought he was a bad influence. Everyone knows that Severus Snape is bad news, most especially Severus Snape himself.
The third row house along the river, at Spinner's End, was dark and dank, and Severus walked softly to the fire and reached for the small wooden box that contained Floo powder. He had a very nervous stomach. Sirius would be there. Joy of joys, he thought sarcastically. He spent every Spring Equinox with the Blacks, and Sirius was better than Tobias. At least he didn't hit him, force him to do anything vile, get drunk or shout his lungs raw right in Severus' face. Muggles.
Severus focused his mind keenly at the empty grate. A fire burst into place, and he scattered the glinting powder into the flames, which turned emerald green and flickered high. He stepped into it with his trunk and rucksack, hoping that no one would notice his presence before he could explain himself. He felt the usual thwapping sensation of being struck lightly by the flames and concentrated on the Blacks' fireplace, which he, covered faintly in soot, toppled out of seconds later.
Grimmauld Place was dark and the stairwell where the decapitated house elf heads hung. He went to lie down on the chesterfield in the sitting room, but he decided to quietly explore first. He should have sent Mum's owl ahead, but really, he'd had little time. He put down his trunk and his rucksack, which were heavy from too many books (Too many books? Could one have too many books? Severus thought with a crooked grin.) He hoisted the bag over his other shoulder, leaving his trunk at the bottom of the stairs.
"The dirt-veined half-blood son of a blood traitor," whispered a painting of an ancient looking wizard with black hair, and grey eyes identical to those of Sirius and Regulus. Eyes that gleamed. "Tchah," Severus said with scorn as he walked up the stairs. "I bet your great aunt was a Muggle whore," Severus scoffed. He knew the Black family tree had been pruned often. He knew his mother had once been on the tapestry before she married the epitome of everything Muggle. As if Severus cared. He had annotated his textbooks and had given himself a name that showed he was proud to be a Prince, half blood or no. His lips curved upward in satisfaction and stayed in that strange version of a smile until he saw that two rooms had lights on, even though it was well past midnight.
He knocked lightly on Regulus' door. "Go away, I'm busy," came a snarled reply. Regulus sounded quite irate. "It's Severus, Reg. Let me in, before you brother charms us all with his wit," Severus said sardonically through the keyhole. The door opened wide, and Regulus was revealed to be wearing a t-shirt and boxer shorts. His legs were nearly as pale and skinny as Severus'. "Just reading. When did you get here? Why are you here at (Regulus checked his watch) one o'clock in the morning?" Regulus gave him a quizzical look.
"I ran away. My 'father' hit me once too often, and even if Mum wasn't visiting Grandpa like she always does when Tobias goes on a bender, she wouldn't have done anything."
"Oh, man. It's over two weeks until school starts. Sirius just ran away too. The light is on to help me think he's still here. I can't stand there being no light. He, he left last week."
"Brilliant!" Severus exclaimed. He reined in his enthusiasm and tried to return to his normal inscrutability, but failed. He had the widest smirk he'd worn in a long time.
"It is not brilliant. He's my brother and I don't know whether he's alive or dead!" Regulus looked a bit hurt, but Severus disregarded this. "Then I have a room," he said. Regulus scowled. "I don't know. I hope Sirius comes back. He's a pain in the ass Gryffindor, but he is my brother."
"Did you get your O.W.L.s?" Severus had to change the topic. He could not see how anyone could miss Sirius Black. Regulus looked taken aback, then said, "Seven O.W.L.s and not bad as marks go. We're both N.E.W.T. students now." Severus nodded his head and said, "You surprised me. I thought you'd get more."
"I might have if I had studied at all. I can be a lazy git," Regulus replied. "I have no use for reading books about things that don't interest me. We'd better get some sleep. Don't expect Mum to champion you. She doesn't know why I bother with you."
"Because I'm such a Gryffindor?" Severus said sarcastically. The two laughed a little. Severus stopped laughing quickly and said bitterly, "Lily said once that her friends didn't know why she even talked to me."
