After Madam Pomfrey left him, still hiccupping and a little shell-shocked, Snape tried to get comfortable. By the time Mr. Potter came into his room with a tottering armload of books and papers, he still hadn't succeeded.

Mr. Potter greeted him with a smile. "You seem to be doing much better."

Snape nodded. Mr. Potter still made him nervous, but he found himself staring at the books, trying to read the titles on the spines.

"James mentioned that you are rather good at potions."

"A little better than good, sir."

Mr. Potter's smile got wider, the corners of his eyes crinkling up like tissue paper. "No false modesty from you, I see." He shifted the books in his arms. "Do you know what it was that I used on you last night?"

Snape felt a tingling rush of blood to his cheeks. "No, sir," he admitted.

"Call me Ben or Mr. Potter, not sir. Anyway, can you take a guess?"

Snape tried to focus. His brain felt like a set of old, rusted gears trying to grind into place. He blinked and shook his head, but nothing came.

"What's unique about the venom Malfoy used?"

"I don't know. It's an odd one...the magic --" The gears snapped into place. "Mundanity and magic. The venom is delivered through the skin by magic, but the chemical that causes the p -- that makes it work is entirely mundane."

"Very good."

"But how do you get the magic to transport the antidote?"

Mr. Potter dropped the books onto the bed. They bounced and the bed springs creaked in displeasure. "Answer that for me by tomorrow morning, and I'll let you monkey around in my lab for a few hours."

Snape had never been given much in the way of presents as a young boy, but this moment might be worth all fifteen lost Christmases. He pounced on the texts. One looked as if it was hand-bound, and he didn't recognize the title. There were also blank pages in the front and back. He looked up at Ben Potter, curious.

"It's not finished yet, but I think it will give you a good introduction to combining the mundane and magical in potions. Come up with a title, and I'll name my second born after you."

"You're letting me read an unpublished manuscript?" Most Potion Researchers guarded their manuscripts more closely than their children, lest their ideas be stolen. Children, after all, could be replaced.

"Why not? You're stuck in bed at least until tomorrow morning, and it's bad manners to let a guest rot away in boredom. I'll check in on you tonight."

pre --- /pre

Mr. Potter was simply a terrible writer. He could barely spell, and his convoluted, run-on sentences had a tendency to end abruptly when the point had been made, regardless of whether the rules of grammar had been satisfied. Several long paragraphs consisted of either one long sentence, or many half-sentences running into each other without a single full stop.

Clearly, somebody must regularly translate Ben Potter's work before a manuscript was allowed near the publisher. Otherwise, he'd have been laughed out of Britain.

What was worse was that, underneath the horrible writing, it was a revolutionary text that would probably eventually create a new branch of potion making. Nobody had thought to combine Muggle sciences with potions, but the more Snape read, the more it made sense.

Mr. Potter had also left a few Muggle primers on basic chemistry, biology and physics. Snape chewed through them, but much of it left him scratching his head. Not literally -- his hair hadn't been washed in a few days, and was too greasy and sweaty for even him to touch. He had the feeling the books were meant for Muggles who had much more background than he did. Much of the technical language he simply didn't know, and couldn't reference while trapped here in bed. It frustrated and frightened him, because he didn't know what Ben Potter would do if he couldn't give an answer to his challenge in the morning.

He'd tried out the idea of visiting the Potter's library when Madam Pomfrey had been checking him over, and she had responded by taking all his books and locking them in a drawer. "It's ten past midnight," she'd said at his indignant hiss, "and your eyes are crossing."

"Lucius once made me stand on one leg all night. Every time I put my foot down, he or one of his minions would Cruciate me. I can manage a midnight study session." He felt a wisp of satisfaction as the expected horror and sympathy crossed Pomfrey's face. But she didn't back down; merely took out her book and sat in the chair next to his bed.

"What makes you think I want you here?" he hissed, even though he did want her here. Badly.

Madam Pomfrey looked at him, her face frozen. "Would you rather I leave?"

No, but he couldn't make the words he needed to say come out. So he said the words he really shouldn't. "I would rather you didn't act like every other free person I have known. I would rather you didn't use my helplessness against me."

"I'm not using it against you," she pointed out. "You need to rest."

"You're using the fact that I can't stop you to make me do what you want."

"Actually, I'm making you not do what you want. But I do see your point."

Snape noticed that she still wasn't moving. "Does that mean you are going to give the books back to me now?"

"No. I understand what you are saying, but I am also an adult tasked with making and keeping you well. You are mentally and physically exhausted; staying up all night will just make you sick and miserable. You can have the books back when you wake up. The faster you go to sleep, the faster you can get back to your reading."

Snape glared. Madam Pomfrey's firm look faltered a bit. "Would you rather I left you alone tonight?"

"Do you even care?" he snapped.

Madam Pomfrey's lips quirked up inexplicably. No, it was perfectly explicable. She was toying with him, enjoying his frustration and helplessness.

Except that didn't sound like Madam Pomfrey at all.

"I'm sorry," she said. She got out of the chair and sat on the edge of his bed. "I've just heard those words come out of so many angry, sullen, free adolescent mouths. You don't realize it, but you really have come a long way, Severus."

"What the bloody hell does that mean?"

