Obligatory Disclaimer: I have no delusions that I own the Harry Potter-verse. I'm just playing with the word-toys, like everyone else.
Story Summary: When a N.E.W.T. Potions field trip goes badly wrong, all's well that ends well, right? Not quite. A chain of events is set in motion that may cost Snape more than his life, and a student more than her heart. Angst/angsty romance. SS/OC (of-age student). Set during OotP. Mature theme and some sex, so an R rating.
A/N: While I was forming the idea for this story, I happened to read an interview with JKR, in which she said, "Who on earth would want Snape in love with them? That's a very horrible idea." I admit that I'm right there with the rest of you saying "Me! Me!" But in this story I also tried to consider whether perhaps JKR has a point.
Warnings: If you dislike the idea of Snape bonking a student, even one that's over the age of consent, please read no further, for your sake and mine. Neither of us needs the grief. Everyone else, please read on (and, I hope, enjoy)!
Many Thanks: to cecelle, a great fellow-author here on ff net for beta-ing and helping me invent the missing plot point for the prologue, and to my best friend, Swtbrier, for lots of ideas and proofreading everything!
Prologue: Passing Bells and Sculpted Angels, Cold and Monumental
There must be better ways to spend Halloween night, Professor Severus Snape thought, but it could have been worse. If there had been a Halloween Ball, he would have been stuck chasing randy students out of the bushes all evening. If October 31st had not become such a definite non-holiday in the Dark Lord's calendar, he might be spending the night walking on reptilian eggshells, doing whatever it took to keep his dark master's confidence. So on the whole, escorting a handful of his N.E.W.T. students on an ingredients-gathering field trip was relatively painless.
They were even mostly Slytherins. There were only three different plants to be collected for this particular assignment on the preparation of rare local non-cultivables, so he'd had to fill out this group—the only one, thankfully, that he had to escort personally—with whoever was left when the more troublesome students were sorted into the other two groups. A couple of Ravenclaws, Edwin Dory and Valancy Sterling, and that Darkglass girl from Gryffindor...what was her name? Sarah? Rather contrary to type, for a Gryffindor to be left on the list that way, but since he couldn't readily think of an incident where she had drawn attention to herself... A reasonable group, altogether, and Professor Sprout could sod off if she dared to suggest that he was encroaching on her subject.
There was a patch of autumnal icecrop at the east end of the graveyard fence on the far side of Hogsmeade. But it had to be harvested at night, since exposure to sunlight rendered its thick sap useless. Hence, the field trip. Even seventh years could not be sent to wander around this part of Hogsmeade unsupervised in the dark.
Small disks of light from the bull's-eye lanterns danced along the frosty stones at the base of the fence. It was cold out, and with the stars glowing clear above, it promised to be colder yet before they got back to the castle.
"Is this it?" Dirk Nightshade kicked a bit of silverweed with the toe of his boot.
"No, you idiot, it's over here." Harriet Bulstrode bent down and snapped off a stem. "This is it, isn't it, Professor?"
"Correct," he answered. "However, the sap will be more productive if it's cut, rather than broken." Even the class's top student had clearly not read the material carefully enough. Snape grimaced when he looked down and saw that the Darkglass girl was already quietly trimming bits of icecrop into a phial. "Well, let's not be all night at it," he chided the group.
After a few busy minutes, only the slowest were not stamping about with chattering teeth and phials of icecrop tucked inside their robes. As the last student stood up, one of the Slytherin reserve Chasers, Guy Mugwort exclaimed, "Hey, let's walk back through the graveyard. Come on," he added, when the idea was not met with instant eagerness, "it's Halloween. Gotta have some fun. Can we, Professor Snape?"
Snape acquiesced. They were still young enough to appreciate such a cheap thrill. Mugwort found a side gate, and took the lead on a winding path among the headstones.
"Shhh," the young man turned and hissed to the merry troupe behind him. "It's scarier if we're quiet. And close up the lamps."
The group spread out in the dim light of the setting quarter moon, silent except for the occasional attempt at a spooky noise and the muffled squeals that followed. Snape brought up the rear, ignoring the few students who had hung toward the back with him, letting his thoughts slide over hot tea and a warm fire to the potions he had in progress that would need tending when he got back. It took him a moment to realize that the quarrelling he heard up ahead was not his students, who were, in fact, clustering silently together again, just short of the far side of the graveyard. The caretaker's hut straddled the fence near the main gate, its windows red with light.
"There's not much I can do, now is there?" said an old man's voice, carrying far in the chill darkness.
