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Shadows and Dust by Violet Gryfindor

Format: Novel
Chapters: 4
Word Count: 15,770
Status: Abandoned

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Sensitive topic/issue/theme, Spoilers

Genres: Drama, Horror/Dark, Romance
Characters: McGonagall, Snape, Lily, Regulus, OC
Pairings: Other Pairing, Snape/Lily

First Published: 03/23/2008
Last Chapter: 08/23/2009
Last Updated: 09/03/2009

Summary:
Fantastic banner by La Déesse Verte // Rewrite of "The Fires Within"



It is a truth universally acknowledged, that any pureblooded wizard in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife, preferably one of equal blood status. Regulus Black has chosen the stubbornly disinterested Vivien Horne, an under-achieving Ravenclaw, as his bride-to-be. But just when Vivien starts to change her mind, Regulus vanishes. And she goes to find him.


Chapter 1: Prologue: Christmas 1969
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Disclaimer: Part of the summary is adapted from the opening lines of "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen. The Potterverse belongs to J. K. Rowling, but Vivien and Grimm are my own creations.



Prologue
Christmas 1969

It was one of those evenings in which he could be entirely alone and at peace with the world. Even the sounds from the city could not penetrate through the brick facade of his house, leaving the library, which faced the road, a quiet haven. Firelight flickered on the ceiling in a way that amused him. The lamp beside him gave off a warm golden light, just enough to read by without hurting the eyes. With all the time he spent in his pungent cellar laboratory, it was a wonder that he hadn’t yet gone blind. Minerva would, of course, tell him that one didn’t go blind by spending too much time in the dark, but it more kindly suffered his imagination to picture a world of complete darkness.

His chair creaked when he leaned back into its leather folds. It was a comforting sound, a reminder of the many ancestors who had sat in that very chair, staring into the flames of that very fireplace, contemplating all the meanings of the world. His thoughts were so swept up in metaphysics that he neglected the open book upon his lap, its faded dog-eared pages fluttering each time he moved. He swirled the glass of wine balanced between his fingers, gazing at the deep scarlet liquid with some semblance of pride. How long had that dusty bottle been sitting on that rack, waiting to be drunk by a great connoisseur. Not that he believed himself as great at anything, but what other purpose was there for wine?

He reached for the bottle, his hand curling around the cool glass. It was light when he picked it up to pour himself another drink. It wasn’t as though he had to go anywhere the next day, so there was no harm in finishing it off.

The glass approached his lips, his taste buds straining to capture the rich flavour of French - or was it Italian?, grapes that had warmed in the Mediterranean sun, their leaves rustling in the seductive breezes flowing off the water. He closed his eyes, waiting to feel the smooth, velvet liquid flood his mouth and leak down his throat.

With the introduction of an alien noise, the book went crashing to the ground, while the glass just missed being tossed with it. Fat droplets of the wine landed across the front of his dressing gown. Swear words emerged from his throat, disturbing his perfect silence yet again. It was a temptation to throw the glass across the room, adding yet another sound to the din.

Another knock came from the front door, mirroring the sound that had come moments before.

He swore. Rather loudly. They, or whoever was on the other side of his front door, probably heard him; he wanted them to.

His eyes dropped to the stain upon his shirt, the now dog-eared book on the ground.

“Bloody hell.”

Fingers fumbling with the latches, he grumbled under his breath. By the time the door opened, a perfect scowl masked his face. He looked into the eyes of a woman at least a decade younger, her hair mussed and robes wrinkled.

“Cousin Tiberius!” Her cry was pitiful, like the heroine of a bad Gothic novel. It did not help that he despised his first name; hearing it from such well-shaped lips did not improve his feelings.

A cousin, but which one? Dark hair, blue eyes, high cheek bones, mother had been Spanish - or was she Italian? Something like that. Her father was his mother’s second cousin once removed, but that was a common enough relationship in their world. Her name? Sylvia... no... Fulvia... no, that was the other one. Diana, that was it.

But why here on his doorstep? He looked beyond her. It was raining in the typical London style, which was not much different from the Scottish style, or the Kentish style, or the Cornish style. Rain was rain to him. It had done no good for Diana’s person, making her appear more like the Muggle idea of a witch than the high-born young witch he remembered from some years back. Her robes had been yellow then, a daring colour. Now she wore only black.

“Come in,” he said, stepping back from the door. “Where is your cloak?”

It was not until she had already entered that he noticed the child. So small and dog-like, it trailed in Diana’s shadow so closely that no light from the doorway had fallen upon its form.

Tiberius Grimm froze in place. A child? He had been the last one of that sort to enter his family’s home. Since when had his cousin managed to have one? There was no question that she had been married to have it – their mother would have allowed for nothing else.

Unless, that was the reason she was here, now, in his home, not her parents’ in Derbyshire.

Just what he needed, a good bit of scandal to come walking in. Like he didn’t have enough already.

“I would never bother you otherwise, cousin.” Her voice was softer now, echoing in the sound of the rain outside. “But matters have become too... too... troublesome.” She cast her eyes upon him, large blue orbs that plead her case far better than any lawyer.

“What do you need?” The inevitable question. He waited for her answer, staring at the child, a girl, from the length of the hair.

Diana took in a breath, grimacing into the hall mirror. “A place to stay temporarily. I cannot trust that I’ll be welcome at home now.”

Grimm frowned. If she wasn’t welcome there, why should she be welcome here? What in Hades’ name had she managed to do? He didn’t like that family of relatives enough to want to get involved, but how would he get rid of her now that she was inside? What would Minerva do? Something practical, he thought.

With a half-sigh, he turned to face the other end of the foyer. “Tweedy! We have guests!”

The house-elf – his mother’s old servant – hobbled in with a bow, nearly tripping over the dress she’d made for herself. “Aye, master. The upper floor will do, rooms still good.”

Diana smiled primly at Grimm, moving to follow the house-elf without a glance back at the little girl chasing after her. At the bottom of the stairs, the girl looked back at him, dark eyes filled with raw hope, the kind that comes only with great desperation. Grimm was reminded of why he disliked purebloods so much. Like bloody royalty, can’t care less for the children they bring up between incest and madness.

At that moment, Tiberius Grimm made a decision.

~ * * * ~

“An idiot? Is that what you think of me now?”

Minerva McGonagall, Professor of Transfiguration, reached for her cup of tea. “I always did. This is just another of your idiotic acts.”

He slouched in his chair, knowing full well it infuriated her. “It has its pros and cons.”

“It certainly gives me an excuse not to visit as often. She’s impossible!” The tea splashed a drop onto her furious hand. “It’s too obvious that the two of you are related.”

“What?” His own cup nearly split onto the wine-stained rug. “I don’t see it at all.”

Her sudden smile warmed him. “You never do.”

It was time for an explanation, he supposed. “It wasn’t because of her that I let her stay here.” He shifted in his chair.

“Why then?” She met his eyes over her teacup. “Not simply to fill the house with life?” Her sarcasm was more caustic than usual, was it jest or true frustration? Neither would be out of character.

He opened his mouth to reply.

“Oh, don’t tell me, Tiberius. I can see it on your face,” her voice leaping in to interrupt. “As the single remaining male wizard in your family, you feel a patriarchal responsibility towards your cousins, no matter how unprincipled they are.”

Grimm closed his mouth. Was there a sense in responding to that?

Minerva set down her cup. “If she hadn’t been in need of you, do you think she would have looked twice at you, as a half-blood, however glorified a one?”

Glorified. He wanted to take the word as a compliment. Perhaps he should ask her to stay the night.

“No, she would not. But that doesn’t matter. It’s the child I’m interested in.”

Her right eyebrow rose higher than he had ever seen it go before; her eagle eyes glared into his face, suspicious and distrusting. Grimm observed her one hand clench the chair arm. Why the tension? Why was she bothered by his statement?

“The child? But why? Is she–”

“Neglected?” He leaned towards her. “Her mother couldn’t care less about her.”

She was watching him closely now. It was like she had heard something in his voice, a certain strain that alerted her to the seriousness of his desire to help this girl.

“Is there anything special about her, I was going to ask.” She did not look him directly in the eye.

Grimm sat back in his chair and took another sip of tea. “No. More normal than normal, from what I’ve seen this past week.”

After a moment, Minerva said, “You feel sorry for her.”

He had been studying the wine-stain under her chair. Cursed stuff wouldn’t come out – he’d had to rearrange the whole room around it. Mother’s favourite rug, too. Turning in her grave with fury.

“In some sort of way, I suppose.” He paused. “Would you like to stay for dinner?”

Her reply was a disapproving frown.

“What would teach her that couldn’t wait until Hogwarts?”

Grimm sighed. Another failed attempt. “When I said she was neglected....”

“She knows nothing of magic?”

Crossing his arms, Grimm said, “No more than she has observed day-to-day. Her mother is a useless twit who thinks of nothing but her personal appearance.”

For once, Minerva did not chastise him. “I will help you.” She smoothed a crease on her robes.

He looked up from reverie, blinking wide eyes. “What?”

“The child isn’t a Muggleborn, for Merlin’s sake, Tiberius. She must know these things before she goes to Hogwarts.” She paused, looking over at him. “She has no real parents, from what you’ve said, so we must make some substitution.”

“We?”

