Severus dined alone at breakfast the next morning as Atwater had left early after woofing down a full plate of bacon and eggs before announcing he had "something he needed to do" and departed without further divulgence.
Avery and Mulciber were lying low after yesterday and Garrick did not grace him with his presence either. Hollace gave him a nod in passing but he was pleased to find that without the company of Garrick she didn't feel the need to socialise with him.
The other notable absences from breakfast were Lily and James' group, no doubt taking the chance to visit Lupin before lessons began.
He threw a contemptuous look towards his book stuffed satchel and hefted it onto his shoulder making his way out of the hall.
He was passing a row of empty classrooms on his way towards the dungeons when he heard the faint murmur of conversation from within the History Of Magic class.
The voices inside sounded heated but stifled as though they were trying their best not to be overheard. Severus moved quietly towards the door and listened.
"I don't want to do it. Give me someone else."
It was Atwater Severus realised with a jolt of surprise. For a moment he considered moving away and minding his own business but something about Atwater's tone held him to the spot.
"You either do it or it's back to obscurity Elwood. If you want in then you'll do it." Garrick's low growl was unmistakable.
"But he's my friend. I can't do that to him. I told him I had his back, he'd never trust me again." Atwater leaked a hint of involuntary desperation into his voice.
"You attack who I tell you to. Severus needs to learn. He won't know it was you anyway, just make sure you're not discovered and we can just say it was an accident or something."
"I thought you said he was one of us, he's proved himself hasn't he?"
"I'm not discussing this any further Elwood." Garrick's tone was final.
"This is personal isn't it?" Atwater continued his voice agitated, "it's got nothing to do with Sev at all you just want to teach me a lesson."
Inside the room Garrick chuckled. "Oh Atwater, not everything is about you. You'll come to realise that if you do-as-I-ask." He emphasised the last words.
"Happy hunting." Garrick said after a moments silence and the sound of movement alerted Severus that someone was leaving the room. Quickly he dashed to the classroom on the opposite side of the corridor and closed the door, leaving room to see outside.
He caught sight of Garrick's departure and waited a while before leaving the room and making off down the hallway. "So I'm on the list am I?" Severus mumbled to himself feeling a wave of anger simmering and Atwater was the person to do it? Some friend. He'd never agree to turn on Atwater no matter what the stakes and this was what hurt him most. Was there no one he could trust in this stupid castle?
"Sev!" Atwater cried from behind him. He came clattering up the hall and matched stride with him. "Alright?"
Severus bit back the urge to scream at him and frowned. "Perfect." He grumbled.
"Ok..." Atwater glanced at him uncertainly but continued to talk. "Have you spoken to Lily yet? I saw her earlier on her way to the Hospital Wing. She looked tired."
"Did she?" He replied shortly without slowing his pace.
"Is something the matter?" He asked tentatively.
"I don't know, is there?" Severus spun round to face Atwater his eyes burned like embers, glowing orbs of outrage.
Atwater stepped back slightly upon sight of his friend. "What's wrong?" He looked concerned and made to grab Severus by the arm but his wrenched it away angrily.
"Nothing. Where have you been anyway?" He asked, enjoying the rare look of discomfort on Atwater's face.
"I... I was just in the greenhouse. I thought I'd give that spell you performed a try and was looking for some Goosegrass." He scratched his nose awkwardly and gave a small grin.
"Maybe you could practice a few of your stunning spells while you're at it, never know when you might need them." Severus turned on the spot and strode away leaving Atwater staring after him.
Once he reached the grand staircase he change his course and found himself unconsciously heading for the Hospital Wing. He suddenly felt the urge to talk to Lily, it was an impulse that had long been suppressed for many years but having no one else to turn to he found himself moving without thought.
Having made it to his destination he was pleasantly surprised to find Lily waiting outside the hospital doors. She looked up and gave a weak smile, the skin under her eyes dark.
"She kicked me out." She explained, referring no doubt to Madam Pomfrey. "Said Lupin needed his rest but he's wide awake."
Severus grimaced sympathetically. "It should be you in bed by the looks of it. You look exhausted."
"Thanks." She replied sarcastically but grinned.
"Well you do." He smiled.
"I would ask you to take over bed side duties but I don't think that's why you came."
Severus shook his head. "Yeah no thanks. I've already saved his life, asking me to act like a concerned visitor would be cruel." He was surprised to find that Lily chuckled at this.
