by Morrighan

DISCLAIMER: Everything from the Harry Potter books belongs to J K Rowlings. Everything else is merely the product of a deranged imagination.

CENSOR: PG for a little light angst.

A/N: This is my answer to all those sentimental and improbable Snape romances I've read - and my attempt to unite him with the one person in canon who is so, so obviously his soul-mate. It's also, in particular, my revenge on all those Mary-Sue-perpetrating writers who seem to believe that a woman has to be drop-dead gorgeous and oh so special in order to be worthy of the ugliest, most repellant person in the Harry Potter books.

Hearts and flowers are unlikely to play a large part in this fic, but if Snape has to make a potion at any point in the narrative I'll be sure to give him some to chop up.

Chapter 1: Ugly Sister.

3 August, 1998, Evening.

The trial was notable chiefly for its brevity, but also for its extreme lack of interest.

The charge of attempted murder against the defendant, Professor Severus Snape, fell down very quickly when the intended victim - none other than The Boy Who Lived - gave evidence that his attacker had been acting under the Imperius Curse. Admittedly, most of those present who had experienced Professor Snape's teaching doubted that he was human enough to be affected by the Imperius Curse, but if The Boy Who Lived said so, then that was quite good enough for them.

They acquitted Snape with almost indecent haste, and the hall was vacated with unusual rapidity. The lucky few who had tickets for the evening's World Quidditch Cup match against Lithuania disapparated the moment they passed the Antapparition field outside the Ministry; the rest proceeded to the local watering hole, where a wide Scryscreen was available to relay the match to them. The Boy Who Lived also disapparated shortly afterwards, presumably to the Quidditch Stadium in Co. Donegal.

And the defendant? Well, who cared what happened to him?

* * *

The door of Number Four, Privet Drive slammed, far harder than was necessary, and as Petunia stormed down the drive she saw the curtains opposite twitch, and felt a wave of rage flow over her. Until then she had been calm because the anger and misery over everything had been at a deadlock, but at that one twitching curtain the anger took over. There was no way she'd start crying here in the street for Mrs Parker opposite to see.

It was the sheer, resounding unfairness of it that was so maddening. After all, she'd always tried so hard. She'd always done everything she could to be a good wife and mother. Hadn't she always done everything in her power to make a nice home for them all? Hadn't she always supported Vernon's career? Hadn't she always doted on dear little Dudley? Oh yes, she'd settled for what she could get, as her parents had always advised her - damn their eyes! And yes, she'd made the most of it. She'd almost come to love Vernon, and she really had been fond of Dudders.

She had the wand in her handbag. Should have thrown the damned thing away years ago, like all the other things her sister had left her. But no - like someone cherishing the thorn in their shoe she had never discarded it. Just left it sitting at the bottom of her handbag as a constant reminder of her own inferiority.

Normality, she reminded herself viciously, not inferiority. Lily was the freak, not me.

Freak ... The word always brought a nasty taste to the mouth, made her want to spit on the pavement. Not that she would ever dream of doing anything so vulgar, of course.

Freak. That was exactly the problem. That was the reason she was currently walking away from Number 4 Privet Drive at ten o' clock at night carrying only her handbag, with no coat, no sensible footwear and nowhere to go.


The first time it had happened she'd managed to explain it away to herself - a window shattering abruptly in the kitchen in the middle of a blazing row with Vernon. There had been children playing in the street outside at the time, and it didn't take much to convince herself that one of them had thrown something or kicked a ball or whatever. Children were evil little creatures. They did things like that.

Vernon had gone outside to shout at the children, (who had vehemently protested their innocence,) and Petunia had rushed quickly to clear up the broken glass, trying to ignore the fact that most of it had fallen outside the window, onto the flowerbed underneath it, rather than onto the windowsill or into the kitchen sink. It didn't signify anything, she had told herself. It was just those nasty children - nothing to do with her or Vernon.

The glaziers had come, and replaced the window with toughened glass. Petunia had tried to forget about the incident, hindered by Vernon's all-too-frequent tirades about children and their lack of respect.

But it had happened again.

