Summary: Severus Snape has bad hygiene -- in the opinion of Sirius Black. who pointedly tells him so. Severus Snape has dirty blood -- in the opinion of Regulus Black, who unwittingly tells him so. One telling leads to the other -- and both have surprising repercussions once they all start school.
Fandom: Harry Potter
Characters: Severus Snape, Regulus Black, Sirius Black, Lily Evans, Lucius Malfoy, Eileen Snape
Disclaimer: Borrows JKR's characters and world.
Original story: The Repercussions of Having Bad Hygiene by rynne.
Notes: The original fic was written post-OotP, and thus naturally assumed Snape was a pure-blood. It looked very different in the light of the revelations in HBP and DH, which seemed an interesting theme to explore. My apologies for taking an intentionally light-hearted original and repainting it in rather darker and more sombre colours! Thanks to lls_mutant for the beta.
Part 1: Introductions
"Mother, I'll be bored. Do we have to go?"
"Yes, Severus!" Eileen Snape looked disapprovingly down at her only son. "Don't you want to meet your grandparents?"
"Don't care," Severus mumbled. He stared at his feet so his mother couldn't see that the idea scared him. "Anyway, they didn't care before, did they? Why now?"
"Because ..." His mother trailed off, and Severus looked up in surprise. He hadn't expected her to even begin a real answer. She must have realised that, because she continued, in a forced manner. "It's only three years before you'll be going to Hogwarts, Severus --" he wouldn't have said only, it seemed like forever to him "-- they think it's about time you understood what your world is like, and met a few of the right people."
"What, a Mudblood like me?" he asked, without thinking.
His mother's lips pursed. "Where did you hear that word?" she snapped, and Severus realised his error.
"Saw it in one of your old books," he muttered, flushing. He knew he wasn't supposed to have been prying -- but he'd opened an old trunk and seen them lying there, and other than the occasional spell his mother cast, he never saw anything magic ...
"I see!" She had a curious look on her face, and he was surprised that she wasn't shouting at him. "Well ... I'm glad you're taking an interest, anyway. I may live in this world, but you won't have to if you don't want to."
"Why do you then?" he asked boldly. "You and Dad are always arguing anyway."
"You make your bed and you have to lie in it," she retorted, in a tone that didn't leave room for argument. "I've always believed that, and I intend to stick to it! You'll find that out one day, child. And I don't want to hear you calling yourself that word, either -- or anyone else, for that matter. You may not be a pure-blood, Severus --" she took a deep breath "-- but you've got as many wizards in your line as most of the people who'll be at this party, whatever airs they like to put on. You're a half-blood, Severus. You're as much a Prince as you are a Snape, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise!"
"Like Dad?" He couldn't stop himself asking. "Bet he doesn't want us to go to the party, either."
His mother winced. "Yes, well, your father's away with his work. What he doesn't know won't hurt him. Don't mention it, you know how he gets upset. Now stop complaining, it's time we were gone!" She ran a critical eye over her son's appearance. "Did you wash your hair?"
He scowled. He'd never liked getting his hair all wet and messy; it was revolting, and the soap in the shampoo always made his eyes hurt. It never seemed to make much difference to the way it looked anyway. "I did it last night," he answered sullenly.
"Well, comb it before we get there, at least. There might be other children there you'll be going to school with, and I want you to make a good impression."
The party was just as bad as Severus had thought it was going to be.
It was exciting to finally see some other wizards and meet his grandparents, although none of them had seemed to know quite what to say to each other. Eventually they began an awkward discussion about things that had happened long ago -- before he was born, even -- and when he began to fidget, his mother quickly told him to go and find someone his own age to talk to. His grandparents seemed relieved at the idea. Without a word, he took his chance and disappeared into the crowd.
Once he began to pay attention to his surroundings, though, he felt uncomfortably overawed and a little jealous. The room they were in was probably bigger than their whole house in Spinner's End, and it was posh, like the big manors they visited on school trips sometimes. He wasn't sure he liked the idea of talking to the other children here. The kids at junior school taunted him about his hair and his clothes, but he could ignore them -- they were just Muggles and he was better than them anyway, who cared what they thought? But wizard children -- that was different.
But when he looked around, he couldn't see anyone his own age at the party, so it didn't make any difference anyway.
He thought about asking one of the funny little creatures carrying trays if they'd let him have a drink, but he didn't dare in case they told him he wasn't supposed to. So instead he found a patch of wall where he wouldn't be too conspicuous, and slouched against it, scowling and wishing he had stayed at home.