"It means that I'm proud of you. And that you should watch your language. I can give detention, you know."

"I don't know what you want from me," Snape said, his voice dipping towards a whine.

"At this very moment, I want you to sleep and feel better."

"The two might be mutually exclusive."

"Four years of mediwitch training and ten years of medical practice argues that I know what I'm talking about. "She leaned in to him, lowering her voice. "I can stay or I can go, but you are going to sleep. You're arguing with me for the same reason you're reading those books -- because you're avoiding something you don't want to think about. You can do that just as well if you're asleep."

"What if I can't avoid it while I sleep?" Somewhere the snappy comment he was aiming for got lost, and was replaced by this question and a cracking voice.

"Then you can't avoid it at all." Her head fall against her chest for a moment, letting her brown hair fall over her shoulder. Snape realized it was the first time he had seen it down. "Tell you what. I'll read to you -- from my book, not yours. With any luck, poorly penned tales of riding on dragons', well, tails should bore you right to sleep, and you'll dream of rescuing maiden princesses from the clutches of evil dark lords."

"I'm not going to get a better offer, am I?"

"Your instincts for negotiation are well-honed."

Snape shook his head and lay back with a sigh. "No, they're not. People don't negotiate with a--with me. They order, threaten or just use force. You're the first person my 'instincts' have got to negotiate with."

"Then you're instincts are just good. Shall we start from the beginning or shall I just read from the part I'm at now?"

"Will I need to start from the beginning to know the plot of the story?"

"Not if you stay awake for the first two paragraphs."

"Then wherever you are is fine."

pre --- /pre

Snape was still staring blearily at the clock by his bed -- which could not possibly be reading 10:15 -- when James' father strolled into the room.

"How did you sleep?"

Snape rubbed his eyes. "Well, I think. I couldn't -- I'm sorry, I couldn't find the answer to your question."

Mr. Potter took a seat in Madam Pomfrey's empty chair. "Why not?"

"I don't know enough about Muggle science. Especially mole-ocular biology."

"Molecular, but close enough. Why do you think it's molecular biology you need to understand?"

"The Muggles have found things -- proteins was their word -- that can cause the sensation of pain without any real harm. The toxin must have been one of those. Proteins are molecules and related to the study of biology."

"Then you already know more than most wizards on the subject. Do you feel strong enough for a tour?"

"I thought -- you said I had to answer your question."

"It was your question, actually. I already know the answer, both to that question and, now, to the question I was really asking."

"Which was?"

"Whether or not you have half the potential your scores and school reports tell me you do. So, do you feel up for a tour?"

Snape gaped for a second, then nodded until the bedroom tilted around him. "Yes, sir."

pre --- /pre

The four of them were sitting together in a loose circle. Remus looked mildly sick. Sirius had a lost, befuddled look but James thought he could see a little bit of sympathy breaking through.

Peter just shrugged. "So Malfoy whipped him a little. It's what you do with slaves. Snape's probably the better for it."

"Peter!" Remus shouted, clearly appalled.

James didn't shout. The anger, horror and frustration that had been rising in him since he'd dragged Snape's naked, lacerated arse through the Floo that first time roiled over. James just leaned forward and slugged Peter on the jaw. He watched his friend's head snap back and his eyes go wide and round.

He had hardly any leverage behind the punch, which was good because under all the pudge, Peter's jaw was rather solid.

James shook out his aching hand while Peter stared at him, wide-eyed, and sputtered.

"Are you better for that?" James asked.

"I'm not a slave, you arse!"

Sirius got between them. "Calm down, mate. Wormy's got a point."

"No he hasn't," James growled.

"Slaves aren't like us." Sirius argued his voice surprisingly reasonable for someone who usually had the emotional stability of an adolescent lemur. "They're manipulative as hell -- they can make you do things..."

James threw up his hands. "Manipulative? Snape? He couldn't manipulate a Boggart into scaring him."

"It could be an act."

"Or potions," Peter added, hiding behind Sirius.

"Nobody acts that well." James looked down at the package on the floor. His last resort. "Snape isn't...if you saw..." He shook his head. "This isn't a game, or a house rivalry. You have to understand what this slavery thing really means."

"Well," said Peter, "enlighten us ignorant fools with your deep wells of hoarded knowledge."

James drew the gray, stone bowl out of the package. His father had left it empty in a cupboard, and James had nicked it in the hopes that it could help him sort out his own feelings about Snape. But now he saw another use for it.

Peter looked unimpressed. "A bowl? You're going to make us change our minds with kitchenware?"

"It's a Pensieve," Remus snapped. "It was in last week's reading."

Peter and Sirius exchanged guilty looks.

James rolled his eyes. "Go ahead, Professor Mooney."

"You may want to take notes," Remus suggested, pointedly. "A Pensieve is a magical bowl. When a wizard places his memories inside, he can look at them as if he were an observer, or let another wizard see what he saw."

"So what?" Peter asked. "You're going to show us Snape not being a git?"

James shook his head. He held up his wand to his temple and thought hard about Lucius's visit. He pulled on the memory, winding it like fresh silk around his wand.

"Ew," Peter exclaimed.

"James," said Sirius, concerned. "Um, are you sure that you're not pulling out anything you might actually, er, need?"

