Summary: Angsty one-shot. In Order of the Phoenix, the aside comment that Snape always left before dinner got me thinking about the why, and what might possibly happen if he ever did stay.
Disclaimer: I am not JKR. I'm just using her characters to play and promise to put them back where I found them afterwards.
Warning: Possible trigger for anorexia/bulimia?
A/N: Very angsty by my standards I think, but I recently have been going through my hard-drive and I think it's about time I posted this instead of constantly tweaking it. Apologies for any spelling/grammar issues - not beta-read. (And, yes, I promise I am working on my WIPs still - they have not been forgotten). (Also, 13th HP story on ffn? That feels exciting). Hope you enjoy.
He was so very hungry. The emptiness felt like it had burned a hole in his belly. He could barely remember the last time he'd eaten. Truly eaten, not just munched on the few Ritz crackers scattered around his house. That didn't count. They only briefly tided him over; only gave him enough energy to keep going and just about stop himself from collapsing. There never seemed to be time for real food these days. And even if there had been time, everything he tasted seemed tainted by what he witnessed at the Dark Lord's gatherings.
And now the rich, warm smells of Molly Weasley's cooking that drifted up the narrow stairs of Grimmauld Place were almost driving him to distraction. Having arrived late to the Order meeting, his arms laden down with the potions which delayed his departure, Severus could barely stop himself from rushing down to the kitchen and begging to be included in the meal. Yet he had his dignity, so he descended the steps slowly, each foot being placed silently and carefully on the stair below.
Entering the kitchen of Number Twelve was like entering a different house; everything down here was welcoming and bright and warm, while the rest of the old place creaked with resentment of the bright intrusion into its drafty rooms. Severus did not belong in the kitchen.
He stood in the doorway for several minutes before he was noticed. The unholy scene of Weasleys, Aurors, Marauders and their spawn all talking, laughing and joking so loudly that he could barely hear anything over the resulting cacophony made him uneasy. It was so easy to feel out of place here; Severus' life was of silence and secrecy, of seriousness and manufactured slander. He had no reason to make noise, and those who spent long enough around him quickly shut up.
"Severus! Goodness, I didn't think you'd make it. Albus and the others left ages ago!"
Molly bustled over to him and Severus had to resist the urge to flinch backwards. Instead he shifted his weight slightly so that his taller body and its thick layers of black fabric appeared to loom from the shadows, dwarfing the petite Mrs Weasley. Slowly, the room went from chatter to silence as every pair of eyes turned towards the blot of darkness that had dared to enter their light. Unconsciously, Molly fell back from his abrupt presence.
Severus slowly let narrowed eyes flicker over each of them, idly wondering how many he could get to drop their gaze. Only Black and Potter dared to look directly back at him, fierce loathing apparent in both their expressions; the rest just let their eyes go unfocused, or slid their gaze over him as though he were not truly there, avoiding the nastiness by simply denying its existence.
The barest corner of his lip curled, and Severus felt a thrill of malicious triumph run through him; it was a hollow victory, but a victory nonetheless. Stepping silently across the slabs of the stone floor, he lifted the box of essential potions from the cradle of his arms and pushed it onto the sideboard. Then, still noiseless, he started lifting glass phials filled with coloured liquid, which could either heal or save or destroy a life, and placing them one by one in their appropriate spaces across the shelves.
The only noises that could be heard were the soft crackle-pop of the stew resting on the hob and the barely audible growls which emanated from Sirius Black's throat. Severus' stomach twitched and cramped almost violently, but he refused to even so much as let the agony he was feeling to show on his face. Giving in would mean he had let them win, and he would never allow that as long as he had even an ounce of self control left over in his body.
The box vanished with an idle wave of his wand and the last potion slipped into position with a soft clink. Not a single word passed his lips as he turned to go, but his derisive stare was directed at everyone there.
"Severus." This time Molly Weasley sounded much more uncertain. "Severus." She paused again and Severus nearly rebuked her for her assumptive and repetitive use of his given name, but instead let the set of his mouth and eyebrows say it for him. She nearly faltered, but losing two older brothers at fourteen and raising seven children almost single-handedly makes you braver then most. "Would you consider sharing our meal with us? It's just done and there's plenty to go around."
