As it turned out Severus did indeed have Potions the very next day. He sat at the Slytherin table for breakfast the next morning filling up on marmalade toast whilst looking over his class schedule when Avery and Mulciber sat down opposite him.
"Morning Sev." Avery grabbed his plate and loaded it up with bacon. "Dining alone as usual."
Severus frowned flicking his eyes towards Avery before going back to his schedule. "I just like quiet in the mornings, that's all."
"Ok old man." Mulciber smirked dousing his cornflakes with milk and spilling half of it on the table.
A loud chatter of laughter erupted from the Gryffindor table causing all three of them to turn and look. What ever it was they must have missed it as Sirius had already jumped on the bench next to James and was bowing low to his applauding audience, waving his hand dramatically, his long straggly hair sweeping across his face.
"I'll tell you what." Said Avery in a quiet voice, leaning in towards his dining companions. "That traitor's going to be first on my list when we finally get in with the Death Eaters."
"What part of secret organisation don't you understand?" Mulciber hissed although he couldn't prevent the tease of a wry smile play on the corners of his mouth.
"Well I'm just saying... jumped up little big head needs a reality check."
"Mind you that Elwood boy has already had a go hasn't he? A bit mad if you ask me. What was Garrick thinking letting someone like that into the fold? I'll just say one word... liability." Mulciber noted wisely.
All three boys turned to see this very person crash into the seat next to Severus. He yanked a slice of toast from the rack and began to lash butter onto it.
"Err... alright Elwood." Mulciber shot a quick glance at Severus before flashing her a weak smile.
"Morning Atwater." Severus greeted quietly.
"It's Atty. Remember?" He raised his finger and stared at Severus.
He finished buttering his breakfast and took a bite of toast. "So I'm a liability am I?" He grinned at them.
"Well I err... no... it's just..." Mulciber fumbled with his spoon as it clattered onto the table's surface.
"Yep." Severus replied trying not to smirk. "Nothing but trouble."
"Big trouble." Avery agreed waving his fork dismissively.
Atwater chuckled to himself and quickly rammed the rest of his toast into his mouth, the whole act was rather undignified. "Eee chu in fotions Sheferas." He announced with his mouth full before standing up and making his down the aisle of benches towards the entrance.
Severus watched him depart, he felt a knot of panic fill his chest when he spotted Sirius quickly depart from his table and moving to block Atwater's path, a smile on his face and a troublesome glint in his eyes.
Atwater however didn't allow his presence to register as he swiftly swung his satchel in the air before him not breaking step. Sirius ducked and backed off catching the back of his legs on the Hufflepuff bench behind him, stumbling and pushing into Russel Newton who ended up with half his boiled egg down his uniform.
He let the moment of shock register on his face before apologising to Russel then leaving the hall in as casual fashion as he could manage.
"Good luck." Avery grinned over at Severus.
Severus entered his Potions class an hour later to be greeted by the comforting, familiar smell of a brewing cauldron. This was what he was waiting for, the first Potions lesson of the new term. It wasn't his favourite lesson as that would always be Defence but he knew that the moment he entered the classroom he'd finally feel at home.
He detected a hint of dragon scales and the familiar notes of deadly nightshade and lemongrass. Focussing his attention towards the aroma's occurrence he found Atwater seated at the corner desk peering into the depths of his potions receptacle with a frustrated look on his face. He blew a long silvery strand of hair from his nose and looked up to find Severus approaching.
He nodded but quickly went back to the contents of his work.
"Severus." He greeted him as he sat into the seat opposite.
"So you've been moved up a year for Potions." Severus replied not looking at him as he hefted his bag onto the desk, pulling out his brewing utensils from its depths.
"How did you guess?" This time Atwater turned his attention fully onto his classmate.
Severus rolled his eyes, lazily leaning against the desk. "Why else would you be here? You've been teasing it every time I've seen you and you said "see you in Potions" only an hour ago." It took all his effort not to throw him another withering look but was more intrigued by the unusual plume of purple smoke hovering above his cauldron.
"Oh." He looked slightly crestfallen as if his big reveal had been ruined. "Impressed?" He inquired with a smug grin.
"Hardly." He muttered. Actually he was, Professor Slughorn hardly ever accepted younger students into his NEWT level classes.
"Of course you are." He said as if he hadn't spoke, he took a handful of motherwort and went to drop them into the mixture.
"Hold on. Shouldn't you chop them first." Severus said leaning across the desk to watch the potion's surface simmer. "Why are you making an acne potion anyway?" He inquired, correctly identifying the tell tale orange glow of the concoction.
"3 Galleons for a phial and and 5 for two. I can make another batch from the proceeds and have 1 Galleon and 2 Sickles profit. But it only last a couple of months."
"Weeks you mean?"
"Not with my brew it doesn't." He explained proudly. "Add in a rat's spleen during the first phase and it'll last ages."
"Yeah but who wants to be smearing rat guts onto their face." He pointed out.
"There's a little trick I've learnt that works wonders with that." He ushered him closer and leaned his face in towards his, whispering to the empty classroom. "Don't tell them."