Rolling her eyes, Minerva rose from the chair and glared at him. “You are an idiot, Tiberius. Though, perhaps, for different reasons than I thought earlier.”

Grimm hurriedly stood up. “Will you stay then?”

“It seems that I must. You can’t be trusted to do this on your own.” She had turned away, perhaps knowing of the flush that would be appearing on his face momentarily.

The flush rose up his cheeks. “Not trusted? Minerva–”

Her smile was sudden, but not unwelcome. She was halfway towards laughter.

Closing his eyes, Grimm knew he’d been caught out again.

~ * * * ~

From the doorway, the girl in question watched their actions and listened to their words, wondering at the first and feeling somewhat pleased at the latter. Learning about magic, it’s what she’d always wanted to do, but mother never said yes and never seemed to notice that she was almost nine years old. Nine whole years of living with a mother she couldn’t love and a father she couldn’t remember.

But what would happen now that this strange cousin and his lady-friend wanted to teach her things? He had mentioned once being a teacher. What sort of things would she learn? How to do spells? How to kill spiders? She hated spiders. How to cure a cough? Her mother coughed a lot. The man here worked a lot with funny potions in the cellar, maybe he had one for her mother.

“Is that her, Tiberius?”

The eyes of the adults were turned towards her, little silly Vivien. She was named after a sorceress, she’d read it in a book. She had trapped a great wizard in a tree, or a cave, no one knew for sure. It would be fun to learn magic and be able to do such things, wouldn’t it?

Vivien stepped forward to meet them, or was it to meet her fate?

Chapter 2: The Swallow
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Chapter One

Once she had brought him a dying swallow from the garden. She couldn’t have been more than nine at the time, filled with all the hopes of life eternal and a world entirely lacking of death and despair. The bird had not struggled in her hands. It must have flown into one of the windows and broken its neck, but it had not yet died when she found it with twisted neck and twitching wings. She had picked it up in shaking hands – she had never seen any creature so injured before. Nor had she seen anything so close to death. She had taken it to Grimm, who, in her young eyes, knew everything.

“You cannot bring something back from the dead, child.”


“Why not?” She had looked down at the swallow, meeting its hazing eye.

His voice had not been steady when he replied, “There are some things that magic cannot heal.”

At that moment, something had changed. The world, especially the magical one, was not a place of miracles and wonder; it was as cold and unfair as the way her aunts and her grandparents had treated both her and her mother. Outcasts. Not fit for proper society. That’s the only reason why her mother had been desperate enough to seek out Grimm for help. The disgraceful half-blood who’d never done a proper thing in his life ended up saving them, saving Vivien. Yet even he could not put a stopper on death. You could heal a wound, regrow bones, cure illnesses, but once that thread of life had been cut, nothing could be done.

It was a disappointment, but also an opportunity.

She had looked back down at the bird in her hands, the life now gone from its veins, and had not been disgusted by the death, the decay. She would never forget the swallow, just as she would never forget the many things Grimm would teach her.

But still, nothing could prevent the death of her mother, no magic, no potion, nothing.

Vivien had watched her mother die, the sickness eating her mother’s body from the inside out, slowly stealing away all the things her mother had loved most: her beauty, her voice, and her perfect figure. Even as Vivien sat at her mother’s beside during that endless last moment of life, no word of motherly affection poured out of her mother’s lips. She hadn’t expected any.

The grave now loomed open before Vivien as she stood between Grimm and Professor McGonagall, clutching a dry handkerchief in her hand more for propriety’s sake than anything. Sandwiched between the professors, she wished her school robes – the best black set she had – were not so thick and woolen. It suited for a winter in Hogwarts, but not for the summer sun that flooded the graveyard with light and heat. The juxtaposition of the warm air and cold casket were not lost upon her, but it was not an amusing image. Even Grimm’s face, often the first to betray amusement in any situation, was plastered in stern austerity.

The three of them stood across from the rest of Vivien’s family: the two aunts, one starved and one overfed. They glared back at her while she stared down at the casket containing her mother’s wasted body. She had refused treatment, Grimm told her, had even refused to believe that she was dying, that anything bad like that could ever happen to one of such pure and noble blood. Yet the blood which had stained her handkerchief after every cough had been of no different in colour than anyone else’s Vivien had seen, including her own.

The service concluded, the reverend closing his book with a snap and signalling to the gravediggers to do their duty. Professor McGonagall, as Vivien had been forced to call her these past four years at Hogwarts, placed a hand on her shoulder.

“It’s over now.” As though she knew Vivien hadn’t been paying attention.

“Yeah, over.” She stuffed her hands in her pockets.

Grimm took McGonagall’s free arm, his fingers wrapping around her wrist. “We’d better go.” His eyes warily sized up the two women across the grave.

Letting out a breath she hadn’t recalled holding in, Vivien kicked a clump of dirt into the hole and turned to follow the two professors out of the graveyard. She watched them walking together, demonstrating greater closeness than they usually did. Maybe funerals were a weakness of theirs; McGonagall’s voice had been a bit shaky. Their footsteps were evenly matched, like they’d walked like this a million times. She did envy them, in a way. With her father having left so soon after her birth, she’d never seen a witch and wizard so close as the two professors. If it weren’t for the little things she observed, she’d have been like everyone else, believing that they were just friends.

They were passing through the gate, their steps carrying them faster than Vivien cared to walk.

“So you’re the girl, eh?” The voice from behind her was decidedly unpleasant. “Be a hard one to marry off, scrawny as she is.”

“She’s a little pretty, Fulvia. Like her mother.” The wheezy voice drifted towards Vivien; it was weak even in the still air.

She quickened her steps, praying under her breath that the women wouldn’t catch up to her. It may have been years since she’d last seen her aunts, but she wasn’t looking forward to a family reunion. The footsteps behind her were too close to avoid. There was no time to call for Grimm; he was too far ahead.

“Stop, girl! It’d be just like that useless mother of yours to not bother teaching you manners!” It was Fulvia, the big one, a nightmare on wobbly legs.

Vivien stopped and whirled around, her face set with a blank expression. “You shouldn’t speak poorly of my mother over her grave, ma’am.” She paused, gazing down at her aunt’s flabby face. “It’s bad manners. Whatever would Grandmamma say?”

The other aunt, weedy Cloeia, shuddered in fear, glancing about as though her mother would pop out from behind a gravestone for revenge. But Fulvia bristled, her dull eyes glaring. “Just as I thought. One who can’t keep her mouth shut. You must get that from your father’s side of the family.”

It took Vivien a moment to recall that her father was not Grimm. Mortimer Horne had not been much of anything, true, but he had not been a particularly bad person. At least, that was what she had been told of him. He’d been gone for years, run off to America with a failing actress. Not a glorious parentage, but his name was helpful enough in certain social circles.

“I wouldn’t know, ma’am,” she replied, crossing her arms. “Never knew him. Now if you’ll excuse me.” She began to sidle away, worried at the pity she felt for these two witches, stuck with each other until death. Too ugly to marry, too beastly to spend time with anyone but each other. Not a pleasant fate for either of them.

Fulvia was in the midst of replying when Vivien turned and stomped off.

“Be glad that you’re not coming home with me, girl,” Fulvia’s voice was the type that carried well. Too well. “I’d do some work to tame that tongue of yours. Insolent child.” Her anger was enough to make the blubber ripple across her stomach.

Vivien felt her muscles stiffen, her hand itching to reach for her wand. Oh, how she wanted to hex the skin off that fat bitch – the sun would probably melt all the blubber in her veins. Her face was in full view of Grimm and McGonagall, but she didn’t care if they saw. Grimm, at least, would understand; perhaps even McGonagall would praise her for not giving into the temptation of rage.

“It wouldn’t be hard to get custody of you, girl. Don’t you forget that! What a disgrace, with the way that impure wizard consorts with that filthy tart of his! My mother would never have allowed it. Never allowed a brat like you to ever imagine decent society much less enter it!”

The words echoed over the hillside, meant to be heard by all there. The first tears she’d shed that entire funeral now burned in Vivien’s eyes. Through blurred vision she saw Grimm turn at the words, his hand reaching for his wand. But he wasn’t coming, why? Did she have to learn to deal with those aunts on her own, even at her own mother’s funeral? She wanted him there beside her, fighting off the evils of the world. In spite of the moment, Vivien would have smiled at the thought of Grimm as her white knight, sword flashing in the blinding sunlight – it was so unlike him, but somehow that he how he’d always been: the one who had rescued her from these dragons masquerading as relatives.

As she approached, she noticed the tight grip McGonagall had on Grimm’s arm. Holding him back, Vivien mused, some different kind of anger twinging in her mind. It was really for the best that he didn’t come into contact with his cousins, she thought, blaming the anger on the meeting with her aunts. What else could it be? She was fourteen, she had to handle things on her own, even at the worst of times.

“I can’t believe I’m related to them.” Her flat voice seemed to amuse Grimm, whose tense shoulders relaxed while his eyes still glowered at the two witches.

“Me neither.” There was a tiny flicker of muscle at the corner of his mouth.

McGonagall made a show of rolling her eyes, something she never would have done at Hogwarts. The dramatic motion was, perhaps, more to disguise the paleness on her face. She too had heard Fulvia’s insults.

“With the way you treat them, it’s not a wonder.”

