Love, Whatever That Means

The common room was so quiet over the Yule holidays. Slytherin was not a particularly loud house – or at least, Severus assumed that Gryffindor would always be unnecessarily loud. It wasn't like they needed peace to study or concentrate or anything. Concentration implied that there was some kind of brain activity to concentrate on. Still, with so few home over the holidays, it was the perfect opportunity to pull out the cauldron and try something new. And, naturally, improve it as he went along.

He was mid-way through a Permanent Sticking Solution (for domestic use, non-corrosive), when he heard one of the dormitory doors bang shut. He looked up, pushing a hank of black hair out of his eyes. Narcissa stood in the doorway beside the fireplace, resplendent in a cotton summer dress, her waist-length ash blonde hair sweeping elegantly over her bare shoulders. She struck a dramatic pose, then smiled at him. "What do you think?"

"Not exactly seasonal, Cissy. I'm glad that warming balm I made for you holds up, though," he noted, marking his point in the potions textbook and closing it. He leant back in his chair, crossing his legs as he watched her move towards him.

"Mother sent it. For the honeymoon." Narcissa took an excitable breath before sitting opposite Severus, flicking her hair behind one pale shoulder.

Severus sighed. "Not that again," he groaned. She had been banging on about her upcoming marriage to Lucius Malfoy since term began. It had all been arranged by their respective families, as per Pureblood tradition. Narcissa had an advantage over many, by knowing her future husband. He had been Prefect for their first two years at school, and a prominent figure within Slytherin House. Evidently, he had stayed in touch with the Black family, and had impressed them enough to steal away their most beautiful daughter. Severus couldn't say he approved of their methods, but Cissy at least seemed happy.

"You're the only one here, so you're going to have to lump it," she said somewhat sourly. "You should be happy I've made such a good match."

Her classmate rolled his eyes when she turned to look at the fire. "It's not my business to be happy or unhappy," he retorted.

He would have quite happily left it there, but Narcissa still resented being left at Hogwarts for Yule. It was a ploy on her parents' behalf, to ensure she and Lucius behaved themselves in the run up to the wedding. They corresponded, of course, and wrote quite openly about their hopes and plans for the future – and the wedding night – but it simply wasn't the same. Putting a bee in Snape's bonnet was always good fun, and he was, after all, the only company she had.

"What do you think it will be like?" she asked him, in what he felt was on overly sentimental voice.

"Horrible, I should imagine," he answered smoothly, leaning back in his chair and gazing up at the vaulted ceiling. "Having to spend every day with the same person, them nosing into your business. Nothing will ever be secret again. He'll have his thumb in every pie – nothing crude intended."

Narcissa smirked, and smacked him gently on the arm. "It's not like that, though, is it? Not when you love someone?"

"And you love Malfoy, do you?" Severus asked with a mocking twist of his mouth.

The girl looked sharply at him, cold grey eyes piercing his. "Of course I do. And I'd thank you not to insinuate otherwise."

Severus held her gaze for a moment, but eventually backed down – as he always did. It wasn't the done thing for a Half-blood to assert himself too far. He gently rubbed his thumb over the spot on his left forearm where, in under a month, a black snake would twist and writhe from the yawning mouth of a skull. Severus intended to take the Dark Mark as soon as he was of age. Then, perhaps, he would have a little more sway at putting Narcissa, and the others, in their place.

"Would have thought love would be a bit messy for you," Severus said, changing tack slightly.

"Not necessarily," she said, her voice smooth as silk, but with a challenging note. "Love can be controlled, can be cool and restrained. How else would you manage it?"

Severus thought automatically of Lily. Things had not been the same since that episode following the Defence OWL. She had not exactly stood by her assertion that she would never talk to him again – that was nigh on impossible for two students who lived so close together, and were part of the NEWT Potions class with only four other students. She asked him to pass the ragwort, he would hand it to her and try not to think about how cold her hands were. She would mutter thank you, he would say, "You're welcome." But they were never sociable any more. She never loitered at the common room for him, he never passed her notes asking her to meet him in the owlery. Severus had tried, initially, to pull things back to the way they had been. He had traipsed after her and waited for her and sought her out, but there was only so much a man could do while retaining his dignity.

Still, Severus could not help the way he watched her through Potions: the precise movements of her slim fingers, the way she tucked her hair behind her ear, only to have it escape and fall in her eyes once more. Potter took it upon himself, in the last week of term, to turn to her and hand her a ribbon. Gryffindor red, how very appropriate. And she had smiled and tied back her luxuriant sweep of flaming hair. Another small pleasure stolen by Potter – another in a long line of small pleasures. For some months, she would turn and scowl at him, as though his eyes burned or irritated her, and she wanted nothing more than to be rid of his unwanted gaze. That was one guilty pleasure he would never relinquish, though, and she had grown to accept it, only refusing to meet his eyes.

Could love be cool and restrained? He had always tried to dull his feelings towards Lily, always tried to focus on the companionship she had so willingly offered. No matter how he tried, though, he could not help but imagine holding her slight frame in his arms, how soft and warm she would feel against his chest, how her lips would feel against his. The thoughts surged up and smothered any and all restraint.

That would have been a problem, given his decision to follow the Dark Lord, if she hadn't been clever enough to be rid of him a year, five months and twenty days ago. As it happened, everything had happened for the best.

"Well?" Narcissa prompted him, looking triumphant.

"I am a sensible creature, Cissy," Severus said eventually, collecting up his books and standing. The conversation had turned boring, and Severus wanted to be left alone with his potions theory. "I intend never to fall in love."

Again, he added silently, as he turned and left the common room for the library.