James deposited the memory in the bowl, watching it swirl lazily around. "It's fine. The spell's actually pretty simple."

"Which you would know if you'd done your reading," Remus pointed out.

With some hesitation, James pulled out the memory of the ownership ritual and the image of Snape's bloody, mangled back.

"There. Now look inside."

Never one to avoid doing something potentially dangerous or disgusting, Sirius leaned forward to stare into the bright, swirling strands. Remus hesitated, then followed suite. Peter gave a sigh. "If it will make you happy, Pads."

Last, James leaned forward on his hands and felt himself fall into the past.

He fell back on his arse a rather horrifying length of time later. It was different watching it from a third perspective. Without the overwhelming desperation and confusion to deal with, there was nothing to keep him from focusing on Snape's now obvious agony and terror. And his own equally obvious blindness to it.

James stood up, pacing. He felt relief when he saw the shocked horror on Sirius's now pale face, but he was more than a little disturbed to see Peter's cool and blank. And-- "Where's Moony?"

"The loo," Sirius said.

James nodded. He was almost ready to go there himself. But Remus, despite having torn himself to pieces on a monthly basis for years, still reacted rather unpleasantly to pain and terror. He said that the smell got to him.

Sirius pulled his knees up to his chest. He looked almost like Snape had when he'd found him in that alcove by the Great Hall.

"I feel like a prat."

"You should."


Sirius chewed on his lip. "You think that that sort of thing happens to all slaves?"

James shrugged. "You'd have to ask Snape. The laws are pretty barbaric, but I don't know if the Malfoys are the exception or the rule."

"This summer...why I left home..."

James perked up. "Yeah?"

"The Lancette side of our family came to visit. They brought a slave. She wasn't anything like Snape at all. She was very submissive, but...charming."

James nodded. "I think most slaves have specific functions, or skills. Snape's is potions."

"And this bird's was sex. And she was at least as good at that as Snape is with potions," Sirius said grimly. "The next night, I caught her with Regulus."

James grimaced. Regulus was thirteen. In families which hung tightly to traditions, the sons were required to remain "pure" until the age of fifteen, when spells to do with lineage could be woven. Even Sirius had managed to keep it in his pants that long.

"What did you do?"

"I hauled him out of bed. He gave me a black eye before he finally settled down. He told me after that he couldn't help himself -- she'd spelled him, seduced him or something."

James shook his head. "Do you remember being thirteen? You certainly didn't need much seducing -- two legs and two tits was good enough for you."

"But I never crossed the line."

"That's because no one would have you."

Sirius shrugged, dismissing that particular truth as irrelevant. "What happened with the bird was bad, but Dad caught me yelling at Reg. He found out."

Sirius pulled one hand through his long hair. "He was angry. Really angry. But the said there was a way to fix it. He took us out that night. One of the ingredients he needed was...from a werewolf."

His eyes flickered to Remus, who had sat down close to James. "There was one that lived in the east end. When I realized what they were doing I tried to stop them, but Dad...he knocked me out."

Sirius took a breath. Peter scooted over and sat down next to Remus. "Anyway, when I woke up, it was too late. They'd -- they'd killed him and taken what they needed. I knew I should have gone to the Aurors, but it was too late and they are family." He paused, looking at Remus. "I'm so sorry."

Remus looked a little stunned as well as green. "You shouldn't -- don't have to apologize to me."

"Yeah, well, the one I should apologize to is currently fertilizing Mum's gardenias."

"Is that why you came and stayed with me?" James asked.

"Yeah. I couldn't turn them in, but I couldn't stay there any longer."

"It wasn't your fault," soothed Peter. And then he ruined it. "It never would have happened if that slave --"

James launched across Remus, who bodily blocked his attempt to throttle Peter.

Sirius, however, was nodding. James managed to put two and two together. "Is that why you've been extra prat-like to Snape?"

Sirius crossed his arms across his chest. "And you haven't?"

"I didn't threaten to torture him."

"But you didn't save his arse from Rosier, either. I don't want him hurt, but I trust him more terrified than I do happy and plotting and scheming."

"Well, lay off him in the future. He's quite worried enough without you shoving him around."

Sirius rolled his eyes. "Fine. But I've never hurt him. Actions speak louder than words."

"Bollocks," said Moony. "Words are actions."

pre --- /pre

Ben Potter's lab was set deep in the hillside a good fifty yards from the house. All that was visible from the outside was a single door and a series of skylights poking up from the grassy earth.

Just inside the door was a small chamber. Three thick, canvas robes hung on pegs. Two of them were white, one of them was a patchwork of colorful stains and singe marks. Ben Potter donned that one and handed a white one to Snape. "It helps keep contaminants out of the lab, and stains off the hypothetical lab assistants," he explained.

Inside, the lab was twice the size of the Potter's house. Half of it was simply supplies and ingredients, the other half a series of L-shaped work tables and benches. The light streaming in from the skylight gave it a slightly disturbing cheeriness.

Ben Potter took him inside and let him rummage through one of the work areas. Potter's lab, unlike his prose, was meticulously organized.

One corner of the lab was clearly in use -- a line of filthy cauldrons and labeled jars, each containing sludge in various shades of purple,dotted one table. Papers and scrolls were scattered about a nearby bench. Potter saw him glancing in that direction, but said, "That's for another bribe. Today you just get the tour." And steered him to the opposite corner.

