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21 September 2007 @ 03:00 pm
FIC: Is that a Decoy Detonator in Your Pocket, or are You Happy to See Me? (1/2) George/Snape, NC-17  
Title: Is that a Decoy Detonator in Your Pocket, or are You Happy to See Me? (1/2)
Pairing: George Weasley/Severus Snape
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: DH SPOILERS, rimming, dub-con depending on how you read it
Word Count: ~18,000
Summary: George Weasley is struggling to find his place in a new, post-war world. The injured, reticent refugee he discovers in the Forbidden Forest isn't part of his plans.
Author's Notes: This was written for lilyeyes at the 2007 hp_summersmut exchange (originally posted here). It was originally meant to be a fairly frivolous and PWP-ish Harry/George/Fred fic that just wouldn't work for me after I read DH (though I might go back to it some day). Instead, this fic came out of nowhere and helped me break a two-month writer's block from hell. Thank you to my ever-vigilant beta, thescarletwoman, who prevents me from adding kitchens to scenes where no kitchen has any right to be.



When George Weasley was a boy, he and his twin used to lay awake at night and tell each other about the future. Not through Divination, of course-- they both thought that to be a load of graphorn dung and had never bothered taking classes with Trelawney. No, they didn't use tea leaves or tarot cards. They used their imaginations. Rather than interpreting dream symbols, they spun dreams for each other, dreams that were so palpable and so beautifully adventurous that they both had no trouble believing them.

"When we're seventeen," Fred would say in the dark, barely above a whisper because their mother or their roommates would shush them, and because George could hear him even when he made no noise, "when we're seventeen we'll get a place all our own."

"Yeah," George would agree. "A big, open loft with bright red walls."

"And huge windows."

"And our own owlery."

"For all the mail orders of course."

"Of course."

Because they had known, even when they were quite small, that they wanted to start a joke shop.

"And if it's a loft, we'll still technically be sharing a room," George would say thoughtfully, casting a sidelong look at his twin. Fred would nod, expression solemn but eyes twinkling in the darkness.

"'Course we will. Can't leave you to your own devices, can we?"

"No we cannot. Besides, who would I talk to if you weren't here? My reflection in the mirror?"

"It's not half as good looking as I am," Fred would quip.

"A hell of a lot more intelligent, though." And they would snicker because Molly or McGonagall never let them swear like that in their hearing.

And later, when they were a little older and a little more interested in company outside of themselves, Fred would say, "We'll have our own flat and we'll each have our own room."

"Right," George would agree, though he would have to force himself to keep his tone light. He was never as interested in personal space as Fred.

"Maybe even have our own private entrances-- I mean, what if I bring Angelina home and she doesn't want to look at your ugly mug?" Fred would grin that easy grin of his and George would reflect it out of habit. He agreed that Angelina was a stand-up girl, a superb Chaser, and could hold her drink with the best of them, but she didn't "do" it for him the way she did for Fred. George himself was seen now and then in the company of a young lady but they were only ever good friends or passing fancies. And no one was as good a friend or as worthwhile company as Fred.

With a frustrated sigh, George rolled over and pulled his warm, fluffy bedclothes up to his chin. He was in his twentieth year now, and those days seemed far away. He had to stop lying awake every evening, think of those nights gone by when he'd had a roommate, a brother, a best friend. A business partner. Someone who understood him no matter what. He had to stop thinking about those dreams they used to spin for each other. He didn't have anyone to dream with anymore.

That was why he was here, in a Hogwarts bed that was more luxurious than the one he'd occupied for six and a half years here as a student, when he'd had the wall on one side and Fred on the other. That was why he was not at number 93, Diagon Alley. Oliver could continue to board there as long as he liked, and the shop would remain locked up tight. George couldn't go into Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes anymore. It hurt too much. At first, he wasn't sure if he'd be able to come back to Hogwarts either, without his other half beside him. The only times he'd ever roamed these halls alone were when Fred was just around the corner, helping him pull off their latest caper.

Fred wasn't around the corner now, and George couldn't damned well sleep, and he had no real idea what he was doing here. He was shocked that there hadn't been parental outcry over someone being named a teacher who hadn't even finished his Hogwarts years. McGonagall, before she retired, had insisted that his skills in Potions were finely honed by his trade, though, and Slughorn had refused to come back himself in the capacity of Potions master. Not with his new, far more comfortable position somewhat higher up in the castle. Besides, no one else was both qualified and willing. George, who had to get away from the ghosts at the shop and at his mother's house, had sat in the headmistress's office wondering why it felt so strange, and had at last relented.

Restlessly, he rolled out of bed, threw on a loose outer robe of shocking magenta, and wandered out into the hallway. He wasn't exactly hungry, but a midnight snack was better than tossing about in his bed, half-thinking about all he'd lost. On his third flight of stairs down, though, he changed course and prowled out the front door instead. He still wasn't used to coming and going as he pleased in full view of staff and students alike-- he used to come and go as he pleased by secret passage only.

A waning gibbous of a moon shone bracingly down, lighting his erratic way across the grounds. George wasn't paying attention to where he was headed, but being on the move felt better than being still. He skirted the lake, more placid than it had ever been since the giant squid had died, and walked boldly into the Forbidden Forest. He had a half-formed thought toward gathering wild Potions ingredients, but really, he wasn't thinking clearly enough to make any real decisions.

