Just so you know, the sequel to this is going to be inspired by Delphi's aphrodisiac plotbunny, and absolutely filthy
For Delphi, an inspiration and 'the better maker'
He hadn't hated the thought at first, because...well, who wouldn't feel their heart lift at the idea of flying? He'd thought school would be a way to fly away from all the little, dark, constricted places that weren't quite small and safe and hidden enough to shut out the sound of his father shouting.
He didn't like the noise of the other children; it was a little overwhelming, for someone who'd only been used to his father (noise), his mother (frightened quiet) and his grandfather (frightening quiet).
It didn't occur to him to talk to them. Sometimes just being there was too much, and he hunched down on the ground, clasped his knees and rocked gently until the noise went away.
Or he stuck his fingers in his ears and sang to himself, without words.
The first time they were going to practice flying, they were all sent off to the broom sheds to wait for the teacher. It was pleasantly dark in there, and unpleasantly noisy. He didn't like it when he couldn't pick out where all the noises came from. The echoey blur in his ears must be made of normal sounds. The rhythm of thumping like a bouncing ball was probably that boy over there calling 'up up up' and grabbing his broom in his hand and letting it fall quickly, again and again. The scratchy noise of bristles being bound back into place was the girl beside him sorting out her very old broom. The rest of the noise was probably voices, even though it made him feel tense and awkward not to be able to hear the words.
Some of the brooms were in little stalls with people's names on: Black, Potter, Avery, Nott. About half the class went to those, patting and greeting 'their' brooms.
Everyone else queued up in front of a wooden pot of brooms. Severus waited to see what happened next, but after about four people had picked up a broom without incident, he joined the queue.
All the other people who'd been at the Slytherin table last night had their own brooms. He was relieved, because that meant he wouldn't be expected to talk to anyone.
He focused intently on the scruffy back of the boy in front of him; brown tangly hair down his neck that fluffed and didn't flop like his own, a thin threadbare patch of robe over the boy's shoulder (and the dark shadow of a scar through it), the name-tag hanging out at the back of the neck because the boy had put his robe on untidily.
He saw the boy's arm stretch out, the hand grasp the second-to-last broom.
Somebody pushed Severus in the back. He flinched a little, trying not to show it, because he hated people knocking into him when he wasn't expecting it.
Picking up a broom, Severus went to the corner and settled down to find out what to make of it. First he counted the bristles, and made sure none of them were pointing the wrong way. He looked it all over for splinters, very carefully, and found none. When it had passed that particular test, he handled it all over, slowly. Near the middle, there was a sort of cushion of air: oh, that was where you sat on it, he supposed. He squidged it with his fingers, fascinated at the way it puffed up to the touch without being visible.
The more adventurous children were testing the balance of the brooms, and trying out little hops where their feet left the ground.
He didn't particularly want to try that, and certainly not in the 'look at me!' way some of them were. Instead, he hitched his robes up a bit, and dragged the thing back-and-forth between his legs, trying to find the 'seat' bit by feel.
If he did it slowly, and let his body push back at the cushion of air the way it seemed to want to, an interesting thing happened.
It was almost as good at keeping the noises out as his other tricks seemed to be. He liked it. It was like having an itch, only not quite.
When the teacher's hand gripped at his shoulder, and she asked him what he thought he was playing at, and for the love of Merlin would he stop it, he was rather startled.
He could also hear one of the other boys saying, "He didn't even stop it until she grabbed him." He must have been very disobedient, because he already knew that Hogwarts was the sort of school where you stopped what you were doing quick-sharp, when a teacher asked.
He thought he was normally more aware of what was going on around him than that, even when he tried not to be. And he wanted to be left alone, to see if the not-quite-itch would stop itching if he kept doing it.
Everybody was staring at him, which was strange.
He'd always assumed his tricks weren't anything to do with other people. Why would anybody else care as long as he wasn't bothering them?
There was a moment of silence, and then she said, "Detention. For..." She paused, looked rather harassed, and said, "...every day this week. With Mr Filch."
Detention with Mr Filch was the most horrible thing that could happen to a child at this school. He'd overheard that already.
On the pitch, he discovered how much of an idiot he'd been, thinking about flying away from everything. It wasn't at all like that. Even with the light practice ball, which hadn't been enchanted to have a mind of its own, it was all shouting and jostling and things being thrown at people. You couldn't get away. The noises roared at him from the ground, as if they were trying to push him off his broom. He felt sick for the whole hour, and then he had to endure the comments about flying like a duck with one wing.
He hated Quidditch, and that was only their first lesson.
He liked detentions, to his own surprise.
Mr Filch proved to be the tall ugly man who'd been scowling at them when they came in. He didn't wear a robe, just a coat the colour of dirty teeth and even dirtier-looking trousers. He had something around his neck that might originally have been a scarf, and a habit of rubbing at it absently when he was thinking.
The Gryffindors said Mr Filch was a S--b. That was a bad word. It meant someone who wasn't a wizard.
Mr Filch didn't say anything at first, just waved at the table, which was full of commemorative cups. There were lots of containers of different cleaning things, and a few clean cloths, and a bucket of hot water with something in it that made Severus's eyes water when he sniffed it.
Severus picked up the nearest cup and a little pot of baking soda.
"Nah, too abrasive," said Mr Filch. "Yer can't do silver with that."
His mum used soda to clean pots and pans, unless his father wasn't there, when she used the quick way, but Severus would be extremely amazed to find out any of the things at home were silver.
He nodded, and watched as Mr Filch picked up a cup with a hideous dragon-and-lion design, attacking the fiddly bits around the handle with a dry brush, and complaining about whatever idiot had done them last.
Mr Filch took it to the sink and rinsed it gently: "Gets the dust off."
Severus did the same with the one he was holding, and dabbed it dry the way he was shown.
Polish, next. He waited for Mr Filch to pick up the silver polish, and apply a very little bit to a soft cloth, and then he watched.
