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Chapter 9 : Weary of My Scars
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Displeased by the unexpected visitor, Netterheim grabbed his wand and peered down the dimly lit hall. "I see no one without an appointment," he called out.
The form paused, and then moved towards him until he recognized it as that girl from the Ministry who'd shown up a while back for license inspections.
This could be interesting. He grinned as she stepped into the light. Netterheim held his wand up.
"Hello little girl," he leered, showing all of his yellowed teeth.
Dorcas looked out of breath, as if she'd been running away from something. The unease in her stance told Netterheim she might consider taking her chances back the way she'd come.
She paused, as if she didn’t recognize where she was, and then quickly recovered and cleared her throat.
"I'm here to see Severus Snape," she began.
"And what business do you have with my apprentice?" he demanded, letting her pass by him into his shop. He followed closely behind.
"I'm to pick up a package..." Her words trailed off in silence as she fidgeted with her folio.
Netterheim's amusement grew. Just for fun, he stepped forward, crowding her into a corner. She had a certain innocent appeal, he thought. When her pretty blue eyes widened, he leered closer, wondering if she was the type to fight back if cornered.
The sound of footsteps from the stairs made them both turn. Severus stepped into the shop. "Oh," he said, at the sight of Dorcas backed up against a wall with Netterheim's wand partially raised.
"You were expecting someone for a delivery?" Netterheim questioned him.
"Oh!" Severus repeated, more forcefully this time and passed a nearby shelf, grabbing a vial as he went. "There you are! I've been waiting for you all day."
Netterheim stepped back and watched as Severus put himself between them, fumbling in his robes for something. "You're late. Here!" he shoved the vial into her hand, along with his pouch of floo powder. "Get this back to the Ministry as soon as possible... you stupid cow! Or they will think I've forgotten the order." He managed a scowl as he pushed her towards the fireplace.
"Of course..." she stammered. The Potions Master didn't miss the look they shared. "Thank you. Sorry I'm late. Ministry!" she shouted as she threw the powder up in front of Netterheim's leering face, disappearing into the flames.
Netterheim flexed his grip on the wand in the uncomfortable silence that settled around them. "What..." Netterheim's leer turned sour. "...was that?"
Severus turned away from his mentor. "Last minute delivery."
"I see," Netterheim said, rubbing his chin. "An emergency request for... Flubberworm Essence," he noted, passing the shelf that was missing a vial. "And you thought it best to divulge the location of our side entrance for this... transaction. The one reserved for our special customers?" The girl had looked somewhat nervous. He recalled the idle conversation between the two of them when she’d brought the forms. "Isn't she the license inspector you said you didn't know?"
Severus started counting vials on the shelf in front of him.
Netterheim’s mouth twitched. "The one you met for lunch a few weeks ago and said you went to school with?" His apprentice's stiff back told him that he'd guessed correctly.
Netterheim remembered Severus stutter awkwardly a week later when he'd returned from dinner. His apprentice hadn’t managed an explanation for the girl who'd walked with him back to the shop. Netterheim continued on. "The same girl with whom you are 'just a friend'?"
Severus muffled a strangling sound as Netterheim batted him on the back. "Seems to be more than friends to me," he chuckled. Netterheim came around to face him. "That vial," he resumed a businesslike tone, "is coming out of your pay."
Netterheim headed back to his lab. "This one has a Gemutlichkeit about her, no?" Then he added, "Next time, I expect a proper introduction to your lady friend."
The Potions Master's chuckling form disappeared around the back corner and left Severus alone in the shop. For a long, agonizing moment, his mind refused to work. He closed his mouth and swallowed at the failed attempt to voice some logical justification for what had just happened.
He couldn't simply march into Netterheim's lab, tell a man he barely trusted all his secrets and rely on his mentor’s word that it wouldn't get spun into an entertaining tale to the next customer who walked through the door.
And what exactly was the truth of it? He needed a place. She had a spare room. Netterheim had seen them together on a few occasions. That wasn’t a crime. But it had been insanely careless of her to just show up like that. It bothered him more that she’d not told him she was going to do it.
What did he care, anyway? The worst part was she didn’t even know what she was doing to him.
It wasn’t her fault… or maybe it was. All she was supposed to do was her job, not drive him madly to distraction. Severus was pretty sure that Dumbledore didn’t have his people running around whoring for him just to get information.
He’d been the one who had almost ruined it weeks ago. He tried to reason with himself, but she was just so… He gritted his teeth. If she got herself killed, he’d…
Damn it! This wasn’t supposed to happen.
When he returned to the flat that night, Dorcas was waiting for him.
Severus was tired, it was late, and all he wanted to do was go to sleep and maybe tackle the complexities of his life in the morning.
“So are you going to call me a stupid cow again?” she asked casually as she flipped through a magazine.
If she was anyone else, he would have lashed out at her after the stupid move she’d pulled that morning.
Instead, he sat down. He wiped his face with his hands. And then he couldn’t stand it anymore. “What the hell were you thinking?” It came out harsh and guttural.