The strange thing about having only one ear, as George had discovered this last year, was having an uneven sense of the aural environment around him. He had a hole on one side of his head, over which he had taken to stretching some Ersatz-Skin-- his own invention, though he thought the name could use some work-- because he found it uncomfortable to have people staring into his head. He could hear vaguely through the second skin, but it was muffled and had no direction or amplification. He could really only hear well what was happening on his right side. Consequently, that night as he made blurry mental notes about fluxweed and frog spleens, he didn't pick up the distinctly human grunts coming from his left, or the startled dash for cover as he passed by. He thought, perhaps, that he had seen something out of the corner of his eye, but the only thing he noticed were the pale asters growing in the moonlight. They would be good for basic healing potions, and he decided to come back during daylight hours to harvest them. Night-blooming asters could only be picked when their petals were shut, in broad daylight.

~*~

"Please, Professor, why can't we learning something more interesting than the Pepper-Up Potion?" a small voiced queried from halfway across the dungeon. George, who had been stirring his own cauldron by hand and trying not to let himself be scathed by either its boiling contents or the memory of he and Fred chopping onions via wand movements, looked up distractedly.

"I beg your pardon, Stephanie?" He was in the habit of using his students' first names, as he knew what it was like to be called 'Weasley' and have five different people answer.

The little girl frowned at the sludge in her cauldron. "Well, it's not very exciting, this, is it?"

George very nearly smiled. He didn't smile much these days. "It's useful, though. Don't you think being able to get rid of a cold is a good skill to have?"

"We can go to the infirmary for that," her deskmate scoffed. "I used to buy your Wildfire Whiz-Bangs and they were bully good fun. Isn't that why you got made professor, Professor? Because you can make exciting things?"

George snorted. "Look, I used to think that laughter was as important as anything else, during the war. That's why we-- I-- did what I did, with the joke shop. But at the end of the day, being able to heal wounds and get rid of minor illnesses is more important than being able to set off excellent fireworks, don't you think?"

"Fat lot of good healing potions did your ear," muttered the Parkinson brat in the front row.

"Detention, Asphodel," George snapped, and the entire class, who had all been watching the exchange with interest, stared in shock. Professor Weasley might be a good deal more grumbly than they or their parents remembered him, but he was still the only professor who didn't give detentions. He wasn't, perhaps, as fun as their older siblings remembered him but he wasn't mean either.

"Class is nearly over. Bottle your samples and bring them up to me. Be sure to clean your stations today-- I am tired of doing it for you." George stomped up to his desk and picked up a sheaf of blank parchment, staring at it just as blankly until the children, quieter than they'd ever been in his classroom, had exited. Only then did he calmly pick up the worst flask-- Stephanie's-- and fling it across the room. It exploded with an impressive outward glitter of glass shards and dust, which seemed to hang suspended in the air for a few seconds before collapsing and covering ground and desks alike. George nearly screamed his frustration, but swallowed the howl when the door burst open.

"I've got you this time, Peeves! Destroying a professor's room!" Argus Filch shrieked in triumph.

"Mr Filch," George said, his tone insolent even if his words were not. He would not break down in front of the man who was still his sworn nemesis.

Filch froze and turned. "Oh. It's you," he muttered. "You made this mess, I suppose? Thought it was that poltergeist. Thought the one good thing about having a war at the bloody school would be the loss of Peeves, didn't we, my sweet?" At his feet, Mrs Norris yowled her assent. "Not like you're a proper professor, is it, Weasley? Shouldn't have expected any better from you."

George's jaw clenched but he didn't rise to Filch's bait. "And I don't suppose you'll act like a proper janitor and clean the mess, will you, Argus?"

"Don't you get familiar with me, you scamp. You had a fit, you clean up after yourself." And Filch turned on his heel and crept out.

George sighed, and with far more composure than he'd had a moment ago, began to Evansco away the ruined potion and flask. At least tangling with Filch gave him an outlet for his frustrations. Filch was the only one who treated George just as he'd always treated him. Everyone else, save the youngest classes who didn't remember Fred and George from their own school days, tiptoed and whispered like he was a fragile widow who might explode into dust, just as the flask had.

With a growl that once would have been uncharacteristic but was becoming more commonplace, George flung the door to the dungeons closed and stalked up the stairs. He ignored Peeves writing a rude message on the wall with what looked like rotting squash, flipped off the suit of armor that wolf-whistled at him, and barely returned the hellos from various students. So his lessons weren't fun enough? Is that all he was good for? Once, maybe, he would have agreed that fun was more important than anything else. All he was doing now was following the approved curriculum. What was he supposed to do, teach the little beggars how to make their own Skiving Snack-Boxes?

What he felt like doing, more than anything, was retreating to his quarters to see if he could drink himself to sleep. Since that experiment hadn't worked all month, though, George decided that shaking things up just a little wouldn't be such a bad idea. He scratched the side of his head absently, no longer having that horrid little thrill at the missing ear that he used to experience. Perhaps he could go back to the Forest to see if he could secure some live bowtruckles, and perhaps some of the rarer flowers. Actually-- yes, those night-blooming asters he'd seen in the Forest last night. He and Fred had invented a Nifty Napping Nectar two years ago, and that could definitely be adapted for the classroom. Maybe for the fourth years.