After a few minutes, Mr Filch said, "Get on with it then."
He dabbed at some for himself, scouring the cup in small, tight little circles, until Mr Filch stopped him with a hand on his wrist.
"Mm?" Mr Filch's hand was rough and hot.
"Not like that," said Mr Filch. "Not circles, just steady back-and-forth, back-and-forth. You don't want it to leave a mark. Look."
He watched Mr Filch polishing the silver. He'd never really seen something like that before; whenever his mum had polished things the slow way, she'd been waiting for something to go wrong and his father to say something. He'd never just watched it for its own sake, and it was very interesting.
It was wonderfully strange, he thought. More like magic than magic was. He could see the effort that went into it, the way Mr Filch's arm muscles moved under his ratty old coat, and yet with all that hard work going on, there was hardly any noise at all. He'd thought the scraping noises would set his teeth on edge, but the cloth was so soft he could hardly hear a thing. Mr Filch was quietly humming a song he didn't know.
"Now you," said Mr Filch, after a few minutes.
He did it. Back-and-forth, back-and-forth, just like Mr Filch. It made his arms ache, after a while, but he didn't really mind, because if he got it right, it was like the tricks, it made everything else go away.
He even liked the lamplight. He'd never liked it at home, because shadows went big and twisted and wrong, and he had to keep looking over his shoulder to make sure nothing had changed.
His mum's wandlight had been even and bright and steady, with no room for anything to hide behind it. Warm, quiet light. He hadn't got to see that very often, although more often than his father's wandlight, which had been small and grudging and flickery.
After a while, Mr Filch finished his twelve pots. He cleared them away, leaving enough polish and rags for Severus, and brought a large book to the table.
Mr Filch went to the kettle and put it on the fire, and got the teapot. Then he sat down, took a sharp knife and a new quill, and started trimming the quill expertly onto an old newspaper. Little curls of quill and feather-fluff fell silently down.
Severus watched, every so often, whenever he could glance up between bits of silverware. Mr Filch didn't seem to take long to get the quill ready, and soon had it prepared to write.
The kettle whistled. Severus clenched his fist on the handle of a silver cup, and decided he could stand it because there were no other noises to add to it.
While Mr Filch poured out the tea into a little teapot on the table, Severus started on his last piece of silverware.
It was strong tea, Severus could smell it, even with all the silver polish.
Mr Filch picked up a large book, and started writing in it quietly. The quill scratching at the page made a bit more noise than the silver-polishing had, but it didn't make the inside of Severus's ears hurt
Severus watched Mr Filch put a lot of sugar and milk into the tea, stir it slowly, and take a sip. He looked happy, Severus thought. Severus wasn't good at faces, but Mr Filch's face looked less lined, and his grey eyes were opened just a bit more, rather than squinting suspiciously out.
Severus put down the last piece of silverware, very very carefully, and sat still, with his hands folded.
After a minute or so, Mr Filch looked up, and jumped slightly. "Well. You're a sneaky one."
Severus didn't say anything.
"Better than average job, for a scrawny little brat. And yer not noisy," said Mr Filch. "'Ere." He pushed the other half of the cup of tea towards Severus.
Severus, being thirsty, drank it.
"What?" he enquired, wondering if he had suddenly developed an extra head as Mr Filch regarded him narrowly. "Haven't I done enough yet?"
"Depends on what yer got ter expiate," said Mr Filch.
Severus was silent.
"Madam 'Ooch said yer comin' here to bother me every night this week, so yer must have done something. What did yer do?" said Mr Filch, not sounding as if he'd be shocked by anything anyone ever got up to. He could hear Mr Filch breathing, and the scratching of his pen in the big book.
It wouldn't have been bad, because those were the sorts of noises he could cope with, nothing all-at-once, but he could hear and feel his own heart speeding up, because now he had to say the awful thing he'd done, and he didn't know what it was. He could hear his own breath getting louder and faster, and it was embarrassing him. He had to say something.
"Don't wet yerself, boy!" said Mr Filch, in a quiet snarl, and said, "See them files there?"
"All the things nasty little wizard boys and girls 'ave got up to, is in those files. All of 'em think they're original. All of 'em think they're funny. 'Asn't been any new sort of wickedness since 1864."
Mr Filch wiped his nose on his sleeve. "'Asn't made me laugh either, mostly. So what did yer do?"
"I...sat on my broom."
That did make Mr Filch laugh. He had a rough, grating laugh. Severus rather liked it. "Bloody 'ell, it's true what they say about Slytherins."
Severus looked at him.
"They punish 'em for breathin'."
Severus glared at him. "It's not funny."
Mr Filch laughed again, but said, "No, it ain't. Not really."
"I'd like to know what it was," said Severus. "If people are going to hate me, I'd rather know first."
"Do yer best to explain it to me. I could do with a good laugh," said Mr Filch.
So Severus finished the horrible-but-at-least-sweet tea, and told Mr Filch all about the odd tricks he did when everything got too much, and about how he'd been trying the broom, and suddenly everyone was staring at him, and wouldn't say what he'd done.
"Bloody 'ell," said Filch, with a low, awed whistle, "yer dirty little bugger!"
Severus slumped down a bit in the chair.
"Not as if most kids are any better," Filch went on. "I mean, they just hide it a bit better. They all do it." He looked thoughtful. "Boys, anyway. Dunno about girls."
"Did you?" asked Severus, and then, "Well, I suppose you couldn't have."
"You haven't got a broom." When he'd said it Severus remembered about Mr Filch not having any magic, and would have been embarrassed about it if Mr Filch hadn't laughed, again.
He bristled, a little.
"You'll find out. When yer a bit older," said Mr Filch. "But I wouldn't let them catch you, if I was you."
