Originally written for the Bringing Back the Bastard Challege at Deeply_Horrible on LiveJournal, this story was wrangled into shape by Sixpence Jones and heartmom88
'See that? It's basilisk venom. Nigh on impossible to source.'
'There can't be more than a teaspoon.'
'It's a thimbleful. The smallest recognised unit of liquid before moving into fairy weights. There are 16 thimblefuls to a wee dram, two wee drams to a full dram and three drams to an egg cup.'
'But it's eighty galleons!'
'I know. Imagine having an eggcup full! That would be . . . ' there was a pause for some hasty calculation, 'seven and a half thousand galleons. Imagine if you had a gallon! That's one hundred and eighty eggcups. I'd need quill and parchment to work that out!'
'It just looks like water.'
'Which is why it's so in demand. And it lasts forever. There are potioneers still using the venom their fathers' fathers bought, back when they excavated the pyramids, and that had come from teeth salvaged from skeletons!'
'That's disgusting!' Her green eyes had drifted from the display and he realised that he had already lost her interest. 'Come on, you promised we could go to Fabian's and all the seats will be gone soon!'
The beautiful creature was dead.
He'd known of course; Dumbledore had been as useless at keeping the events within the Chamber of Secrets to himself as he had the confrontation before the Mirror of Erised, and as such, the entire school was aware, once again, that Harry Potter was a hero.
But still, to kill the thing . . .
It had hurt at the time to know that a centuries-old, semi-mythical creature had been butchered to feed the ego of a twelve year old boy. That had left a taste as sour as bile in his mouth. Harry Potter, slayer of the evil Basilisk. That an impetuous, impulsive, impudent boy had been able to rip the secret heart out of the school simply because he could hiss a few words in a tongue he'd never studied, had hurt.
It had hurt to find out that his old friend Lucius had possessed the key to unlocking the Chamber but had not seen fit to share the knowledge with the Head of House that took daily care of his son. That rankled still, and spoke volumes about Lucius' true disposition. Oh, it was useful to know these things about one's friends, but it was a bitter pill to swallow nonetheless.
It had also hurt his ego somewhat to discover that Miss Granger had been able to work out the castle's secret after an afternoon in the library. Still, her absence from his lessons had gone a long way to ameliorate the growing tensions within the school. Double Potions was almost peaceful with her gone.
If only he could have Petrified the lot of them.
He supposed that those hurts were petty little barbs compared to the pain that would follow, or what was still yet to come. Say what you like about him – and many did – Severus Snape was no fool, not any more. He knew the way the world was turning. And this time there was going to be no relying on the Headmaster to pull him from the fire; he was aware of the price of that sort of bargain. No, this time he was going to rely upon himself.
Still, he had been surprised to find how much it had hurt when he had realised that the Basilisk was to be left to rot in the bowels of Hogwarts.
Just left there. Discarded.
Of no further use.
The threat was gone and Potter was a hero. Did no one care to discover how the thing had survived so long? The huge potential for research? He had wondered if perhaps Professor Kettleburn might take an interest in the ecosystem that had managed to support the creature for so very long, but the firewyrm incident had seen him shuffle off into retirement with nary a backwards glance.
Then Black had escaped from Azkaban, a werewolf had been employed to teach children, and Harry Potter had upset Dumbledore by becoming increasingly unstable. There had been no time to search for the Chamber that year and no moment free from observation once Umbridge had arrived at the school. So the creature had just lain there, gathering dust and flies.
Snape was always watched. Dumbledore watched him. Umbridge watched him. Moody had followed his every move. It had taken months after Barty's Kiss to lose that creeping sense of dread that he was about to find himself hauled back to Azkaban for a conversation. No, it had been months, years, before he had been able to find his way down into the secret crypt.
'I think it's really rather romantic.'
'But he killed her!'
'Yes, but only because he couldn't bear the thought of her loving another. And then he died for love.'
'He didn't die for love! He kill—' Severus caught himself and lowered his voice. 'He killed himself!' he hissed.
'Trust you to ruin a perfectly good story, Sev!'
'It just shows, though, doesn't it? Everyone has a story. Everyone knows something. Even the ghosts.'
He could tell by her expression that she didn't understand. 'Of course they do.'
It had been a lesson well learned. Not since the age of thirteen had Severus ever taken anyone at face value. Well, perhaps that wasn't completely true. It was hard to see the younger students as anything other than swarming irritants, bundles of homesickness, hormones and horseplay.
Sometimes he would catch the Baron watching him. His pale eyes gave nothing away, but Severus always wondered if the blood-splattered ghost was searching for any sign that Severus had taken his lesson to heart.
