FIC: "we lay together on a cold hard floor" for mindabbles Recipient: mindabbles Author: ??? Title: we lay together on a cold hard floor Rating: R for language and sexual activity Pairings: Severus Snape/Peter Pettigrew Word Count: around 9000 Medium: fic Warnings/Content Information (Highlight to View): * sexual contact between two characters aged 15–16*. Summary: Circumstance threw Snape and Pettigrew together once before at school, when the future was wide open. Author's/Artist's Notes: To mindabbles, you said you like a happy ending. Once the pairing and era (Marauders) were in place, that was more or less off the table – I’m sorry! – so I went with "unexplored scenes", "friendships that really matter" and "people facing difficult choices". I really hope it’s okay. thank you to L and B for all their help, and to delphi for great forbearance. Title from "If They Come In The Night" by Marge Piercy.
It’s the start of the summer. The sun is pale and bright, and even though it hardly ever gets genuinely hot this far north, a warm green smell is lifting off the lawn outside the library. Severus is cross-legged under the old oak tree, back against a stooping branch, sleepy and full of lunch, and he has to cast a half-hearted eye-opener charm to stop himself nodding over his potions reading.
His eyelids are slipping anyway when a laugh rushes him awake. Gryffindors are suddenly clustered in a shallow nook in the outside wall thirty feet away, fumbling in schoolbags. Potter, Black, Pettigrew. Severus shuffles further back into the shade of the tree. It’s annoying, but not unexpected. Since the weather turned, a pureblood fad for muggle cigarettes has sprung up, and little knots of uncloaked, untucked fifth and sixth years can often been found in dark corners and round the back of the greenhouses, awkwardly lighting up with wand sparks. Black’s arranging himself into a complicated lean against a pilaster when Potter finally comes out with the little square packet, and Severus frowns. Just the smell of a Players number six puts him back in Spinners End, and he’ll be there in four weeks anyway. Some more fumbling. They’ve got a muggle lighter from somewhere; Black flicks at it and a huge flame leaps out - it’s been charmed. They cluster round again, then pull away and lounge against the wall, the three of them, one foot up and knees crooked, like an uneven row of angle brackets. Potter holds his cigarette like a pea shooter, Pettigrew his between two forked fingers, like a fuck you he wouldn’t dare offer out loud.
They fling their arms about, Black and Potter, in wildly exaggerated gestures, but talk in low voices. Severus strains forward but can’t hear a word. Perfect Prefect Lupin’s missing again, and he’s been hoping to find out why. Maybe they’ve finally shrugged him off; it’s not like they want a voice of reason. The smoke smell drifts over to where Severus is sitting, and he shifts a bit, reaches back to pull a twig out from under his backside. Pettigrew must have seen the movement because he looks up, away from his friends’ gesticulations and out towards Severus’s tree. He’s shielding his eyes with a hand; it’s much too bright to see someone crouching stock-still in the shade, until a cloud slides in front of the sun, and the hand comes down. They look at each other for a few moments – at least, Severus thinks they do – then Pettigrew turns back to Black and Potter, taps off his cigarette ash and laughs like a donkey.
But here comes Filch. The Gryffindors haven’t spotted him. Severus peers through the leaves, excited to see a come-uppance. He’s fifty yards away when the sun breaks through the cloud again. Shadows knife away from the boys on the lawn and bend onto the wall behind them, then vanish just as abruptly. They catch sight of Filch as he shoulders towards them, and suddenly there’s only two. Potter and Black. Pettigrew is… nowhere. The other two don’t even run, just stub their cigarettes against the wall and gather up a pile of clothes from the grass. Severus can hear Filch’s perplexed grunting. He looks about him, spots Severus crawling forwards to see better what’s happened.
"You! And what are you playing at?"
Potter and Black look up then, and Black laughs loudly.
"Following us, Snivellus? You’ll get a nasty surprise one of these days."
Severus sits back on his feet, sneering. "Me? How are you going to surprise me, Black? It’s people like you who need to watch their backs. I’ve got friends who –"
"People like me!" Black starts towards him, and they’re both reaching for their wands when Filch grabs Black by the collar.
"Both of you!" He crooks a finger at Severus. "It was three for detention, and now I’ve lost one of ’em, you may as well make up the numbers. Out!"
Severus stumbles out from under the tree and is bundled into the courtyard with Potter and Black, a curse in his head for each of them, and a curse for that coward Pettigrew, who’s nowhere to be seen.
Gryffindors are sadistic and careless by nature; that was a lesson Severus had committed to memory within six months. They carp and bully and are hopelessly clumsy with combustible ingredients. McGonagall, it turns out, is no exception.
"This term you will be studying vanishing enchantments. These are the most advanced spells you will be asked to learn for your OWLs. They require deep concentration, precise movement, and exactly no messing around." Her eyes poke from desk to desk, stilling the apprehensive shuffling that’s started up, and stop on Potter and Black. "For this reason, you will be working with new partners during lessons this term. How you practise outside class is your own business, but in my classroom, I will have no trivial conversation. Total focus. Gryffindors with Slytherins, please."
"But that’s completely –"
"No arguments, Mister Black! That puts you with Mister Flint. Mister Nott, take that look off your face, you’re with Mister Lupin. I trust the rest of you can find yourselves partners. If not I’ll be happy to find them for you."
Severus looks around, depressed. Lily’s already sitting next to Olive Mulciber. There are no other acceptable options at all. Gryffindors are dragging their feet en masse across the classroom, apart from Pettigrew who’s sidled closer to Potter, watching him slam his books into a pile.
"Mister Pettigrew, you’ll be working with Mister Snape."
There are a few giggles. Potter puts on a mournful expression, and claps his hand to Pettigrew’s shoulder. "Bad luck, Peter. Try not to turn Snivellus into a toad."
"You could make him vanish, though!" Black shouts, from across the room. "I’d give you an OWL myself."