It was a strange experience. He'd have thought he'd mind Mr Filch's rasping laugh. He'd have thought he'd have felt more embarrassed by Mr Filch obviously having a better idea of what he'd done wrong than he had. But it hadn't been bad. Mr Filch wasn't nice, and he wasn't careful to avoid laughing at you, and he certainly didn't pretend that you hadn't done something wrong when you had, but it seemed...manageable, somehow. On an ordinary scale, rather than something so monstrous that nobody could refer to it.
That night, as he was bending down to undo his boots, Avery knocked against his ankle as he walked past, and Severus flinched, gasped, and scrambled up onto the bed. He knew that the normal way to behave was to say "Clumsy oaf!" and grin, but he hated being touched unexpectedly as much as he hated noises muddling themselves up inside his head.
It was odd he hadn't minded Mr Filch grabbing him by the wrist. Mr Filch hadn't even been slow, or gentle, or sensitive.
Rows of pigeons flapped and strutted on rows of desks. The little chains holding their claws rattled. The pigeons didn't look particularly bothered at being tethered, just puffed out their iridescent chests and pecked at invisible crumbs on the desks. Severus wondered whether that was some magic to fool them into thinking they were somewhere else, or if they were simply too stupid to realise they were trapped.
Severus stroked a tabby cat, wondering why she wasn't hunting the pigeons. He stroked fur over narrow ribs, heard a rusty purr join the quick heartbeat. He didn't mind cats. Dogs drooled, farted, and above all barked, and he found that altogether too irritating, along with their fascination for people. Cats tended to have lives of their own, and he rather approved of that.
She shrugged neatly aside under his hand, and stalked to the front of the room, where she expanded upwards and outwards into the witch that was Head of Gryffindor.
Severus gasped slightly, merely because he was startled, and watched her. He was accustomed to watching where people's eyes went because he wasn't good at understanding faces. Her eyes flicked from student to student.
He'd seen James Potter yesterday, as he levitated his spare boots across the room and banged them into the wall. That was the look-at-me look, with a huge grin. This witch had a tiny, tight little smile, but she didn't stop watching people watching her.
He thought it was a showing-off look. Maybe she wanted everyone to see how clever she was without making it obvious she liked them watching. He could understand that.
"I am Professor McGonagall," the witch said. "Today, we shall be transforming pigeons into pepperpots." She smoothly transformed her pigeon into a neat china pepperpot. It was glossy, white, and had two glazed yellow china legs with feathery tops like bird feet. The chain still enclosed one thin bird ankle.
Avery put his hand up. "Do we all have to do legs on them, Professor?"
"Only if any of you want to try a particular challenge. I only need a good, workmanlike job; anything extra is up to you." Severus sighed. He thought that was the teacher's code for 'I won't respect you unless you put in the extra effort', but he wasn't sure. He wasn't good at people.
Crabbe was first. He muttered 'salt pot, salt pot!' to himself as he worked. Severus wasn't surprised to see he couldn't manage the good workmanlike job, and was quite surprised that he managed to turn out a recognisable if stubby salt-cellar. A few seconds later, the object on Crabbe's desk wavered, collapsed, and turned into a monstrous abortion of half-bird half-salt-cellar proportions. It had a desperately squawking beak halfway up, a mad black staring eye at the top where the salt hole would be, and feathers kept appearing and disappearing on the white featureless shape.
"Oh, put the poor thing out of its misery, Mr Crabbe!" said McGonagall. Despite her words, she muttered, "Restituo!" and the pigeon returned to normal. It spent a lot of time preening, as if dimly aware that something odd had happened. Actually, that probably wasn't true. Severus had spent a great deal of time watching pigeons at home, because there were a lot of pigeons near his home, and not much else. Most pigeons were only about as bright as most Gryffindors. He'd watched them preen, coo, nest, peck, and maintain a social hierarchy of interest only to pigeons.
The one in front of him preened, strutted-on-the-spot, and gave covert glances at the pigeon on Rosier's half of the desk beside him, as if it hadn't realised how circumscribed its tiny world was.
He looked at Potter across the room, and smirked, then looked back at Rosier to share the joke, and sighed. Rosier had finished his pepperpot. His eyes looked vacant, and he had an equally-vague smile on his face.
Maybe most children were no brighter than pigeons.
He set his mind to transforming the pigeon in front of him, unsurprised when it resisted him, and a stubborn part of his mind said well, it just is a pigeon. Because. His mind knew that magic worked, but it didn't know how. It wasn't as if he'd had much chance to observe it at home, and he'd already had a very clear idea that magic wasn't that important. It hadn't stopped his father.
Severus had been sure he'd be good at magic, because his grandfather had given him a thin little book of Dark curses, the long sort, and he'd gone around with it under his shirt for years and practically memorised it.
It was only now that he realised he didn't have a clue about transforming all the theoretical knowledge into something he might actually use his wand to do.
And even if he'd felt more comfortable with magic, the way of channelling your feelings into what you were doing was rather beyond him. The more intensely you feel that the subject is the Desideratum (object desired), the more powerfully the spell will work, said the book. That was no help at all. Pigeons were boring. So were pepperpots. So were children.
He was soaking in boredom. It was pouring over his head in a cold tide, turning the inside of his mouth salty, pushing softly at his eyeballs, dripping from his wet wand.
He was soaking all over in salt water, shivering violently, had water up his nose and in his robe and in his hair, and there was a drowned pigeon on the desk in front of him.
"Have you no self-control at all?" snapped Professor McGonagall, shaking him hard by the shoulder.
He thought I want to kill you. He'd never wanted to kill anyone but his father before, and at least he knew his father deserved it.
If he could call the ocean to his desk, he didn't know what the limits of magic were. He thought how do I know I can't kill you? and in the shock of that, he jerked violently aside, fell on the floor on his hands and knees, and threw up.
"Evidently not. I suppose you'd better sit this lesson out." She dried his robe with a spell, and told him to sit "over there, where you won't be throwing the others off."
