Disclaimer: I'm not muscling in on JK's turf - just gambolling on it, like a spring lamb, having fun working out the literary and psychological puzzles which she is having fun setting us
Apologies for the long delay in updating, but I (the whitehound bit of Borolin) had to move house rather suddenly due to the death of my landlord, which occupied all my time for several months, plus Loose Canon, the Yahoo-based Potterverse discussion-group I mod, was fantastically busy during June and July. Normal service should now be resumed I hope (not that normal service is all that fast).
As her kisses trailed lower across his stomach he put two fingers under her chin and stopped her, tilting her face up to look at her very seriously. "Are you quite sure - absolutely sure you want to do this? It's not - I really, really don't want you doing anything you don't feel - comfortable with, just because you feel - obligated, especially - " He shut his eyes and flinched, jerking his head as if he was trying to shake off memory. "Not a good thing to have to do if you don't - want to" he finished hoarsely.
"But I do want to" Hermione said firmly. "So long as that doesn't disturb you. If you want me to stop, of course, I will - but the books said this was an art-form, giving scope for a great deal of skill and variation, and that if it was done well it was probably the most intense pleasure you could give to a male lover. And I told you, I mean to be as good at making love as I am at Arithmancy."
"It's faintly unnerving to be seen as a - practical exam project" he said palely, "but if you're truly sure you want to, who am I to stand in the way of the advancement of academic knowledge? Provided you let me - return the favour afterwards. I don't want to feel that I am - taking one-sided advantage of your... thirst for knowledge." Or any other kind of thirst. Damn!
"If you want to make sure the feeling is mutual - literally - you could show me during," she said cheerfully. "Right now I want to be able to - to concentrate without distraction, but once I'm sure I know what I'm doing it's quite possible to, well, face opposite ways and do it both ways at once."
"Good Lord" he said faintly. "Where did Miss Butter-Wouldn't-Melt Granger learn about that?" He wriggled involuntarily, and rather wished his treacherous subconscious hadn't brought up the image of anything melting in her mouth. He was trying to be responsible here, damnit, and it didn't help his image to appear to be as eager as an untried teenager. Even if he was. And she was.
"From a book, of course. There were pictures."
"You'll have to - show them to me later" he sighed, lying back and giving up any attempt at resistance.
Being treated as a research project might be somewhat unromantic but he wasn't sure he could have coped with romance right now, in any case. And every time his acute awareness of what the wicked, wonderful little chit was doing with her tongue dragged up the memory of the taste of sweaty unwashed flesh, or the taste of - blank it out, blank it out - the feeling of fingers twisted into his hair as he gagged and struggled and Pettigrew's voice in the background jeering and cat-calling - or worse, later, not struggling at all but submitting numbly, almost thankfully to a routine humiliation which was at least not painful - every time, her bright, breezy, slightly muffled voice demanding to know if she was doing this or this right brought him back with a pleasurable jolt to a present in which trauma warred with libido, and libido appeared to be winning.
By the time he noticed the faint trace of her mental contact, and realized that she was actually watching his mind and distracting him from his dark thoughts quite deliberately, he was too grateful, and too dreamily adrift in pleasure, to be seriously annoyed. And after all, it was admirably Slytherin of her to prove she cared by manipulating him - in one sense or another.
Merlin knew, he had enough dark thoughts to be distracted from. The loyalty of his Slytherin guard was now assured, though he was disgruntled at the idea that it even needed to be: Greengrass's treachery, though in some ways understandable, had only served to reinforce the other houses' stereotypic idea of Slytherins as self-serving and base, even though the blasted girl had acted out of family pride and a genuine if warped romantic valour. Just as he had been, he knew it, filled with reckless pride and a dark sense of glamour when he had pledged himself to Tom Riddle, before he learned that that glamour was a gorgeous thin veneer pasted over something rotten, stinking of the abattoir.
Now valour and pride and glamour and a fatal, nihilistic romanticism had led more than half of his Slytherins to brand themselves with the sign of their loyalty to a ruined cripple. He knew, intellectually, that the delicate blue-green hound wouldn't actually do anything to a child who broke faith with him, except to disappear; he should not fear that they were pledging themselves to die for him or die of failing him. Yet the sincerity and fervour many of them had shown was terrifying - their lives now his responsibility twice over. He wasn't sure which unnerved him more - Bennet's open vitriol or Battersby's worshipful, wide-eyed devotion - but at least he wouldn't have to face either of them again until after Easter.
Nor would he have to face Parvati Patil, who had taken the opportunity to return home to be with her parents, even though she was Hindu and Easter itself was an irrelevance to her. He dreaded her return to Hogwarts on one level, but that was as nothing to the fear that she might not return at all - that because of him she might fail to sit her NEWTs.
He was shamefully glad that it was Horace as acting Head of House, not himself, who had had to deal with Daphne Greengrass's parents; yet he knew that he ought to write to them even so. He was the one who had overseen her education for six years, who had been - God help them both - in loco parentis to her.
Sixteen years ago, or even four, although it might as well have been millennia ago, he had wanted to see Sirius Black sent to the Dementors, for his (supposed) treachery to Lily and to his own supposed best friend, and for his (supposed) casual murder of a streetful of Muggles. Somehow he had not hated Pettigrew, when he learned of his guilt, one half as much as he had hated Black - Pettigrew had been an outsider, a hanger-on, he had never been Lily's trusted friend to the degree that Black had been and it had been easy to believe that he had betrayed her out of fear, not malice, until Severus had found himself at Pettigrew's mercy and learned that he had none. None at all.
If he could feed Pettigrew to the Dementors he would and be glad of it, he thought, not out of cruelty or even for revenge but because the idea of sharing the same planet, breathing the same atmosphere as his torturer made his skin crawl. He had tried desperately to push the man away from him when he could not, and he still wanted him away, gone, as far from him as he could be. But somehow he could not feel the same about Greengrass and Patil, and when he thought of what their futures must be now he felt only sorrow and heaviness, and the shame of having failed to prevent their corruption, as Horace had failed to prevent his.
Two young lives worse than lost, given over to long suffering and a miserable death in the dark and cold of Azkaban - and for what? When Hermione told him he was of some value he could nearly almost believe it, at least for as long as her bright eyes were on him, but that sense of self-worth was still fragile, a house of cards which could collapse at a breath, and when he was in that mood the sea-green hound which stood poised at gaze on the back of his godson's hand only reinforced the sense that he was unworthy of so much devotion.
Tightening his lips, he accepted the quill which Draco had fetched for him, took a deep breath and began to write. To Alexander and Roberta Greengrass, my respectful greetings. It was with great regret that I learned....