Ben Potter let him rummage about the ingredients and supply shelves a bit, occasionally explaining small quirks of ingredients. Snape asked a few questions of his own, mostly trying to show off how closely he had followed the potion research. He didn't understand anything else about his current situation, but he knew this. In a lab, he had every right to be arrogant and self-assured.

Which led him to forget that he was no longer the smartest person in the room. "Why keep South American cockroach legs?" he asked after finding them in the stores. "Henley's research proves that Hawaiian cockroaches are much more potent."

As soon as his mind caught up to his words, he felt like he had swallowed a handful of cockroach legs. Not only had he just insulted the supplies of his owner's father, but he also probably sounded like a complete fool.

Mr. Potter, for his part, seemed relatively pleased by the question. "Good question. The answer is that Hawaiian cockroaches cost four times American roaches and the potency fades within a few weeks. There are some potions—such as healing potions—where the cost would be prohibitive to some who might need it. The short life also makes large-scale production a problem, and because most British wizards prefer to buy their potions from ready-made stock. Either way, it's not marketable, and if it's not marketable it's not going to the people who need it."

Snape drummed his fingers on a shelf. "I'd never thought about the production aspect before. It wasn't—my former masters never intended me to market the potions I made."

Mr. Potter gave him an unreadable look. "I can imagine."

Before Snape could ask what he imagined, Mr. Potter pulled a text from one of the bookcases in a warded reference area and laid it open on the table Snape was leaning against. Snape wasn't sure what he was planning until he pulled out his pocket watch.

"Have you ever made that potion before?" he asked.

Snape looked at the page and shook his head. "No, sir."

"The book suggests a preparation and brewing time of fifty-five minutes. I'll give you an hour."

Snape felt his forehead crease. "This potion is more advanced than the sixth year curriculum..."

"You're past the sixth year curriculum by all accounts. Now, I suggest you start're thirty seconds down."

Snape moved. He scanned the directions and began to plan. The first part was relatively simple. He moved swiftly in the preparations, ignoring his protesting body. At a few points, Ben Potter silently nudged him out of the way and took over the mashing and grinding tasks which would have been exceptionally painful for the muscles in his back and his sore wrists.

But he said nothing as Snape stared blankly at step ten on the page:

Add crushed gnomewart or crushed hops, according to condition of bay shavings.

Snape scanned through twice, but couldn't find anything to indicate what ingredients corresponded to which condition. There was no table in the book, and Snape didn't have time to read it cover to cover, hoping for an answer. He tried to think about the properties of each ingredient, but nothing connected. He knew hops were used primarily to stabilize and adjust, and that the brittle, dry bay leaves were inherently unstable.

Taking a breath, he added the hops. He glanced at Ben Potter, but the man seemed mostly focused on trying to balance his stool on two legs.

The potion simmered, then flashed green. Snape tensed, hoping that it was supposed to do that.

A moment later, ripples shuddered across the surface of the potion, and a low rumbling could be heard from the bottom of the cauldron.

Snape was relatively certain it was not supposed to do that.

Mr. Potter had gotten off his stool, but showed no intention of helping. Snape searched his face for disappointment or anger, but it was carefully blank. Snape felt like he'd swallowed a stone.

He'd gotten it wrong. He could either Evenesco the potion now, or try to save it. Deciding he didn't have much to lose, he crushed some ginger to neutralize the crushed hops -- hoping that it wouldn't interact with some other ingredients and splatter them all with toxic slime. And held his breath.

The potion gurgled, an oddly petulant sound, as if it were hoping for the chance to splatter itself across the pristine lab. Snape took a breath, crossed his fingers, and finished the rest of the potion. He carefully avoided looking at Mr. Potter.

He turned the fire underneath the cauldron off, and planted his shaking hands on the counter. He leaned his weight on his arms and hung his head; a few drops of sweat splattered the black marble. He was shaking all over, but the fear and excitement had drowned out the pain in his body. He felt oddly exhilarated. His sore muscles would make him pay for it tonight, even if Mr. Potter decided he wasn't worth punishing.

Ben Potter was decanting the potion for him, probably guessing that Snape's hands wouldn't be steady enough to avoid scalding himself. Hoping that was a good sign, Snape chewed his lip as Potter examined the contents of the glass vial.

"Not bad. A few shades off, but it's serviceable."

Snape ground his knuckles into the marble countertop. He knew he didn't have the right to ask, but he needed to know. He didn't think he could handle much more pain this weekend. "What are you going to do?"

"With the potion? Give it away, probably. It's not good enough to sell, and it doesn't keep long enough to store."

Snape shook his head. "No, with me."

"Feed you and send you back to school, I suppose." Mr. Potter's voice gentled. "What did you expect?"

"I -- I ballsed up your potion. I expected punishment."

"You nearly wrecked your potion -- and my lab, incidentally -- but if that isn't punishment enough in itself, you have no business aspiring to research or invention. Fear of pain isn't half the motivation that an innate need for perfection is."

Snape thought Mr. Potter was severely underestimating the power of pain as motivation, but he certainly wasn't going to argue.

