Disclaimer: Profitless fanwork.

Overall warnings: teenagers fooling around, involuntary body modification (some of both this chapter), underage drinking, the Whomping Willow incident, Snape's Worst Memory.

Chronology: This isn't a standalone. It's the second half of A Key Called Promise, separated because the tone is darker and the rating is higher and people should be able to read a story through even if they just want the kidfic. I don't have a good sense for how well the Gate will open for you without the Key (that was your terrible wordplay warning), but that's certainly where all the nickname explanations are. Please have patience with the beginning: it's actually a middle. At this point I think it's about as fixed as it can get.

Friendship/love: This is a story about a strong friendship between a (very) tactile (and rather touch-starved) person and a reserved person who sort of gave up and made an exception (see above). The feels are intense and sometimes hands-on (because Evan is handsy), but are platonic. If you would like the original version, where the love is not platonic, back up and go to the the version without 'gen' in the name. Or visit me under potionpen at Archive of Our Own: that version's illustrated. I'll let you know in which chapters the art still applies, and the links in the profile will take you there, but be aware that the love in that version isn't brotherly.

Credits: Characters and setting by J.K. Rowling. Beta and britpicking by wanderinginthoughtspace (thank yooooouuuuuu). Errors by my stubbornness... and by continuing to re-draft after beta. n,n;;; Title and opening quote by John Bunyan.

Reviews are loved and fed and cuddled no matter how long it's been since posting.

Canon Compliance
It is advised that the reader be familiar with the biography of Harry Potter written by Ms. Rowling. The reader should be aware that this excellent and illuminating seven-volume series was fact-checked by Ms. Skeeter rather than Miss Granger. It therefore cannot be relied on in the matter of dates. Furthermore, Ms. Rowling's books are written from the point of view of their subject, and not only contain a distinctly pro-Gryffindor bias but largely confine themselves to what Mr. Potter saw, heard, assumed, and speculated, rather than strictly adhering to historical fact.

This is a Slytherin story, and truth is subjective.

Wherefore Christian was left to tumble in the Slough of Despond alone: but still he endeavoured to struggle to that side of the slough that was still further from his own house, and next to the wicket-gate; the which he did, but could not get out, because of the burden that was upon his back: but I beheld in my dream, that a man came to him, whose name was Help, and asked him, What he did there?
—The Pilgrim's Progress

Severus had sensibly spent his winter hols in the castle for once, apparently enjoying some kind of a wary and swottish truce with Remus Lupin and not getting any new bones broken. Everyone else in their year had gone home, and Evan wished he hadn't.

Andromeda, who Ev had used to consider quite sensible, or at least clearheaded had been stupid enough to think that her father might un-disinherit her. Just because her daughter had turned out not only to be definitely a witch but also almost uniquely talented. Just because that would have been rational, if you believed that purity was important for passing down magical strength rather than for its own sake.

Not that Aunt Dru and even a few of the born-Blacks like Grandfather and Uncle Alf, hadn't already been quietly ignoring Uncle Cygnus's decision, but Andi had made it so much harder for everyone by trying to be reinstated formally. Christmas had been completely unbearable, with Uncle Alf and Aunt Lucy making snide comments at everyone and Sirius alternately being surly and actually shouting, and Bella and Aunt Walburga and Uncle Cygnus all shouting back, which just made him get louder...

Narcissa had stuck around to support her mum and keep an eye on things, and Ev had put in a pair of earplugs and gotten a lot of practice at sketching angry gestures and hexes—which had annoyed everyone, but they were annoying him, so that was justice. He'd written Severus to ask and been assured it was, although the handwriting had been the kind of shaky that meant Spike hadn't been able to stop laughing while writing. Reggie and Granddad had kept disappearing together for long walks and Salazar-knew-what in Granddad's study, and Uncle Orion had spent the holiday in a tranquil alcoholic haze.

Apparently tranquil. He'd also spent it slowly killing off the very large bottles of hangunder and anti-migraine, apparently indiscriminately.

The rats Ev usually called 'Mum' and 'Dad were off in Greece with some French aquamancer and the sunken ship he'd found. It was completely unfair. Quite apart from all the histrionics they were avoiding, why didn't Evan get to go learn to paint underwater? He could learn Mermish and do scenes of the village in the lake!

All told, the holiday was exceedingly vexing and tedious. Getting back to the castle's cool and comparatively quiet halls was a great relief. Evan kept nearly breaking his neck whipping around to stare at everyone, though.