"I've been wondering," he said quietly to Albus, watching the candlelight sparkling on the ancient, two-handled golden chalice and on the badger engraved around the bowl of it. "A pity, as Pomona says, to destroy such a relic...."
"I agree - a great pity. But...." The old man sighed. "I've been through the books, as you have, and I can find no way to destroy the Horcrux without destroying its vessel."
"But what is in the books is only what was in the minds of their writers, some of whom were patently drooling. What I was wondering was - well - what happens if we feed the Horcrux to a Dementor?"
"That's - not a bad idea, actually, and at least, any defensive curses which there may be on it...."
"...would happen to the Dementor, not to us. And I refuse to feel guilty about what happens to one of those bastard things, quite apart from the fact that most curses can't even touch them."
"But this is great!" Adrian exclaimed with real enthusiasm. "I mean not great that you were attacked, leik, but I go off for less than a week and come back and find you walking properly! Nearly properly."
"'Properly' is an overstatement," Severus muttered, grasping at the mantlepiece to prevent himself from overbalancing, "but it's such sheer bloody relief to be able to get to the lavvy by myself, I can't tell you."
"I'll bet," the young doctor said sympathetically - and at the moment he was a doctor and not a surgeon, as Severus understood it, since he was mid-way through his house physician placement, and not enjoying it much. "And you'll find your balance will improve with practice, leik."
"Suddenly you are an expert on magical prostheses?" Severus said sourly, letting go of the mantle and willing himself steady.
"Not a bit of it," the younger man replied cheerfully, "but I know that even in my world, tin legs are so good now that for a lot of people that need them, well, 'disabled' isn't the word any more, or that horrible 'differently abled' - they're just, well, 'artificially assisted', but with the artificial assistance they can do the lot, and so will you. And even people who have to use wheels - well, the reason they judge the wheelies in the London Marathon in a separate class and don't let them compete directly against runners is because it wouldn't be fair to the runners, because the wheelies are always faster...."
"I'll settle for being able to climb a bloody staircase - especially in this place."
"It'll come - you're doing great, you know that." He rubbed his pink palms together gleefully. "This calls for a celebration. Can the house-elves do wine, do you think?"
The spring weather was surprisingly clement and now, while most of the students were safely out of the way, it seemed like a golden opportunity for Severus to venture outside and get a little air. At least, it did to Adrian, who insisted on organising a picnic lunch, and Severus was at least grudgingly prepared to go along with it. The safe womb of his own rooms was starting to seem as much dull as reassuring, except when Hermione was in them with him when they could - he was prepared to allow - get fairly exciting.
Hermione was to be at the picnic, and Neville and Draco and even Potter, although Luna had returned to her father after extracting a promise that Severus would Floo-call her if he needed her. They kept it quiet and did not tell too many other people what they planned for Severus realised, even though he still didn't quite understand it, that they would all want to come, and the thought was rather overwhelming. But Anwar and Henessey for the Slytherin guard had been stationed on watch with their own individual packed lunches, and they brought Rolanda, representing the older generation, both as a body-guard and as Severus's physical trainer.
"That's it! - I knew you could do it" she said brightly. "Try, try and try again." Severus shot her a forbidding glower, which only made her grin. As he made his unsteady way down the lawn he knew that she had, aggravatingly, been right, though he was still glad to have herself and Adrian at either elbow, ready to steady him if he slipped on the damp grass. The prostheses now felt, convincingly, like real feet, but they felt like real feet which had gone slightly to sleep, and he had still needed magical assistance to manage the stairs, both indoors and out.
When he saw where the house-elves had set out their spread, though, he stopped so suddenly that Adrian nearly cannoned into him. The table-cloth was laid out under the great beech at the edge of the lake but he could see Potter gesticulating at the tree, explaining something to the other three, and he cringed internally.
"What is it?" Adrian said quietly.
After a moment Potter picked his way across the grass towards them, looking even more indignant and rumpled than usual.
"I told them you wouldn't want to sit - "
"That will be enough, Potter." He took a deep breath and reminded himself of his resolution not to be aggressive unless the boy offended him on purpose. "You are quite correct, however. Ordinarily I would have preferred - another location. But the house-elves' logic is unimpeachable: I can't bloody walk much farther." He could have got as far as the green bank a little further on but that would be worse; that was where she had sat, giggling with her Gryffindor girl-friends.
Forcing himself into motion again, he lurched the final fifty yards and then folded down, with Rolanda's assistance, at the edge of the chequered tablecloth. Hermione shunted up to sit next to him, although she couldn't snuggle too openly when neither Harry, Rolanda nor Adrian was aware of the nature of their relationship.
The house-elves had laid out a beautiful spread, with proper china which was tastefully arranged around the slumbering form of Crookshanks, and wineglasses in a little hamper for later. Severus accepted the cup of tea which Draco had poured for him and prepared himself to close his mind to the memory of what had happened here but Rolanda, with her hawk eyes, noticed his continued unease and said quietly, "If you want to move, Severus, I can levitate you - that's not a problem."
By Rolanda's standards, that was tactful, but it punctured the bubble of his composure even so and set the past rising in his throat like nausea. He had swallowed the bitter acid of it all his life but he was too much weakened, his control had been eroded and the worst of it was, he couldn't even conceal the fact that his hand was shaking, as the teacup he was holding rattled noisily against its saucer. All their eyes were on him, even the cat's, as if they thought he was about to explode. "Severus...." Hermione began, taking the cup from his unsteady grasp before he could scald himself, and suddenly the words came spilling out in a dark flood he could not contain and did not really want to.
"I never - I never did anything to them to start it, just said I wanted to be in Slytherin and that was it, I was a target from then on, they could see that I was - poor, an outsider, common and I was friends with a girl and that was bloody enough. I was Snivellus to them from my first bloody day, they never let me alone, they hounded me until I wanted to die, they fucking tried to kill me and they kept on, and on, always four of them and only one of me and they never, never let me alone always chasing, jeering, hexing -" They were watching him, stricken; Hermione placed her hand on his arm but he shrugged it off, too raw to be touched and he wanted to lash out, he knew it was unworthy but he wanted to hurt Potter as a proxy for his father, he wanted the boy to at least understand, in the father's stead, what the father had done.
"Even when they - even on those rare occasions when they let me alone, usually because they were persecuting some other poor bastard, I could never - I couldn't relax because I always had to wonder if they were going to come after me. I still had to be afraid, all the bloody time. Almost nobody stood up to them, they knew too much, they spied on people with the surveillance spells they put into that bloody map, they hexed anybody who crossed them but that was all right because Potter and Black were the golden boys, they had the manner, the money, they were good at games - in more than one fucking sense - and so they were able to get away with it."