She gave him the same warm smile which she no doubt gave to all the people she counted as her children, yet Severus noticed she couldn't quite bring herself to meet his eyes. Different. Once again too different to be actually seen as a person. He was a thing to be feared, to be pitied, maybe, but never something to be considered as having dreams and feelings like all normal humans.
He was just about to refuse and sweep past her when his stomach cramped fiercely once more, rendering him barely cognizant and almost making him double over at the middle. He was so hungry...
Would saying yes just once really be that terrible? After all, what was waiting for him back in his drafty, Muggle, terraced house? By the time he returned, he would be far too tired to do more than eat another couple of those abhorrent biscuits and collapse on the sofa for another night of restless sleep. Would agreeing to stay behind and eat really be that bad?
Slowly, he inclined his head.
Molly broke into an even larger smile and hurried off, either not noticing or not caring about the disdain supremely evident upon his face.
Soft steps carried him over to the table, where he slowly slid into the single empty seat beside young Auror Tonks. Sadistic satisfaction welled inside him as he noticed her vibrant hair becoming paler. Her hands tightly gripped the table as though to keep them from executing her customary clumsiness.
"Knock over any umbrella stands recently, Nymphadora?" he murmured, letting his hushed tones sound throughout the near-silent room.
She did not look up, simply giving a sharp, negative jerk of her head as she kept her eyes fixed on an invisible spot in the centre of the table. From the corner of his eye, he saw Arthur Weasley shoot a fierce look at Black, who looked like he had been about to interrupt. Severus felt a slight twitch at the corner of his mouth. As far as he was concerned, the mutt could do his worst; Severus would welcome the challenge.
He shifted his gaze until he was staring at the unbearable Miss Granger seated across from him. The girl had her hands clenched together on the table and was staring at them with a single-minded determination as her face slowly lost colour.
Enjoying himself, Severus delicately eased backwards until his bony spine was resting against the back of the chair, and lazily rested his right hand on the table, fingers and thumb all pointing towards the girl who was very nearly squirming where she sat. He kept his gaze icy and his eyes lidded, patiently waiting for her to glance up in the way he knew her inquisitive nature would not allow her to deny. He paid no heed to the uneasy rustlings around the rest of the table, just continued his sport, feeling nothing but mockery towards the girl he was deliberately baiting.
It happened suddenly, so quickly that most people would have missed it, but Severus clearly saw those brown eyes dart up to his own and then away again. He let a nasty smirk gradually spread across his lips. Her cheeks flushed a dark red with the second glance she snatched and he could barely keep from sneering out loud about how foolish he found her.
However, self-preservation would not allow him to do no more than simply tease. If he wished to be provided with decent food anytime soon, he must not do much more to test his hosts' patience.
The thick, heavy scent of lamb stew drifted over the table, even stronger than before, and his stomach clenched so tightly that he almost started retching. He abandoned his game with the silly little schoolgirl and concentrated on not letting his hands shake from the desperation he was feeling. It took a supreme amount of will and a good deal of Occlumency, but he managed it.
He let his eyes flick from one person to the next, examining their expressions and the emotions displayed there in an attempt to distract himself.
Potter was seated with his arms folded across his chest, slouched low in his chair, sulking. The youngest Weasley boy was twiddling his knife on its point, the handle pinched precariously between his forefinger and thumb before his father gave him a stern glance. The boy to let it fall back onto the table with a metallic clatter. Black was glaring at Severus with such venomous hatred that what was left of that small, scrawny child in him blanched. When Black had that expression on his face, you could expect to end up with your fingers being snapped into broken claws by the sharp heels of his boots.
A plate was set down in front of Severus, absolutely filled with what seemed like the most delicious looking food he had ever seen in his life. He refused to look at it again after that brief, first glance; he knew his thin self-control would snap had he allowed his gaze to linger.
Only after everyone else at the table had received their plate and tucked in did he reach into his robes and pull out a thin, crystal bottle. Those nearest him froze, just as much out of wariness as out of puzzlement. He paid them no heed and simply sprinkled a few, sparse drops across his plate. By now the whole table was silent and watching him once again, but Severus was used to being stared at, just as much as he was used to being ignored. He merely placed the phial inside his robes again and waited.