'Do you miss them?'
'That is not a question young sir should be asking.' The elf frowned. 'Hogwarts is Lollop's home now.'
Severus shrugged, pretending not to notice the elf's frosty response. 'Good thing, too. Imagine where we would be without you. The Hogwarts elves can't cope with all of us on their own. They must have been so relieved when you arrived.'
'There is a lot of beds to be making, this is true. On feast nights Lollop has to help in the kitchens, too. The tables have been extended twice in recent years. There is always babies born after a war. There will be another flood of new misses and masters when war finished again.'
It was Severus' turn to frown. 'There's going to be another war?'
The elf fixed him with its steady gaze, its over-large eyes pinning him with their serious weight. 'There will always be another war, Master Severus. It is the way.'
Oh yes, everyone had a story. Most people couldn't wait to tell you theirs. You just had to act as if you weren't really listening.
'How did you die?'
'No one's ever asked me about that before. You're not like the other boys, are you?'
Unsure if she was sensing some hidden kinship, or making aspersions against his masculinity, he frowned. He didn't want to be too encouraging. It would never do if it were known he was friends with Moaning Myrtle . . . He shuffled his over-large feet, glad when she finished peering at him through her thick glasses to sigh happily.
'Oh, it was dreadful! All I saw was a great big pair of yellow eyes.'
'Yes. Yellow eyes. And then poofff!' she gestured. The tips of her fingers caught his cheek and he felt the numbing coldness of her touch. 'I died!'
It had taken him a while to guess that the creature below the castle might be a Basilisk – there had been no handy Petrifications while he was a student – but once he had made the leap, he had become determined to discover the beast for himself.
Myrtle's description of a boy hissing in the girls' toilets was interesting, but not exactly conclusive.
The library was quiet and smelled of dust. Severus had grown less enamoured of the place in the last few months, but refused to believe that there wasn't at least one book that could help.
'I'm looking for a book on rare languages.'
Old Jenkins didn't even look up from his book. 'There's an entire section under the arches.'
'Rare, inborn languages, sir.'
'Inborn?' The librarian studied him intently over the top of his spectacles. 'In humans?'
Severus kept his face impassive. 'Yes, sir.'
The old man frowned. 'There is such a thing as having too enquiring a mind, you know.'
By now Severus was used to being frowned at and simply pretended not to notice the concern in the Librarian's eyes. 'Yes, sir.'
He sighed. 'Try Shanks and Thackery, slim volume, top shelf.'
'Thank you, sir.'
Duelling with Lockhart had been satisfying. Sending the pompous, preening charlatan careering back onto his arse had been the high point of the year. Almost as satisfying as the silent potion that was already beginning to cause the first signs of male pattern baldness amid Lockhart's golden tresses. Really, it served him right for believing that he could do the job that Severus knew should be his. Hearing Potter hissing out instructions to a snake had stolen any pleasure from the lesson, replacing it with unreasoning, crippling jealousy.
James Potter's son was a Parselmouth? When Severus had sold his very soul for that chance of learning a few words from the Dark Lord?
Why was it that the things he strove for were granted to the Potters of this world? He could not stoop so low as to ask Potter to teach him. Never that.
Thankfully, his years with Dumbledore had taught him something even the Dark Lord could not master.
A five year old, watching his fat cousin riding a new red bicycle, his face scrunched in envy, waves of jealousy radiating from him . . . a family watching as an over-large bulldog chased a scrawny boy up a tree, all laughing as the dog's jaws snapped inches from the boy's feet . . . the Sorting Hat, whispering in the boy's ear . . . Miss Granger, lying motionless in the hospital wing as a scrap of paper was worked free from her grasp. . . the boy approaching the sinks in the girls' toilets, hissing under his breath as Mr Weasley looked on, half fascinated, half dismayed . . . Dementors . . . a young Ravenclaw with black hair approaching him under the mistletoe in a room he didn't recognise . . .
Legilimency, unlike Occlumency, was more easily derailed by pain. The throbbing of the Stinging Hex to his wrist couldn't detract from the savage triumph suddenly rippling through his chest.
The torturous hours spent delving through the boy's disordered mind, suddenly worth every moment. Sounds and words finally matching.
What good was learning a dead language from a book if you had no idea about the pronunciation?
He wasn't sure how long he had been standing there, but he could tell by the sudden cold that he was no longer alone. Myrtle? No, she would never have been able to keep silent this long. Besides, she'd sworn she had no idea how to get into the Chamber despite the long hours she spent within the castle's plumbing.