Mr. Potter ruffled his gray hair, the gesture oddly similar to his son's. "You do have quite a bit to learn, though. So on that note, what do you think you did wrong?"

"I added hops instead of Gnomewart. I thought it would stabilize the bay leaves."

"They would have, but dry bay leaves don't interact well with crushed hops when you add bicorn fur. But that was the last mistake you made. What was the first?"

Snape went cold. "The first?" He thought the rest of the potion had been perfect. Was he so rattled that he was making mistakes and not noticing?"

"I assume you didn't know that bicorn fur reacts that way?"

Snape shook his head.

"Then you started brewing without fully understanding the potion. You should have asked for help or researched it yourself."

"You said -- " Snape bit his tongue, knowing perfectly well that arguing with the man who was functionally his master was stupid. But the words were out and Mr. Potter gestured impatiently for him to continue. "You said that I only had an hour. I didn't have time."

"Then you should have said that. There might be a time when you must make a new potion under a difficult time limit, but this wasn't one of them. By trying to wing it, you put both of us at risk."

Snape pouted internally. "You gave me an order."

"It was a bad order. From now on, I expect you to practice spotting and disregarding those. Don't be afraid to stand your ground. Just make sure you have a good reason."

Snape was baffled. "I'm a slave."

"But you're not a moron. You've got good sense and good instincts. Use them."

Snape closed his eyes and wiped his forehead. Closing his eyes made him dizzy and he wobbled a bit before Mr. Potter placed a wooden stool under his bum and suggested that he use it before he passed out.

Snape decided that was a sensible order. Which was surprising, because most of what Mr. Potter was saying made no sense at all.

He decided to try and clarify the new rules. "Will I be punished if I don't have a good reason?"

Mr. Potter leaned against the counter. Snape was glad; it felt somewhat threatening when Mr. Potter loomed over him. Leaning against the counter put him off balance, and therefore made him safer. "You aren't going to be punished at all. Not with violence, not if we can stop it."

"But if I'm wrong -- "

"Then you're wrong. You apologize and try to fix whatever damage you might have done. If you were free, you'd be an adult in two years. You're old enough to take responsibility for your mistakes, and your decisions."

"I'm not free."

Mr. Potter studied him for a moment, his weathered face looking a little sad. "No, but that's more or less a technicality now. Nobody in this family will treat you like a slave."

Snape thought about the marks on his back, and the moments of absolute terror that attacked from nowhere, and lying awake listening to his master's breathing and wondering if this was when Potter finally decided to claim what was his.

The rage was so sharp and sudden that Snape didn't even think about holding it back. "A technicality? You think being stripped naked and tortured for someone's sick vengeance is a technicality? You think waiting to be raped for weeks is just a minor distinction? Or being treated like a house elf by one of the only teachers you really admire? You think being traded for a piece of jewelry is just -- just -- "

"Caligulus's father gave me that ring to symbolize the life debt he owed. With it, I traded his life for yours. I consider it an even trade."

Snape wanted to throw something. "You're an idiot. You traded a life debt for an animated piece of meat. You can call me whatever you want, but I'll never be more than that."

"An animated piece of meat wouldn't have used ginger to neutralize the hops."

"Fine. An educated piece of meat. Perhaps even an unusually bright one."

"Not to mention articulate and stubborn."

"I'm not a person. I never will be."

Mr. Potter was turning red, and though his voice was deliberately calm, his jaw muscles were standing out. Every slave instinct Snape had was screaming for him to get to his knees and apologize. He ignored it.

"You are a person, whether the law -- "

"I let men fuck me. I let boys torture me. I've let them do it and begged for more because I'm a slave. A person would never survive what I have."

Mr. Potter gave him a weak, half-smile. "Do you really think so?"

Snape froze. "What?"

Mr. Potter's opened his mouth, then closed it as the emotion melted from his face. He shook his head slightly. "Maybe another time," he said quietly. Snape couldn't tell if he was talking to him or to a figment of his imagination. Perhaps it was both – the person Mr. Potter seemed to see in Snape was probably a figment of the older man's addled mind.

Without another word, without looking at him, Mr. Potter sealed the vial of potion and began scrubbing the still-steaming cauldron.

Snape silently found a cloth and began wiping down the cold, black marble.

pre --- /pre

James had spent most of the weekend avoiding his friends while trying to find a way to make said friends understand why he was going out of his way for Snape when he didn't quite understand it himself.

But he did know that he couldn't go on like this. He had watched someone he knew writhe naked and in agony twice in the last few weeks, and he could feel that it had changed something in the way he felt about Snape. It changed the way he thought about the threats they had made and the pranks they had pulled. Or maybe it had just made him think about those things in the first place.

Whichever it was, he could feel it driving like a wedge between him and his friends. He couldn't go back to the way he was before, which meant that they had to move forward to where he was now.

It was Sunday afternoon, and how he was going to do that was still a mystery.

James was still thinking about it on his way to lunch, when he felt a small but sharp-boned, Lily-shaped object drive into his shoulder. He found himself pinned up against the wall behind an armored suit in an alcove, Lily's fists bunched in his robe.

While James had at least one fantasy that started out quite a lot like this, except with less clothing, the look on Lily's face suggested that belly dancing was the last thing on her mind. So, no fantasy.

