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 5 - Where Loyalties Lie
Halloween, the first Hogsmeade visit, and the first round of the Academic Bowl looked to make the upcoming weekend a rapid-fire series of excitement. Severus came as quickly as he could and scurried out of Lucius' bed. He closed his curtains, set up a soundproofing charm, cast a quick "Lumos!" and settled down with the blank parchment, still half-hard and out of breath.
"Hallo," he panted. Severus wiped a trickle of sweat from his forehead.
Been having a good time, have we?
He chuckled. "A bit below average."
Shame. Then again, bad sex is better than no sex.
"Damn straight." He and the parchment had become rather good friends. He'd checked the British Wizards' Directory, and gone so far as to skim through the American and various European editions for a Tom Riddle. No luck. Pity, really, he'd have rather liked to meet the man.
You're going to get the rest of the ingredients Saturday?
"Yeah. There are a couple of things I'm not sure I can find in Hogsmeade, but I'll get them somehow."
"Ashenhand Leaf, and Flamboyant Filamentous Fern root. I think Mum's going to send the cobra ribs next week."
She finally gave in?
"Yeah. I had to promise to send her some of my potion. Dad's been harping on about Slytherin being the 'House of Dark wizards' again."
It's truly pitiful that people cannot see brilliance for what it is, and shun rather than embrace it. What potion are you going to send your mother?
Severus shrugged. "Probably some Memory Oil. She'll understand, what with NEWTs and all."
Excellent thinking. Might I suggest a simple Trance Draught, though? From her letters, she's worried that you're going to work yourself to death. Kill two birds with one potion, so to speak.
A tiny smile quirked the corner of Snape's mouth. He'd considered Trance Draught, but abandoned it in favour of something more complex. If Tom agreed with it, though, it couldn't be a bad thing. "I may do that, thanks."
Is there anything else you'd like tonight?
"Could you give me the antidote formula again? Peter knocked the cauldron over and ruined half my notes."
You have been a busy boy.
Ha ha ha. Can't I even take the piss?
"Just give me the damned formula," Severus said through a grin.
Your wish is my command.
Tom listed the formula carefully and methodically. Severus wrote everything down, again, commenting a few times on the strange ingredients in both. For at least the fifth time he remarked how similar the Imperius Salve was to the average love philter.
Ah, yes, Tom responded once again, but what is total obedience if not love?
"A lot of things," Severus said dryly. "Submission, fear, respect, penance. You're such a fucking romantic, Tom."
And you, Severus Ajit, are such a fucking clinicist.
"I don't think that's a real word."
Then I'll have to invent it, won't I? No words exist to describe you.
Severus felt his face go warm in a blush. He stifled it quickly. "Grow up." He smiled when he said it.
If what you say is true, I have. I should be nearly fifty by now. What's such a brilliant young man doing with an old fart like me?
Quite. The parchment rippled in a playfully mocking way.
"Shut up, Tom."
Hmph. Just for that, I think I shall. Is there anything else at all you need?
"Only sleep, I think."
Very well. Shubha raatri, Severus Ajit.
Severus grinned the same wide grin he did every time the parchment tossed back a few words of Hindi. "Shubha raatri, Tom." He smiled down on the still page a moment and, tenderly, placed it back in his drawer.
Several minutes went to chewing on a quill and making notes in the margin of his antidote sheet. He'd only had the antidote formula in his bag that day so he could study in the few spare minutes he could scrape together. Quidditch had taken too much time lately, what with the bare victory against Hufflepuff at the start of the month and a match against Ravenclaw in a week. Gryffindor wasn't set until the end of November. Between heavy practise, study for the Academic Bowl, tutoring Peter in Potions and physiology whilst surreptitiously wringing tidbits about a certain trio out of him, and playing both Lord And Master and Willing Ear to the whole of Slytherin, Snape had precious little time to devote to what had become the love of his life. Just a few more days, though, and it would be ready.
He settled back on top of the covers, mind running over whom he should use to test the special salve. Peter, of course. He was so willing, so soft and so spineless, and wouldn't it make Black apoplectic should he ever find out his pet rat was not only fucking the King of Serpents but bound to his will as well? Not to mention Potter - he was just as spineless as Peter, unable to carry out a simple murder attempt, but nobody would ever dare say that to his face. A smirk crossed Severus' lips at the thought of Peter doing just that. Say, in the middle of supper. With the aid of a Sonorus Charm.