Thus decided, George stopped by Hagrid's hut and stole a spade and basket. He knew he should really pop in and talk to Hagrid, but he wasn't in the mood to see anyone just now. Heading into the woods, he sucked in a breath as the calm, creepy darkness enveloped him. He and Fred had been out here loads of times to explore or to procure certain ingredients that it was best others didn't ask questions about. Somehow, though, it smelled different now. Like the Forest knew it had been disturbed not half a year ago. Like it held as part of its own aroma the scent of lost life and combat and sadness. Harry had died here, temporarily. And temporarily Voldemort had been sure of his own triumph within the shelter of these branches.

"Point me," George whispered to his wand, using an old Compass spell Harry had told him about years ago. George wasn't entirely sure where he'd been last night, but he knew he'd been moving in a northerly direction. At first, he was accompanied by a chorus of nature sounds. He became so lost in thought and in the symphony of sounds that he didn't realize how long he had been walking. Nearly half an hour later, another noise joined the chorus. George thought he was close to his half-remembered asters when he heard a distinctly human grunt coming from his good right side. Pausing, he listened more carefully.

This time a string of unintelligible words reached him, hissed in a guttural male voice. George crept closer. Someone was moving in the clearing, harvesting the damned asters. He couldn't imagine any of the students coming this far into the Forest, and the centaurs didn't move in such a distinctly bipedal fashion. One of the other teachers, maybe?

"Oh, yes, do keep up that infernal bleeding. It's not as though I needed my right arm in the first place, is it? Wretched thing."

George stared. No. It couldn't be. Harry Potter had seen this man die. Surely the voice and the sarcasm belonged to someone else. Holding his wand before him, he took a few steps closer. Obscured by vegetation not yet touched by autumn's chill, a figure sat huddled by the asters, clutching at his right shoulder and glaring at his elbow as though it had just hurled a personal insult at him. Snape. And it didn't look like he was going anywhere fast, other than to his deathbed. The dirty cloth of his torn cloak was soaked through gruesomely with his blood.

George didn't know what to do. His first instinct was to hex the son of a bitch where he crouched in retaliation for the attack that had cost George his ear. His second impulse was to turn tail and go back to the school-- whether he reported this to someone or not could be decided later. He owed Snape nothing, and clearly if the man was living this close to the school, he was hiding himself for a reason. Harry had shared Snape's memories with the Order, the Ministry, the Prophet, and anyone else who would listen, vehemently asserting the old git's true allegiance to Dumbledore, but that didn't mean George had to like it. As far as he was concerned, Snape was a bastard who had hexed off George's ear and fought on the side that had cost Fred his life. George hovered on the edge of the clearing a moment longer, torn between harming the man and deserting him, all the while ignoring the little voice that pointed out that he couldn't leave anyone bleeding to death.

Before he could make up his mind, though, it was made up for him. "Show yourself," rasped Snape, wand in hand and jaw set in grim determination. He tried to stand but faltered. "Show yourself and I will not kill you immediately."

George stepped out of the trees and was inwardly pleased by the tightening of lips that signified that Snape was surprised. "Weasley. No need to tell me which one you are."

"Why is that, Snape? Because you're the one who gave me this?" George snapped, waving his free hand at his strangely smooth temple. "Or because my brother was killed by one of your cronies?"

Snape's face was pale as milk, his jaw clenched. "I imagine many died, on both sides. Is that why you're here, boy? Tracked me down for vengeance on your brother and your lost ear? Am I to hear for whom the bell tolls now?"

George choked. "Was that a joke, you sick bastard?"

"Sick indeed," Snape said, ill-humour written across his pinched face. He was too pale now to be described as 'sallow', and one eye was swollen shut. Both played host to such dark bags that he looked as though he had two black eyes. "You needn't have wasted your energy and talents, Weasley. Time herself shall take care of the debt you think I owe you."

George rolled his eyes. "I'm not here to kill you. I didn't even know it was necessary. I thought you were dead."

"Did you, now." Not exactly a question. "Go on thinking it, then. Get out of my sight."

Surveying the broken man before him, George couldn't help a pitying laugh. "You're about to die at the foot of a tree and likely be eaten by passing acromantulae. And you're dismissing me like I'm your student?"

"You could no more stop being the idiot who once graced-- or rather disgraced-- my classroom than you could stop having revolting red hair," Snape sneered. "I do not want for help, yours or anyone else's. Leave now before I make you leave."

"Fine," George said coolly. "I suppose I can find night-blooming asters elsewhere. By all means, expire in the Forbidden Forest. Your secret will die with you. Not like I'm going to brag about this to anyone." He whipped around and stalked away a few feet before dropping to his knees and watching Snape through the underbrush. The man had stayed frozen like a deer for a few seconds before practically keeling over, either in relief or from loss of blood. George couldn't say which. He watched curiously as Snape dropped his wand on the forest floor, snatched up his harvest of wild flowers, and limped away in the opposite direction.

Prowling back for a closer examination, George glanced at the clump where the other man had been lurking. Hyssop. Mixed with the asters he'd been after himself, it wouldn't make a bad healing paste. In fact, it was what he and Fred had used as the base for their anti-bruising ointment. But why would Snape abandon his wand here, especially if he was in such poor physical condition? George picked it up and had to stuff his free fist into his mouth to muffle his shocked laughter. It wasn't a wand at all. It was a dead, slender tree branch.

"That bluffing bastard," George marvelled.