He was peripherally aware of his godson looking increasingly uneasy about a description which fitted himself fairly well, but Draco had only ever been a bully manqué. "The staff tried to control them, sometimes, but nobody dared to give them away, not even me and I was so - bloody - afraid all the time, I fell in with anybody I thought could protect me. I was so... when I first learned about Hogwarts I thought it was a way out, a place where I could be safe and I longed for it, for the magic the, the wonder of it so bloody much, but thanks to them, to the Marauders, I learned to feel so sick with dread at the very sight of this place." Yet he had still feared home too: they had closed off his hope of escape and left the whole world one vast trap. "My whole - my whole interaction with the magical world was coloured by them. Discoloured" he said to Potter's watching eyes, and the boy inclined his head, a small gesture of acknowledgement.
"The bloody climax, the highlight, was fifth year when James Potter got an award for saving me from a trap he'd helped to set up and then he and Black hung me up and stripped me and forced me to eat soap in front of half the fucking school - they were sitting here, right here under this bloody tree - and she, Lily, she tried to save me but it was all such a mess and I was so, so bloody scared and so humiliated that I lashed out at her, I insulted her and she - here, on this spot, that was the end, she wouldn't take me back even though I begged and pleaded, she turned on me and joined in with them, jeering at me -"
"Then that was very silly of her," Neville's clear voice said firmly, and Severus froze with his mouth open as though someone had flung a bucket of water over him. He had thought of Lily as many things, but "silly" hadn't been one of them. "Everybody knows," Longbottom continued composedly, "that if a, a cat or a dog is scared it'll take a hack at you even if usually it likes you and it's the same with people and it's daft to get all aereated about it, it really is. You called me a lot of things when you were... but it didn't bother me once I knew you were - upset, like."
"That's...." He wanted to say that it was an intelligent observation, but that would mean admitting that Lily had been a long way less than perfect. Was that true? Had Lily at sixteen indeed been both less kind and less socially aware than Longbottom at seventeen? Almost unconsciously he reached out and gave Hermione's hand a brief squeeze, to make up for having shrugged her off, and she gave him a quick, tight smile in return.
"I didn't know that she - " Potter muttered. "I mean, I knew that you... but I didn't know that you apologised later, and she wouldn't accept it. That was - a bit harsh."
"I crawled to her, nearly literally, and she looked at me with such - contempt -" He had crawled and pleaded and been met with scorn more recently, many times, but Lily's contempt was still the most cutting of all. He fixed his gaze on the boy, hoping to be understood and it was something, after all, to see those green eyes, her eyes, look at him without hatred after six years of loathing for which he himself was, he knew, not entirely blameless. "I know I - I realise now that I may have made Hogwarts unpleasant for you in turn, although God knows, you gave me provocation...."
"You did, yes," Potter said calmly. "And for Neville. But Neville and me, we only had to put up with you sniping twice a week, you didn't, uh, follow us around except when I was somewhere I wasn't s'posed to be. And you didn't actually hex people, as such."
Severus nodded and dropped his gaze, feeling depressed. "They destroyed me, you know," he said quietly. "My whole life.... I wouldn't have fallen in with Lucius in the first place if they hadn't made me feel so in need of protection, I would probably never have mixed with that crowd, become a Death Eater - I wouldn't have lost Lily if it hadn't been for them, I would never have become so - so bitter or so fucking afraid, I wouldn't have become so - so harsh as a teacher if I hadn't had to start off by teaching students who had seen me being stripped and - " He started to shudder again, uncontrollably.
"I can never, never be free of them, my whole fucking life is infested by them, it would, it would have to be Pettigrew, one of them, who crippled me and turned me into - " He gestured helplessly, indicating the scars, the prostheses, the less visible but deeper psychological and sexual damage - "This."
Adrian's charcoal-dark hand reached out at the edge of his vision and gripped his false forearm over the spot where the Dark Mark had once been; rather awkwardly, for the boy was left-handed but their relative positions meant he had to reach out with his right. "And now you're here," the singsong Geordie voice said softly, "with your friends, and it's your tree if you want it, leik. Their gang didn't last, did it, one way or another. Yours is better."
Severus drew a deep breath, and another, and forced himself to raise his head and face them. But there was nothing to face, really. No-one looked amused, or scornful, only concerned and - amazingly - fond. Potter was frowning but his green eyes were clear and he knew that the anger on that face was for James, not for him. The leaves unfurling on the old tree were the same clear green, the colour of Lily's eyes, the surface of the lake was sparkling beyond it and he did not have to be the Marauders' hunted victim any more - not even Pettigrew's. He did not have to be an outsider any more, if only he could get through the glass bubble of awkwardness and embarrassment which he himself had caused by his outburst.
Crookshanks rolled over, yawning, reached out one vast, orange paw and snaffled a potted shrimp. Hermione made a little huffing noise of amusement and the bubble burst - Draco uncoiled and began to pour him a fresh cup of tea as the hound on the back of his hand wagged its tail happily, and Potter picked up a plate of sandwiches and held them out to him, smiling.
"Try the fish-paste ones - they're really good."
He had been raised Catholic, and he knew that he should go to mass now, at Easter of all times. Now he should go to see the candles burning through the long vigil of the night, and hear the soul-shaking words of the Exultet. But he could not take communion in a state of mortal sin, unconfessed; and nor could he confess that what he was doing with Hermione, all unwed as they were, was a mortal sin and say, with sincerity, that he wished to stop doing it.
Besides, he might be able to walk, after a fashion, but going to a church, leaving the school grounds, was still far too much to contemplate and he could hardly ask a priest to come here especially for him, and then not even confess or take communion. So he would go, wavering and unsteady, to the ecumenical service in the little chapel at the foot of the north wall, presided over by the Episcopalian minister from Hogsmeade, and keep on sinning.
Not that he even truly believed any more that it was a sin, that was the thing. If he had thought that it was, then he might have confessed, done penance, tried to resist - but he had seen far too much of how viciously the sexual urge could be warped and misused to believe that a roll in the metaphorical hay between two consenting lovers who were neither of them pledged to anybody else could be anything seriously wrong.
He still worried about the look of the thing, about what Albus and Minerva would have to say about it if they knew, let alone the Prophet. But he no longer feared that he might truly be taking advantage of Hermione's naïvety - indeed, he worried that he was letting her do too much of the work, although her enthusiastic desire to perfect her new skills was hard to resist.
In abstract, the idea of being in another person's sexual power again was terrifying, and if he had thought about it in advance he might have expected that he would prefer to be the more active partner. But he wanted even less to feel that someone else was in his power, or that he might indeed be taking advantage - and in practice Hermione's happy enthusiasm was so very unthreatening and clean that he was for the most part happy to lie back and think of Scotland, with the proviso that he was going to return the favour when he was a little stronger and a little more comfortable in his own skin.