When Severus looks back at Pettigrew, he’s grinning, no doubt overjoyed just to be the subject of conversation. He’ll be no help at all with the spellwork.
They take a desk together at the back of the room, negotiating space for parchment and books with awkwardly nudging elbows and as little eye contact as possible, while McGonagall barks out the particulars of their first task. A couple of economical swishes from the front of the room and a teacup appears on each desk.
"The cups you’ll be working on have been conjured from nothing, but pick them up and you’ll find they’re as solid as the ones you drink your tea from in the Great Hall." All the Gryffindors, it seems to Severus, reach for their cups, while all the Slytherins roll their eyes. "By correct application of the vanishing spell, you will be returning them again to nothing."
Pettigrew is turning the cup in his hands, as if he’s appraising the rosebud pattern.
"To perform the spell successfully, you must have a thorough appreciation –"
"– of nothing!" Pettigrew whispers it reverently, and then because he has clearly forgotten where he is and with whom, he looks up at Severus with pale popping eyes and grins.
Saturday's another hot day in a string of surprisingly hot days. Severus meets Pettigrew by the North Tower where they grunt at each other and head more by instinct than negotiation out onto the grass in the direction of the Quidditch pitches. Pettigrew's in his shirtsleeves with a jumper tied round his waist and a bulky bag over his shoulder. Severus’s own bag clinks at each step, and he has to slow his pace to avoid breaking the cup he stole from Slytherin table at breakfast. He’s regretting persisting in his full-length robe; it seems to gather up the heat and blast it down his neck like he's being breathed on by a pervert.
"Wait a minute." He lays the bag on the grass and hauls his robe up by the hem. As he’s tugging it over his head, someone wolf-whistles: one of those shrill exaggerated whistles you can only get with your fingers between your teeth. There’s laughter. Probably one of Pettigrew’s idiot friends or some other pathetic Gryffindors. Severus whips round to catch them, shaking his hair out of his face, and scrabbling in his robe for his wand.
"What are you doing?"
"Fucking showing them." He’ll make them fucking see what it is to laugh at him.
"Showing them what?" Severus stares at him; it should be fucking obvious, but Pettigrew just shrugs. "They’re gone anyway. May as well go and do this homework."
Pettigrew turns and walks away down the hill. Coward, Severus thinks, but he’s right, there’s no one in sight anyway to aim a hex at, so he picks up his bag and robe and follows.
They’re on the leeside of the Whomping Willow, a yard or two beyond its reach, when Pettigrew stops. "Here’s all right, isn’t it?" Severus can hear the chirp of voices away back up the hill towards the castle, but otherwise they’re completely alone.
"Fine." He unpacks his cup and textbook, and sits cross-legged, paging through to find the section on vanishing charms. His eyes flick up to Pettigrew, who’s pulled a red velvet cushion out of his bag, and a packet of Bertie Botts. "Where’s your cup?"
"Didn’t bring one. Doesn’t actually have to be a cup, you know. Bean?"
"No." Page three hundred and sixty-five.
"Fair enough." Pettigrew wriggles his backside into his cushion. "You start," he says, through a mouth clacking with jelly beans.
A few days’ grace since McGonagall’s class has not improved Severus’s Evanesco, and he breaks his teacup six times in a row while Pettigrew sits and watches. The sixth mend barely takes, and the cup shatters as soon as he puts it back on the ground. He stands back up and kicks at the shards in anger, scuffing his boot in the grass.
"Perhaps you should have a go with this. It’ll make less mess."
Pettigrew is holding out his cushion. Severus stares at him. "Or, perhaps, if you’re so eminently fucking skillful, you should give a demonstration."
"All right." He swipes at his backside as he stands up, and Severus does his best to loom over him, satisfied to see a slight beading of sweat in his hairline and the beginnings of sunburn. "Hold these." Pettigrew hands him the bag of beans.
His first Evanesco produces a rip in the red velvet and a fat bloom of cotton wadding. He adjusts his grip on the wand, plants his feet again. The second go disappears the cushion entirely.
"There you are." He looks up, grinning, and flips his wand in his hand.
How did you –?"
"Just got to concentrate on what it means to disappear. Like McGonagall said. What it’s like to be nothing."
Severus’s chest is throbbing hotly. He itches to ask how it’s even possible to imagine nothing, but his dignity won’t let him. Instead he upends the bag of every-flavoured beans and watches Pettigrew’s smile drop and his freckled face redden as they patter into the grass.
Severus is late down to breakfast. Most of the teachers have already left, and the Ravenclaw table has emptied most likely in favour of the library. A few Hufflepuffs and Slytherins are dawdling over toast, and most of Gryffindor house is still in the throes of the childish commotion that seems to accompany all their meals, some inane hilarity over a bowl of porridge. Severus slides onto the bench next to Evan Rosier and concentrates his attention on Pettigrew’s little knot of friends. They’ve dragged Lupin down from wherever he’s been hidden, but he looks like he’s been vomited up by something unspeakable from the Forbidden Forest. Perhaps he has a wasting disease of some sort. Severus watches Lily hand Lupin a slice of toast she’s buttered, nudging him and smiling, and grips his wand hard under the table.
"Subauditus," he whispers, in hope of overhearing a confidence, but his head immediately fills with the scrape and chomp of Hagrid at the high table. "Finite!" he hisses, and goes back to his own breakfast, disappointed.
"I’m going back up. Dark Arts in fifteen minutes. Are you coming, Snape? We need to talk." Rosier is climbing backwards off the bench, but Severus doesn’t do more than spoon his porridge and watch Rosier’s legs disappear.
"In a minute."
"Those minutes add up, you know. I don’t mind, obviously, but some people would say it’s time to stop obsessing about Gryffindors and get on with more important… Oh wait – is that –?"
