A/N: Written for Katie :)

Flesh, Blood & Ink

He didn't know how they'd done it, or quite why yet, but he didn't care. All he knew was that they had done it, and that was what mattered.

His black eyes flicked over the crowd of gawking students and, for a split second, he wished he had a hex to take them all out at once; his fellow Slytherins included. Instead, he licked his cracked lips, tightened his grip on his wand, and focused solely on the two Gryffindors directly in front of him.

"Give that to me now, Black!" The command passed his lips as nothing more than a venomous hiss, but he was certain that everyone within the crowd had heard it.

"Or what, Snivellus?" Black challenged, lazily waving a piece of parchment back and fourth in front of him.

Severus narrowed his eyes, any number of painful, dark hexes screaming through his mind. "I'll -- I'll --" He faltered, as he tried vainly to narrow the selection down to just one, so he could describe it in excruciating detail to its target.

"Careful, Padfoot," Potter drawled. "Snivelly is going to be a great Dark Wizard one day, remember? A great, greasy Dark Wizard. There's really no telling what he'll do to you."

Severus clenched his free hand, squeezed his eyes shut, and drew in a deep, steadying breath. He could feel the collective eyes of the Slytherins resting on him. They were quietly demanding that he take care of this swiftly, while maintaining as much haughty Slytherin decorum as humanly possible. If he failed on either count in their eyes, then he might as well move in with the Hufflepuffs.

"You're right, Prongs. What was I thinking? How could I have forgotten that? He certainly has the look of a Dark Wizard, you know, the kind that only an evil, old hag could love, doesn't he?"

Severus' fingers convulsed around his wand, but he was hardly listening to their words anymore. His mind was too focused on the task at hand -- letting Potter and his cronies have what they deserved, and finally prove himself to be a worthy Slytherin in the process.

"Oh, wait, I know what the problem is, Padfoot!" Potter lunged and snatched the crumpled scrap of parchment from Black's hands, ignoring the whining protests of the other teen.

Pulling an Ever-Inked Quill from his pocket, Potter flashed Severus a cold smile. "Despite all his best efforts, he hasn't yet managed to cultivate a traditional, ugly wart on that huge nose of his! He must be really disappointed with his dismal results so far. I think we should help him out, don't you, Moony?"

Lupin said nothing, and kept his eyes trained on his scuffed shoes as Pettigrew nudged him encouragingly. Potter, undeterred by his friend's blatant lack of enthusiasm, shook his quill until a large glob of ink formed on the nib of it. As soon as the impossibly large blot splashed onto the top of the waiting page, Severus felt an unpleasant prickling sensation on his nose.

Severus' hands flew to his face so fast that he almost poked his eye out with his wand. But, clearly, he still hadn't acted fast enough. The crowd ringed around him gasped, and pointed to where his hands now covered the mark that had materialised on his nose. It was the identical twin of the blot that had marred the parchment in Potter's hands.

Severus felt the renewed, accusatory glares of the Slytherins boring into him as he tried to deny the blush that threatened to taint his cheeks. And as the gloating Gryffindors' laughter filled his ears, Severus' body began to tremble with rage.

He flung his wand out, the wood of it digging painfully into his flesh where he curled his fingers too tightly around it. He took a shallow breath, ready to spit out the first curse that came to mind.

"Cru --"

"Now, now boys! What's all this? Not fighting, I hope?"

Severus spun on his heels, the rest of the curse swiftly dying on his lips. The rather corpulent form of Horace Slughorn stood watching them from the doorway of his dungeon classroom.

"No, Professor," Severus mumbled, pushing his wand into his back pocket.

Behind him, Potter and Black quietly echoed him, in the mock innocent tone that they had long ago perfected. Around them, the ghoulish spectators, deprived of the anticipated fight, groaned their disappointment.

"Good! Well then, time for class." Slughorn proclaimed just as the bell rang out through the dungeon corridors.

"Come in, take a seat, and put your wands away, please! We'll be making a rather tricky Sobering Solution today. Very useful for all those post-Quidditch victory parties of yours, if you know what I mean, eh?" The Professor winked conspiratorially at the students as they shuffled past him to claim their customary places, at their usual desks.

