Author's Note: Part of the Severus Snape Fuh-Q Fest (response to: Scenario #32: Hogwarts holds some sort of quiz/comp/gameshow. How competitive is Snape, and who is his rival? What will he do to make sure he wins?; and Easy Pairing #23: Snape/Avery.) I have taken Certain Liberties with the canon timeline. Specifically, Rita Skeeter is now a year younger than Our Boys. I don't hear her complaining.
DISCLAIMER: I don't owns 'em. That's J.K. Rowling, don'chaknow. I just slips 'em out in the dead of night and makes 'em have little tea parties. Don't sue me. It'll all done in fun, I don't make a penny from my efforts (as the world at large seems so intent to remind me), and the most valuable thing I have is a kitten. If you sue me, she'll be sad. Do you hate kittens?
Part 2 - Once And Future
All the seventh years tested as per Severus' decree, but, as with all the Houses, only five made it to the running. Snape, of course, received higher marks on the test than anyone - a point higher than even Golden Boy James Potter. Just below "Snape, Severus A." on the green sheet of parchment was "Malfoy, Lucius B.," "Rosier, Evan S.," "DuMarche, Narcissa Y.," and "Patil, Nagendra".
Emeric looked at the list and sighed while Snape leaned against the wall, ubiquitous hat sitting at a jaunty angle over his face. He said sadly, "I really thought I had a chance."
A hand clapped suddenly on his shoulder. "Cheer up, Avery," Potter chuckled. "At least you won't get your bollocks ripped off and handed to you." He leered at Snape.
"What're you doing with your hands all over my friend, Potter?" Severus looked down his nose through lidded eyes. He twirled his wand before letting it rest again on his folded arm. "If you're looking for a good time I'm sure Black would be more than happy to comply."
"Why, Severus, are you implying I'm good in bed?" Black grinned impishly.
"No, merely that Potter has low standards."
James snarled and took a step. Sirius held him back. "He's not worth it."
Severus' face broke into a wide smile. "I didn't know you cared."
Neither Potter nor the rest of his little clot wasted any more breath. Rather, they looked over the red parchment, which, surprise, surprise, went: "Potter, James T.," "Black, Sirius C.," "Evans, Lily I.," "Lupin, Remus J.," "Sharma, Devi J." Potter and Black turned to the Slytherin sheet for a moment. They snickered conspiratorially.
"Wow, Snape, you really are an Arsehole. See?" Black pointed to Severus' middle initial.
"Actually," Snape pushed himself off the wall and swaggered to tower over Sirius, "it stands for Ajit. It means 'invincible', Sirius Caleb."
"It stands for what? 'A git'?"
"I wouldn't laugh if I were you, Dog Boy."
Sirius blanched. Severus arched an eyebrow. Are you that upset over being named Dog-Star Dog? Seizing the moment, he backed Sirius against the wall. He leaned close to Black's pretty boy face and whispered, "Woof."
Severus' skull smacked against the opposite wall. A flash of light and a ringing sensation threatened to send him to his knees, but he fought. Black, breathing heavily, fingers clenching and eyes narrow, advanced. Snape had just fixed his vicious black gaze on Sirius when a sharp voice called, "Snape, Black, in my office!"
Severus mentally breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn't been glad to see Professor Dram since their first Potions lesson, and he'd have sworn on his grandfather's grave that he never would again. This time, though, the gods were in his favour. Smiling inwardly, he followed Black, who kept glancing over his shoulder.
Dram was an annoying little witch with close-cropped white hair. She constantly pulled herself straight, as if it would make her equal to even Severus, the tallest person in the school save Hagrid. He stared down his nose at her. She could barely brew a Photograph Potion without checking the manual. "Detention, both of you, separately. Won't have you helping each other."
Snape snorted; Black made a noise of disgust. "You think I'm going to help that greasy, slimy, arrogant, big-nosed son of a-"
"That'll be a week, then, Black. Who started it?"
In unison they said, "He did." Black glared.
Snape played blankly smug. "If you'll pardon me, Professor," he said with all the politeness he could muster in her damnable presence, "I was merely correcting Black, here, on the pronunciation of my middle name. He seems to have trouble distinguishing certain sounds - it's dreadfully worrying. Perhaps he ought to see Madam Pomfrey?"
"Maybe you ought to, y'greaseball," Sirius hissed softly. "You need your head examined. S'not my fault your parents never loved you."
"At least I wasn't pupped," Snape muttered too low for Dram to hear. One advantage of a teacher older than God was that she was more than a little deaf. Black growled and took a menacing step closer. From six inches up, it was almost cute.
"Two weeks, Black. One week for you, Snape." Sirius giggled as Severus closed his eyes in effort not to earn a solid month. "Snape, you start Monday, and if I catch either of you causing a ruckus again I'll have your hides for cauldron covers."