"Get over it," Regulus suggested. Severus turned away, saying "tchah" for the second time in an hour.
"I know," Regulus began, seizing Severus by the shoulders the way he did his fellow Quidditch players. "I know, you stay here and lie low for a few days and we'll work out what to do. What about your Grandfather? He's cool. Livius Prince, right? He's on the tapestry."
"I know he is," Severus said wearily. "Let me go to the arse's bed and get some sleep. I'll need it for tomorrow. 'Filthy half-blood son of a blood traitor and a Muggle...' I'm going to need it so I don't hex your parents, I can cause..."
"Lie down, and stop being annoying, you can cause headaches." Regulus turned, went into his bedroom, and closed it behind him, leaving it slightly ajar. He wants to see if I'll snoop around , Severus thought, and the mistrust burned him.
He entered Sirius' room and moaned. It looked like Tobias had decorated, except for the Gryffindor paraphernalia. Muggle women in next to no clothes, smiling their vapid smiles. Motorbikes. He groaned and lay down on top of the bed, burying his face in the down pillow so he wouldn't have to see any more.
As much as Sirius was contrary to the rest of his family, Severus was in the same boat. The difference was that Severus wanted to belong amongst rich pure-bloods. Then reverse discrimination would overcome him and he thought them weak, foolish and spoiled. The thoughts churned in his mind until he finally fell asleep around four thirty in the morning.
He woke drenched in sweat, sitting straight up, not knowing how he'd got there. He thought he held red hair in his hand, but his hand was empty. He fell back asleep, and woke only when Regulus thwacked him on the feet and poked him in the ribs.
"Come on, we have to walk the dogs. We'll have breakfast when we get back, Kreacher makes the wickedest, fluffiest crepes."
Severus looked around for the dogs, and saw the two Malamutes standing there with their pale, intelligent eyes that reminded him maddeningly of Sirius. He moved toward them, and they moved toward him. The female sat on his foot, a sure sign of ownership and liking. The male leant against his other leg. Powerful dogs.
"What are their names again?" Severus asked. "Sneezewort and Peridot," Regulus said. "The female is Peridot. That's the colour of her collar, remember?"
They walked the dogs through London, stopping at small parks so the dogs could do their business, halting at every second tree. Severus hadn't been in Muggle London. He found it vexing, but he didn't want to insult Regulus so he kept that to himself. He was rapidly turning into a Muggle hater, if he hadn't been one ever since he heard and understood the words "magic," "Muggle" and "wizard." He knew he was heading toward the Dark Lord, and he found he didn't really mind. It had been on his mind a lot lately.
Severus already missed the bookshelves at Spinner's End. He knew that Tobias would burn them if he wasn't so lazy. Severus had sneaked a few books out, and it was these he thought of as they trudged their way back to Grimmauld Place.
"Regulus!" called his father from another room.
"Yes, father?" Regulus called back, chucking his shoes into a corner.
"Kreacher tells me you had a guest in the night. Is he with you?" Regulus wandered into the kitchen with its scrubbed wooden table laden with silver dishes. Everything gleamed with cleanliness. Severus skulked in the doorway.
"Yes," Regulus said, and Severus could tell by the shaking quality of that 'yes' that his father Orion had something in common with Tobias. He was intimidating. Orion looked at him. "Half blood, son of a Muggle and a blood traitor?" He asked this endlessly boring question every time he stayed. Severus knew Orion liked him. Orion was one of the few. He always waited for Severus to come up with a new answer. Severus considered a moment, then spoke:
"Nothing the Dark Lord would kill me for. One has to discard a lot of cells to get rid of a cancer. That doesn't mean one destroys the patient." Severus tried to sound distant and unconcerned. He must have done a good job, because Orion shook his hand, and gestured the two to sit down.
"Where's mother?" Regulus asked, looking from Severus to Orion quizzically, as though he couldn't understand what had happened and how and so quickly. Severus relaxed slightly, and smirked at the look on Regulus' puzzled face.