While the potion had the distinct advantage of being undetectable and all but uncounterable, it lacked perpetuity. There was only a short time in which a suggestion could be planted. It also had to be applied to a large area of skin. At least this made it easy to apply, as Tom said it was quite slick and cool and was excellent for backrubs. There was no danger of it spreading so long as one remembered to rub it in.
While it had taken a while, Severus had finally figured out his goal regarding the Academic Bowl: make sure his final competition came in the form of Sirius Caleb Black or James Tiberius Potter, and beat the bastard on Severus' own merits. Anything else would be a hollow victory. He would prove, once and for all, that he was better.
It was just a matter of suffering through the rest of the competition.
While Lisa Sprout in Hufflepuff (Severus shuddered inwardly at the thought of one of his parents being his Head of House) and Frank Longbottom in Ravenclaw were forces to be reckoned with, he had little worry of either House taking a strong hold. If necessary, though, he'd find a way to prevent it.
He slipped from scheming to nothingness, and into dreams where soft voices called to him, phantom hands caressing him from the past. His dream self settled into their touch. They were warm, and soft, and felt like home, and Severus could have happily given into them for a very long time.
Most of the school turned up. It was a dreary Sunday in early November, so that was no great shock. Still, it was bracing to look down from the Slytherin quarter of the high table and see so many faces looking back.
Rose Parkinson had cast Clarity Charms on the five of them, and given Severus a kiss for good luck. He pushed his hat back on his head with a practised finger and leaned back in his chair, smirking. Everything he knew would come quickly and easily. Given how much he knew, that was saying quite a lot.
Five faces glowered at him from the Gryffindor table. Not the rest of the Slytherin team, him. Snape nodded congenially, touching his hat in a small "howdy, ma'am" to Lily. Potter turned purple. Lily put a hand on his as he started to get up. She narrowed her eyes at Snape, and turned her attention to Potter. At least they weren't kissing in front of the whole school, not that he'd put it past them. Snape had walked in on that disgusting sight once, taking Xavier under the Quidditch bleachers for a quick shag. Needless to say, the barely obstructed view of James Potter's tongue had killed any desire for shagging he'd had.
Not that he wouldn't take Potter given the chance. It would just be one more opportunity to prove his superiority in all ways.
Severus looked down the Hall and gave Peter a quick smirk as Dumbledore got to his feet at the middle of the table. McGonagall was at his right hand, and Flitwick at his left. He cleared his throat; the rumble of chatter died down. "Welcome to the first round of the first ever Hogwarts Academic Bowl. It should be an exciting event, and if what I've heard is true ought to settle a few bets." He smirked impishly to a low ripple of laughter. "Before we get started, allow me to lay down some rules.
"This shall be the first of five rounds. At the end of each of the first four, one member of each team shall be eliminated. This will be based on how many questions each person has answered correctly. The participant from each House with the lowest number of questions answered correctly shall be cut.
"Each correctly answered question will result in the answering House being awarded one point. This means a potential one hundred points to any House per round. I think they'll be a bit more divided than that. As Professor Vector informs me, this means there will be one hundred questions, more or less." The headmaster smiled to himself. "Points for questions left unanswered or that fail to receive a correct answer will be forfeit. Are there any questions from the participants?"
"Hands on your bells. The inaugural question is: Based on a right triangle, what Arithmagical theory states that, for every vector as relates to a given arc, the magical constant is sine squared over pi?"
Three small dings went off seemingly at once. In the air above the three teachers, names appeared: SNAPE, POTTER, CHANG. Dumbledore turned his head towards the Slytherin team. "Mister Snape?"
"The Theory of Arc Stability, also known as Arc Constant, and Ous' Constant." Severus smiled serenely as Slytherin was awarded the first point of the contest. His House made quite the ruckus. Gryffindor especially didn't look amused.
Questions came nearly too quickly to catch. They were all above and outside the seventh year curriculum to date, leaving several people with one point, or even none. Severus was soon in the lead for points total, followed closely by Potter, then Gin Chang of Hufflepuff, then Longbottom. Eighty questions in, "What is the primary active chemical in the anti-asthmatic potion Easy Breathing?"