In the queue at the butcher's one day, a woman who had had the nerve to push in front of her suddenly found herself standing at the back of the queue again. A tie of Vernon's that she had always loathed seemed to shrink until it was too short to go round his neck. A Volvo driver who had tried to cut her up at the traffic lights had found his car had abruptly screeched to a halt, and wouldn't start again. Things like that. Little things, that probably meant nothing on their own. Vernon had begun eyeing her nervously, avoiding antagonising her.

And if there was one thing guaranteed to irritate her more than strange things happening, it was Vernon treating her as though they were her fault.

And if there was one thing guaranteed to infuriate her more even than that ... it was the gradually dawning awareness that he was right.

The evidence had finally become inescapable a week ago. She'd been cooking one evening, alone in the house as Vernon was working late. Vernon had been doing that a lot recently, making excuses to stay away from home, pleading social occasions to which she had not been invited. It was yet another thing that had been irritating her that evening.

Anyway, she'd been cooking, quietly getting angrier and angrier about Vernon and his 'late nights', when a saucepan had suddenly caught fire. She'd pulled it off the ring and thrust it quickly into the washing-up water, chastising herself for having left it unattended, and nearly burning her hand as the flames hissed and died in the water.

It was only when she had rushed back to turn off the ring underneath the saucepan that she had realised that it was stone cold. She'd never even turned it on.

She'd stood in the middle of the kitchen and cried her eyes out, had still been standing there when Vernon returned home at a quarter past nine. She didn't explain why, but that didn't matter. It had only taken him a week to work it out for himself.

She'd reached the end of Privet Drive now, and turned out of it, forcing herself not to look back. If Vernon wanted her back he'd have to come and get her, not that she supposed for a moment he would..

Freak indeed! The nerve of the man!

Oh, he'd said worse things to her than that, or at least things that he probably considered far more cutting - about her ingratitude for everything he'd done for her, about how she was just as bad as that sister of hers, how she had tricked him and betrayed him, how he should have known nothing good could come out of that family and a good deal more besides - but that had been the only one that had hurt, the only one that had gnawed away at her heart and mind, making her want to scream obscenities at him like a fishwife. The others were unimportant - just small arms from the standard matrimonial arsenal. But to call her a freak-

She was walking faster now, striding down Hawthorn Street at a precipitous speed, with no idea of where she was going. That seemed almost irrelevant now. He'd thrown her out - rejected her - after nearly twenty years of married life. Oh, so she'd screamed right back that she was happy to go, that anything was better than spending another minute in the company of such a pompous prig, but he had said it first. He had been the one who had rejected her.

Bastard, she thought, revelling in the unaccustomed swearword. Flabby, superior, smug, arrogant bastard.

Suddenly, she saw a taxi coming along the road, unmistakeably empty, and tried to flag it down. It ignored her and carried on driving, swinging down Laurel Drive without signalling or slowing down. Petunia felt tears pricking at her eyes suddenly.

"You're all the same, you men!" she shouted after it. "Bastards, the lot of you-"

- and then had to leap backwards suddenly, as an enormous purple bus squealed to a halt mere inches from her nose.

It was a monstrosity - a purple triple-decker with brass trim round the windows and wheels. Across the front windscreen, foot-high gold letters proclaimed that this was 'The Knight Bus'.

Temporarily robbed of speech, Petunia backed away, sitting down rather heavily on the holly hedge just behind her, and then standing up again, very quickly.

The front door of the bus swung open, and an unprepossessing skinny young man in his early twenties leapt out (landing neatly on Petunia's left foot), and began to speak. "Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for the stranded witch or-"

That was more than enough to galvanize Petunia back into speech. "Who are you calling a witch?" she snapped, so abruptly that the young man involuntarily took a step backwards and fell over the steps of the bus.

"'Ey, steady on, mister! I woz'n' -"

"I'm not a wizard either," Petunia hissed angrily. That silenced him very effectively. The pathetic child was obviously hard of thinking. He was left opening and shutting his mouth like an emaciated goldfish. She decided to give him a clue. "I'm a Muggle. I'm not magical," she said with quite unnecessary emphasis. "Now go away."

The goldfish act was still going strong. Eventually he got it under enough control to be able to speak. "Oh. So don't 'oo want to go nowhere?"

"No!" Not in that thing, I don't.

"Oh. So what 'choo call us for?"

"I didn't."

"You did."

"Excuse me, I did not."