Even with all the lapsed Catholic guilt and the beaten-in self-doubt in the world, he could not think that this dalliance was a mortal sin which would cut him off from God, if his other sins had not already done so: especially since the priest had taught his childhood self that the reason pre-marital sex was wrong was because it showed that the man was selfishly and lovelessly taking advantage of a woman who would rather have remained "pure", which was based on the Victorian idea that women had little or no sex-drive of their own, which demonstrably was not the case.
It was not as if any prospective future partner would expect Hermione to be a virgin - "waiting" had not been in fashion in Britain during his lifetime - although he found, increasingly, that the idea of her with some future partner who was not himself was one he did not wish to contemplate.
Hermione and Draco came with him, for the company, although Hermione's family were a mixture of Quakers and Jews and not very enthusiastic in either direction. The Malfoys, like many pure-bloods of French or Norman French origin, belonged, insofar as they belonged to any religion, to the Triumvirate Communion, a Christian offshoot who believed that the three Magi had been genuine wizards, and the founding fathers of their sect. The little chapel, built when the castle was first remade in stone in about Eleven Hundred, was in the Norman perpendicular style and had been designed to serve a Norman Triumvirate community, but it possessed ceremonial equipment suitable for several Christian sects and a variety of other faiths, and the designs on walls and windows were adaptable to suit the occasion.
The last time Severus had been here had in fact been a Bar Mitzvah celebration for Horowitz, the Slytherin Potions star, which Severus had helped to organise, since the boy had no parents and was terrified of his aunt. That had been only two days before the Death Eater attack in which Severus was taken, and since his house father's return from hell the poor little brute had been racked by dreams of torment and decay. But now he was wearing a green hound on his shoulder, and his Dreamless Sleep habit and the nightmares which sparked it seemed to have improved as Severus himself did.
Tonight, the banners and the stained glass had reverted to Mediaeval Christian imagery, and the golden lion on the altar cloth was acting out being an avatar of St Mark rather than a Torah embellishment. The tiny chapel was set into the circular base of the North Tower, so that its windows commanded views in several directions, and the setting sun shone in through the deep blues and greens of the glass and scattered its colour across the congregants. And Severus waited, with his friends either side of him, as darkness fell and the great Paschal candle was lit and brought in. He joined with the prayers and it was easy, his roughened voice resonated and soared as if it had never been damaged although he was aware that Hermione and Draco to either side were both slightly squeaky, and the minister's own ringing voice spoke of how God had come to save His creatures from danger and despair.
As he made his way unsteadily with the rest to light his own individual candle from that greater one at the stroke of midnight, and the minister raised his arms in exultation and cried out "Christ is risen!", Severus felt the power of the older magic, the magic of earth and blood and sacrifice which had taken his Lils and turned her into something like a guardian goddess, striking up through the stone flags and coursing in his veins. And when the sunrise glinting through the gold and blue of the east window brought the long vigil to an end, and he staggered back to his bed to collapse alongside his godson and sleep the day through, he knew with every fibre of his battered soul that what he and Hermione had been doing had not cut him off from holiness and that grace, whatever grace was, was still somewhere within his reach.
"There is one thing" Hermione said idly, trailing her fingertips up under the hem of Severus's nightshirt and along the bony length of his thigh. "At least when it's my night - and now that we've progressed to... hands-on experience - " she said, matching her actions to her words, finding what she was looking for and smoothing her cool palm around and along the lovely hard/live warmth of him, "you won't need ten minutes on your own first thing in the morning any more."
Severus flopped over onto his back with his hand behind his head, feeling suddenly ridiculously happy and frivolous and young. "I concur entirely - twenty minutes in company sounds like a far better idea."
"Thirty at weekends, even."
"Why limit yourself? If you arrange the shifts right, we could have four hours...." He sighed and shifted as she rubbed the backs of her fingers along a sensitive vein. "Definitely well on your way to earning an Outstanding, I think - but you need to get in as much practice as possible."
"Four hours sounds about right to me... and I assure you, I intend to keep practising until 'outstanding' is no longer applicable and you have to come up with a new mark for my perfection." She gave him an angelic look. "Of course, then I'll have to start trying to perfect something else. Feel free to make a list of.. ahem... suggested subjects, if you like."
"I'm sure I could - assign you some - practical projects aah!" He arched his back involuntarily, pushing up against her hand. "We could look at those - picture-books of yours I'm sure they're full of - interesting ideas for both of us. But right now I just want to lie back quietly - ah! - God! - relatively quietly and just - feel. So that I can assess your marks properly, you understand."
He was amazed to find that teaching Potter how to brew was much less onerous than he had expected. After a night in Hermione's welcoming arms and a morning of staffroom gossip with Minerva, the chance to teach something resembling Potions to a willing student was restful - cleansing, almost, in the way that it gave him the chance to clear his mind and concentrate only on the task at hand.
It was difficult not to be irritated by Potter, even now. His resemblance to his father was still stomach-churning, even after the fear and humiliation which James Potter had hammered into him had been overwritten by much greater horrors, and he had six years of Potter's open scorn and disrespect to unlearn, made so much worse by seeing that scorn still standing in Lily's eyes, as he had seen it on that fateful summer day, and forever after. Potter's sneering hatred had always recreated both of his parents as Severus had seen them in some of his worst moments, and still saw them in his dreams: his dire, public humiliation by James and the misery of his exile from Lily's affection. But now that the boy was making a Herculean effort to be polite, and very nearly succeeding, it was far easier to endure him.
Potter was never, perhaps, going to be a serious potioneer, yet the Half-Blood Prince's book seemed to have woken a spark in him - to have shown him how it was possible to find Potions fascinating, even if he himself did not. That, in turn, had caused him to approach the subject with a new willingness to learn, and the prospect of very-nearly-free alcohol concentrated his mind wonderfully. When the boy listened attentively to what he was told, and made a willing effort to follow instructions, Severus found it surprisingly easy to see him just as himself and not as a proxy for both of his parents - to respond to him as a normal student (however intrinsically annoying) and the friend of a friend, rather than as a living embodiment of the worst failure and grief of his life.
"And, Hermione - one more thing," McGonagall said, freezing the younger woman in place with a steely eye. "What exactly is going on between you and Severus?"
"Erm - what makes you think that there's anything, erm, 'going on'?"
"The fact that the pair of you both suddenly look mysteriously smug? The fact that when I asked him about it he turned an unbecoming shade of pink and told me to mind my own damned business?"
Hermione turned a fairly bright shade of pink herself. "I... er... well..." she stammered, feeling as if her Head of House had caught her kissing someone behind the broom-shed. Which was ridiculous, but still. "Uhm... well, it was sort of an accident...."