~*~

In the end, he managed to stay away for the better part of two hours. His natural curiosity couldn't be tamed. What was Snape doing in the Forbidden Forest, alive, and in a very bad way? Why was he keeping himself hidden? To what purpose? George couldn't help despising the prick for years of torment in the classroom and detentions, for playing both sides against the middle, for cutting off his damned ear, and for Fred-- whether that was materially Snape's fault or otherwise. He hated Snape for the treatment of Ginny and her friends last year, and he hated him for Dumbledore's death. Every bad thing in George's life, he could somehow associate with Snape.

And yet. And yet there were too many questions that George wanted answers to, and if Snape died alone and unsung in the Forest, as everyone thought he'd already done months ago, who would give him answers?

It was already dark by the time George made it back to the clearing. He didn't know of any tracking spells, and he certainly didn't know how to track animals without magic either. He wandered for all of five minutes in the direction Snape had scuttled away in, and then tried a different method.

"Sonorus," he murmured, and his next words were magically amplified through the Forest. "Oi! Snape! Oily oily oxenfree, you git! I've got something that'll stench the bloodflow, if you haven't gone off and croaked yet. Get out here or I'll keep shouting!"

Nothing for a moment or two but the rustle of frightened animals in the underbrush. He took a breath to begin anew and nearly shrieked when a clammy hand clamped over his mouth.

"You have the subtlety of an erumpent in a hookah shop," Snape growled into his ear. George shivered before shrugging off the other man's arm and removing the amplification spell.

"Creepy, Snape. You an inferius now?"

"No more than you are a tactful young gentleman," Snape retorted, stick of wood in one hand as he crouched low and glared balefully at George. "What do you mean by all of this, you twit?"

George batted the stick out of Snape's hand. "You fooled me this afternoon, but I'm not that slow, Snape. Here." He thrust the little jar of healing salve at the twitchy man before him. "You know what to do with this."

Snape accepted the salve like he thought it would explode in his hand. "Why?" he rasped.

"You're going to answer some questions for me."

"I will not."

"You'll die otherwise," George said with an airy shrug.

"You already thought I was dead. What difference does it make to you?" Snape snapped. He dipped one long, dirt-encrusted finger into the salve and brought it to his nose. "This is not of my making."

"Of course not. Are you going to apply it or snort it?"

Snape shot him a dirty look, but didn't do anything more with the salve. George noticed that the man's improvised bandaging was nearly falling off his arm because it was soaked through with blood. The fact that Snape was even standing upright was a testament to the man's stubborn willpower.

"For God's sake," George muttered. "Petrificus totalus." The spell hit Snape before he could react, and George sauntered right up to him.

"I might want you dead after all," he said casually, looking into Snape's furious good eye. "Haven't really decided that yet. But until I do, I don't want you expiring out of sheer spite first. Evanesco vestamentis." He waved his wand at Snape's upper half and the dirty shirt and soiled bandages disappeared. Perhaps he hadn't been wrong about the Inferius thing after all. The sweetly mottled moonlight brought out Snape's bones in sharp relief, making vast shadowed valleys between his prominent ribs and sunken collarbones. The skin was torn in a dozen places, blood oozing in enthusiastic wellsprings from his arm and throat, and a particularly hideous chunk missing above his navel.

"Harry said you were eaten by a snake," George mused, prising the jar of salve out of Snape's frozen hand and daubing its contents liberally across the worst wounds. "We know all about it. Everyone thinks you're dead. Everyone knows your master betrayed you for his own gain and left you to be pet chow."

He wasn't sure what was driving him to speak as he speared his fingers into the goop and slapped it viciously across Snape's gaping wounds. "Of course, now your master's dead too. Funny, that. Everyone worked together and kicked his ass straight to hell, and none of his Death Eaters are left. They're all dead or in Azkaban. No more hiding in the general population, claiming they were under the influence of the Imperius curse. The only one left is you."

George hadn't given voice to his anger before. He hadn't been able to, not with so many other people in mourning and trying to rebuild their world and their trust in each other. He'd kept it all in because he was supposed to be the funny one, not that he'd been succeeding at that lately. But here he had a captive audience, quite literally, and one toward whom this vitriol was exceptionally apropos. Snape's eye was glittering, and George fancied he could feel vibrations of hatred coming off Snape's frozen body in waves. But he didn't stop, circling the other man and massaging salve into each open wound as if it were the bitterest poison.

"This is pretty good stuff. My own recipe-- Fred's and mine. Not that it helped me much, though. You know a little something about that, don't you, Snape? You took my ear as a trophy. Thought you were trying to kill Harry, did you? Well here, this'll kill you, if you weren't half-dead already: I've got your old job." He fished into his pocket and took out a second container, this with the Ersatz-Skin solution he used to cover the hole on the left side of his head. Smearing it with a bit more care over the worst of the missing chunks, he continued, "Yeah, that's right. I'm a professor now. I'm the bloody Potions professor, teaching kids that you used to teach. Apparently I'm that upstanding and important now. You've been usurped by a Weasley."

He took a step back and surveyed his work. Snape still looked grim, but at least he wasn't hemmoraging. Laying the two bottles down and adding a third to the pile, he began to walk away. He was tired suddenly, as though all of his energy had ebbed away along with his words. All the questions he'd had didn't seem so important.

"Drink half the azure potion now and half in the morning, and use the rest of the topical stuff on your lower half," he said carelessly. "Then find some other way to die, if you're so bent on it." The last thing he said to Snape was the counter-curse to unfreeze the Bodybind. The last thing Snape screamed after him was a promise not to use any of it.