You couldn't cover a cauldron if you were on it, you daft cow. "Yes, ma'am." Severus gave a short bow. Dram scowled at him and shooed him to the door with her head. Black started to follow.
"Not you, Sirius. I'm not done with you yet."
Severus smiled to himself. He found Lucius waiting outside with a look of annoyance. "Fucking Gryffs. One of these days..." he narrowed his eyes. "Gryffs and Mudbloods, Sev. Gryffs and fucking Mudbloods."
Snape pulled him by the arm. "Let's get out of here. I swear, once I've got my certificate I never want to see these dungeons again in my life..."
The squid caught a bird in midair and dragged it down to beaked doom. Severus watched calmly and went back to rolling his cigarette. The papers and tobacco were in his robe. The robe was neatly folded next to him on the grass. He lit the fag with his wand, leaning forward with his bare elbows on his knees. As usual, he was dressed in a white vest and black braced trousers, with the Stetson perched on his head. Absently, keeping the lit end of the cigarette out of harm's way, he tucked a piece of hair behind his ear. It was sleek, and silky, and very, very shiny from the protective coat of oil he gave it each day. Snape snorted. Greasy, indeed.
"Bunny eating a human head," Lucius said out of nowhere. He was stretched out, hands behind his head, watching the evening sky. Snape peered at him.
"Bunny eating a human head." He squinted. "Looks more like a duck now."
Oh. Clouds. "Are all rich gits as easily amused as you, or are you just special?"
"You know I'm special, baby." Lucius wriggled his tongue at Snape, who snorted wearily and took a long drag.
"Yup, I'll bet Saint Mungo's has a special ward just for you."
Lucius sighed and went back to cloud watching. He hadn't moved much since supper - no great shock, considering how much he ate. Severus, as always, hadn't had much of an appetite. A bit odd, that, considering his size. He supposed he lived off knowledge; a good day in the library or over a cauldron did just as much as a meal. He glanced up out of sheer curiosity and saw the moon hanging ghostly and near term in the rich blue sky. Two more days and Hogwarts would be under attack of, not just one, but two werewolves. Probably. He made a mental note to stay in Slytherin that night.
Suddenly, Lucius winced and rubbed his left arm. "Dammit," he muttered under his breath.
"Nothing." He got to his feet. "I'll meet you back at the common room later, okay? I'm going for a walk."
Severus peered at him oddly. Something wasn't right. "What's wrong with your arm?"
Lucius stopped rubbing it abruptly. "It's fine. I'll see you later."
Snape almost followed. He'd lost some of his taste for reckless curiosity when a werewolf had nearly eaten him, though. Lucius wandered towards the other side of the lake and was quickly out of sight.
Severus lay back with his head resting on his hand. The grass felt pleasantly cool and real beneath his shoulders. A cloud caught his eye through a smaller cloud of smoke. It looked eerily like the skull on Malfoy's arm.
In the distance he heard shouts as the Gryffindor team practised; it should have been Slytherin, they'd had fewer chances that week than any other House. Madam Hooch, the new coach, had promised them the pitch for the whole of Saturday. Snape planned to work them to the quick.
He spent the rest of the evening in the common room, dividing his attention between homework and a scale model of the pitch on which he devised fresh strategies. Lucius didn't show. Around midnight, not so much worried as suspicious, he left the Quidditch model, dragged himself upstairs, left his clothes in a messy pile, and went to bed.
A noise pulled him from a light stage of sleep. Severus pushed his curtain open. A blonde figure, staggering with fatigue, was pulling its clothes off. "Luc?"
"Go to sleep, Sev." He sounded half dead.
"Nowhere. Go to sleep." Lucius rolled gingerly into bed. Evan's head popped out from his sanctum.
"Where've you been?" he hissed.
"Where d'you think?" Evan sniffed and ducked back inside. Lucius' eyes glittered in the near-darkness. "I know you're still awake, Severus. You can stop staring at me now."
"Why the fuck does Evan know where you've been and I don't? I thought I was supposed to be your best friend."
Lucius shrugged, and tugged at his curtains. "Use that brain you're supposed to have, dimwit. I'll be up for practise." He vanished behind the green velvet hangings. Severus blinked.
Still staring, he settled on his side. It wasn't long before his eyes drooped and dreams overtook him. They were pleasant, and when he won the Quidditch Cup, he was given James Potter's skull, green serpent poking its head out curiously.
It wouldn't have been so bad if Dram didn't sit there, watching him like a bloody hawk. "Those are in order, right?"
"Yes, ma'am," Severus said loudly. He ruffled the sheaf of parchment in his hands, double-checking that all the formulae were in alphabetical order, before going to the next stack.
"Get it right and I'll let you go at midnight."
