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Notes: Severus Snape's life, measured in cauldrons. Snape/Lupin almost-fluff written for Brigantia.
Past and Future
When Severus got his first cauldron, he was nine years old. It was in preparation for Hogwarts, his father said, because every Snape had always done exceptionally well in every subject, and Severus was already well-read enough in all the rest. He was a bookish child, after all--not because he loved knowledge, but because he hated people--particularly people his age, those things called children, that really struck him as nothing but savages. They were cruel and stupid and contradictory, and he couldn't make sense of them, couldn't make sense of himself when he was around them, and sometimes he got so angry it hurt, so angry that his magic started misbehaving itself, so it was better to be all alone in his room anyway.
When Severus got his first cauldron, he treated it much like he did any other new toy that his parents sometimes gave to him--with a certain degree of bored caution. But neither the caution nor the boredom held for long--because the cauldron was round and black and shining, pregnant with truths, and when he tapped his wand against it for the first time it echoed like a gong, faintly ominous and beckoning, its cavernous insides as dark as a demon's mouth. He ran his hands all over it, cool, ill-tempered iron that held the promise of so many seething secrets--steady and heavy and with a certain sense of self. A personality. Severus liked it--for some reason, it seemed so much like himself.
Severus made mistakes. He made a lot of mistakes. He made potions that exploded and potions that ate through skin--he burnt and scalded himself so many times that he lost count, and learned to heal himself out of sheer necessity, because he knew that his mother would panic and stop him if she saw him hurt too often. He loved running his fingers along the thick, creamy pages of his father's Potions books, and then chopping ingredients in neat, meticulous rows--the grey of mushroom a demure column next to the red of fireweed--and whenever he stirred a potion and stood back, waiting, he felt somewhat like an alchemist waiting for gold. He loved the viciously clean cuts he made in his dead and sometimes not-quite-dead specimens--he loved the slick feel of skin and plant, blood and juice. He loved that he had to wear gloves at times as much as he loved not wearing them--he loved the heavy embrace of steam and the acrid curl of smoke--he loved the awful and mysterious scents that defied categorization, that made his guts boil and his father step away, cursing, from the door. He loved having something to himself, his very own cauldron, his very own potions, and he stacked them in row after row on the shelves of his workroom--so that, in the firelight, they glittered like a thousand eyes. Watching him, watching every move, encouraging him, each a mark of his own success.
When Severus went to parties--or rather, was dragged along to them--he stood dour and embarrassed in a corner while his mother boasted about him--such a brilliant child, a Potions master in the making--and the other parents looked at him with a mixture of envy and pity--because he was ugly, after all, and what good were Potions with a nose like his, with a face that, obviously, only a mother could love?
So Severus never tried to be on his best behavior--if he got angry, he got angry, and sod them all. If he didn't, he didn't, and stood as cold and silent as his cauldron, bubbling invisibly. He only smirked unpleasantly when a girl asked him about a potion, and he talked about slitting the throat of a wild, young rabbit--the blood had to be fresh, after all. When she squealed in disgust and called him a monster, he only told her that it was an animal, after all, and an animal's pain didn't matter. That was when Lucius Malfoy--much prettier than Severus, and who had most of the girls' attention, turned and smiled at him. Severus, who had never been smiled at before, not by someone his age, was so surprised that he didn't even smile back.
When Severus lost his first cauldron, he was eleven years old. He'd gotten his Hogwarts letter the day before, and his father's broad, if still thin-lipped, smile had positively lit up the dining room. They'd gone to Diagon Alley for an owl (a snowy one that would really make an excellent source of feathers for the Dreamspeak potion, but of course Severus didn't tell his father that), the usual course books, a new wand (dragon-string and ebony, ten inches) and a new cauldron.
This new cauldron felt foreign to him, somewhat unfriendly, and it was too clean after the charred, dented familiarity of his old one. It felt rough to his fingers, now that he was used to the grease that oiled his old cauldron--and the first few potions he made in his new cauldron were disasters, because he wasn't getting along with it, and he didn't want it, but his father had discarded his old cauldron and he didn't have much of a choice anyway. When he got sick of it one night--only two weeks before going to Hogwarts--and went to his parents' bedroom to complain, he saw his father all hunched over his mother and grunting, and Severus stood there for a few long moments wondering what on earth they were doing before he remembered one of Lucius Malfoy's jokes about Purebloods and breeding at a party, and then he blushed red to the roots of his hair and stumbled back to his workroom, noticing belatedly that his penis was hard and felt like it was hurting. He didn't know what it was and didn't know how to fix it, but he couldn't disturb his parents, so he sat on the bench next to his new cauldron with his knees drawn up to his chest, breathing thinly and panicking, and waited and waited until the hardness went away. Maybe it was just like a potion, he thought later, calming himself--maybe you just had to wait for it to simmer down. Yes. That's how you fixed it.