"Your mother is visiting the Lestranges. She left while you were walking the dogs," Orion said.
"So we don't have to put up with her," Regulus said without thinking.
"Regulus! Her heart is broken over Sirius, of course she's offensive. But she is your mother, and you are honour-bound to be kind to her. Blood is thicker than water."
"She's always offensive," Regulus muttered to Severus as Orion left to see how Kreacher was doing with preparing breakfast. "She doesn't need an excuse. But honour is duty, and duty is honour."
The next few days passed without incident. Severus expected Mrs Black to insult him at every turn, but she never did. She seemed quite morose. Why did everyone miss Sirius? Perhaps they weren't subjected to being called a 'great greasy git' by Sirius every ten minutes.
It was said that the type of books you read influences your character. If this was true the books Severus had 'liberated' from Spinner's End were almost the opposites; Severus was having an influence on his books, or at least the books' future owners, if there were any. Sometimes he wished them read, other times not. Regulus could read them, in a year or so. Grandpa Livius would just shake his head. Severus could see the immaculate long black hair of his grandfather with his overlarge nose and intense eyes staring at him every time he had a free moment. There were a lot of those free moments. Good. More time to scribble.
If he sometimes scrawled more than changes to potions and clever little jinxes and hexes, it seemed like it would make a good story. So he thought of writing his own textbooks. The thought occurred often. If Vindictus Viridian could write books sold in Flourish and Blotts, why not him?
The fourth day arrived, and there were ten days left until the Hogwarts Express left. As he passed warm toast to Severus, who ate it voraciously, Regulus said that Orion had decided in his wisdom to send him back to Spinner's End.
"I'll run away with you!" Regulus enthused as he stepped through early morning commuters, each of them walking a dog.
"It's not at all what it's cracked up to be," Severus said, holding the leash tightly as a cat scrabbled up a telephone pole, halfway up, teasing. Severus had Peridot, and Peridot began to bark and strain.
"I feel like a dog on a leash surrounded by laughing ravens and barely out of reach cats," Severus moped. Regulus looked seriously at his friend for once. "I will leave with you, but when I'm sixteen. Cousin Bella told me the Dark Lord will take me then. I know I shouldn't, but I know I should."
"Tchach," Severus said for the tenth time in a few days. "Moral ambiguity, the shades of grey, the nimble, the tricky, the expert ...that's my specialty." Severus stared into the grey eyes of Regulus, pale as a Malamute's, pale as Sirius' pair. He walked looking at the ground. They walked back to Grimmauld Place, and Severus said, "I'll ask Grandpa Livius to take you for a day or so. Then you can see the glamour of having no home. He's a Ravenclaw, and a powerful wizard."
Again, when they arrived at Grimmauld Place, Regulus chucked his shoes into a corner. Severus placed his by the skirting board near the door, wishing they were less scuffed, and fit better. Kreacher hurried forward. "Please to be putting shoes in the correct place, Master."
"I like to please you too, Kreacher, so I give you the job from now onward to put my errant shoes in their place." Kreacher obeyed immediately with a wide grin on his ugly, puckered face. Regulus looked at Severus. "I mean it – he loves to serve and I love warming-pans in my bed at Christmas holidays. It works for both of us." Severus knew he'd never have a house-elf. Regulus treated this one all right, but Orion called Kreacher "sneaker" and Sirius had been downright vile. The one time he went to his old prefect Lucius' manor, their house-elf met such nasty indignity. It wasn't a Slytherin thing, if it had been then they wouldn't underestimate their house-elves.
Or would they? Just people, just like anyone, only a taste for power and influence. Was he as much a sucker? Was it being a sucker? Severus would ask Regulus, but he was just a kid. He'd ask Grandpa Livius.
Regulus went into the sitting room, pale as a ghost. "Mother, Father, I want to stay with Severus for a night or two, at Livius Prince's cottage in Scarborough."