Severus nearly dropped them. He ground his teeth, flashing two fingers at her from behind the safety of the pages. And, to think, he had four more days of this to look forward to. He was a fucking prefect! For all the good it did him - if he ever became headmaster (ha, ha, not bloody likely, he'd sooner become an Auror than teach) prefects were going to be exempt from this sort of humiliation. Except the Gryffindors. For them, it'd be mandatory.
The weekend hadn't gone well, not well at all. Lucius arrived at practise an hour late, acting like he had the world's worst hangover (something they'd become familiar with in fifth year), which effectively left them a Beater short. He kept dozing off and tipping forward. Severus finally left the scoring area, grabbed Malfoy's broom, dragged him to the ground, and ordered him to the showers. Luc had refused to speak to him since.
To rub ground glass in the wound, Lucius hadn't done his share in Potions that day. While, normally, Snape was perfectly happy to work by himself, he was still more than a little stung over his supposed "best friend" acting like such a stubborn prick. Again. That led to sniping, and sniping led to shouting, and shouting led to Professor Dram separating them and pairing them with Gryffindors. At least it wasn't Black and Potter.
Almost as bad, though. Possibly worse. Snape was stuck with Peter Pettigrew for the rest of the year. Short, fat, rat-faced, and whiny, Peter spent most of the class cowering and whinging on that he couldn't cut his rhizome correctly. Severus did it in the end. All told, it wasn't that different to being paired with Malfoy. A small mercy was that Lucius got stuck with Remus J. Lupin, Werewolf At Large. Well, he would be tomorrow, the Lupin brothers being "poorly" that day.
Severus squirmed. The robe he was stuck wearing for the duration of detention itched horribly. He'd never get used to wearing them. Muggles didn't know how well they had it. No stupid formulae to organise for a teacher too lazy to do it, no robes, no bloody werewolves... He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, stacking the last of his sheets and looking up in hopes that Dram had died so he could leave.
No such luck. Her brown eyes glittered at him. Snape sulked, glaring coldly, before going to the disorganised file cabinet to clear out another drawer.
He yanked it open and pulled out an armful of parchment, which he dumped unceremoniously on a desk. A moment later it was sent skidding over the black surface by a second load. Severus started to gather the rest of the papers at the bottom of the drawer. One had gotten stuck behind it. He sighed and tugged the corner. It wouldn't budge. With a tired, dusty sigh, he tapped it with his wand. "Extraho charta!"
There was a soft crack, and a cloud of dust that set him coughing and his eyes burning, and the back panel of the drawer tipped forward. It seemed to be on some sort of hidden hinge. A small stack of parchments sat there, brown and old and mostly covered in fading green ink. With a careful sidelong glance at Dram, who still watched him suspiciously, Severus removed a single sheet (mysteriously blank) and put it with the rest.
At half-past eleven he looked up again. Dram's eyes were closed, and every few seconds a puffing breath came out of her nose in lieu of a snore. Severus screwed up his lips, thinking. He could shove the parchments in a drawer and run, but that would earn him a later detention the next night and, possibly, an extra week. Or he could file them carefully and slip out, leaving a note on the board that he'd stayed until midnight and didn't want to wake her. Yes, that was a much better idea.
But the drawer still called to him.
Quietly, one eye on the sleeping Potions bitch, he reached back into the drawer, withdrew the rest of the parchments, and slid the compartment closed. It made a soft click and refused to budge when he poked it with his wand. Odd. Severus noted it for future reference, stacked his carefully alphabetised formulae in the drawers, and hid the old pages in his robe. He pulled on his hat, left a short note, and slipped out, careful not to let the door squeal.
The common room was empty. Not a great surprise, going on midnight after a Monday load of classes. He made his way up to the dorm room. Fortunately, he'd finished what homework was due the next day - a paper for Binns (wasn't that boring old sod ever just going to die?), a chart for Trelawney, and a report for Professor Fellus on the rise of Grindelwald - and had no pressing responsibilities.
He went up to the dorm to find Lucius stretched out with his nose in his Herbology book. The others were asleep, although the muffled noises from Emeric's bed indicated that he was still busy with, erm, sedative measures. "Luc."
Lucius didn't so much as grunt.
Severus sighed, retrieved the parchments, tugged off his robe, and flopped down. The hat landed precisely on the knob of his bedpost. "If I'd let you stay up there you'd've broken your neck, and where would we have been then? You know we're short on good Beaters."
"You can't keep ignoring me forever, y'know."
Lucius licked his thumb and turned a page. "I can try."
Snape rolled his eyes. "Fine, be a prick." He turned his attention to the parchments. Potions notes, Potions notes, something about imbuing ingredients, indications for use of certain advanced spells in ingredients, all fairly vague. It was like a general instruction manual for spell-potion hybrids. Snape had never seen anything like it, and, hence, wanted nothing more at that moment than to absorb everything about it he could.