Severus didn't want to go to Hogwarts any more than he wanted to go to parties--there were people, too many people--and all he wanted was to be alone in his workroom with his old cauldron, mixing Potions from the third-year texts. But there was no help for it--Severus had always been clever about recognizing the inevitable when he saw it, and accepting it when it came along. He could only hope that Professor Barthes, the Potions master, would allow him to use the labs after hours as his mother had requested. Young talent must be fostered, she'd written--and Lucius, who had come over that afternoon, had smiled and said: 'See, Severus? Professor Barthes is Head of Slytherin--you'd better hope you get sorted there, like me.'
When Severus got his twentieth cauldron, he was forty-seven years old. His last one had been blasted into a mere twist of iron, glowing molten-hot in the aftermath of the explosion before cooling to a sullen frown of grey. Bloody impure wormwood. He'd never visit that shop in Knockturn again, unless it was to place a ball-shriveling hex on the shop's bastard owner.
He'd stopped getting attached to his cauldrons a long time ago, but he still found it inconvenient to get used to the habits and personality of each new one--its thermal quirks, its tendencies to expand a little bit at different maximum temperatures, its vulnerability to particular corrosive ingredients. Years of potion-making had taught him that no two cauldrons were the same--all were surly, of course, but they were all surly in different ways. His last one had lasted him a good three years, and had been one of his most tolerable companions--placid, almost, and quite cooperative when it came to brewing the oft-required Wolfsbane.
Severus rarely ever made mistakes, but each bloody draught of Wolfsbane seemed to have a minor error in it--he'd developed it, after all, and each error, while not necessarily painful to the werewolf on the receiving end, was a personal slight to Severus' ego. What annoyed him even more was that the number of errors seemed to have increased ever since Lupin had come to teach at Hogwarts again. The war was over, the Potter brat gone and married to a metamorph almost as clumsy as he, and Voldemort was simply a distant shadow in the bright cauldron-light, surfacing only to haunt Severus' dreams at night. His life was... acceptable, or at least more acceptable than it had been in years--and even though he still had legions of little black-robed locusts to deal with, squabbling and hexing and daring to talk during his classes--he had never expected to face this particular nuisance again.
Who, in some way Severus failed to comprehend, seemed to cause an increase of errors in the very potion brewed for him--and, if Severus were to admit it, in quite a few other potions as well. It was almost as though Severus' nerves were off-center, twitching whenever the aging werewolf passed him in the hallways--and if he hadn't known better he would almost have thought that lycanthropy was infectious, because his nose seemed to pick up Lupin's scent in the most unlikely places, and every inch of his skin seemed to prickle with super-human awareness when the wolf sat next to him in the Great Hall. He'd never experienced such... hostility towards anyone before, not even Black, whom he'd wanted to rend limb from limb. (And who had, just to rob Severus of this very pleasure, gone and thrown himself into the Veil.) Perhaps it was just the protective instinct of a human being in such close proximity to a potential predator, or perhaps it was just that he'd never worked with Lupin for such a long time before. Whatever it was, it was driving him mad. And it was ruining his potions, damn it.
So it was only natural, when Severus threw his dragonhide gloves down in disgust at yet another ruined dose of Wolfsbane, to stalk up to Lupin's quarters--right where McGonagall's old quarters used to be--and stand glaring at the Gryffindor red of the tapestries when Lupin finally let him in. It was only natural to spit and curse and snarl at Lupin's funny, knowing little smile--what, was the wolf going senile now?--and demand that Lupin turn up for trials of the potion, because if he expected to get working samples, damn it, he'd better be prepared to work for them.
There it was, that funny little smile again--and just when Severus thought he'd have to hex it off, Lupin tilted his head and murmured: 'All right, Severus.' His golden-brown eyes were glowing, sending that prickle across Severus' skin again. He reached forward to shake Severus' hand, as if to seal the agreement--and his was grip shockingly warm, shockingly human. Severus, who hadn't been touched for years, not since Lucius' death, was so surprised that he almost forgot to return the clasp.