Grimm snorted, but his eyes were searching McGonagall’s face with a trace of concern. “Their very presence demands such treatment.”

While McGonagall gave him the look that froze schoolboys to their chairs, Grimm tried to give Vivien a reassuring smile. The moment had passed for now, but no one could ever make the truth disappear forever. He managed to look guilty, if nothing more. The weight of Fulvia’s words had hit him in the most sensitive place of all.

“You won’t be going with her anytime soon.” His voice was low and tense. “The Ministry would never allow it.”

Vivien looked down. “I’m not afraid of that. I could live with it.” Sometimes it did well to sound tough.

But not all the time.

“There’s a damn good reason Cloeia is the doormat she is. You don’t want to become like her.” He glanced back to where the aunts had vanished. “Poor girl, but it was her choice.”

“Tiberius.” Minerva’s hand tightened on his arm. His eyes rose to meet hers and something passed between them; unspoken words which Vivien would never know, never understand. She watched them, feeling entirely out of place. How could they look as though there was no one in the world but themselves?

Grimm was the first to break the connection. He took in a breath. “Vivien, they may be your aunts, but you and your mother are... were not at all like them, you most of all.” Letting out that breath, he ran a hand through his thinning hair. “Purebloods like them are the worst of the lot. Bitterness and interbreeding make them terrible specimens of humanity.”

Vivien looked at him, wanting to believe him. Some people were just terrible, their blood or their family had nothing to do with it. People could be bad with pure blood or with mixed blood; it didn’t matter. Grimm was too quick to judge her aunts on their bloodline, rather than the fact that Fulvia was innately a cruel person. Her mother hadn’t been much better, with her beliefs of blood purity and perfection. It wasn’t that far removed from Fulvia’s mantra.

Not that she’d say any of these things aloud. There was boundaries, even with Grimm, that could not be crossed. He had his own deep-rooted beliefs of how the wizarding creeds should and did exist. In many ways, he was not far removed from a pureblood.

She looked away from him, unable to control the rumble of thoughts and emotions which shook through her mind and body, shaking down the stability her sheltered life had so far provided. The world and its people were so harsh and unforgiving, just like death.

They went down the pavement on their way home, now silent. Vivien watched various things on the street or in the graveyard. For the most part, it was a very boring part of London; it seemed that nothing was on display for the wandering and curious eye to see. She brought her gaze back to the graveyard, trying to ignore the whisperings of Grimm and McGongall beside her. Something in the distance caught Vivien’s eye: a half-familiar boy, her age, dressed all in black. He was watching them from the next gate, hands shoved deep in his pockets. Another spectator to the family drama in the graveyard?

“There is Regulus Black,” McGonagall said with narrowed eyes. “Do you know him, Vivien?”

Surely she would have noticed if she knew him; Vivien had Transfiguration with the Slytherins.

“Not really. Why is he here, you think?” She stared back at the boy; his face was so impassive, like no emotion had ever passed over its features.

“Why do you think he is here, you mean.” The correction came automatically. Leave it McGonagall the perfectionist. How did Grimm put up with it? She was correcting him all the time. “Perhaps his mother sent him to represent the family.”

“Old fashioned biddy,” Grimm was grumbling again. He had an opinion about everyone. “You should say something to him, just a greeting or something like that. Stupid propriety.” He looked towards the spot where Regulus Black stood and frowned. “Don’t be long. I’ve got experiments running at home.”

Vivien thought of resisting, but her curiosity was piqued by the Slytherin’s presence. He was the snobbiest of snobs, the highest of the high – he was called the Black Prince for a damn good reason. She couldn’t recall ever having spoken to him before. He had his own friends, the group of Slytherins who called from all the years and all the best families. Vivien had watched them, like she watched a great many people at school, but none of what she’d seen in the past accounted for his presence at her mother’s funeral.

He stepped forward to meet her, as though unable to wait for her hesitant steps to ever come close enough to him on their own. There was a certain impatience about him, something all the Blacks had. It must have come from being born with a silver spoon in the mouth.

At first, he opened his mouth, then closed it again, tasting the words. Vivien blinked, watching his face for sincerity or hypocrisy.

“I’m very sorry about your mother, Horne.” He had quiet eyes and a quiet voice, very much unlike his brother, whose voice constantly echoed down the corridors at school.

“Thank you, Black.” She stopped, biting at her lip in hesitation. “It was nice of you to come.”

The emptiness of her words was bothersome. They were so unreal and there was nothing behind them. She always wanted her words to mean something, no matter the cost.

He shrugged, a jerky gesture of his left shoulder. “Mother would have come, but she didn’t hear of it until this morning.”

The corner of Vivien’s mouth twitched. “Not one for short notice?”

Perhaps if they’d known each other better, he would have laughed. “Pretty much.”

She had no idea what to say to him. They stood there, awkwardly, waiting for the other to speak. It was not a surprise on Vivien’s part, remembering how little the Black Prince spoke, even among his friends. The importance which Vivien herself placed on words often prevented her from saying anything at all. Better to listen, and learn, then say something which may give part of oneself away.

“I’m sorry I was late, that I missed the actual funeral,” he said, bowing his head to her. It was a formal gesture that Vivien had not seen outside of old pictures of Victorians.

With a shrug, she replied, “No bother to me. The importance is in that you bothered to come at all. Mum wasn’t exactly the most revered of pureblooded ladies.” She could not stop the distain from leaking into her voice. “Sorry, but I’m actually surprised that Mrs. Black sent you at all.”

He was looking at her with a curious expression in his eyes. It was as though he’d never quite met someone like her, and didn’t at all know what to do with her now that he had.

“Mother knows all that goes on among our kind, Horne.” He paused with a frown, rehearsing the words before they emerged from his lips. “Your mother’s... predicament was... improper for a witch of her station and bearing.”

Vivien tilted her head back to get a better look at his impassive face. “A better word would be ‘unfortunate’, don’t you think, Black?”

His frown deepened. “It would be appropriate, yes.”

“Good,” she said with a satisfied nod. “Well, I’d better be off. Grimm’s waiting for me, and he’s not known to be a patient one.” She swore that she could feel Grimm’s impatience being carried towards her on the stale breeze.

But the Black Prince wasn’t ready to let her go just yet. He stared over her shoulder at the gate where Grimm and Professor McGonagall waited.

“You know, Horne, it’s not really proper for you to be living in such a situation–”

Vivien threw her chin up, eyes suddenly sparking with temper. Was everyone coming to the funeral just to cause a ruckus? It seemed that all the purebloods in the world never thought of anything other than keeping up appearances and how they could manage to cause grief to anyone who wasn’t like them, who wasn’t like them.

“And why not, Mr. Hoity-Toity Black? Because he’s a half-blood and not married to her? Well, first of all, it’s not any of your business where or how my family chooses to live.” She emphasised the word ‘family’ with great pride. “And, furthermore, I had enough of your kind. My mother did nothing to raise me or teach me any of the old ways, and I do not regret it.” Her accent soared straight to the top of the hierarchy, though she did not notice the change. “She was nothing other than a lazy, brainless piece of fluff that should never have been allowed to have a child, much less keep her.”

Black staggered back a step, his dark eyes widely staring down upon Vivien’s reddened face.

“What?” Vivien continued, fighting to maintain a level voice. “Does that bother your pathetic propriety that I should speak ill of the dead while still standing by her grave? She won’t hear me. She’s dead, gone. It doesn’t matter now.”

She whipped around and was many steps away before she stopped.

“Oh, I forgot. Good day to you, Black. See you at school.”

Even once she had reached the gate and rejoined her guardians, Vivien felt the eyes of Regulus Black watching her from afar. She turned once to see, and noticed that he had not yet moved from the place he had been while she had spoken to him. It seemed, perhaps, that his pure-as-all blood had been stilled by her words and that he had frozen in place among the gravestones.

“I hope you gave him some words of kindness, Vivien.” McGonagall poked her nose around Grimm’s form. “It was decent of him to come, even if it was his mother than sent him.”

Vivien smiled, hoping that she did not appear too pleased with herself.

“It was with pleasure that I did so, Professor.”

Her prim words caused Grimm to interfere. “By that we can guess that she told him off.” He looked over at Vivien, while McGonagall sighed, probably wondering if she should give up on them both. “Did it make up for having to deal with your aunts today?”

The bus pulled up beside them and they boarded, preventing Vivien from answering until they were settled on the upper storey. As London streets passed them by on both sides, she thought over the two graveside battles she had fought.

“Somewhat. He wasn’t like I expected.”

Grimm raised an eyebrow. “In what way?”

Thinking, Vivien twirled a lock of hair around her fingers. “I don’t know. He was just very... quiet.”

“Hmmm. Probably anyone would seem that way after hearing Fulvia’s bellow. Honestly, that woman sounds like–”

McGonagall reached up and placed her hand across Grimm’s mouth. “Don’t you dare, Tiberius.” It was not until he nodded innocently and she’d taken away her hand that she added, “We’ve had enough insults for today, don’t you think?” She was not scolding him. Vivien could hear the plaintive tone in the older witch’s mellow voice.

“Of course.” Grimm avoided her eyes and looked out the window, watching the city flash by.

