Title: Severus's Inviolate Volary
Character(s): Snape, Peter
Warnings: Crazy Snape
Contest Entry: Yes
Word Count: 1300
I thought I'd go ahead and write this up while the idea was still fresh, and also for the novelty of getting something in three months ahead of deadline, which has never happened before in my life, and doubtless never will again.
The man rode the train frequently, though he never seemed to be going anywhere in particular. Clad in an ill-fitting black overcoat, his dirty black hair straggling over the shoulders, he hunched in a seat, sometimes muttering to himself in an odd, sneering tone. Even in his withdrawn slump he radiated anger and arrogance, and everyone who saw him was careful not to disturb him, certain that to attract his notice was to invite a harangue on the nearness of the end and the certainty of their damnation. They knew his type, or thought they did. Only a few wondered about the large oddly-shaped lump that deformed the breast of his coat.
“He’s got a Siamese twin under there,” one young man joked to his girlfriend, though only when they were a safe distance away. “Like in that film. It detaches itself and crawls about at night.” He wiggled his fingers at her menacingly.
She laughed, though uneasily. She herself had caught a glimpse of the thing, just a sliver of ivory-white, but it had reminded her distressingly of bones.
The cage was in fact made of bones, the fine, bleached bones of birds, joined with copper wire. It looked extremely fragile, but it was unbreakable, and thus called Severus’s Inviolate Volary. His great-great-grandfather, for whom both he and it had been named, had invented it.
He often talked to the little beast inside, though he never touched it. He kept his fingers away from the bars as much as possible. The rat had never bitten him, but he did not forget that it could. The problem was, he could never be certain if it was listening to him. It never met his eyes. Its posture was often attentive, ears pricked, waiting. But he could not be certain.
He went to ground in a dingy room over an abandoned watch-repair shop. No one was looking for him. There was a breach in the grimy painted-over window, a triangle of missing glass where two long cracks met, but this he stuffed with a black plastic bin liner he had found in the shop below. At night he could shine a light into the cage to look at the rat while it slept, curled nose to tail. Sometimes the sight annoyed him and he would shake or even throw the cage to wake the rat up. Other times he simply looked.
A dream showed him what it was that he wanted. When he woke, his thoughts first turned to potions. But there was the difficulty of acquiring ingredients; and the unsatisfactory brewing conditions; and then, the problem of correct dosage for a rat. The inhabitant of the Inviolate Volary needed neither food nor drink, and so could not be made to consume anything out of desperation. But spells would work.
He didn’t ride the trains anymore; he didn’t go out much at all. It was abysmally easy for him to get the few things he needed to survive. He crouched in his room next to the cage which now held a rat-sized man, no taller than the span of his hand. Wormtail now answered when spoken to, though what he said was frequently objectionable. His voice was not as highly pitched as one might expect, but it was so faint as to be nearly inaudible. The effort required to hear him made his stupid self-important comments that much more galling.
They talked about Arithmancy. Severus spoke passionately about the beauty of the Babylonian sexigesimal system, the richness of it in contrast to lifeless rows of zeroes, and then all at once he found himself disparaging a boy who had been in their class, a boy whose name he could not even recall.
“He wasn’t a squib,” Wormtail interjected.
Severus halted, unused to being corrected. ”He was something worse,” he amended. “He was a coward.”
“I know he dropped out of the Magical world to become some sort of Muggle bookkeeper,” Wormtail said. “He was some relation of Molly Weasley’s. Very embarrassed about him, she was.”
“He counted things,” Severus said. “Constantly. Under his breath.”
“I never noticed that.”
“You always partnered with the girl.”
A buried resentment there. Their NEWT-level class had had only four people, one from each house, coincidentally enough. Pettigrew had claimed the only girl for himself – a wretched, unlovely girl, but Severus, who would have scorned her, found himself in the position of seeming unable to get her.
“She actually took a romantic view of you,” little Pettigrew said now. “She saw you as…brooding, mysterious. Not just you. Her head was full of fantasies. About James and Lily. About Sirius and Moony.”
“But not about you,” Severus said cruelly.
“No,” tiny Peter agreed. “I was her reality.”
“Sirius Black,” Severus said. “And…Moony. How could you stand it, living so close to something so vile? I suppose rats find filth a normal environment.”
The other was silent a moment. “It was just there,” he said finally. “Sirius didn’t care what anyone thought. Or he did, but he never let it stop him. We never referred to it much. I suppose I didn’t think about it as much as you did.”
Severus took the plastic bin liner from the window and covered the cage with it.
He ignored the cage for several days while he thought. He wondered if threats would improve matters.
“I could make your brain itch unbearably,” he told the other. “You’d beg for it to stop.” And: “I could make you hallucinate.”
Wormtail lay on the floor of the cage and didn’t answer.
“Perhaps I should try Polyjuice,” Severus said. “Turn you into a woman. You’d at least look tolerable.”
“Ginny Weasley used to dress me in doll clothes,” Wormtail replied, as though the two were at all comparable.
Severus put his forefinger through the bars and poked the soft defenceless belly.
“Ow! Stop it!” Wormtail squeaked. His outrage was reflexive and perfunctory, but it was also impotent. That gave some satisfaction, however fleeting.
Polyjuice wasn’t really the answer, of course. An unknown woman meant nothing. He thought about the faces he would like to see in his little cage, a procession of young faces, gone now. All gone.
He woke uncertain if he had actually heard the faint little voice talking to him, or if he had been dreaming. This had happened more and more often. He crept closer to the Volary and considered it. It didn’t have a door; he’d have to undo the magicked wire that held it together.
He couldn’t bear the thought of the tiny man outside of the cage, so first he transformed his captive back into rat, ordinary in appearance except for the shimmering foreleg. The rat crouched uneasily in the centre of the cage, uncertain of his intent. Severus painstakingly unwound the coppery thread and removed a segment of bony filigree from near the top. He drew a breath and extended his hand down to the rat, palm up. There was a moment of absolute stillness. Then he felt tiny claws dig into the fleshy part of his thumb, and the little creature lumbered up his arm, its silver paw leaving a tickle of magic wherever it touched.
His heart hammered and a chilly sweat prickled all over his body. A living thing sat on his shoulder. It moved against his neck, impossibly soft and warm, and utterly strange.
In the morning he woke, blinking, to the presence of an unfamiliar light in his room. The bin liner lay discarded on the floor next to the dismantled cage. The room was still and empty, except for the sun and air streaming in through his broken window.