Disclaimer: Still not my character, but it is my work. --- Post HBP, but no true spoilers.


Kindness

He's an awful man.

I can tell these things, you know. I suppose it's a bit intuition, a bit experience. Some of the younger girls will shy away from the truly terrible ones, knowing somehow that they are in danger. It's a good practice if they want to survive long enough to be able to also rely on experience to tell the true danger.

He's not truly terrible. Not really. But I wouldn't wish him on a younger girl. He's perfect for me, though.

He's tall, dark, but not handsome. In that we are a match. His hair is greasy, his skin sallow. I'm merely pale. Our fingers are long, slender, his with the scars of acids that have splashed on them. I think he's a potions brewer. My hands have the marks of kitchen accidents and knife fights. Quite a pair we make.

I see him rarely. When I do, he comes down my alley, peruses the girls with a cool gaze. His black robes swirl and billow around him, even when it seems all else is still, and this terrifies others. Eventually his black eyes rest on me, and a cruel smile turns the corners of his lips up. He points to me with one of those long fingers, pale in the lamplight. "You. I'll take you."

Other girls would demand some assurance of coin immediately, but this is an old habit now. I silently follow him, and he does not turn to make sure I'm following. He knows I will.

He used to take me in the alley, press a few coins into my hands and leave without a word. I think I might prefer that, but we have come too far for that now. In recent years I follow him to a small house, dark and unassuming. He pauses at the threshold, mutters a few words and the door swings open soundlessly. He enters and holds the door, but not out of a desire to be chivalrous; he merely wants to make sure the door shuts securely behind me. I don't begrudge him that.

The lamps flare alive when he enters, showing bookshelves lining the walls and crammed with books. There is a faint smell of disuse to the house, but that, too, is normal. I meet his eyes, and he holds my stare for a moment, then looks away. He clears his throat, opens his mouth, and a snarl is emitted. "You look thin."

I want to laugh at the incongruity present in his words and face. My laughter will only serve to sour his mood further, and I do not want that. I smirk at him, instead. "So do you."

It's true, though. In the past he looked thin, slender. More recently he started looking more and more strung out. Now he looks haggard, dark circles under his eyes making inroads into the sallow skin.

He snorts at me, shakes his head. Black hair falls forward, shrouding his face with a greasy veil. "I suppose that's an accurate description." He gestures the way towards the bedchamber, and I follow his lead. No more talking now.

The bedchamber also shows signs of disuse, dust coats the side tables, and the sheets look like they've not been changed since the last time we were here together. This does not surprise me; I know his work takes him elsewhere, that he rarely comes home. Still, a part of me wishes that this house was better kept.

He comes in behind me, notices that I've stopped. He looks around, sees the sheets in their disarray. He mutters as he waves his wand, and the sheets suddenly snap taut. A sharp scent of lavender fills the air and wafts through the room. It is done with no fanfare or flourishes, and I realize once again that he did not do it to seek my approval, but rather, I suspect, for his own comfort.

Tonelessly, he says, "You may disrobe now. When you are finished, lie on the bed."

I look to him, but he has turned his back to me, busying himself with arranging a set of phials on the dresser. I strip off my outer robe, the skirt and the blouse. Stockings and underwear quickly join their fellows on the floor. I briefly think of simply leaving them in a pile, then think better of it. I stoop down to pick up my clothes, folding them neatly, setting the pile on a chair near the bed. I sit, hear the springs creak underneath me. Closing my eyes, I lie back, and do not open my eyes again until I feel the mattress move with his added weight.

When I look up, he is over me. I am slightly dismayed that he is still dressed, although his body is nothing to be proud of, thin and bony as it is. I frown though, as there is something not right, and I suddenly realize that he has disrobed. The white cloth covering his chest are bandages, and blood is seeping through, making thin red tracks across the gauze.

"You're injured," I say to him, and try to sit up, but he pushes me down again.

He grimaces. "It's of no importance."

With that, he places a slender hand over my mouth, preventing me from speaking any more. Despite one hand being occupied with covering my face, he straddles me with practiced ease. Before I know it, he has entered me, and in a few sharp thrusts and he is done, has spent himself inside of me. There is no tenderness in this, and I do not expect it.

