Hey everyone! Hopefully this answers some more questions about what happened to Severus and fills in some of the plot holes a lot of you have been catching :)~ This chapter has a lot of information in it. I'm slowly trying to build up a genuine friendship between the four characters in this chapter. Let me know how I'm doing! Thanks and enjoy!
Three weeks after the kid had left for Hogwarts Severus found himself in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place enjoying a cup of strong tea and thoroughly ignoring the Weasley matriarch. While Severus was wholly unconcerned as to her opinion of his guardianship, she didn't seem inclined to let the matter drop. It probably didn't help that she'd found a bottle of alcohol in his room. What she had been doing in there he had never asked. It was pretty clear in his own opinion. She was snooping on the guise of helping the hapless bachelor with his laundry.
The two of them had since lapsed into a strange sort of competition. The prize? HJ. As the prize in wizarding competitions usually was these days. The boy was like the coveted flank of meat thrown into a cage full of starving dogs.
"Hello Severus," Lupin greeted, tearing Severus from his thoughts. While old wounds would never truly heal and he would never forget what they had done to him, he was man enough to admit that the hardships in his life were mostly his own fault. And with that admission-even though it was just to himself-he was able to put aside their teenage years enough to get along with the Marauders. In fact, he found them to be a nice ally against Mrs. Weasley's ever insistent nagging.
"Hn," he grunted in reply. Lupin didn't seem to expect anything else from him so early on a Saturday morning and simply unfolded the newspaper and disappeared behind it. Black hobbled in a few minutes later and dropped into a chair next to Severus.
"Never again," the escaped convict said, rubbing at his temples in an attempt to get rid of the enormous headache Severus was sure he had. The often wayward man had pulled out his last bottle of whiskey the night before and the two had indulged themselves in the third floor drawing room. Severus had vague memories of a disapproving Lupin and a can of spray paint coming into contact with the Black Family Tree. He made a note to himself to check it out and make sure they hadn't done too much damage.
And while Severus was more than capable of holding his liquor, Black hadn't had an opportunity to truly drink in nearly fifteen years. He might as well have been a hardcore Mormon taking his first sip of beer for how quickly he got drunk. Severus cursed himself for not having the foresight to procure a camera.
"Going to stop drinking, are you?" Lupin inquired sardonically, still hidden behind the paper.
"God no, I'm going to stop waking up," Black replied and then turned his bleary eyed look to the ex-Slytherin. "Aren't you feeling anything?"
"I can hold my liquor," he replied and continued his tea.
"How often do you binge drink?" Mrs. Weasley asked, finally piping up. Severus had wondered when she'd make her disapproval known.
"I may not be completely dry, Molly, but I do not have a problem," he told her truthfully. "Not anymore."
"You had a drinking problem?" Lupin asked, curious. Information about what had happened to Severus after he'd inexplicably fled Hogwarts was hard to come by. They had never found out the truth.
"I did," he admitted, both unashamed and unconcerned about their reactions. He had long suppressed himself from ever hoping to gain anyone's approval. The approval he needed, he already had. "For awhile. I sobered up six years ago."
"Why were you drinking?" Black asked. "Ow!" He flinched violently when Lupin's sharp kick landed on his shin for asking such a personal question. Severus smirked.
"It's alright Lupin," he replied softly. "I don't mind." And he truly didn't. Maybe once upon a time he would have but here, in this shabby, decrepit home sitting between an Azkaban escapee and a werewolf, all semblance of guilt and shame was free to leave him. It no longer mattered that he had a past with these men. All three of them were no longer the schoolboys of Hogwarts; each had seen and done things that would send most into fits of despair and anguish. By the mere fact that they had survived their own separate hells, they had each earned some sort right to brotherhood.
"Then why were you drinking?" Black asked again, hangover completely forgotten. Well, as long as he didn't move his head.
"I had a lot to forget," Severus told him with a pointed look that made Black look even more uncomfortable than he already was.
"You were trying to forget Hogwarts," Lupin said softly. Severus was aware of the fact that Mrs. Weasley was listening from her spot at the end of the table no matter how intensely she looked at the pages of the book in front of her. The absolute stillness of her eyes gave her away. She was listening; he wanted her to hear.