"He smiles to himself like the cat that got the cream when he thinks no-one is watching - it doesn't look very accidental to me. Are you certain you both know what you're doing? He is - I'm very pleased to see anything make Severus smile, after what happened last year, but he is more than twice your age and still, technically, your teacher - even if in practice he is really your patient. I wouldn't like to think - for either of your sakes - that you had... got in over your head, out of kindness, or had had your head turned by the... dramatic aspects of the situation."
Hermione looked around to make sure nobody was listening, and resigned herself to telling the truth, and more or less the whole truth. "Well... I've been... I've had a crush on him for years," she admitted, her face getting even hotter. "Uhm... and looking after him, and spending all that time talking... about lots of things, classes and Arithmantic theory and which vegetables we like or don't.... it got to be rather more than a crush. And he... found out." He could tell his own accidental-erection story if he wanted Minerva to know. "And... well... it took me quite a while to convince him that I wasn't just feeling sorry for him or... or trying to make fun of him. But I did convince him, and now we're sort of seeing how things go."
"And you're sure that your affections are likely to be... long-lasting? Severus is a proud, unbending man, especially now, when his sense of self has been so badly bruised. If he were to give his heart he would, I think, give it completely and for ever - but I know that when I was your age my attention-span for men was measured in months, and I would hate to see him get hurt."
Hermione smiled ruefully. "I'm a lot more confident about my affections being long-lasting than his, at the moment... after everything he's been through, a new emotional commitment can't be less than difficult at best. I wasn't even going to tell him, but... he seemed so stunned at the idea of being loved and... and yearned for. I convinced him to use Legilimency, to see himself as I saw him, and I think it helped. He knows I'm not lying to him out of pity, at least, or setting him up somehow. I love him very much," she finished in a small voice, feeling very embarrassed and yet incredibly relieved at being able to say it out loud.
"Nobody can guarantee the future, Miss Granger, and young people's personalities are usually still developing. You may find that the way you feel today is not the way you will feel when you are thirty. On the other hand, your personality has remained remarkably constant during the seven years that I have known you - and at the least, if Severus knows that you at least intended to give him your whole heart he won't feel that he's been - used again if it doesn't work out.
"And I do think, in fact, that this is quite a good time for him to form a new emotional commitment. It will give him something to think about besides how weak and disgusting he thinks he is. The mere fact that he now smiles when he thinks no-one is looking, instead of greeting, should tell us that."
"That's true. I think... it helps, knowing that I don't see him that way, even if he does himself. And I didn't exactly intend to give him my whole heart, it happened entirely unintentionally," Hermione admitted. "He'd had a nightmare, and we were talking about Arithmantic theory to get him calmed down, and he had his head on my shoulder and we were talking about theoretical modelling and I just...." She gestured helplessly. "I just... knew. That he was all I wanted. And it was horrible, at first, because I was absolutely sure he'd never see me like that, and I couldn't make it go away." She laughed rather bitterly. "He was so... surprised isn't really the word. He couldn't imagine the notion that someone might see him as something to aspire to, to yearn for... not only now, but that anyone could ever have seen him that way. And I have a rather long list of people I'd really like to kill for making him think of himself so... so meanly."
The older woman wiped away a surreptitious tear and sniffed in a delicate, ladylike way. "The list would probably have to begin with his father - who I'm afraid is already dead, although I suppose you could dig him up and throw stones at him. I wasn't really aware of it at the time, since he wasn't one of my own house-students, but Poppy Pomfrey tells me that he used to come back to Hogwarts after every home visit covered in bruises and - and welts. Whip-marks, you understand, from a belt. And I'm very much afraid the list might have to include Albus and myself, for we did him a great deal of damage, unwittingly, when we failed to take Sirius Black's attack on him very seriously. Albus was so very concerned about Sirius's mental state, following his final breach with his family, and Severus was such a very self-contained boy, and I'm afraid we just assumed that he - would cope. We - if anything it was a compliment of sorts, we relied on his good sense and thought we were safe to do so, but in fact it left him with the impression that we thought his life was of no account."
"I never did really like Sirius Black," Hermione said grimly. "Never. I tried to, for Harry's sake, but I just couldn't. I know he didn't consciously intend to put Harry in danger but 'Do as I say, not as I do' is never going to work on someone like Harry, he set a stupid, reckless example which undermined years of work at keeping Harry from getting himself killed. And I don't imagine thinking that nobody cared enough to protect him helped Severus much, no. But he knows differently now... he knows that you care, and I've made bloody certain he knows that I do. He still keeps giving me funny looks, as if he thinks I'll come to my senses and run off or something, but I'm going to stay right there with him until he has to believe I'm not going to disappear." Then she blushed. She really shouldn't have said something that sounded quite so much like "so there" to the deputy headmistress.
McGonagall gave her a rather tight-lipped look, and then sighed. "I'm afraid poor Sirius truly was borderline psychotic, according to the definition of psychosis as a tendency to act without regard to the consequences of action. He was almost wholly driven by whim, and his whims were not infrequently malicious - especially where Severus was concerned. But that whole family were - well, you've seen how the portrait of his mother behaves, so it's perhaps not surprising that he himself ended up more than a little - disturbed.
"As for Severus - this whole appalling business has at least given Albus and me the chance to try to show him that we actually care about him for himself, whether he is capable of work or not - to persuade him that neither of us sees him as just a, a useful tool to be discarded when broken. But he's a difficult man to convince."
"Oh, believe me, I've encountered that. I keep working at convincing him... I don't know if I have, yet, but I keep working at it. I want him to be able to see himself as I see him, as... well." She smiled sheepishly. "Someone rather wonderful. Even as battered as he currently is... which is all the harder for him to believe, but it doesn't make me admire him or care for him any the less."
"Rather more so, I would say, if anything. This has really brought home to me the fact that he knew that something of this sort would be done to him if he were ever caught, and he swallowed what must have been almost overwhelming fear and went back anyway, month after month, year after year, to do what he thought was right."
Hermione nodded. "I was afraid of something... well, not like this, I just don't have this nasty an imagination... but I know some of the things Muggles do to captured spies and prisoners of war, I've seen pictures, and I was terrified every time I knew he'd gone away. I can't imagine how much courage it must have taken to keep going back... and he's actually surprised that I think he's wonderful, the great idiot."
"I'm afraid that one of the, the dark sides of magic is that it can be used to force someone to stay in their body and suffer long after death should have released them, so that it can enable horrors which Muggles can only dream of. This is not even to mention the damage which magic can do directly. Some of the curses which had been used against Severus.... Bill Weasley said there were traces of things which made Cruciatus seem almost benign. They gave him potions to enhance sensation and prevent numbness...." Hermione closed her eyes, shuddering at that thought. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't burden you with this. But sometimes I think I'm going mad with grief. I know we did get him back - but at such a cost! And then he has the gall to lie there and tell me that he is worthless and I shouldn't bother with him."