Dorcas pressed her lips together and told him about the men and the door and he winced when she explained how she thought she’d found a way in. “Is Master Netterheim always like that?”
“If you hadn’t shown up, he wouldn’t have had a reason to be.”
Considering everything else she’d told him, Netterheim was the least of her worries.
Severus got up angrily and went to his room. He didn’t see the point in confronting her outright. He couldn’t stop her from doing her job. He had no right to ask her to. She respected his work and his job and didn’t question what he had to do. He was finding it harder and harder to return the courtesy.
Dorcas going off places without saying anything made him nervous. Made him crazy, if he was to be honest. Severus had refrained from saying anything to her about that too. Maybe if he spent more time at the shop, he wouldn’t have time to think about her and it would get better. It was worth a try.
So he plodded through the grueling late hours, finding things to do until Netterheim threw him out and thankfully, by the time he got back to the flat each night, she was already asleep upstairs. Safe.
But he realized it hadn’t solved anything when he found himself glaring at a letter on the side table that had come while she was out. It was addressed to Dorcas, from the McKinnons, and Severus was certain that it had something to do with the gathering for next weekend, the one that Karkaroff had planned to make into a grand disaster.
He’d be damned if he was going to let her walk into that.
Dorcas had barely been back a minute before he started in on her. She hadn’t blinked at the envelope on the table when he pointed it out, and it didn’t help that she was acting far too casual about the whole thing, especially with her hair tied up in a sloppy bun. There were bits of dried paint on her sleeve of her shirt. Peach.
“It doesn’t matter how many Order members are going to be there. It won’t be enough. You’re not going,” Severus argued with her later that evening, having tried and failed to reason with her about the invitation.
“Of course I’m going,” she said, kicking her shoes off and falling into her comfy chair. “Marlene’s nursery is finished, all the preparations are made, and she’s counting on me to be there.”
Something churned inside of him and he tried to make it stop. “It’s too dangerous.”
“For whom? You put yourself in danger all the time. Without a plan. And there’s nothing I can do to stop you.”
Severus blew out his frustration. She was being infuriatingly stubborn. “It’s not the same thing,” he countered.
“No, it’s not. Marlene’s family is aware of the risks. Most of the Order will be there.” She raised a hand as he opened his mouth again. “Wards, alarms, everything’s been taken care of. No one knows all the details except Moody.”
“I won’t let you walk into a trap. You can’t go.” Severus swiped the paper from the side table, needing something to do with his hands before he launched himself at her and throttled her.
“And you can? Popping off to Lily’s every Saturday afternoon, doing god-knows-what to stop something so dangerous they haven’t been able to stop on their own? You’re telling me that’s not equally, if not more dangerous than a secure defensive plan?”
He looked at her darkly over the paper. “You figured that out, did you?”
“It’s bloody obvious. You run off every weekend and say nothing and then you come back and say nothing... not that I’m not grateful for Lily’s safety or anything...” she trailed off.
“It’s not like...” he started, but then he realized that it seemed that way to her. He crumpled the paper into his lap. Bloody obvious. “They don’t understand.” She didn’t either. No one did. “They don’t know what I know. The people I have to deal with, they don’t think the same way your people do. If she’d given me one last chance to tell her, to show her how to watch her back properly, I wouldn’t have to do it for her. It’s my fault that she’s a target at all.”
He suffered another unpleasant reminder of the past. His concern for Lily might have been something else once; the painful sting of rejection had all but faded. Now it was simply obligation. “I can’t let them hurt her.”
She was looking at him funny, but he could tell she was still on edge. “Then tell someone.”
“No one listens to me.”
“Not very well,” he said, his exasperation returning. “You’re still thinking of going.”
Dorcas got up, pulling the band out of her hair and freeing it. “Look, this argument is pointless. Unless you tie me down and make me a prisoner in my own home, I am going!” Dorcas’ face had gone pink from her temper. She turned to leave the room. “She’s my...”
Severus threw the paper down and followed her. She wasn’t going to run away from this. She had to listen. “Dammit, Dorcas!” All he could think of was the dead body on the slab and how insane it would make him if it was her.
“Her family is a clearly identified target. They know all about this thing and Karkaroff is bent on making a big statement. You can’t simply invite a bunch of Death Eaters to a party and expect everything to go as planned!”
She turned on him, eyes blazing. “What about you?” She pushed at his chest. “You put yourself at risk all the time, probably because you haven’t forgiven yourself for your bad choices. You don’t care that every time you disappear, I sit around wondering whether you’re going to make it back alive or not. Besides, you’re leaving after all of this is over. Why should you care about what happens to me?”
He shouldn’t care, but he did. He did care. He just didn’t know how to tell her.
He grabbed her shoulders, wanting to shake sense into her. He wanted her to admit that she was thinking recklessly, but he knew that just like him, she wasn’t going to change her mind. And he’d never told her that he wouldn’t be able to forgive himself if anything happened to her. He couldn’t lose her. His head started to pound and he looked frantically into her eyes for the words to make her stand down. Her defiance dared him to give her another argument.
