A/N: Please be aware, going into this, that this chapter could be very triggering for some readers. Includes struggles with sexuality, violence and what could be classed as torture (unsure where the line is), bullying, a homophobic taunt.

That said - it's the first half of Valentine's day, my lovelies! Love is in the air!

Or... not?

Love, Eliza x

Disclaimer: I do not own the works herein, all characters from the Harry Potter Universe belong to JK Rowling, and all characters, storylines, situations, plots and the like do not belong to me. I make no money from this work.

Warnings: Rated M for situations, swearing, violence, sexual scenes... The whole lot, basically. Dumbledore Bashing, too. Severus doesn't have the best time, bless him.

The Ghost of Grimmauld Place

Chapter Fifty-Three

Saturday, 14th February 1976

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Great Hall

"Look at him, the smug git."

"He'll get what's coming to him, Prongs, don't worry about it."

"I know - but look at him. Twat. Prick. Cunt."

"Oi - don't use that word," Remus piped up, glaring at his friends. "Bit much, yeah?"

James scoffed, rolling his eyes. "Oh, come on, Moons. It's just a word."

"It's Sirius's brother we're talking about."

Sirius choked on his bread roll, prompting Peter to smack him on the back. Once his throat was cleared, he narrowed his eyes at Remus, jabbing at him with said-same roll. "Oi, don't put him on me. 'Mi is my sister, too."

"And she explicitly told us not to touch him," Remus reminded them, but he wasn't sure why. They would do what he wanted, never mind his protestations - and he would be right there with them, never mind his own doubts. They were his friends; the four musketeers; the four marauders. They stuck together above anything else. Loyalty was their strength.

"This isn't about Hermione," James retorted, shredding his way through a slice of toast, peeling it into ribbons with his fingers. He was the very image of repressed violence; had been for the past week or so. Every step closer to Valentine's day had brought him more chaotic energy until he finally looked as though he might implode any moment. It was always like this in the run up to a prank: Remus usually found it funny. Not today. "Well, it is, actually. But also not. This is about him. Teaching him a lesson he won't forget."

"And he won't forget it," Sirius added darkly, his voice silken in that way that made Remus's stomach do uncomfortable somersaults. Watching him plot had always been like that - it sang to him, sweetly, darkly, from the depths. Half of the time, he wasn't sure whether he wanted to stop the other boy, or join him.

If the moon smiled, Remus thought to himself, she would resemble you. You leave the same impression of something beautiful, but annihilating.

And what normal teenage boy quoted Sylvia Plath in his brain when he looked at his best friend? It was ridiculous - stupid. He couldn't beat that part of him down as easily as he'd used to, so he ignored it, instead turning his head to search the room for - ah, Dorcas. Pretty, lovely, sweet Dor, who he fancied.

Did he?

No, he definitely did. She'd gotten so pretty almost overnight, even James had noticed. With her bright, happy smile; her generous curves; her hair dyed a fresh blue as if to bring a tiny piece of a sun-filled sky around with her wherever she went. He fancied her, he was certain. Never mind her boyfriend, who she was laughing at even now as he presented her with a bouquet of carnations that burst into doves as she watched. That was fine.


He was happy fancying the unattainable - as long as it was a normal unattainable.

"OI!" James shouted, jerking Remus's attention back to his friends. James was halfway out of his seat, face red with outrage as he tracked someone across the room. "What the fuck, Evans," he groaned, almost plaintively. Remus swivelled in his chair to look in that direction - as had everyone at the Gryffindor table, it seemed - and the rest. It looked as if every eye in the hall was on Lily Evans as she glided across the room, brandishing a pale pink envelope.

"She's not - surely she's not," Peter gaped.

"Brave, brave girl," Sirius murmured, a touch of awe in his voice. Lily had made it to the Slytherin table, now, she was weaving between the far bench and the wall as she descended on the middle - where the fifth years sat.

"Jesus," Remus swore. "No."

But, yes, Lily was there, now, leaning over Severus Snape's shoulder, depositing the envelope on his empty plate. She bent to whisper something in his ear - and James clutched the table in possessive rage as she appeared to flatten her breasts against his back in the doing - that made Snape go bright red and rear back to stare up at her in unmitigated awe and delight. She smiled the sort of smile that Remus had never seen directed at him and kissed Snape's cheek, causing the whole table to go up with jeers from Snape's housemates. Pulling back, the girl looked up and Remus could swear, even from this far away, that she had locked eyes with James. That she had given his mate a challenge.