"There's always something can be done," a younger, oilier voice answered. "If you're still loyal, that is."
"Have sense, man! I'm smack under Dumbledore's nose up here. It's not like Knockturn Alley. Things is noticed."
"Oh, yes, I see. Smack under Dumbledore's nose is a good place to hide for someone who's gone over, O'Malley."
Snape felt the back of his neck prickling as the icy air found a way under his collar and down his spine. He knew the old man, O'Malley, who was apparently now the caretaker here, but he couldn't put a name to the other voice, although he could guess what, if not who, it belonged to. The last few words pierced him with a sudden, nasty suspicion that they might be talking about him.
A girl's whisper beside him almost made him jump out of his skin. "Professor?"
Snape hissed a warning to be silent. He and the stragglers were drawing close to the hut. A few of the boys had crept right up under the windowsill. Fools! He motioned for them to come away, but either they weren't looking or they couldn't see him out here in the dark.
"A man's got to retire quiet-like sometime," O'Malley was protesting. "Can't help what I settled on. None of us knew for certain, did we, that he wasn't really done for? Paper's convinced the boy's story was a lot of codswallop."
"Codswallop, is it? You'd be just as happy if it were, I'm beginning to see." There was something almost familiar about the voice, in the accent at least. But even if he couldn't place the man, Snape knew all about these little "convincing sessions" for former supporters. It should have made him feel better that it was only that, rather than an inside plot against a Death Eater whose loyalty was in question. It didn't. This was still a very dangerous situation to be overhearing. The voice went on, "Have it your way, then, old man. But the Dark Lord will remember who stood up for him and who didn't. Keep that in mind. Matter of fact, I'll make sure you do." There was a harsh whisper of "Crucio!" and a muffled scream.
More than one scream. One of his own lily-livered girls had shrieked. Nightshade's girlfriend, Olive Barnley, stood exposed in the light from the windows, with her hands clapped to her mouth.
"Ho, who's there!" A dark shape came to the doorway of the hut, blocking out some of the light.
Without knowing the interrogator, who was at least an initiate, if not a full-fledged Death Eater, Snape couldn't be sure whether the fate of the eavesdroppers would stop with a mere memory charm. And if he wasn't known to the other man, that meant the only chance he might have to put a stop to this without a fight was one that he couldn't resort to in front of his students: unless he showed the Dark Mark, he was as much in danger as anyone else.
Whipping out his wand, he fired off a disarming spell. Not at all sure he had hit his target, he shouted, "Run!"
For one terrible moment, it was as if they hadn't heard him. He understood why, when the mad dash finally began. No one knew which way to run. Some took off back through the graveyard, while the ones that had been hiding against the house made for the main gate. There was a pop; someone had Apparated. And one of the girls was standing stock still, as if transfixed. He swept an arm around her, trying to propel her back toward the headstones, his free hand closing unexpectedly around the outstretched fist in which she held her wand. Foolish child! But whatever she had been about to try to do, it was too late.
Damn! The spell hit Snape and the girl first. It didn't stop there, though. Through the full arc of the Death Eater's wand gesture, students halted, some falling painfully inert to the ground when the spell's effects on their locomotor muscles caught them off balance. Another swoop, and the boys heading for the road were brought up short. There were several moans and an assortment of wailing.
A shadowed shape moved forward and bent down, then a beam of light cut the dark as the man unshielded the side of a discarded lantern. "Well, well, well," the oily voice said. "Who have we here?" He trained the beam on one of the fallen boys.
"We won't tell!" the boy whimpered. "We're Slytherins!"
The disc of light fell on the green and silver badge. "Oh, won't you?" The man chuckled nastily. "Some of you brainy sprogs are loyal, eh?"
"Yes, oh yes," the boy agreed.
The Death Eater began working his way around to the rest of his captives. Snape tried to shake off the effects of the curse, at least enough to move his wand hand; this was not how he planned things to end. But his left hand had been frozen awkwardly against the girl's arm, his wand pointing vaguely in the direction of her head, while the right was still clenched around her fist, and the only result of his efforts was a slight tightening of his fingers. He winced as the beam of light hit him in the eyes.
"Fancy that. If isn't the teacher." The man spat the word as if it were an insult. And suddenly, as the shadowed features flashed in and out of blindness, briefly distinguishable, he recognized the voice. It had been a long way from the gangs of boys in Knockturn Alley. "Ain't you just the toff now?" The sarcasm was cutting.