As Severus passed, Slughorn clapped a meaty hand on his shoulder. From the corner of his eye, Severus saw the man glance curiously at the dark patch on Severus' nose. It was all he could do not to turn the rest of his half-voiced hex onto the Professor instead. Really, the only saving grace of the whole situation was that Lily Evans hadn't been around to witness it.

-------

Severus moved to the front of the class and dropped into his usual place, at the polar opposite from Potter and Black's habitual back row haunts. Resting his elbow on his desk, and casually trying to cover his nose with his hand, Severus slipped his wand from one pocket, and pulled the dried carcass of a beetle from another.

Muttering an incantation under his breath, as Slughorn launched into his Solution introduction from the blackboard, Severus transfigured the beetle into a palm-sized, circular mirror. Scowling down at the mirror, and the prominent nose filling the greater part of it, Severus swiped angrily at the magical stain on his skin.

But, just as Potter and his cronies had kindly demonstrated to him earlier -- not long before the fight had broken out, in fact -- the blot remained as vivid as ever.

Slowly, the face in the mirror blurred before Severus' glazing eyes, as his mind turned to dark thoughts of revenge. He became lost in his own well-worn fantasies of the Foul Four experiencing varying, but equally unfortunate, side effects of well-placed potions. The time-refined images were so clear now that his thin lips twisted into an unconscious smirk.

But the smirk fell abruptly, as he was jerked back into the dungeon classroom by a now familiar prickling on his face. Severus glanced back at the mirror in time to see the beginnings of something taking shape on the sallow skin of his cheek.

It started with a just small fleck of black. But that single fleck soon bled outwards, across the pores and imperfections of his skin. As he watched, the blot became a letter, the letter became a word and, finally, the word became a sentence, written in Potter's messy scrawl.

Stumbling slightly over the reading of the reflected version of it, Severus slowly became aware that a rather derogatory remark about Professor Slughorn had just been tattooed across his cheek. Severus' eyes widened, and his body tensed the moment that the message unravelled itself in his mind.

Dropping the mirror, Severus quickly leaned forward over his desk. He jerked his head stiffly to the side, forcing the heavy, black ropes of his hair to fall forward, and cover the remark.

Flicking his eyes in Slughorn's direction, Severus peered through the oily curtain of hair to see if the Professor had seen anything of the vile graffiti. But, fortunately, Slughorn was still quite occupied with one of his usual meandering anecdotes, about famous former students.

Under the cover of his desk, Severus wrapped his pale fingers around the seat of his chair, imagining that it was Potter's precious broomstick that was cracking beneath his grip.

The moment that the quiet laughter -- laughter meant for his ears alone -- reached him, Severus' head whipped around. His hand was halfway to his wand, and he was half-risen from his seat when, luckily for Potter, the classroom door flew open.

"Sorry we're late, Professor!" a flustered, redheaded girl gasped, tugging her friend into the classroom behind her. By the time the two of them had found their seats, Severus had already dropped heavily back into his own.

"We were in the hospital wing. There was an… accident," she stressed the suspect word as she shot a meaningful look at Black, "involving a Hover Charm, and some exploding frogs --"

Deflated and abashed, Severus glared down at the desk, letting his hair slip forward again to hide both the Potter-produced marks and his naturally flushed cheeks.

"Oh, not to worry, Miss Evans, not to worry. I heard all about it -- a very unfortunate incident by all accounts. But you haven't missed anything of consequence, as it happens. As a matter of fact," Slughorn added, after glancing at his pocket-watch, "we seem to be running a little behind ourselves. So, where were we? Oh, yes, the Sobering Solution…"

Severus grabbed his quill and began scratching out clipped, jerky notes as Slughorn finally began the lesson in earnest. After a few strained moments of being allowed to simmer in peace while he worked, Severus again felt the telltale prickling. But this time, it was on the back of his right hand.

Desperately trying to keep control of what he was writing, Severus couldn't help but see the new line that formed there.

She doesn't love you; she feels sorry for you.

Biting his bottom lip, Severus forced himself to remain firmly in his seat. As the grip on his quill tightened exponentially, he wished that it were Potter's kneecaps crumpling underneath the force.

She's too good for you.