The table almost snapped, James was clutching it so hard.

"Fuck's sake, Lily," Sirius swore, probably thinking the same thing as Remus.

That nothing good could come of this.

Saturday, 14th February 1976

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Fourth Floor Corridor

Severus had known it was a mistake to come this way. He'd argued as much to his friend, multiple times - had still been grumbling about it even as they walked down the corridor towards the very situation he had been concerned about. Regulus was stubborn, however. It was one of his greatest flaws.

"Do not make me sit through that insufferable supper just because you're afraid of a few Gryffindors," he'd snapped as they climbed the moving staircases, both of them holding onto the bannister for balance as it swung from the west wing to the east. "Are you looking to torture me, Snape? Why would you want to do that. I apologised for taking your shampoo, didn't I?"

"Yes, you did."

"Well, then. Is this about earlier, because I swear I wasn't the one who wolf-whistled. That was Avery. And Crouch, the pig, was the one who said 'nice tits'. I clapped because I was happy for you, not because I was taking the mick. I am happy for you, despite how you didn't even bother to tell me that she had kissed you - can't believe I had to find out from Rida, of all people."

"It's not about earlier," Severus had hissed, stalking after his friend as they dismounted. Regulus flipped his hair, now curling just above his shoulders, out of his eyes and skewered Severus with a dubious look. "It's not!" he barked petulantly. "It's about how we're both walking targets - and haven't you noticed how quiet it has been today? No pranks, no taunting, not a single sign of Potter and his crew of merry imbeciles-"

"It's only eleven," Regulus had scoffed. "Whatever pathetic gesture he's planning for Evans will no doubt take some time to orchestrate. Especially after breakfast - he'll be double padding his Quidditch cup to ensure he can take the absolute battering she'll give his balls when he embarrasses her in front of the whole school at dinner -"

Severus retched theatrically, not usually one for such gauche displays but goaded into it by the way Regulus was miming out an impression of James Potter taking a blow to his nether region, cupping his crotch and doubling over with crossed eyes.

"Blessed Morgana, Regulus, please never mention Potter's cock to me again, no matter how obliquely you think you're putting it-"

"Why, do you think you'll like it, Snivellus?"

They froze in place, giving Severus a front row seat to the way the laughter drained from Regulus's face, leaving him looking almost as sallow as he, himself, was. It lasted a second before his friend managed to mask it with his usual cool hauteur, but it made an impact. Regulus was just as afraid of the boy as Severus was.

Plastering a similar look onto his own face, Severus turned to greet the source of the taunt, his wand sliding into his hand.

Potter was lounging against the archway just ahead of them, tapping his wand against his opposite arm where they were crossed across his chest, sending golden sparks spilling in a fountain to the floor. He wasn't looking at them but it was clear that he was waiting for them, his whole body on alert. "Well, Snape?" he asked, turning his head negligently, allowing his hair to fall back from his face to reveal a malignant smirk. "Gossiping about my cock in the corridor with my sister's boyfriend - how crude.

"Oh, I'm sorry - ex boyfriend."

His lips pressed into a straight line and Severus felt his heartbeat speed - being Potter's target was familiar. Watching the boy turn his eyes on a new one was spine-chilling. He had barely a second to respond before the first spell was cast; a blindingly swift incarcerous!, shot at Regulus's ankles. His friend went down with a cry and a thump as the ropes swallowed him, but Severus had already cast a response. Potter waved it away with a lazy stroke of his wand.

"You can go, Snape. As much as I'd love to play with you today, you're not who we want."

"We?" Severus snarled, throwing three more spells in quick succession. James seemed to parry them all without moving, each spell dissipating in a haze of blue sparks before they could reach their target. They planned this, Severus realised, recognizing the glow of a semi permanent shield. He held up his false bravado, however, shifting so that he could protect the prone Regulus with his body. "Looks like you're alone today, Potter. Come out from behind your shield - give me a real fight."

"Oooh, get Snapey, challenging you to a duel like he's honourable," came Pettigrew's weedy sneer, the boy himself sliding into view opposite Potter. His beady eyes pinned Snape down with a disturbing little smile. "You don't have to pretend for us, Snivvy, we know who you are."

"There's no loyalty amongst snakes," Potter added, a steely edge to his voice. "Everyone knows that. Last chance, Snape. Run away and cry like I know you want to and nobody needs to get hurt."

