Many thanks to Luthien for the early read-through and to Fox for beta; blame for any remaining inconsistencies should be laid entirely at my own doorstep. Part of the Severus Snape Fuh-Q Fest Third Wave (3-word challenge - phrase: "Never fear, child.")

SPOILERS: This story contains spoilers for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


No Place Like Home
by Beth H.
(c) August 2003



Not even testing the potions he'd brewed secretly in the garden shed at home as a child had ever resulted in the kind of sick feeling Severus was now experiencing.

It wasn't traveling by portkey that was making him feel so queasy, of course - or at least he didn't think it was, although admittedly he'd never used an illegal portkey before. In fact, if he didn't know any better, he'd suspect he was suffering from a case of nerves, but that was patently ridiculous. What did he have to be nervous about? Should it turn out that Regulus Black had more in common with his wretched older brother, Sirius, than he'd come to believe, well, Severus was a year ahead of Regulus in his studies and more than capable of protecting himself from the worst hex or curse any mere student even a fellow Slytherin could throw at him.

As recently as a year and a half ago, he couldn't have said this with any true conviction, but events of the past eighteen months had provided him with more than enough incentive for acquiring his current expertise in dueling and magical defense.

"Okay there, Severus?"

Severus took a deep breath and looked at the boy standing in front of him. Regulus stood on the doorstep of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, his school robes already removed and slung carelessly over one arm and the wind whipping his long, dark hair across his face.

He looked beautiful.

"Are you certain it's all right with your parents that I . . . that we visit this weekend?"

Severus had never considered inviting anyone from school home with him, not under any circumstances. Even if his father had somehow agreed to it, the ever-present possibility that something could . . . go wrong would have stopped him from issuing the invitation.

"Absolutely certain." Regulus grinned. "Or I'm certain it would be if I'd thought to mention it to them the last time I owled. By the strangest coincidence, this turns out to be the week my mum and dad planned to travel to Bulgaria to visit Uncle Aurelius. And you know what that means, don't you? It means the place is ours for the weekend."

They walked into the front hallway, Severus following Regulus, but he was stopped short by an odd noise coming from behind a curtain hanging on the wall. He set down his bag, and stepped closer to take a look.

"You coming, then?"

Severus started at the sound of Regulus' voice, but he nodded and bent down to pick up his bag.

"Something wrong?" Regulus asked.

"Not at all. Only . . . is something alive back there?"

Regulus turned and looked in the direction Severus was pointing, then laughed, white teeth flashing brightly in the shadowed hall. "Oh, that! No, that's just the former portrait of my former idiot brother. You want to have a look?" He pulled the curtain aside to reveal an ornate gold frame holding the tattered canvas remains of what was once a portrait.

"Merlin's beard! It's ripped to shreds. What happened to it?"

"Mother happened to it. She and Sirius were having a row, like usual, about the company he was keeping at school, half-bloods and the like. Except this time, he said he was ashamed to be her son and he called her a bitch and next thing we knew, she'd taken one of those ceremonial swords off the wall and . . . . well, as you see."

Severus inspected her handiwork and shook his head. "He's lucky she stopped with the canvas."

Regulus opened his eyes wide. He looked quite horrified.

"Are you mad?" he asked scornfully. "She'd never have laid a finger on one of her own children. What do you think we are? Muggles?"

Severus turned away. Stupid boy. Did he truly believe that there were no wizards who were quite capable of ignoring the tradition which said that to inflict physical pain on one's nearest blood relations was anathema? Clearly he did believe it.

Stupid lucky boy.

"Of course not," Severus said. "I . . . wasn't thinking."

"Shocking," Regulus said, after a moment. "Severus Snape admitting to not thinking. Watch it, Snape, or someone might mistake you for a mere mortal like the rest of us."

Severus narrowed his eyes and glared at the younger boy, trying to discover what deeper insult lay behind his mocking tones, but then Regulus flashed a sudden grin at him and draped an arm over his shoulder, and without being altogether certain why, Severus' rising anger and suspicion vanished as quickly as it had appeared.

"Come on. I've got some things tucked away upstairs that might interest you. That is, if you can refrain from hexing me until we get up to my room."

Severus said nothing, merely raised an eyebrow, but he could feel the last of the nervous tension that had been building up in him for the past few days recede.