Everybody else could manage something like a pepperpot. Potter did a perfectly good pepperpot, and then overreached himself trying for the yellow glazed feet, and ended up with a sort of Baba Yaga pepperpot that ran round the desk screaming faintly until it toppled over the edge and broke.
"Reparo," said Professor McGonagall.
Severus was relieved to see the shards gather together and form into a pepperpot.
It wasn't that he liked pigeons, or people for that matter, but something about the way it had run blindly around, crying out, had made him feel distinctly uncomfortable.
He spent the rest of the lesson wondering what he was going to be if he wasn't going to be a wizard, and then thinking that he'd better learn to be a wizard fairly fast.
It wasn't that he liked school, but it was better than the alternative.
It was dinner-time, but he didn't want to face all the noises, so he went to Mr Filch's room.
Mr Filch was sitting in an armchair, his face calm. He was stroking a thin black cat. The cat was so old it was fur-and-bones, and its black fur was patterned brown by the sun. It was purring.
Severus waited patiently, watching through the open door.
Mr Filch jumped, when he realised he was being watched. He tipped the cat angrily from his knees, although he did say "Sorry, Mrs Murgatroyd," when it gave a faint protesting miaow.
"You're early," he said, glaring at Severus.
That being obvious, Severus just waited.
"Go and eat yer dinner."
Severus shook his head.
"Bloody 'ell, I thought yer were the well-behaved one," muttered Mr Filch.
Severus shook his head again, and then held his hand to his head, because he was beginning to feel a bit wobbly with all the head-shaking.
"Sit down!" said Mr Filch sharply. Severus sat down on the floor, curling around his knees, before he could work out that Mr Filch probably meant sit on a chair.
Mr Filch sighed, opened the door further, and called, "Oi, elf!"
Severus was rather shocked at that. They hadn't been rich enough to have elves at home, but he'd known from what his mother said that a name was very important to a house-elf. They used it a lot themselves, and they liked it when you used it to call them.
"Sisty is here," said a sharp elf voice, sounding annoyed.
"Food. Two plates," said Filch. He paused. "Nothin' else." As if he had a vague idea that there was supposed to be some sort of rule for summoning and dismissing elves, but couldn't remember it.
Two plates of dinner appeared on the table.
Severus waited for Mr Filch to eat the food. He heard the clink of cutlery, and the chewing and swallowing that were presumably Mr Filch eating his dinner.
"Off yer go, Mrs M," said Filch, with his mouth full. "That ain't yours, I'll get yer some fish later."
Mr Filch sighed. He said, "Yer don't make things easy, do yer?"
"You. Boy," added Mr Filch.
Severus looked up.
He sat there. His nose twitched at the smell of hot food.
Mr Filch was fussing about in a drawer. After a minute or two, he came back with a clean knife-and-fork, which he pushed over to Severus.
Then he got on with his dinner, paying no further attention to Severus.
Cautiously, Severus picked up the knife and fork. He ate the potatoes, then the peas, then the green beans, and then the sausages. They tasted of meat. He wondered what the sausages had been made of at home, and then decided that he didn't care, he preferred these ones.
"I think I was hungry," he said, surprised, as he pushed the knife and fork to the middle of the empty plate.
"Found yer tongue, brat?"
"Yes." He felt a good deal less wobbly. He went to the sink to wash up the dinner-plates. They weren't made of anything exotic like silver, so he just washed them up the way mum had used to.
"What was all that about, then?" Mr Filch asked over his shoulder.
"What? Sir," he said, wondering if you had to 'sir' people who weren't wizards.
"I mean," said Mr Filch, "brats don't norm'ly not care whether they're fed or not and nearly faint on me floor."
"Oh. Sorry," Severus muttered into the sink.
"If I'm askin' for an apology for yer manners--which are bloody rude, just so yer know--I'll say so," said Mr Filch. "I'm askin' for information."
"The sea fell on me. It was an accident."
"Yer don't look wet."
So Severus had to explain about the Transfiguration class, and about boredom looking like the sea inside his head, and about how he'd been sitting in the corner, and he probably would have been hungry but he didn't want to sit with all those people at dinner.
"Bitch doesn't know her job," muttered Filch. He went and got a creaking old book down from the shelves, where it rested beside the book he'd had the night before. On the cover it said Rules & Regulations of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, 1855.
"It says 'ere," said Mr Filch, "that 'after magical working, sweetmeats should be offered to replenish the forces'.
"I didn't get anything magical working," said Severus, slightly annoyed.
"It doesn't say whether it counts whether yer got it right or not," said Mr Filch, tossing something wrapped in silver paper to Severus.
It was half a bar of milk chocolate. He cautiously unwrapped it. It looked perfectly edible.
"Nah, don't eat it now," said Mr Filch. "Keep it for emergencies."
Carefully wrapping it up, Severus stuffed it into the pocket of his robe.
"Right," said Mr Filch. "Time for your detention."
This time, he had to clean a lot of medicine bottles. Apparently, health Potions were so powerful that if you stored them in old dirty bottles the interaction between the different Potions would be likely to make someone's hair fall out, or vanish their tongues, or put one of their fingers on upside-down.
Severus was quite interested to hear this, and said so. "Can I keep one of the dirty bottles and put something in it, to see what happens?"
"No," said Mr Filch. "That's not what you're here for."
The process of making Potions remnants magically-inert was slow. It wasn't difficult, because even a S-- not-a-wizard, like Mr Filch, could do it, but it took work, and it took time.
"Line 'em up in order of rarity," Mr Filch said.
Solemnly, Severus worked at that. He thought he'd got it right, only it was difficult to do when there were the same numbers of some of the things.
Pepper-Up was reasonably ordinary, so he put the eighteen bottles of that at the back. Three bottles of Skele-gro went nearer the front. There were one bottle each of Draught of the Living Death, Ultra-Cleansing Potion and Acuity Potion, so those went at the front.