When Severus lost his twentieth cauldron, he was forty-nine years old. He'd lost it because of leaving it, and its dose of Wolfsbane, on the flames for far too long--the sort of mistake not even a novice would make--that is, if they weren't getting pushed up against the workbench by the werewolf in question, mouth plundered by a hot tongue and hands busy on a cool vest. Remus was always so... enthusiastic before the full moon--it was increasingly difficult to get any work done, what with staving off Remus' roaming hands as well as the impending explosion from his... cauldron.
Well. The explosion was impending no longer.
They both managed to leap aside at the first ominous 'pop!'--the kind both had come to recognize. Remus managed to shout a shielding spell just in time--even though he was still panting, still hard--and as a rainbow of blue-green, bitter rain descended around them, Remus only growled and pulled Severus close for a kiss.
Severus thankfully had a vial stored up for that night's transformation--and as he watched the moon rise, he sat back in his chair and saw Remus shed his robes--carefully, neatly--so that when the transformation began, Severus could see the scarred, moonlit skin shift and seethe with muscle and fur. It was much slower than it used to be, and much less painful--yet Severus still found he had to look away from Remus' elongating face, the thickening jaw growing teeth large enough to snap the bones of a human with ease. But Remus was, as he had always been since that successful potion five months ago, stable. His body changed, but his yellow eyes remained calm, slightly drugged, and when he padded over to Severus his muscles were slightly unsteady with the relaxant newly added to the potion. Less pain, less fear. For Remus, for himself. Before dawn came Severus stopped running his hands through the soft, familiar fur, and levitated the half-sleeping wolf onto his bed. He watched as the limbs lengthened again, fur shortening to a mild dusting of brown, face rearranging itself even as the golden eyes drifted closed, the reversal too smooth to cause any pain. Afterwards Severus got into the bed behind him, spooning him close, warm skin rough with old scars and wiry hair. A few hours still until they had to wake up to teach classes--Remus no longer needed to go on leave, thanks to Severus' improved potion. So when Severus woke up, hazy with exhaustion just a few minutes before the clock would have chimed, he felt Remus' warm mouth around him, suckling gently, waking him up with a slow swell of arousal that had him looking down at Remus' moving head, soft brown hair streaked with grey--at Remus' own erection, cradled and stroked carefully in rough, callused palms. Severus lifted his hips, sighed, and thought: This is how you fix it.
Hogsmeade's Magid Smithy delivered his new cauldron two days later, in a packing of deep blue velvet--ludicrous and unnecessary--but the cauldron itself was a newly warded version, spelled to detect its contents and re-adjust its plating accordingly, as well as give a warning alarm when reaching dangerous temperatures for those particular ingredients. Severus spent the entire day fiddling with it, brewing Pepper-Up and Dreamless Sleep and All-Purpose Healing Salve--including a few darker potions, the kind Albus might not take kindly to having brewed in his school. But it was all in the name of scholarly interest--and while Remus was off holding a meeting with his Gryffindor prefects in McGonagall's old office (strange that Severus should still think of it as McGonagall's office), Severus brewed batch after batch of flawless Satio, the nourishment potion administered to Poppy's less conscious patients.
Severus didn't want to go to that night's Sorting Feast--there were people, too many people--and all he wanted was to be alone in his workroom with his new cauldron, mixing potion after potion and watching the cauldron adapt to each one. But there was no help for it--Severus had always recognized the inevitable when he saw it (or rather, when Albus knocked on his door and harangued him into defeat.) He could only hope that Remus would join him after dinner--Severus was itching to show him the new cauldron, and to share his... enthusiasm... on the matter.
'My quarters, midnight,' he muttered under his breath when Remus sat next to him and smiled--but Severus didn't leave off glaring at the first years led in by Professor Sprout, the bravest brats among them (Gryffindors, no doubt) staring back at him and whispering. No new Weasleys or Potters yet, thank Merlin--but as his thigh brushed Remus' warmly under the table, he heard one spectacularly loud whisper from the column of students passing the staff table: 'Oh, don't worry about being sorted into Slytherin. I heard Snape's not half so bad now, not since Lupin started to sneak off with him.'
* FIN *