By Daintress

Chapter 1 ~ It Begins

"What are you doing?"

"Father says I'm not to swim in my robes anymore." Severus threw his robes onto the grass beside the pond, grimacing. First he'd lost the fight with Father about swimming in robes; then he'd lost the fight with his best friend about swimming at all. So here he was, wearing less than he did to bed, and diving into the lake before she had a chance to laugh at him. At least it was warm enough.

"Well I don't want to thrash around in MY robes either," Muriel huffed from the shore. "I'll be right back." An instant later, she'd disappeared with a crack and reappeared in her room. She was only gone a few minutes before he heard her feet pounding the pathway back to the woods.

As soon as she was out of sight of the houses, she pulled her robes over her head, tossing them down next to Sev's in the grass. "There!"

Severus swam back from the middle of the lake, where he'd hoped to find a merperson. They usually scattered when the kids swam, but he'd figured it was worth a shot. When he found his footing, he laughed. "You look ridiculous. Where'd you find muggle clothes?"

"They aren't MUGGLE CLOTHES! As if I would ever - " She started into the water, and, finding it warm, threw herself toward him, splashing spectacularly. "They're just old pants that I had Lupso cut short like yours and an old shirt of Papa's!"

"Alright, alright!" he sputtered as she continued to splash him.

"At least they aren't UNDERWEAR!"

"OKAY, Mur, cut it out!" He scowled at the victorious grin she was giving him and pulled something out of the waistband of his shorts. "Look what Father gave me." He held up a rather ratty looking old wand. But it was a REAL wand, not one of those cheesy kids' wands that Mur's Aunt Rosa had bought her last year.

"Wicked! A real wand!" Her eyes narrowed. "You only invited me out here to try it out on me!"

Severus grinned nastily at her. "Father made me promise I would, or he'd take it back."

"You're lying and you ought to know better," she said immediately. They'd been best friends since the day they were born, and after nine years, she knew perfectly well when he was honest and when he wasn't.

She floated backwards, her long, straight, brown hair spreading out around her small, sharp face. Her chin jutted out of the water as she dunked her head backward to soak her hair. Her gray eyes took in the scorched sky, it really was remarkably hot for this part of Europe, but the clouds kept it from seeming too sunny. She imagined that the tops of the clouds were browning like muggle marshmallows over a fire. But of course, she couldn't share that thought with Severus. He hated anything made by muggles.

"Will you let me?" he was asking. She pulled herself upright to answer, and felt something tugging at her hair. She pulled free with a jerk and held up a hand to her head. Severus was laughing at her again as she pulled the sea grass out of her hair. It was practically knotted in!

"Water Pixies!" she exclaimed. This caused her friend to laugh even harder.

"There's no such thing, Mur."

"Well a grindylow wouldn't do it, and you would have seen a merperson!" she retorted, suddenly indignant. After all, it COULD have been a water pixie. "I know!" she said quickly. "Cast a bubble head charm on me so I can look for pixies! Please?"

"I've never done one before," he said slowly. "I've read the incantation, but - "

"Then your father will be impressed, right?" If nothing else, Muriel knew how to motivate Severus Snape.

A moment later he muttered the charm. "Stay close to the surface, alright? I don't know how long - " he didn't bother finishing his warning, since she was already underwater.

Mur dove, but not too deep. If there really were water pixies tying sea grass in her hair, she wanted to catch one to show Papa. As an added bonus, it would forever shut Severus up when she wanted to look for new magical creatures. She broke the fingers of several grindylows as she swam among the grasses. It was really beautiful down here. There were even a few fish, though she didn't see any magical ones. They all stayed in the center of the lake.

She dove a little deeper, enjoying the fresh air, as she looked in every nook and cranny. No luck. She was just turning to head back to the surface when her eyes began to sting all of a sudden. When her hands came up to rub them, they encountered no bubble. It was gone!