He looked up in surprise. The person who'd spoken to him was a boy about his own age, with black hair almost as long as his own. He was grinning, and he seemed quite at home in the surroundings. Indeed, to Severus the boy had an air of almost casual arrogance. "Hello ..." he replied, trying not to seem too curious.
"I'm Sirius Black. Who're you?"
The name didn't mean anything to him, but there was no reason it should. "Severus Snape," he replied, rather flattered that a wizard boy wanted to be friends with him.
"Okay. Um, well, I didn't know if you know, but you know ..." Severus raised an eyebrow at this fumbling speech, and the boy Sirius seemed to realise he wasn't making sense, as he continued simply, "Is your hair supposed to be that greasy?"
Severus was too stunned even to react.
"Because if it's not there's things you can do to stop it. Like shampoo, and such. Though sometimes I have to wonder how good shampoo is. I mean, it has the word poo in it, and ..."
Severus glared as hard as he could at Black, who trailed off and gulped when he noticed. "Yes, I know what my hair is like!" he snarled. "And I don't need you coming around and telling me how to take care of it!"
"Well, excuse me!" replied Black, who had the nerve to look offended, as if he hadn't just walked up and insulted him for no reason. "All I was trying to do was help, and you know, it really does look like you're letting your hair get that greasy. I don't see how you could have that much grease in it and still wash it regularly!" He glared at Severus, who glared back at him.
"Well, I didn't ask for your help, and for your information, I do wash it regularly!" Severus retorted. Like it mattered so much that people were always going on about it! And he really had washed it last night, or at least dunked it in the bath ...
"Well it doesn't look like it!"
"Yeah! And you're too pale. You look like a vampire!"
What? That was stupid! He was imagining it!
"No I don't!"
"Yes you do!"
The two boys resumed glaring at each other again; Severus took a certain vicious satisfaction in the fact that the git Black flinched first, narrowing his eyes and then abruptly turning and vanishing into the crowd of adults.
Then, as the realisation that the first wizard his own age that he'd ever met looked down on him, he felt himself flush with shame, and sent another scowl in the general direction of Black's exit.
"Hi! I'm Regulus, who're you? Wanna be my friend?"
Startled, Severus turned around to face the boy who had just bounced up and chirped at him. His heart sank as he took in his appearance; this 'Regulus' looked a little younger than Sirius Black, but he had exactly the same dark hair and slightly haughty look, and Severus was definitely not in the mood for further insults.
"Are you a Black?" he asked roughly, looking at this new arrival through narrowed eyes.
The boy seemed confused, but nodded and cocked his head. "Yeah, I am. Why?" He scowled, and Severus scowled right back at him.
"Do you have a brother named Sirius?" An indecipherable expression passed quickly across the face of the other boy -- Regulus? -- who nodded. Severus glared at him. "Then you tell him that he's a git!"
To his surprise, Regulus smiled and nodded again. "Was it because of your hair?"
He fought to suppress a start at this unexpected jab, and scowled more deeply to cover the fact. "Don't you start making fun of my hair too," he warned him. "I really do wash it! And I'm not a vampire," he added to cut off any further Black jibes before they could be made, "my skin's just naturally that pale!"
Regulus surprised him again by not taking offence. "They wouldn't let vampires into a party like this," he agreed. "My mother told me. They're half-breeds, and shouldn't be allowed to associate with pure-bloods like us."
Severus was rather taken aback. So Regulus apparently thought Sirius was a git too, and didn't seem to want to make fun of him ...He smiled hesitantly, and only then did it dawn on him that Regulus had taken him for a pure-blood. He thought briefly about correcting him, but he liked having this wizard accept him ... Instead, he stuck out his hand. "I'm Severus Snape."
Regulus grabbed his hand and shook it enthusiastically, smiling back at Severus. "Don't worry about Sirius," he confided in a whisper. "He really is a big git sometimes. The best thing to do is just ignore it. It makes him really angry." Severus laughed, and Regulus grinned. "Like when you tell him the Falmouth Falcons are rubbish."
"Sorry?" The name meant nothing to him.
"It's his Quidditch team, you know. Who do you support? I'm a Tornados fan, they're the best!"
Severus hesitated. He had only the vaguest idea what 'Quidditch' was -- his mother's books had mentioned wizard games, but hadn't gone into detail -- so he fell back on the answer he'd given from primary school on when someone asked what football team he supported. "I don't have one. I don't really like sport much, to be honest."
"You don't?" Regulus looked at him goggle-eyed; apparently the idea of someone not liking sport was entirely new to him. "Wow. I thought everyone did! I want to be the Slytherin Seeker when I get to Hogwarts -- well, I suppose you don't really find out what your house is till you get there, but I bet I'm in Slytherin. All the Blacks are. Which one were your parents in?"