Severus looks up. There’s a clap and a laugh behind him, and shouts at the Gryffindor table. A red envelope flaps open in front of Sirius Black and goes berserk. It’s shrieking at Black about loyalty and family, blood traitors and mudbloods, and worse words that get bandied about in the Slytherin common room, but whispered elsewhere. Half the table are on their feet, wands out, trying and failing to shut it up. Rosier is hooting with laughter behind him. Black is still sitting, his fists on the table, brows down and red in the face. That shambling wreck Lupin tries to put his arm round Lily, but she shoves back from the table, just as Hagrid bumbles up, and leaves the hall with Potter in pursuit. Severus gets up himself, but stops still when his gaze catches on Pettigrew who’s looking out towards the Slytherin table, not smiling or frowning, just chewing on his toast.
"Now then. Stand back." Hagrid’s trying to corral the Gryffindors, and Walburga Black has started in on squibs. "Wands away." He makes a grab for the envelope, which screams and ducks, and catches it on the third attempt in his great hamhock hand.
For a second or two, the silence seems to billow and ring, then a sausage comes flying across the Great Hall.
It lands on the Slytherin table a few feet down from Severus, just in front of little Regulus Black. Someone whistles. Black doesn’t move for a moment or two, then picks the sausage up, flicks something off it, and takes a bite.
At the end of May, three weeks before OWLs, Severus vanishes his first cup. One second it’s there, and Severus is concentrating his hardest on an essential cuplessness, the next there’s just an empty patch of turf in the gloom under the Quidditch stands.
Pettigrew hoots and claps. "There, you see!"
Severus tries and fails to hold back a grin. There’s an old bludger by the edge of the canvas, all charms long expired, rusted and sticky with slug trails; he rolls it back with the toe of his boot, focuses on how the ground was before the bludger was there and how it’ll be after it’s gone, and aims.
An empty chocolate frog box. He points his wand. "Evanesco!" Gone.
"It gets so you hardly have to even think about it, doesn’t it?" That makes him look over at Pettigrew. He aims his wand, and watches Pettigrew’s face go blank for a moment.
"Watch out," he says, loading it with as much menace as he can. "I can make it so you never existed." Pettigrew slowly lifts his hands in the air and gives a jerky little smile.
"Surrender," he says. Severus lowers his wand and looks at it in the palm of his hand.
Pettigrew’s rooting around under the steps for something else for them to vanish, when they hear voices outside on the pitch. He pulls the canvas open a few inches and looks out, then beckons Severus over.
Sirius Black and Romulus Flint are lounging under the goalposts. Sirius lights up two cigarettes and passes one over.
"Some people evidently have no time for homework," Severus says.
"Or no need. Sirius can do the spell already." Pettigrew shifts on his heels and his knee knocks against Severus’s. "I don’t know about Flint. I think they just like spending time together."
Severus huffs. The idea of anyone wanting to spend time with either of them is frankly laughable. He wants to ask where Potter is, but fears the answer. "What was the howler all about yesterday?"
"The Blacks have kicked him out. Not family enough, apparently." Outside on the pitch, Black is on his feet, swinging an invisible bat with both fists, cigarette between his lips. "Ironic really. It turns out Flint’s some sort of distant cousin. All the purebloods are basically related."
Severus let go of his bit of canvas and stares at Pettigrew. "That kind of talk would get you hexed in Slytherin." Pettigrew shrugs. "Anyway, I thought you were pureblood."
"Only because you’re not." It sounds like a taunt and Severus feels himself tense. "No known father, me."
"Doesn’t that bother you?"
Pettigrew drops from his crouch with a thud, and turns to face Severus, uses his hands to pull his legs crossed. "Not really. I could be almost anything. Gives you a lot more flexibility when you think about it."
"Maybe, if you’re a Gryffindor."
Nevertheless it makes a strange kind of sense. Tobias Snape is the sort of millstone that’ll make you unwelcome almost everywhere. How much easier it might be if it was just him and Mother. How much pleasanter the holidays would be, for one thing, and perhaps he wouldn’t be so pathetically dependent on Lily Evans. Severus sighs.
Black’s unmistakeable cackle explodes beyond the canvas, followed by a shout from Flint.
"You should go out there and play with your friend," Severus says, feeling bitter and letting it show.
"Nah." He doesn’t look up for a minute. There’s a small frown crease in the bridge of his nose. Then he grins, flicks a foot out and kicks Severus in the shin, making him jump and flinch. "You just need to vanish some more things."
Severus’s head is bursting.
I don’t need help from filthy little Mudbloods like her.
He turns and runs hard, coughing through the taste of soap. The shouting follows him, but the hexes don’t come and there’s no one running after him.
Severus runs all the way out past Hagrid’s pigsty and through the main gate to the Shrieking Shack, where he stops, leans on the back wall, panting, and looks out towards Hogsmeade. The ground is still rushing beneath his feet, as if Hogwarts is spinning away into space behind him.
He slides down the wall and lands hard on his backside. His legs and sides are aching, and he’s coated with sweat. But he’s done it. Really done it, he tells himself, past the ache in his head. Shown his loyalty and pushed her away. Shocked her so hard she’ll never come after him. Rosier will hear about it and clap him on the back later.
If he goes back. If Hogwarts is even still there. McGonagall has been telling them about the special power of words since first year, but she’s taught them the wrong ones, and Severus has finally found the one that might have hexed the whole place off the face of the earth. Now there’s nothing left to protect, he could easily make it his stock in trade. Severus pulls up the hem of his robe. There’s a huge red mark on his knee from where Potter dropped him onto the ground and it’s beginning to blacken. He touches it carefully with a fingertip; it’ll be the last ever stamp of his humiliation.
He has to make plans now. Rosier will introduce him to Malfoy like he said, even though he’s a halfblood. Next term he’ll be rising far out of the reach of Gryffindors, more magic at his fingertips than they can dream of. They’ll see what happens next time they try and take the piss. A pulse of anger bullies past everything else then, and he remembers Potter and Black sneering and shouting; Lupin, pious fucking Lupin, pretending to read and doing nothing; Pettigrew laughing and laughing. Severus stuffs his cuff into his mouth and rubs at the soapiness, wipes the tears off the end of his nose.