He was told this was embarrassing and had long since gotten old, but he was going to be a portraitist (if he could get good enough to meet Grandfather and the Board's standards and master all the charms without killing himself, and anyway, Mum was starting to put pressure on him about his Long Term Prospects so showing genuine appreciation to said prospects should be a good thing, shouldn't it?) and everyone in their year had completely changed shape over the summer, what did everyone expect?

Narcissa, for example, had gotten full-stop stunning. This was less shocking, since he'd been staying with her, but the way she'd looked the first time he saw her back in her school robes had still been a surprise. She looked like she ought to be painted in a blue dress by a water-lily pond, holding a lace parasol. Wilkes had gone oddly gawky for someone as short as she was, but the way she moved made it decidedly appealing, made her fawnlike with her big, butterbeer-colored eyes. Their other roommates were curvier than they'd been, but not less giggly (quite the reverse), and Evan still had little time for them.

Avery had gotten beefier, and Evan wondered until if he was going to get transferred to Beater. Gamp did try, but Avery just could not aim with a bat. Evan was going to have to do something about that next year. Assuming he got the captaincy. Mulgrew had a chance at it, and probably in a way wanted it more, but was going to be disappointed. Mulgrew thought cheating was the same thing as being clever, thought short-term high-payoff risks were always good tactics without realizing they made players feel expendable, and generally was going to get power over Evan's people over Evan's dead body. And, therefore, Severus's first. And, therefore, Evan's really first and, therefore, actually Mulgrew's. Because, no.

Lockhart, speaking of people on the team who were going to need handling, had gotten improbably prettier and also smoother, but remained very much himself. One tried to avoid him, and then, when one couldn't, one waited with glazed eyes to be rescued, nodding and being careful not to smile widely enough that he took it as a proposition rather than flirting.

Because he took scowling, being shouted at, being slammed against walls and choked, and having all his hair hexed off as flirting. Even Severus had quite given up and gone a sort of tooth-grinding, flat-eyed patient with him, which sometimes turned into hysterical laughter once he was completely sure Lockhart had bounced happily out of earshot like he had something to bounce (Evan tried not to think about whether he imagined himself to be bouncing his unnatural golden curls or his equally unnatural bum). It was amazing, the way no one had killed him so far. Yet neither interrogation of his roommates nor outright snooping had turned up anything Dark or even especially compelling in his toiletries.

Severus himself, along with Mulciber, and Regulus, was in in an awkward stage. Mulciber's new clumsiness came off a bit threatening, like one of Kettleburn's large monsters that might tread on you, and you'd never know whether it had been an accident or for fun. The word his elbows made one think of was rawboned.

Of the other two, Reggie was probably luckier. He'd only got spotty, and that had been reparable. Severus had only laughed at Reggie's hair (grown out because Reggie had seen Severus hide behind his own often enough) for a minute or two before fixing him up a topical. It had made Reggie greatly relieved and, shortly thereafter, less shaggy. No one told Sirius who was responsible for that, even though Siri had been ragging on his brother for looking like 'Snivvy.' While his face would have been a thing of beauty and a joy forever, mostly telling him would have made trouble.

The topical had also made a startled Severus unusually solvent when people found out where Reg had gotten the potion from. He still didn't buy himself anything new, but was not above overcharging Lockhart. Or failing to correct his impression that half a jar was an appropriate dose for one spot that did not actually exist.

Severus had not gotten spottier (he had gotten swottier, but he did that every time he had a chance to read anything he wanted without homework getting in the way). The Gryffindor thugs, who when called marauding goons by Evans had decided they liked the name, were sure he'd made a deal with the devil about it.

Evan was bemused about this. They were all in close enough combat with him often enough to know perfectly well that he didn't smell unwashed, which was the assumption at the center of their contention.

What he had gotten, along with some height, was more than his fair share of knee, elbow, and adam's apple to keep his nose company. This all would probably have been less glaring if he didn't keep forgetting to eat in the middle of meals, or skipping them altogether when the Gryffie jackasses were being particularly awful or Evans especially difficult.

He was, at least, more aware of where all his bits were than many who shared his fate. Although he struck the eye as clumsy, he really wasn't. Reggie and Mulciber and Thor Rowle were all a lot more likely to knock things over than he was. Lestrange, conversely, was starting to move like Bella. People were getting the impression he was her brother rather than her husband's.