Severus glared at the line that had just appeared, right underneath the first. He screwed his eyes shut for a second and when he opened them again, he'd twisted his hand around as far as he could, whilst still managing to write reasonably well.

After a charged stretch of time, in which he finally dared to hope that Potter had finally got tired of this game, Severus started. A shock of pain that was greater than before had shot through his left arm, and he had grabbed at his wrist before he could stop himself.

Cursing under his breath, Severus cast a quick look around to check that no one had noticed that anything was amiss. Satisfied that the majority were still oblivious to what was going on, he slid his arm under his desk and away from public view. He waited for the space of a few heartbeats before surreptitiously peeling the sleeve back from his forearm.

There, running the length of the soft flesh, all the way from elbow bend to wrist, were the words "JAMES POTTER + LILY EVANS".

Severus' blood ran cold as he stared at his arm, and the inked proclamation standing obviously out against the white of his skin. And he kept staring at it coldly, as oblivious to his surroundings as they were to him, until the rest of the class suddenly rose to its collective feet.

Student bodies jostled past him as they went about gathering equipment and ingredients for their potions, and woke him from his numb contemplation of the carefully printed letters. Quickly covering his arm back over, and keeping his face carefully turned away from Slughorn, Severus rose too. He slowly raised his wand, and lit a deliberate fire beneath the cauldron on his desk.

-------

For the next hour, Severus threw himself into the task at hand, diligently slicing ingredients, precisely maintaining the heat of the flames, and artfully annotating his textbook with minuscule letters.

From time to time, patches of his flesh, from his shoulder blades to his calves, prickled. And even though at times his whole body itched with the need to read whatever was appearing, he managed to suppress the urge. He would not be made to bare another part of his body, or hop about with mirrors in the middle of class for their amusement.

As soon the bell sounded, Severus quickly ladled a thick drop of his Sobering Solution into a marked vial, and placed it on Slughorn's desk. When he saw Potter, Black and Pettigrew moving to do the same, Severus slipped over to their desk and began to ransack the sodden mess of ruined parchments, discarded sweet wrappers, and wasted ingredients.

"It's not there."

Severus spun round, only just resisting the urge to draw his wand, to see Lupin standing at the next desk over. He was manually daubing at the spilled remnants of Pettigrew's potion with a rag, paying it far more attention than was strictly necessary.

"What?"

"The parchment. It's not there."

Severus scowled down at Lupin's meek profile. "Where is it then?" he demanded, swatting irritably at a particularly persistent prickle on the back of his shoulder.

Lupin kept his eyes carefully trained on the slowly circling cloth in his hand, and chewed on his bottom lip as he considered the loaded question. Getting Severus to stop pillaging his friends belongings was one thing, betraying his friend's actions was clearly quite another.

"Tell me where it is, Lupin, before I say something that you might regret!"

"They gave it to Lily," Lupin blurted, finally turning panicked, wide eyes to Severus. "As a… as a joke. I don't think she knows what it does. Please, S-Severus, I -- I'm sorry. You know that I didn't -- that I had nothing to do with --"

But Severus wasn't listening to the rightly grovelling werewolf. After casting a quick look across the room, and seeing only an abandoned desk, Severus pushed bodily past the stammering teen. He tipped his belongings into his bag, and stumbled out of the room after her.

-------

The library. It was always the library with her. Severus paused at the threshold to scan the desks for fiery redheads. He spotted her at once, seated at a desk in a fairly secluded nook, and for a while, he found himself simply gazing pensively at Ev -- at Lily.

A small part of Severus knew that, no matter what happened, no matter what he managed to convince himself to believe, she would forever be Lily to him. Even during the previous summer, when he had thought he'd lost her for good, he couldn't help but think of her as just Lily.

A small, twisted part of him -- the part that longed to be accepted by his peers -- hated her for it, for holding such indisputable power over him. But it was only a small part, and after years of living with it, after a summer spent brooding on it, Severus knew that there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. She had become an integral part of his life, for better or for worse, and she would always be a part of him.

Now Lily sat alone, and completely unaware. She was lost inside a daydream, an open book resting at her elbow and her quill sweeping idly over the accursed page. Severus took one final, steadying breath and strode over to her desk.