The two boys climbed the marble staircase and walked down the long hall until they reached the last door on the right. Regulus swung the door open and squinted a little in the dark room. "Incendio! Ah, that's better." He dropped his books on the dressing table before flopping down on his four-poster bed. "I don't know how the Mudbloods can stand having to go back to homes where they can't do magic for months at a time. I'd go mad."

Severus stood in the doorway, watching as candles burst into life in the sconces set along the walls. "I suppose they're used to it by now."

"Suppose. Mind you, they're not altogether useless." Regulus slid down onto the floor and crawled halfway under the bed. "Come over here," he said, his voice muffled by the heavy bedspread. "You'll appreciate this."

Severus sat down on the floor and leaned back against the bed, his long legs crossed beneath him. "Hiding bodies under there, are you?"

Regulus laughed. "No, something even better. Take a look." He pulled out a heavy metallic object with glass plates and mirrors on the base. "You can touch it."

Severus reached out and lay his hand on the cylindrical top piece. "It's Muggle, isn't it?" he asked curiously. "A . . . telescope?"

"Close. It's called a microscope. Lo . . . one of my father's associates sent it to me. Said I might find the possibilities intriguing. Go on, take a look. No, wait . . . let me put this glass slide here and . . . there. Now look."

Regulus pointed to the top of the cylinder, and Severus leaned over and peered in.

"I can't see anything."

"Oh, right. One sec." He flipped a switch, and light appeared as if by magic. He took Severus's hand and wrapped it around a metal knob at the side of the microscope. "Here, turn this until you see something."

Severus turned the knob slowly and squinted a little until he could make out the edge of a blob of viscous liquid. "I see something. It's . . . red, and there are all these little . . what is this?"

"Blood. My blood, to be precise."

"Blood?"

"Yeah," Regulus nodded. "Brilliant, isn't it? It's only supposed to keep on the glass for a few days, but I spelled it so it would last longer. I was sure that little twerp Kreacher would have found it before I came home for the holidays and informed my mother, but it looks like my wards are working against the nosey bastard."

Severus peered intently into the microscope, pushing the little glass slide back and forth along the base. "Did you know there are . . . things moving in your blood? I think they're alive. Quite fascinating."

"I thought you'd like it."

"Damn," Severus said, pushing a few lank strands of hair out of his eyes. "Lost it. If I could just adj . . . ."

He stopped mid-word. Mid-breath.

Regulus had gathered Severus' hair and had pulled it back into one hand. "Looked like it was getting in your way," he murmured, before rubbing his thumb along the length of Severus's bare neck.

Then he leaned in closer, and Severus took a quick, shallow breath as Regulus pressed his lips against the nape of his neck.

"All right?" Regulus whispered in between kisses.

Severus closed his eyes and clenched his hand tightly around the knob until he could feel his knuckles start to ache, barely daring to move for fear Regulus would stop . . . doing that. Would stop kissing him.

When Regulus wrapped his free arm around Severus' chest and pulled him back against his own chest, Severus felt the rapid beating of Regulus' heart and relaxed marginally. Perhaps this was as new to Regulus as it was to him.

He turned slightly, then reached back around to touch Regulus, but he caught the microscope on the sleeve of his robe and knocked it onto its side. He could feel his face start to burn with embarrassment, and he ducked his head.

Regulus stilled. "Is something wrong? "

"It's . . . ." What could he say? That this was the first time anyone had kissed him willingly apart from some ancient aunts on his mother's side? He'd look like a fool. "It's been . . . a while."

"Mmmm," Regulus murmured into the side of Severus' neck. "Doesn't matter."

And suddenly nothing mattered but the feel of Regulus' lips against Severus' skin and the shedding of robes.

He had thought that should this moment actually arrive, as he'd hardly allowed himself to believe would be the case, the greater part of his thoughts would be reserved for gleefully anticipating the horror-stricken look on Sirius Black's face when he discovered that his erstwhile brother had willingly touched 'Snivellus' Snape.

But the moment had arrived, and all that Severus had on his mind was how good it felt to have Regulus' hands touching his chest, teasing at his sensitive nipples, stroking the length of his spine. How good it felt to kiss this boy, to feel his warm breath on his skin, to hear the soft almost-whimpers Regulus made as Severus nuzzled his neck and sucked at the soft skin. How good it felt, for once, to be touched by another - by this boy - who seemed to crave Severus' touch just as much.