Severus lurked. He had a talent for lurking.
"Absolutely n..." Walburga, a woman with the skeletal face began to snarl, but Orion cut her off. "Absolutely, certainly. It will give you a taste of why you should stay with your family, at least until you find a wife to stay with. You have everything. You're comfortable in many ways. You come telling me if some bizarre conviction makes you deny what is rightfully yours." Orion smiled and Regulus hugged him. Severus couldn't help thinking that the Dark Lord's power was just such a 'bizarre conviction.'
Regulus considered Orion. "I'm certain that's what will happen, Father. Mother, I don't wish to go against you, but father makes more sense." He went upstairs and came down twenty minutes later with a bulging leather bag, and Severus who wished never to see the girly posters again, not to mention the Gryffindor, everything, stole into Sirius' room.
Severus was standing in front of the fireplace, and his eyes gleamed in the reddish light. It was so warm here, and so chilly at Livius Prince's cottage. But his reception there would be warm, unlike at Grimmauld Place. Orion scattered the Floo powder into the flames, they roared high and emerald green, and Severus stepped in first. "Livius Prince's, Scarborough," he told the licking but barely warm flames, and he was off.
Severus and then Regulus toppled out of the fireplace. The cottage was small with one bedroom. Severus smirked at the thought of Regulus sleeping on cushions on the floor, and waking up with his sheet half off and not one portion of him left on the cushions.
Livius came out of the bedroom, still in a nightshirt, looking at Severus quizzically. "Why didn't you send an owl to tell me you were coming?"
Regulus answered honestly. "Because Severus was staying with me for a bit. He ran away from home. That and we were too stupid to think of it."
"You are...Regulus Black? My, I haven't seen you since your second cousin's wedding. Severus speaks of you with high regard, that you are, to use his words, "the only Quidditch player who isn't a complete dunderhead."
"Grandpa Livius..." Severus said, flushing dully, but Regulus started laughing. Severus shook his head, and began to drag his trunk from the fireplace, his rucksack on his back. The rucksack was full of contraband books. "May I stay until school starts? I'll be seventeen in January so I can get a place of my own after that. But right now..." Livius held up a hand to silence Severus, and Livius turned to Regulus. "Both of you will have to go elsewhere, because I'm already harbouring a fugitive who doesn't need any more drama. Your mother is sleeping a well-deserved sleep. She can't go back to Spinner's End until she can control her magic a little better. It would be dangerous all around."
"Mum...Mum is doing magic? But she refuses to." Severus looked so strained he may as well have been severely constipated. "Mum hasn't shown any signs of magic for the last four years. No, five years. Why now?"
"A crack in her psyche was all that was needed for the dam to burst, and it's quite a gusher," Livius said. He looked uncharacteristically grim. "She – and you it seems – were just hit once too many times. She has to learn control. I'm trying to teach her our version of chess so she can hone her mind as a tool rather than as a weapon that strikes against herself and whoever happens to be in the vicinity."
"I left out of protest. I hope he hasn't burnt all the books. Books are my lifeline in that place. Mum isn't mentally stable, so where do we go?" Severus tried not to sound disappointed and angry.
Livius frowned, looking like a perfect copy of Severus but aged by forty years. His scowl line between his eyes wasn't as well-defined as Severus', even though Livius was so much older. He had a fair few streaks of white in his hair. The nose was the same, the intensity of the eyes, only it was softened in Livius by his expression. He also had laugh lines that Severus would likely not have at Livius' age. "Are you in desperate need of a place to stay? Ted and Andromeda would take you in."
"I'll just head home and Regulus' father will be amused that he's back so soon. I wish I could curse Tobias into a thousand wisps of putrid air." Severus scowled just like Livius. "He'd deserve it."
"That's rather dark," Livius chided him softly with his large black eyes.
"Anyone who says they don't have a dark side is just fooling themselves and nobody else," Severus snapped. He seemed to regret saying it. He usually took his time before speaking but in his anger everything had come out in a rush. His grandfather was the family member most worthy of his love, and Severus loved Livius. The only decent member of the immediate family.
