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Chapter Sixteen: Aftermath ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Saturday morning dawned one of the coldest days of the season. The dungeons were as cold as ice, and despite the fires blazing in their hearths, the Slytherins could see their breath in the air. Severus had just decided to stay in bed for another half a day or so when the dormitory door crashed into the wall, revealing Lucius and his companions. The group crossed their arms as they surveyed the room: Nikolas, having the habit of sleeping like a stone, had not been bothered by the disruption, but the remaining boys were watching the group with trepidation. "Our lead has not been regained," Lucius observed. "B-but it's only been a week," Adrian stammered. "One week, for two hundred -" "It took you only twenty minutes to lose them," Narcissa pointed out. "If I were you, I would feel grateful that we gave you the extra days." "Nobody can make up two hundred points in a week," Geoffrey scoffed. Lucius' eyes narrowed as he observed the large boy, then his gaze flicked to the still sleeping Nikolas. A wave of his hand had Nikolas leaping from the bed, clutching his backside and howling. "What are you playing at?" he demanded angrily, rubbing the offended area and yawning. "You have not made a satisfactory effort to put Slytherin in the lead once again," Lucius drawled. "If you are to survive in this house, the first lesson to be learned is this: you do not fail when set with a task. We are here to instruct you in that lesson." Severus felt a twinge of uneasiness as his friends advanced upon his dorm mates, efficiently ridding their opponents of their wands. "Be still like good little boys, and you won't feel a thing," Bellatrix directed sweetly. The boys, however, did not heed her advice, and struggled with their 'teachers', causing Lucius to get very angry. "Petrificus Totalus!" The four boys stopped struggling immediately, each one falling rigidly to the floor. Lucius smirked triumphantly, then allowed his companions to finish their work. When they'd stepped back, Severus had to stifle a laugh. Each of the four Slytherin first years wore identical robes: light pink, with the words: 'Curse Me! I'm Slytherin!' printed in green across their backs. Lucius lifted the body bind, and the boys began to protest loudly. Geoffrey immediately pulled his off, tossing it into the corner with disgust. "Not to worry," Lucius said lightly, retrieving the boy's robe with a wave of his hand. "You'll find all of your robes have been changed - permanently. When you've earned those points, we shall consider lifting the words. Until then -" he stepped aside, and gestured towards the door. "This dormitory is off-limits to you lot for the remainder of the day." Adrian headed for the open door immediately, hesitating when he realized his friends weren't behind him. Nikolas exchanged dark looks with his dorm mates before crossing his arms defiantly over his chest. "We rather like it in here, thanks," he challenged. Lucius grinned. "I did rather hope you would put up a fight," he responded with unconcealed excitement. "Auduro Induviae!" A spark flew from his sleeve, where Severus assumed his wand to be, and fell on the bottom of Nikolas' shoes. The younger boy squeaked in fear, then began stomping on the flame in an attempt to extinguish it. "That isn't going to accomplish much of anything," Rodolphus remarked scathingly. He waved his own hand and extinguished the flame, then looked at Nikolas expectantly. "Well?" he prompted. Without so much as a backwards glance, Nikolas hurried from the room, tugging on Callum's sleeve as he passed. Severus glanced over at Geoffrey, not surprised to see that the larger boy still stood his ground. "It will take more than a petty spell like that to persuade me to leave," he stated firmly. Bellatrix grinned. "Inferne Dolor!" she shouted. Severus stepped backwards in surprise as the curse hit his dormmate. Geoffrey doubled over, clutching his stomach and doing his best not to cry out. A slight whimper escaped him before Lucius lifted the curse, shooting a dissatisfied glare at Bellatrix as he did so. Geoffrey straightened after a moment, then looked at the group accusingly before lifting his head and striding through the door. "Bella, if he goes to Melison, it's you who will answer for it," Lucius snarled. Bellatrix's eyes hardened as she raised her head defiantly. "The little snotrag had it coming," she declared. "That is not the point," Lucius snapped. "Such flagrant and inappropriate -" "Do not tell me what is inappropriate," Bellatrix retorted, her voice rising and her eyes snapping angrily. MacNair suddenly inclined his head towards Severus, who had been listening to the exchange with unconcealed interest. "Severus is a part of this group," Lucius responded. "It is best he learn now what we will tolerate, and what we will not." "You had no reserve using the Dolorius Curse last summer," Bellatrix pointed out snidely. "And last summer, we were away from the prying eyes of those who have the power to expel us," Lucius shot back. "While we are at this school, and while that Muggle-loving fool is our headmaster, we must exercise caution. I have warned you before, Bella. Do yourself a favor, and do not draw unwanted attention to this group." Bellatrix's eyes narrowed once again, but she did not respond. Instead, she swept from the room and down the stairs. "She's a loose cannon," Evan said quietly. "We should -" "Shut our mouths, if we know what's good for us," Rodolphus retorted tightly. With a scathing look at Evan, he followed Bellatrix and left the room. The remaining six members glanced around at each other. "They will be