~*~

If nothing else, George's classes the next week were roaring successes-- literally. After testing a Lion's Head Potion that he and Fred had devised only weeks before the final battle, he set all of the upper classes loose on it. The effects were marvellous, and the kids walked around with lion's manes and the ability to roar (and scare the life out of their other professors) for the rest of the day. George had the initial plans they'd made for badger, snake, and raven potions as well, but they needed further development first. Fred had wanted to concentrate on the Gryffindor potion above all others. George hadn't touched the plans since the final battle.

To Snape George barely spared a second though, or so he told himself every time his former professor crossed his mind. He wondered whether the man was still alive, whether he had used George's potions or discarded them, and what the other man must have thought of George's rant. He wouldn't let himself go back into the Forest, though. He wouldn't allow himself to be any more tangled up in the poisonous git's webs of deceit.

It was during one of these little talks to himself, professional delight still zinging through him because of an especially sincere compliment one of the Slytherin students in the second year had given him, that George saw something suspicious. He had been crossing the grounds, going toward Hagrid's to apologize for stealing the spade four days previous, when he saw the dark figure at the periphery of the woods, watching him. Not waving, of course, or trying to get his attention in any way. It was as if Snape was saying "Either you notice me or it's your own damned fault if you don't." George was tempted to walk away and let the bastard twist on his own hook but his curiosity demanded that he go and see what was happening. Circling around Hagrid's, George entered the woods thirty feet from Snape and crept up behind him.

"Do you do that on purpose?" Snape drawled, not bothering to turn around.

"What?"

"Sneak up on me as though you aren't making enough noise for the centaurs on the other side of the forest to hear you."

George fought the urge to spit at Snape's feet as the man wheeled around and surveyed him. George felt fury welling up in him again. It was like Snape was examining him, like it wasn't Snape who had been bleeding to death on the pine needle floor not even a week ago. "Do you want something?" he snapped at last.

Snape shrugged, and didn't bother to hide the wince as his shoulder pulled. "I want a few answers. As you're the first person I have spoken with since his downfall, you will have to be sufficient."

George's mouth opened and closed a few times. "You want answers? From me?"

"Yes."

"What about me?"

"What about you, Weasley?" Oh, Snape was good at that bored tone of voice.

"If anyone should want answers, it's me! I'm the one asking questions here!"

"And very inelegantly, might I add. Have you more of that internal healer you left? It was adequate at reducing some of the pain."

"Not on me, no. I wasn't expecting to be flagged down by a dead lunatic in broad daylight."

"I'm neither dead nor was I flagging you down," Snape said calmly. "You came to me."

"Argh," George growled, smacking his hand against the nearest tree trunk and getting cussed out by a bowtruckle for his trouble.

"I want to know if it's true, what you said when you were babbling at me before," Snape said, walking into the deeper shelter of the Forest. "Am I really thought to be dead?"

"Yes," George said after a moment. He followed Snape a few feet and then stopped.

"And this is because Potter thinks he saw me die?"

"He said Voldemort's snake ate you."

"I'm hardly eaten!"

"Don't get indignant about it. I guess he thought it ate you enough. I take it that's not the case?"

Snape was looking at him with what George thought was disgust. "Potter is a fool who wouldn't know death if it walked up and introduced itself."

George snorted. "Clearly you don't know what happened in the last battle." At Snape's suddenly interested look, he queried, "Wait, you really don't know what happened?"

"As you say, I was nearly dead. And as I said, you are the first person I have seen since."

"What the hell have you been doing skulking around in the Forest then? Didn't you know we won?"

It was Snape's turn to snort, and he did it rather more gracefully than George had. "Define 'we', Mr Weasley. You were quick enough to put me in the opposite camp before."

"You cut off my ear, tortured my sister, and, and, and..." he spluttered.

"Yeees?" Snape asked sardonically.

"And you're a filthy, backstabbing murderer, so I wouldn't stand there looking so smug if I were you. Here, I lied before." He plunged his hand into his robes and threw two phials on the ground. The Ersatz-Skin he kept with him for reapplication purposes. He happened to have the healing salve with him because one never knew when a brat would hurt itself around this place. No other reason, because he'd definitely not been planning on coming back here.

"I don't want your charity," Snape murmured, his tone nearly a threat.

"And I don't want to see your ugly mug again," George shot back, and he stomped back into the sunlight, where Snape would not follow.

The problem was, he didn't know whether he should tell anyone about the other man. Surely having a double agent, and someone now acknowledged to be a war hero, living (barely) on the school's grounds was something Headmaster Slughorn should know about? Not to mention the ethical issues-- a sticky area where George normally did not like to frequent. Could he leave a man to bleed slowly to his death in the Forest when it was in his power to try and help him? Bugger. Fred would know the answer to that. Fred had always been better with the ethics. It gnawed at him for the rest of the week. He steadfastly avoided the grounds, occupying his mind instead with newer and more ingenious Potions lessons.

Sunday morning, Slughorn laid a meaty hand on his shoulder and boomed, "Weasley, my boy. I'm hearing some interesting things about you lately."

George had heard more than one account of Slughorn's lugubriousness from Ginny, but as the man was his boss, he didn't tell him to sod off and keep his mitts to himself. He did, however, slip a decoy detonator into one of Slughorn's pockets. "Have you, now?"