She knew better than to try and breathe, but suddenly air seemed very important. She kicked for the surface. After gasping for air and looking wildly around for Severus, she gave him the tongue lashing he deserved. Why in Merlin's name hadn't he warned her that the charm wore off on it's own?

Shaking his head, Sev couldn't help but laugh. Her hair was plastered with sea grass again and she obviously didn't even know it. As she fussed at him, he summoned a hand mirror from his house. He was a little concerned when it arrived and it was his mother's good silver one, but thrust it toward her anyway, knowing the sight would shut her up.

And it did. She stopped abruptly and took the mirror, grinning. It was amazing how quickly she changed moods. "Pretty," she said. "Can I use your wand?"

He handed it to her wordlessly, still smirking at her goofy hair. She looked thoughtfully at it for a moment, then began to lace Italian words together in a complicated spell. Severus felt his eyes widen in spite of himself. She'd obviously been studying Papa's old Arithmancy books again.

A few moments later she had the sea grass twined in a complicated pattern. She stood up in the water and put it back over her hair. "Papa says I'll be able to take the Arithmancy O.W.L. before I start school," she commented, looking at her reflection in the mirror. He rolled his eyes, not even gracing that with an answer. Muriel was the only known NATURAL Legilimens, which meant that she could read people's thoughts without a spell. She often answered Severus' thoughts rather than his words. And Severus often rolled his eyes.

"You still look funny with grass in your hair," he said finally. She tossed the mirror back to him. He fumbled with it for a moment and glared at her angrily.

"It isn't grass! It's a veil! Now we can pretend we're getting married."

"Why would we want to do that?" he asked scathingly, setting the mirror down carefully on top of his robes. His banishing spells weren't nearly as good as his summoning spells, and he didn't want to risk shattering it against the house. He'd return it himself.

"Well, Mother says we're going to anyway, so we might as well practice," Mur replied haughtily.

"I don't care what your mother says. I can't marry YOU. You're my best friend. You might as well be a boy!" he said hotly. She was always reminding him that they were supposed to get married some day. "Why would I want to marry you anyway?"

"B-but Sev, don't you love me?" Her stuck up demeanor was gone, replaced by what looked suspiciously like tears. Severus greatly preferred an ANGRY Muriel to a SAD or HURT Muriel. So he did what any 9 year old would do. He set out to royally piss her off.

"Of course I don't LOVE you! You're my best friend. And if you keep reminding me that you're a girl, I'll never play with you again!"

The only thing wrong with his plan was that Muriel was still holding his wand. She was breathing heavily as the tears coursed down her face. She ripped the sea grass veil from her hair and threw it at him. But she didn't yell. Instead, she thought.

Years later, Severus would recognize that this would have been the moment to apologize, but at nine years of age, he had not mastered dealing with women. Nor had he yet been required to apologize to anyone for anything. By the time he realized his danger, she was already pointing the wand at his head and muttering in Italian again.

An instant later a scream tore from his throat, and Muriel's mouth dropped open. Severus doubled up, his head underwater. All Mur could think to do was levitate him to the shore. Thankfully even her play wand had been able to do that, so she was good at it, and the spell was on the tip of her lips.

The next thing she cast was a silencing charm. If Sev's father heard him screaming like that he'd be furious. Then she panicked. She hadn't meant for it to be that bad. Her silencing charm was far from perfect, and she could still hear him crying out as if he was far away from her. She tried every charm she knew to end the spell, but there didn't seem to be one.

"I'm sorry, Sev, I'm so sorry! I don't know what to do. FINITE INCANTUM! FINITÉ INCANTATO!" It was no use. She levitated him back to the house at a run, sobbing into her free hand.

Mrs. Snape was in the back yard, instructing the house elves as they pruned her summer roses. When Mur began to explain, she immediately ordered the elves to take Severus inside. Pruning sheers were left forgotten in the dirt as Mrs. Snape followed them into the house.

She turned at the door to find Muriel following closely, tears still streaming down her face. "If you don't know how to fix this, go home," she snapped harshly. "I'll notify your mother tonight."