"Sev!" she greeted softly, smiling up at him as he hunched over her desk. "…What's that on your --?"

"I need that," he interrupted flatly, gesturing to the parchment.

"This? Why, what for?"

Severus hooked a finger in the collar of his robes and tugged his robes down, just far enough to reveal her distinctive, swirling patterns magically tracing themselves across his collarbone. Lily's face creased in confusion for a moment, as she looked from her doodle-adorned parchment, to his now identically decorated skin.

"It's a rather… amusing invention of Potter's," he murmured, refusing to look up at her.

"Oh," she said, and her face flushed with her comprehension. "I wondered what those two were up to, giving me a tatty old bit of parchment like that," she said, glaring out the window towards Gryffindor Tower, just as if she could scold them through walls, from a distance. And perhaps she could, Lily's temper was infamous for a reason, after all.

"I'm really sorry, Sev." Lily's face had softened abruptly, as she turned her attention back to him. "It was just a silly scrap of paper, but I -- I should have known that something was going on. Of course you can have it."

"Thank you," he mumbled, reaching out to take the page from the table. But just as his fingertips brushed against it, Lily reached out too and took his hand in hers.

"I -- I've missed you lately, Sev. We haven't really spent much time together, since... well, since OWLs. You -- well, you always seem to be off with your 'friends'." Lily couldn't keep the disdain she felt from bleeding into her voice when she spoke the last word. Clearly the word and the image it conjured of the other Slytherins didn't go together at all in her mind. "And most of the time we're either in class, or off studying.

"We just… we don't seem to have much time to talk anymore, and well, I can't help it. I miss you and I'm -- I'm worried about you, Sev. Worried that you'll --"

"Don't," he said, his black eyes fixed on their joined hands. He wanted to pull his hand away, to twist away from her touch, because he had a disconcerting urge to lift her hand and kiss her palm. Instead he forced himself to remain frozen, not giving in, but not depriving himself from her touch either. "I'm fine."

Lily studied his face carefully, her green eyes filled with earnest concern. Then finally, she leaned slowly across the table, closing the distance between them at an agonising pace.

Severus closed his eyes. "Don't," he breathed.

"Why?" she asked. Severus pressed his lips into a thin line, and shook his head. "Why not, Sev?"

"Because -- because someone will see us," he replied, desperately hoping that, despite all odds to the contrary, none of his fellow Slytherins had ended up in the library as well and seen this much already. He had been admonished for his 'unseemly association with that Gryffindor Mudblood' before, and if Lily had known anything about how it had been done, she wouldn't be as blasé about this at all.

Lily just smiled indulgently as she closed the distance between them, and pressed her lips to his in a quick, all-too-chaste kiss. "Why is it always the library?" he muttered when she pulled back an inch, and his heart leapt as she laughed in response.

Severus' mouth curled into a helpless, rare smile and he chanced a swift kiss in return. But as soon as Lily's thumb started to brush light circles against his hand Severus tensed at once, though he wasn't sure quite why. When her thumb suddenly grazed his wrist though, something clear sparked in his mind, and he jerked away from her.

A small voice in the back of his head, one that sounded exactly like Potter's taunting tones, was suddenly whispering to him. She doesn't love you; she feels sorry for you.

"What's wrong, Sev? Are you worried about -- about them?" Lily was watching him closely, concern etched clearly on her face, and sympathy showing plainly now in her empathetic green eyes.

Before today, they hadn't spoken more than a few careful words to each other for weeks. The few touches they'd managed had only been tentative, passing ones. And now, when he had been forced to come in search of her because of another of Potter's cruel stunts, she was kissing him, holding his hand, and telling him she was worried about him. Had she done any of it through love, or for something worse?

And just why had she apologised to him before she'd touched him? Did she have something to feel guilty about, something that nagged at her enough that she felt she owed him… this? There had been a long space of time between one message and… that one.

Severus bristled as that last revelation settled over his mind. "How long have you had that parchment?"