He shuffled them quickly and carefully. Mr Filch said it looked like someone playing the shell game, and had to explain that. Severus was quite surprised; he was not in the habit of thinking himself deft with his hands.
When he'd lined them up to the best of his ability, he sat down to watch what came next.
Mr Filch took a little, clean pot, the sort you might put ointment in, from a drawer, stuck a label on it, and scribbled "Ultra-Clensing" on it. Carefully, he poured a very tiny bit of distilled water into the Potion bottle, sealed it, shook it up, and decanted it very slowly into the pot. He screwed the lid on very carefully.
Draught of the Living Death and Acuity Potion were shuffled to the back, to his surprise, and Conflagration Potion, which there were two of, brought forward.
"Did I guess wrong?" asked Severus, rather surprised.
"No. But yer can't seed internal Potions from residue. Yer only does that if no-one's goin' ter drink it."
"Dunno. S'pose it's got to be fresh and sealed, for medical use."
Severus's hands flew over the bottles, sorting and shuffling.
"Right?" he asked, after about a minute.
Mr Filch looked, then nodded slowly.
"What's Lascivius Potion?" asked Severus.
"Not somethin' kids are s'posed to know about."
"Yes, but do you drink it or put it somewhere?"
"People swaller it." Mr Filch swallowed, at that. It must be quite a dangerous Potion. It smelt dangerous, somehow; even the little in the bottle got up his nose and smelt like spices, or dragons, or crackling fire. He sneezed, carefully pointing his nose away from the bottle.
Putting it towards the back, Severus picked up the next. "Featherlight Potion. That's one of the things used on brooms, isn't it?"
"Yes. That can be used again, if there's any in." Mr Filch went to the drawer, and got out another clean pot.
Severus poured in a very little bit of distilled water, watching Mr Filch's face to see if he'd got it right, sealed-and-shook carefully, and poured the result as smoothly and slowly as he could into the little pot. He wrote FTHRLT POT on the label, which was very small, and looked up at Mr Filch.
Mr Filch nodded.
They did the other two re-usable Potions one each, looking very carefully for any mistakes.
"What do we do with the rest of them?" asked Severus.
"Put 'em in the sink. Don't overfill it."
Mr Filch put a large pot of water on the fire, and sat down, watching Severus.
Severus did his best. Some of the armfuls of bottles slipped-and-chimed perilously in his arms, but nothing smashed. When the sink was about half-full, he stopped.
"Nothin' we can do until the water boils," said Mr Filch.
Severus nodded, and sat down on the floor, holding his legs. He liked watching Mr Filch.
Mr Filch pulled something out of his pocket. "'Ere," he said, and tossed it to Severus.
Severus caught it one-handed, surprised at how easy it was not to fumble a catch when he wasn't in front of lots of other children.
"What is it?" He undid the paper bag and tossed the contents out on the floor.
"Jigsaw puzzle," said Mr Filch.
"It's only got fifteen pieces," said Severus. "That's pathetic," he explained loftily.
"Huh. Don't take it up with me. Not mine."
"Why's it in your pocket, then?"
Mr Filch explained about confiscating. Severus thought that sounded like fun.
The water was getting warm, Severus could hear, but not yet boiling.
Mr Filch gestured at the fire. "Shouldn't have any difficulty doing that before the water hots up, then. If it's that pathetic," he added sarcastically, imitating Severus's voice.
Severus discovered why the puzzle only had fifteen pieces. It was charmed so the picture cycled through about four or five different images, and it was a race to do it before the picture changed.
Severus did not have any patience with that. He quickly twisted all the pieces into place.
"Ten seconds," he said proudly, as the hot water came to the boil.
"Eh? 'Ow the 'ell did yer do that?" said Mr Filch, and then, "Isn't it cheating to do it without lookin' at the picture?"
Severus looked at the blank wooden square. "Well, if it's in the rules, you should have given me the rules!" he snapped. "It looks perfectly all right to me."
Mr Filch muttered something. It sounded like "You little sod!", but Severus was sure it couldn't be anything rude, because Mr Filch was smiling at him, just a little.
Mr Filch wouldn't let him carry the boiling water to the sink. Severus watched Mr Filch manhandle it up to a wooden stool, and stand it there, and cautiously tip a fair bit of the water into the sink. That looked like a good deal of effort.
Mr Filch got some of those chemicals that smelt so strong they made Severus's eyes water, and poured them in.
While the sink cooled enough for them to use, Mr Filch wrote in his book. It was a large book, so Severus could see it fairly easily in good light.
Severus squinted across the table at it.
"Albus Dumbledore. Infractions of rules 28, 133, 506, 48, 199, 271..." he read out.
"Are yer intendin' to make a career of doing everythin' upside-down?" grumbled Mr Filch.
"No. I don't understand why other people don't read upside-down. It's obvious."
"Huh," said Mr Filch, and went on writing.
"Why's the Headmaster's name in your book?"
"List. Of people who've annoyed me. Shut up or you're on it." Mr Filch made a horrible face at Severus, who giggled.
"I want one," Severus decided.
Mr Filch handed him a sheet of paper. "Enough for a pint-size brat to write down his enemies," he said.
Tongue sticking out slightly with effort, Severus printed ENEMIES LIST in tiny letters at the top. He wrote down his father's name in big letters, and James Potter's name in small letters, rather annoyed that Potter would probably never see that.
By the time he'd written down the names of everyone who'd ever laughed at him, sneered at him, stared at him, looked at him in an annoying way, and hit him, it was time to wash the bottles, so he put his enemy list inside his robe pocket.
"If the bits of Potions are that dangerous," he asked Mr Filch, "what happens to the water from the sink?"
"Pipes are magically-insulated," Mr Filch explained.
"Then what happens? I mean, if it goes back to the bathroom I don't know why we haven't all got three heads by now."