A soft white light sparked across the food for an instant before fading. The adults around the table all relaxed; a couple even had the audacity to laugh.
"Really, Severus," Molly scolded while shaking her head. "I cooked the food myself; no one got close enough to even think of poisoning it!"
Severus carefully pinned her under his bored gaze and waited until all traces of amusement had slid from her face. "You forget, Madam," he said slowly, softly, "that while it was you who cooked the food," he paused slightly, capturing her under the full beam of his stare, "the kitchen you cooked it in belongs to Black – who is probably the only person in this room who has no qualms about committing murder."
A loud snarl echoed across the table, abruptly cut off by Lupin's hand clenching around Black's bicep. Severus ignored the sharp looks which passed between the pair of them and picked up his fork.
The first bite was heaven, and paradise lasted for the length of time it took for him to chew and swallow, but as soon as the food hit his stomach, the organ revolted by sending waves of pain throughout his abdomen. The food was too rich and there was far too much of it, but Severus kept slowly chewing and swallowing, vaguely distracting himself with the amusement of watching the rest of the table's occupants from the corner of his eye.
The adults all chatted and joked in stilted, falsely cheerful conversation; their laughter rang hollowly and was far too short to be real amusement. The younger generation all sat in complete silence, devoting their full concentration on their plates. If only they used the same focus during his Potions classes. This was one of the very few things Severus liked about children; they hadn't yet developed the ability to carry on like nothing was the matter. The tension in the air was making them unable to behave as they would normally, meaning that they did not have false masks they slipped into place as soon as a changeling showed up in their territory.
Severus placed his knife and fork neatly together on the plate; he'd barely managed a third of the meal he'd been given. His stomach was hurting terribly, but at least he wasn't hungry anymore.
"Come on, Severus. Surely you can manage more than that?"
Molly was speaking to him again, though this time she had a more appropriate frown spread across her features.
"Ugly bastard's obviously too good for your wonderful cooking, Molly." Black's words were airy, but there was a glint of steel in his eyes. "I can't say I'm surprised though, he always did think he was better than everyone else."
Occlumency was normally excellent at numbing his emotions. But despite practising it at the time of Black's comment, Severus felt a hot spike of molten anger shoot down his spine. Narrowing his eyes to dangerous slits and fixing Black with a deadly glare, he snatched up his fork once more and choked down another mouthful.
Black leaned back in his chair and stared at Severus with an appraising look in his eyes that could almost be interpreted as a challenge.
Severus managed only six more mouthfuls before his stomach finally decided that it had truly had more than enough.
There wasn't enough time to get all the way outside.
He bolted to the nearest bathroom and banged the door shut behind him, realising with a detached horror that he wouldn't have a chance to lock it, before collapsing to his knees beside the toilet and retching violently into its porcelain bowl.
The door opened behind him and he heard a sudden series of gasps. The rush of humiliation made his face burn red hot and he desperately tried to choke down the rest of his heaves.
Someone touched the back of his neck and tried to pull the long strands of his hair out of the way, but he flung his left hand back and slapped them away as he struggled to get himself under control. He could hear Black's faint sniggering in the background.
Swiping his hand across his mouth, he stood shakily and turned to face them with the fiercest look he could muster. Miss Granger was at the front, hands held in shock over her mouth and large, brown eyes opened even wider than usual. Standing behind her was the rest of the diners; all of them were wearing varying expressions of astonishment and disbelief, save for Black, who was staring at Severus and chuckling, despite Lupin's disapproving glare.
All it took was a hand slipped into his robe, a swift twitch of his slender, ebony stick concealed there, and Black was doubled over the results of a rather accurate stinging hex. Severus gave the rest of them a baleful glare and turned on the spot, Disapparating with a sharp snap. After all, what was there he could have said to them to restore his reputation? He had already lost.
He appeared in his run-down Muggle dwelling angry and, though he would never admit it, hurt that once again people seemed incapable of seeing that he was just as human as they were.
The End (?)