None of them spoke for the remainder of the journey, not even when they entered the door and went their separate ways within the house – Grimm to his cellar laboratory, McGonagall to the library, and Vivien to the garden. It was the place where, throughout the day, she was completely alone. Grimm would only come here in the dawn or at twilight, when he could best collect he various herbs and strange plants which sprouted where vegetables had once grown. McGonagall was not the gardening type, and forsook the place completely. It became, in consequence, Vivien’s sanctuary, particularly among the wild vines that covered the wall and tumbled down in monstrous thickets.

It was unlike any garden she had ever seen, certainly unlike those of the neighbours, all of which were the perfect English gardens pictured on the glossy pages of Country Life. Something about Grimm’s garden was alive in a way that meant more than just plants which existed and bloomed each year. No, this place seemed to take breath, to feed off the land in a way that no garden should.

And it was here where Vivien came to think.

Things in her head were quieter, easier to rationalise. They just made sense. They weren’t like the crazed relatives and impossible purebloods who had haunted her mother’s funeral. She laughed to herself at that thought; if there had been but one ghost missing from the funeral, it had been her mother’s own. It was strange to wonder just where her mother’s spirit had gone, once the body had decayed to a state of death. There were the ghosts at school, yet she had never seen a recent ghost, one that had just been created. Myrtle was the youngest ghost at Hogwarts, yet neither Grimm nor Professor McGonagall could attest to just when she’d first appeared, and they’d been there at Myrtle’s death.

Her mind drifted back to the events of the funeral. The sudden paleness of McGonagall’s face had been a surprise, since nothing seemed to upset the professor, not even Grimm’s eccentricities or the worst pranks of the Marauders could not affect her in that way. It was like Fulvia’s words had struck her in the heart, hitting a still-bleeding wound of long ago.

Vivien glanced towards the house. They would not be looking for her yet. Grimm might, once his experiments were seen to, timidly tap on the library door and enter the room, unable to meet McGonagall’s eyes just in case they held tears.... No, that didn’t sound right. McGonagall would never cry. Vivien wanted to be that way, masking emotion and passion with an impassive face. Such a barrier would have made it easier to confront Regulus Black, though it never would have helped with Aunt Fulvia. Her insults could not even be deflected by the most impenetrable wall.

Black. Yes, Black. What did he want? There had seemed more to his purpose than a simple acknowledgement of the proprieties. Her mother had broken them by knocking on Grimm’s door. All the purebloods would know that, yet Mrs. Black had, according to Regulus, sent her son to the funeral of a witch who had long-ago fallen from the gaze of proper Wizarding society. The way he had looked at her, Vivien couldn’t understand it. She had surprised him, somehow, given him a shock.

A swallow’s song drifted through the shrubbery.

“Who is the real Regulus Black?” she asked herself, aloud. The answer was made no clearer by putting sounds to the words. It was something she would have to find out in his presence.

Chapter 3: Two Princes
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Chapter Two

It did not take long for Vivien to have another chance to see Regulus Black again. She had managed to garner herself an empty compartment, turning her face to the window so that her housemates would not immediately recognise her. For once on this trip to Hogwarts, she wanted to be alone. Perhaps she had guessed something would happen that would best not be witnessed by those who somewhat knew her.

With her mother gone now, it was far easier for her to leave home without regret. However much she had been neglected, her mother had always bid her farewell on her way to school. Grimm’s house would now lie empty during the school year, except for the house elf, and it felt strange to Vivien that it should be so. An empty house. It didn’t seem right, yet she very well knew that it had been that way for all the years before she and her mother had arrived there. But that was a time she knew very little about.

The motion of the train was lulling her to sleep when she heard the compartment door slide open. Only one set of footsteps entered the compartment, pausing to take a seat across from where she sat at the window.

“Hello again, Horne. Feeling better?”

She could not miss the slight biting tone in Regulus’ voice.

“When your mother dies, then you’ll know, Black.” Vivien did not bother to hide her bitterness.

He shifted in his seat. Either she’d made him nervous or he was still trying to get comfortable.

“That’s a bit harsh. I was trying to be polite.”

She opened her eyes. “More like failed.”

After a moment, he said, “You’re not an easy one to talk with, Horne.”

“Go away, Black.”

He licked his bottom lip, his tongue wrapping neatly into the corner of his mouth. The next words he spoke were in a deeper voice, not yet at the level of his elder brother's. He was sadly still at the age when his voice had not entirely broken.

“Why are you so desperate to get rid of me?”

Vivien sat up straighter so as to better read his expression, her eyes squinting. At this rate, she’d be needing spectacles soon.

“Honestly? I wouldn’t trust anyone with a name like yours.”

He put on a mask of shock, widening his eyes. “How cruel! So if my name was Tom Nobody, you might like me?”

She kept her lips in a firm line. “I'd think about it.”

A small crowd passed along the corridor. Prefects, by the looks of them. They at least knew better than to peer into the windows of compartments.

Regulus crossed one leg over the other and folded his arms, eyes searching her face.

“You know what, Horne? You don’t make sense.”

Was that supposed to be a compliment? Vivien’s decision was borderline; one could not trust a Black to speak the truth, even when they were being sincere. She’d watched Sirius get around the rules, even with McGonagall, too many times. He could sidle his way out of death, if he pleased.

She decided to remain silent. If she did for a long enough time, it was possible that he might go away. The possibility was a small one, but it was a better than attempting to come up with a counter to his endless stream of questions. He was close to becoming the next plague. Why had he come to her, of all people? She was an utter no-one, and preferred to keep herself that way.

“I won’t leave just because you’re too stubborn to reply.” His eyes assessed her once again, then he smiled. “And you are stubborn. It’s not pretty in a girl, but you pull it off well.”

The hair on her arms prickled. He must have been doing this on purpose, baiting her to see how far she could be pushed before exploding into temper. But here was a far different situation than in the graveyard. There were too many people around to whip out one’s wand and start screaming hexes into the air. No, while at the school, one must remain entirely unobtrusive.

“Don't flirt with me, Black.” She paused, hurriedly thinking of what to say next. It had to be just the right thing.

Her hesitation was too long. He started to laugh, the high-pitched giggle catching the attention of a group of Ravenclaws passing by. Only too late did Vivien realise that the group included her dorm-mates. Luck was just that cruel. She wished that they’d walk in and chase Black away, but they continued on down the carriage, whispering in each others’ ears. Vivien cursed them silently.

“Your friends?” His voice had lowered. He was watching her again.

She raised her upper lip in a half-snarl. “Mostly.”

There was a strange expression in his eyes. Strange because it was unfamiliar to his face, as it did not suit his over-defined cheek bones and dark colouring. Some would have called it a softening of the features, others would say it was some degree of understanding.

“We’re both lonely people, aren't we.”

The words were flatly spoken, but Vivien could hear the truth within them.

Now it was her turn to watch him.

“You have a family, Black,” she said, her voice more quiet than ever, eyes narrowed to slits. “What would you call what I have?”

He leaned forward in his seat, balancing his elbows on his knees, hands clasped.

“So you take the word ‘family’ to merely mean that I have a mother, a father, and a disgraced brother who is no longer supposed to be mentioned? That would not be at all what I meant by it.” The bitterness in his voice was heavy, filling the air with its sour stench. Everyone knew that Blacks were not born, they were constructed. Regulus was no different; his heart would be as dark as his name, even against those who shared his blood.

The news of Sirius Black’s escape from 12 Grimmauld Place had come to Professor McGonagall by express owl post, although Vivien was unsure just who had sent that letter. Would Sirius himself had notified the Gryffindor Head of such news, or would it instead have been a worried Mrs. Potter, seeking advise on the new arrival to the Potter household? What piqued Vivien’s curiosity most, however, was Regulus’ opinion on the matter. It was unlikely that Regulus would miss his brother; she had never seen the two of them exchange more than a few words in the last four years – but the Black family had to be in some sort of uproar. These things didn’t happen all that often, did they?

Her eyes met his for a moment, and she knew the truth. This had happened before, many times, and each time, the Black family never forgave, but always made sure to forget. The memory of Sirius would have been vanquished from the house as soon as he had stepped out of the door. Regulus simply did not care whether or not he may have once had a brother.

Just how different was that from the death of her mother? She had not felt much about her mother in the first place, and although she had sat at the woman’s bedside for hours upon end, Vivien could not make herself believe that she would one day miss her mother. Even now she felt no deficiency because she was short one biological parent. That same coldness, that want of desire, was evident in the face of Regulus Black.

For the first time, Vivien felt some sort of understanding arise between herself and the strange, but curious boy sitting across from her. She missed the glint in his eyes as he noticed her reaction, her growing pity. She only saw someone who understood abandonment.

“Losing someone is always hard,” she said, choosing her words with care. “No matter what you thought of them.”

He did not respond right away. She thought that he wanted to gauge her words, make sure that they were real and held truth within their syllables. Just as she could not trust him, he would not trust her. It would take far more than a simple understanding to reach such a pinnacle of existence. One did not approach a Black too quickly, for fear of being scalded.

“It is time that I was more honest with you, Horne.” No understanding could even force him to stop using her surname. Its use maintained the distance between them, the abyss between those who are and those who dream of being.

Vivien slouched back in the seat, savuoring the softness of the cushions. “Go ahead.” It was pointless for her to speak – he would tell her even if she told him not to.