Severus laughed involuntarily and sat back down shaking his head. "And you've been selling this for how long?"
"All last year."
Atwater's smile didn't falter but his eyes flicked away from his for a moment. "So I can keep myself. So I don't have to ask my father for anything ever again."
"Ok." Severus understood and didn't probe further, he turned as the first few students began to enter the classroom.
Lily Evans proceeded Harry Matthews of Ravenclaw through the doorway. She caught sight of Severus and then Atwater, she frowned and titled her head questionably. She shifted through the empty seats and approached their table. "I'm sorry Atwater but class is about to start. Sixth years can't be in here during lesson time." She wasn't being rude Severus realised as he caught sight of the Prefect badge on her robes.
"Do you want to tell Lily or should I?" Severus asked Atwater who gave the impression he hadn't even heard the girl standing at their desk.
"Sorry to rain on your party Miss Prefect.." Atwater said without a glance upwards.
"So you're telling her then?"
"... but I have just as much of a right to be in this class as your perfect self." He then looked at Severus and gestured his hand towards Lily irritably.
"Oh so I am telling her after all?" Severus narrowed his eyes at Atwater and then turned to Lily with a sympathetic expression as he explained the situation.
"Really? Him?" Lily stared wide eyed at Atwater after learning the circumstances.
"Yes. Me." Atwater replied counting out the number of potion stirs in his head.
"Oh." Was all she could manage and slumped into the chair beside Severus. Now that her Prefect duties were not required she merely resigned herself to staring at Atwater's cauldron as he worked. "Why are you adding rat spleen to an acne solution?" She inquired with an uncertain shift of her eyes to Severus.
"3 Galleons a phial." Severus explained.
"5 for two."
"Shhh." Atwater hissed at Severus who grinned.
"Anyway you two really need to keep your heads down." Lily mentioned in a hushed tone as Professor Slughorn entered the classroom. "Word has already gotten round about last night on the carriage and Sirius is out for your blood too."
"Big deal." Atwater muttered, busy pouring his potion into an array of glass jars he had yanked from his already overstuffed satchel.
"He is?" Severus asked her trying to sound nonplussed but glanced towards the door as if he expected the boy to come crashing through it at any moment.
"You know what Sirius is like, it hardly takes much." She replied sounding disapproving.
"Just let him try." Atwater said fixing Lily a challenging stare. "I'll just slip a nice shrinking solution into his morning juice. I won't say what it will shrink but it won't be his massive nose."
Even Lily smiled at this.
"He thinks he's so untouchable, I could make a simple potion that would have him dead hours later with nothing to trace it back to me."
"Atwater!" Lily exclaimed.
"Just kidding." Atwater shoved the jars back into her bag with a series of loud clinks. "It'd take months to brew that up and I haven't any dragons blood."
"Well... good." Lily looked over to Severus who smiled and shook his head.
"Do you remember the time you shrank Alice Filby's arms during our first year?" Severus asked Lily.
Lily frowned and then grinned reluctantly. "I had to feed her breakfast for the rest of the week."
"Even Sluggy couldn't find an antidote strong enough to work."
They both chuckled. Severus caught Atwater looking at them, he felt the heat rise to his collar but Atwater just smiled and rolled his eyes.
It was a brief moment of familiarity shared between two old friends and one that led to a lesson spent being able to work together without the need to apologise or argue. Even Atwater who despite his previous statement of dislike for Lily did not seem to mind her presence as the three of them conversed over the days potion challenge, it was a common interest all three shared that overshadowed the need to remember past events.
Severus watched Lily leave after class and felt another pang of sadness stab his chest as James appeared in the doorway to greet her. He knew that one lesson together would change little in their circumstance but for an hour at least he had almost forgotten that the void between them was quite so vast.
"You like her then?" Atwater inquired as he slung his bag over his shoulder.
"Of course I don't." Severus shot back, worried his previous emotion had shown on his face.
"Sure you don't. So she must your mortal enemy then?" He surveyed him from over the rim of his glasses.
"What are you on about?"
"Well I'm just trying to figure out why you can't take your eyes off her. So... you either like looking at her... which makes sense or... you fear attack at any second." He grinned.
Severus didn't sense any mockery in his tone just a gentle jibe, this surprised him as he expected scorn or at least some hint of judgement. "Look not that it's any of your business but..."
"No you're right." He nodded and stood up from his chair. "I don't get the sense that she completely despises you anyway Severus."
"Really?" Severus couldn't help himself.
"No. I think she's just disappointed."
Severus felt his stomach lurch. That was far worse and he didn't know why. "You got all that from one lesson?"
"No I just read her mind." He announced mystically closing his eyes and pointing to his head.
"You are joking right?"
"Of course." He shoved his chair in and walked off towards the doorway before turning round. "Or am I?" He grinned mischievously.
"Oh shut up." Severus groaned feeling exhausted before getting up himself to leave the room.