That he did know. "My mum said she was in Slytherin too."
"What about your dad?"
Severus scowled as he thought of Tobias Snape, and his sullen fury at any mention of Hogwarts or his son's future attendance there. He opened his mouth to say so, and remembered just in time that he was supposed to be a pure-blood. "Don't know. He'd fit right in that other one, the one that isn't very good. Huffandpuff, wasn't it?" he added, hoping he'd remembered it right.
Regulus let loose a peal of delighted laughter that brought them annoyed glances from several of the nearby guests. "Huffandpuff! That's a good one! You don't want to go in Hufflepuff. Even Sirius doesn't want to go there, not even to annoy mother and father."
"Right." It was definitely time to try and change the subject. "Erm -- so what do you think of this party, then?"
"Oh, it's boring, isn't it? Mother was talking to some man called Malfa. I think he must be important because she told me to go and play, but there's nowhere much you can play here, is there? I don't think the Princes have any children. So I saw you standing against the wall and you looked a bit scowly, but if Sirius was having a go at you I don't blame you, he's always going on about 'hygiene' and stuff, he's mad about it, I bet he wouldn't be able to cope if he ever couldn't have a wash for a day or two ..."
Severus listened to Regulus babble on, and tried to swallow the uncomfortable feeling that he was going to make a fool of himself the first time he was expected to know about the wizarding world. Fortunately, the other boy seemed quite happy to prattle away without expecting much in the way of replies -- or indeed listening to them when they were given -- and with a little careful questioning Severus was able to pick up a lot of information about the world he would be joining one day.
"... I want to see the next England match, with any luck Father will let me go -- oh, I forgot, you don't like it do you?"
"Not much ... Are England any good at the moment?"
"Not bad, we got to the quarter-finals of the World Cup last year, but we lost to Portugal again, couldn't get a lead, I thought we might nick it but their Seeker won it on the Snitch."
"... and Sirius said there's a potion that actually turns you into someone else; I mean, it's still you really but you look just like them, right down to your belly button he said, but he's probably making stuff up again. Bet it would feel really strange, though, wouldn't it?"
"Would you be stuck like that?"
"Don't know. I suppose it wears off, or you could take an antidote or something?"
"... so Mother and Father don't like this family called the Weasleys, they think they're all blood traitors --"
"What did they do?"
"Don't know, really, but they probably married Muggles or something, I don't know what happens when you do that, but I think Mother said it makes your blood go dirty, which sounds a bit yucky. That's got to be worse than not washing, hasn't it?"
It was lucky for Severus's self-control that this turned out to be the last of the conversation. Regulus's mother bore down on them with Sirius in tow, and Regulus had to be dragged away, protesting loudly. Sirius Black stuck out his tongue at him and Severus replied in kind, then, deliberately ignoring Sirius, he waved to Regulus who waved back.
Incredibly, he'd made it through without giving himself away!
At least one pure-blood was pleased to know him.
His mother didn't speak much on the journey home, for which he was grateful. Fortunately, his dad hadn't returned when they got back -- at least that saved him from yet another row.
"How did it go?" he asked tentatively after a few minutes silence, while his mother busied herself cleaning the kitchen with a few well-chosen sweeps of her wand.
"How did what go?" she snapped. That didn't bode well.
"Granddad and Grandma."
His mother scowled. She stopped to take a deep breath and then began ranting, as if she'd been wanting to for years. "Your grandparents? They always think they know best! I will not have them telling me how to live my life, and I will not have them telling me how to raise my son! They never listen to me! Never did listen to me even when I lived there! They actually want us to leave here and move in with them so you can 'learn how to be a wizard'. I told them you can learn how to be a perfectly good wizard without any of their help!"
"I wouldn't mind leaving here," muttered Severus.
"Oh, you'd mind once you got there! They'd never stop telling you how you should behave, they never did with me! Don't think they'd treat you like some little darling, Severus, to them you're an embarrassment they don't really want to have to deal with! They think your Muggle blood makes you dirty! I told them, you'll be as good a wizard as they ever were!"
Once again, Severus had replied before he could stop himself. "It does make your blood dirty. That's what that boy said."
"A boy I was talking to at the party. Regulus Black. His brother had a go at me, but Regulus seemed to be all right."
"A Black, eh?" She snorted. "I'm not surprised. That family are snobs of the worst sort. Listen to me, Severus Snape. There's nothing wrong with your Muggle blood, and there's nothing wrong with your wizard blood either. You've got the best of both, don't forget that! And I'll show them just how good a wizard you're going to be!"