"What are you doing to Snape?" she hissed. "I heard from Tritter that you took him home to torture him!"

"I didn't!" James protested. Then he reconsidered, "Well, I did. Sort of."

Lily's green eyes narrowed. "Well, which is it?"

"Neither. But if you're so concerned about Snape, maybe you should try dating him."

"I'm certainly not going to be dating you anymore if you don't give me a real answer."

"I didn't hurt him. But Lucius got an order from the Ministry to punish him for realigning Malfoy's nose. We can't heal him yet, but my parents are taking care of him."

Lily lowered her wand but didn't back off. James didn't mind the wand lowering, but having her so close was making his own wand want to stand straight up.

"That's barbaric."

"What?" With the suddenness of a broom wreck, the image of Snape straining in agony, black lines branching out across his skin, flashed in his eyes. James felt his whole body flinch (and his little wand deflate, rather quickly).

Lily eyed him with concern. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah." James shook his head, shoving the memory out of the way. He felt little chills rippling up and down his back. "It's just -- Lucius is way past barbaric."

Lily nodded knowingly, though she couldn't possibly know what he was really talking about. "I'm sorry about..." Lily trailed off, gesturing with her wand.

James forced a cock-eyed grin. "Shoving me into an alcove at wand point? Don't worry about it." The grin became real. "In fact, now that we're dating, you can do it as often as you like."

"Who said that we're dating?"

"You did. You said that you wouldn't be dating me anymore if I wasn't straight with you. I was, therefore we are dating."

Lily finally gave an exasperated sigh, though the corners of her mouth were twitching up "Fine. We're dating. Do you want a prize?"

James grinned wider. "Nope. I've already got the one I want."

pre --- /pre

Snape ducked under the board hanging from the top of the abandoned shed's doorway. He scanned the shadows, trying to avoid going in any further. He wasn't sure that the dark, weather-beaten shed would stand up a strong breeze, and he'd had enough of the world falling on his head lately.

"Mr. Potter?"

"Ben, please." The voice came from a shadowy corner.

Snape sighed and picked his way over the debris scattered across the floor. Really, the Malfoy's would have Incendio'd any structure in such disrepair on their property.

Ben Potter was sitting on a crate, hands dangling between his knees and a sealed bottle of Firewhiskey between his feet. Snape hadn't seen him since their last, tense conversation in the lab the day before. There were new, gray bags hanging under Mr. Potter's eyes this morning. Or maybe that was just the shadows playing through the cracks in the walls.

"How's your back, son?"

"Er, it's fine, sir. Mrs. Potter told me to ask you if the greenery fortifying solution was ready yet?"

Mr. Potter smiled and shook his head. "She knows damn well that it won't be for another month yet. She was telling you to check up on me."

"Oh." Did this mean he was in trouble? Ben Potter didn't sound angry.

"She'd kill me if she knew I still had this." He gestured to the bottle at his feet. "So I'd appreciate it if you didn't mention it."

"Of course."

Snape wasn't sure what to say. He was beginning to wish the shed would fall down on his head; at least it would relieve the awkwardness.

"My brothers were the ones who rescued me after I was captured. Eventually. But you can take a man out of hell; you can't take the hell out of the man, eh?"

This was something Snape could relate to. "No."

"The memories are still perfectly clear. Several years' worth; it's like looking through a glass window into the past. I can still see everything."

Snape struggled speak through the constriction in his throat. "I can't. Lucius kept me in the dungeon for three months, but I can only remember a handful of moments. Everything else is just...a blur."

Ben nodded. "Some of us were like that. Some spent years in those cells, but could barely remember any of it. Some were glad, and some hated that things had been done to them that they couldn't remember."

Snape felt some of his long-harbored fears melt a little. "They didn't go mad?"

"No. Most handled it better than I did. Some gave up on themselves and ended their own pain, one way or another. It was Evelyn that saved me." He craned his neck up at Snape. "Why don't you have a seat?"

Snape sat down on a small stack of wood (after checking for nails). It felt more appropriate to be looking up at Mr. Potter. "Did...did you ever have moments where it felt like you were going to die? You couldn't breath, couldn't move..."

"No, not personally. Of course, there's a pretty good gap of time after I was rescued that I don't remember." He gestured to the bottle between his feet. "But some others who went through it did have those attacks. They never quite went away, but they accepted it. There are things that never heal, but it doesn't mean you're going mad."

"I suppose it depends on how you define madness."

Mr. Potter gave another brief smile. "So it would. But, Severus, you're not losing your mind."

"How can you be sure?"

"You spent fifteen years in a situation that would have broken most people. Your reactions aren't insane; they're normal. Normal for a person, not a slave"

"From someone who's been there."

"Yes. From someone who's been there."

Snape stared at the dark amber bottle. "Is that why you bought me?"

"No." He paused, futilely trying to smooth down his graying hair. "Maybe. It was the right thing to do. And I was very proud of James for being the one to realize that."

Snape couldn't think of anything to say to that.

Mr. Potter stood up, stretching and dusting off his robes. He picked up the still-sealed bottle and placed it in the rafters.