powerful allies," Lucius explained to Severus. "We cannot ostracize them, especially now." "Why?" Severus questioned. The others exchanged meaningful glances before Lucius shook his head. "In time, Severus." "What aren't you telling me?" he demanded angrily. "If I am a part of this little society you've fashioned, then I have the right to know what's going on within it!" "This is far larger than the eight of us," Walden said forcefully. "Leave it for now, boy." Severus' anger threatened to overwhelm him as his hand found its way to his wand. Lucius held an arm out in front of his friend to halt his action. "Leave it, Severus. He'd curse you into next week before you even drew your wand," he added in a quiet voice. Severus backed away, his face set with determination. "I took on all four of my dorm mates," he spat. "I think I can handle one fourth year." Lucius rolled his head impatiently to one side and propelled himself at the younger boy, pinning him against the wall. "I am telling you to walk away. Now. You will not win if you attempt this." "I do not walk away," Severus responded through clenched teeth, though Lucius' grip on him was beginning to cut off his air. "It's never too late to start," Lucius shot back. "It is for me," the boy retorted. sharply. As on his first night at the castle, a silence fell over the boys as they continued their stand-off, neither wanting to give in to the other in front of the rest of the group. They remained that way for what seemed an eternity before Lucius spoke again. "I will release you on the condition that you walk from this dormitory and forget our previous conversation. It is nothing which should concern you at present." Severus wanted to protest, wanted to know what it was the others all knew, but the hardness of Lucius' eyes dissuaded him. There was a stubborn glint which he had seen too often in his father's face to challenge further. Not taking his eyes from the older boy's face, he shrugged free of his grip. Without a backward glance, he left the dormitory and exited the common room.
His first instinct was to go into Professor Melison's office to immerse himself in the soothing world of potions, but the door was locked, and no answer came upon his knocking. With a grunt of dissatisfaction, he headed towards the only other sanctuary he was afforded: the library. While on his ascent, he passed by his dorm mates, who were attempting to conceal themselves from a group of raucous Ravenclaws looking to follow the instructions on their brightly-colored robes. The sight cheered him very little, and he found himself in just as surly a mood when he reached his destination. To his surprise, Lily was seated at a corner table. They hadn't spoken a word to each other since Transfiguration, though Severus had to admit it was mostly because he chose to remain silent. She looked up upon his entrance, and gestured to the seat next to her. He took it hesitantly. "Why aren't you in your common room?" he asked quietly. "Nearly everyone's celebrating the fact that Slytherin has fallen behind," she replied with a grimace. "It was getting a bit tiresome. I mean, really, it was alright on the first day, but it has been nearly a week." Her eyes found his. "Besides, I hoped you'd show up here at some point. Severus - I'm sorry that I upset you the other day. It's just -" she sighed heavily. "I worry about you," she finished softly. Severus fought against the anger that threatened to surface. She doesn't think you can take care of yourself, a harsh and bitter voice said into his ear. She's just being a good friend, another voice, this one a bit fainter, argued. He shook his head absently. "Have you seen my dorm mates?" he questioned idly, deliberately ignoring her apology, as she would have expected him to. A wicked grin spread over his features when she shook her head. "Lucius charmed their robes - it was bloody brilliant." He proceeded to describe the events of the morning to her, and was pleased when a genuine smile graced her features. "Finally!" she gasped between laughs,"Malfoy does something I approve of!" Her sounds of approval, however, were met with disdain from Madame Pince, and the pair retreated from the library. Severus had the urge to confide in Lily, as he'd always done, and tell her about his own encounter in the dorm room. For the first time, however, she was approving of him having Lucius as a friend, and he did not want to ruin that. He remained quiet as they wandered through the corridors. Lily was just getting into musing about Remus and his frequent illness when Lucius intercepted them. His eyes were cold and hard, causing Severus to feel slightly ill-at-ease. This side of his friend frightened him more than just a bit. "Professor Melison would like a word with you," he drawled, pointedly ignoring Lily. "About what?" Severus asked coolly, the scene from the common room burning brightly in his mind. "I wouldn't keep him waiting if I were you," Lucius said nonchalantly as he swept past them and rounded the corner. Severus followed his friend's departure, a scowl pulling down the ends of his mouth. When he turned back to Lily, her eyes were searching his questioningly. "What?" he asked, a bit testily as he began to walk towards the dungeons. "I thought Malfoy wasn't mad at you," she stated, doing her best to match his long strides. "He didn't lecture me about the fight, if that's what you mean," Severus replied vaguely. "Then why was the tension too thick to cut with a knife back there?" she demanded. Severus hesitated before speaking again. "He- he's still angry that we lost so many points," he lied, though a pang of guilt flashed through him. Lily either believed him or knew he didn't want to discuss it, because she remained