She stalked into the hallway, threw open the cupboard under the stairs, and rummaged in the old trunk he'd found -- the one he'd investigated as often as he dared, the one whose presence his dad refused even to acknowledge. "Here. These are my old first-year books. You can't do much without a wand, but you can start learning the basics now ready for when you do get one, and I'll teach you how to brew a few potions ..."
Severus felt a deep thrill as he examined the books she had pressed into his hands. Magical Theory sounded a bit tricky, but the potion recipes in the book by somebody called Jigger didn't look too bad. And he found himself positively itching to try out a few of the curses listed in a helpful appendix at the back of The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection -- preferably on somebody like Sirius Black. "Wow. I mean ... er, thanks, Mum."
"You read those, and maybe if you can show me you understand what it's all about, I'll let you have my copy of the advanced books to take to school with you too. That'll show them!"
Severus started on the books that very night, hiding under the bedclothes with a torch and reading avidly. Whatever his mother said, he was far more interested in his wizard blood than his Muggle blood -- and it seemed everyone else would be as well. He would have to do something to show them it didn't matter if his blood wasn't as clean as theirs, he could be just as good. Half-blood was better than none.
He was as much a Prince as he was a Snape, after all, and he didn't intend to let anyone tell him otherwise.
Severus found a pen, flipped to the back pages of each book in turn, and carefully wrote: This book is the property of the Half-Blood Prince.
Part 2: Friendships
Severus had always spent a lot of time walking the streets during the school holidays, as far from Spinner's End as he dared to go. There wasn't much to do, but it was still better than sitting around in the atmosphere at home. But now he'd finally got his hands on some books about magic and actually wanted to stay in to study them, he couldn't -- at least, not without risking another row if his dad saw what he was up to.
It wasn't fair! Magic was what he was meant to do -- but there was no-one he could talk to about the things he was learning, not for another couple of years. Well, apart from his mother occasionally, but that too always ran the risk of his father overhearing.
And then one day in the park ... he saw her.
She was doing magic, things he hadn't seen in his mother's books, and she didn't even have a wand!
He stared, transfixed. He wanted to approach her. but was hit by a sudden and unexpected wave of shyness. He hid behind some bushes to watch her. He hadn't known there were any other wizarding families in the area, but here, at last, was someone like him!
It was only when her sister turned up and he listened to their conversation that he realised that she wasn't quite like him.
She was a Muggle-born.
But somehow, it didn't seem to matter. Once he plucked up the nerve to make contact, for the first time ever, he had a friend. At school, he had no-one -- not that he cared what a bunch of Muggles thought anyway. Lily Evans didn't insult him or belittle him because of his blood, even accidentally. Of course, she was even worse off than he was, her blood was all Muggle; but surely people like the Blacks -- or his grandparents -- would make exceptions for someone like Lily, however dirty her blood was?
"Does it make a difference, being Muggle-born?" she asked him once, in a very small voice.
He hesitated. What could he say, really? But he couldn't bear to see her any more worried than she already was.
"No," he said. "It doesn't make a difference."
Well, he decided that it wouldn't make a difference to him.
Their first journey to Hogwarts didn't go quite the way he'd expected.
Preoccupied as Severus was with Lily's reaction to her sister's tantrum, it wasn't until the boy lounging in the corner of the carriage spoke that he noticed -- with a jolt of apprehension -- that it was the same Sirius Black he'd met at the party. Black seemed to have already made friends with a self-satisfied boy with untidy hair (and people complained about his!), and Severus was glad when Lily led him out.
He heard somebody shout an insult at him as they left, but it wasn't until they'd found another compartment that he realised the true insult: Black obviously hadn't even remembered him. Presumably he insulted so many people it was hard to keep track of them all.
But it didn't take him that long to remember once they arrived at Hogwarts.
"Washed your hair yet, Snivellus?"
Severus started, and turned to see that Black was accompanied by Potter, with a couple of other Gryffindor boys he vaguely recognised in tow. He glanced about him, worried that his housemates might be watching. "What do you want?" he snarled.
"Touchy, touchy!" said Potter airily. "Obviously he hasn't then. You were right, mate."
He scowled. The last thing he needed was stupid stuff about hygiene again! It was bad enough trying to fit in, sharing a room for the first time, and trying to copy what his roommates did -- even if it wasn't something he'd bother with at home, where he didn't care what people thought of him. He hadn't even had Lily to talk to, except for a few moments outside classes.
"I told you it was him at that party," said Black, grinning. "How could I ever have forgotten that greasy hair? Why don't you just wash it, anyway, like any normal person?" He sounded genuinely curious.