But he wasn't, really, as clumsy as he looked, and more than that, something subtle had happened to his voice. Evan couldn't pin it down, but it made him think of warm, slow, shaded rivers, with riptides. Probably it had been happening for a while and familiarity had kept them all from noticing, but it was A Serious Thing. It was a Thing that was Serious Enough To Make Some People Overlook The Awkward.

He'd had Wilkes at 'Hullo, Wilkes, fine, thanks, how were yours,' and now she was stalking him. Avery had started casually whipping it out when Severus and Mulciber were having an argument. Evan would rather have liked to discourage that, preferably vehemently, but it did invariably break things up. In a quite amusing way, too, with loud groaning and thrown pillows and hand-waving, high-volume, polysyllabic Severan histrionics.

Almost everyone in the years above and below them seemed largely unaffected; Severus wasn't chatty outside of the dungeons and class—was, in fact, uninvitingly taciturn and narrow-eyed. Still, a few of the people he had classes with had been sending him scurrying for haven by eying him appraisingly or even, horrors, giggling to each other while glancing at him.

Evan pretended not to find this hilarious, because he quite liked being considered haven and didn't fancy mucking that up for himself. He got cachet out of it, and good company with lots of inventive griping, and someone who was interesting to listen to and had opinions to read History notes out to him (the lecture part of class must be valuable or they wouldn't have to sit through it; it wasn't as though Evan wanted to be susceptible to the soporific that was Binns, Spike!).

Narcissa was unaffected, but then, she was being intently courted by five crazy-eyed contenders, to three of whom she was giving moderately serious consideration. Severus didn't seem to react that way to her, either. He noticed and remarked on it when she'd put in an extra effort or was otherwise looking especially nice, but Evan suspected that this was at least 99.5% because she'd trained him well and strictly, using methods Evan hoped to never find out about.

The Voice Thing drove Sirius up a wall, through the ceiling, and over the castle gates. Potter, too, for more obvious reasons. Lupin looked wistful and haunted and conflicted, and had a tendency to look hesitatingly at Evan during prefect meetings as though he wanted to ask him something. Pettigrew had been known to walk into doors, probably out of spine-tingling terror. Evan didn't pretend not to find any of them smirk-worthy, the bastards.

Proving that Potter's spite was never based in reality, Evans hadn't even noticed. It made Ev want to shake her until her (admittedly glorious) Titian hair fell out.

Severus himself, being what he called a realist and everybody else called a cynical, paranoid, maniacal depressive, mostly noticed the other things. "As soon as we're done with school ties," he said, emerging from the bathroom with a sigh, "I'm switching to cravats. I don't care how Edwardian it is."

"You could probably achieve a similar effect with less effort," Evan mused, "by coming to a saner appreciation of cake."

Severus made an eh noise and sighed at his cloak. It had developed a loud yellow and red polka-dot pattern on the way back from breakfast, which was innocuous enough to have been a Sirius whim rather than a serious expression of grudge by Potter. A simple finite hadn't budged the coloring, though, so Severus set resignedly to the business of working down the list of clothing magic Narcissa had taught him.

"I saw you at breakfast," Evan pursued the matter, crossing his ankles and leaning back against laced fingers behind his head. "You know what happens when you get all absorbed in… what were you reading, anyway?"

"Pre-wand technique," Severus said, wand-tossing him a battered book called Olde and Forgotten Bewitchments and Charmes. "Mam's birthday's coming up; I wanted to send her some things she could do without… without getting into trouble. She scolds if I buy her anything, so."

Evan decided to avoid that one by as many leagues as possible. "All right, when you get all absorbed in books so old their authors' tombstones have crumbled to dust?"

"You should read it, Ev. There's a whole chapter on candles and colored flame, and another one on how the rays of different sources of light can be magically imbued when they pass through colored crystal."

"All right, I will, but you know what happens?"

"You learn things?"

"Your plate goes back with half your food on it, Brilliant, and the kitchen elves think they've done something wrong. You're making poor, defenseless, well-meaning elves iron their ears, Spike."

"I'm not making anyone do anything, Nonsense," Severus said with an eyebrow up. He'd finally gotten his cloak in order, and settled down next to Evan, peering at the arithmancy workbook in his lap.

Evan draped an arm over his shoulders, trapping him and his giant brain. "Want to attack this with me?" he asked gesturing to the book. "Go twice as fast with two; we might even get through Runes before lunch."