"Oh Severus Snape, You... git."
They both burst out laughing for what seemed like the first time in years, had it been that long?
"He'll have to stay in over the holidays though, he's not happy about that." She said taking a seat on the old wooden bench outside the hospital doors. "Do you still go home for the holidays? I know you used to."
Severus grimaced. "Yep, it's back to the shop as usual. Maybe mother will even let me serve the customers this time." He said dryly, rolling his eyes. "I take it you'll be staying here... with James?" He said this lightly as if it meant little to him but truth was he was curious.
"No." She replied her face suddenly solemn, it was as if a shadow had filtered across her features. "Mum's coming out of hospital so Dumbledore's letting me leave the day before we break up to meet her. It's the last time she'll be coming home so..." her voice trailed off.
Severus felt suddenly sick, his body struck with a cold wave of shock. The last time Severus had talked to Lily about her mother hey had been 14 and it was looking as if she was coping well with her treatment and would hopefully be making a recovery. To hear this now not only brought him great sadness but also hammered home the fact that she had drifted so far away from him. To not know this, to not know she had been suffering through this alone the whole time.
"Since dad passed away Petunia's had to deal with a lot since I've been gone so it's the least I could do for her, I really want to help... though I doubt she'll let me." She said with a sigh.
Severus knelt down so that he was looking at Lily directly. "Lily I'm so sorry. If I'd had any idea I..."
"It's ok. James has been really good about it. He's not as self obsessed as you think you know?"
Severus expected to feel a pang of jealousy or at least be slightly irritated but he wasn't. If anything he was pleased if only for the fact that this one time Potter had surpassed his expectations. "That's good."
"What are you doing here?"
Severus turned to find Sirius, face ignited in rage approaching them, he was being trailed by James and Peter. Severus shot up into a standing position, James caught sight of him and balled his fists, Peter looked nervously between them.
"He's just come to see how Lupin's doing." Lily explained before Severus could answer. She gave Severus an encourage look as if seeking his agreement. He said nothing and just looked back at the Sirius stone faced.
"You've got some nerve Snape. The fact you'd even show your face after what happened." Sirius stomped forward bringing himself up to his full height.
"What, after I saved your miserable friend's life you mean?" He retorted looking bored.
"Severus not now." Lily hissed at him.
"You are joking right? You were just saving your own skin, considering you're the one who poisoned him." Sirius came back at him furiously. "You're the only person that knew about Remus."
"If I poisoned him why would I bother trying to save him?"
"Went too far didn't you? To much of a coward, didn't want to be the youngest person to be chucked inside Azkaban." Sirius muttered.
"Look you must have at least told someone Snape." James cut in trying his best to keep his voice level.
"I've told no one and not because you didn't want me to... I promised Dumbledore I wouldn't."
"Oh come on, you've wanted to get us back for that all last year." James argued throwing him a dirty look. "Your promises mean nothing. A born liar doesn't know the meaning of the word."
"Even Lily agrees it could have been you and she was there." Sirius interjected.
Severus spun to face her, clearly stung by the admission. "You think I did it too?" His voice was cold now and held none of the warmth it had held before.
Lily shook her head furiously and glared at Sirius before answering. "I just said you might have let it slip, by accident. I mean you're not Remus' biggest fan are you?"
"That doesn't mean I'm willing to murder him for it. You were there, you saw what I did and yet you still doubt me?"
Lily looked conflicted, her mouth trying to form a response but nothing came forth.
James strode forward knocking Sirius aside, he approached Severus and placed a firm hold on his shoulder. "It's time you left. Nobody wants you here."
Severus shook it off violently. He glared at James convinced he was the reason Lily doubted him, James Potter the boy who took away his best friend and turned her against him. "You did that yourself." A voice sung in his head but he ignored it.
"I wish it had been you that had been poisoned. I wouldn't have even stopped to watch you die." Severus whispered. This rage born from nowhere shocked even himself but it palled in comparison to James' anger which took the form of a hard shove followed by the drawing of his wand.
"Say that again. Go on! So that everyone can hear." He narrowed his gaze over his glasses.
Severus drew his wand and held it in his shaking hand pointed between the boy's eyes.
"James just stop." Lily cried slamming her hands into the bench.
"I'm sorry Lily, I can't let this go." James swallowed hard his eyes flicking back to Severus.