"Indeed. Students are raving. Must say, I'm mightily impressed. I don't believe students have complimented their Potions professor this much since I was in the post." Slughorn patted George's shoulder. "I wasn't sure how you'd do in the position, son, but I was inclined to think great things of you. I know your sister, after all. Real little spitfire, that one."

"Mm-hmmm." George wondered how quickly he could disengage.

"She's still being courted by Harry Potter, isn't she?"

"Yep." Or, as his mother liked to say, only half-joking, 'living in sin with, though they're far too young to do so.'

"Smart match. Another one of my favourites, that boy. He was always the first up to see me at my parties." Slughon gave a phlegmy sigh. "I passed on to him some particularly useful information, you see. Couldn't have turned the tide of the war if I hadn't helped him, could he have? I should invite them both to my Christmas soiree."

Christmas being two months away and George being fully aware how well Harry had avoided Slughorn's parties, George wisely said nothing.

"Well, at any rate, I'm glad you've blossomed under my auspices as well, Professor Weasley. Another laurel in my crown, as it were. You just keep making those lessons interesting, like I used to do, and we'll have a legion of expert potions makers leaving these halls."

Squelching an urge to hit the walrus-like buffoon-- taking credit for George's successes indeed!-- the younger man quipped, "Just as long as they're not so good that they replace us, right?"

Slughorn tapped his nose conspiratorially. "Exactly, lad. Exactly. Now then, I'd best be off. Pomona would like me to take a look at her skunk cabbages." He turned and waddled off around the corner.

"Three..." George murmured. A couple of students stopped to watch him curiously. "Two... One."

A brilliant screech rent the quiet of the castle as a piercing whistle and a dozen discordant klaxons burst forth from the decoy detonator. Between the noises and the bright red firecrackers it had been rigged with, George was sure Slughorn must be a sight. Snickering to himself, he glanced at the startled but grinning students.

"If the headmaster comes this way, you never saw me." They nodded solemnly and George disappeared through a secret passage that the children likely hadn't even known was there. He hotfooted up the seven levels to his quarters and collapsed in a heap, chortling. He couldn't remember the last time he'd laughed like this. He was in such a good mood that he gathered up a couple of different pain preparations and disinfectants, dropped them in a Never Break Bag, which would keep the crystal phials from smashing against each other, and tied it all off with a Gryffindor-crimson bow. After a second, he added one of the Lion's Head potions too, without labelling it, and then called for Desdemona, his scruffy but beloved new barn owl.

"There's a man living in the Forbidden Forest," he told the owl, who butted her head against George's hand in an almost catlike fashion. "I want you to take this to him, and peck him until he agrees to open it. Understand?"

Desdemona hooted softly and took off through George's open window.

The memory of Slughorn's scream was still making him grin as he graded papers that night. He tended to mark in golden ink, finding that students responded better to that than to angry, authoritarian red slashes across their parchments. The essays were fairly mediocre, but he expected the next batch, on Giggling Serums and their possible uses, to be rather more entertaining than this dry stuff on the different methods of preparing moonstone. He was ready to set it all aside and have a nightcap when his terrified owl came hurtling through his window like her life depended on his sanctuary.

"Desdemona?" George asked, surprised to see that his bird was missing a couple of tail feathers. "What on earth--"

But his question was answered for him as a shadow rushed up to the window and a terrible roar resounded. George, who was generally not surprised by much, burst out laughing. "Well then. I must say, most people use the front door, but you were never one to play by the rules, were you?"

Astride an ugly, hairless horse with gleaming white eyes sat Snape as George had never seen him before. The man's expression was twisted into its worst sneer-- well, that wasn't anything new. But his hair was thick and flowing, ringing his entire face like a lion's mane.

"Weasley!" Snape roared, his resemblance to a man-eating jungle cat uncanny. To George's shock, Snape had even grown whiskers.

"Thought you didn't want my help," George said, examining his fingernails as if he received visitors on thestralback at his window every evening. "Thought my potions were beneath you and you were doing perfectly fine on your own, thank you very much."

"And I thought that you might have risen above your tendency toward childish pranks!"

"Prat. What would induce me to give that up? So," George said, sauntering closer to the window and examining the strange creature before him, "this is a thestral, is it? I've never actually been able to see them before. With my two good eyes and all. Doesn't look too comfortable. Did you name him?"

Snape rolled his good eye. "Enough pleasant chit-chat, you dolt. What the hell have you poisoned me with?"

Making a bowing motion, George waved Snape into the room. "Get in if you're getting in."

"Weasley!" Another lion-like roar.

"Blimey, Snape, are you losing your touch? Surely you were able to taste the base of the Lion's Head draught. With your prodigious nose and contemptibly excessive skill I should think you could identify most of the ingredients in there."

Gingerly, Snape hoisted himself off the creature hovering in mid-air and found footing on George's windowsill. With surprising grace he leapt into the room, wincing upon landing. Blood promptly began to pool at his feet. "It is a novelty potion, I take it?" His disgust was evident

"Initially, yeah. I had the fourth through seventh years make it up as an assignment this week."

Only Snape could manage to scoff and bleed heavily at the same time. "It's good to see you're finding such useful potions for the little brats to learn."

George scrutinized the other man unabashedly. "Well, it does have its uses, doesn't it. Pissed you off enough to draw you out of the Forest, though I can't say that was my initial intention. Did you take the other draughts?"

Snape shifted from foot to foot, occasionally glancing over his shoulder to be sure the thestral was still waiting for him. It was swooping in lazy arcs just outside. "I took them, yes. I am unable to make proper potions without a laboratory, and presses and cold herbal decoctions can only do so much."