"Yes and no," he replied. "It may surprise you, but my world didn't revolve around Hogwarts and the Marauders."
"Then why did you leave?" Black asked. "I know we were pricks but I didn't think we were that bad."
"The bullying I endured at your hands was only a part of the reason I left," Severus answered. "Do you believe in moments?"
"Moments?" Lupin asked.
"Yes, a moment and the choice you make in that moment and how those choices can change everything."
"I suppose," Lupin responded and Black nodded hesitantly. "Why?"
"I was being recruited," Severus said.
"By Voldemort?" Black asked incredulously, eyebrows shooting up. Severus nodded.
"Not by him personally though. I was a Potions prodigy," he boosted. "At least, that was what everyone said. Some of my old Housemates had spread rumors of my talents and it didn't take long for some of the Death Eaters to come sniffing around, asking for Potions, for favors.
"They thought I would just brew them whatever poisons and cursed potions they asked for. As the offspring of a shamed Pureblood, it was expected of me. They figured that because I was in Slytherin and had certain friends that I would be willing to do anything to clear myself of my Mother's so-called mistake."
"What was her mistake?" Black asked, looking sympathetic. This was a part of the story he could probably sympathize the most with.
"My father," Severus replied. The two remaining Marauders looked at him curiously. "He was a Muggle. Mum met him when she ran away from home at sixteen. He found her wandering around Muggle London looking about as lost and scared as any Pureblood could be. He helped her out; took her to stay with an ex-girlfriend of his so she wouldn't have to sleep in the street. They started dating a little bit later.
"He swept her off her feet with stories of the Muggle world and she told him about the Wizarding world and about who she was. They made grand plans together. To travel the world, do everything they'd ever wanted to do. You know, normal daydreams."
"What happened?" Lupin asked, a soft smile gracing his face at the sweet story of two young lovers from two completely different worlds.
"She got pregnant," Severus replied. "With me and my brother."
"You have a brother?" Black squawked in complete surprise.
"Yes," the other dark haired man replied and then used his right hand to stretch down the collar of his black wife beater to show them the tattoo just above his heart. It was a name written in an elegant cursive font.
"My twin," he said. "He was taken when I was seven."
"Taken?" Lupin asked, confused.
"By a predator," Severus said, refusing to look them in the eye. "They preyed on children in Spinner's End back then. We were easier targets, you see. He was missing for six months until his body washed up from the creek."
"I'm sorry," Black whispered and Lupin seemed too overcome to say anything.
"Thank you," he replied, taking a sip of his tea in order to wash away the lump that had formed in the back of his throat.
"Did they ever catch who did it?" Black asked but Severus shook his head.
"No," he replied. "At least, not legally. Everyone knew who it was, of course. He owned half the neighborhood. Ruled over us like a king. A crowd down at the pub got a little too drunk one night and decided they weren't going to wait around for the police to do something anymore. They went to his home and set it on fire. He had taken medication and didn't wake up in time to save himself."
"He deserved it," Black said, finally noticing that he had his own cup of tea and took a long drink of it, nearly burning his tongue off in the process. His ridiculous expression made Severus chuckle and expelled some of the heaviness that had descended on them.
"How did we get on this subject?" Severus asked, perfectly aware of how it happened but wanting to change the course of the conversation to a direction that was less likely to make him want to sob.
"I don't know," Lupin acquiesced. "You were saying that you were being recruited?"
"Yes," Severus replied, happy to be talking about that instead. "I held up against the pressure pretty well all things considered but I eventually broke down and brewed them what they wanted."
"How long were you brewing them things?" Black asked more than a little aware of the fortitude it took to stand up to Purebloods on a mission.
"Not for long," the other man replied. "I only brewed them two things. A cursed potion and a poison. I was in the perfect position to sabotage them, so I did."
"You sabotaged your own potions?" Lupin asked, surprised. "Why?"
"I didn't like that I was being pushed into a corner and so I rebelled in the only way I could," Severus told them. "I weakened the poison and rendered the curse faulty so that it would wear off with little damage. The show would be enough to fool them and they would probably figure that the Healers were better at their jobs than anyone had anticipated."