"Come on, lad. I'll show you how to make Evelyn's favorite plant food. It works wonders when you need her to forgive you for something."

pre --- /pre

Sunday night, Madam Pomfrey was back with an armful of analgesics and healing creams. When exactly forty eight hours had passed since Lucius had finished with him, Snape permitted her to smear them all on. Most of them weren't necessary -- he really wasn't in that much pain by that point -- but it seemed to make her feel better.

Mrs. Potter gave him the choice of going back to the school with Madam Pomfrey that night or staying with them and getting up early.

It was an easy choice. Snape thought that he could learn to like living with the Potters, but the quiet peace he found in their home threw him off balance. He wanted to get back to familiar grounds.

So he tumbled through the Floo after Madam Pomfrey, glad that dinner had been several hours before. He really could not wait to get his apparition license.

He climbed the stairs to the boy's dorm slowly. Even though he had asked to come back, he wasn't looking forward to another awkward, tense night as he sat around listening to the four friends be...friends. Loudly.

So he was relieved as well as shocked when he opened the door to find the room empty. He scanned the room, both visually and magically, to make sure that nobody was lying itwait for him. It wasn't until he leaned out of the tower window and saw the bright, full moon lighting up the sky that he realized where at least Lupin must be. Perhaps they had found some way to wreak mayhem with their canid friend.

In any case, it looked like he would have the room to himself tonight. That was a pleasant surprise. Although he hoped Potter knew what he was doing; he didn't know what would happen to him if his current master got himself eaten by a werewolf. And he didn't fancy being owned by a newly minted werewolf either.

He sat on the bed. He really should get started on his schoolwork. He hadn't gotany of it done while he was at the Potters. He'd been torn between taking advantage of Mr. Potter's library and laboratory and catching up on his work, when Mr. Potter had suggested that it might look slightly suspicious if he finished his homework while he was supposed to be writhing in agony.

Not that he hadn't managed it before.

He tried to remember where his books were. But there was very little of last week that he could recall, and the location of his study materials certainly wasn'tone of them. However, since being given a bed of his own, he had discovered the effects of what most adolescent wizards would assume was dark, magical pull that caused items of sufficient size and importance to be sucked into and eventually consumed bythe space beneath the bed. Snape, having experience with dark magic, rather suspected doxies.

Rather than get off the bed to look underneath, he leaned his head over the side, keeping one hand on the floor to brace himself. He used the other to probe the depths beneath his bed. The tip of his middle finger caught on the worn leather surface of a book, so he slid his body down, until he was half on the bed and half upside down hanging off of it. He caught the book in his hand and dragged it out. He started to push himself back upright, but when he lifted his head up his eyes caught on a shallow stone bowl hidden beneath Potter's bed. The sides were decorated with strange, faintly glowing symbols.

Completely forgetting whatever book it was he'd rescued from oblivion, he slid his lower half onto the floor and dragged the bowl out from under Potter's bed. Graywisps of memories chased each other in circles.

His master's thoughts and memories. The uncharitable part of his brain suggested that they might have been more comfortably stored in an appropriately enchanted teacup. The practical part of his brain wondered why Potter would feel the need to use a Pensieve in the first place. It couldn't be that he felt the need to think and reflect on past events; he didn't know Potter well, but there was no way he was that introspective.

Then he must have shared these memories with his friends. They must be fairly recent, and the only thing of note that had happened in the recent past was Snape. And the only thing that the quartet hadn't seen with their own eyes was his sale, and his recent punishment.

Was that what Potter was doing? Sharing his pain and humiliation with his friends for a laugh? A week ago he would have been certain that was the case, but the last few days had...blurred his view of Potter.

He wasn't sure, but he needed to know. He settled into a comfortable position in front of the bowl, and briefly considered the possibility that the memories had nothing to do with him. Perhaps they were of Lily, perhaps the boys were sharing memories of their sexual encounters in some sort of pornographic adolescent bonding experience.

In that case, he was in for a very unpleasant few minutes (he didn't expect that the cumulative length of their sexual encounters would last much longer than that). With that on his mind, he dipped his wand into the swirling memories, and fell into his own past.

He was dragged back out by the back of his robes, gagging and retching. The images of his own flesh stripped away in wide, gleaming red lines, the twitching muscle underneath and his own humiliating moans burned on his tongue.

He curled, clawing at his face as if he could rip the images out of his brain. He remembered very little of that day, other than the soul-crushing pain and terror. But to see what had been done to his body, how it had been mutilated, was a whole new horror.

"Snape," an angry voice cut through the fog. "Snape, fucking calm down!"

Snape opened his eyes to see Potter staring down at him. It was time, then. Potter had been sharing Snape's semi-private agony with his friends for their amusement. All of it was an elaborate game.

He wasn't prepared for the hatred and violence that rose up from his belly to his throat. Without thinking, he reached up with one hand to clutch Potter's robe, and swung the other fist up at his master's jaw as hard as he could.

His knuckles collided with what felt like a stone wall. He felt a bone in his hand pop, but in his anger he barely registered the pain. He did register the look of surprise on Potter's face as he stared at the fist frozen in midair. He dropped his hand, and felt the wall the geas had thrown up dissolve.

Potter slowly let him go and got to his feet. Snape knew that if he stood up he would probably just be knocked down again, but he ignored the logic voice and forced himself upright. He'd committed the worst sin he could, so there was no reason to hold back now. "You are a despicable liar," he hissed.