"Water from 'ere, and the Potions dungeon, goes right down to the lake. Yer don't think normal Squids are that size, do yer?"
Washing the bottles took half the night, because there were so many separate decontamination processes they had to go through. Mr Filch showed him which chemicals you needed to use gloves to handle, and why different chemicals had to be used in a precise order.
At eleven o'clock, Mr Filch said, guiltily, "Shouldn't 'ave kept you that long."
"Yer've been punished enough."
It didn't seem quite the right moment to mention that he'd enjoyed the evening more than he'd ever enjoyed anything in his life.
Thinking about the magical mishaps that could follow Potions accidents, Severus decided his heart had been put in upside-down. It was the most logical explanation for the way he liked everything he shouldn't like and didn't like everything he should like.
Severus was distinctly cheered by the fact that other people could see that. He'd been wondering if there were children who were just more visible than others. When Crabbe beat up Potter, for example, somebody ran and got one of the staff, and there was a lot of fuss and bother. When Crabbe beat up Pettigrew, there was no attention at all.
Severus pushed Crabbe off Pettigrew at the point at which he judged Crabbe was losing interest, and gave Pettigrew a hankie, because it might easily have been him.
They watched Crabbe grunt, scratch himself, and shamble away.
Pettigrew said, shakily, "Thanks. Do you think he's part-gorilla?" Pettigrew dabbed at his nose.
"Depends how fast his mother could run, I suppose," said Severus.
Pettigrew said, "Nice one!" and giggled.
There was a silence.
Pettigrew was like him, obviously. He'd seen Pettigrew watching the more-visible children, as well. He wondered if he'd developed a friend, or at any rate a hanger-on. He'd seen other people do it, although the mechanism was not obvious.
"Potions residues can put somebody's fingers on upside-down," said Severus, eventually.
Pettigrew moved away from him, very slightly. Didn't he think that was interesting? It was one of the most interesting facts Severus had collected in his short school career.
Severus was still trying to think of something interesting to say that Pettigrew might like, when Pettigrew said, "If Crabbe hit you, would you hit him back?" His little grey eyes were bright, and his mouth was wet and slightly open.
"No," said Severus. It was a stupid question. You didn't hit people who could hit better, you learned things until you knew something that would really hurt them, then you used it. He still hadn't learned something he could use against his father, but that was what he was at school for.
He was surprised when Pettigrew ran away and talked to Potter. He was even more surprised when Potter came up to him, and said, "You threatened Pettigrew, you Slytherin bastard." Potter hadn't actually said anything to him before; he'd made it clear Severus wasn't welcome to be in his gang, but he hadn't needed to speak to him directly to do that.
"No I did not," he said. He could see, now he thought about it, that it might have sounded like a threat, but it hadn't been intended as one.
"You see!" cried Pettigrew shrilly, "he isn't even angry at you for saying that."
"If I was threatening you, I'd use the Liquefaction Curse to turn your bones to water," said Severus. It was the longest curse in the book his grandfather had had. He started to intone it, fairly sure it wouldn't actually do anything since it hadn't been properly set. He slurred over some of the words; he wouldn't waste a good curse on this lot. He was saving it for his father.
Pettigrew went white.
Severus smiled at him nastily, and continued to speak until Potter hit him in the face.
Severus didn't say anything. It wasn't that bad, considering. It certainly wasn't worth moving Potter up his list of enemies to an equivalent value with his father.
Then Potter hit him much harder, so that his eyes stung with tears and his ears rang, and kept hitting him until he cried. He crouched down to the ground, holding his own knees and rocking, still vaguely aware of the conversation going on above him.
"Hey, James, what was that for?" asked Black. "I know we don't like any of them on general principles, but he didn't even hit you back. He must have been scared."
"He wasn't scared," said Potter. "You didn't see the way he looked at me. It's a public service to hit him. And he's a Dark Artist, and a Slytherin, and for all we know a Death Eater."
"Oh. Carry on, then," said Black, losing interest.
The scruffy boy Severus had been behind in the broom-queue said, "I...er...don't think you should..."
Severus looked up, surprised because he hadn't consciously realised that the scruffy boy was in Potter's gang. He'd known there were three of them, but hadn't paid much attention.
"We can't go soft on his sort, Remus," said Black gently. "We have a duty to the future."
Severus scrambled away while the attention of the gang was divided.
"To protect them from evil," he heard faintly as Black continued his peroration.
Severus wondered whether he was evil to want revenge on his father. He decided he didn't actually care.
"Oh, it's the upside-down brat," said Filch, and grinned his horrible yellow smile. "How's wizardin'? Can yer 'ang from the ceilin' like a bat yet?"
"Of course not. That's third year." Not many people learned that trick, or at least not unless they were planning on being vampires in later life. He would probably rather enjoy it. It would be good for getting away from people and watching them when they weren't looking. "Don't you know anything?" he added.
"I ain't accustomed to bein' patronised by four-foot-seven-o'not-much," said Filch.
"I should think you'll get used to it," said Severus.
"Well, you ain't 'ere for showin'-off. Yer 'ere for detention. See what yer can do with that," said Mr Filch.
"That" was a beautiful blue silk dress all over Mr Filch's table. It was an incredibly deep colour, with dark shadows and bright blue highlights shifting as he watched. He wanted to touch it, to see if the heavy dark thing shifted and slid like a snake, or ran like water, or felt feathery like a raven's wing, which was the only other thing he'd seen so bright and dark at the same time.
It was nothing like a working wizard's robes, and nothing like the thin ragged dresses his mum wore.
It took him five minutes to see the big splotch of food marring the chest, but once he'd seen it, he could see nothing else.
"What did yer mum do with clothes?" asked Mr Filch.
"Wash them. In soap and water." His nose twitched, as he thought of the strong yellow soap he'd always hated, and then thought that since he was at school now he didn't need to wash ever if he didn't want to.