He sits in the dirt outside the Shack until the sun is pink behind Hogsmeade, and his sweat has dried, then he stands and hobbles round the side of the shack, half expecting the world to be changed. But the path, the lawn, the willow are there still, and beyond them the castle just as it always has been and always fucking will be.
The lake is quiet and abandoned as Severus limps back. On impulse he stops and sits on the bank, pulls off his shoes and socks and puts his feet in the water. The evening’s turned chilly and goosebumps shoot up his shins. A lesser person might think about sliding into the water until their head was under and never coming up, but not Severus. He lets the cold sink into his skin and soothe the throbbing of his bruises, lets the laughter in his head lapse into silence. He’s leaning back on his hands, eyes shut, when a flurry of pressure on his leg makes him jump. He twists round, reaching into his sleeve, seeing nothing at first in the dusk. Then he spots it scuttling away over the grass – a squirrel or a rat. Some small creature. Nothing.
For two hours on Saturday morning the castle is mayhem. Severus is usually an unwilling participant, manoeuvring his little box of possessions through the gaggle of trunks, owls and first years. At least this year he gets to sequester himself in the library and look down on the chaos. Wilkes and Avery trailed off after Rosier three-quarters of an hour ago, and now it’s just Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors in a motley caravan over the front lawn. He’s not looking for them, but he spots them easily, Potter’s messy hair, Black openly smoking a cigarette. His Subauditus is getting a little better, and he can hear Potter’s shouted vowels, though the distance and the library window block any sense he could make of it. A few yards in front of Potter a red head whips round, and shouts back. Two fingers up, but she’s smiling. She’s picked her side.
Severus looks back at his borrowed copy of Confronting the Faceless, reads about resisting the Imperius curse three and half times, until the lawn has cleared and his stomach is squelching with hunger.
In the entrance hall, Filch is up a ladder removing the Hufflepuff points hourglass from the wall. The Ravenclaw and Gryffindor hourglasses are already leaning at the foot of the ladder. When Severus goes into the Great Hall he finds all the remaining students herded onto a single table, presumably to instil a sense of cameraderie entirely at odds with the partisanship the school fosters year round. There are only a handful in any case, and they seem to have formed their own groups by choice or otherwise: four third-year Ravenclaw girls sat together, precisely and solemnly cutting into their quiche lorraines; Burbage and Trelawney whispering whatever it is that girls whisper; Catchlove, Bones and Crouch, the unlikeliest trio Severus has ever set eyes on, and apparently no happier to be sat together than they should be; and, at the end nearest the high table, Peter Pettigrew.
Pettigrew stares at Severus, fork stalled halfway to his mouth, as he walks up, and there’s a welcome hint of apprehension in that look that stops Severus turning round and heading straight back to the library. He sits opposite Pettigrew and a plate of quiche and potatoes appears in front of him.
"I didn’t know you were staying."
"Scared, Pettigrew? Too late to leave now – you’ve missed the train."
Pettigrew puts his fork down on his plate. "Look –"
"You just stood there and laughed!" Severus hisses. It’s out before he can call it back, and he’s craning across the table. Edgar Bones glances over, then looks away when he catches Severus’s eye. "I thought –" He clamps his teeth together to stop any more words.
Pettigrew blinks at him. A tiny bubble of spittle has landed among the freckles on his cheek, but he hasn’t noticed. He puts his fork down and rubs the palms of his hands on his trousers. "There’s not always a choice," he says. "Some situations you just have to do what people expect."
"Be a coward?" Severus should hex him at the lunch table in front of the staff. "Pretend to read a fucking book like fucking Lupin?"
"Well, hardly." Pettigrew tries a smile. "No one would expect that."
Severus stabs a potato with his fork. "You're nothing. Less than nothing. That's what I expect. What is it you think you've got to lose anyway?"
"The same as you, Snape. I'm just trying harder not to lose it."
They’re quiet for a few moments. From under his brows Severus watches the slow swivel of Pettigrew’s jaw as he deals with a mouthful of quiche.
"For what it’s worth I’m sorry about it. They go too far sometimes."
"They." Severus is aiming for sardonic, but it comes out sounding morose.
"And I’m sorry about your friend Evans."
"She’s not my friend."
Pettigrew looks up at him. His eyebrows say he doesn’t believe a word of it, but it’s more or less true; they’re not friends any more. They haven’t said a word to each other since that afternoon by the lake. She’ll be portkeying back to Sheffield in a couple of hours. Unless she’s decided to spend the holiday with friends this year. Pettigrew would probably know, but Severus has no intention of asking.
"Why are you still here, anyway?"
It takes a while for Pettigrew to finish his mouthful, and he swirls his fork in the meantime as if that communicates something important. When he finally swallows his voice is squeakier than usual. "Mother’s on a cruise."
"So why not with Potter?"
"Sirius is with James now. The Potters have taken him in." He shrugs. "Only one spare room."
"How cosy." And Merlin knows how they’ll egg each other on to even greater heights of imbecility over the holiday. Next term will be unbearable.
"Anyway, since we are both here, I was thinking of going into Hogsmeade after lunch, if you want to come along. Dervish and Banges will be starting their sale."
Severus frowns. "It’s a Thursday. How exactly are we supposed to get into Hogsmeade?"
Pettigrew’s got his eyes on his plate, but his gaze flicks briefly up at Severus. "The gates are always open during the holidays."
Severus stares at the sneakoscope lying still and silent on the tablecloth. "Does it even work?"
"Why wouldn’t it? Do you want some of this tea, then?" Pettigrew lifts the lid off the pot and peers inside.
"It was only three galleons. I think you’ve been lied to. It’s not doing anything."