They lost themselves quickly in the arrays Digitalin had set them for Monday. Next year they'd get to start directing their own research in his class, and they were both looking forward to it. Severus had some arcane theory about runes and arrays in wandwork and numerology in potion-stirring patterns, and Evan couldn't wait to start applying arithmancy to composition.

Although... Severus had told him about the muggles' science breaking down color into things called wavelengths that had frequency, like sound, and were therefore made of numbers. If so, the actual colors on a canvas should have at least as much magical potential as their arrangement, yes?

Choices, choices. Next year was going to be fun, no matter how much work it was.

After a while, Mulciber, Wilkes, Narcissa, and all their books joined them. The common room must have been getting noisy.

They'd all been working peacefully for maybe twenty minutes when the common room got so noisy that everyone looked at the door. Then everyone but Severus turned back to their work. "I'm sure they gave you those badges for a reason," he said to Evan and Narcissa, shaking his head as he stood. "There's six of you, for pity's sake."

"Yes, darling," Narcissa agreed absently, turning a page of her Transfigurations textbook. "It's because you need someone to play Good Auror."

"Wrath of Merlin Auror; I'm Good Auror," Severus retorted incorrectly, and went out to deal with it. Evan stopped the door closing, because Spike yelling at people for yelling at people never failed to make him grin.

Snatches of it drifted back to them, like, "…Not even Gryffindor behavior, you're acting like juvenile warthogs," and, "I hope to every god ever spawned by the brain of man you aren't thinking of expressing those views in public; Slughorn will completely wash his hands of you," and, "Oh, well, if it's authority you want, I should be delighted to go disturb one of the prefects from their NEWT studies. I'm sure they'll be thrilled to drop everything to come and adjudicate for a bunch of spoiled brats with the self control of jarveys—no? Well, it's me, one of them, or sort it out yourselves QUIETLY, which you have just proved is well beyond your illustrious talents, your majesty, so…"

"We're only doing OWL studies," Evan mentioned when he came back, smiling at him. "The senior prefects are all in the library."

"NEWT studies sounds more impressive," Severus said with an airy flick of his long fingers. "They're second-years, they're flustered, it'll take them all week to work it out and by then they'll have forgotten."

"You didn't leave them hanging from the ceiling like flies again, did you?" Narcissa asked, frowning a little. "That took a little explaining."

"No, they settled down quickly enough this time," Severus assured her. "No one tried to hex me. I told you doing it once would mean I'd only have to do it once."

"What was it?" Mulciber asked. He didn't sound particularly curious, but it was always a good idea to keep half an eye on spats even in the lower forms. Those had a smaller initial blast potential, but more time to mature.

They didn't usually just go away, either. To nip a Slytherin feud in the bud, you needed as strange and unlikely a combination as the blithe self-assurance that kept Narcissa from bothering to hold grudges and Spike's skinless tendency to mirror back how other people felt about him.

It was an alarmingly accurate ability/curse of Spike's, second by second, although pushy people like Wilkes could close him off. If his mercurial cousin's hateful best friend didn't think Spike wanted 'his girl,' Evan often thought, Sirius's inability to hold a mood on his own for ten minutes would have flown Spike around the twist in a much less harmful way. Maybe even a fun one.

Then again, if Sirius hadn't had an attention span problem and been taught how to think and have fun by his mother and Bella, Potter wouldn't be out looking for Pettigrew-saving ways to entertain him all the time. Some combinations were just bad news.

Evan combined with Spike's Quidditch uniform, for example. But he was getting used to that. Sort of. Slowly. He hadn't lost his temper this year. Even though Spike technically staying on the reserve team only really meant they had four Chasers on a rotation and Gamp had three people to bribe every time he wanted Spike to play: Spike to fly (1), someone else not to (2), and Evan to take a mild soother with breakfast (3).

1) This was a racket, One might even have gone so far as to call it a scam. You couldn't have kept Spike out of Evan and Reggie's games with a body-bind. (4)

2) Less of a racket, depending on who it was and how much homework they had.

3) To keep him from racking up fouls grabbing Sirius's bat and beating Pettigrew to death with it. Or some other Beater's bat with which to beat Pettigrew and Potter to death in the stands, if it wasn't a Gryffindor game. Not a racket. He really, really wanted to.