Without taking his mouth from Regulus's neck, Severus slid his hands down the long muscles of his friend's back until he reached the curve of his arse. He paused, but Regulus just tightened his grip on Severus and murmured, "Don't stop." Severus lowered his arms the last few inches, filling his hands with the firm flesh of Regulus' buttocks, and his friend groaned with pleasure.

Then a piercingly shrill sound that came from neither of the two boys shattered the moment, and the breath caught in Severus' throat. The boys broke apart and stared at the now-open bedroom door.

"Oh! Please not to be angry at poor old Kreacher!" a house elf squeaked, wringing its hands together nervously. "Kreacher is sorry to interrupt when young master is . . . entertaining a guest, but Mistress is now wanting to speak with young master and Kreacher must always do as his mistress wishes."

Regulus got to his feet and glared down at Kreacher. "Did it not occur to you that you might simply knock on the door before entering as you've been instructed to do?"

The elf shivered a bit in the face of the boy's red-faced anger, but simply repeated his earlier words. "Mistress is now wanting to speak with young master."

Heart still beating rapidly - although whether the primary cause was arousal or being caught in a compromising position by a bloody house elf, he could not say - Severus rose up from the floor as his friend had done and straightened his robes around him with as much dignity as he could muster.

The elf scampered out of the bedroom and waited for them in the hallway. Severus began to follow, but Regulus, now fully robed, turned to him, surprise written plainly on his face.

"You don't have to come, you know."

Severus raised one eyebrow. "Of course I don't have to. Now, shall we?"

Regulus dropped his head and muttered, "The Hat should have sorted you into Hufflepuff."

Severus glared at his friend. "There's no need to be insulting just because you're about to face your doom."

The boy grinned, then nudged his shoulder into Severus' arm.

They followed Kreacher down two flights of stairs and along a dark hallway until they reached a barely-lit room. Regulus went in immediately, but Severus hung back for a moment, taking a deep breath before going in after his friend.

Severus looked in through the open door and saw . . . a kitchen? It was a kitchen. He let out a shaky breath and mentally shook his head; what had he been expecting? Some kind of medieval torture chamber complete with executioner? It was just a kitchen.

As he entered, he saw a black-capped woman of indeterminate age standing by the table. Her sallow skin was stretched tightly over high cheekbones, and she did not look pleased.

"Imagine my surprise," she was saying in a dangerously quiet voice, "when an owl burst in during a dinner party and landed on my plate. Imagine my further surprise to discover it was from that meddling old fool, Albus Dumbledore, expressing dismay that my son was not to be found on the grounds of Hogwarts and apologizing for having apparently lost the note which explained that Regulus would be spending time with his family this weekend."

Regulus looked down at the floor. "I apologize, Mother. It's my fault entirely. I didn't think anyone would . . . ."

"No, it's quite obvious you didn't think," she said, glowering at her son. "No more than he ever did."

"I'm sorry," he said hoarsely, his voice little more than a whisper.

Severus shuddered at the sound of misery in his friend's voice. He'd heard the same pleading tones coming from his own mouth time and again when in the presence of his father, and when Mrs. Black raised her hand, he took an involuntary step forward toward his friend's side. However she just shook her head and ruffled her son's hair. "What's done is done, Regulus."

Severus watched in shock as her thin lips curled up into a small smile. "You took me away from nothing but a series of endless political conversations, as might be expected from that lot. I was glad for the excuse to leave, quite frankly."

Regulus, still a bit ashen-faced, looked up at his mother. "What about Father?"

"Your father appeared more than content to be left to his own devices. I believe he had some business remaining with some of his . . . associates."

"Something to do with Lord . . . . "

"Business, Regulus," she snapped, before glancing sharply in Severus's direction.

It felt . . . strange having the force of her attention directed at him and away from her son for the first time. It had been Severus' experience that being the focus of anyone's attention was dangerous, and so he had learned to protect himself from unwanted notice. In the past year, only Regulus had refused to give in, but now - caught in the assessing gaze of Mrs. Black - it appeared that he was in the presence of yet another person whom it was impossible to ignore.

Severus tried to school his features into the flat, basilisk-like expression he'd so often seen his father assume before striking out at someone, but he was betrayed by a small almost-quiver in his bottom lip.

