Peter always was a deceptively useful little thing. His tragedy is that it's never about him.
warnings for Slytherin, Severus's brain (is supersaturated, byzantine, siroccan, eclectic, and parenthetical. Right: like this. Now you're warned), and more pruney-prismy judgy snobbery than you can shake a white picket fencepost at. Although, in fairness, the eye of the beholder is at this point in his life less telepathic than spitting-cat defensive. Well, always more, but currently even more than that.
Given the audience, maybe I should warn for a lack of Lily-bashing? Nah, redundant: I already said 'Severus's brain.'
"Well, haven't you smartened up," Petunia said, purse-lipped, giving Severus a critical once-over. Given that her approaches to him had, historically, run the gamut from sneering shame-the-grubby-punk formality (misplaced: it was only informality he didn't know what to do with) to actually chasing him off with a broom once (so ironic he'd actually told his friends about it), this was practically a hearty handshake and a kiss on the cheek.
His mouth quirked a little: she was utterly transparent, and he didn't entirely disapprove. She still didn't like him, and the softening wasn't because he had gone a step (or twelve) upscale, exactly, but because she saw it as him making more of an effort. He doubted she could tell the difference between tailored and off-the-peg (it hadn't been his idea, and if Lucius had just let him buy something ready-made, the maniacal greased bulldozer, Severus could have spelled the cuffs the way he wanted them without a two-hour argument), let alone between random wool and cotton blends and potion-neutral ones (linen and silk in varying ratios, usually. There was a rising fad for including, of all things, bamboo fibers in the thread). All she saw was that, for the first time since she'd known him, his clothes fit him and even went together. Neat and tidy.
He liked that himself, it being a heartcracking relief not to have to shuffle about drowning in secondhand clown clothes and silent labeling, but to her it was everything. Never mind he'd never had an option before: slobbing about had been perverse of him. If she'd been swayed by the evidence of money rather than what she saw as effort it would have been utterly contemptible, but this was just her being her, Normal Is Everything.
Brain-dead and painfully dull and really not his style, but fair enough: entirely consistent. And something to be grateful for, on a global level, though obnoxious the way she did it. If no one was, well, Hufflepuff, happy and proud to do the always-the-same and the caretaking work year after year, everyone else would starve and rot so on. And if there was no 'everyone else,' none of the eccentricity that so often meant creativity or restless exploration, Petunia probably would already have been dead or never-born of unvaccinated, untreatable smallpox or plague. Or of exposure due to no one's having invented architecture or even fire and leather. A place and use for everyone. Pity she didn't understand that.
But he did. And, more importantly just now, she was in a position to smooth his way or get seriously in it. Right now, even her voice speaking against him might add force to a weight of inertia that didn't need any, and if she didn't speak against him the whole family would die of shock. Shocks shook people, could leave them unsure of what they'd been convinced of, ready to think again, give an idea a second look.
Accordingly, he turned his public-school accent on 70%. Not enough to sound like a fake and a poser, but, again, enough to say Yes, I Now Know How Respectable Works And Am Doing It. That was the sort of thing Petunia appreciated. "Well, we're not kids anymore," he allowed with a bit of a shrug, holding out his hand. "You're looking well yourself, Petunia." Not Miss Evans; that'd be overdoing it. Smarmy. But not Petty, either. He'd never used Tuney, of course. There was nothing harmonious about her, and Mam would have slapped him if it had turned into fish-jokes. Especially since she looked a bit like a halibut sometimes, when she used her mouth in certain ways.
She took that in, and her shoulders relaxed a little more. She even shook his hand (although in a dead-rat sort of way. He gave her the Businesslike Reliable Person shake. She probably would have found even the mildest admiring one offensive even if he could have brought himself to do it), even as she said, "She doesn't want to see you, you know."
"I know," he said, mostly managing not to flinch. "I'm not asking. Would you just give her this, please? It's just from a normal store," he added, seeing her flinch, and pointed at the cord. "See? Anything you can plug in is always normal. Getting the other sort to work with electricity is very difficult, really specialized stuff. They don't go together."
"She never told me that," Petunia said slowly. Planning protections, if she was clever, given how thaumaphobic she was. He didn't know her well enough to guess. She wouldn't be able to rig anything serious, but if she felt safe in her own space she might relax enough to plague everyone's life out less. If anyone knew about that sort of thing, it was him.
"I expect she could get pocket money without a developing a tutoring habit," he said, as though she'd been asking for an apology for his swottishness. He wasn't going to admit he'd heard her criticizing Lily and take a side, not now. "I won't take up any more of your time, and I ought to be off for work in any case."
Which he should, really, but it was pure showing off his not-being-a-layabout for her. It wasn't as though Lucius or even Mr. Malfoy gave a damn what time he started or stopped as long as it all got done.
He walked until he was out of sight before getting on the Manor's broom, too. And they all said he had no tact.
The gravel against his window had him flinging himself out of bed, his heart pounding, the unTraced wand Lucius had arranged for him pointed unerringly against the night sky before his eyes were even open.