His hands unclasped and clasped again. His first sign of a minor anxiety. “The day of your mother’s funeral was the same that my— that Sirius left. I needed to get out. Mother didn't ask me to go.” He was now avoiding her eyes.

Vivien watched him, watch for any sign of foul play. Why this sudden modesty, this impossible admittance into his confidence? She did not need to know these things. What did they matter, anyways? He had lied, yes, but why tell her that now? The first time they had exchanged words had been at that funeral.

What to say in reply? Oh, that’s nice. No, that was too callous; his behaviour warranted something more than that. He was not here because she was just a Slytherin crony he could joke around with. There was something else in this. If only she knew what.

“Now this is interesting,” he said, a semblance of awe appearing on his face. “Even when I am candid, you still don't believe me. Merlin, what things did old Grimm teach you about us?” He paused, eyes narrowing. “You do remember that you are a pureblood, don’t you?”

Vivien crossed her arms and looked out the window. Why should she bother herself to respond to such a stupid, idiotic statement as that? Her silence burned like the scathing reply lying in wait on the tip of her tongue.

“You’ll never trust me, Horne. It’s better that way.” Regulus stood over her, his voice lacking the amusement that she had expected. He was not mocking her.

She watched him leave the compartment, taking in his appearance as she had not done before. Some said that he was better-looking than his brother, but Vivien had seen just as much as Regulus as his brother in the years previous to this. Haughty and handsome was not her type, particularly when the former adjective extended well past the latter. Yet she could also see how other girls had formed such a high opinion of the brothers Black: the dark curls, the depth of their gaze, the strong facial features.... Vivien’s head tilted as Regulus turned down the corridor. Even his posterior afforded a not unpleasant view.

It was too bad that such a view must be marred by the deficiencies of inbreeding.

Once he had gone, she closed her eyes, trying to relax her nerves. The bastard that he was, he refused to let her mind rest, and so she sat there, staring out the window, trying to keep her thoughts away from those of the blackest sort.

~ * * * ~


The sound of the Great Hall on the first night of school was always deafening. The sudden change from the silence of the London house to the din of a school dinner startled Vivien more than usual. There were goosepimples on her arms as she squeezed into a seat among her housemates, but she rubbed them away with her hands, making it appear as though she’d just caught a slight chill.

“Spending any time with one of those Black’s would cause that.” The shrewd eye of Iris Pennyworth missed very little.

Exchanged? Parried would be a more accurate word.

“He’d make the rainforest freeze with just a look.” Vivien hoped the others couldn’t hear her above the noise.

Iris and some of the other girls laughed, always glad to find a reason to insult a Slytherin. That Regulus was a Black only provided an extra bonus. Even the supporters of purebloodism found reason to dislike at least one member of the Black family. It wasn’t for nothing that the one Black to make Headmaster of Hogwarts was the least popular headmaster listed in Hogwarts: A History. While the Black brothers were admired as fine specimens of masculinity, only Sirius was also known for any scrap of kindness. He was, after all, close friends with the mousiest, ugliest boy in fifth year.

“What was he talking with you about for so long?” asked another girl. Tully had never been successful at hiding her curiosity. It may have killed the cat, but it only fed a ‘Claw.

Vivien looked down at the table. She couldn’t even put a word to the things that Regulus had said – most of it was meaningless talk, a sort of polite conversation with motives Vivien didn’t yet know or understand.

After a moment, she said, “He wanted to talk about his brother.”

The others nodded, and one of the elder Ravenclaws leaned into the conversation.

“It wouldn’t do him any good to be found talking about his brother to any of his sort. Everyone knows what happened, but who can he talk about it to?” Emmeline continued on to her own seat further down the table, leaving the fourth years in an awkward silence.

Dumbledore was just starting his speech when Iris whispered across to Vivien: “Stop worrying about it, Viv. It was just a wrong place at the wrong time thing.”

Although Vivien nodded and turned to listen to what Dumbledore had to say (much of the same as the last three years, she was sure), she felt a certain lack of conviction in her agreement with Iris. Coincidence didn’t work like that. The first time, maybe Regulus had just stumbled upon her mother’s funeral, but the second time in the train he had meant to speak to her and only her. It wouldn’t surprise her if, furthermore, he had meant to meet her in the train.

Regulus Black wanted something from her. With all his banal talk, he’d been trying to weed something out of her, maybe some feminine pity or something like that. But it was his last words to her that had planted the seed of worry in her mind. You’ll never trust me... it’s better that way. Those words just didn’t make sense. He’d tried to gain her understanding, and had almost succeeded. Yet, at the very last moment, he says that.

He was right in one thing, however: trust was the last thing she’d ever give him.

Halfway through Dumbledore’s speech – he was just reaching the part about the Forbidden Forest that made most of the Gryffindors grin like madmen – Vivien caught the intense gaze of Grimm, who must have seen the anxiety on her face. What he would make of it, she had no idea, but she hoped that he wouldn’t guess the real reason for it. It wasn’t like there was actually anything to worry about in fourth year – it was perhaps the most boring year of all.

Tully poked her in the back. “Viv! Maybe now that Sirius is out the family, Regulus is being pressured to find himself a girl.” Her voice was a mixture of teasing and awe. “And you’re a pureblood!”

Why was everyone trying to remind her of that fact? There was still a good number of pureblooded girls at Hogwarts, many of which wouldn’t actually mind being tied body and soul to one of the Black men. The family may have been getting short on members, but it was certainly not short of money.

Turning her head in Tully’s direction, she hissed back a reply. “As far as I’m concerned, he can find someone more desperate!”

A few people turned her way, wondering at the statement. Vivien gave them a glare and looked again towards the Head Table, trying to appear as though she was paying attention to the finale of Dumbledore’s speech. The headmaster was, at least, an interesting person to watch, if not to listen to. The note of seriousness in Tully’s words had alarmed her more than had the ignorance of Regulus’ motives. If he had been preparing her for courtship, he’d done more to warn her off than attract her. Then again, she wasn’t the type to be wooed by money or charm.

An idea came to her without warning.

Once again turning towards Tully, she whispered, “But has he ever been interested in anyone before?”

Tully blinked, staring at Vivien with widening eyes. “I don’t... I mean....”

From across the table, Iris supplied a further explanation. “He’s a Black. They just don’t care.”

Vivien settled back into her position of polite inattention, thoughtful. She should have known those things before – it wasn’t like either of the Black brothers had actually stepped out with anyone before. They looked and, even more, were looked at, but they had a particular “look but don’t touch” philosophy surrounding them. That very fact made Regulus’ interest even more strange, even disturbing.

Her eyes moved, almost unbidden, in the direction of the Slytherin table. There sat the usual suspects: Snape with his still-greasy hair and knife-sharp nose, Rosier looking like he’d been lifting weights all summer, the younger Lestrange with his familiar leer. It was the usual menagerie until she caught the gaze of Regulus Black. He was different from the others – they didn’t sit the same way, they didn’t – couldn’t – have that same aura of true confidence and power. Vivien twisted around to view the Gryffindor table. Yes, Sirius had it too, but not in quite the same way.

Regulus was still staring back at her. There was no emotion on his face – no victorious smile or sneer of hatred – he was just looking. It was worse than looking into a mirror; at least then you saw whatever emotions with written on one’s own face. But here... here Regulus was only managing to give her the shivers, like he was some undead creature ready to devour her soul. It would not have been a great surprise to her if there had been some vampires in the Black family tree.

The food appeared on the table, causing the students to erupt in a literal volcano of noise that must have echoed to the Dover cliffs and back again. Vivien took her turn at grabbing various articles to consume, relieved that, finally, there was a reason to concentrate on something other than the dreaded colour of night.

~ * * * ~

“Snape.” Regulus’ hiss echoed down the dungeon corridor. “A word.”

The taller of the two, but hollow chested, Snape stopped and crossed his arms. “What now, Black? Another favour?” A sneer pulled at his lips.

Regulus tiled his head to one side. “Not yet, but that time will come soon.”

Snape tapped his foot, his sneer deepening. Regulus watched the action with interest.

“Late for something, Snape?” He paused, a half-grin forming on his face. “Another pummelling by my late brother, perhaps?”

That grin, the mocking double of that... that creature known as Sirius Black. Snape wanted to physically wipe it off the younger Black’s face, preferably with some acidic substance. Gratification filled his mind as the image of Regulus Black’s melting skin became vivid enough to be real.

“I’ll imagine that you didn’t say such a thing, Black.” He tried to retain the clipped syllables of the highest purebloods, but it always faded too quickly from his voice. It was too easy to take on the slurred notes of his dirty muggle father.

Regulus must have seen the acknowledgement of failure in Snape’s eyes. The grin took over his face, transforming his dark looks into a hideously deformed image of his elder brother’s mirthful expression. Was this what Dorian Gray had seen in the portrait – his own face, almost unrecognizable? Snape wondered for a moment of what would occur if Sirius and Regulus met face-to-face unexpectedly. It was near-miraculous how the two brothers avoided one another; four years, and never a single meeting, not even by accident. Very suspicious.

Snape often found suspicion in every corner, each whisper. The very world was not beyond his mistrust – it had betrayed him so many times that he saw little point in expecting anything else from everything.

Only one person, one single individual of the entire human race, held his regard. On that point, he always remained silent. Always.