Four dings, and Severus cursed under his breath as the air read, POTTER, SNAPE, SPROUT, EVANS.
"Theobroma cacao-oh, fuck, I meant-" he slapped a hand over his mouth.
It was too late. Most of the school broke out in fits of raucous laughter. Professor Flitwick turned an almost unnatural shade of pink, Dumbledore arched an almost amused eyebrow, and McGonagall screwed up her mouth. "Mister Potter, I am appalled! I expect some modicum of self-control from a Gryffindor. Head Boy no less! We shall discuss this at the end of questions, and you may consider yourself disqualified!"
A roar of outrage rose up from the long Gryffindor table. An equally loud roar of delight rose from Slytherin. Potter gaped. "But... you can't do that!"
"I believe I just did."
"Headmaster, you can't just let-" Potter's eyes were huge, his hands waving impotently.
Dumbledore shrugged. "I'm afraid I must side with Professor McGonagall. Such language is frowned upon at best." He cast the Gryffindor team a sad, apologetic smile. Snape cast them one rather less sad and apologetic.
As Potter made his sulking, scowling way to his House table, Dumbledore said, "I believe the question falls to Mister Snape?"
Potter's brown eyes tried to burn a hole in Severus' skull. Severus smiled sweetly, and listened to the next question.
Slytherin took forty-three points in the end. That was seven more than even Gryffindor. Severus didn't take his hat off for the rest of the day.
The celebration in the Slytherin common room didn't end until after midnight, when Professor Fellus staggered in and suggested they might want to get some sleep. They obeyed - the man had a tendency to do erumpent impressions if woken up twice. Evan, cheerful despite being cut, had gone an extra step to make sure everyone was cheerful. Nagendra nearly had to be carried upstairs after all the punch he'd drunk.
"I still can't believe Potter did that! All the little baby Gryffindors are going to have a new favourite word come morning." Lucius grinned wickedly. His eyes were a wee bit crossed.
"Did you see the look on Evans' face?" Emeric said.
Severus nodded. The glare she'd shot him after he'd correctly answered the Potions question was burned in his mind as perhaps the most toxic thing he'd ever witnessed. It was also one of the most intriguing; who would have ever guessed the Darling of Gryffindor Head Girl had that sort of fire in her? He didn't much want to focus on that, though. He was more interested in having a quick chat with Tom, and going to bed.
He slipped the braces off his shoulders and was just tugging his shirt over his head when Lucius drawled, "Don't tell me you're tired already, Sev."
"Some of us have reputations to uphold. That's a bit difficult without sleep."
Malfoy rolled his eyes and flopped down, arms folded on his chest. He was wearing one of those bloody rugby shirts again. The stripes did nothing to subdue his sturdy Beater's build. "Why don't you just cast an Osmosis Charm and have at it? You'd be able to spend five minutes without working, at least."
"Shut up, Lucius." Snape shot a tight-lipped frown. Drunk, Semi-Rational Lucius would turn into Nosy Lucius if encouraged. And he knew perfectly well that Snape had used several Osmosis Charms, keeping them active anywhere from a few minutes to seven hours. With enough rest, they could be left for up to twenty-four, but Snape was one to err on the side of caution where his mental and emotional acuity were concerned.
"You're a real prick when you're drunk, y'know that, Severus?"
"Yes." He arched a sober eyebrow and shut the curtains around his bed. Severus fished the parchments out of his drawer and began leafing through. "'Lo, Tom," he said, setting the blank on his lap.
Namaste, Severus. How are you tonight?
"Quite well, thank you. We won the first round today."
As I knew you would. Of course, it should never be said that the King of Serpents is one to be trifled with.
Severus smiled softly. Now that he'd met someo-something that properly gave him the respect he knew he'd been so long in earning, it left a warm feeling in his stomach whenever some small nod was made. "And the cobra ribs arrived this evening." He had them safely stashed in his pocket. "I'll have it finished by next weekend."
It's so nice to know that my work won't be forgotten. I'd never even dreamed that someone else with the intelligence and sheer power to recreate an Imperius Salve would come to Hogwarts. I wish I could be there to see it.