"It's.... I understand," Hermione said quietly, reaching out to put a tentative hand on her Head of House's arm. "Believe me, I feel the same way... it hurts so much, to see him in pain, and there's so little we can do. But being here for him helps. Knowing that he's loved, and wanted... and in my case, adored from afar even before we were friends... that does seem to help him believe that at least we don't think he's worthless."
The older woman patted Hermione's hand, and sighed. "The trouble is, even if you convince him you care he just thinks you're deluded. Or possibly pretends to do so, just to be annoying. When I told him I couldn't care more about him if he were my own son, he called me a daft old biddy."
Hermione tried to suppress a giggle, and ended up coughing instead. "What did you say?"
"I threatened to make him write out 'I am intrinsically valuable, just by being myself' two hundred times." She smiled wryly. "At least it shut him up."
Hermione laughed. "And I bet it was comforting, in a strange way... I know I'd feel things were just a bit more normal if I were threatened with lines, no matter what happened." She took a deep breath, and mustered up a smile. "And for what it's worth... I have no intention of hurting him, or letting anything else hurt him, if it's at all preventable, and I want nothing more than to... well... be with him forever. So that, at least, you don't need to worry about."
"You cannot absolutely guarantee how you will feel once the - first flush of romantic infatuation wears off. And it will - it always does, except in persons suffering from pathological obsessions. However, the fact that the two of you have a great deal in common gives me hope that you may settle in very well together - although the fact that one of the things you have in common is being stubborn and argumentative may complicate matters somewhat."
"I know I can't guarantee I'll always feel this way, but at least you know... and more importantly, he knows... that I intend to. That I'm sincere about it." Hermione smiled a bit wistfully. "It's... I feel horribly guilty about it, actually. Sometimes. I was drawn to him before - all this - and I'm fairly certain that I would have wound up in love with him regardless, but it feels as if I'm taking advantage, somehow. I was sure, before, that he'd never want me, and what if this is the only reason he does? What if he just... thinks he has to settle for me, because he can't do any better now?"
McGonagall gave a sharp snort of laughter. "You honestly think that a, a sour, dour, plain-featured, lonely man of almost forty - with, judging from the smirk he had plastered on his face this morning, an active sex-drive - is going to look at a, an attractive, adoring eighteen-year-old girl and think 'How disappointing, but I suppose this is the best I can hope for now'? My dear, forgive the indelicacy, but you are every heterosexual older man's wet-dream. He must wake up every morning and think it's his birthday.
"No: so long as your intentions towards him are as sincere as they appear to be I am no longer seriously worried about the situation from Severus's point of view, and I am reassured that you do know that this is what you want. I am however concerned that this - dalliance might interfere with your studies, so close to NEWTs."
Hermione pulled a wry face. "Oh, don't worry, Sev- Professor Snape is very strict about me getting all my essays done on time: nearly as strict as I am myself."
"I am relieved to hear it. And, yes, there are - issues, as you're probably aware, concerning... well, the nature of consent. He spent more time than I can bear thinking about last year being conditioned - being trained to obey any sexual demands which were made of him. There is always a risk that he might still feel that he has to - obey blindly anyone who desires him. But he certainly doesn't look as if he feels he's being - degraded; quite the contrary, after spending the morning with you he looks more pleased with himself than I have ever seen him, not even after Slytherin thrashed Gryffindor on the Quidditch pitch for the sixth time in a row: which is doubly remarkable when you consider how - eaten up with self-disgust he has been since he was returned to us. If this had happened even three months ago then yes, I would have worried very much that you were taking advantage - but there comes a point at which I think we both have to assume that he is well enough and old enough to know his own mind."
Hermione blushed hard. "He could do better," she said firmly. "Someone who is his equal, someone he can talk to without having to slow down at all, not a... a student with an aggravating tendency to think she knows everything. But... thank you, anyway. I certainly want him to feel that way about it." She took a deep breath, feeling herself go even redder. "And I'm not... I wouldn't ask him to... I mean, I wouldn't say no if he did want to, I'd be quite happy actually, but I never want him to feel as if he... he HAS to, and I just admitted to having amorous designs on a teacher to another teacher and I'm going to stop talking now."
"You mean that you and he haven't actually...?" She gave a delicate, ladylike snort. "My dear, if he's this pleased with himself already, he's going to be insufferable when you actually cut to the chase."
"By the way... I got collared by Professor McGonagall today. She warned me not to break your heart. If I'd had any intention of doing so, I'd have been quite frightened - she looked terribly fierce and protective."
"Good Lord - I thought your father was supposed to give me the 'If you hurt my daughter' speech. Maybe we could just lock them in the bathroom together.... But really it's - " He started blinking, overcome by sudden emotion but furiously determined not to show it. "I never had anybody to be - protective of me before" he finished, rather huskily. "I mean - not just of my physical survival, I know there are many people preserving my life even if I'm still not sure why they should want to - but of my, um, social well-being. Except you, of course."
"Don't be silly," she said, wrapping her arms around him and nuzzling her face into his neck. "Professor McGonagall's been acting like a tigress with a wounded cub ever since you came back to us, and Neville has actually shouted at people on your behalf, and I know you might never have known, but believe me I have lost count of the number of times Professor Dumbledore told Harry not to be rude about you, before you.... And Mrs Weasley used to worry a lot that you didn't eat properly. She's a bit food-focused when it comes to looking after people. And I don't see it myself, but I'm assured by impartial witnesses that I turn into a raging harpy if I think somebody's upset you."
"That's - very gratifying" he said shakily. "Strange, but - gratifying. But it makes me realize what a - what a bloody bastard I am, to think that Longbottom would defend me, even - even jump in front of a hex for me after the way I treated him. Even Potter - the sight of him used to affect me like fingernails on a blackboard and he knows it but I owe my life to him, don't I? Ultimately. And in what way do I deserve this - kindness?"
"By being yourself. And if it makes you feel better, you drove Harry every bit as mad as he drove you. The two of you used to be like asphodel and knarl quills - put you even close to the same cauldron and explosions were sure to follow."
"They may yet," he muttered, patting Hermione's shoulder absently as she snuggled closer to him. "It's early days, and I'm still not sure this - civility will last."
"You're both trying, at least, and Harry - well, he's been very protective of you ever since he realised he'd been so wrong about you, even when you were driving him mad." She arched slightly under his touch like a cat. "As for the rest of us... we love you. And Neville, bless his forgiving heart, would be positively aghast to realize you're worried about how you treated him before. All is forgiven, and he'd be miserable to think he was upsetting you in any way, even in retrospect."