"Why don't you just get stuffed?" Severus spat back at him. He had washed it a couple of nights ago, anyway, for all the difference it made! He didn't want his housemates to see this -- in particular, it wouldn't be good to look weak in front of that tough boy Mulciber and his sidekick Avery. Still less did he want Lily to see it.
"Well, that's not very nice, is it?" Potter was positively smirking. "It is dirty, isn't it? Is the rest of you like that?"
"Dirty underwear too, you reckon?" said Black. "You're probably right."
"You wouldn't really want to look, though."
"What, lift his robes up? Touch him? Yuk."
"You could do it by magic ..."
"Swish and flick!"
Severus made a real effort to ignore this banter, but had his wand in his hand before he realised what he was doing. "You'd better not try."
The Gryffindors were taken aback for a moment, but then Black and Potter stepped forward with challenge in their eyes and took their wands out, although the other two hung back. "Oh yeah?" said Black. "So what would you do if we did? I know a few decent hexes already."
"So do I," said Severus through gritted teeth. All right, he hadn't had much chance to practice them, but he'd studied his mother's books carefully; some of the 'Dark Arts' sounded really cool ...
"Go on then, Snivellus. Or are you as big a coward as the rest of the Slytherins?"
Their eyes locked for a moment, and then spells began to fly. Severus managed to react fast enough to hit Black with a hex before the other boy could fully bring his wand to bear; it threw his aim off just sufficiently for his jinx to miss. Potter's spell caught him though -- it felt like a punch to the jaw -- but his counter had his opponent breaking out in boils. Severus raised his wand again ...
"What is going on here?"
The drawling voice immediately brought a halt to what had been quite a promising little scrap. Severus's heart sank. It was his own house prefect, Malfoy, and he didn't sound impressed.
"One of your Slytherins attacked us!"
"We attacked each other at the same time!"
"Enough!" Malfoy smirked at them all. "Let's see. Fighting and using magic in the corridors. That will be a detention -- for all five of you." He quelled the protests from the Gryffindor sidekicks with a look. "You four can see Professor Slughorn -- I'm sure he'll find something useful for you to do. Snape, since you seem to have been outnumbered, I'll let you off with lines. Now be on your way! Not you, Snape," he added as the Gryffindors left, muttering to themselves. "I want a word with you. Follow me."
Snape followed the prefect into an empty classroom with a sense of deep foreboding, but when Malfoy turned to look at him, he didn't seem angry. "Well, Snape," he said, almost kindly. "I can't let you get away with fighting, I'm afraid, but I'm glad to see you standing up for yourself -- and your house. In fact, that was rather impressive for a first year. Not many would have known the spells you used. I'm not familiar with your family name?"
Severus reddened. "It's a Muggle name," he muttered. "But I've got wizard blood too," he added proudly. "My mother's a Prince."
Malfoy nodded in understanding. "Ah yes. My father knows them well. Yes, I believe he mentioned that they had a daughter who married outside her blood."
"I can't help that ..."
"No indeed. Well, make sure you're a credit to the heritage you have, Snape. Get to know the right people. There are some younger ones it would be good for you to associate with -- Rosier, for example, and Avery, and Wilkes. I'll mention it to them if I see them. Run along now."
Nothing much had changed by the following September, when Severus caught a brief glimpse of Black as the other boy arrived on Platform 9¾. The words "Hi there, Snivellus!" came floating across the station as the milling crowds swallowed him up, and Severus couldn't prevent himself flushing in mortification.
Fortunately Lily was standing by him as they waited to board. "Ignore him, Sev," she said, with a scowl in the general direction of Black's voice.
"I wish I could. Him and that git Potter. He's even worse, if anything!"
"I know! At least you don't have to put up with them every evening in the common room."
"No, I suppose not." Severus didn't add how much better it would have been if she'd been sorted into Slytherin, Muggle-born or not -- even Slughorn thought so -- but they'd already discussed that far too often and there was no point bringing it up again.
Instead, he tried to see if he could spot Black in order to add a rude gesture to Lily's scowl, and was taken aback for a moment as the clouds of steam thinned enough to show that Black had another boy with him. It only took a moment's thought to recognise Regulus. The older Black had found his pathetic friend Pettigrew and seemed to be bragging about something, but the younger one caught Severus's eye, and after a moment or two of obvious puzzlement smiled hesitantly in recognition.
Later that day, Regulus Black was sorted into Slytherin almost as soon as the Sorting Hat was placed on his head. Severus grinned at him when he joined the house table and patted him on the back as he passed, and noticed that Lucius Malfoy saw and nodded in approval. At least there was one decent member of the Black family, one who was pleased to know him -- maybe would even look up to him.