"I wish you could, too."
Perhaps, someday, we'll meet?
"I don't know if you're still alive, Tom. I can't find you in any Wizards' Directories."
You've looked? I'm flattered.
"'Course I've looked," Severus said, his cheeks a bit warm. "D'you really think I wouldn't?"
What if it should turn out that I'm not what you expect? After all, you're young, and brilliant, and I'd wager rather handsome as well. I'm only an old man by now.
"I don't think you could ever be only an old man."
The parchment curled slightly in his grasp, warm as skin and unexpectedly blank. After several moments it read, I have to admit something, Severus Ajit. You've caught me in a bit of a lie.
Severus raised his eyebrows. "Oh?"
I doubt there's any need to tell you, but there is more to this parchment than a simple record, or a simple "what". For all intents and purposes, I am Tom Riddle. I wanted to make sure I could trust you.
Snape smiled and settled back on his pillow. The bottom edge of the parchment rest against his bare chest, still warm, and unexpectedly smooth. "I've known that for a long time."
Perhaps... the sharp writing suddenly trailed off and vanished. A corner drooped in an almost bashful way.
Severus' breath filled his lungs slowly and was deliberately expelled equally slowly. He was just about to ask what Tom was trying to say when the curtain was thrust back.
"Didn't think you'd be asleep yet." Lucius smirked. The room was dark, three other sets of drapes closed and muffled.
"I'm finishing my homework."
Lucius snorted. "Uh-huh, and I'm supposed to believe that you didn't finish it days ago? Come on, budge up." He started to push his way onto the bed. A white knee started to press down on old and new parchments.
"Stop it!" Severus snatched them up, tapping them together in a careful stack. "You're going to spoil them."
"What're you working on?" Lucius tugged at Severus' hand.
"None of your business."
"That's not very nice. What's so important that it's got your mind out of the gutter?"
"Fuck off, Luc. I don't want to see you right now."
"'Course you do," Lucius purred as he dragged a single finger down the middle of Snape's chest. "What's wrong? Brewer's droop?"
"Shut up." Severus bared his teeth slightly.
Lucius sighed melodramatically and collapsed on the bed. Snape tried to keep the parchments out of clear sight, but suddenly Lucius' eyes widened. "You've really got it, then?"
"Come on, I'm not that drunk. I can read a formula just as well as you can."
"I severely doubt that."
Lucius shot Severus a weary look. "Please, Sev. Ashwinder eggshells? Peppermint oil? Cobra rib jelly?" He leaned up on his elbows. His pink lips were very close to Severus', and the delicate fingers against Severus' cheek were hot and chilling. "Can I try it out?"
"Because I'm not that dim, you half-wit. This is a dangerous formula, and it shouldn't be used except by the best wizards."
"So I mean the best wizards, not the best wizards' slobbering drunks of friends!"
Lucius leaned in even closer, allowing their lips to brush and the pungency of vodka to pass into Severus' mouth with a puff of air. "What would you do if I told you I loved you?"
Snape glared, unimpressed. "I wouldn't believe you, and I'd tell you to go sober up."
Lucius gave a light, lilting sort of laugh. "Should know nobody can pull the wool over your pretty eyes, eh, Sev?"
"Get out of here, Malfoy. You know I won't shag you when you're drunk."
"Oh, yes, you're so terribly noble, almost a Gryffindor."
"Just fuck off, will you?" Severus wasn't about to shag Lucius drunk, not out of any moral outrage but because alcohol turned him into a whiny son of a bitch. He wouldn't remember any of this by morning. After the hangover passed, they could get back to life as usual.
"Nighty-night, Severus, darling." Malfoy nuzzled Snape's nose before slathering it with a slimy tongue. Snape cringed, and shoved his mindless friend off the bed. A few moments later, Malfoy stumbled into his own, and was unconscious before he could even close the curtains.
Severus rubbed his eyes and picked up the blank parchment again. It read, Oh, dear. You are in poor company. You've no idea what I'd give to be there with you, Severus Ajit. Platinum among tin, you are.
Snape smiled sadly, rubbing the parchment with his thumb. "Good night, Tom."
Shubha raatri, Severus Ajit. May you find in dreams what you seek in waking.