Afterwards, I lay still on the bed and he sits on the edge, holding a hand to his bandaged chest. A small pile of coins lays ready on the table for when I leave. He has not yet asked me to leave, though, and I find myself unwilling to go.

I try to lever myself up without disturbing the bed too much, and put a tentative hand on his shoulder. He flinches away from me, shoots a deadly glare over his shoulder to me. I try again, but this time let my fingers hover over his shoulder for a moment.

"May I?" I ask.

Our eyes meet for a brief moment, and I get the feeling that he is testing me, evaluating me. But then the moment is over, and he nods curtly. He faces straight ahead, mouth pressed into a firm line, eyes giving nothing away, focused on a point that I think is a long way from this bedroom in Spinner's End.

I place my hand on his shoulder again, this time more firmly, and move off the bed to kneel in front of him. I am very aware of our mutual nudity, and for some reason it seems profane. The irony amuses me, but I do not allow myself to smile. Mirroring his blank expression, I face his chest and examine the blood seeping through the stark white gauze. I run my hands over his chest and ribs, feeling them. A sharply indrawn breath is the only evidence I have that the man I'm examining is, in fact, still alive.

My bony, scarred fingers pluck at the inexpertly wrapped bandages, and I undo them, trying not to touch his flesh directly. After an interminable number of winds, the ends of the bandages are revealed, stuck to the sluggishly bleeding slashes in his chest, half healed. I stare at them, trying to make sense of what could have caused the wounds.

"If you bring a basin of water, I'll warm it."

I look up, startled by his voice. He's looking down at me, gaze unreadable, but not unkind. I nod, go to the kitchen and fill a bowl, grab a clean looking rag. As I pad through the house, it is evident to me that my presence is that of a trespasser. It is an uncomfortable realization, but not one that surprises me. I resolve to leave as soon as this is done.

I return to the bedroom. He has not moved, but he now sits with a wand in hand. I set the bowl on the floor, and he points his wand at it, mutters a word that I can't identify. Obediently, steam starts rising from the liquid. I dip the rag into it, then wring it out. I start wiping at the blood, easing the bandages from where they had dried and stuck to the marks. Claws, I think. Claw marks.

He hisses as I pull away the last of the brown-red gauze, the only sound he has made since offering to warm some water. "Apologies," I murmur, but I don't think he hears me. I wash the rest of the blood away, and when I am done, the water is thoroughly red. I sit back on my heels, examining my handiwork. He does the same, then points his wand at his chest, growling. The wounds start to close themselves, the flesh knitting together, forming ugly scars.

We sit together silently, he still perched on the edge of the bed, I on the floor, for some time afterward.

"I won't be coming back here for awhile," he finally says, and I think I catch a note of regret in his voice.

I nod, not knowing what is expected of me. This is new ground, different than our usual exchanges.

"If I leave you coin to look after the house, will you?" His eyes meet mine, and I think for a long moment how much alike we are, and yet how utterly dissimilar. I can't say no to this offer, though, despite a deep throb of intuition to do just that.

"I can," is all I say. I'm afraid to say more.

He nods, then stands from his seat, swaying on his feet. I stand to steady him, but he shrugs out of my grasp. He turns from me to dress, and I catch sight of the Dark Mark on his arm. I've known it was there, known about it since our first meeting those many years ago. It meant nothing to me then, so long as his coin was good, but now it takes on new significance. Death Eater, evil.

When he is ready to leave, he stands at the door to the house and I stand by to see him off. I am clothed only in a silk dressing gown of his, green with silver piping. He is wrapped in a cloak and wand in hand. We are a mockery of domesticity, and I don't think the irony escapes either of us.

"I'll be gone a long time," he says, repeating himself. I nod silently, and watch him as he squares his shoulders and leaves. I stand in the doorway, staring out after him, his ground devouring strides taking him rapidly into the night.

When the Aurors come several weeks later, they ask after a man named Severus Snape. A thrill of elation fills me, as now I have a name for the dark, ugly wizard who by turns terrified me and gave me kindness. I shrug my shoulders mutely at their inquiries. I can tell them honestly that I had never heard of him before, and they do not ask further.

They leave, and I content myself with the books that still smell of him. I wonder if I will see him again, and it occurs to me that it doesn't matter.


A/N: Odd little story, isn't it? This is something to keep me busy while I decide how new HBP canon will or will not be incorporated into 'Ashen and Sober Skies.'