There was nothing else to say, other than it registered somewhere in the back of his mind that she was worried for him too... and then there was nothing more to think through, nothing more to rationalize. His brain shut off and he pulled her against him and kissed her hard.
Somewhere far away, his brain tried to tell him that he had crossed a line, though the rest of him could care less, not even noticing that she had gripped the front of his shirt for support. He drifted in bliss for a lingering moment before reality snapped him back. He pushed away abruptly, hands dropping to his sides.
He couldn’t look at her. Whatever it was that he thought he could have, he shouldn’t.
"I'm sorry," he said in a low voice. "I was so... angry." And he turned and walked away.
Dorcas burst into the living room. “Wait a minute! What was that? You can’t just do that and then leave!”
Severus was pacing and muttering under his breath. “I’m sorry. I’ll get my things. Shouldn’t be here anyway…”
“I don’t want you to leave but I think we need to talk about this. There’s obviously some kind of… thing… going on here. I didn’t want to admit it, but I don’t think we can ignore it any longer.”
He seemed to have heard what she was saying but he kept his back to her, leaning over a table and shoving his belongings into a messy stack. He mumbled things to himself about going away and not deserving anything and other nonsense. She put a hand on his shoulder.
"I was angry too," she said softly, pulling at him. “But I think if we just sit down and talk about it…”
His hands went still on the table. “No.”
She stopped short. “What do you mean, no?” She was starting to get angry again. He couldn’t just ignore… whatever that was. Unless he didn’t mean it, or he regretted what he’d done, which was how he was acting. It wasn’t fair. He’d finally done something other than stare at her and she’d practically told him everything and now he was rejecting her… or maybe he didn’t think she was worth the trouble… She let go of him and took a step back and tried not to feel stupid.
He turned on her almost immediately after she let go. His eyes were dark and the anger was gone, but it was replaced by something else and she wasn’t sure what that was.
He stepped closer and she opened her mouth to say something but she couldn’t get it out because he was too close.
She wanted to be frustrated with him, to shove at him and demand that he tell her exactly what was going on. She took a forced breath. “Would you just say something?”
“No more talking,” he said, taking her by the shoulders, gently this time, and then he leaned in and she closed her eyes as he kissed her like he should have in the first place.
He couldn’t remember climbing up the stairs or closing the door to her room, but when they were there he kissed her again and she kissed him back and they moved frantically for a while, trying to make up for the uncertainty and the frustration and the denial.
Then he stopped and looked at her.
“Dorcas.” He felt like he’d never said her name before, not like this. It tasted strange in his mouth, intoxicatingly sweet. His shirt was gone, and his eyes flickered to the pile of clothes on the floor and back to her and then he caught his reflection in the vanity, the thin line from his shoulder that ran down to the faint shadow of the mark on his forearm. He wanted to touch her again, wanted to feel her against him, but first he needed to know... somehow it mattered.
She was so painfully beautiful, he had to look away. “Is this what you really want?”
He could tell that she knew what he meant, even without saying it. Dorcas ran her fingers down his arm and shook her head.
He half-expected her to pull back, tell him it was a mistake, to get out.
“That’s not who you are, Severus.” She took his face in her hands and forced him to look at her. “I want you.”
He didn’t understand it – at some point, he stopped trying to. Something in her eyes dared him to deny her.
He’d been with girls before, but not the respectable kind. He wanted to get this right. She deserved that.
Without thinking about it, he brushed softly against her mind, like stepping over an invisible trip wire and suddenly he knew exactly what she wanted from him. So he gave it to her. Every touch, every movement. He knew he’d gotten it right when her eyes shot open in surprise and when he did that thing again, they fluttered closed.
“Isn’t that almost like cheating?” she whispered after catching her breath. But her smile told him she didn’t care so he grinned at her and did it again. Because he could.
It amazed him that she wanted this… him. It was crazy. He was a mess of contradictions and misplaced loyalties. What kind of girl would willingly have him?
Still, he was here in her room, in her bed. She hadn’t thrown him out yet and if he had anything to do with it, she wouldn’t.
He’d gotten himself inexplicably tangled up in her. She was stubborn and soft, and reckless and warm, and she knew the things he’d done and the promises he’d made and still wanted him. Like no one else ever had. Maybe, just this once, he could allow himself to believe that he deserved this. He’d worked too long and too hard and he’d given up too damned much to have nothing to show for it.
“Severus,” she whispered, looking up at him with her blue eyes, still hazy from their lovemaking. And he knew right then, that it wasn’t going to get any easier.
“I’m still going to Marlene’s.”
It was the last thing he wanted to hear but he didn’t expect anything less from her. “I know,” he said and gently pulled her back against him, silently thanking her for being that kind of girl.
A/N: I must give credit where credit is due. So thank you to Incubus for "In My Room". Thank you G and L for your tireless bickering. Thank you BetaMan and BetaWoman; you are superheroes. And thank you, readers!
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