"He's right Lily he can't let it go, he never has and neither can I." Severus barked at her his eyes burning with contempt.
"Just for today please." She sounded exhausted, she rose from her seat and stared at Severus, imploring him, not James to see sense.
He looked at her properly and wished he hadn't. She looked so tired. How long had she been up? Could she sleep, maybe it wasn't just Lupin's condition that was keeping her slumber at bay.
He felt the anger inside him start to dissipate, if he kept his eyes on her he knew he could control himself. His shoulders slumped slightly as he felt his wand hand loosen its grip.
"Flipendo!" Sirius shouted from behind Severus casting a jinx that hit him squarely in the back sending him crashing forward into the stone floor, his wand flew from his hand as his chin struck the ground, clattering his teeth together. "That's for Remus." He growled raising his wand again.
Severus searched for his wand but found nothing. He closed his eyes and waited for the spell to come but looked up again when Lily screamed, followed by an almighty crash.
Atwater had appeared from nowhere and had thrown himself with full force towards Sirius, grabbing him by the neck and pushing him over towards Lily who had just enough time to move out the way as both boys went crashing into the bench. Atwater was punching every inch of Sirius he could find, his eyes crazed, his teeth bared.
Sirius howled in rage and pushed him away. Severus caught sight of James aiming his wand in Atwater's direction but he had already spun round to face him, ducking the spell and casting one of his own. "Expelliarmus."
James' wand flew through the air, Peter gave a shriek of fright and joined Lily who was was backing away from the chaos.
"Stupefy!" Sirius cried aiming the spell towards Atwater but missing the boy who spun round and sent a leg-locker curse at him, it was slightly off and only caused Sirius to stumble but it was enough as Atwater again made for him in blind fury. "Coward! Back stabbing little.." the boys clashed again in a tangle of fists and kicks. James scrambled across and pushed Atwater away allowing Sirius to kick at his legs sending Atwater to his knees, both boys converged on him.
Severus grabbed his wand from the floor and hollered "Confringo!" Sending the spell towards the broken bench which splintered and showered James and Sirius who covered their heads in the blast. Atwater sprang up, blood dripping from his nose. Severus launched himself at him and grabbed his friend by the shoulders trying desperately to hold him back. "Atty stop!" He yelled.
"Come on then Potter! I'll take you and your traitorous little pal. Fight as dirty as you want it's the only way you know how." His lips snarled and even Severus was taken back by his volcanic vitriol.
"What is going on!" Madam Pomfrey had burst through the doors and was glaring at them all.
Severus took the opportunity to drag Atwater away down the corridor.
"Watch out Black, you'll get yours, you just wait!" Atwater was still screaming as Severus pushed him.
Once they were out of sight Atwater stomped off towards their Potions class muttering angrily to himself as he went. "You're welcome by the way." He said not bothering to look in Severus' direction.
"You're welcome? I'm surprised you didn't take the opportunity to get it over and done with there and then." Severus replied his brow creased, still on edge from the confrontation.
"What are you talking about?" He spat back, though Severus could detect a hint of unease in his voice.
"No one asked you to help." Severus knew he was being ungrateful but didn't care.
"No fear of that happening again. I'll just leave them to it next time." Atwater crashed through the classroom door earning a disapproving look from Professor Slughorn. "Don't sit with me. It's clear you don't want my company."
"I wasn't going to." Severus retorted walking to the back of the class and slamming his bag onto the desk.
The next week was miserable for Severus and for once he was glad that escape from the castle for Christmas was only a few days away. He went back to his usual practice of keeping to himself. In the past he would have sought the company of Avery and Mulciber but even they were acting very cagey of late, the investigation into Lupin's poisoning had caused Avery to hide away at every opportunity and Mulciber was keeping tight lipped about the whole affair.
Garrick was his usual obnoxious self, very pleased with Lupin's perilous dance with death, voicing how pleased he had been with Avery's performance and throwing Atwater knowing glances whenever possible which was causing Severus a great deal of distress.
It was Atwater however who was troubling Severus the most, despite not talking to each other he did keep an eye on his friend whenever possible and found that he was growing increasingly more distracted as the days went on.
He was prone to multiple accidents every Potions class and would arrive late for every meal looking tired and sickly. Clearly the talk with Garrick was weighing heavily on his mind and it didn't escape Severus' notice that he had yet to be attacked. Twinges of worry and dare he admit it, sympathy started to chip away at his icy interior.