The rosebud cup rattles a little in its saucer as Pettigrew pours the tea in. "That’s because we’re both so trustworthy." He smiles at Severus, teeth showing, apparently genuinely amused by himself. Severus grunts, and sits up straight as Madam Puddifoot bustles back towards them.
"Here’s your cake, dear."
"Thanks." Pettigrew beams at her.
"Do you need some more tea?"
"No, I don’t think so."
"Well, you have a lovely time, then, boys."
Severus waits until she’s puffed her way back to the counter, then leans over the table towards Pettigrew. "What on earth did she mean by that?"
"I don’t know. Probably what she said." He shoves a cube of cake into his mouth, and mumbles through it, "This is amazing. Wow!" Chews, swallows, points at the plate. "You should have some, dear."
Pettigrew looks at him through his eyelashes and something flips uncomfortably in Severus’s stomach.
"Don’t call me that." He looks around the coffee shop. There’s two other people sat at a table by the opposite window, but they seem to be engrossed in their menus.
Pettigrew chuckles idiotically, and Severus notices a cake crumb at the corner of his mouth. The thing in his stomach flips back.
He looks at the table again. "What do you need a sneakoscope for anyway?" He pulls off a chunk of cake with his thumb and forefinger and crams it in his mouth. It is good. Lemon syrup floods his mouth and coats his tongue. It must be stuffed with baking charms.
"It’s just good to know where the threats are." He shrugged. "Be prepared. It wouldn’t do you any harm to have one."
Severus knows where the threats are already. "Believe me, I don’t need a sneakoscope to tell me who to trust."
"Oh well. Good for you."
Pettigrew takes a sip of tea and looks at Severus over the rim of his cup. Severus looks away, feeling self-conscious. He tucks a string of hair behind his ear. The couple by the window are holding hands now. What the fuck is he doing here? This is the kind of place Potter would bring someone he was trying to get off with. He glances back but Pettigrew’s still looking at him, and so he examines the teapot instead. It’s got pink roses on it.
"I lied to you at lunchtime."
"I said Mother was on a cruise. She’s not. She met a black market herbologist four years ago and joined a women-only commune. I’ve been here every holiday since."
"You’ve left home?"
"I suppose so. I mean there isn’t really a home as such any more."
The sneakoscope remains silent.
"Why did you lie about it?"
"I wasn’t sure I wanted to tell you before." He has another mouthful of cake and Severus watches while he chews, humming with obvious enjoyment and pointing at his obscenely full cheeks, then swallows. "And people lie all the time, and they’re not all mortal enemies."
"I’m not an idiot, Pettigrew."
"I just thought you ought to know. Have some more." He nudges the plate towards Severus.
Severus has just put another piece of cake in his mouth when a gigantic hand hoves into view and lands on his shoulder.
"Hello there, lads. Well this is a nice surprise."
Severus’s mouth is suddenly thick with syrup, and heat washes into his face.
All things considered, school holidays at Hogwarts should be like one long Hogsmeade weekend of muggle clothes and too much butterbeer, if that’s what you’re into. The truth is that the attraction of unlimited access to Zonko’s pales after a week or so, and you can never go back to Madam Puddifoot’s after Hagrid’s caught you there, clapped you both on the shoulder and said "All right, you two?"
Insinuation or not, it effectively stops Severus and Pettigrew sitting together at meals. Still they meet every afternoon on the lawn, or by the shack, or under the Quidditch stands to practise spells.
Pettigrew says they’ll be working on human transfiguration next term, and he can already give himself a moustache and bushy eyebrows in a darker dirtier blond than his actual hair, and threaded with red that glints in full sunlight. One Wednesday afternoon he’s lying back on the grass by the lake with his new ridiculous facial hair eating a conjured apple, while Severus flips through his copy of Guide to Advanced Transfiguration.
"We should just work through the book in order." He’s quietly humiliated by his inability to spell his hair Slytherin green, as specified in chapter two.
"It’s not that you can’t do it," Pettigrew says. "It’s just that the colour’s coming out a bit wrong. You’ve got to want the green, feel the green."
"Feel the green?" Pettigrew’s radiating a weird enthusiasm and waving his apple in the direction of Severus’s head. "Maybe the difficulty is that this curriculum is completely ridiculous. When will I ever need to have green hair?"
"Well not that necessarily, but any sort of physical transformation is useful, isn’t it? If we can both get beards we could go back to Puddifoot’s and no one would be any the wiser."
Severus thinks of them and their flowery teapot, the sugar-sharp lemon cake, Hagrid’s knowing little wink. He feels hot all over, and scowls at the lake. "Polyjuice would work better."
Pettigrew shrugs. "I’m no good at Potions. Anyway, that all takes much longer, and you need hair and things. It’s not exactly useful in a hiding emergency."
"What hiding emergencies do you have?" Pettigrew’s down to the core of the apple now, and nibbling at the tough bits. A little stab of annoyance makes Severus grab the apple and throw it into the lake. "If you eat the pips, you’ll end up with an apple tree in your stomach. Branches growing out of your ears."
"Another useful disguise. Long term only, though. It’d take a lot of planning."
Severus lies back in the grass and is obscurely disappointed when Pettigrew sits up. With the sun on the full length of his body it feels even hotter. Hiding’s for people who don’t have something real to believe in, like Pettigrew. He’s a silhouette against the sun; Severus has to squint and hold his hand against his brow to see him. He’s picked up the text book and flapped forward to halfway through the book.
"We should try this ageing spell. I quite fancy seeing myself at forty."
Severus lies back and closes his eyes, feels the scorch on his eyelids. "You try it."
By mid-July it’s too hot to be anywhere at all. Even cooling charms don’t last long enough to lower the temperature of the blood, and Severus’s head buzzes with it till he can hardly think. There’s a welcome gloom under the Hufflepuff stand at least, for all it’s damp and stuffy. When he crawls through the canvas, Pettigrew is already there, sitting against an oak strut in a crumpled muggle t-shirt and short trousers. He sees Severus, and folds up the parchment he’s reading and stuffs it in a pocket.