'What do you intend to do with it?'
Few were favoured enough to ever hear the sepulchral tones of the Bloody Baron, but there was no mistaking that deep, hoarse baritone.
Snape didn't turn. 'You knew it was here?' How else had the ghost gained entry? He considered the implications of this new information. 'What it was? And you didn't tell?'
'I saw you fly down here, boy.' The words prickled across the back of Severus' neck. 'Should I tell that also?'
Severus resisted the urge to shrug. Feigning indifference now would not help. The Baron must had been playing the game far longer than he, and besides, he had known Severus since he was a boy. All the Slytherins were an open book as far as the Baron was concerned.
'Anyway,' the ghost continued. 'Who's to say I didn't?'
'He knew?' Briefly Severus' grasp tightened around the ivory handle of the knife. 'He let it continue?'
There was a ripple of frigid air as the ghost shrugged. 'No one died. A monster was killed, a boy became a hero. He has his methods.'
They stood in silence, eyes resting on the gargantuan carcass. Even in death the creature was exquisite. Once you got over the sheer size of the beast, you became aware of the graceful lines, the careful form.
'What will you do with it?'
'Take the venom sacs, the skin. The heart, kidneys and spleen will set me up for life.'
Alive, he would have settled for a few drops of venom. Dead, the creature was a goldmine. Time had done little to lessen the value of her parts. Eventually, wasn't that all anyone became? Their value measured in usefulness or beauty, or in this case, the market price of its organs?
He raised the knife, making the first careful incision at the point where her ears would have rested, had she been a mammal. The cold of the Chamber, mingled with her magical flesh, had held off the worst of the decay. The smell was subtle and sweet, just a shade too sharp to be pleasant.
'I'll be able to leave this place.'
The task became less onerous when one considered the rewards. Blood could still be drawn from the kidneys with salt. The skin could be carefully coiled and kept. How many Galleons? He'd need more than parchment and quill to calculate his winnings, but even the haziest estimations reached tens, if not hundreds, of thousands.
With that sort of money, he could be anything. Go anywhere.
That sort of money could take you to places where even the past couldn't follow you.
He could live like a king with that sort of money.
Severus worked in silence, oddly grateful for his quiet companion. The Baron's story had been the first that Severus had learnt, a lonely boy, glad to speak to any who would bear his company, glad to listen as others spoke about themselves. It had been the Baron who had made him realise that everyone had a story; the ghosts, the house elves, the portraits. It had been one of his earliest lessons at Hogwarts.
Belatedly, he realised that he probably should have turned to the Slytherin ghost first of all. He had been a contemporary of Rowena Ravenclaw's daughter, after all. How many more of the castle's secrets did he hold?
'You might be able to leave the castle, but you can't escape what's been done. I'm proof that your choices haunt you just as steadily as the dead.'
Severus paused in his task.
'I refuse to be kept in the dungeon, waiting until it fits his plan to see me thrown on the sword of Gryffindor,' he hissed. 'I won't be the nameless monster that fits his method.'
'Will you take the teeth?'
The sudden break in the silence caused Severus to flinch; the sharp blade of the knife almost nicking the carefully exposed gall bladder.
'No, I want it to look like the body simply rotted away. No one needs know of my involvement here.' He looked up. 'Do they?'
The Baron watched him carefully. 'Basilisk venom is highly prized as a universal anti-venom, isn't it, boy?' His voice was softer than usual, carrying easily across the silence of the Chamber, his gaunt face gentler than before.
Severus knew the Baron could see it then: the open greed on his face that all the talk of galleons and gold had not evinced. He pushed the grasping hope aside, hating that he could still be goaded into showing such weakness. Schooling his features as best he could he shrugged, returning to his grim work. 'I doubt I'll be given that much warning.'
'You don't have a dog and bark yourself, you know. Same goes for monstrous serpents.' There was a soft clanking of insubstantial chains. 'I leave you to your task.'
Reaching the edge of the light, the ghost turned. 'She had a name.' He nodded sadly to the half butchered snake. It was going to take Severus weeks to strip the carcass of all its valuable parts. Months to preserve and prepare. 'Hrth'a'tet.'
Severus considered what he had learnt, sounds finally matching the letters from the page. 'Little one?'
'Slytherin's little joke.'
Snape paused, his arms immersed to the elbows in gore, the leather apron streaked with blood and goodness know what else. 'What were you to Slytherin?'
'Even Albus hasn't thought to ask that. Ask me instead how he managed to smuggle a sixty foot snake into the dungeons. That's a far more interesting story.'