"Then I will have to try to be simply - happy in all this new-found affection, as undeserved as I feel it to be. It would be ungrateful of me to be anything otherwise."
"I don't... I didn't choose to love you so you'd be grateful," Hermione muttered. She looked down at her hands. "Professor McGonagall, she - well, she wanted to know what my long term intentions towards you were. She, she said that what I felt now might not be what I felt when I was thirty and I know that that's true but I told her, I do intend to go on feeling - like this, and I'm pretty sure of my own long-term feelings even if...."
She tailed off, blushing, and Snape leaned his head back against the back of the couch and sighed. "Even if you aren't sure of mine." She nodded tightly, and he pulled a wry face. "In the story Lovegood was telling me when I was - I could say when I was 'not myself', but part of me thinks that that, that mindless thing was more myself than I am now, but at any rate when I was - not functioning, there was a verse which went 'Others may offer more than they can give, // All that they have for as long as they live, // I will love you as long as I can, // However long that may be,' said he. We can't - we can't ever be sure of our future selves, really; but I find that I do hope that 'as long as I can' can be... well, permanent. If that helps."
"It does. A lot." She reached out to touch his cheek lightly. "I want it to be forever, but I know I can't promise it will be. But I'm certainly going to try to make sure it is... and I do think I will always love you. Even if it's not always in the same way, I don't think I could ever stop caring about you after everything we've been through, even if... this... does end someday."
Severus rubbed his face against her fingers like a cat. "That's - well, it makes things easier. The main limitation on my - commitment is my concern that if this, this relationship should some day fail, one or both of us will be left worse off than if we had not begun it. But if we can say, with some confidence, that even if the, ah, sexual aspect should prove to be transient, we will both be able to look back on it as something positive, not as something bitter...." He turned his head and kissed the base of her thumb, fleetingly. "Why then in that case, I think, I see no reason why we should not consider our... probationary period a success, and proceed to whatever the appropriate equivalent of tenure is."
"A tenured relationship." She grinned suddenly. "I like that. It sounds so dignified, and it conjures up lovely images of the two of us all old and grey and sniping at each other over the translation of some esoteric volume on alchemy." She brushed the pad of her thumb lightly over his lips. "And I think, even if this did end, I'd still be glad it happened. And I hope we'd still be friends."
Severus nipped gently at her thumb, his lips quirking, then gave her a rather pained smile. "Friendship is another thing at which I have little experience, I'm afraid. The life of a spy does not encourage emotional baggage. But I do like the idea of a sort of... lifelong academic collaboration, with or without added sex. Although 'with' definitely has a certain charm."
"It does. And you're just going to have to get used to having friends now... everyone who's been looking after you, for a start." She took his hand, pressing a solemn kiss to his thumb in turn before snuggling her cheek into his palm. "And of course we'll have to discuss exactly what having a tenured relationship conveys in regards to access to each other's private libraries - I've been dying to rummage through yours, and I know I have some new books you haven't seen yet."
"Your private books, however, will only expand the mind - not fry, pickle or parboil it. You've already seen most of the safer stuff...." He looked at her bright-eyed, eager-puppy expression and pursed his lips. "I suppose looking at some of the more dangerous volumes could be considered as part of your tuition in Defence Against the Dark Arts; but if I let you read some of them you will do so only in my presence and under my strict supervision, do I make myself clear?"
"For now, yes." She nodded, then smiled at him. "But you see, the nice thing about a tenured relationship is that we have lots of time for me to be good enough to read the dangerous ones without you... and for me to find some that you're not allowed to read without me."
"Trust me, there are some of them even I'm worried about opening on my own. I always used to leave a note for Albus explaining which book I was about to tackle, just in case he - well, had to come and retrieve me from the twelfth dimension, or decontaminate my radioactive corpse, or... I'm sure you get the picture."
"I do. And you're not to read any of them without me to here to look after you," she said sternly, leaning down to kiss him. "Not anymore. I have no intention of letting you wander off to the twelfth dimension now that we've achieved tenure. At least, not without me." She kissed him again, for emphasis. "I would be very upset if you vanished on me when my back was turned."
"I'm less inclined to take wild risks now that - well, now that I know I have your nerves to consider. And before - when I was spying, you'd think it would make me cautious but in some ways it made me the reverse, I was in so much danger, all the time, that it made me reckless. I couldn't see any likelihood of surviving anyway, so what did it matter, if I could strike a blow against V - it's no good, I can't say it - against Him."
Hermione nodded, taking his hand and kissing the thin fingers gently. "I intend to give you lots and lots to make surviving a worthwhile effort," she said firmly. "Especially now that we have tenure and plans for research when we're old and grey."
"Which will be next Tuesday, the way things are going." He gave her hand a gentle squeeze. "I shall have to get a ring for you to kiss, like a bishop. Think how it will annoy Potter!"
She laughed. "Oh, it really would... but I wouldn't bother with the ring, really. I like touching you, even just your fingers. Just... being with you. It's nice."
"It is. Nice, I mean. But being touched all the time is...." He shut his eyes for a moment, not wanting to offend her when she had been so kind to him, and yet not wanting to store up trouble and resentment for later by putting it off. If he didn't say it now, somewhere further down the line she would be angry, she would be wanting to know why he hadn't told her before, and what could he say but I was a coward.
"Sitting next to you, leaning against you, putting my arm round you - you putting your arm round me! - that's very pleasant. Touching each other when we are both, ah, sexually interested is more than pleasant. But being, sort-of, fiddled with.... I was never a, a touchy-feely type at the best of times, and when I was - when I was there they were touching me all the time, they wouldn't stop touching me, grabbing, pawing, their hands on me...." He stopped for a moment to draw a deep, steadying breath. "If you touch me too much in that restless fidgety way, kissing my fingers and so on, without a, a warm-up first it just makes me want to panic."
He ducked his head aside, still not looking at her, and flinched as if he expected her to hit him. "I'm sorry." He felt the flinch, and cursed himself for it; but he was shamefully aware that he associated apologizing with pleading and quailing in front of his father, who would have hit him.
"Oh...." Hermione let go hastily, her face going red. "I'm sorry, I never thought of that. I just... I didn't think, I'm sorry." She bit her lip, trying to pull her face straight - it was bad enough that she'd upset him, without upsetting him more by showing that she was upset. "I'll be more careful. Thank you for telling me."
"Not your fault." He gave her an oblique, uncertain smile. "You have to treat me like a stray cat - I'm sure many people would say that was appropriate! You have to lead up to things in a, a calm way or I'm liable to hiss and swipe at you, although I can fairly guarantee not to whazz in your shoe."