"Connor..." He had come to a final and unpleasant parting of the ways with the younger boy over a year before he had cast in his own lot with the Dark Lord. It was a little surprising that they hadn't come into contact on business before now, though not at all surprising that Isaac Connor had taken, or wanted to take, the Dark Mark. But there was no reason to suppose that the man knew—or would want to believe, for that matter—anything beyond the street gossip, which hadn't been entirely kind to Snape's bad reputation.
"Thought you were on our side, once, Snape, even if you and me were quits. Guess that posh position was just too tempting for a clever bighead like you, eh? Especially with the great Dumbledore there to cover your narking arse."
"Don't make a mistake, Connor," Snape warned. "You don't know everything."
Connor snorted. "Just the same as always, eh? I'm not the one who's made a mistake, bringing sprogs out here to snoop." The light played down across the girl—damn it, it was Sarah Darkglass—and came to rest on the Gryffindor badge. "So, not all Slytherins."
"None of them will say anything. I have my own interests in seeing to that." He stared hard at Connor, willing him pick up on the subtlety of that phrase. And where were the Ravenclaws? The earlier pop might have been one Apparating away. But Connor had looked at all of them, and even though he hadn't come to Hogwarts himself, surely the differences between a Slytherin badge and a Ravenclaw one would be apparent to anyone.
"Yes, it would be too bad if anyone knew you'd brung your students out to meet with one of the Dark Lord's servants, wouldn't it?" Connor sneered. "Worse still if things went wrong, and they got...killed."
An assortment of shrieks and pleas went up at that comment. Not, oddly, from the girl, who would almost certainly be the first to die. But with her locked as closely against him as if they were dancing some ancient figure dance, he could feel her heart pounding as rapidly as his own.
"It would hardly be wise to risk killing children of the Dark Lord's supporters," Snape said, hoping that Connor had just given him a way to gain the upper hand in talking him around. "And we aren't quite so isolated out here that you could perform a killing curse that many times without attracting attention. There are other ways of dealing with this little...situation." Now, if only Connor did know a memory charm.
The other man twiddled his wand between his fingers, seeming to consider. "I do believe you're right, Snape," he said finally. "I don't have to kill them all, do I? No, I think it would be more interesting if I only killed one."
Connor tucked his own wand away, then, to Snape's horror, reached out and began prying his fingers apart.
"Damn you, Connor, what do you think you're doing!" After the brief and useless struggle, Snape wasn't sure whether a couple of his fingers weren't broken. And his wand was in Connor's hand.
"Just a spot of revenge into the bargain, old boy. She dies," he pointed the wand menacingly at the Gryffindor girl, "the rest...shall we say forget about me. And you get back your rather incriminating wand."
Snape's breathing quickened. Could he slide his fingersup over the girl's wand? Stark fear added to the force of will, and his palm was slipping over her knuckles. Either her fingers were damp with sweat or his own were. But it was still too slowly...
Connor was laughing. "Tut, tut, what will Dumbledore say?" he mocked.
Without warning, there was a flash on top of a shout. "Expelliarmus!" Snape's wand went flying out of Connor's hand. Then, following as quick as thought, "Finite incantatem!"
Snape, unexpectedly able to move, found Sarah's wand in his grasp. It felt a little awkward in the wrong hand, but he couldn't waste time shifting it. Connor was reaching for his own wand. "Expelliarmus!"
Whether it was because Connor hadn't managed to draw his wand yet, or because another person's wand in Snape's off hand was enough to foul up the spell, Connor staggered backward a step, but came up with his wand in hand.
Snape swept Sarah behind him, grimacing as his damaged fingers protested. Another spell went flying at Connor from somewhere among the headstones. "Vertiginus!"
Connor's nasty chuckle turned into a yelp as he began spinning around and around, the lantern light dancing in sickening circles. Two disarming spells hit the Death Eater at once, one from Snape, the other from out in the dark. His wand flew up in an arc and landed on the dead, frosty grass. The lantern went flying as well; if Connor had intended it as a missile, it failed to hit any possible targets, tumbling across the ground, coming to rest with the beam pointing across the ground toward the graveyard, where the face and wand of a young man peeked out from behind a broad headstone. One of the missing Ravenclaws.