Severus drops down next to him with a grunt and claps his hands together to get rid of the dirt. "Who’s your letter from?"
Pettigrew pauses for a moment or two, blinking. "Remus."
"Oh yes?" He picks at the dirt under a fingernail to indicate a general lack of interest. "And what exciting news does Lupin have today?"
"Nothing much. He, er, might come to visit in a couple of weeks."
"Visit here?" He drops the pretence. "What for?"
"Oh, I don’t know. Get away from the parents, I suppose."
"So he’s coming back to school?"
"Just for a visit." Pettigrew shifts a bit, pressing their upper arms together and releasing a flood of heat.
"Why doesn’t he go and see Potter and Black? Why come here?"
Pettigrew leans his head against the strut, and a small shaft of sunlight beaming through the split in the canvas lights up his pale eyelashes. "Well. I don’t see what’s so awful about here." He looks at the ground between them where he’s cross-hatching the dirt with a fingernail. "This is where we’ve ended up. Not everyone can go and live with James."
"So you say." Severus pulls his knees up to his chest. "I’m not exactly heartbroken about that." Pettigrew looks up at him.
"Why didn’t you go home this holiday?"
"Get away from the parents, obviously. What else?"
Pettigrew nods. "Not Evans, then."
The heat must have turned Severus’s brain to mush, because the mention of Lily makes his eyes ache. He’d sat like this with her in second year, arms and legs pressed together, but Lily’s gone now. She was never anything like him. "Not –" he swallows in a spasm, "not Evans."
There’s a long pause, just the sound of them breathing in their dark space together, a bird squawking out on the pitch. Suddenly Severus feels the tentative pressure of Pettigrew’s hand on his knee, "Maybe we ought to just –" and he’s shifting jerkily onto his knees, leaning on Severus, and his face is so close, freckles standing out against the damp pink of his cheeks.
There’s a dozen flavours of Bott’s beans in Severus’s face, and he blushes hot, expecting a kiss. It doesn’t come. Instead a damp palm against his shirt, sticking the fabric to his chest. It skitters down his front, catching with sweat, and by the time Pettigrew’s hand reaches his stomach, Severus is hard and horribly embarrassed. He looks away into the dusty gloom, panting and wanting and not wanting.
"Is it all right if –?"
Severus nods without thinking, and for the first time ever there’s another person’s hand pressing against his prick through his trousers. He shudders and his body jerks reflexively into an awkward embrace with Pettigrew, one arm around a shoulder and his face pressed into Pettigrew’s neck. His body is filled with a pleasure so concentrated and unexpected he has to grab and squeeze at whatever he can reach.
"Here –" Pettigrew pulls away, and Severus can only gasp repeatedly in his face. His eyebrows are high up on his forehead, and there’s a little hopeful tick under his left eye. He fingers the hem of Severus’s shirt. "Take this off?"
"This," Severus says, pulling at the waistband of Pettigrew’s shorts, and they struggle out of damp clothes, knocking elbows and knees.
Severus stares. Waist down, Pettigrew’s skin is pale and freckled, like his face, but soft as butter. There’s a shallow crease under the round of his belly. His prick stands out dark between strong thick legs. Severus dares to run his fingers over the skin on Pettigrew’s hip and it’s smooth and breathtakingly fragile, like a girl’s should be. Severus could probably just think of her while they’re doing this, but as soon as that thought arrives, it’s gone again in the quiver of Pettigrew’s shoulders.
It’s quick when they do it. They sit side by side, turned towards each other, hands on each other’s pricks. Severus breathes hard into Pettigrew’s sun-warmed hair, and it sticks to his cheeks and mouth from the humidity. Sweat trickles down his bare chest and wets Pettigrew’s cheek. Severus is filled with a desire to press his mouth against Pettigrew’s skin. Heat blooms everywhere, and the sudden certainty of orgasm pulls Severus’s body tight. He hears Pettigrew gasp, and he comes with a grunt and a shove, clutching at the wood frame behind Pettigrew’s back, feet slipping against the dirt floor.
Severus has splinters in his hand afterwards. Pettigrew bends his head over them and pulls them out one by one with his fingernails.
"We can do that again," Pettigrew says into the palm of Severus’s hand.
Severus’s heart is finally slowing from its desperate canter. "If you want."
Lupin’s promised visit happens two weeks before the start of term. He and Pettigrew are sitting together in the Great Hall, whispering and smiling like they’re sharing some great joke, when Severus comes down for lunch. He’d forgotten, and when he hesitates in the doorway, Lupin looks up sharply, smile wilting. Out of the corner of his eye Severus sees a small movement of Pettigrew’s hand, but ignores it and slides onto the nearest free bit of bench. Sybil Trelawney wrenches her skirt free from under his leg, with a clucking noise, and shuffles up.
Lunch is ham and fried eggs, but Severus manages to swallow barely a quarter of a plateful before he’s up and back out into the entrance hall. He stands for ten minutes in the doorway to the kitchen staircase, letting the anger boil around in his chest, and berating himself for a missed opportunity to listen in.
He waits there until lunch is finished, ducking back as the students leave the hall, and when Pettigrew and Lupin stroll out into the sunshine in the courtyard, he follows at what he considers to be a discreet distance.
"I can’t believe James tried to firecall her. Does that actually work in Muggle houses?"
"Not as far as I know. The way Sirius tells it he singed the hair off the whole left side of his head. James thinks it makes him look more rugged." They laugh and jostle into each other, like they’re pretending to be best friends around a gap they’re not used to.
Maybe this is what they do, Pettigrew and Lupin, when they can’t hang around with Potter and Black. Talk about Potter and Black. It’s pathetic. Severus steps on a twig and freezes, but he’s far enough back that they don’t hear, and they wander out onto the lawn without breaking stride.