"How is it that you're even alive at all?" George asked, crossing to his storage cupboard-- what had once, he realised with a jolt, been Snape's storage cupboard-- and fished out some supplies.

"I am not in the mood to talk."

Holding fresh linens and a blood-staunching ointment, he studied the man curiously. It was his first proper look at Snape, and he couldn't say that decent lighting did him any favours. He'd noticed before that Snape's right eye was swollen shut, but now he realised that the lid had a sunken quality and with a sudden sick thrill it occurred to him that Snape's eyeball was missing. His hair was dirty and matted, even through the Lion's Head effect and his skin so covered in grime that it was a wonder the man was still able to look so damned pale. He was stooped, whether in pain or lack of sufficient nutrients, George had no idea. His clothing hung off him like greasy, torn rags, caked with blood and fraying at every edge. And his lips were cracked and white.

"For God's sake, you sadistic little kobold, will you hand over those supplies or let me get on about my business?" Snape huffed, for all the world as if George was still a student, holding up Snape's busy schedule.

"Not until you answer a few questions," George said meditatively, though after a moment, he relented and tossed the linens at Snape. "Though you might want to stop bleeding on my antique carpets. The house elves will be furious."

"These are my bloody antique carpets--"

"Quite literally bloody."

"Shut up, Weasley. I purchased these carpets fifteen years ago and I will do with them as I sodding well please."

"Oh, you're sodding now, are you?"

The glare that Snape shot him was so far beyond 'withering' that George felt he didn't have the right vocabulary to capture it. "Fine then. You want fresh supplies, you talk. How is it that you're still alive? Harry saw you die. He took what you gave him and he went on to defeat your master."

Somehow, the glare became more terrible, though it was more introspective too. "Is that what the world thinks still? After everything I gave. After everything I lost, and I'm still Death Eater Number One." The pained mouth twisted into a grisly parody of a smile. "Very well, Weasley. We shall play your little game, and then you can leave me in peace."

"Hey, you're the one who came here on freaky flying horseback--"

"And you're the one who goaded me into coming with that ridiculous potion," Snape countered.

George smirked. "Well, the quickest way to a man's heart is through potions, everyone knows that."

"Or directly through his ribcage with an Evisceratus curse."

George touched the space his ear had once occupied and glowered. "Indeed."

"That was a different curse," Snape said off-handedly. "One of my own devising-- Sectumsempra. And it wasn't..."

"Yes?" George cocked his head, intrigued by the change in Snape's tone.

"It wasn't designed to have a counter-curse," the other man finished off. "Now then. You offered me a deal, one which I shall accept. Hand over your potions: one to stop the blood flow, one to replenish what I have lost, one to disinfect, and for God's sake one to remove this ridiculous mane. I require an ointment to cover the wounds and more of that skin jelly you gave me before to act as a seal." As if George didn't already know what was needed and how it was used. "And I want a question answered as well."

George considered. "Answer mine first."

"Very well. I am not dead because Nagini and her master were in too much of a hurry to finish the job. He kept her very close near the end, as if she were a great, living security blanket. She very nearly did me in and her poison certainly would have done if anyone had stayed around to be sure I was actually dead." Snape laughed bitterly. "But I was never that important, personally. The Dark Lord got what he wanted from me, as did Potter, and I was left on the floor to expire alone. Somehow, I found enough strength to drag myself to the Dark... to Voldemort's travelling chest, and I found several bezoars within."

George didn't miss how much effort it had taken Snape to say Voldemort's name, and he wondered at it. "You stopped the poison."

"Only enough to keep myself alive. Everywhere the snake attacked me remains as fresh as it was that day. One cannot counteract Nagini's poison entirely. It has been eating at me ever since, and it hasn't let my wounds close."

George knew that that wasn't completely true. His own father had lived through an attack by Nagini, but he didn't bring it up just then. "What next?"

"I somehow made it back up to the castle grounds. I don't know how I did, or how long it took me to get there. I only knew that I could taste victory in the air, and I knew he had been defeated. I stayed in the Forest and tried to heal myself as best I could without wand or supplies." The words were said perfunctorily, as if Snape was only a shell and George was drawing from him whatever soul he had left.

Still curious but glad the man had actually answered, George arrayed the requested potions on the small coffee table and sat down, gesturing to the chair across from him. "Fine, you've earned these. First one on your left is the Lion's Head antidote."

Snape had already pounced upon them and was fastidiously taking the required dosages without having to inquire how much of each to ingest. The whiskers fell from his cheeks immediately and whatever roar was left in his voice was his own naturally. When it came to the topicals, he shot George a meaningful glance. "I don't suppose a bit of privacy could be provided? Or do you want to watch a sick man strip naked and rub himself with ointment of your own devising?"

"Pervert," George said without thinking, then choked back a laugh. He had not really just called Severus Snape a pervert to his face, had he? Snape was looking at him strangely, so George pointed at the corridor. "You used to live here, you know where the loo is. Clean yourself up a bit, do us both a favour."

When Snape emerged from the bathroom a full half hour later, he was wrapped in one of George's bathrobes, his de-maned hair clinging to his neck. Without the layer of forest dirt, Snape looked a little more like himself, though his startled expression was new.

"What?" George asked.

"Dinner?" Snape was staring at the table, where enough food for two was heaped.