Lucius was tapping his quill between his teeth. The clicking sound grated on Snape's nerves. "Stop it."
"Making that noise."
"I'm not making any noise." He went back to gnawing the feather.
"Stop it, Lucius. You're giving me a headache."
"So wank. That usually helps."
"You're so fucking couth."
"I aim to please."
"Just stop chewing on your quill." He did. A moment later, however, he started tapping on his book with his fingers. "Goddammit, Malfoy, give it up!"
Severus pointed his wand across the room. "Accio codex!" The textbook shot from Malfoy's bed. Snape caught it easily, giving Lucius an annoyed frown. Lucius glared.
"Give it back, Severus."
"Are you going to give me a little peace and quiet? I've just spent four hours doing Dram's bidding and I'm not in a mood to take shit from anyone."
"Whatever. Just give it back." The book flew with an easy flick of the wrist and Malfoy caught it just before it hit him in the face. He glared quietly and settled back in to study.
Severus watched for a moment, then closed his curtains, and set up a short soundproofing charm as an afterthought. He picked up the parchments again. The blank one had slipped out a bit.
It wasn't blank anymore.
You can, you know.
He scowled. "What the fuck?"
The neat, angular green text vanished, more taking its place. Make him stop.
Severus stared silently. He was calm. It wasn't the first time he'd come across the Dark Arts, and it certainly wouldn't be the last. It wasn't as if he were unfamiliar with them. "Who created you, and what is your purpose?"
Who are you?
He narrowed his eyes. "What does it matter?"
Quite a lot.
This was getting nowhere. Severus rubbed his eyes; clumps of dust had settled in the corners, making them itch something feral. "I don't have time for this," he muttered.
I think you do. If you're the right sort of person, I'm willing to make it worth your while.
"And what, pray tell," he asked with all the sarcasm he could muster, "would the right sort of person be?"
That all depends on who you are.
Severus sneered. A bud of anger in his chest was blooming quickly. "My name is Severus Snape. I'm a student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Is that any better?"
His eyes narrowed. With no small trace of annoyance, he said, "Slytherin."
Ahh. Tell me, Severus Snape of Slytherin House, are you a good little wizard? You've never studied the Dark Arts, have you, Severus?
He cocked an eyebrow. "That's a very personal question."
I'm a very personal fellow.
Snape snorted, and was a bit surprised to see Ha ha ha appear on the sheet in his hand. "Who are you?" he muttered.
I am no longer a who, I am a what. This is a recording of a small piece of research I performed during my seventh year at Hogwarts, in 1944 and 1945. My name is Tom Riddle, and I, too, am a member of Slytherin House.
"Why should I believe you?"
Ah, cunning, skeptical, with a keen mind. I expect you're quite ambitious, too, aren't you? Perhaps a Quidditch player?
"Keeper. Captain. Why?"
Oh, excellent! I was a Keeper myself, although I never achieved captain. You must be very good.
A small rush of warmth went through Severus' chest. He refused to let himself preen, though. "What do you want?"
Merely to share my knowledge with a like-minded individual. There are so few of us who can truly understand the fragile beauty of a potion as it shifts and sharpens and casts its flickering light.
Snape stared. He touched the words, unconsciously traced them with a long, loving finger. They vanished, and were replaced with more. Ah, yes, Severus Snape of Slytherin House, you understand. I've waited so long for someone to understand. Not one of these rich, spoiled twits with brains like suet and spines to match, but someone... intelligent. Gifted. Charming rather than charmed.
Severus swallowed. Glancing from side to side to make sure his curtains were shut, he asked in a slightly hoarse voice, "What sort of knowledge?"
A special potion, the formula for which I began to piece together in the summer of 1944. I'm an orphan, you know, and chose to stay here rather than return to the orphanage I call Hell. There are wonders hidden at Hogwarts the likes of which mere mortals can only dream. Only the most powerful of wizards could hope to understand them, much less achieve them. You understand, Severus. We are not mere mortals, you and I. The images that float within your skull can no more be placed within your peers' limited scopes than the sun might fit within the moon. You, Severus Snape of Slytherin House, are like me.
"What are you?" Severus rasped. He had the distant urge to reach through the paper and bring Tom Riddle's lips to his.
The King of Serpents.
Some invisible energy smacked Severus in the chest. It took him a moment to realise it was the pounding of his own heart. Air shuddered hard through his open mouth, and he trembled. It wasn't a submissive tremble, or a frightened tremble; it was torn between the tremors he felt in the middle of sex, and the innocent shivers that took his back when the search for some obscure datum bore fruit. He licked his dry lips and asked, "What's the formula?"
He would have sworn the parchment smiled.
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