4) Evan had actually tried this. Sadly, (5) Severus was unnervingly good at wandless magic.

5) At least, at first Evan had thought it was unfortunate. Then, given the Gryffs, he'd found it deeply reassuring. Then it had occurred to him that Severus had a natural affinity for temperature magic, and potions and charmsmithing both made intuitive sense to him, and nobody was that good in that many subjects. Not just because they were made that way, without motivation and practice. Then Narcissa had to talk him out of finding out Severus's home address and taking a little trip to curse his parents. He'd resented this: he'd fully intended to be subtle. An ill-luck enhancer hidden under their bed, maybe, or an infestation of plague rats in the kitchen.

"I gather," Severus said judiciously, "the catalyst had to do with earrings that were borrowed without permission. But it seems to boil down to something Higgs heard Jorkins tell Parkinson."

"Oh, the Goyle mess," laughed Wilkes.

"Not good if the baby snakes are taking sides," Evan mused. "That's a seventh-year matter, none of their business. None of our business, strictly speaking."

"And yet," Severus grimaced.

"I'll have a word with Davis about Parkinson, darling," Narcissa told Ev, "but I think we may have to set the cobra on Jorkins as soon as possible. The poor thing just can't take a hint."

"I'm not your attack dog," Severus grumbled.

Everybody laughed at him. "You're our guard dog, Naj," Evan re-interpreted, giving him a squeeze. "Against unruly and slipshod habits in the peabrains who are our future."

"Fine," he sighed, put-upon. "It's surely not possible I had anything else to do."

"Do you have something else to do?" Evan asked. He was a little disappointed, although strictly speaking he'd had nothing to be appointed about. He did have an open day, though, no practice or dates planned. He was where he ought to be in his homework, and although he was allowed to do watercolors unsupervised now and had a painting of the lake in progress, it would have been nice if Severus had been similarly free. Their room was always fragrant in Spring with bundles of drying herbs Severus had foraged from the edge of the forest (sometimes you couldn't see the walls), and today looked like a good one for a walk. Maybe with a pick-up game afterwards to shake off the mortification of The Basket.

Seeming to read this thought in his tone, Severus turned to him with a pleased and aggrieved you might have said earlier quality to his lack of expression. "Well," he started. "Nothing—that is…"

"Ooh, he does!" Wilkes exclaimed. "Who, who, who? Inquiring minds want to grill them afterwards. I mean fantasize. I mean know."

"Oh, really," Severus said crossly, scowling. He crossed his arms, too. "We're not all you, Wilkes. Chang wants me to go over her elemental-versus-planetary properties of plants essay with her, that's all."

The rest of them all looked up, and looked at him, and looked at each other.

Severus successfully fended off three of the four pillows, but Narcissa's got him in the face. "What?!" he demanded, aggrieved.

"Severus, darling," Narcissa told him patiently, "Mingyue does not want you to go over her potions essay with her."

"She asked me to," Severus returned, more slowly and less patiently.

"Because that's what she thought you'd agree to without running away, nimrod," Wilkes said, rolling her pretty eyes hugely. "Nobody wants you to go over their essays with them, Naj. Nobody."

"It's an essay a lot of people have trouble with. And she grew up with the air-fire-water-iron-wood system, she doesn't think in Aristotelian—"

"That's as may be," Evan cut him off, "but your edits make sixth years cry. And everybody knows it. And she certainly knows it, because she has Potions and Runes with Reggie."

"My edits do not make Reggie cry," he said, offended.

"Only because he grew up with Auntie Walburga, Severus," Narcissa told him, trying to contain her smile. "He's like someone who's been tortured for years and barely feels the lash anymore even when it makes him bleed."

"Kinky," commented Wilkes, eying her speculatively.

"I like Chang," Evan mentioned. "She's loony, but it's a nice kind of loony. You should ask her out, Spike, you need more pleasant and peaceful in your life."

Severus eyed Evan like he wanted to say something scathing but might not have even if they were alone. Evan blinked at him. It was good advice, he'd thought. None of the girls in their year would risk getting caught in the Potter-Snape crossfire, voice or no voice, but Potter wouldn't even notice a dreamy-eyed fourth-year Ravenclaw was alive.

"Anyway," said Wilkes, standing up and coming over to straddle Severus, "what she wants is—"

"Get. Off. Me."

"I could get off on you," she said hopefully, pressing up against his chest and winding her arms around his neck. He wordlessly lifted her off him and set her on the floor, with the kind of expression that was a droning comment all in itself. She huffed.