Part 3: Realignments
Severus glanced up from his Charms homework to see Regulus Black hovering nearby. "Yeah?"
"Have you got a minute? I'm a bit stuck on this essay Slughorn set us, and I know you had it last year, and I didn't know who else to ask ..."
"Which one?" This had happened more than once this term, a flattering continuation of the tentative friendship established at his grandparents' party. Regulus produced a mostly blank piece of parchment and pushed it across the table; Severus scanned the question written at the top and nodded in recognition. "Oh, the one on potions for use on burns. Don't tell me -- you're stuck on the part where you have to explain why adding exactly the right amount of dittany makes them more effective."
"Yeah!" Regulus looked at him in awe. "How did you know?"
"Most people struggled on that last year," he replied smugly. "Jigger's book is no use at all, he doesn't go into any detail. If you look it up in Advanced Potion Making, Borage explains it, it's much clearer." He reached into his bag and picked out his own treasured copy of the book, presented to him that summer. "Basically, you have to make sure to use enough dittany to grow the skin back, but not so much it does it before the burn clears up ..."
"You've got the advanced book? Wow." Regulus was eyeing it with longing mixed with a faint hint of distaste. "It's a bit old, though, isn't it?"
"It was my mother's," replied Severus shortly. He found the right page and held out the book for inspection. "Look, this is the bit you want. Never mind the writing, I made a few notes of my own."
Regulus quickly read the indicated passage. "Oh, I see now! Hey, this is really useful!" He flipped through the book and as his finger came to rest at the back, he stared and then laughed. "Who was the 'Half-Blood Prince'?"
"'Prince' was my mum's name before she married my dad," answered Severus in annoyance.
"Oh right, of course, it was their party I met you at, wasn't it?" Regulus handed the book back, and then suddenly froze. "But ... they're pure-bloods, Mother wouldn't have gone if they hadn't been. Your father must be --" he reddened "-- a Mudblood?"
"A Muggle, actually," said Severus with foreboding, and an odd sense of shame.
"A Muggle!" Regulus took a step back. "You told me at that party you were a pure-blood!"
What? That was stupid! He'd assumed it!
The two boys glared at each other, and after a moment Regulus took a deep breath. "You lied to me! You didn't tell me you had ... dirty blood! Sirius was right, you ... you do have -- bad hygiene!" He turned abruptly and vanished into the crowd of students in the common room.
Severus watched him go; then, at the realisation that the first wizard his age he'd ever been friendly with now looked down on him too, he felt himself flush with shame, and sent a scowl in the general direction of Black's exit.
Fortunately, most of the Slytherins proved not to have the same extreme attitude as Regulus Black; indeed, Severus found the rest of his second year pleasant enough. Lucius Malfoy had been positively gracious towards him, and it certainly helped to have the seventh-year prefect as practically a patron. He knew many of his peers disliked him, but at least they had a certain wary respect for the number of powerful curses he knew -- and he'd managed to achieve cordial terms with his room-mates, if not actual friendship
He looked up from his copy of Borage's book to see Lucius Malfoy standing over him. "Did you want anything, er, Lucius?" It still felt awkward to use the first name, but there was a certain pleasure in being sufficiently liked to do so.
"Just a word." He pulled up a chair. "I've been following your progress. People have been talking about you." He smiled, and Severus wasn't sure if this was a good sign or not.
"What things?" he asked, trying not to flinch.
"Oh, nothing bad, I assure you." He paused and contemplated the younger boy. "You've been drawing attention to yourself, Severus, haven't you?"
That sounded ominous. "I know, but I can't help it if Professor Slughorn is sounding me out for that club of his ..."
"I didn't mean Slughorn, although I suspect his reasons are the same." He seemed to be making an assessment of Severus, which was unsettling. "He isn't the only person who tries to spot talent at an early stage."
"Who else does?" said Severus, feeling rather flattered.
"Do you follow politics at all?"
"Well, sort of ..."
"You may perhaps have heard of a movement that the Ministry are trying to suppress. One that intends to restore the wizarding world's true values."
Severus stared at Lucius, his heart racing. Could he really mean ... "Lord ... you know? He's interested? Do you know him?"
"I've been in his presence a couple of times," said Lucius, almost preening. "My girlfriend's sister introduced me. He's always interested to hear of those with good wizarding blood and the proper appreciation of it."
That dampened Severus's enthusiasm considerably. "Would I count as having 'good wizarding blood'? Some people don't think so."
Lucius seemed puzzled for a moment, then grinned at him, an unusually open gesture. "I heard you fell foul of young Regulus Black. Is that who you mean?"