"I will." She hitched up her knees and wrapped her arms around them, to keep her hands from wandering over to him again. "I'm not usually a touchy-feely sort either, really, but with you...." She shrugged, looking down at her knees. "I still feel as if you might disappear if I don't hold onto you, I suppose. Especially when we're talking about you vanishing when my back is turned."
"I like to be held - by you, certainly - and that... well, it doesn't feel like anything they did. But being - pawed at, crowded when I wasn't prepared for it, it makes me want to back away fast, and I don't want to want to back away from you. Especially not now that we've achieved tenure." He pulled a face at her. "I'm like a mule, I know it, and I don't just mean the teeth - I go much farther much faster if I'm led than if I'm pushed. And I want to be able to go, um, farther, I really do. Only I'm not...."
He made a restless, uneasy gesture, wrapping his arm across his chest and rubbing at his collarbone, one degree of neurosis away from clawing at his own skin again. "Half of me is still poised on the edge of panic, all the bloody time, and I still more than half feel that I am - well, contaminated. That wanting to go, ah, further just proves how dirty I am. Which I know is irrational, so you don't have to say it - if enthusiasm for sex was proof of corruption, you'd be at least as tainted as I am, and I don't see you that way at all."
She moved around until she could rest her shoulder against his, keeping her hands clasped and resisting the urge to reach for him. "I'm sorry," she said softly. "Really. I'll be careful not to... to paw anymore. I never, ever want to make you feel like that." She smiled ruefully. "It's not just a matter of wanting to go further. I do, but there's no real rush for it. I just like... being with you. Talking to you, touching you, looking at you... I'll be more careful about it, though, I promise."
Severus sighed and leaned heavily against her. "I don't want to make you feel anxious about touching me," he said in some frustration. "It's just - you know how if you get too... insistent when you're handling Crookshanks, he wraps his paws round your arm and kicks? I know because I did, and he did. I've never seen you clawed from wrist to elbow so I presume you manage to handle the little brute without getting lacerated." He rubbed his cheek against her shoulder, consciously imitating her cat. "Brush my hair? That's always very pleasant." Which was true, and it would give her the chance to touch him in a manner which was calm and steady and not at all disturbing, except in pleasurable ways.
"It really is." She summoned the brush and proceeded to do exactly that. "I just... well. We're both beginners at this whole relationship thing, right? If you tell me when I make mistakes and I tell you if you do, and we both take it in the spirit in which it's meant and don't get huffy, then we'll get it all sorted out soon enough." She smiled suddenly, smoothing his hair with her free hand. "And if we can manage that, we'll actually be doing a lot better than most couples, so there you are."
"We would, at that." As the brush slid smoothly through his hair in long easy strokes, he wriggled into a more comfortable position and lay back against her contentedly.
And when it all went wrong, as it was bound to, sometimes - on days when the mere fact that somebody cared for or about him seemed like an insupportable, cloying burden - on mornings when the singing rush of climax collapsed into darkness, and his heart raced and leapt at the memory of his own helpless revulsion as he was crushed and clutched at and impaled by another man's sweating weight, or nights when the taste of himself on her lips made him shove her away and curl up, crying - then her gentle touch and her open, unpatronizing concern was as soothing as cool water, and her willingness to adapt, to adjust, to temper what she wanted to what he needed both emotionally and sexually made him feel as if it might be possible to feel, some day, that his body was really his own again, and not just someone else's toy.
Or at least, if he was a toy, he was now the toy of a very careful owner, and that was a vast improvement. He knew himself to be as idiotically eager and grateful as a spaniel as the fits of darkness became fewer, as his still-raw nerves learned how to expect pleasure instead of pain and his body's reflexes gradually relaxed and began to trust that it was, literally, in safe hands.
Severus is being very slightly unfair to James and Sirius in his description of how their enmity started. In The Prince's Tale we see that Severus expressed the hope that Lily would be in Slytherin; James made a disparaging but non-specific remark about Slytherin (but not directly about Severus); Sirius made a half-hearted defence of Slytherin; James then made a rather melodramatic declaration to Sirius about how much he wanted to be in Gryffindor; Severus made a very disparaging remark about Gryffindors being thick, strongly implying that James was setting his sights too low; Sirius upped the stakes by making a direct personal attack on Severus; Lily made it clear she wasn't impressed by James and Sirius and they then descended to jeering at Lily, name-calling at Severus and trying to trip him up.
Although James started it by being spiteful and smug about Slytherin, and without any provocation, this was followed by a cycle of escalation to which Severus did contribute, before James and Sirius progressed to actively sneering at him personally. But Severus was knee-jerk sensitive and defensive at the time without really being aware of himself doing it, and the years of subsequent persecution have coloured his memory, so that he only remembers it as "I said I wanted to be in Slytherin and they attacked me for it."
At British schools, social status tends to depend on whether or not one is "good at games", or it certainly did when Severus was a boy. This is so well-known that there was a 1983 film called Good and Bad at Games, based on a story by William Boyd about a man who sets out to take revenge on the bullies who made his schooldays a misery.
To be something manqué is to attempt to be it, in an amateurish way, and not quite succeed.
I know the proper spelling is "aerated", not "aereated", but in its incarnation as a British slang expression for becoming over-excited it's pronounced with an extra syllable - air-ree-ated.
Some social/medical authorities in Victorian England did not believe that normal women felt any sexual desire (which would have been news to Queen Victoria, who was very highly-sexed). Sex was seen by them as something which men enjoyed and women endured, and Englishwomen were advised to "lie back and think of England" - that is, to put up with sex as part of the necessary duty of maintaining the population.
As a cultural note, I'm nearly fifty, and I have friends and acquaintances from all over Britain. Other than Orthodox Jews, within my own circle I am only aware of one couple who waited to have sex until they were married: that was a quarter of a century ago and even then their decision was thought of as eccentric and quaint. Even in the 1950s, surveys show that one third of British brides went to the altar pregnant.
"Greeting" in this context is a Scots word for crying.
To "cut to the chase" is to get on with the main purpose of something and stop messing about with inessentials.
"Whazz" is a Derbyshire dialect word for urination.
My enormous essay on Snape's personality, with special reference to the evidence for his being especially nasty (or not), has been updated to take DH canon into account. You can find it on this website, under the title But Snape is just nasty, right?
You may also be interested in an essay called Fanfiction.net How-To. This is a guide to how to use ffn's story-upload and editing features. It includes lists of what characters will and will not display properly in story, message and review text, and examples of dozens of interesting section breaks which will display correctly in ffn story-text, and which you can copy-and-paste into your own stories.
If you are seeing this text, your browser does not support inline frames: to select a chapter you will have to return to the title-page