"Are you going to give Mum her wand?" Severus thought he knew the answer. Livius had taken her wand a few years back when she nearly killed everyone at Spinner's End by sparking her wand while leaving the gas hissing from the stove for an hour.
"Why in blazes would I do something so very rash?" Livius queried.
"I forgot you're a Ravenclaw. How haywire is Mum's magic? Does she...belong in St Mungo's for a bit?" Severus tried to sound offhand, but he was very concerned.
"No. She just needs a few lessons in telekinesis, the game of chess, and Occlumency and Legilimency." Livius smiled, and gave Severus a conspiratorial look.
"Everything you taught me, teach me, in short," Severus answered, and Regulus cleared his throat loudly. He wasn't used to being ignored. He was the favoured son. Severus looked at him sideways. 'Soft brat,' he thought but did not say.
"Can I come to Spinner's End?" Regulus butted in. Severus and Livius stared at him. "I don't want to see your father, but I have to see all those books for myself."
"They cover every wall. They cover the staircase, even." Livius was smiling again. "But be warned, there are books there that even Lord Voldemort wouldn't read."
"Don't say the name!" Regulus pleaded, then added, "He wouldn't read the romance novels." Regulus had a small laughing fit.
"I see Slytherin house hasn't dulled your wit," Livius grinned. Regulus made a noise with his tongue, rather like "thpppt." Livius turned to Severus. "If you're going to leave, leave soon. I love the company, but your mother is too unpredictable." As if on cue, they heard a female cough. Regulus and Severus stood by the fire and took the offered snuffbox of glittering Floo Powder. Within seconds, they were on their way to Spinner's End.
The first thing Severus noticed about Spinner's End was that Tobias was nearly passed out drunk, with the stub of a cigarette in one hand. It had burned a small hole in the couch. That happened a lot. This time it wasn't as dangerous as usual. Regulus scrambled out of the fireplace behind him. Severus left his trunk and rucksack behind, and Regulus left his leather bag with them.
"So that's your father? You sure don't look like him," Regulus said in a whisper, looking at Tobias Snape's blond hair and beer gut, and his small, pug's nose.
"That's Tobias, and thank you, I am glad not to resemble His Arseness." Severus nodded. He waited, just for a few seconds, hoping to get to his room before Tobias noticed him and Regulus. Tobias looked at them blurrily. "S'all gone to hell, your mother gone, you leave, s'all crap, can't see why I bother..." And with that he slumped sideways on the couch and began to snore. The TV was on. Regulus wanted to investigate. He'd never seen a television. Severus led him away, saying, "If we turn it off he'll wake up for sure, and he can be a little nasty when he bothers."
Regulus looked at the room in wonder. "Wow. I've never seen so many books outside the Hogwarts library. How can you reach them all?" His pale eyes roved over the spines of books, some even in French, German and what looked like Russian to judge by the Cyrillic script.
"Summoning Charm or steady feet and an upwards climb." Severus looked at Regulus and there was an actual smile on Severus' face, if faintly snarky. "You're a N.E.W.T. student, you can read whatever you like. Of course, education levels never stopped me..."
Tobias grunted and Regulus jumped; he had forgotten Tobias lay sprawled there. "Upstairs," Severus said quietly. Regulus was looking around curiously. He had never been in a Muggle, or partially Muggle, dwelling before, let alone a poor one.
"You actually have this small a bedroom? Is there another? Where will I sleep?"
"You should consider things like that before visiting me. I've known you for years. You know my family isn't wealthy. You've seen the books. Let's get out of here. I'd rather sleep somewhere else. When Tobias wakes up...." The sentence trailed off into horrible imaginary pictures in their minds. "I need some more books first. That's why I returned. When I sit in that room surrounded by books, they save me, they entice me. My most ingenious friends."
"I don't know where to go," Regulus confessed. "Where do Muggles go when everything's bollocks?"