"Fuck you," Snape spat, loosing a volley of curses that he knew would fail but weakened their shield anyway.

"Language," came Lupin's calm, quiet chastisement, and Snape felt his presence behind him. "I'd listen to him if I were you, Severus."

"That's the difference between you and I, Lupin," Snape snarled, spinning on his heel and casting a shield at his back. "I'm not a fucking coward." He stunned that one, taking a malicious pleasure in the way he fell face-forward, enjoying the snap of his nose as it broke against the stone floor.

"What were you saying about loyalty, Potter?" he shouted over their roars of fury, swinging back to face them. "Leaving your weakest member undefended for the sake of your own penchant for drama?"

"And here we were, being pleasant," Potter snarled, storming forward. "Should have known better - you don't deserve shit, Snivellus."

"If your maths is so shit that you think four against two is fair, Potter, then no wonder you need your henchmen around - I'd be surprised if you can take a piss without Black there to-"

Again, he was cut off, too slow to counteract the incarcerous, too busy venting his spleen at Potter to pay attention to Pettigrew when he drew his wand and cast. Ropes slithered across him like the snakes these boys so loathed, tightening to the point of pain, one of them wrapped across his mouth until all he could taste was sisal. He was saved from falling only by a sudden presence at his back, but he would not call them his saviour, not in the least.

"Well, well, well, Prongs, would you look at that," a smug, sneering voice came from behind him, so close that he could feel their chest rumble with the sound, and shivers ran up Severus's spine. "I didn't realise you loved me quite this much - my two favourite blokes, all wrapped up and presented so nicely."

"Happy Valentine's Day, Pads," Potter panted, clearly trying to regain his previous calm. "Might be my best gift yet, right?"

"And here I thought I was getting socks again." Without preamble, Severus felt himself lifted and deposited against the wall face first before getting flipped over, his head banging painfully against the stone. Black must have seen his wince despite how tightly he was restrained because all of a sudden he was there, his face filling Severus's vision. "Oh, did that hurt?" he asked, a malicious edge to his forced sweet tone. "How about this?"

Severus was grateful for the rope, then, for it muffled the scream of pain when Sirius punched him in the nose, hard. He felt the appendage burst beneath his fist, the impact sending his head back into the rock, stars exploding across his eyes as his ears rang.

"Pads," snapped Potter, closer now. It seemed that he'd come out from behind his shield now that they were all restrained. How nice for him. "That's not what we're here for."

"I don't care," Black snarled, still far too close to Severus, his smoke-scented breath washing over Severus's face and making him gasp out a cough. He turned to address Potter, allowing Severus to see the rest of the corridor. Regulus was blinking fearfully at the ceiling as Potter leaned over him. "He hurt Moony."

"And this one," Potter hissed, pulling Regulus up by the hair. "hurt Hermione. My sister!"

"Our sister," Pettigrew piped up, sidling closer. The look on his face was horrific, that of a rabid dog scenting blood on the air. The lust was pouring off him in waves. "He hurt one of us - he hurt all of us."

"Here, here, Wormtail," James agreed, his attention still on the boy dangling from his arms. "About time we taught him a lesson, eh?"

"Jesus christ, James, get on with it," Lupin called, blearily, from out of Severus's line of sight. He jerked with surprise - his stunning spell should have kept him down for an hour, at least. Especially someone with Lupin's delicate disposition.

"You're right, Moony," James snarled. "I just want him to know what he's done - the mistake he's made. Because I told you, didn't I, Regulus? When you started sniffing around my sister I said that if you ever - ever hurt her, I would destroy you. That was a promise, Reggie, and you've gone and done it, haven't you?

"Hermione is hurt. She pretends she isn't but haven't you seen her? Scurrying around the castle like a shy firstie, studying all the time, I don't think I've seen her laugh properly since December. She's avoiding us all, doesn't even use your table in the library.

"You've reduced my sister, my Hermione, to a shell of a person, fucking about with her like you did. Don't look at me, scum - don't you fucking cry!"

Regulus was struggling in Potter's grip, as much as he could, the rope straining around his throat, eyes bulging and wet. Potter dropped him with a scowl, drawing his wand once more. "Got something to say?" he taunted, advancing until he was stood directly over the younger boy in a mimicry of Severus's earlier shielding. "Going to defend yourself? As if I care what you have to say?"