They settle by the oak opposite the library – Severus’s oak. He sticks to the wall, bristling with annoyance and feeling incredibly foolish, but when he gets back in range of the eavesdropping charm they’ve changed subject.
"So you’re ready?"
"As I’ll ever be."
"It’ll be fine. We’ll manage, eh? Moony and Wormtail?" Pettigrew claps Lupin on the leg, then snatches his hand away as if it’s been burned and presses it to his hip. A low whistling is carrying across the grass. Pettigrew looks around and spots Severus where he’s pressed against the wall, and while Lupin is busy checking for untrustworthy goings-on in the wrong direction, Pettigrew gestures violently at the Sneakoscope in his trouser pocket, eyes wide. Severus has no choice but to leave them to it.
He spends the rest of the day in the library with the Guide to Advanced Transfiguration, which is now littered with Pettigrew’s annotations, and just past eight o’clock, when the sun is beginning to lower, Pettigrew finds him there.
"Sorry," he says. "About this afternoon, I mean." He perches on the edge of Severus’s desk.
Severus gives him a sarcastic glance, and slides the book down the desk away from him.
"He’s going back home tomorrow afternoon. So – I can see you at the lake?"
"Tell me what he’s doing here."
"Liar. It’s probably some stupid Gryffindor prank. Some way to impress Potter and Black. Why are you friends with them, anyway – they’re idiots!" Severus curls his fists round the leather cover of the textbook. "You’re only making an idiot of yourself. If you had any sense, you’d –" he stops himself and breathes out hard.
Pettigrew bites the side of his lip. Of course he knows it’s true, that it’s time he broke with them and got serious; he just won’t admit it. A hand briefly grazes Severus’s shoulder and Severus pushes it away.
"I’ll find out what it is."
"It’s not anything, Snape. Stop getting yourself worked up."
Severus shuts Guide to Advanced Transfiguration with a thump, and stands up. "Don’t worry Pettigrew. I’m sure I can get Black to spill the beans."
He leaves Pettigrew there on the edge of the desk, examining his hands, and heads into the stacks to look at the potions journals. Or pretend to. When he comes back out the sun’s set and Pettigrew’s gone. Outside the library window the night is bright and still, and the lawn glows grey in the moonlight.
The following afternoon Pettigrew limps up to the lake with a sprained ankle and a two-inch gash on his shin, and their combined knowledge of healing spells patches him up well enough to avoid Pomfrey. Severus doesn’t ask him what’s happened or where Lupin is. He can wait.
September comes. The hourglasses go back up in the Entrance Hall, but some inter-house alliances persist. Black and Flint sit together in NEWT-level Transfiguration and mutter in the same barely muted tones that Black and Potter used to. Potter’s own Slytherin only got an A in his OWL, so he’s taken a seat with Lily Evans and feigns a level of studious seriousness that even a halfwit Hufflepuff could see through.
Severus and Pettigrew sit together too, and in class it draws little notice, but Rosier finds time to have a word in Severus’s ear. Apparently Malfoy will refuse to see him if he’s still hanging around with idiot Gryffindors.
"He says he can’t trust you."
Severus wants to tell Rosier how ridiculous that sounds, but some plans do repay a bit of caution.
"He’s not actually an idiot," he says instead. "He’s more or less the best in our year in Transfiguration, even though he keeps it pretty quiet. That could be useful, couldn’t it? I think I could get him onside."
He doesn’t tell Rosier about the things he’s already learnt from Pettigrew, or what there is still to learn together about transfiguring magic and about dealing with shortsighted fools. He doesn’t enumerate any embarrassing hopes.
Rosier laughs at him anyway. He thinks it’s the best joke ever. "Little Peter Pathetigrew? You’re cracked, Snape. He can barely spell his shoes tied. You’re definitely confusing him with someone else, and even if you’re not Malfoy won’t have him."
But Severus knows that’s why people like Rosier won’t last in Malfoy’s set. They don’t pay proper attention. After a couple of years of careful work Severus will be top of the pile, and who’s to say Pettigrew won’t be right there with him?
Summer ends suddenly in the second week of term, and there’s a chilly wind under the Quidditch stands.
"Maybe we should start – going to the Shrieking Shack – instead." Pettigrew’s breathless from orgasm, but goosebumps are already prickling up both pairs of legs.
Severus retrieves his wand from the puddle of his discarded robe and Scourgifies them both, making Pettigrew shudder. Severus watches from the corner of his eye as he quickly pulls his trousers up over his soft belly, and smoothes his hair down. Pettigrew sighs and shifts a bit.
"What am I sitting on? Oh – here."
He pulls Severus’s mitts out of his back pocket and hands them over. They’re warm when Severus pulls them on.
"Or the back room at Honeyduke’s."
"To meet in, I mean. There’s a passage that goes straight there. It hardly gets used and there’s plenty of supplies." He grins.
Severus has a vision of them crouching together in a little fort made of cauldron cakes, Pettigrew pushing every-flavoured beans into his mouth.
"Not much room for practising your Tentaclifors jinx."
"No, I suppose not."
They settle opposite each other, cross-legged in the dirt. Pettigrew reaches over and picks a bit of grass off Severus’s shoulder, twiddles it between his fingers.
"Have you thought about what you’ll do after school?"
Severus freezes. Some days he doesn’t think about anything else at all. "Yes," he says slowly, and wonders how to broach it.
"Because we’ll both be looking for somewhere to live, won’t we? Maybe we could rent a flat. Something in Diagon Alley."
Severus stares at him. "Live in a flat?"
"Well, or a house. Not necessarily in Diagon Alley. Up north near you if you like. I don’t mind anywhere, really."
The idea is a terrifying one, and nothing like the things Severus has marked out in his head as plans. There’s a mad sputtering sensation in his chest and it makes him suddenly violently sarcastic.
"Or we could start a little commune like your mum? Grow illegal vegetables and get matching tattoos?" He swallows carefully. "Sounds idyllic."