"…I don't --"

"How long?" he bit out, his dark eyes glittering dangerously

"Potions! James -- James gave it to me during Potions, not too long after I came in, but I don't remember exactly when. Please, Sev," she whispered, her eyes flicking around the library as she reached for his hand again. "Tell me what's --"

"No," he hissed. He jerked his hand out from under hers, and tugged up his sleeve to bare the anonymous, printed letters that Potter's blasted charm had so competently branded onto his flesh. Lily gasped and reached out to touch it, but Severus had backed away and let the table act as a barrier between them.

"You wrote that didn't you?"

"I didn't --!" she began in a trembling voice, turning suddenly watery eyes to him.

"Don't you dare try to lie to me, Lily! He gave you a scrap of parchment, and that was the first thing you wrote on it! Admit it, you've been caught; it's really him that you want.

"I should have known that you could never have wanted someone like me; that you never -- that you never loved me back. If you did, then you would have -- you would have known that something was going on, that I was -- that they --" Severus stopped himself and shook his head ruefully.

"But you didn't, did you?" he asked quietly, the accusation clear in his tone. "You were just as ignorant as the rest of them!

"He -- he wants you too, you know. I told you that before, but you pretended not to listen. He made certain that I knew it though, he took great delight in telling me so many times and in so many ways that I couldn't pretend. That's why he never left me alone. You're why I never get left alone.

At some point during that last burst of his careening speech, Severus suddenly became aware that he was being watched. Students had moved to peer intrudingly around the bookshelves at the sound of his tirade. And he could clearly see that at least one of them was sporting Slytherin colours.

Severus clenched his fists at his sides, digging his fingernails into his palms so ferociously that they were on the point of drawing blood. "And I only ever went with you because it hurt him," he forced himself to say, grimacing inwardly at his own rushed words. "Someone had to put that Blood Traitor in his place. Show him that someone like me could easily steal his coveted Mudblood away from him.

"But now I'm sick and tired of it. I'm tired of his juvenile 'pranks', of his pathetic attempts to scare me off, of having to fight so hard to keep you amenable -- like during OWLs, when you almost got wise to me, and saw me for what I was for that one, split second. And I'm tired of having to put up with the likes of -- of you. He can have you, for all I care."

Severus lunged and roughly snatched the parchment from the desk. He turned his back on Lily's near-hysterical form, and her sobbed protests, with frank finality and fled.

-------

Severus gritted his teeth and kept his dull eyes on the bit of floor immediately ahead of him, as he strode towards the Slytherin common room. He crumpled the paper in his hand as he walked, and by the time he reached the relative privacy of his shared dormitory, the parchment was no more than a rough ball in his hand.

Kicking the emerald rug beside his bed aside, Severus ripped his wand from his robes. He unceremoniously dropped the ball to the bared, stone floor and cast a heartfelt Incendio at it. Tugging the sleeve of his school robe up, Severus watched with cold eyes as the written words slowly started to fade right alongside the parchment's curled ashes.

He stared at the weakening stains of ink, biting into his bottom lip mercilessly as his vision blurred with tears that he refused to let fall. And so it became all too easy for his mind to twist and pervert the dark blot, and suddenly he knew exactly what he would do.

Let those two Gryffindors have each other; they deserved each other. He would find a greater mark to cover theirs, one that would forever overshadow the ghost of the names that were once seared together on his flesh. As a matter of fact, he'd already seen the perfect mark, branded in the same spot on his housemates' callow skin.

He turned defiantly to the vanishing lines on the back of his shaking hand.She's too good for you. Severus glanced at his green trimmed surroundings and the embroidered silver snakes. This morning, he would have whole-heartedly agreed with Potter for once. But, if the hitherto ignored words of his dorm mates' were to be believed -- and from now on, he would choose to believe their words -- she was the one that wasn't good enough for him.

He might not be as pure-blooded as he often wished he was, or as others often wished he was, but at least he had one magical parent. And that, he told himself firmly, commanding himself to believe his borrowed words, gave him more right to be here, and a better standing thanher.

Severus shed his school robes, and pulled a heavy, plain black robe from his battered trunk. As he pulled it over his head, the fabric slid over an unnoticed mark, just on the back of his left shoulder. He never saw that mark, even though it lasted well into the night, long after the others had faded away.

He never saw his name, encompassed by a heart, written in Lily's hand.

The End.