Mrs. Deesia had spent the day in Paris, taking advantage of her husband's week-long absence to go shopping at the stores he would never set foot in. Muriel felt a flash of panic at Mrs. Snape's words. If she told Mother what Mur had done to Severus there was going to be hell to pay!

She stopped crying abruptly and nodded, only the quivering of her lower lip gave away her fear. Mrs. Snape slammed the door and hurried up the stairs as Mur turned toward her own house, still holding Severus' wand.

She pocketed it before entering, not sure when she'd get a chance to return it. It didn't look like Mrs. Snape was feeling particularly hospitable. Usually, she was very nice to Muriel. Mur wiped her face sloppily on her sleeve and ran for her room, hoping the house elves wouldn't notice her. She stayed there, trying to compose herself, until Lupso appeared with a crack at the foot of her bed.

"Mistress wishes to see Miss Deesia right away," he said, his voice squeaky with worry. Muriel felt lucky that it was Lupso who'd been sent for her. He wouldn't tell about the wand Mur was tucking under her pillow. Gortha would have told in a heartbeat, and she'd be in even more trouble.

She followed him silently down the stairs to her mother's study. She took care not to pause outside the doorway, as that was a sign of weakness. Instead, she thrust open the door as soon as she reached it and closed it softly behind her, then turned to face her mother.

Mrs. Deesia was gazing, unfazed, at a letter on her desk, and Muriel waited silently until she looked up. Although the woman made no sign, Mur knew her mother was aware of her. It would be folly to make any noise or movement that might indicate impatience. Finally her mother looked up.

"I understand that your Arithmancy skills are vastly improved," she said in a low, cold voice. She held out the letter to Muriel, who took it with a quivering hand and read in silence. Notification that she could take the Arithmancy O.W.L. this summer if she chose. She set it back on the desk, fighting to keep her knees from buckling beneath her. It wasn't possible that her mother had called her downstairs about the O.W.L.

"I hear you've been practicing a great deal," the woman said after a short silence, watching her daughter's face intently. Still, Muriel kept a calm expression, though her ears were burning and her fingers pounding as though they'd been whacked with a broom handle.

Mrs. Deesia stood abruptly. "Your abilities are impressive," she began, circling Muriel like a tiger stalking prey. "But I believe you rather lack the necessary worldly experience for choosing appropriate spells."

Mur felt her nose go cold as the blood drained out of her face. Surely her mother didn't mean -

"Crucio," came the whisper from behind her. She shrieked instinctively, almost before the pain began. Then she screamed in earnest. Her mother kept the spell on her until her throat grew hoarse. When she finally began coughing up blood and choking, her mother withdrew the spell. Muriel was shivering violently on the floor as her mother resumed her seat. After a silence that seemed far too short to Mur, Mrs. Deesia spoke again. "Get up." For once her voice wasn't cold, though it did speak of a certain satisfaction that was chilling under the circumstances.

Force of will alone brought Muriel to her feet, and she faced her mother expressionlessly, wiping the blood from her lip, which no longer quivered. There was very little left in the world to fear once you've weathered that particular spell. As bad as it had been, Muriel knew now that it wouldn't break her. She could still stand, after all.

"Perhaps you will not use that hex so frivolously in the future," her mother said, waving a hand to dismiss her in a bored fashion.

Muriel forced the air through her aching throat. "Yes, Mother," she whispered. She closed the door softly behind her, then turned toward the stairs. Lupso was waiting for her, even more wide eyed than usual. She took one step and swooned on the spot, as the world went black. The elf levitated her before she could fall, not willing to let his mistress see young Miss Deesia's weakness. Moments later he tucked her into her own bed, shaking his head sadly.

Muriel awoke hours later, alone in her room. She swallowed, then grimaced at the pain in her throat. On her bedside table was a potion with a note from Lupso. She didn't bother to read the note, but gulped the potion greedily in spite of the pain. In moments the burning sensation was replaced with numbness.