It turned out to be 'just' her. He slid the old rope ladder out the window and climbed down, followed her silent back to the old tree that was, in its way, theirs. They sat in a choked silence, looking at each other, at the sky, at their hands.
Finally Lily said, "Usually when boys want to apologize it's, you know, flowers and chocolate and jewelry and that."
"You wouldn't have believed I meant any of that trite shite," he pointed out.
"Well, no," she admitted, and started to giggle, "but, Sev, a… a lava lamp?"
He shrugged, sheepishly. "What runs red and clear and is muggle all over?"
"It's disgusting!" she laughed.
"I know," he admitted. "It's worse than it looks, too; I think the blobs are made of chicken fat."
"I didn't mean it," he said, catching her eyes before the laughter had gone out of them. Take any advantage you can make. "I didn't. I don't think like that. How could I? Just because Da's... You know I love your mum and dad, you know I loved Gran, you know I'm perfectly happy to help Mam with the neighbors when I'm home. You know what I think about what Mam's parents did to her for marrying Da. I can't get away with not talking that way sometimes any more than you could get away with wearing green and silver to Quidditch matches. It shouldn't be the same as something that trivial, but it is. It's awful and it's wrong and I can't say so, Lily, I'm sorry, but I can't. And I shouldn't have said that to you, you know I'm sorry. I had to get you out of there. If it had ended because you'd helped me, you have no idea how bad things would have been for us both. You're exactly right about Mulciber, you don't know how right you are. I would have said anything to get you out it. He said 'don't make me hex you.' I would have if I'd had to, too. It would have been safer for us both than letting everyone see me let you help me, in the long run."
He took a breath and added, "I never said that, and you never heard it. If I have to obliviate you and walk away with you hating me, I will. Everything else is up to you, but you have to promise me you never heard that from me."
After a long dangerous moment, she sighed. And leaned up against him. "What can I say, then?"
He shrugged, all the tension running out of him, and wrapped an arm around her, tight and fierce with gratitude. "What do I care? Say I groveled until you couldn't take it and gave in. Say I gave up on you, too, and we're still not speaking; that might be easiest and smartest."
"That's awful, Sev."
"World's pretty awful, Lils. Frontal assaults aren't much use against entrenched special interests and the well-financed status quo." He grinned sharply down at her. "Good distractions, though."
She eyed him whimsically. "You're ruddy scary sometimes, you know that?"
"You shouldn't have spent on a toy," she said idly, frowning. "Couldn't you have charmed something?"
"Even odds I'd have to go through your sister, not your parents," he shrugged. "And I am working this summer, and, ha, they didn't just pay for the clothes, they more or less forced them on me at wandpoint. Besides, we don't have to worry about the electric bill anymore."
She looked at him, not sure whether to be pleased or alarmed. "You got rid of the telly? Is your Da, erm, is he better?"
He pursed his lips. "He is better with me working," he said judiciously, "as long as I don't talk too much about the details. Not in the house all day, and I think it makes him feel better that he's raised someone who can get a job, not just read and," he air-quoted, "'cook.' But no, we didn't get rid of it; I helped Mam fix up a generator."
"How'd you manage that?" she asked, smiling. "I didn't think you knew anything about engineering."
"It isn't engineering," he said proudly, "it's technomancy. Runs on runes and rodent-power, there's this hamster-wheel we rigged. She found the schematics in an old Ruby Goldberg journal from when she was a kid."
"Wait, that name sounds familiar. Isn't it a muggle thing? American?"
"Her brother was. Half-bloods. She had magic, he didn't. Rather famous, actually. Cartoonist. She named it after him; her real name was Lillian. He designed all sorts of ridiculous things. Clever, if you don't care about efficiency. He was only doing it to be funny, but she was a witch, and she made things that worked out of them."
"That sounds familiar," she said, squeezing his arm and smiling at his enthusiasm, "only a little backwards."
"It sounds like the wrong one was named Lily," she explained lightly.
He went all choked on her for a minute again, in a quite different way, and then matched her light tone. "Oh, it's worse than that; one of his middle names was Lucius."
"Ewwwwww!" she cried again, laughing, and saw one of his tiny smiles in the moonlight. "Where'd you get a hamster, then?"
"Didn't, we found a rat."
"Oh, not one of those nasty, vicious things off the river, Sev."
"No. I thought she'd want to send me for a magical one from Nottingham or Diagon, but she said there'd been a rather wily one poking around the house. That's what gave her the idea."
"I thought you had vermin-repelling runes down everywhere?"
"We do. I'll have to renew them, I suppose. Maybe they wear off if you just do them in onion and lemon juice instead of a wand. We caught the thing in my bedroom, for some reason. Lord knows why, it's not as though I keep food in there, and the candles didn't look nibbled. I wasn't sure it would do, being standard-issue, but Mam just looked it in the eyes for a second and said it was perfect…"
I sorta wish this one wasn't AU. However, I have other plans. Which we'll get started on next post, promise.