"Smart," Black congratulated.
"Slytherin," Severus replied with a nod. "Unfortunately the poison I made was given to an Auror who had already been suffering from injuries gained in battle. Her body wasn't able to fight off even the weakened version and she...died." His voice had dropped by this point and again he wasn't looking at anyone. He knew, of course, that her death had been a horrible one as it was designed to be. If she had been in perfect health when that poison had entered her system she would still be alive today. "She was a single mother with three children. The oldest was only nine at the time."
Nobody spoke, there was nothing they could say to such a sudden and horrible admission. To be responsible of killing a mother and orphaning her children when you were only a child yourself was a horrible thing to live with. He had never seen the woman outside of a single picture in the Daily Prophet but her face haunted his dreams.
"It was months before I could even look at a cauldron without feeling sick," he confided, unsure if he should continue with his story but unable to stop now that he had started. He had never told anyone this before, not even Lily. "I never brewed again."
"Is that why you never pursued your Potions Mastery through an independent study?" Lupin asked and Severus could tell that things were starting to make more sense to him. He nodded.
"Yes," he said. "I informed my Death Eater contact that I would not be brewing anything for them ever again. He responded quite nastily. My House turned on me and I was forced to leave Hogwarts. I was scared for my life. There was nothing anyone could do for me and I used the excuse of our feud as a cover for leaving. I figured that the more guilty Dumbledore felt about allowing vicious bullies to run wild in his school the less likely he was to investigate my true reasons for leaving. Even with all the guilt I carried for murdering that poor woman, I didn't want to go Azkaban."
"So why tell us?" Black asked. "Why come clean now?"
"Who's going to report me?" Severus told him with a smirk. "The escaped convict? The werewolf? The eavesdropping housewife who would ruin her husband's career by admitting she was in the vicinity of such illicit activity as the Order of the Phoenix?"
Despite the sarcasm, he had a completely valid point. Mrs. Weasley even broke pretense to glare at him before returning her eyes to her book.
"But why not just transfer to another school?" Black asked, scratching at his head. "Why not study for your OWLs independently? They let people do that you know."
"True," Severus said. "But those exceptions only apply to someone with health issues or with enough money to hire private tutors. I fit into neither category and my petition for a special circumstances exception was denied by the Testing Board. My rejection of the Death Eaters had ruffled my contact's feathers and, unfortunately, he was a powerful man. I was forced to officially abandon my Magical training and my wand was snapped."
"I thought they only snapped your wand if you were expelled," Lupin exclaimed and Black looked equally surprised. Severus just shook his head.
"No," he told them. "You are only allowed to have a wand if you are currently being trained or have a certificate of completion either from a certified school or the Ministry itself. Hogwarts was no longer an option, I could not afford the international tuition rates of the other schools, and the Ministry wasn't going to allow me to complete my training either."
"What did you do?" Lupin asked, sounding sad at how the cards been stacked against him, much like they were for a werewolf. Lupin had been extremely lucky that Dumbledore had held a soft spot for his father and was willing to take a chance on him being in Hogwarts. His was a rare occurrence.
"I went home to the Muggle world," Severus replied, refilling the tea in his chipped mug. It was his favorite and he'd brought it with him. It was one of those mugs kids decorated for fun. HJ had made it in school and had given it to him one year for Christmas. It had been the only present he'd gotten that year.
"I worked," he continued, sitting back down. "Saved some money, got my own place, and started living my life. I returned every now and then, to the Wizarding World. I would go with Lily to Diagon Alley when she needed new school supplies and such."
"Did the Death Eaters ever try to contact you again?" Lupin asked. Severus nodded.
"Yes they did," he said. "Lucius tried to convince me on several occasions to come back and join them. He was concerned for me and thought that he could save my life by helping me find the 'proper' path." Black scowled horribly at that.
"What did you say?" Black asked, a growling sort tone coming through as his dog half reared its head.
"To f**k off," Severus replied smoothly and watched as Lupin nearly choked on his own tea. Black let out a howl of laughter and Mrs. Weasley's ears turned pink.