"He doesn't approve of my heritage. My --" he forced himself to say it "-- dirty blood."
To his surprise, Lucius chuckled. "Ah, well. He'll learn in time. Wizarding blood counts for a lot with me, Severus, but I see no reason to spurn a talented young half-blood such as yourself, provided he has embraced his true heritage. And neither does --" he paused for a moment and lowered his voice "-- the Dark Lord. If you carry on the way you are, you might be very useful to him. His campaign has only just begun, but you could be well-placed to be a part of it in a few years time -- you and your friends, like Avery. I could help you with that."
"But ..." Severus stared at him. "Thank you, Lucius, but ... I'm only a second-year! Why are you doing this for me?"
"I'm not, really. I'm doing it for me." Lucius smiled at his confusion. "Don't get me wrong, Severus, I think you're a credit to this house, and if I had a younger brother I'd want him to behave like you. But I gain favour if I recommend somebody valuable, you see, so this is an opportunity for me, too. And I only have a few weeks left at Hogwarts, so I won't have the chance to sound you out next year. Are you interested?"
"I ... I mean ... well, yes!" He wasn't sure what he was getting himself into, but it would be a real chance to be somebody -- not to mention a chance to learn some real Dark Arts. And it wasn't every day that someone from an old pure-blood family gave him such an opening. "What would I have to do?"
"For now, merely continue to show promise. Keep in with the right people. And while we're on that subject, I've noticed you spending time with a girl from Gryffindor, who I believe is a Mudblood. You might want to avoid that in future."
Avoid Lily? That was a jolt. He hastened to try to explain. "She lives near me. She ... well, I never got to meet any other magical children where we live, and then I saw her doing really powerful magic, and we got to be friends --"
Lucius nodded. "Ah, I see. And even a Mudblood must seem more acceptable if you are surrounded by Muggles. Any wand when your own is broken, eh? Well, I won't condemn you for that. Just remember they're dangerous, Severus. How can a Mudblood have any conception of what it means to be a witch? Try to disentangle yourself as soon as possible."
"OK then," he said uncomfortably. "I'll try."
"Excellent. Well, I'll sound out ... let's say the right people out of school. You stay in with the right people here. Get to know Mulciber and Avery better, they're sympathetic to our views. Well done."
He patted Severus on the shoulder and strolled away. Severus watched him go with a mixture of elation and apprehension; he wasn't sure whether he should crow, or listen for the sound of a cock crowing.
"Why did you make friends with those boys, Sev?"
Lily tossed the stone she'd been toying with into the lake, and turned to him with an earnest expression on her face. "You know. Mulciber and Avery and the rest of the crowd they're in with. You've been getting closer and closer to them this last year and ... I don't like it, Sev. They're creepy."
"They're all right," he said uncomfortably.
"They're horrible to people! Especially me," she added, picking up another stone and throwing it into the lake quite viciously. "They hate people like me. You can tell from the way they talk and the names they call us. I don't know how you can put up with it."
"Yeah, well ..." How could he explain in a way she would understand? "I know they can be a bit over-the-top sometimes, but they're all right, really, it's just ... letting off steam. And they know a lot of important people. People in the elite."
"Pure-blood elite, maybe. Did Slughorn tell you to make friends with them? They're not in the Slug Club."
"There are other important people who aren't in the Slug Club," he said, earnest in turn. "People it's good to be on the right side of."
Lily snorted. "If it means I have to suck up to people like Mulciber, I think I'd rather be on the wrong side. Sev, listen, please. They can't be doing you any good. This will come back to bite you one of these days."
As soon as the final O.W.L. paper was over, Severus went straight back to the common room, flung himself into the remotest chair he could find, and stared at the wall. He'd probably botched the exam -- not that he really cared about History of Magic -- and the rest of the previous twenty-four hours had been far, far worse. In fact, they'd been an unmitigated disaster.
He was still shaking every time he remembered them -- in shame, in fury, and with a twist in his heart that wouldn't go away. Remembering Lily's last lecture hurt beyond endurance; so cold, so final. He had the awful, sinking, crushing feeling that this time he had really and truly blown it.
Those bastards Potter and Black, with their perverted fetish for seeing his underwear! No-one had commented on that, of course, no-one had even helped him except -- no, no, don't remember that -- none of his Slytherin friends had interfered. They were all too scared of what that little Gryffindor gang might do to them.
A fine advert for the Dark Lord they were.
Severus looked up and scowled even harder. It was Regulus sodding Black, with whom he hadn't exchanged a polite word in years. He'd seen more than he ever wanted to see of the Black spawn. "Come to follow in your brother's footsteps again?" he asked nastily.