"You did, too. Stuck your wand hand out, you did."

Petunia sighed, through gritted teeth. She saw a curtain drawn back in the house above her, and cringed involuntarily, fighting the impulse to duck out of sight.

"All right," she said, though the admission of defeat sounded more like a declaration of war. "Where does this ... bus ... go, then?" It took extreme mental effort to refer to the monstrosity before her as a bus.

"Anywhere you want. Wivvin reason, that is."

Petunia did not ask what was within reason. She realised with a sudden shock that she had no idea where she could go. She hadn't thought that far when she'd stormed out of the house. Yvonne's, she supposed, though she could hardly suppose that Yvonne would appreciate harbouring a freak for the night. And besides, the thought of that - that bus stopping outside Yvonne's flat and waking the neighbours. She thought quickly, searching mentally for a drop-off point that wouldn't be incriminating.. "Then take me to Chelsea Bridge. In London," she added, in case he was stupid.

"Oh. Right you are. That'll be twelve sickles." He leapt back onto the steps of the bus, and grabbed a small ticket machine and started cranking it.

"Twelve sickles?"

"What 'choo complaining about? Only went up a sickle. First increase in ten years."

Petunia opened her handbag, and fished out her purse. She did not know what 'sickles' were supposed to be, nor did she care. It couldn't be that much. She extracted a tenner from her purse and climbed up the steps of the bus to thrust it into his hand.

"Woss this?"

"Money," Petunia said fiercely, daring him to contradict her. "For the fare," she added, in case he really was as stupid as he seemed.

"Coo. Look at that, Ern. Money, she says it is. That's never money." He passed the note over to the bus driver, who appeared to be sitting in a green velour armchair in front of the steering wheel. Petunia automatically noticed the shabby, dirty state of the armchair and pressed her lips together to suppress a grimace.

The driver peered over at it, settling his thick glasses further down his nose. "That's Muggle money, Stan, lad," he said knowledgeably. "Saw some back when I was a lad. You'll have to ask the lady for some real money instead." He handed it back to the young man.

The spotty young man seemed to have lost interest in her, though. "Yer, okay ... jus' a mo ... 'Ere, Ern! Wo'n't it 'ere we picked up that 'Arry Potter that time.?"

Petunia's head shot up. Of all the-

"Ah. Er. I do believe it was, Stan."

"'Course it woz. Just by that house there, worn't it? Fell over when 'e saw us, an' all."

"Nice kid, though. Bit quiet, but nice. Polite young man."

"Weird, if you ask me. Cracked. Tried to pretend 'e woz someone else, di'n't 'e? But we wor'n't fooled."

"I don't have any 'wizard money'," Petunia cut in angrily. And you can stop talking about my nephew as well. "You'll have to take that."

"Not sure if we can do that, miss. We'll 'ave to check." He showed no signs of doing so, however, and merely turned back to the driver. "Where'd we take 'im again, Ern?"

"Leaky Cauldron, wasn't it. To see the Minister of Magic. Not this one. The one who got hisself killed."

"Nah, I remember now. 'E woz dead surprised when Fudge turned up. Like 'e woz doing somefink 'e shouldn't of ... Oi! Don't-"

Petunia looked up to see the spotty youth being elbowed roughly aside as one of the passengers emerged from the shadowy interior of the bus. It appeared to be a tall, pale man wearing an ankle-length black dress, and Petunia grimaced her disapproval. Too much to expect they'd dress like normal people, I suppose-

The thought was stopped in mid-track, as the man flung a handful of strange silver coins down onto the dashboard of the bus. "Your sickles," he said to the boy, in a voice that was low and savage. "And if you dare say another word about the Potter boy, I swear that you will never speak again." And then he shut his mouth like a trap, turned on his heel and stalked back into the rear of the bus.


Many thanks to Winkyteatowel, for checking this through for me. Big hugs as ever.

A word of warning: if anyone who's been reading The Long Road to Damascus is starting to get the idea that I'm a blonde who feels overshadowed by a beautiful and charismatic sister, let me set your minds at rest now. I'm not blonde, and have no sister, not even of any kind. I do, however, have a car-mad kid brother, but it's really not the same.

Ep 2 will come in due course. No promises - I know too much about my writing speed for that.