"Ho!" Black laughed. "I bet Malfoy wasn't too happy about that!"
"No he was not," Severus said with his own amused smirk. "Our friendship disintegrated and we never spoke again. Though, I suspect he regrets it."
"Why would Malfoy regret it?" Lupin asked.
"Because I did everything he couldn't," Severus told them. "I lived my own life. Even though it was hard a life it was mine. He lived the life that his parents chose for him. Lucius had dreams once too; he wanted to travel and explore. He didn't want to live a life of cloaks and daggers, but he was never brave enough to break away and do what he wanted. His father would have cut him off and Lucius didn't want to lose his inheritance."
"So he gave up his own dreams for money?" Lupin asked.
"Yes, he did," he said. "And he's teaching his own son to do the same. Even if it's only unconsciously."
"That is the pureblood way," Black said, trying to sound insightful and failing horribly. Lupin rolled his eyes. Severus quickly followed suit.
"So why not get some sort of Muggle education?" Lupin asked.
"Again, no money," Severus told him. "My mother fell ill and I was forced to work to help my family survive. Besides, by then the last thing I wanted to do was study a book. I was sick and tired of having to work and fight for everything I had. For the first time in my life the only thing I wanted to do was have some fun."
"And did you?" Severus was surprised to hear Mrs. Weasley finally speak up fully. He nodded.
"Yes," he replied. "I did have fun. But by the time I realized that fun wasn't all it was cracked it up to be, my path was pretty much set and there weren't many options left for my future."
"So you went to work?" Black asked.
"Yes," Severus replied. "I had been working since I'd left Hogwarts but never like this. I worked three jobs and never stopped to take a break. It helped my family out tremendously and it kept my mind off of things. Things I didn't want to confront."
"Like the Auror," Mrs. Weasley said softly and for the first time in months she spoke to him without some sort of sneer or judgmental tone. Severus nodded in her direction. "And what about Harry? How does he fit into all of this?"
"Despite what you may think Molly," Severus said. "HJ is perfectly fine. He may not have a lot and he may not have had a perfect childhood but he's fine. Everything I went through, everything he went through, and everything we went through together has only made him a stronger person."
"Severus I've been meaning ask to you something," Black hedged, looking as if he was ready to blurt out whatever it was at any second. His control didn't last very long. "Why don't you use the money in Harry's trust fund to pay for Hogwarts?"
"I don't need Potter's money," Severus snapped, already feeling the first spikes of anger.
"Harry is a Potter," Lupin replied smoothly. "His parents left him that fund specifically to pay for Hogwarts."
"Well, that's all well and good," Severus said, snarkily. "But even if I wanted to touch the fund we don't have access to it."
"What do you mean?" Mrs. Weasley asked.
"The key to the vault is gone," Severus replied. "I don't have it and neither does HJ."
"Then who has it?" Black asked, suddenly concerned. Severus just looked at him and didn't reply. "Who has the key?" This time it was much more forceful and Severus wasn't able to not tell Black. He didn't have much of a reason to keep it all a secret anyway.
"I, uh, traded it," the man mumbled uncomfortably.
"Traded it?" Lupin asked, jumping in before Black could explode without an explanation. "Traded it for what?"
"For HJ," Severus told them.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Black asked.
"Oh come on Black!" Severus exclaimed throwing his hands up in frustration. "You've met Petunia. I know you did; at the wedding. Did you honestly think that that little twit was going to let go of a payday that big? The only way that she would sign over the guardianship was if I left her the entire fortune. They'd already been bleeding it for five years and they weren't about to let go of it.
"Face it! The Potter fortune is gone. The wizarding assets were liquidated and everything was transferred to a Muggle bank. The gold, the houses, the heirlooms, they're all gone!"
"You let those Muggles take everything?" Black snapped, clearly not understanding that what he had done hadn't been some sort of horrible deal gone wrong. It had been a ransom.
"I had to," Severus replied. "And you would have too. That house was horrible for Harry. I had no choice."
"So how have you been paying for Hogwarts?" Black asked.