"We may as well stay here tonight," Severus said quellingly. He was remembering the shelter. "There's an air mattress in the cupboard in the hallway. Stay here. I'll fetch it, and some extra blankets."
Regulus looked as confused as he felt, and that was very confused. Air mattress? Severus returned a minute later with sheets and a frayed blanket and something that looked like a huge flat tongue. Severus didn't care to answer Regulus' questions at the moment, so he put his fingers to his lips and whispered, "Get in bed."
Of course, Severus thought, it would never cross Regulus' pampered mind to thank him for giving up his bed. But then, he never really thought about being thanked for much.
"I want my pyjamas," Regulus moaned. Severus felt like throttling Regulus as he pumped up the air mattress, lay a sheet on the plastic and covered himself over with a sheet and the blanket.
"I can't sleep in my clothes. I need my pyjamas," Regulus repeated after five minutes.
"Did you bring them?" Severus asked, sounding very snarky. His hair wouldn't stay out of his face when he turned his head to hear Regulus better.
"Yes, but ..." Regulus started and Severus finished in an icy tone, "You're too scared to go get them. Well, I'm not risking my neck merely for your comfort. Good night."
When they crept down the stairs in the morning, Regulus whispering that his back ached from the lumpy mattress, they saw that there was no sign of Tobias. Then they realized that he must be at work. "He must have been too drunk to really register that we came. I wasn't expecting this decent a welcome. Still, I don't want to be around him anymore. I'll just grab a few more books." Severus hid the almost full rum bottle inside a hollowed-out book entitled, Greengrass' Guide to a Greater Garden. He put it on a high shelf and smirked. It was a petty annoyance, but didn't Tobias personify petty annoyance?
"What was that bottle you hid?" Regulus asked curiously, as Severus put three more books into his bulging rucksack.
"Perhaps Grandpa Livius was wrong, perhaps I do think you're a dunderhead," Severus said, and Regulus just blinked. "Come on, but we have to know where we're going. Let's cross the river and we can go somewhere else I'm not welcome. I can show you Lily's place. From the outside only," Severus said, as they wandered across the river in Lily's direction.
"Not interested. Of course. Do you have any other suggestions? I'd like to return to Hogwarts early, but they never let us back before September first. Nine days of nowhere." Severus sounded as bitter as he was, and Regulus flung an arm around his shoulder. "Why don't you try Livius again? Or maybe my parents will let you back."
Severus twisted away from Regulus. "I'm not going where I'm not wanted," Severus said stubbornly. His brows were knitted together and his sallow skin had turned a horrible off-white colour. "Don't you have dogs to walk?" he said cuttingly.
Regulus looked stunned by this sudden venom. "You're my friend and I'll help, all right? I know one place you belong other than Hogwarts." Regulus' heart was beating fast, and Severus could sense the quickening of his pulse. Severus felt his heart strumming quickly as well, and his mouth was dry. "What do you mean?" Ah, but he knew. The daylight was suddenly intense.
"Let's get to a fireplace," Regulus said. Their minds seemed sharpened by fear and excitement. Severus turned on his heel and walked quickly back through the sunny street line with depressing brick row houses, to the third along the rubbish-strewn river, and used an ordinary Muggle key to get in. They scrambled to the fireplace, and Severus snatched the box of Floo powder.
"Who?" Severus asked intensely.
"Cousin Bella. She's the liason between us and them. Between greenhorns and Death Eaters." Regulus looked sideways at Severus. "I wish I was old enough to join. I can't come with you but I'll see you off and then I hope I'll see you at school." Regulus shrugged. "Why didn't you think of it?"
"Because I thought, isn't sixteen too young?" Severus' eyebrows were furrowed deeply in concentration.
"What does the Dark Lord care? As long as you serve him well, you'll have a place, other than Hogwarts."
"I still have the Trace. What use could I be?"
"The Dark Lord has a way around the Trace," Regulus looked solemn. "Besides, spying doesn't have to be an old man's game."