“My cousin suspects you of a certain weakness, Snape.” The words barged into Snape’s consciousness. “She doesn’t trust you, which doesn’t make sense to me at all.” Regulus paused, narrowing his eyes as he leaned towards Snape, pushing himself up on his toes to look into Snape’s eyes.

Swallow, blink. Snape’s mouth went dry. “Why is that?” His voice failed to keep even.

Regulus did not smile as Snape had expected. The younger Slytherin instead appeared rather disappointed; he had not seen in Snape’s eyes what he had wanted to see. With an impatient sigh, Regulus backed away, his face hidden in the shadows.

“You want power, Snape, that’s all too obvious.” He stared down at his fingernails. “And you’ll do anything to get it, which is why we end up seeing a lot of each other.” The smile left the barest impression on his face. “And perhaps I have a task for you, after all.”

There was always a “task”, always something for Snape to do in order to prove himself – a good word from Regulus would be enough to get him into the ranks. That was the power of a Black, and as much as Snape despised the slimy child, he needed him. And he knew very well that Regulus, too, needed him just as much, if not more.

“As your highness requires.” It was just as unpleasant idea to think that Regulus Black needed him.

Regulus’ laughter reached his ears. Snape could not see his face clearly, and he knew then that the shadows were another necessity. Whatever request was to come, it was one that caused a personal bother to Regulus. The younger boy was possibly going to place himself in Snape’s hands, but for what cause?

“From one Prince to another, alright, Snape?” The laughter was nervous, Snape could feel the anxiety in the air. “My problem is like yours, I think, though with less of a backlash if something should, as they say, go amiss.”

The sound of Regulus’ shuffling boots coupled with his harsher breathing allowed Snape to guess at what request was going to issue from Black’s lips. Trouble and strife.

“I need you to soften a certain young witch for me.”

The words, when they finally came, were flat and tasteless. It was as though Regulus had rehearsed them over and over, yet had, at the last moment, decided on something else. He would not forget, only choose something new. And that new thing didn’t leave much of an impression on Snape, except one of greater disgust. A girl. It was always about girls, wasn’t it?

But he had no choice, now, did he? To fulfill his life-long desire for recognition, for respect, for raw, limitless power, he would have to utterly humiliate himself.

“In what way?” He spit out the words like bad pumpkin juice.

Regulus shrugged, in the same way his brother would. “You got Evans well enough, surely you know the secret?”

Snape distracted himself by thinking of all the spells he wanted to use to rearrange Regulus’ facial features. “These things don’t happen so easily, Black. Your brother would be the better one to ask about seduction tactics.”

There was a bristling, the air filling with electricity. “Don’t push me, Snape. Use whatever you can to get Horne to stop being such a hard-arsed bitch and maybe I’ll let my cousin know that her fears are unfounded. You are the Dark Lord’s man, are you not?”

He wanted to give a definite acknowledgement of the question, but the sounds of others approaching made him hesitate. Or was it something else? Flashes of red and green crossing his vision, reminding him of all the other things he had to look forward to, things beyond all his pathetic desires. Only one desire remained.

Distant voices down a distant corridor.

“– ran short of asphodel, of all things. Do not look so surprised, Miss Evans. Old men such as myself constantly forget to properly check our stores.”

“But won’t Professor Slughorn notice you took some, sir?” That voice caught at Snape’s ear.

“I don’t believe he has accurately counted his inventory since I graduated from here myself.”

It was then that she laughed. That sound sent shivers down Snape’s spine.

“You really should set a better example for us, Professor,” she managed to say, attempting a level of seriousness that could not be reached when one was laughing.

“I seem to be told that all the time,” Professor Grimm said, probably with a roll of his eyes. How such a person could ever have been made a Hogwarts professor was far beyond Snape’s comprehension.

Lily was still laughing when she and the professor entered the corridor containing the still-frozen form of Severus Snape. He hadn’t even the time to place a scowl on his face before they had noticed him. How could they not, when the stood in the centre of the corridor, staring towards them with longing eyes? Regulus had been forgotten, and a good riddance that was....

“Use Grimm, you fool.” Regulus’ whisper reached his ears even though the other boy’s physical form was already off down the corridor, keeping to the shadows. He entered the Slytherin Common Room just as Lily’s voice now echoed down towards Snape.

“Sev! You’re early!” She hurried up to him, clutching her potions textbook against her chest. “Is something wrong? You look... like you’ve seen a ghost, as silly as it sounds.”

He paused for too long before replying, his brain stalling over the words he wanted to speak.

“What is it that you do down here?” Grimm asked, filling the silence with something, anything.

There was a quiet dripping of water nearby.

Lily glanced towards the professor. “Extra studying for potions in preparation for our OWLS.”

Grimm kept his gaze on Snape, their curiosity all too apparent. “From what I’ve heard, Miss Evans, neither of you have anything to worry about.”

Keeping his eyes averted from the professor’s, Snape thought about the things he’d read about closing your mind to others. Yet Regulus Black’s final words, those whispered syllables, played over and over in his head. Use Grimm. The connection there was not a difficult one to see, even for fools. Horne was Grimm’s ward, as much as the two of them never admitted that fact while they were at Hogwarts. There was no evident reason as to why Regulus would find her of all girls interesting. If placed next to Lily, she would appear as dull and colourless as a raven.

But he was trapped. He would have to do this if he wanted to prevent insane Bellatrix from ruining everything he had been working for. One day he’d be at the right hand of the Dark Lord with all those disgusting purebloods paying court to him. Then, and only then, would he have proven himself.

“Professor,” he said slowly, tasting each word before he spoke it aloud. “Perhaps you would be able to provide us with some assistance today, as you are already here?”

Lily’s jaw had dropped, but Snape was now looking at Grimm, meeting the curious grey eyes with the determination which had, until a moment before, lain dormant.

“Unless you know of another who would be interested in our little... meetings.”

It was the first sacrifice.

Chapter 4: Three Problems
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Many thanks to the reviewers and critique-ers who helped me get this chapter out at last. About a year too late, but now at least I know where this story is going.




Chapter Three

“I don’t see why I need remedial Potions.” Vivien sat across from Grimm, ignoring the near-tepid cup of tea in her hands. “It’s not a subject I’m interested in, anyway.”

That was not the sort of thing one told a Potions specialist. He may have been stuck in the Arithmancy position, waiting for Slughorn to leave (whether it be by death or retirement, Grimm didn’t care), but that did nothing to decrease Grimm’s enthusiasm for the subject.

He sighed, leaning back in his chair. “Snape has offered both himself and Evans to help you, and they’re the best in the school. It would be unwise to turn that offer down.”

Viven shifted in her chair, not noticing the tea until a drop spilled onto her hand. She scowled down at it before placing the full saucer on Grimm’s desk. “But why me? That’s what I don’t get.” She looked across at him, brows furrowed. “Is it you who’s doing this? Trying to get me into Potions?”

It came as a surprise when Grimm shook his head. She’d been sure that he’d been behind this; it was the only logical explanation. He wanted her to become like him, or be useful, or something. She managed average grades with seemingly no great talent for anything in particular. Quidditch didn’t interest her; neither did anything else.

“Snape brought up your name. I didn’t know that you were acquainted with him.”

So it was Black’s doing. He had everyone wrapped around his little finger, including the greasy-haired loner. Not that such news was shocking. Snape was a half-blood in Slytherin, a rare enough occurrence. It stood to reason that he would desire greater standing among his housemates. Providing favours to a member of the Black family would certainly go a long way to achieve such an end.

“Unless he assumed that you would share the same interest as me.”

That helped to put an end to the conversation. Vivien slumped in her chair, unwilling to meet his eyes. Yes, she should have been interested, at least in something, anything. She was reminded of her mother, without talent or interest. It was an unhappy thought. Bad enough that she hated all of those practical classes - Charms, Transfiguration, and Defence Against the Dark Arts – knowing that, once in a while, she could get nothing to work, her wand impotent, useless.

“The majority of students are no different from you, Vivien. Very few know what they want to do after Hogwarts.” There was a little smile on his face. Anyone who didn’t know him well would see it as encouraging.

To Vivien, it was worse than a death sentence. No different from other students, ha! It was the worst insult possible.

“I’ll try, Grimm.” She stared at the floor. “I’ll go. Nothing else to do, anyway.”

“Well, you could always try the Gobstones Club.”

She raised her eyes. His smile was wider now, a half-grin, that silly schoolboyish expression that annoyed both her and Professor McGonagall to no end. If there was anything the two witches could agree upon, it was Grimm’s failure to achieve a suitable level of maturity.

Vivien did not return the smile.

“How soon must I start?” Her tone was funereal. Remedial Potions would not be the highlight of her week.

He took a sip of tea before responding. “They meet every other day in the Potions classroom after dinner, but there’s no need for you to attend every session.”

Indeed not. Her grade was a reasonable Acceptable. A high Acceptable, according to Slughorn, who had at least made the attempt to appear encouraging. Grimm hadn’t even bothered with that. Anything below an Exceeds Expectations in Potions was tantamount of failure. Vivien had seen his grades from school; all of them high, all of them pointing to a successful student.