"None of your business," he snapped not liking the direction this conversation had headed.
"Oh come off it Snape!" Black snapped back, matching his tone. "I know for a fact that Harry isn't on some sort of scholarship and that if you really are as poor as you claim to be, you would never be able to pay for it out of pocket. You're lying about something. What is it? How are you paying for Hogwarts?" All three of them were staring at him intensely. He knew he shouldn't have opened up this line of conversation. He knew it would only put him in the spotlight.
"Alright fine!" Severus said, giving in with a put out sigh. "I may not have given Petunia everything."
"What do you mean?" Black asked.
"I may have stolen some of the money."
"How much?" Lupin asked.
"Oh come off it!" Black snapped, looking angrier than Severus had seen him for a long time. "Three galleons barely buys a couple of textbooks. Where is the money coming from?"
"I just told you," Severus said and then held up a hand to silence everyone before they could jump again. "I pulled a Cunningham."
"What is a 'Cunningham'?" Lupin asked, his look of pure confusion almost an exact replica of the other two expressions being directed at Severus.
"It's an old Muggleborn con from back in the thirties," Severus told him. "Back during the Great Slump a Muggleborn took some galleons and sold them in the Muggle world as ancient artifacts. It was how he paid for Hogwarts back then since the Wizarding World hadn't felt the effects of the depression and the Purebloods weren't about to help anyone out."
"How do you 'sell' a Galleon?" Black asked. "It's not worth that much in Muggle currency."
"Not if you go through the Goblins," Severus told him. "But the Muggle World doesn't have Goblins and to them a galleon is an ancient monetary coin from a lost civilization. If I sell the galleon in the Muggle World I can sell it for thousand times its actual worth. I sold three galleons and walked away with one hundred and fifty thousand quid. More than enough to pay for Hogwarts. Petunia never noticed and Potter technically still managed to pay for his son's education."
They all just stared at him. What he had done had been highly illegal but at the time it was the only option Severus could take. He had known exactly what that money was for when he had given it all to Petunia and it had killed him to think that HJ may have to struggle through Hogwarts. There was no amount of work that Severus could do to put him through on his own. The Weasleys may have also been strapped for extra money but even they were better off than he was.
When you lived in the Wizarding World there were no such things as electricity, gas, and water bills. Wizards didn't know how to use two of those things and the third was a basic spell that all homeowners would know. But Severus didn't have those luxuries and he had to find some way to pay off debts and keep their home.
And HJ could not be on a scholarship. The names of Hogwarts' scholarship recipients were in the public domain. If the Boy-Who-Lived's name was found on the list it could have quickly snowballed into a horrible scandal. Severus couldn't subject HJ to that at such a young age and after waiting so long to finally get to Hogwarts. And he was too proud to ask Dumbledore to forge documents.
Looking at the faces around him he felt half insulted and half satisfied.
"What's wrong?" he asked in a somewhat mocking tone. "I may not have finished Hogwarts but let's not forget which House I was in."
"I just can't believe you even thought of such a plan," Lupin said and Severus was pleased to note there was very little disapproval in the werewolf's tone. "Even if it's illegal, it is genius."
"Who are you?" Black asked his friend with yet another confused look on his face though this was more sarcastic than genuine. "You hate breaking rules."
"Not when it's necessary," Lupin countered. "Severus may have done so illegally but he did save Harry's school fund."
"I didn't particularly come up with that plan all on my own," the other man said, interrupting the two old friends. "Alexander Cunningham did in 1931. A sneakier Hufflepuff the world never saw."
"He was a Hufflepuff?" Black asked thoroughly surprised.
"Yes he was," Severus said. "You'd be surprised at what desperate people will do. The only difference between him and a true Slytherin was that Cunningham never kept more than he needed. Whatever he had leftover went to other struggling Muggleborns. Today they even have a scholarship named after him."
"The Cunningham Muggleborn Scholarship!" Lupin exclaimed thoroughly pleased with himself for knowing such trivia. "Lily won that scholarship one year for that brilliant essay she did about the Patronus Charm. You remember that Sirius."
"No I don't," Black replied but Remus didn't hear him.