Evan felt a little smug, because yes, they'd dubbed her the Ribbon Snake because she was tiny as well as because of her proven ability to eat toads and Slugs for breakfast, but it wasn't as though she had goblin or fay blood or anything, and he had those arms and Avery's more obvious ones on his team. And Reggie's, too, but Reg didn't need to be accurate at long-distance. He was for getting things done at close-range while Severus distracted everyone by being-on-the-field-while-Snape. He was, as Gamp had called him once, a complete bludger-sponge, and he still got a few goals in, most games. Evan really wasn't happy about this, but since Spike refused to quit, Ev was also going to be smug.

"You could get off on me," Mulciber offered generously.

"You can watch," she decided, equally generously, and slid onto Narcissa's lap instead. Narcissa looked startled. "Now, what she wants, Naj—are you paying attention?" Everyone was paying attention, because she was twined most artistically around her roommate, lips behind her ear and a hand sneaking into her robes. Evan plastered a hand over his eyes. "She wants you to turn down the lights..." Wilkes purred into Narcissa's hair, "and whisper pretty things in her ear... and then... doooo them!"

"What kind of things?" Mulciber asked in a tell-me-a-story voice. Evan whimpered. Did it have to be his cousin? Couldn't she have picked on Mulciber instead? He could have dealt with looking at Wilkes and Mulciber.

"Wilkes," said Severus, in such a restricted voice that Ev couldn't tell whether he was displeased or trying not to laugh. "I think you're killing Lance."

"Things like this," Wilkes said, still purring.

There was a rustling and a wet noise, and then Narcissa squeaked and stood up. "Lucy," she said severely, "this is terribly undignified."

"Oh, I suppose you're right," Wilkes agreed, not chastised. "Bye, boys! Don't forget to use your assets, Naj!" Evan looked up just in time to see her tap the bridge of her pert little nose with a meaningful expression and steer a trying-to-look-unflustered Narcissa out. Severus flushed.

"What?" Mulciber asked, perplexed.

Severus slouched completely behind his book and hissed out a fervent, "Nothing. It means nothing. She's just odd."

"Not the word I would have used," Mulciber said. It would have been a leer if he'd been Avery, so thank Salazar Avery was out. "What do you think they're doing now?"

"I'm sure my first cousin and her friend are sedately studying transfiguration," Evan said firmly.

"More like charms," Mulciber said, and now it was a leer. Severus made a rrrgh noise, scowling into the book, and Mulciber rolled his eyes at them. "All right, let's say it's Wilkes and Cattermole, then."

"Oh, all right," Evan said, happier with this idea.

"Your mothers gave birth to you, you know," Severus said snappishly.

"Er… so?"

He looked up, annoyed. "So intercourse has been happening since at least nine months before you were born."

"Spike!" Evan howled, along with Mulciber's equally horrified, "Snape!"

"Honestly!" Severus went on impatiently. "You lot act like you've just discovered genitalia for the first time in the history of the universe and if the topic isn't thoroughly explored by tomorrow the sun won't come up. A meritorious subject to be sure," he went on droll with a distinct hint of patronizing, "but there are others."

Evan and Mulciber looked at each other. "Surely none so worthy, Spike," Evan blinked at him.

Severus put down his quill and stood up with his bookbag, shaking his head. "I'm going to go talk potions with a Ravenclaw now," he announced, and strode off.

"Try not to run into the goon squad!" Evan called after him.

"I always try!"

Evan nodded agreeably along with Mulciber's progressively lascivious contemplation of Chang's lushly compact exoticism and how it might swell over the next year or two. He couldn't really get into it, though. Chang was pretty and he enjoyed talking to her, she was too laid-back for Evan to imagine making any sparks with. Somebody in a clinch ought to have some fizz.

Mulciber was definitely into it, though. Before long, he was rubbing himself and giving Ev a do-you-wanna? eyebrow.

Evan really didn't see why they couldn't, at this age, have single rooms. Or doubles, at least.

He shook his head, and started stowing his books away. "I want to get down to the lake before the light gets too noonlike. Can't rely on there still being any peace tomorrow morning."

"Suit yourself," said Mulciber with a shrug, and disappeared into his four-poster. At least they had curtains. If only they had silencing charms that worked in the bedroom. Oh well.