silent until they reached the door to Melison's office. "I'll be in the library later," she said quietly, leaving him to face their professor alone. After she'd gone, he raised his hand to knock on the door, but it was wrenched open before he had the chance. "Your detention has begun," he announced brusquely, striding over to his desk. Severus, not sure what to do, followed. "Your wand, if you please," Melison ordered, holding out a hand as he absently searched his desk for something. The boy handed it over, knowing to protest would get him nowhere quickly. The aged man before him suddenly straightened, and held out a gleaming object that sent chills up Severus' spine. When it was offered to him, he accepted it with dread. "What am I to do with this?" he questioned, examining the blade. Noticing it was dull, he looked up at his professor for clarification. Melison said nothing, but gestured to a barrel in the corner of the room. Severus waited for him to explain, but when he did not, ventured to the indicated container. Peering inside, he saw that it was filled to the brim with dead rats. The fumes rising from the barrel made him gag, and he took a step back instinctively. Directly behind him, Professor Melison chuckled dryly. "If you are to delve into potions, son, you can't let a simple thing like noxious fumes get in the way." He prodded Severus' back, steering him again to the smelly barrel. Severus tried to hold his breath as he neared, but Melison's next words caused him to exhale explosively. "What?" he demanded shrilly. "I do not repeat myself, Severus. Surely you have learned that by now?" Melison intoned as he made his way back to the front of the room. "You want me to cut through their hides with this? This knife wouldn't slice through an egg," he protested feebly. "Then you'd best get cracking, if you'd like to finish before dinner, eh?" Melison retorted, rifling through a few papers in front of him. Severus turned back to the barrel, bracing himself for the smell. His nose wrinkled in disgust, he pulled the first rat from the confines of the container, relived that the smell seemed to dissappate in the open classroom. He had not, unfortunately, been mistaken about the dullness of the knife. It took nearly fifteen minutes of hacking at the animal to separate the tail from the body, and Severus was sure that he'd be sick before the night was out. Throwing the unusable body of the rat aside, he grabbed another one and set in. He soon settled into a sort of macabre rhythm, and lost all sense of his surroundings. It wasn't until the owl flew in from the open doorway that he paused, looking at it with interest. He'd seen it somewhere before, but he could not place where. The owl landed on Melison's shoulder, and dropped the letter it was carrying onto his desk. As Melison picked it up, Severus noticed the seal on the flap. It was large and loud, just as the family it belonged to: the Snapes. "You - you haven't written my father, have you?" he asked softly, a feeling of foreboding settling over him. Melison paused in opening the letter to glance up at the boy. "Afraid of a good tongue-lashing, are you son?" No, just afraid he'll take it out on Steven, he thought miserably. When he did not respond, Melison held up the letter. "Like to know who wrote this, wouldn't you?" he questioned. Severus remained silent. "I'll make a bargain with you, Severus. I shall discuss my personal affairs with you when you decide to recipricate the sentiments. Until then, your questions shall remain unanswered." He turned back to opening the letter, then shook his head and deposited it inside of his robes. Without a glance at the boy halfway across the room, he settled back into the book he'd been reading. Severus, determined not to seem overly interested, turned back to his rats.
Nearly two hours passed before the boy finished the barell, and by then, his curiousity was getting the best of him. He walked up to his Head of House and paused for a moment, then, "My mother's to have another baby," he announced quietly. Melison finished the page he was reading, then marked his place and looked up nonchalantly. "So it would seem," he observed dryly. "You asked what's been bothering me. I've told you - now who's been writing you?" "Why does your mother's condition upset you? Are you afraid you'll receive less attention?" Severus snorted. "No, sir." "Then why?" "It will merely be another burden for her," he spat. "It'd be better off dead." "Surely you don't wish harm upon an unborn child?" "I don't wish it any harm. If this baby is born, I -" he stopped, unsure of whether to continue. "Go on," Melison urged gently. "I won't be able to prevent the harm which is certain to occur," he finished quietly. Melison looked thoughtful for a moment. "I thought we had an agreement," Severus said after a moment. "What was in that letter?" "The letter's contents I need not disclose, but I will tell you that it is from your uncle." "Sebastian?" "Do you have another?" "Why is he writing you?" "We went to school together - we've been close friends for years. He is concerned about the amount of disciplinary actions which you have received." "How does he -" "I chose to write to him instead of your parents. From my knowledge of your father, I felt he would have a better interest in your well-being." No more was said, but it was enough to make the boy wonder just how much his professor knew of his home life. Did he realize how he was treated? Or did he simply know of Silias' nature from Sebastian? Whichever the case may be, the man certainly knew more than he seemed to. The thought was strangely comforting to the boy. Perhaps he could be safe here.

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