"It's a very prestigious award amongst the Muggleborns," Severus told them. "It's only available for NEWT students who express a deep understanding of their chosen field. The contestants are also required to do extensive community service in the Muggle World."
"I've never heard of it," Mrs. Weasley said, sounding a little ashamed for having missed it, especially when her family had long been known for being extremely accepting of Muggleborns.
"Most Purebloods haven't," Severus acquiesced. "No matter what their personal thoughts towards Muggleborns. The awards ceremony is only open to Muggleborns and their families. It's how the scholarship board has kept Pureblood detractors from tearing apart the program. It's all very hush-hush."
"How do you know so much about it?" Black asked and Lupin nodded also curious. He had, of course, heard about it from an excited Lily in seventh year but she hadn't given him too many details. The ones she had given him hadn't been nearly as interesting as the ones Severus was giving.
"Lily invited me to the awards ceremony when she won it," Severus told them. "They spent about an hour and a half talking about the history of the program. I did some more research about it a couple of months ago though."
"Why?" Mrs. Weasley asked.
"Hermione is starting her research for her own essay this year," he answered. "I was helping her get all the paperwork in order."
"Hermione's on scholarship?" Black asked, surprised.
"She didn't used to be," Severus replied. "But the Muggle world is experiencing a bit of an economic downturn at the moment. Everyone is strapped for cash and every bit of help counts."
"What is she planning on writing about?" Mrs. Weasley asked, curious. She had always loved to hear Hermione talk. The girl was highly intelligent and the matriarch always walked away from a conversation knowing a little more than she had before.
"How to improve that new fangled Wolfsbane Potion," Severus said. "You know the one, Lupin."
"Yes," the werewolf replied guardedly.
"She thinks she knows how to get rid of the pain of the transformation."
"She does?" Lupin asked, perking up at the idea even though the girl's idea would probably fail. She may be smart but she was hardly a Potions Master. Not yet at least. "How?" Severus shrugged.
"Didn't ask, didn't care," he replied. "The idea probably won't work but the scholarship board is only interested in seeing if she knows how to work through a complicated problem. They don't expect her to succeed. That would be a miracle."
"Yeah, I guess it would," Black said a little sadly and Severus knew he was thinking of what a painless transformation might do for his friend's overall health. It would probably make Lupin a new man.
"Well," Severus said standing up and stretching. They had already been there for two hours and he wasn't much interested in anymore of a heart-to-heart than this had already been. He had shared more than he'd meant to but it would probably work out for the best. Maybe Mrs. Weasley would back off a little more. "I'm going to get a shower."
"Oh, wait! Severus!" Mrs. Weasley stopped him just before he went though the doorway. He turned to look at her over his shoulder. "Does Harry know about any of what you told us?"
"No," Severus said his tone a bit harsh. "And I'd ask you not to tell him."
"Why not?" Lupin asked. "Shouldn't he know before he turns seventeen and finds he has no inheritance?"
"I'll deal with that when the time comes but for now he doesn't need to know."
"I thought you told him everything," Mrs. Weasley countered clearly recalling Severus' policy on telling HJ everything he knew about Voldemort and his movements.
"Only when it matters," he retorted. "Voldemort's movements and plans matter. I plan on telling him about the prophesy after Christmas because that matters too and he deserves to know. This doesn't matter. Not yet. I know my kid, I know what he can handle when he can handle it."
No one at the table could argue with that. Despite them all caring very deeply about Harry's welfare none of them knew the boy like Severus did. Sirius had seen them finish each other's sentences. Harry had once grunted out an entire conversation and Severus had known exactly what each inarticulate grunt meant. Severus knew when Harry was feeling down even though the boy was a master at disguising his moods. The man knew his favorite food, color, animal, movie, band, and book. He knew what Harry was capable of handling and when.
Even Mrs. Weasley was now willing to except that.
When no one offered an argument Severus continued on his way out of the kitchen. He needed a shower and then there was an unanswered letter from HJ on his desk. Apparently the new DADA professor was a tyrant and HJ wanted his advice.
Next chapter will be centered at Hogwarts! Promise!