He was almost happy with the water by the time a pair of hands slid onto his shoulders. Oak-leaves, sage, basil, juniper, hints of dark mint and spices, vervain... Without needing to look, he leaned back and let his eyes drift shut. "I could brew you something in almost any of those shades," Severus said, mellow, "but put them together?"

"I could probably teach you," Evan said. Severus was wearing a jumper he'd had since first year, so often altered (mostly by Narcissa) that it wasn't recognizable anymore. It had obviously been someone else's before it was his, and now it was so much enlarged and often-worn that it couldn't have been very warm. Severus was warm, though, and the jumper was soft against Ev's cheek. It was a very different kind of soft from any of the high-quality knits and fabrics someone like Evan Rosier would have encountered without strange friends to turn his life in odd directions.

"No, you couldn't," Severus said. Evan could hear the smile in his voice. "You can't fool me, Rosier. Your da had you copying shapes and shadows the same year Mam started me stirring the stew and chopping vegetables."

"Probably," he allowed, also smiling. "Maybe I couldn't get you professional, but I could still teach you."

"I'll just let you stay my eyes, thanks. We have OWLs to study for, after all, and next year will be just as bad."

"True. Speaking of work, I don't suppose you've sorted out Jorkins yet."

The jumper moved with Severus's quiet snort. "I wouldn't hold out much hope in that quarter," he said. "But, no, I'm not going to try until you and Narcissa have had a word with the upper-form prefects. She's sure to complain about me to them, so we all need to be on the same page before I move."

Evan nodded. With a smile, he teased, "How was Chang?"

"She is well, kind of you to ask," Severus said. Evan could hear the eye-roll. "For god's sake, Ev, she's fourteen."

"I'm fifteen," Ev pointed out. "Even if you make me a chastity belt I'm not wearing it, Spike. Unhygienic."

"You're only fifteen for about a month. And you're…"

Evan waited curiously. After a while he got a little distracted by the warm and sun and started dozing into Spike's jumper. Spike wasn't carrying much in the way of nonessential weight, and Quidditch and having Gryffindor enemies were both full-body workouts, but he did a lot more walking and brewing than heavy lifting. Ev tended to think of Spike as, well, all spikes and wiry angles, even if some of them were made of brittle obsidian rather than steel. But here was this soft place at his core. Evan pressed in peacefully, plotting naps.

"All over everybody without an invitation," Severus finished, only just not-laughing at him. "We ought to make you a collar with a bell. Silly of us to call Reggie the cat-snake, in retrospect, just for his name. Would you like your ears scratched?"

"All right, all right." He'd acknowledge the mockery, but it wasn't a good reason to move his face. He was comfortable. He thought he might, actually, like his ears scratched, or at least rubbed, but as of now Severus Must Never Know. "Did you get her essay sorted?"

"More or less. I told her to do the damn essay Slughorn wants and put all her complaints and alternate perspectives in the footnotes."

"That's what you do, is it?" He angled an amused smile up.

"I give him a separate parchment with the endnotes, he calculates the extra credit based on volume, reading only carefully enough to make sure I'm not giving him fiction, everyone's happy."

"Except that it makes you crazy."

"No effort there, ask anyone."

"Don't need to ask," Evan chuckled.

Severus made an offended noise, and they lapsed into silence again. Evan thought it was nice, after peering at the sun on the lake for so long, to tip his head back into warmth and gaze up at the harsh, icy blue of the March sky. After a while, Spike said, "Chang says Slughorn's asked her grandmother if she'll help me learn to pronounce the Chinese runes properly over the summer."

"That's wonderful, Spike."

There was a long sigh. "It is," he agreed. "I just don't know how I'm going to get there and back. It's not like I have a broom, or we're on the Floo. If it were next year, maybe I could apparate, but…"

"Well, when you're thanking Sluggy, ask him in a very impressed tone of voice how he's solved the problem. Then he'll have to take care of it, to save face. He'll probably get you a portkey. Just try not to sound sarcastic."

"I'll try. I'm going to make an idiot out of myself, though," he said gloomily. "I can barely manage British manners."

"So ask Chang what her grandmother will expect," Evan said, "and tell the lady in advance you hope for her instruction when your ignorance offends."

Severus shook his head, and his hands tightened on Evan's shoulders. "Everything's just easy to you, isn't it," he said. Ev could feel the smile in his voice.