"Yeah, well, the house elves always outdo themselves, don't they? Tell them you have company and don't define in exactly what capacity that company is here, and this is what you get." Steaming bowls of stew, a tureen of leek soup, a roast duckling for each of them, and three different puddings awaited them. Snape went straight for the wine and only as an afterthought poured a glass for George also.

"Cheers," George said dryly, lifting the glass to his lips. Snape responded with a question.

"How in Hecate's cauldrons did you get this job?"

"Not big on the preamble, are you?" George sighed. "But I suppose I do I owe you an answer."

"You do, unless you wish to, as the say, welch." It was truly amazing how condescending Snape could be with a mouth stuffed full of bread and stew. George wondered when the last time was that the man had eaten anything of substance.

"McGonagall begged me," he said simply.

It was Snape's turn to choke. "Excuse me?"

"Yeah. She said no one else could fill the position, that I was qualified, and that it would do me good."

"I beg your pardon, but you have no NEWTs at all, let alone an O in Potions, Slughorn is more than capable, as would be at least a half dozen other candidates I could name, and you already have a job, if what you do can be called working. And you're not even twenty years old!" Snape had inhaled the stew and moved on to the duckling, not bothering to use utensils. George noticed that he'd cut and cleaned his fingernails.

"I had an OWL, as you might remember, and the field experience from both the shop and the war to back me up," George said, still working on his soup. "Slughorn is now Headmaster, so he can't teach, and I strongly suspect no one else wanted this job. And as I was unemployed at the time, I had nothing to lose." The old bat had had to twist his arm far more than that to get him to accept, and it had taken his mother badgering him in tandem with his former head of house, but he wasn't about to tell Snape that. "And I don't think I'm that much younger than you were when you started here."

The older man looked thoughtful. "Slughorn as Headmaster. He must just love that."

"Rather."

Snape smirked. "Any why were you unemployed?"

The memory stung, even now, of how it had felt walking into his boarded up joke shop without his partner and best mate at his side. "You've asked your allotment for the evening, I should think," he said, tone crisp. Snape arched a brow.

"I suppose I have. I don't believe I have ever sustained a civil conversation with a Weasley this long anyway, and I have a forest to be getting back to." He stood, leaving the duckling's bare bones on the platter, and looked down at George's bathrobe as if it had somehow betrayed him. "I'll just fetch my own clothing."

George watched him limp halfway across the room before the voice of his conscience nagged him into saying something. Annoying thing. He'd always thought it would sound like Fred, but instead it sounded like their mother. "You're not going back out into the Forest. You'll freeze to death, which will be a complete waste of my potions."

"And just what do you suggest?" Snape asked icily.

"You'll stay here, on my sofa, and you'll heal properly under my care." George shot him a smile so nasty, it was almost a reflection of Snape's worst expressions. "If you can handle being cared for by a Weasley twin, that is."

Snape looked as though he'd just been double-dog-dared to wear an Easter bonnet and ask the Headmaster to dance. He agonized for a moment and then muttered, "Fine. I should think you'll rather enjoy having me as your prisoner. But what then, Weasley? What will you do with me?"

George shook his head. "I haven't the faintest idea."

"Why are you doing this?"

"Blame my mother." With his wand he directed a spare set of blankets over to the couch. "Goodnight, you arrogant git."

Onward to part 2!
 
 
 
neviote_witness on September 22nd, 2007 11:19 am (UTC)
This is fantastic. You take your time with the beginning and bring up so many good little bits that center around George and flesh out his situation. No melodrama, thank God. But even so, the expectations that everyone continues to heap on him, his need to be funny still, and oh, let's not forget that wonderful, fairytale beginning. Innocent youth, once upon a time. This is just so well-written and entertaining, and I have to applaud your creativity in spinning something of this sort. Logical and delicious and warming. George and Snape, I wondered at first at the pairing. But then I noted the "post-DH" and decided it could work if the writer were talented enough. And you certainly are.

Forgive the rambling. I would highly recommend this!
rose_whispersrose_whispers on September 30th, 2007 01:13 am (UTC)
Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments! I had fun writing this so much and building it up slowly, and I'm delighted that you enjoyed it!
moonystonemoonystone on September 26th, 2007 09:02 pm (UTC)
Well done. Love the lingering sadness in George, and the new rise of his humour. He's quite an interesting Potions professor. Love the interaction with Snape. Slughorn is very ic.

BTW, just a bit of nitpicking: "Please, Professor, why can't we learning something more interesting than the Pepper-Up Potion?" - shouldn't that be "can't we learn"? And you forgot an "e" in Evanesco here "George sighed, and with far more composure than he'd had a moment ago, began to Evansco
rose_whispersrose_whispers on September 30th, 2007 01:15 am (UTC)
Thank you for reading! And thanks for the nitpicks-- the "why" is meant to be there (as in questioning the reason they're not allowed to learn something better rather than the more concrete why they aren't doing something different, if that makes sense) but the Evanesco shall be changed post haste ;)
moonystonemoonystone on September 30th, 2007 05:47 pm (UTC)
Glad to hear I didn't offend you with my nitpicking. BTW, I didn't object to the "why" but to the form of the verb there.

:)
Sarah (Sahra <3): Sevy du Femmesublime_arsenic on January 21st, 2008 07:02 pm (UTC)
This is incredible! Most authors make the climax come up far too quickly, but you have your pacing exactly right.

XD I love it.
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