"James!" came a yelp from the corridor, preceding another thump, and suddenly a tornado was filling the corridor - or so it felt. A vicious wind whipped Severus's hair into his eyes as Potter cried out, flying backwards, toppling Pettigrew with him. Severus's ropes were disintegrated by the force, Regulus, also freed, scrambled into a corner and wheezed, and Black, no longer posturing but now flying, too, was thrown into the same pile as his friends. Severus dropped to his knees, clutching his head as it pounding and wavered only just able to decipher the scene before him.

Hermione Potter was stood in the mouth of the hallway, wand in hand, eyes aflame with fury. She ignored Regulus, stalking past him as if he were not there, and didn't grant Severus so much as a glance either as she advanced on her brother.

"What. The. Fuck. Are. You. Doing." She swore, every word punctuated by the hard slap of her regulation school shoes against the floor. Her hair had risen, floating on a stream of her own power as she faced down the heap of moaning boys.

"Now, kitten -"

"Shut up, Sirius Black," she growled, her voice coming like the snarl of a dozen wildcats. "I didn't ask you. I asked my brother."

"Vengeance, sister," James replied in level tones. He teetered on the spot as he stood, leaning against Pettigrew but otherwise standing firm. "I am taking back in blood what has been stolen from us."

Hermione barked a laugh, the edges of it so sharp it caused almost physical pain. "From us? Us? What has been stolen from you, James, aside from some fraternal pride? Do not-" she cut him off before he could interrupt her, raising a hand in warning, "mention my virtue. If you mention my virtue even once, I shall hand it to the next man who petitions and feel no regrets about it."

"Your joy," her brother spat, with emphasis, in Regulus's direction. "Your innocence. Your whole heart, which he has shattered without thought to the consequences. What's more, he broke more than an understanding when he ended your relationship, Hermione. He broke a gentleman's agreement. I have the right -"

"You have no right!" Hermione screamed, suddenly, her magic lashing forward like a whip. "I warned you before, I will not be used as an excuse for your poor behaviour. If being my brother means that you will do things such as this… disgusting ambush, on two of my dearest friends, then I don't want it. I wish I never had. If my heart had ever begun healing from Regulus's betrayal then this has torn it asunder once more."

And, just like that, her fury turned to sorrow, her voice breaking with sobs. Regulus, wheezing, crawled forward on his knees, reaching for her hand. Severus bit his tongue to keep from cursing as she took it, drawing power from what he offered. Her next words were more steady. "You are the one who has shattered me, 'with no thought to the consequences'. I could have forgiven a wizard's duel. I could have forgiven a fistfight - I could have, would have forgiven you a lot, James. Not this."

She looked down, knelt to examine the bruises on her ex-boyfriend's neck, whispering a healing song under her breath as her fingers trailed from there down his arms, to his left hand which hung limply by his side. Potter watched this, panicking, utterly confused.

Idiot, Severus found the strength to think. He may have taken his pound of flesh but James Potter had lost something far more precious than that fleeting sense of power this day.


"Do not speak to me," Hermione muttered, her voice a condemnation of its own. "From this day on, do not speak to me. Do not touch me, do not write to me, do not look at me, do not communicate with me in any manner." She touched her fingers to Regulus's cheek in a painfully tender way, he looking back at her with unadulterated adoration. "I've been so stupid - so stupid to trust you, to believe you when you say that you wouldn't do anything like this-"

She got to her feet, regal as a queen, and faced the gobsmacked trio head-on. "That goes for all of you. Any words, I will ignore. Any correspondence, I will burn. You have ceased to exist to me, for I will tolerate you no more. Come, Regulus."

She came to Severus in the same manner, her face cruel, her hands gentle as she healed him and added him to her entourage. Without another look at her brother, she led them away, past Lupin's prone form and back into the main thoroughfare of the Hogwarts, where students were laughing and joking and enjoying their weekend without any notion that something monumental had just occurred in their midst.

"Hermione," Regulus began, and she turned to him. All previous tenderness had passed, leaving her face distant, empty.

"Don't," she sighed. "Just - not today."

She marched off, swallowed by the crowd in seconds, and the two boys were left alone once more.

"Did that really happen?" Regulus asked. Severus couldn't form a reply. Inexplicably, his hands had begun to shake - his teeth were chattering, now, and a new buzzing had begun in his ears. Regulus glanced at him, then did a double take. "Shit," he swore. "Come on, mate. Firewhiskey for two, I think."

Severus couldn't loosen his tongue enough to form an agreement, but he didn't need to. Regulus was already off, dragging his best mate in his wake.