by R.J. Anderson 2004

Lying winded at James Potter's feet, Severus wanted to weep. Instead, he bit down on the inside of his cheek until he tasted blood. Beside him lay the cauldron he'd carried so carefully across the grounds, the last of its precious contents trickling into the dirt by his shoulder. Even mingled with grass and earth, the scent of the spilled potion was strong enough to make him light-headed: he turned his face away.

"So, Snivellus," said Potter, hooking a foot underneath his ribcage and kicking him over. "Just what were you up to, then?"

So wrong, so unfair. For days he'd scrutinised the faded, flaking manuscript, making sure he understood every word; for weeks he'd tended this potion, following the brewing instructions with meticulous care. For the last three nights he had slipped out of the castle, so that he might allow his cauldron's sweet-smelling contents to bask for precisely one hour in the moonlight. Twice he'd been forced to sneak past Potter and his gang -- including that filthy werewolf who'd nearly killed him a few months ago -- though the sight of them made his stomach twist so hard he thought he'd vomit. But it had been worth it all, or so he'd told himself, when he looked down at the silvery mist rising from the cauldron and knew that his potion was a success.

He had never anticipated that Potter, the star of tonight's Quidditch match, might not be part of the celebrations currently taking place in Gryffindor Tower. After all, Potter usually thought the universe revolved around his artfully tousled head; with so many peers fawning over him, his prefect duties ought to have been the farthest thing from his mind. Who'd have guessed he'd suddenly go and acquire a sense of responsibility?

"Well?" demanded Potter, crouching down and glaring at him. "Out of the castle, after hours -- that's twenty points from Slytherin. And if you don't want to lose more, you'd better tell me right now -- what was in that cauldron?"

He'd tripped and spilled it, deliberately, the moment he heard Potter's voice behind him: but the ground had been harder than he'd anticipated. He carefully did not move a hand to check the vial he'd tucked into the breast pocket of his robes. If he'd smashed it in the fall, or knocked the stopper out, so be it; but Potter must not suspect --

Potter's eyes narrowed, and he bent a little closer to sniff the shoulder of Severus's robes, keeping his wand on him all the while. "Perfume? If there's some girl you're trying to impress, Snivelly -- well, I shouldn't have to tell you this, but you're going to need more help than that."

"Get splinched, Potter." He spat the words out, heedless of the blood that followed them. "It's none of your bloody business."

"Oh, I think it is. For one thing, I'm a prefect now; and for another -- you owe me, Snape, remember?"

That hateful life-debt again. It didn't matter that even now, he detested James Potter with every particle of his being: try as he might, Severus could not escape its compulsion. "It was an experiment," he said sourly. "I found an old potions recipe tucked into one of the Arithmancy texts in the library and it looked -- I thought it might be worth a try. But the instructions said that it had to sit in the moonlight for an hour before it would activate." Most of that was true: it hardly hurt at all to say it.

"An experiment." Potter prodded the sodden ground with the tip of his wand. "What kind of experiment?"

Now this was going to hurt. He forced the words out in a whisper: "For my hair."

James Potter threw back his head and laughed, a shout of disbelieving mirth that split the night and sent up a flurry of startled rooks from the nearby wood. "So that's your big secret! Glad to know you've finally taken the hint, Snivellus." He rose from his crouch with lithe ease, shaking his head. "Too bad you spilled the lot -- I'll bet you'd have been a real hit with the Slytherin girls, once they saw what was underneath all that grease. Mind you, that's assuming they don't mind your big pimply nose and your rotten teeth..."

Severus's teeth weren't so much rotten as stained from too many cigarettes, but that particular habit wasn't one he felt like confessing to James Potter. He settled for baring the offending teeth in a snarl, and as Potter stepped back in mock alarm, Severus took the opportunity to roll over and push his aching, muddy self back up onto its feet...


Mentally Severus unleashed the filthiest string of curses he could think of, as his carefully preserved vial of potion slid down the inside of his robes and dropped onto the rocky ground. He stooped to retrieve it, but Potter's Quidditch-honed reflexes were quicker. "What's this, then?" asked the other boy, holding it up to the moonlight and examining the pale, shimmering stuff within. "So you managed to save yourself some of your fancy hair cream after all?"

"Give it back, Potter." Severus's voice came out as a rough hiss, its harshness barely concealing his panic. To lose it now -- and to him -- the thought was intolerable.

"Why should I?" Insolently, James tossed the vial in the air and caught it. "Let's be frank, Snivelly. I don't dare turn my back on you these days, with the nasty little hexes you like to throw around. I don't mind saying, you've got to be nearly as quick off the mark as I am. So give me one good reason I shouldn't keep this little project of yours until the end of term -- just to make sure you're on your best behaviour."