It all came to a head during the last Potions lesson before end of term when Atwater was so lost inside his own thoughts that he managed to spill the entire contents of his hiccuping solution over himself causing him to spend the entire last half of the lesson silently jumping in his seat as he struggled to suppress them.
When the lesson had ended he grabbed hold of Atwater's arm and drag him towards the door. "Come on." He ordered lightly. Atwater was too tired to object and followed him, letting out the occasional hiccup for good measure.
He found the nearest empty classroom and motioned him inside closing the door behind them.
"This silent treatment needs to end. I know, alright?" Severus crashed onto a stool looking exasperated.
Atwater frowned letting a hiccup pass before answering. "I have no idea..."
"I heard you the other week. Arguing with Garrick." He fixed him with a piercing stare.
"Oh..." Atwater went deathly quiet, the shock of being caught ridding him of his affliction. "Look it wasn't my idea, ok?"
"I know that."
"I've asked him to change his mind but he won't hear it." Atwater paced the room before Severus wringing his hands. "I don't want to do it Sev, I really don't but... I'm running out of options. I don't think I have a choice."
Severus frowned at his friend, watching the conflict trace lines into his face. "I thought we were friends Atty. If you're going to do it then why don't you do it now? Get it over with." Severus stood up and held his arms out. "I won't even fight back."
Atwater came to a stop and turned to him, bewildered, at a loss. "What do you mean?"
"Just do it."
"Why would I do that?"
"That's what Garrick's asked you to do isn't it?"
Atwater's shoulders slumped, his face slackening in realisation. "I thought you knew."
Atwater wrench a hand into his robe pocket and pulled out the tattered piece of parchment from the Shrieking Shack and held it out for Severus to take. "I reckon you'd rather it had been you."
Severus took the note and opened it, his eyes fixing to the name, a thud of panic thumping inside his chest.
"But..." Severus turned it over hoping to find another name, more information.
"I think knows Severus. I don't know how but he does or at least he suspects so. He knows you like Lily." Atwater explained his expression grim.
How could he know? Severus felt sick, his big secret was fast becoming the worst kept one.
"You can't." Severus said instantly turning his eyes from the paper to Atwater. "Atty you can't."
"Severus believe me I really don't want to but... this is my one chance. I might not get another." Atwater looked pained and couldn't maintain eye contact with him.
"Please." Severus asked, surprised by the pleading tone in his voice. "I'll ask him to change it myself. I'll beg him."
"You can't do that Sev. If you do that then he'll know for sure, he'll never let you in."
"I don't care."
"Yes you do. Back out now and that's it. The Death Eaters will either kill you or let it be known you were in league with them. Then you'll be alone, only a matter of time before..."
"Atty you can't hurt Lily. I won't allow it." He continued, finding a new resolve to his voice.
Atwater winced at the edge to his words. "Severus..." he was at a loss for what to say. Severus watched the inner turmoil play out on his friend's face, conflicting emotions twisting around him like a knife inside his stomach.
Severus sat back down and gazed out the window, his mind reaching for answers, a solution... anything. "I will help you find a way." He decided finally. He couldn't just abandon Atwater to the Death Eaters mercy, his desperation made it clear to Severus that he felt there was no other option left for him.
"You will?" Atwater turned to face him, his eyes suddenly hopeful. "H... how?"
"I have no idea." He didn't want to get his friends hopes up and he was currently at a loss. "Couldn't you just lie and say you went through with it." He shrugged.
"Atwater shook his head. "He wants proof. He thinks I won't do it because of you... he's right I suppose."
"That's a good thing Atty."
"But how are we going to find a solution in three days." He groaned. "I should have told you earlier."
"Actually we only have two."
"Lily's leaving a day early." Severus explained.
"Never mind." Severus closed his eyes and rubbed his temples desperately forcing his mind to think. Every problem had an answer, he had always believed this. He thrived on the notion.
"Couldn't we just lock her away in a cupboard until January?" Atwater joked with a defeated grin.
Something in Severus' mind ignited, like a match being struck in a pitch black room. A distant flickering, out of focus... but it was there.
"Or maybe I could just..."
"Shut up." Severus held up his hand, his mind ticking over and over. "I might have something."
A cold shiver flooded his body, the idea forming reluctantly.
"Does he want me to be there, when you..."
"No Sev. You can't be involved, I've already told Garrick I don't want you to find out it was me."