Mrs. Black narrowed her eyes. "Ah, you must be the Snape boy. I'd recognize that . . . face anywhere."

"Yes, ma'am." Severus stifled the sudden impulse to rub his nose.

"There was some interesting talk about you this past week, boy. One of your former House prefects mentioned that you have quite a talent in potions."

"Lucius Malfoy?"

"Young Malfoy. That's him. His words came to the notice of some rather important people, Mr. Snape. I don't know if your father has any particular plans for your future, but . . . ."

Severus snorted involuntarily. The idea of his father making plans of any sort for him was ludicrous.

"Sorry, ma'am," he said, aware that his interruption would be considered rude. "Just a bit of a tickle in my throat."

Mrs. Black watched him silently for a long moment. "As I was about to say, it appears that there may be some interesting and potentially lucrative uses to which you can put your potions expertise soon. As I've said to my son, it doesn't do to miss an opportunity when it presents itself."

He nodded in response to Mrs. Black's words. Lucius Malfoy, of all people, had been talking about his potions work to . . . important people? To Lord Voldemort himself, unless he was very much mistaken. There were so many questions he wanted to ask, but it wouldn't do to seem too eager. He glanced at Regulus, and noted the small, knowing smile on his friend's face. They would have to discuss this turn of events at greater length in the near future.

"All right," Mrs. Black said. "I suppose it wouldn't look good if I sent you back to school tonight. That old fool Dumbledore might get the mistaken impression that I hadn't intended the two of you to spend the weekend, and we wouldn't want that, would we?"

Regulus flashed a grin at Severus, but his mother looked sharply at him. "This does not mean, however, that I am at all pleased about discovering I was unaware of my own son's whereabouts. I informed Dumbledore that the two of you were at the house collaborating on a project, and that is exactly how I expect you to spend the rest of this weekend. And Regulus?"

"Yes, Mother?"

"If you haven't yet shown your friend to his own room yet, I would suggest you do so as soon as you've had some supper."

Severus could sense the exact moment when Mrs. Black turned her gaze back on him. To the best of his recollection, Severus had never blushed in his life, but he felt a strong urge to do so now - and an even stronger urge to take out his wand and blast the tale-bearing house elf out of existence.

He looked up at Mrs. Black, but instead of the condemnation he had expected to see on her face, to his surprise, her expression was one of . . . acceptance.

"Sit down, boys," she said.

They each pulled a wooden chair out from the table and sat before her.

"This is a pivotal moment in the history of our world. Great things are underway, and soon you will be able to claim your rightful places in our society and in the greater world, despite the shrill cries of those weak traitors who would have us crawl before our inferiors. You will be able to realize all you've ever dreamed of, but only if you are prepared."

Severus had heard similar things whispered at the edges of his hearing his whole life, but this was the first time he'd heard it spoken of freely.

"You're both clever young men. I'm sure you understand that any personal . . . alliances you may forge must not be allowed to interfere with those preparations. Do I make myself clear?"

They both nodded, but Severus was gratified to note that Regulus had not moved away, but had, in fact, drawn his chair closer to Severus' own.

"Severus." Mrs. Black placed her long thin hand down on his shoulder. "Do not forget that you have now come to the notice of a very powerful wizard. I believe that soon you and Regulus will both be asked to play your parts, for which the rewards promise to be great."

She pushed a strand of greasy hair off his forehead, and sighed. "I'm afraid that childhood is not always the happiest of times for those with great potential, but I wish you to know that you will always be welcome in this home and with this family. Never fear, child. The world is changing . . . and it will be for the better."

She offered the thin smile that he'd seen earlier, and Severus tested out a rare smile of his own in return.

A friend in whom he could trust.

A home in which he was welcome.

A future in which he would be valued for his talents.

As far as Severus was concerned, his world had already begun to change.

"Now," said Mrs. Black, "I believe some supper is in order. Perhaps, as this is just the family, we needn't be formal tonight. Do you have any objections to eating in the kitchen as we sometimes did when the . . . when Regulus was small?"

"None at all, ma'am." And once again, Severus smiled.

~~*~~*~~*~~

"Snape never eats here," Ron told Harry quietly."
-Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix




Chit chat, Critiques, Gratuitous Praise: Beth H

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