She looked at Grimm now. With his intelligence, he could have done anything, been anyone, but he lacked ambition, lacked a whole lot of things. Instead, he was at Hogwarts, teaching a subject he was good at, but did not enjoy. Yet he did not leave this place, had kept this job for nearly twenty years without a sign of leaving.

Perhaps it was no great wonder she did not see the point in high grades.

Soon after, Vivien took her leave, not bothering to drink the tea. She did like taking tea with Grimm every Sunday – a sort-of-routine that reminded her of home, Grimm’s home – but today’s subject of choice was, to be cliched, not her cup of tea. He had come too close to asking her that inevitable question: what do you want to do after Hogwarts. He already knew her answer would be the negative, a stubborn “don’t know, really” that was repeated among half the student populace. It wasn’t as though he offered to help her decide. Until now.

It was quiet in the castle, most people busy doing other things, whatever those may include. The silent hallways were more gloomy, shadows poking out of every corner, the suits of armour laying in wait for any student who drew too near the dangerous blades. She liked the image of the armour coming to life, protecting the castle from outside intrusion. She wouldn’t put it past Dumbledore to think of such things, preparing for the likely attack by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. So many people were already dead. Mostly Muggles, but all the same, dead, lost, mourned. Some of the professors had wanted Dumbledore to ban the Daily Prophet from being sent to students. Too much violence, they had said. It would upset things too much. But Dumbledore had prevailed, as always. The students needed to know what was going on around them, he’d said.

She stepped closer to a particularly large suit of armour. One hand held a mace, highly dangerous. It seemed to have a little stain on the spikes. Perhaps–

“Don’t you have somewhere to be?”

The voice came out of nowhere, plunging into Vivien’s consciousness.

“Oh, what? Sorry?” The mangled syllables were all she could manage.

The Head Boy stared back, mouth set in a boringly firm line.

“You shouldn’t be loitering in the hall, Ravenclaw. Keep moving.”

Vivien pictured the mace slowly rising over the Head Boy’s – what was his name again? – head, its spikes brushing against the top of his skull. Then it would pull back, gaining momentum before making the hit, smashing against the head–

“Did you hear me, Ravenclaw?”

She blinked, waking from the fantasy.

“When you know my name, maybe I’ll listen.” The words came out clearly this time. If only they weren’t signing her death warrant. Her eyes widened at the realisation that she had actually spoken those words to the Head Boy. And to think she’d been lately trying to control her temper.

She tried to walk away, following his command as though she hadn’t said anything at all.

“Look here, Ravenclaw!” He was coming toward her.

Vivien increased her speed. Perhaps the armour would come to her rescue, after all, the shining armour without the knight.

“Ten points from Ravenclaw, then. Suit yourself.”

He had stopped, straightening his Slytherin robes with hands ringed with scar tissue.

Vivien remembered him now. Edmund Wilkes. The scars were supposedly from an attack by a wild creature. She guessed it to be a flesh-eating slug, though some Slytherins claimed they were from a dragon Rosier had captured while on holiday in Wales. Ridiculous story.

He was gone when she looked up again. Good riddance. Before continuing to... well, she wasn’t sure where she was going yet. But before she left the hallway, Vivien offered a glare to the suits of armour. Great help they were to her plight. And now ten points down? Bloody hell. All for standing in a hallway for one minute too long for the Head Boy’s liking.

It was never good for Hogwarts when a Slytherin made Head Boy. He may not have been as bad as some of the others (yet), but it didn’t make him a good person, either.

Thinking about Slytherins made her think of Black again, and Snape. She checked her watch. Still a few hours before she would go see if Snape and Evans were down in the Potions classroom. Wouldn’t it be great fun, joining them for Potions work? The dungeons were cold, gloomy, and filled to the brim with Slytherins. Lovely.

Vivien stalked off toward Ravenclaw tower. There was a little time to get some reading in for History of Magic yet.

~ * * * ~

A lone spider crept across the desk in front of Snape’s eyes. He did not see it, and it scurried off behind the neat row of Potions ingredients. They were organized alphabetically. A scrubbed cauldron sat beside them, ready for that evening’s experiment. Snape added the final ingredient bottle to the row and turned to Jigger’s Magical Drafts and Potions.

That girl was coming, the one Black had requested join them. The very thought of his time with Lily being interrupted by a snivelling fourth year, Grimm’s own ward, for Merlin’s sake. If she was anything like the old man–

“Sev? You’re early.”

Lily took the seat beside him, plunking her books on the desk, pages dog-eared, covers folded and smudged. Snape kept his eyes averted from such atrocities.

“We have a student today, Lily.”

She laughed, not loudly, but the sound was still penetrating, sending a shiver down his spine. “It’s not that serious, Sev. She’s one of the quiet sort, anyway.”

Snape flipped a page, glancing over another potion’s instructions.

“You’re not convinced, are you? Yet it was your idea.”

To continue in silence would give away too much. She was a bloody mind reader at times. All of the time, actually.

He took a breath. “Put it down to nervousness. I haven’t ever taught anyone before.”

She leaned back in the chair, staring up at the ceiling. “I suppose not. Well, it’ll be a new experience. Not that we’ll be teaching her much. She should already know the basics.”

His eyes shifted in her direction. “You hope.”

Her only response was a sigh. Whether it was out of impatience for his gloominess or from an entirely different reason, he could not tell. Snape continued going through the book, and after a few minutes, Lily began to unpack her own materials: two quills (one slightly chewed), a cauldron with a chip on the rim, as well as various other things in similar conditions.

Snape said nothing. His own things were old, but well-kept, hidden away during the holidays, out of his father’s sight. Lily was not so lucky where her sister was concerned.

The draught of peace. That is what he would work on today. Leave the fourth year to Lily, who was by far the more sociable of the two. Helped that she was a girl, too. ... powdered moonstone... had he brought that? Yes. Though Black had asked him to work on the girl, soften her up. Now how was he supposed to do that? He didn’t even know her, another faceless fourth year from another house. ...syrup of hellebore... There might be just enough of the stuff, but it would be close.

This would be the first of many sessions with Horne. He was not, by any means, required to make her like Black within the space of a single hour.

“Do you think she’ll even come?” Three more minutes had passed. Lily fiddled with the edge of a parchment, rolling and unrolling.

“What can you–”

“Hello?”

Snape’s words died on his tongue. Vivien emerged from the dungeon corridor, holding her textbook to her chest. Nothing much to look at, really. Snubbed nose. Small lips. Eyes too far apart. Face too wide. Hair as dark as his own, with an insignificant curl. Eyes almond-shaped, but a dull blue in colour. She looked at him first, eyes probing, brow furrowing at the sight of him. Or his robes. However little people knew of the Death Eaters, they did know that all had been in Slytherin.

Lily was the one who jumped up first, eyes alight with curiosity.

“You must be Vivien. Might as well get started right away....”

Snape nodded at the girl, but concentrated on his own work. For now, he would watch, try to understand what it was Black saw in Vivien Horne. Compared with Li–

No.

But his eyes drifted toward her all the same. Although she may have been messy and a pack-rat, she was always presentable: hair cleanly bound back in a long braid, robes in place, only marred by the specks of dust that permeated every inch of the school. The prefect badge was slightly crooked, that was all. He liked looking at her, watching her movements, her ever-changing expressions. It was easier when others were around, offering comparison. None could surpass, not even match, Lily. No one.

“Is it alright to call you Vivien?” Lily was smiling at the younger witch.

A nod. Vivien hadn’t yet put down her textbook. She shifted her weight from one foot to the next, biting her lip.

“What is it that you’re working on in class?”

This answer demanded a verbal response.

“Um, the Deflating Draught. Antidotes and the like.”

Of course, Lily already knew all this. Snape could see it in the line of her mouth and the lustre of her eyes. She was trying to draw the girl out, get her to communicate. She’d done the same to him too many times, making him tell her everything about the magical world.

Now that she knew it all, he sometimes feared she wouldn’t need him anymore.

A sometimes fear, nothing more.

“Well, lets try it out, then, shall we?” Lily’s smile didn’t even flicker. She would make a great teacher, if that’s what she chose.

They started on the antidote – the most elementary of them all in Snape’s view – while Snape began his own work. As Vivien rarely spoke except to mumble a response to a question, Snape was able to concentrate on Lily’s voice. It in itself was a draught of peace, far stronger than any potion could manage.

~ * * * ~

Vivien was silent, but her mind was not. She swallowed swear words as her potion grew lumpy, looking more like curdled milk than any antidote. She dreaded the moments when Lily would glance over her shoulder, offering a pretty smile or a word of encouragement that was entirely undeserved. It wasn’t helping any.

Although she had never met Lily Evans face-to-face before this moment, she knew just about all one needed to know about the smartest, liveliest witch currently in residence at Hogwarts. There wasn’t a professor who didn’t like her, and only a few Slytherins had ever said anything remotely negative about her. Even they had trouble finding anything negative to say.

It was all very curious. Vivien wanted to see this saintly girl in action.

Which was very difficult to do when one was supposed to be concentrating on a blastedly difficult potion. Just when she thought she would explode (rather like her potion, which had curdled to the breaking point), Lily told her to look more closely at the list of ingredients.

“Is there something you haven’t added or done?”

Meaning that there was. And it was an obvious one she had looked over in her haste.

“Oh. I always do that.”