"It's dangerous," Severus choked out. "It has to be handled carefully. You don't know --"

"It's that powerful?" Potter looked at the phial dubiously. "I dunno -- it smelled pretty fruity to me, and it didn't seem to do your robes any harm now, did it?" Severus made an incoherent noise of protest, but too late: James's deft fingers had already removed the stopper, and a wave of delirious scent wafted around them. "Whoa. This stuff --" He shook his head, and blinked.

Under other circumstances Severus would have hexed him, points or no points, and seized the phial from his hand. But the stopper was still out, and he couldn't risk spilling the last of his precious potion. Dreamcaps and night-lilies, among other necessary ingredients, were out of season now, and if this batch were lost it would be another whole year before he had the chance to try again. Furious at his own impotence, he ground out through his teeth: "It's very concentrated. Give it back."

"Wait a minute." The dazed look vanished from Potter's face, to be replaced by shrewd calculation. "Smells like perfume... brewed by moonlight... makes you light-headed... Snivellus, don't tell me you've actually managed to come up with a love potion?"

Trust a Gryffindor to jump to the crudest and most obvious conclusion. "No!"

"Then what is it?"

Severus chewed his lip, looking at Potter sidelong through the dark, ragged veil of his hair. Perhaps he was making this too hard for himself. Maybe, if he told the truth, Potter would just give it back to him and go away? The werewolf incident last year had shaken the other boy a good deal, he knew; and since then his taunts, even his hexes, had lost a bit of their edge. Potter still put on a brave show for his friends, of course, that was only to be expected. But tonight it was just the two of them, and who was to say he might not choose to show a little mercy for a change?

And that was the bloody potion speaking. Severus shook his head fiercely and drew a deep breath, determined to tell Potter what he could do with himself. Instead, to his horror, he heard himself say:

"It's Beneficus Balm."

James's dark eyebrows shot up. "And what's that when it's at home?"

It wasn't like Potter to admit to not knowing anything, much less ask Severus for the answer. Disarmed, he found himself stammering out an explanation: "It's a very old recipe -- forgotten for centuries. When thou dost come before thy kynge, this unction shall make thee seem goodly and pleasaunte unto hym, and hee shall graunt thy petition, it said. It seems -- it sounds -- as though it makes people like you, makes them willing to listen to what you say, so that they'll give you what you want." Just don't ask me what I wanted it for, Potter. If you do that, I might just have to kill you.

But James didn't ask: probably he thought he already knew the answer. Poor old Snivellus needs all the help he can get. Severus clenched his teeth together, watching Potter as he held the vial up once more toward the light and gazed thoughtfully at its pearlescent contents. At last he lowered it, and replaced the stopper with a care that bordered on reverence.

"Look, Snape," said Potter, in a quiet voice. "Why don't we make a deal?"

Well, thought Snape as he slid the recipe for Beneficus Balm into its new hiding place between Volume VI and VII of A Concise History of the Goblin Wars (where no one but himself would ever be likely to find it), half a bottle was better than none. One judicious application had been enough to get him back in the good graces of Bellatrix Black and her gang, albeit on probation; and he likely wouldn't need to use it again for some time, not if he stayed on his best -- or worst -- behaviour. Still, it had been a hellish few weeks without the gang's protection, and he wouldn't make the same mistake again. Curse Bertha Jorkins and her great blabbing mouth, anyway...

The sound of a voice even more hatefully familiar than Jorkins's, coming from just the other side of the bookshelf, made Severus hold his breath.

"Hey, Evans."

Instinctively Severus began to edge backward, toward an escape route. Under other circumstances he might have tried to sneak in a good hex, just to relieve his feelings: it was always satisfying to make Potter yelp, and the novelty of having enough skill and power to do so hadn't worn off yet. But last night's close call was still fresh in his mind, and having barely escaped losing Slytherin twenty points (something Bellatrix would not have been likely to forgive him, especially so soon after the Florence incident), it would be unwise to push his luck.

"Evans," whispered Potter, louder this time. "Over here!"

"What is it?" Lily's tone was sharp with impatience: she had never liked Potter, and usually made a point of ignoring him, except for the occasional lapse when she felt obligated to tell him what a swaggering, fat-headed bully he was. "I have work to do."

"Just... come back here for a sec, will you? I want to ask you something."

Severus felt his stomach curdle. Of course. He should have known, from the moment Potter offered him that fool's bargain, what it was that the other boy really wanted. If he hadn't been too exhausted and nerve-wracked to think straight, he would have guessed -- and Potter would have had to pay a great deal more for his silence. Walk away, Lily. Walk away now, while you still can...

Lily's sigh was inaudible, but it wasn't difficult to imagine it. "All right, but you'd better make it quick."

"Look." James lowered his voice until Severus could barely make it out. "I know I was a bit of a prat last year. More than a bit. But... I've changed, really. You don't see me hexing people just for laughs any more, do you? And haven't I been a good Prefect?"