"Drat." Severus cursed, he walked over to the window and drummed his fingers on the sill. The trees in the Forbidden Forest waved lazily in the afternoon wind, a plume of smoke dancing upwards on the horizon from somewhere in Hogsmeade. "Maybe... will it work?"
"It might work." He said to himself then turned to face Atwater. "It'll be risky though."
"If it's all we've got."
"We won't have time to test it... he just needs proof right?"
"Right. Sev please start explaining, this is driving me mad." Atwater grimaced.
"Ok but I'll explain on the way. I have to check something. It should still be there..." he grabbed Atwater by the arm and dragged him out the door.
Two days later.
Come tonight after lights out.
Sixth floor corridor, please do not tell Severus.
You'll have all the proof you need that I'm ready.
Garrick reread the note as he swept up the grand staircase on his way to the sixth floor. What is he playing at? He pondered as he paused to listen for signs of movement up ahead from any patrolling teachers.
He felt frustrated that Elwood was cutting it so close, it showed a certain lack of respect he thought but could not deny the pleasing sense of excitement he felt as he climbed upwards and onwards.
Not only would this hurt Potter more than any form of personal attack but Lily Evans was the one person at Hogwarts he truly could not abide. A filthy Mudblood oozing her way into the cracks of this great castle and everybody was acting like it was perfectly fine. Sure there were others of equally filthy linage but what irked him most was the fact she seemed to excel in most subjects, showing a talent for magic when she had no rightful claim to wield it. Disgusting.
He reached the door to the sixth corridor and opened it. The hallway was silent apart from the flickering from the torches on the walls. He scanned the space and found a figure sat upon the ground, his back to the cold stone wall, his head buried in his hands.
"Elwood?" Garrick stepped closer. Atwater's harrowed expression peered up from his hands and locked an accusing stare on Garrick. His face sported a cut to his cheek and a large bruise was forming just above his furrowed brow. His robes looked disheveled and a tear at the neck made it look as if someone had recently fought against him.
"It's done." He whispered hoarsely, his eyes on the floor, his shoulders slumped.
"Oh my Atwater she did take a piece out of you didn't she?" Garrick smirked darkly, pulling at the rip in his robes. Atwater shook him off irritably. "Where is she?"
"In the old Dark Arts classroom from last year." He motion to the door towards the end of the hallway. "I just sent her a note from James asking to meet there. She must be stupider than she looks because she fell for it. Didn't go down without a fight though."
Garrick licked his lips, his teeth glistening off the torchlight. "Show me."
"Isn't this enough?" Atwater growled irritably. "We need to get out of here, we'll get caught if we hang about."
"Oh no. You're not getting away with it that easy Elwood. I want proof. Why'd you call me out here in the first place? Let's see the filthy little Mudblood."
Atwater sighed heavily and motioned for him to follow.
"I must say Elwood I really didn't think you'd do it. I don't doubt you have a dark side but what about poor Severus. The deluded fool, what's he gonna say when he finds out his little Lily has been set upon."
"He's not going to find out until after holidays because you're not going to tell him, right?"
"Ok, ok." Garrick held up his hands and grinned at Atwater's look of disgust. "I'm not a monster Elwood, I don't begrudge Severus his little crush, she's a pretty thing to be sure but he needs to realise that sort of thing won't do if he really wants to join us."
"And how is attacking her going to make him see that?" Atwater spat.
"He who rules with a firm hand receives back something more valuable than loyalty, he's feared and you can get more out of people with fear than you ever could with loyalty. The Dark Lord knows that all too well. Once Severus realises I know his secrets he'll do anything. I'm a good judge of character Elwood, I got you right didn't I?" He smirked again, his eyes reflecting his hubris. "I knew there were things more important to you than loyalty didn't I?"
"You know nothing about me." Atwater snapped, slamming his fist onto the classroom door as they approached.
"We'll see wont we? Open the door."
Atwater did as instructed. It swung open to a dimly lit and silent classroom. They stepped inside and Atwater heard Garrick give a sharp intake of breath, a moment of genuine surprise, followed by a low growl of satisfaction.
A dark shadow hung across Garrick's face, his dark unforgiving stare locked hungrily on the sight of a body, suspended in mid air, arms outstretched, blood oozing from slashes to the arms and legs. The face battered and bruised, a haunted image of brutality.
The body of Lily Evans.