"Worrying about problems gets in the way of solving them sometimes," he said, stretching his way upright. "I usually find if you assume there's an answer in front of you, there is."

"You Alexander, you," Severus said lightly. "No knot is safe."

"This is one of those references Malfoy would understand, isn't it."


Evan turned to look at him, meaning to ask about it. Instead, his lips pursed and his eyebrow went up. "Spike, why do you have pointed ears?"

"Because Evans watches the same, er." He looked at the mountains, seeking word help. "The same plays me Da does, and decided she was too upset to use her words."

"Oh, for—"

"I think it suits me," Severus said, turning his nose up. "Chang thinks so, too."

Evan had to admit it did, when he used an artist's eye instead of a my friend has just had involuntary nonconsensual body modification from someone who claims to be his friend again eye. The long sweep of the ears balanced out his nose and emphasized his cheekbones, made him fey. "But why?" he asked. He could feel his eyebrows in odd positions, but really. "I mean, why?"

Another sigh. "The usual. Avery's been picking on one of her friends, I can't stop him."

"I can't stop him," Evan pointed out, his lips pursed. "Narcissa can't stop him. Wilkes can't stop him. He has no thoughts to affect. He makes no plans. Want, slobber, grab. Dislike, clobber, clobber more."

"As I could attest if that were in any way a good idea," Severus agreed ruefully. "She thinks in straight lines. She thinks loudly telling people you disapprove is always the right thing to do and solves everything, and she thinks not yelling at him means I like him."

"As opposed to meaning his mother wouldn't actually have to speak an order out loud or use up a favor to have your whole family killed."


"You did lend her that copy of Nature's Nobility when I told you to?"

"Yes, but she thought it was a sort of breeding record. Like for racehorses."

"And you explained that it is, in actual fact, a survival guide?"

"She's surrounded by Gryffindor purebloods who like her and want her to be comfortable, Ev. They keep telling her blood doesn't mean anything."

"They haven't told her money and connections don't mean anything, surely."

"No, they haven't, Evan, because they are actually purebloods and they don't have the Malfoy inferiority complex and they therefore don't name-drop or talk about money. And Evans's family is also very firmly in the category of muggles who convince themselves, or at least their kids, that those things don't matter and everyone's got an equal chance in the world, and Evans likes to think the best of life and doesn't understand lying or delicate omissions or unwritten rules very well."

"So she thought you were lying."

"She thinks I've been gulled by the sadly wrong opinions of snobs who take yourselves too seriously."

"You. You've been gulled."

Severus shrugged. "I haven't convinced her, so I must be wrong. You're all Slytherins, after all, very persuasive."

"You're Slytherin!"

"No, I'm the boy who grew up near her summer house. Anyway, I'm obviously bad at it."

Evan made a disgusted noise. Cobras were still serpents. So were rattlesnakes. And fire-breathing dragons that might crush a house by sitting on it for a quiet smoke. Even if they did wear silly hats and twinkle a lot and guzzle sweets like they were two and convince everyone they were lions. "Stupid bint."


Evan sighed too. "What does Avery have to do with pointy ears?"

"They're very specialized muggle shorthand for I'm heartless and have no feelings."

"…I really can't call her a stupid bint again?"

"I'd rather you didn't," Severus said, fighting a smile. "But I was thinking, could you do me a charcoal portrait like this to send home before I have them fixed? No magic. With very straight eyebrows. Against the mountains, maybe. Da might actually enjoy it, and the shock would probably kill him. Either way, a good result."

"All right," Evan said agreeably. Spike was joking about the patricide, of course, but not weaving some spells to encourage it into the paper would be a real temptation. Evan saw what he looked like every fall when he came back to school.

"What did you have in mind, earlier?" Severus asked. "There's about an hour till lunch."

"Well, I thought you probably had flowers to pick, now it's warming up," Evan said, tapping his easel with his wand and standing up. His stool and supplies cleaned and folded themselves up and tucked themselves away meekly in their wooden case. "But then Mulciber annoyed me. How are you and Narcissa coming on that area silencing charm?"

"We've gotten it to work in the common room, but the wards on the bedroom are still being difficult. Hogwarts: A History isn't very specific, so…"

Who knew? There might even be time to finish that array set after all.

Art at AO3; link in profile:
Your mum has had SEX!

Everything's just easy to you, isn't it?


Next: Mulciber's brain + Severus's alcohol + Sirius Black + full moon = [solve for X]