Mr Filch grinned his yellow grin, and said, "That's why yer mum don't work here and I do."
"All right, what's the proper way?" demanded Severus.
"Brush it first, with a dry brush."
He did, watching Mr Filch's face to see if he was doing it right, and then standing aside to see how it was done properly. Mr Filch managed to do it rougher and more carefully than Severus could.
That left just the stain, without any lumpy bits.
"Right. Beat those eggs, just the whites."
He did that, pretending the egg-whites were the Gryffindor gang for a moment, before he realised that bad workmanship would ruin what he was doing. After that, he concentrated on feeling his muscles move, and the egg-white dragging lightly against the spoon as he stirred. After a while, his arm hurt, but he was getting the rhythm of it, and the contrast between his furiously-working spoon and the delicate froth was fun, as if the spoon had become his arm and he'd be able to feel the soft tickle of the egg-white in another minute. There was that funny feeling inside him again. As if there was nothing but him, or nothing but outside-him. It was the opposite to the crawly-ants sort of feeling he got from being surrounded by too many people.
He looked at Mr Filch, quick and cautious under his eyelids. Mr Filch looked back, calm and steady, and said, "That's the way. Yer ain't afraid of hard work, I'll say that for yer."
Severus wondered what it must be like to be grown-up like Mr Filch: never having to be forced to be with people, so you could enjoy that feeling while you got on with what you were doing and everything went into place.
He decided it would even be worth waiting around growing up, for that.
When the eggs were ready, he said, "What makes egg-white good at cleaning things?"
"Lathers it up."
Mr Filch got a big square bottle down from the top shelf, took a swig, and slung a good swoosh of it into the egg-white.
Severus sniffed. It smelt strong enough to make his nose prickle.
"Gin," said Mr Filch. "Sinks inside it to shift the dirt." He added sugar. "That stiffens up a good heavy cloth," he added. "Starch, like."
"What yer does good linen with."
"What's good linen?" 'Linen' was sheets, but whether it was 'good' or 'bad' was a bit beyond him.
"Does yer ever stop askin' questions, boy?"
"No," said Severus.
After they'd finished taking turns cleaning the dress with a sponge of the egg-white, alcohol and sugar solution, Mr Filch made tea. This time he got another mug down from the top shelf so Severus could have his own. Severus felt very grown-up, as they both sipped and wrote.
"I've run out of room to write down my enemies," complained Severus, after a while. "I want to write James Potter in bigger letters, and there isn't room."
Mr Filch threw him a thin exercise book.
"I want one as big as yours," said Severus.
"Shu' up, or yer won't grow up to have enemies," snarled Mr Filch.
Severus giggled, but settled down to write.
"Anyway," said Mr Filch, "it's small so yer can carry it in yer robe. So ye're always ready when yer makes a new enemy."
Severus thought that was good. He settled down.
Once he'd copied out all his current enemies, and adjusted their ranking, he turned to the back of the book. NOT-ENEMIES LIST, he wrote. "Mr Filch." It seemed to be a very short list. He wondered if he should add Professor Dumbledore to the list, but decided he didn't have quite enough information to make an informed decision. Professor Dumbledore was never quite unkind, but he tended to look at you as if there was a joke you didn't get, and you were it.
It was one of those unseasonably-hot days that turn up occasionally in September, even in Scotland,
The school brooms were being overhauled. This was because Black had said it wasn't fair to have personal brooms for first-years, not when half the pupils hadn't, and the teacher had said well it wasn't really up to the pupils, and Black had said, if somebody of good family couldn't make a stand, he'd like to see who could. The teacher had seemed quite impressed by that argument.
When the teacher had turned away, Potter had said, "But you love that broom, Sirius!", and Black had said, "I like spitting in my family's eye even more."
Severus had decided if it got him out of playing Quidditch, he might even take Black off his enemies list. Instead, since there weren't enough working non-family brooms for everyone, the teacher made everyone go outside and practice Quidditch tackles on the ground.
He hated that. He could feel the sun hitting him, beating through him, until his heartbeat was too loud, and his skin too full. He wasn't used to going out in the sun. If it was too hot at home, he'd find somewhere quiet to be, for as long as he could. So he felt a little too-much-for-himself as it was, and then there were all these other bloody people.
Including those four Gryffindor boys, who were running around and making fun of him.
"What flies like a wardrobe, runs like a dragon with indigestion--it's the pride of the Slytherin team!"
He hadn't even tried out for the team, but don't let that stop them. Of course, they didn't let the facts stop them.
"Is he on the team?" Potter pointed out gleefully.
"They'd need a special position just for him--the Slytherin Wanker!" said Black, and they all burst out laughing. It wasn't nice laughter. Severus noticed that Pettigrew laughed louder than anyone else.
After the form of torture the teachers called a game, they were all called inside. The other children complained their way right down to the dungeon, and he followed them.
In the dungeon, it was dark and cool and lovely. The other children were quiet now.
At the front of the class was a muddy pond. Clever, that someone had managed to move it here, and it looked very inviting.
Madam Tarbottle, a faded-looking witch, went to the front of the class, and began to write up the recipe for the Potion on the blackboard, beginning with frogspawn.
Severus went to the pond, rolled his sleeves up, and plunged both hands into the depths. The chill of the water teased against his red, uncomfortable skin, and after a while he rested one hand against the mud of the bottom, feeling it squidge up cool-soft between his fingers. His eyes closed, in bliss. Little currents of water lapped at his skin like breezes. After a couple of minutes, he started searching around for the frogspawn. It felt almost-not-there-at-all, like a necklace of ghostly beads pressing against his fingers, twisting and turning and cool. He sighed happily, got a double-handful of the stuff, and pulled his hands out of the depths, enjoying the last trickle of the water leaving his hands.