"Why didn't you tell me before? Anyone, tell me before?"
"You're the son of a blood traitor and a Muggle, you were close friends with that Evans Mudblood, but I always ignored it. Most people don't."
Severus pulled at his hair. All he had ever been afraid of hearing he heard. "But I'm a Slytherin!"
"Very much! No one denies that! That's why we ignore the bad stuff." Regulus looked slightly alarmed at the change that had overcome Severus. To smooth over the difficult moment, Regulus said, "Come on, let's get the Floo powder in, and I'll stick my head in the flames and see if she's there."
Roaring green flames illuminated the room, which had heavy grey curtains over the windows. Severus kept thinking of cults. This seemed like a perfect way to get indoctrinated into a cult. He felt trapped. If it was a cult, it was a very seductive one...
Severus' stomach was clenched, and he wasn't sure why he was letting Regulus make the decision for him. True, Severus could have told him to stop, but going to Bellatrix Lestrange directly... Severus had only heard of her before, but he knew she was immensely strong magically and had no conscience whatsoever. Did he want to be around people like her?
Was everything around him a surreal dream, would his loyalties be right where they belonged? He closed his eyes. He would be able to tell. Already he had many tools for turning away if he wished. Slytherins do what is expedient, he thought, and it was extremely expedient to have a way out, that way our being the Legilimency and Occlumency Grandpa Livius had taught him. He felt he was doing something important, worthwhile, any negatives swallowed up in the idea of wizards being the top of the social Darwinist pile, survival of the shrewdest.
He opened his eyes. Regulus was swallowed by green flames from the shoulders up, and Severus couldn't make out what he was saying. Severus waited, making good use of Regulus' absence to go through a pro and con list in his head.
Uncertainty, and his own moral ambiguity, made things very difficult. He would avoid being branded with the Mark until he had a better idea that it was, once again that word, expedient. Regulus backed out of the fire just as Severus suddenly felt his intuition scream. "Run for it!"
"Well?" Severus snapped, irritated by his own inertia, "What is the news? Do I qualify?"
"There are two Death Eaters who want to meet with you, and interview you under the influence of Veritaserum, and then they'll see whether you are worthy or not." Regulus sighed. "I sure wish I could come," he said petulantly.
"Which Death Eaters? Did they say?" Severus asked, raising one eyebrow.
"Somebody Malfoy, and Bellatrix." Regulus looked serious now.
Severus' stomach clenched tighter still as he thought the "somebody" was his former prefect, Lucius. Lucius wasn't as bright as Bellatrix, but he also had no compunction hexing people, and blackmailing and threatening them, using his own wealth and influence to slink his way into everywhere. Something must have shown on his face, because Regulus said, "If you want to back out I won't blame you."
"Since when have I been one to back out? Where is it that I am going, should I use Floo powder and get to Bellatrix and Lucius? What is my destination?" Severus tried to sound offhand, and it worked. Regulus noticed nothing.
"Just say 'Headquarters, Lestrange Residence,' and it will take you to Rabastan, Rudophus and Bellatrix Lestrange's place in London." Regulus nodded importantly. "All of the Lestranges are key Death Eaters." Regulus moaned again at being excluded. Severus felt there was good reason for not letting fifteen year olds join. Severus was normally very decisive, and his own waffling drove him mad. He felt as though he was drawn in, and there was no point denying it. It was as if every bitter memory of rejection welled up inside him. He swallowed, and made his decision.
"You Floo home first. I'm not leaving you alone here, I want to see you out," Severus ordered.
"Fine! Be that way! I'll see you at school." Regulus grinned. "You can tell me all about it." Regulus walked to the fireplace again, tossed in some Floo powder, and disappeared in flame after shouting, "12 Grimmauld Place!"
Regulus was gone, and so was Severus' uncertainty. Yet his hand shook slightly as he reached for the box of Floo Powder. Anticipation and nerves were eating at Severus' stomach, chest and throat. He took an angry look around him at the hellhole he'd called home. He turned resolutely and scattered the greenish, sandy powder. The flames whipped up and swallowed him as he very nearly snarled, "Headquarters, Lestrange Residence!"