"I suppose." But Lily did not sound convinced. She was putting up a good fight, Severus thought, and fervently hoped she'd win. Still, he could smell James Potter from here -- the idiot must have slathered the stuff all over himself, in one reckless, now-or-never attempt to make sure the plan would work. How typically, nauseatingly Gryffindor.

"Do you think you could give me another chance? Just one chance, let me prove myself to you."

"Potter, if you think I'm going to be impressed by a begging man wearing pints of cologne... what is that stuff, anyway? I'm surprised your friends even let you out of the dorm."

James obviously thought it best not to acknowledge that last remark. "Just... come with me, next Hogsmeade weekend. If you don't have a good time I'll never ask you again, I promise."

"Are you mad?"

"Only about you, Evans," said James promptly, with pathetic eagerness, and Severus's lip curled. "Come on. One chance. Please."

Whether it was the potion, or James's unaccustomed air of humility, Severus couldn't tell without looking: but Lily relented. "Well... I suppose."

"Great!" James's voice was bright with exultation. "Thanks, Evans, you won't regret it."

I doubt that, retorted the real Lily in Severus's mind, and he waited to hear her say it aloud: but his ears heard only, "All right."

He couldn't bear it any more. Even if it meant being caught, he had to know. Surreptitiously he craned his neck around the corner of the shelf, and found himself looking over Potter's shoulder, straight into Lily's face.

If she noticed his presence, she gave no sign of it. But her irises, normally so startlingly green, had been dulled by a shimmering film of silver. She blinked, and the haze vanished; but even that brief glimpse was enough. Severus stepped back, his throat tightening. The Beneficus Balm worked, he now knew that for certain. But the knowledge brought him little comfort.

For a moment he toyed with the thought of pulling Lily aside after Potter had gone, and telling her the truth. Except for that one degrading, wholly unwelcome attempt to protect him back in fifth year, Lily had always been a decent -- if not exactly close -- sort of cousin. Part of him had regretted having to put her back in her place that day, remind her that Slytherin was his family now and he could have nothing to do with Mudbloods. But then, she'd hardly been eager to acknowledge him in front of her fellow Gryffindors, either. And she surely wouldn't thank him for meddling in her business now.

Still, if she ends up with Potter, he thought bleakly, he'll ruin her. And it'll be my fault.

Then again, maybe not. After all, the Balm would only last so long, and Potter couldn't keep up the pretence of chivalry forever. Oh, he might charm Lily for a while, but eventually the mask would slip: and once she was reminded of his arrogance and his bullying ways, she'd drop him faster than a fresh-laid Ashwinder egg.

Yes, that was what would happen, he felt almost sure of it. Lily was as good a judge of character as he'd ever met -- a few things she'd said to him in the heat of the moment notwithstanding -- and not even Beneficus could hide the truth about James Potter from her clear, searching eyes.

The two Gryffindors were gone now, Lily to her books and Potter no doubt to the company of his friends. The cold fist in Severus's stomach unclenched, and he let out his breath in relief. House rivalries and blood purity issues aside, it was good to know that he hadn't let Lily down. And he felt sure that she wouldn't let him down, either. If she never guessed what he and Potter had done to her, it might be for the best; but even if she did find out, it would only make her hate Potter ten times more. Either way, the look on Potter's face when Lily told him she never wanted to see him again would be worth it.

Alone in the darkness, Severus permitted himself a small, satisfied smile. Then he turned, and headed down the aisle toward the Restricted Section. There was a hex, Wilkes had said, that plagued its victim with invisible fleas. It might be amusing to try it on Sirius Black...


A/N: As usual I owe much thanks to Liz, Teri, and Alec. Especially Liz and Teri, who confirmed my suspicions that my first draft of the second scene was Ever So Lame, and helped me figure out what was wrong and how to fix it.

Those interested in my concept for the Snape - Evans family tree may wish to
check this out: . I've just revised the original draft, as there's no reason Harry and Mark shouldn't know each other if their grandfathers were both perfectly respectable Muggle types -- Petunia would surely approve of Mark's family in that case, and be more than willing to acknowledge them as relatives. So perhaps there's some more squib or wizarding blood on that side of the chart than I'd originally supposed.

Another thought that's occurred to me is that if the Evans were a wizarding family, Severus's mother might have been an Evans, which would tie in the "Perseus Evans" anagram, but that seems a bit too circular to me. I think it more likely that she was a Longbottom. As we know, the Longbottom family has some odd and rather violent notions of what constitutes proper training and encouragement of a young wizard, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if Severus's attitude toward instructing Neville in class is an extension of this, either because of Snape's own nature and upbringing -- or because he has received strict instructions from Neville's grandmother, or both. The Snape-Longbottom connection may be foreshadowed in the scene where Neville dresses the Snape-boggart in his grandmother's clothes, as well -- though I admit the idea is tenuous.