With a flick of Sarah's wand, Snape sent binding cords around Connor, and didn't stop the man from falling with a nasty thud as the earlier spell continued to try turning him about. But what now? It was one thing to defend himself and his students from a mistaken attack, quite another to explain to the Dark Lord that he had willingly turned a fellow Death Eater over to the Aurors. On the other hand, there seemed no safe or reasonable way to let Connor escape. Not all of his Slytherins were supportive of the Dark Lord's cause, although allegiances were seldom admitted to openly, even inside the House, since the price of betrayal was potentially so high. And two students here, at least, would not be afraid to question his motives.
"Give me my wand," he ordered Dory. The youth handed it over with frown. Expecting a thank you, probably. Damn, that finger is definitely broken. "Where is Miss Sterling?"
"I think she Apparated away," Dory said. "She probably went for help."
Perfect. Buying time, Snape stepped over to pick up the lantern, then realized that he still had Sarah's wand in his right hand. Since when do you think of her as Sarah? He turned and saw her standing there, wide-eyed, hands clenched together. Hoping to get her wand back?
"What did you think you were doing?" he snapped at her.
"I don't know, sir," she said, her voice shaky. It was almost as if he could still feel the beating of her heart. "Something had to be done."
"And naturally a Gryffindor is the only one who can do it?" he sneered.
"I didn't think of it that way, no."
Bad enough to be rescued by a Ravenclaw. Without Miss Darkglass's wand to hand, that humiliation would have been complete.
"You'll have your wand back later," he said, tucking it away. "Take the lantern, and open it all the way."
She came and took it, the glow of unshielded light as she held it up bringing glints of brown to her hair and hazel to her eyes.
"Shall I assist you, sir?" Dory asked.
"I can manage quite well, Mr. Dory."
He stalked over to the first cluster of still-immobilized students and dispelled the curse that was holding them, setting his teeth against the pain in his hand. Damned if he'd let anyone else unfreeze his Slytherins.
A double pop heralded the arrival of the expected "help." Miss Sterling had brought back her own Head, Professor Flitwick.
"Oh, my," the diminutive wizard said, taking in the bound, prone figure, then the statue-like forms of Snape's students.
"Everything is under control now," Snape said tautly. Although Flitwick's presence did provide the excuse he needed not to act in Connor's favor.
"Then I suppose I had better let the headmaster know what has happened."
Damn. Think fast. "I'll send one of the students, Filius. We can't be sure this attacker was alone. You, Nightshade," he pointed to a boy he had just freed. "I assume you can Apparate."
"Then Apparate up to the gates. Find the headmaster or Professor McGonagall and tell them what occurred."
The youth popped out.
"Shall I help free them?" Flitwick asked.
It was horribly tempting offer, under the circumstances. "Just stand guard, if you would," he replied, not managing much grace in the request.
"Sev'rus?" came a querulous voice from the direction of the hut. Snape whirled around. It was the old man, O'Malley. "Is that you?"
"Go back inside," Snape whispered tautly, hastening to the steps of the hut, where O'Malley clung to the railing. "Pretend that none of this ever happened."
"But they'll know he was here to see me!" The old man never used to sound desperate like that. Time was that he had sharpened his tongue on every truant in Knockturn Alley who dared to try to sneak a peek into his warehouse.
"Sh! You don't think he'll talk, do you? He has far more to lose than you do."
"I just want a little peace, that's all."
"Then go inside and forget about it!" Snape turned his back on the old man, striding off to the next group of students. But he was wondering uneasily just what would happen. Under ordinary circumstances, Connor would get a perfunctory trial before being sent to Azkaban. But with the Ministry of Magic at odds with Dumbledore and desperate to silence anything that might alarm the wizarding community, the discovery of one of the Dark Lord's servants almost within sight of Hogwarts would not suit Cornelius Fudge in the least. Especially if the matter was brought to his attention by Dumbledore himself. With enough convincing lies, Connor might walk free.
Perhaps if the Aurors in the Order could arrange to find Connor elsewhere... It was, to be sure, giving up valuable ammunition against Fudge's insistence that the school was under no threat from the Dark Lord's supporters, but it was much more likely that the matter would be dealt with instead of being hushed up. He would have to suggest that solution to the headmaster later.
"Bring the light, Miss Darkglass," he ordered.
A/N: I hope you enjoy the student names; I had fun with them. Edwin Dory was meant to sound like Edward Gory. Dirk Nightshade is a nod to both Dirk Blackpool (if anyone remembers that old TV series Wizards and Warriors - shows how old I am :P) and Jim Nightshade in Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. There's also nod to Tolkien in the next chapter; see if you can find it. And ten points to the House of anyone who can identify the origin of a character in the prologue whose name was lifted unaltered from another of my favorite books.