Potter looked stunned, then turned red. "What the hell are you talking about? And you might want to explain what you're doing poking around in my memories."

"They aren't your memories. They're of me, what I look like beaten and -- I hope all your friends got a bloody fine chuckle out of it."

"You've got nerve, pointing fingers at me when you're the one who poked his wand into my Pensieve -- and there's no way you could have known what was in there."

"As if you hadn't shown it to all your friends already. What's next, stake me out naked in the common room so everyone can understand exactly what I am? Make me perform favors in the Great Hall?"

"Oh, would you just get a grip!" Potter crossed his arms and stomped his foot. "Yes, life with Lucius was probably awful. I'm sorry. But you're here and you've met my parents and I never thought that you were all that brilliant anyway, but even you should be able to understand that nothing is going to happen to you."

Snape stared at him. "Just like nothing happened this weekend?"

Potter retreated slightly. "That wasn't my fault." He rallied. "Besides, it was you who stuck your fist in Malfoy's face. Not that I blame you or anything."

"You have no idea."

"Of what it's like to want to knock Malfoy down a peg or twelve?"

"Of anything."

"Then why don't you give me a bloody idea?"

"Why? So you can have something else to share with your friends?"

"That's why I bloody showed my friends. So that they would have an idea of what it's like to have someone you're -- someone hurt like that. So that maybe they would quit treating you"

"That's --" Snape paused as the words penetrated his brain. "You're --" He paused again, trying to accept this new possibility, and the fact that it was James who had presented it to him. "Did it work?"

"More or less. Well, more less."

Snape was quiet, but he sat down on the edge of Potter's trunk. Potter mirrored him, sitting cross-legged on Snape's bed. Snape stared at the wall he had woken up against two weeks ago, terrified by the sound of his new master's feet on the carpet.

"Do you know where I was last month?"

Potter froze, a brief expression of panic crossing his face. "You're going to tell me just to prove some kind of point, aren't you?"

"I was in the Malfoys' dungeon. Ten years ago it was a cellar, but Lucius read a book about dungeons and decided he needed to have one. The house elves did wonders. There was dripping water, squealing rodents, and of course a cobblestone floor that never got warm or clean or tolerable to lie on."

Potter's face had become very still.

"The worst part isn't so much the pain. It's time. It's knowing that you are going to suffer until your body finally consumes itself. It's hoping for and dreading footsteps down the corridor, because even though he's going to torture you, there's also a chance he might feed you. It's begging to suck off the person you hate for a rotten apple, and offering to let him pull your own teeth for the privilege."

Potter's mouth had opened. His face had gone pale, and Snape felt a thrill of power. He couldn't hit Potter, but he could hurt him with words. Snape had always been better with his tongue than his fists anyway. "It's knowing that someone else owns you, owns every part of you. Even your mind. Even your memories." Snape paused, giving time for Potter to absorb. "Today's the first time you've acted like a real master."

Potter winced. He stared at his hands in silence -- a remarkable feat as far as Snape could tell. Finally, he muttered under his breath, "I'm sorry, Snape."

Snape felt his own mouth drop open. "What?"

"I'm sorry, okay? I shouldn't have shown them without asking you. I won't fucking-well do it again, okay?"

He was apologizing? To a slave? Even among free boys, Snape knew that you never showed weakness, never admitted fault. Snape felt something change, like one last hole being plugged in an old dam, so that it was no longer leaking fear into his chest. He had known since this weekend that James wouldn't hurt him, but for the first time he really started to believe it.

"Snape? Hey, when someone apologizes, you either accept it...or not."

"In Slytherin, the offended party usually gets to pick a forfeit."

Potter rolled his eyes. "Well, this is Gryffindor."

Snape stared.

Potter stared back, then threw up his hands. "Fine, name your price. You really want me to bribe you for your forgiveness?"

Snape shook his head. "You really have no idea how this slave thing works, do you?"

"Hardly. I did some reading in the library...but I didn't like the rules or conventions or...anything, much."

"So, as usual, you'll just ignore them and create your own?"

"No." James stood up and stretched his hand out into the tenuous ceasefire ground between them. "I'll just ignore them and you can create your own. I'll bet you like making up rules as much as I like breaking them."

Snape hesitated, staring at the offered hand. He'd seen the gesture done thousands of times, even had it done to him by people who didn't know his status. "What if I make a rule you don't like?"

"I'll ignore it."

"Of course you will." Snape finally stretched out his own arm and touched palms briefly with Potter. The handshake was...efficient, but Snape could appreciate the symbolism of the gesture. "Now, about that bribe..."

The End.

Author's Notes 7/7/07:

For more information about sequels, check my website (it's listed on my profile).

I would have given up on this story long ago without my beta whitehound encouraging (and nagging) me. And what little I would have written without her would have been much more confusing and riddled with (more) spelling errors, grammar problems and Americanisms. She helped me clarify where and why I was going with this story, and the perspectives of the characters in it.

This story has also undergone a fairly serious overhaul thanks to lapillis. She served as an editor for the mistakes and problems that slipped past me and Whitehound. She clearly took considerable time and effort to improve this story and I think it paid off.

Both are excellent authors in their own right. Whitehound can be found here, on ff-net, and lapillus is on livejournal.