Severus coughed from the soot as he came out of the fireplace, and the first person he saw was Lucius Malfoy. Bellatrix stepped forward and stood in front of Lucius. She was rather forbidding, and would have been beautiful if it weren't for her sneer and strumpet's clothing. Her posture was languid, like Lucius's. Bellatrix looked at Severus through heavily hooded eyes, looking the part of a snooty aristocrat.
"Pass the Veritaserum, but I doubt this little bit of filth qualifies," she taunted, taking a small bottle of clear liquid from Rabastan or Rudolphus, he couldn't tell the twins apart. Severus felt slightly sick. They weren't treating him much differently than Tobias treated him. Severus had so much to hide, yet nothing to hide in the bigger picture. If they turned him down, they would undoubtedly kill him. This gave Severus great impetus to pass this bleeding test.
A blonde woman with a nervous, strained look brought out a cup of tea from another room. Severus took the time to look around at what his grandmother would have called a "perfectly appointed sitting room." Bellatrix measured out three drops and put them into the tea.
"Snape," Lucius said, grabbing the tea from Bellatrix, who snarled, "Drink this. It's a..."
"Truth-telling serum," Severus finished with an ironic tone of voice. Severus was glad to see he wasn't too scared that he didn't act like himself.
"Take it. Drink it to the dregs, and we'll see what happens with a little boy who must have got into Slytherin house by mistake," Bellatrix sneered. Severus gave her a twisted smile. "We'll soon see, shan't we?" he said. Bellatrix looked impressed against her own will. Severus drank the tea torturously slowly. He moved away from the marble fireplace.
"Let's move into the library, we can all sit down, not just the Lestranges," Lucius suggested. Bellatrix pursed her lips. "Whatever, Lucius." She stalked into the next room, and any doubts Severus had were erased on the spot by the fact that this room was five times the size of the ground floor at Spinner's End, and was coated in books. There were big books, small books, dark books, history books, genealogies, and about a tenth of the books shone like a beacon on Severus as he recognized the titles from home, winking cheekily at him in their familiarity.
"I have only a few questions. What is your name and what's your blood status?" Bellatrix snapped. Severus sat down as he said, "Severus Tobias Snape, half-blood."
"What are you doing here? What is your intention?" Bellatrix asked suspiciously.
"To join forces with the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters, to become a Death Eater myself," Severus replied placidly.
"What would you do for the Dark Lord? Would you do as he asked, and would you act without mercy to follow his orders?" came Bellatrix' next question.
"I would give my whole to his service and do whatever he required without mercy." Severus heard his own voice, flat and toneless, answer the question. He thought beneath the surface that it would sound so much better with the tone of sarcasm he was thinking of.
"This is the final question, and should you answer correctly, we will brand you in a few days. You will be branded with the Dark Mark, and this will be your new home away from Hogwarts." Bellatrix leaned toward Severus and leered. "Should a time come when you have to sacrifice yourself that the Dark Lord may live, will you risk your neck for him? Or would you risk your neck for Albus Dumbledore? Where does your loyalty lie?"
"Neither," Severus said. "At this time I would save my own neck, and the Dark Lord serves my aims as much as I serve his. My loyalty lies with myself." There it was, Veritaserum doing its job. He was too befuddled by the Veritaserum to notice he was surrounded by people who suddenly had a most favourable impression of him.
"Well, well, perhaps our little Snapey Snake does belong among us," Belllatrix said, handing Severus an antidote to the Veritaserum in yet another cup of tea. A minute later everything came into sharper focus and he was aware of his own mind fully again. Severus knew what had made his mind up: the books. Was he really so mercenary, that his own skin came first? For now, perhaps, but none of the others could tell all of his answers had been sarcastic, the monotone of the Veritaserum had seen to that.