"No! He's a git." Regulus shuffled from foot to foot, obviously uncertain, although Severus felt no inclination to help him out. "Look ... I'm sorry. He had no right to do that."
"What do you care what a couple of pure-bloods do to someone with like me?" It felt good to strike out at someone. "Dirty clothes, dirty blood, all the same to you Blacks, isn't it?"
"No! You're not like that, I mean ..." He swallowed, took a deep breath, then said, "Well, I'm sorry too! I know you don't like me, but ... but I had no right to say what I did, OK? I'm not like my brother!"
"Oh." Just family rivalry prompting this then, public humiliation for Severus was all it had taken to get the younger Black to apologise. His brief flare of anger subsided as misery returned; he couldn't bring himself to care. "All right. Apology accepted, I suppose. Doesn't really matter any more."
"Why doesn't it matter?" asked Regulus in a surprisingly small voice, which barely a trace of the usual Black arrogance. "Don't you have -- well, friends who can deal with them?" Severus's head jerked up; Regulus was practically twisting his face off in what was presumably meant to be a 'hint, hint' expression.
So, Regulus Black clearly thought he was a Death Eater. So had Lily. Well, he was, or at any rate a candidate to be one. At least this boy was impressed by it. Maybe that was all he could console himself with, the only ambition he had left to look forward to.
He realised that he needed to answer. More to the point, he didn't want to hint that he had more influence than he actually had. That could be bad for his health. "I prefer to fight my own battles with your brother and his friends, thank you very much."
"Oh, I know, you want to do it yourself, I heard that girl ..."
Severus cut him off, barely listening to his babble. "Anyway, what would Regulus Black care about a group that would accept a half-blood?" he sneered. "They wouldn't meet your high standards, I'm sure."
Regulus flushed. "I already apologised for that! And anyway --" he hesitated for a good ten seconds, and despite himself Severus found his interest slightly piqued "-- well, I've changed my mind since then. I've been reading up about --" his voice fell to a whisper "-- the Dark Lord and what he stands for, and he says that wizarding blood is the most important thing. It's better to be like me, but as long as you've got it and you're on the right side -- well, that's the main idea, isn't it? We have to do something to stop the Muggles and Mudbloods from taking over, they've got no clean blood at all!"
Mudbloods. An image of a laughing face surrounded by a sweep of red hair flashed across his mind again, just for a moment, and Severus instinctively, almost violently, blocked it out. There were supposed to be proper techniques for that; the Dark Lord himself was reputedly a master. He would have to learn, and quickly, before his losses tormented him into insanity. "I suppose so," he said, merely for the sake of making a reply.
"Could you ..." Regulus Black trailed off, shuffling from foot to foot again. "You know some people -- I mean, people who know -- well, could you ..." Severus raised an eyebrow at this fumbling speech, and Regulus seemed to realise he wasn't making sense, because he finally came to the point in a rush. "Er, could you putinawordforme? I asked my cousin," he added quickly. "But she just laughed at me and said I was too young ..."
"Me? Put in a word for you?"
"Well -- yeah. Can't we be friends again? Please?"
Severus stared in disbelief for a moment or two, and then smiled. This was an opportunity for him too -- in fact, it could be something of a coup. Chances to gain favour by recommending a member of an old pure-blood family wouldn't come along every day -- and if Bellatrix Black was like the rest of her family, too arrogantly sure in her own views to do it herself, it left an opening for someone else. "You mean you want me to introduce you to the Dark Lord's circle?" he whispered, glancing around to make sure no-one else could hear. "You support his aims?"
"Very well. You are too young to join at the moment -- so am I, for that matter -- but the Dark Lord is always interested to hear of those with proper appreciation of wizarding blood, and it never hurts to come to his attention as early as possible. I'll talk to them about you. They'll probably be glad to have you." And pleased with me for making the introduction, he added mentally.
Severus shushed him as this delighted cry echoed across the common-room, bringing them annoyed glances from several of the nearby students.
"Sorry! I mean, that's great, thank you!" He practically bounced with excitement. "So we can be friends again, then?"
Friends? Oh why not, it hardly mattered now. "Yes, if you like."
"Great!" Regulus beamed. "It's funny how we first met all that time ago, isn't it? You don't realise what the repercussions might be when you bump into someone at a party!"
"Just think what we'll be able to do when we are old enough, eh? You and me, Severus, I bet we'll be the ones who assure the Dark Lord's triumph!"
Note: Yes, from time to time certain descriptions and character actions are meant to echo and bring to mind similar situations in the books!