The parchment curled around his hand a moment and was empty. Snape stacked the pages, perhaps a bit more slowly than he should. He'd not even gotten to ask Tom the few lingering questions he had about the potion. Sometimes it seemed like there were more urgent things to talk about - usually nothing at all.
Shaking his head, Snape dropped the stack in his drawer for the night, settled, naked, under the heavy covers, and fell asleep. Much to his dismay, he didn't dream.
Severus nearly had a heart attack. One second Lucius was in the air, batting the Bludger around an empty pitch to celebrate slaughtering Ravenclaw, the next he was choking on a yelp and dangling by his knees with the Bludger still loose. Without a thought, Severus swooped over, grabbed his friend, wrenched the bat from Lucius' fist, and knocked the ball away before it could bury itself in Lucius' thick skull. "Let go of the broom, Luc. You won't fall."
Lucius muttered something incoherent and slowly unwound his legs from the handle. Snape turned his body just long enough to send the Bludger skidding again, and clutched Lucius tightly around the waist. Within seconds he'd dropped him on the ground and was after the ball before it could take another vengeful turn. A few good smacks sent it hurtling towards the supply shack. He leapt from the broom and landed with the ball pinned between his stomach and the pitch. Ignoring the stars going off behind his eyes, he wrestled the damned thing into its box.
Gut throbbing, he scurried over and knelt next to Malfoy. Malfoy was clutching his left forearm, eyes screwed shut, rocking gently. "Let me see."
Lucius shook his head. "I need to go."
"You're not going anywhere, mate. I'm not letting my best Beater lose his batting arm."
"I won't if you let me go!" Lucius shouldered Severus out of the way and staggered to his feet. "Fuck off, Snape!"
Severus stiffened a moment, stunned. Quickly, his eyes narrowed and he grabbed Lucius' shoulder before the twit was out of reach. "Show me your goddamned arm, Malfoy, or it's off the team."
They stared at each other. Lucius' silver eyes were wild, his white fringe falling haphazardly into them. He shook when he breathed. Screwing up his mouth in an abnormally submissive gesture, he pushed up his rugby shirt sleeve just enough to show that the grey skull on his arm was black and shiny, more like molten lead dribbled over his skin than a tattoo. Severus frowned. "That thing's hurting you?"
Lucius nodded. His face was still screwed up in pain. "Let me go, Sev. Please."
Snape couldn't remember that word ever sincerely falling from Lucius' lips. He tightened his grip on Lucius' shoulder. "You're off the team, Malfoy. We can't have that thing going off in the middle of a match."
The sheer hatred that emanated from Lucius' snarl made Severus' ribs turn cold. He quickly added, "I'm not going to sit happily by the goalposts while you break your neck."
"Just let me go, Snape. Never thought I'd see you stab your own House in the back."
"Fuck the House. You're my friend."
"Was your friend, you son of a bitch." Lucius wrenched out of Severus' hand and staggered towards the Forbidden Forest. "Don't forget my broom."
"Get it yourself."
Lucius didn't respond. Severus watched him lurch into the trees and vanish. He shook his head and grabbed his Nimbus 1000. Lucius' Nimbus 1001 still hovered over the pitch.
The common room was fairly busy for a Saturday evening. Snape scanned it until he saw the two people he wanted. "Xavier!" he barked.
Xavier looked up from his sketchbook. The page was filled with a half-finished dragon snuffling smoke rings. "You wanted something, boss?"
"Don't call me 'boss'. You're First Beater."
"What happened to Malfoy?"
"Malfoy's got other priorities. Milton!"
Andrea Milton, a husky fourth year and the team's only reserve Beater, jumped. "Yes, sir?" she asked a bit too timidly.
Severus hid his weary look. "You're Second Beater. Report to all practises, and make sure you fix that broom of yours." Andrea's Cleansweep Four was notorious for suddenly braking in mid-air.
"Yes, sir," she said, awed.
Severus turned and headed for his room. Behind him, he heard the flurry of chatter and congratulations, and squeals from the fourth year girls. It was a celebration he much wanted to take part in.
Adjusting his hat, he settled on the bed, opened his drawer, and pulled out the blank parchment. As soon as he touched it, it curled comfortingly around his hand.
Severus smiled. It was good to have a friend.
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