Lily was nodding. “That’s something you need to look out for.” She pointed to the list. “Make sure you read it through more than once before you actually begin. You see what Severus has done over here?”

The two of them walked over to Snape’s desk, where all his ingredients were still lined up in a perfect row, replaced in its exact spot after use. He busied himself with his cauldron, keeping his back half-turned.

“He makes sure that everything is ready before starting, checking and double checking that he has enough of each ingredient and that he’s used it properly.”

Lily looked back at Vivien, the smile replaced by a very serious sort of expression. “That’s the thing about the classes that doesn’t work as well for some. You’re always rushed to get things done and cleaned up before class ends. What you need is to take your time.”

Vivien stood with crossed arms, taking everything in. “Is that why you work here outside of class?” Her eyes narrowed as she observed Snape stirring his potion ever-so-carefully.

“Yes, exactly.” Lily grinned. All the other smiles had been polite, nothing more. This one meant something.

Nodding, Vivien drifted back over to her cauldron.

Scourgify.”

With the cauldron (mostly) clean, she started again.

It didn’t work out the next time, either, but the resulting potion wasn’t an entire disaster. Lily had gone back to helping Snape, their voices no more than murmurs, too low for Vivien to hear above the bubbling cauldrons. They were a very strange pair of friends, entirely mismatched, yet entirely at ease with one another.

Snape’s hand trembled when Lily took over the stirring, her fingers brushing against his.

Not entirely at ease.

It stood to reason that Lily would be an attraction. She certainly was attractive in the way wizards tended to like. All that red hair, for one. What was it the Victorian Muggles said about girls with red hair? Rossetti had liked them a bit too much, painting that fiery hair over and over again. And then there were the eyes – a deep emerald – piercing, yet soft. But being pretty wasn’t enough, was it? Was that all Snape liked about her?

Not that Vivien cared. They were just supposed to be helping her, and Snape wasn’t even doing that. He had suggested that she, not any other student (and there were others doing far worse than she was), join them for their sessions. Even if Black wasn’t involved – and she still believed that he was – it was suspicious, even more now that Snape was failing to pay her the slightest bit of attention.

Her potion was bubbling too high; the spatter burned her hand.

“Damn and blast!”

She shook her hand, running toward the washbasin. Lily arrived there first to turn on the water. It was cold as ice, and Vivien swore again.

“Are you alright?” Lily the ever-helpful held out her handkerchief.

Vivien took it begrudgingly. She bet that Lily wouldn’t have gotten any splattered on herself. The kindness beaming from Lily’s face was overwhelming. Vivien wrapped the starched fabric around her hand, mistaking it for a bandage. Lily’s smile faltered a bit, but held. Well, perhaps she wasn’t so perfect after all.

“A burn?” Snape must have finished his own potion. He looked down his nose at her hand, brow furrowing slightly at the makeshift bandage. “Murtlap.”

That name prickled Vivien’s memory. Grimm standing over her, reaching for her hand. She had ventured too close to his work, had touched the side of a boiling cauldron. A little cry, her hand burning, burning, worse than now. He had reached for a container, opened it, and told her to place her hand inside.

“Always keep this around. It works for wounds, too. Soothing.”

Yes, she knew it. A cooling jelly, incredibly strange, but like he had said, soothing.

“Here.” Snape, still in a monosyllabic mood, placed a small jar at her side.

Vivien made use of the stuff, sitting to one side of the room as Snape and Lily cleaned up. When Lily wasn’t looking, Snape would straighten or move something she had just put away. It was not exasperation or perfectionism, more like a desire to touch whatever she had just touched. It should have been romantic.

Vivien found it disturbing.

Black would have laughed at this reaction. Grimm would have been equally amused at her cynicism. What Vivien had trouble understanding was why Snape just didn’t tell Lily that he liked her. They were close friends, had been for a long time, if she had heard the rumours properly. There was nothing that should stand between them.

Except one thing.

His robes were green.

She stood back and waited. The temptation to confront Snape – “I know Black put you up to this” – was there, but it was small, nearly insignificant. It would serve no great purpose anyway. She would lose out on the extra instruction (which she clearly needed) and also on the opportunity to observe.

How Snape looked at Lily.

And how Lily never looked back.

~ * * * ~

The news erupted the following morning: a whole Muggle village destroyed by Death Eaters. There were one or two survivors, stolen away in the dead of night to St. Mungo’s by Aurors disguised as Muggle doctors. Nothing being said about their condition, but if they’d had to be stolen, one could always guess. One could also guess at the darkness, the fear, the terror of the defenceless Muggles. They might have had guns or weapons, but what could they do against magic? There was no defence against an Unforgivable Curse.

Copies of the Daily Prophet were circulated among the students at breakfast. The professors, even the ancient and conservative Muggle Studies professor made no comment; usually she was the first to complain, to say that children should be protected from such things. Professor McGonagall read her copy with tight lips and a pale face, Grimm peering over her shoulder at photographs of the Dark Mark floating above the ruins of a church.

Vivien, Iris, and Tully shared a paper, flipping through the pages with wide eyes. Iris read passages aloud for the third years sitting across the table.

“They say that there isn’t anything left of the village. It looks like a place out of a horror film, all dark and quiet like.”

“They wouldn’t be saying that in the Prophet, comparing it to a horror film. That’s Muggle stuff, you know.” A blonde girl sniffed, her pug-like face scrunched in distaste.

“Maybe not, but it gives a clear picture,” Iris shot back with a glare. “If you don’t like it, then get your own paper to read from.”

The boy next to the blonde girl elbowed her in the side. “Quiet, Lizzie!” The girl on her other side echoed the sentiment, and so the acrimonious Lizzie sat silently, arms crossed and shoulders slumped.

Iris continued reading from the paper, adding her own embellishments as she went.

“In the ghastly ruin of the schoolhouse, they’ve found the bodies of Muggles who’d gone there for safety, hiding within its strong walls from what appeared to be a monstrous cyclone or hurricane.”

Vivien wondered just how much of it she was making up. Surely the Prophet didn’t get quite that graphic?

“Death Eaters captured and tortured a few of the wealthier Muggles, then went about murdering anyone who appeared, even going around to all the houses and buildings to root them out of hiding places.” Iris looked up into the frightened eyes of the third years. “They couldn’t get to everyone, of course, which is why there are survivors.”

Tully leaned over Iris’s shoulder. “A total of two, from the sounds of it.”

Vivien leaned over the other shoulder. “Who knows what sort of curses they got placed on them. Could be anything, really. The question is why.” The others faced her. “Think about it. Why kill the Muggles? They’re harmless, if anything. It’s not the Middle Ages anymore. They aren’t burning us at the stake.”

It was an honest question, she thought. Why this sudden resurgence of hatred against Muggles? Through two wars Muggles and wizards had worked together side-by-side (unbeknownst to the Muggles, but all the same), yet now, wizards were out murdering Muggles? If they’d done it back in the thirteenth century, it would have made more sense, but this was the twentieth century. People were supposed to be more civilized, more understanding.

“You’d be better to ask the Slytherins something like that.” Tully’s voice shook at the edges. “There’s no logic to it from what I can see.”

No one else spoke for a time. All of them busied themselves with chewing on their breakfasts, eating because it helped take the mind off death and murder and senselessness.

“I don’t like it,” said the girl sitting beside Lizzie. Her face was sickly pale, her eyes wide as saucers. “M’ parents live in a village like that, and they en’t Muggles. How’ll the Death Eaters know who’s who?”

Even Lizzie looked upset by this question. Everyone’s minds turned to the people they knew outside of Hogwarts: family, friends, acquaintances, maybe to the random people on the street one passed every day. No one was safe from the Death Eaters and their master. No one.

Vivien didn’t think so much of the people outside of Hogwarts as those within. She really had no one beyond the walls that she cared for enough. She wasn’t the big-hearted sort that cared for all humankind. As much as she hated the thought of violence, it still seemed a long way off. A nameless village filled with nameless people, none of them like her and the rest of them at Hogwarts.

For all that she disliked the philosophy of purebloodism, she couldn’t quite escape it. Too many of those old ideas were rooted in her mind, her blood. Would it drip black instead of red, or perhaps with a tinge of green?

She looked to the Slytherin table. They were not pale-faced and scared. Pleased, even victorious would describe them better. Wilkes and his prefects made a half-hearted attempt to hide their expressions, burying their faces in eggs or porridge. None of the current professors, not even their own Head of House would support the actions of the Death Eaters. The Head Boy and prefects had their futures to protect.

From Gryffindor table, the sounds of Sirius Black’s loud commentary caught Vivien’s hear. Other students were looking his way, and Professor McGonagall sent a fixed glare in his direction. Only Remus Lupin, the Gryffindor prefect, caught sight of it, hunching lower in his seat to avoid telling off his friend.

“To go after Muggles, how cowardly is that? It’s not like they can do anything back to you, not like a proper wizard. I’d like to see them try–”

His voice was stifled. Someone had shoved a piece of toast in his mouth, to the amusement of many Gryffindors. There were additional murmurs between the laughter, probably warnings of a sort, not that Sirius Black would listen. If he was anything like his–

Regulus was exiting the Great Hall. Alone.

And for some illogical and very strange reason, Vivien excused herself from the table and followed him.

For once, curiosity was getting the better of her.

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