Damn. They were all looking again. He'd been doing one of his tricks--but really, he didn't know until he tried it that it would be enjoyable. He crossed off a list inside his head: playing with the broom; sitting on the floor rocking and singing; frogspawn. He couldn't think of a single thing that was the same for all those, unless it was him. Himself, being unselfconsciously absorbed in what he was doing.
He looked back. He wasn't good at people, but he thought Madam Tarbottle looked every bit as disgusted as the children, and she'd been telling them they needed to do things with the stuff. Obviously a trick; he'd have to learn a bit better not to rush into things if they were being used against him.
But the pleasure of getting cool and calm stayed with him, to his own mild surprise. He thought about cleaning the Potions bottles, and he felt happy. Confident.
"Three spoons frogspawn," said Madam Tarbottle.
Severus used the spoon laid out in front of him, smoothing and trimming the edges of the frogspawn with his fingers so it came out level, and putting the excess back in the pond, because there wasn't any sense in wasting it.
He watched the other children doing their best to get the frogspawn out of the pond using the spoon, without touching any part of it with their fingers. The frogspawn dripped and slid and wobbled. The children only got a minuscule amount of it, rather than a real spoonful, into their cauldrons, and then went back to the pond with their spoons, holding their spoons by the very tip of the handle as though they were contaminated. This was not efficient.
"A spider's web," droned Madam Tarbottle. "Common brown house spider."
Severus had seen three as they came in. They all, as far as he could tell, belonged to ordinary spiders. He chose one of the untenanted ones, and carefully rolled it up the way the teacher was doing, and put it in the cauldron.
"Three frogs, skinned and diced."
That was what the sharp knives were for. He watched her carefully; the frogs were already dead, and skinning them appeared to be mainly a matter of starting in the right place. Dicing them was more difficult, because it was hard to keep the sizes even with something that small.
When she'd finished, he wondered why she wasn't going on with the next thing, until he looked round and realised that nobody else had even started with their frogs. Except Crabbe, and he'd just thrown his across the room until it hit the wall.
Bored, Severus collected all the other ingredients and began to prepare them. While he did that, he listened to the other children dropping ingredients on the floor, screaming, putting in the wrong amounts and the wrong things, failing to chop and measure, and in general making an unbelievable dog's breakfast of the whole exercise. Were they putting it on? Was it a joke? It was easy, without the ambiguities and confusions of sport or social relationships. The task snapped into place in his head and his hands like that impossibly-easy jigsaw.
He glanced at Madam Tarbottle, who was talking to Potter, and thought she's afraid. Which didn't make much sense, because she was a grown witch, and Potter was a first-year schoolboy, so he tried to run the last few seconds back in his mind as if he was flipping through the pages of a book, and saw that as she told Potter off for talking in class, Potter looked at her, narrowing his eyes a little while she froze in place for a fraction of a second, just the way his mum had reacted to his father.
He almost wanted to cry, because that confirmed his idea that magic didn't count, that if they wanted to get you, they would. Well...well, it'll just have to count, he thought to himself, determined that he'd show his father, somehow, some time.
That evening, Severus was quieter than usual in detention. After they'd both finished polishing a set of firedogs (brass took salt, vinegar and flour, which was apparently not cookery but cleaning), they sat down and worked on their enemies lists.
"What's the matter with yer, boy?" Mr Filch snapped, after a while, once they'd done the cleaning bit and sat down in front of the fire with a cup of tea.
He looked up into a pale stare that seemed to see right through him. "How do you know?" he asked.
"Yer not talkin' nonsense nineteen-ter-the-dozen, like normal."
"Thought you'd like that," Severus muttered sulkily. "You're always telling children to be quiet."
"Huh," said Mr Filch. "Don't tell you, do I?"
Severus thought that over, and smiled slowly.
"Well, what is it, then?" said Mr Filch.
Severus explained about the Potions, and about probably having his heart put in upside-down, and about all the things that felt nice because he could concentrate, like cleaning and Potions, but he wasn't supposed to like them.
Mr Filch listened in silence.
Severus did his best to hide his face behind his cup of tea.
"Does yer know the good thing about liking what they doesn't like, boy?" said Mr Filch, eventually.
Mr Filch's face was very near his own. He wondered why that didn't bother him, and shook his head.
"They can tell yer to do things, and give yer punishments, and say yer can do all the shit-work they can't stand to do 'emselves, because of what yer are." Mr Filch's raspy whisper tickled his ear.
He nodded, wondering how that was in any way good.
"And," said Mr Filch fiercely, "yer can do it well, and yer can enjoy it, and hug that to yerself because it ain't their bloody business, and that's sayin' 'fuck you!' to the whole bloody lot of 'em, when they're so stupid they can't even 'ear yer sayin' it!"
Severus smiled. He'd never heard a grown-up--or anyone--swear quite that much in his life, but under the prickly sense of embarrassment he thought he had a very good idea of what Mr Filch meant. He wasn't going to tell anybody about Potions, because it 'wasn't done' to like that, and people could use it against him, and because it was going to be ever so much easier to revenge himself in future if they weren't on guard. He could tell people about the Dark curses, because he didn't really intend to use them on anyone but his father, and giving the impression he was going to use them might be extremely useful.
And it wasn't bad, that Mr Filch knew. Because Mr Filch was like him, even though he was a grown-up. He did something well, even when he shouldn't really have been doing it at all.
He pulled out his enemies list and opened it at the back page for Mr Filch to see that he was written down as 'not an enemy'.
Mr Filch cawed his rough laugh. "I ain't been on anyone's other list for a long time."
"If you're laughing at me, I'll cross it off," said Severus, who was always rather sensitive to being laughed at.
"Laughin' at meself, boy," said Mr Filch.
Severus looked at him, wishing he could tell if that was true or not.
Mr Filch sighed heavily, and fetched his own book, where he wrote down "NOT AN ENEMY--SEVERUS SNAPE", on the back page.