Pettigrew gives a little cough-like laugh. "All right. It was just a thought." He shivers. "God, it’s cold. I’d better go out. I promised James I’d watch his Quidditch practice. He’s got some new first years starting –"
"Why?" Severus digs his heel into the dirt, angry at himself for the letting the question out yet again, and angry in general.
"Why are you friends with them?"
"Because – they’re my friends." He says it like it’s self-evident, like there are no other choices to be made. "Why are you friends with that arsehole Avery? Or Wilkes?"
Severus scowls at the ground. "Potter and Black, they’re idiots, and they treat you like an idiot, too. You know they’re just patronising you? Do you?" Pettigrew takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "You could probably hex them into a pile of dust. Why do you just stand around laughing at them fucking about? They think you’re nothing."
"So do you, remember? You said so."
"I didn’t –" He did.
"Look. Snape. It’s not such a bad thing if people don’t know everything – if you don’t tell them every single thing you can do, or everything that’s going on in your head. If people are constantly expecting you to do something brilliant and heroic, how are they going to notice when you actually do? One day I’ll get a chance to show them properly; I’ll do something amazing and I’ll be the genius hero. See?"
"Well, anyway. I’ve got to go." Pettigrew stands up. He stamps his feet and rubs his hands on his trousers, and Severus reaches up in a bit of a panic, seeing his opportunity fading. He grabs at Pettigrew’s sleeve.
"And what if you don’t get a chance and you spend all your life hiding and pretending to be something you’re not, and no one ever sees anything?"
Pettigrew frees his hand and holds onto Severus’s fingers for a second or two. "That doesn’t seem too likely, does it? Not to get any chance at all." He smiles, half his face in shadow. "I’ll see you tomorrow."
Severus is pressed up against the glass of Greenhouse Five, Black’s knee against his thigh and his robe wrenched tight against his throat. The cricket who used to be Romulus Flint is chirping at his feet.
"You should read ahead a bit, Black. Chapter six. You barely scraped an E, though, didn’t you? Probably a bit beyond you."
The knee jabs harder, and Severus grunts.
"Turn him back."
"Tell me where Lupin is."
Pettigrew is scrabbling around on the ground, trying to coax Flint into a cone made of parchment. He could untransfigure him in a second, but he won’t while there’s an audience.
Black lets go of Severus suddenly, then pushes him hard so that his shoulders thud against the glass.
"You really want to know? Fine. Be my guest." His face is close enough that Severus can see the open pores on the bridge of his nose. "There’s a passage at the roots of the Whomping Willow. If you’re not whomped to death – and frankly it’s fine with me if you are – follow the passage to the end and you’ll find Remus. Or he’ll find you. Now fuck off!"
It’s actually Black who fucks off, Flint in hand. He doesn’t notice Pettigrew hanging back. When they’re ten feet away, Pettigrew glares at Severus and then unspells Flint himself. Black and Flint land in a heap, and when Black has hauled himself to his feet, he turns, sticks up his middle finger and gets Severus’s in return.
Severus feels round his throat carefully. "Fucking animal."
"Look, you shouldn’t go tonight, Severus. Just leave it." Pettigrew looks depressed. When his shoulders slump like that, he’s a good half a head shorter than Severus, and he’s staring determinedly at a level around his collarbone.
"Leave it? You’re joking aren’t you? This is perfect. I don’t even care what Lupin’s up to – it’s obviously illegal or dangerous, or just unbelievably bloody stupid, otherwise they’d be shouting about it to everyone. I’ll report them, whatever it is. The whole lot of them – they’ll be expelled. Dumbledore won’t have a choice."
"If you say so."
"I can –" He hesitates. "I’m probably going to see Lucius Malfoy this weekend." He hasn’t mentioned it to anyone, and the terror of compromising himself is mixed with a thrill of pride. "I can get you in, I think."
"Me?" Pettigrew looks at him, his eyes are huge and he seems vaguely amused at the idea.
"Why not? You’re a pureblood aren’t you?"
"I’ve no idea, remember? Sirius is, though. You want to try and get him in? Blood’s no guarantee of anything – I’d’ve thought you’d realise that."
"I do, but. It’s important to them. And it’s the right side. Don’t you want to be on the right side?"
"Why do I have to be on any side? What if I want to keep my options open?
Severus lets his head fall back against the pane of glass behind him. "Oh, don’t be naive."
They stand by the greenhouse a while longer. Pettigrew stands next to him, and their arms and the backs of their hands touch. It’s still and a little calming, and Severus finds he doesn’t want to go back to the common room yet. Then just beyond the gap in the wall, Potter passes by, and Pettigrew jerks out of his lean.
"I’ve just got to talk to –" He pauses a moment, looking apologetic, then trots off anyway, and Severus picks up his bag and heads into the castle to get ready.
Two days after the full moon, the weather breaks properly. It’s raining when they walk out into the back courtyard, and Severus casts an Impervius over them both. Rosier winds his scarf tighter round his neck.
Malfoy will meet them in the Forbidden Forest, and that will be the beginning of Severus’s new life. Free of unhinged halfbreed Gryffindors, free of Hogwarts hypocrisy. None of that will touch him any more. A gust of wind flaps his cloak hard against his legs and breaks his stride, but only for a moment.
On the lawn under Severus’s oak there’s a little figure crouching, and it stands up as they get closer. Short, and so bundled up it’s hard to recognise him, and Severus doesn’t spare him more than a fleeting glance. The figure stands there, the flash of his red and gold scarf buffeting about, and as they pass the tree, Severus sees him out of the corner of his eye step forward a pace then stop.
Severus and Rosier keep walking. With the wind against them it seems to take ages. It numbs Severus’s cheeks and whips his hair in his eyes. When they get to the edge of the Forest, he turns and looks back. He can still make out the oak tree, but whether the figure that was under it is there still or has disappeared is impossible to tell.
Rosier nudges him in the side. "Come on. He’s waiting."