The first few weeks of term rolled by for Severus and despite all expectation to the contrary he hadn't yet been set upon by Sirius or James once. He was always aware when they were about though as he could feel their glares in his direction but this was fine, it was part of the boys unspoken agreement since they'd met during first year. They glared, he glared back and this continued until the inevitable clash, either when they were bored or Severus was in a bad mood. The later of which had been kept at bay due to the fact for the first time in years he had been enjoying the company of other people during his free time. Potions was fast becoming his most anticipated class each week due to the fact he spent them working with Atwater and also to his great surprise Lily as well.
He felt that without the constant presence of Jame or his cronies Lily became far less frosty in his presence. She hadn't forgiven him, not a chance but for Potions only she seemed to accept the fact that working together with himself and Atwater was far more beneficial to her studies than avoiding him.
It didn't hurt that again without the outside influence of their social circles Severus found it much easier not say something that would provoke her ire. She tolerated him and that was the best he could hope for.
The biggest surprise of all though was Atwater. He was fast becoming a regular acquaintance in Severus' school life. He would go as far as to call him a friend but the word was so unfamiliar to him he didn't like to tempt fate. Avery and Mulciber were his "friends" but friendships that were formed from a mutual necessity to avoid the impression of weakness or inadequacy. Alone they were bored and vulnerable but together they stood a chance, blended in. Atwater didn't seem to care one bit about these factors and merely enjoyed his company and though he wasn't one to admit it to anyone but himself he found Atwater engaging and also enjoyed the time they spent together.
Atwater seemed to understand him in a way few others did. He didn't entertain him when he was feeling sorry for himself and called him on it often yet he also understood there were times when Severus truly felt alone and would drag him to the school library for an hour of research into magic much darker than two young students should be discovering or failing that get his opinion on a potion he was busy brewing outside of lessons.
They both longed for a life away from their unhappy homes and understood they had to put in the work now to make sure they had a path to follow after Hogwarts.
Atwater was a conundrum to Severus, he was never sure if his distant indifference to those around him was genuine or a mere tool to make sure his situation remained just so. When he was with Severus his carefree attitude would rival that of even Sirius and nothing seemed to phase him in the slightest which constantly impressed Severus. He shared Severus' fascination of Dark magic but treated it without the reverence or trepidation their peers placed on it, to Atwater it was just magic like any other and it was refreshing to find someone who like Severus didn't think it was a practice to be feared or treated like some disease.
It was this subject they were discussing together over breakfast when Mulciber came crashing through the Great Hall doors waving the Daily Prophet above his head.
"He's been at it again." He announced crashing into the seat next to Avery, knocking his elbow into the pot of jam.
"Excuse me?" Avery replied wiping his elbow on a napkin.
"The Dark Lord." He slammed the Prophet down on the table's surface between them. The three of them peered over the paper.
MUGGLE KILLED IN NEW ATTACK
The body of an unidentified Muggle man was discovered yesterday afternoon in an abandoned house in Chepstow. Both the Ministry's Auror Department and Muggle law enforcement have failed to name the deceased due to the ferocity of the attack leaving little evidence behind for identification.
There were signs of a struggle at the scene and also evidence of dark magic being used which points to this being the work of "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named" or at the very least his group of affiliates known as "Death Eaters" who have been linked in the last few years to a long spate of attacks on Muggle families across the country.
Ezequiel Wruck of the Department Of Magical Law Enforcement has requested that anyone with any information that could help identify the perpetrators or the victim to please come forward as evidence at the scene points to the killer or killers being interrupted as although the scene contains all the details of past attacks that have been reported it appears rushed and less methodical than usual.
Could the Ministry's grip on Voldemort's followers be tightening by the day. Soon the group may be caught in the act and we will all finally have some answers which you can be assured you will hear about first in your Daily Prophet...
"It's really ramping up isn't it? That's the fourth attack I've read about this month alone." Avery noted rocking forward on his bench in nervous excitement.
"It's a bit small time though isn't? All these Muggle attacks. No one of note or anything." Mulciber added casually.
"Could you do it then?" Atwater asked fixing him with a hard stare across the table.
"I... of course I could." Mulciber replied with a dash of hesitance in his voice. "It's just a Muggle."
"Still gets you a life time in Azkaban if you get caught." He leaned forward onto his arms keeping his voice low.
"So what?" Yet the slight colour that had drained from Mulciber's face belied his indifference. "You'd probably want to do experiments on them instead." He added accusingly.
"I suppose that would be useful." He noted going back to his breakfast.
Severus opened his eyes wide and stared at him, Atwater caught his glance and gave him a wink letting a smile leak onto his lips.
"I see you're all caught up then?" Garrick appeared over Severus' shoulder motioning to the Prophet. "Think you're ready for that sort of thing?" He asked challengingly, looking down at each of them.
"Doesn't worry me." Said Mulciber.
"Yeah." Said Avery though without the conviction he wished.
Severus remained silent pondering on the previous articles he'd read over the last month. Relentless murder and terror with little fear of capture. A law unto themselves. The Death Eaters we're avoiding the Ministry and could soon be a force to reckon with if they weren't already. The magic he could learn from fellow witches and wizards who operated without the constraints of law and morality. He felt the hair on the back of his neck rise... but could he really do it? Would he be willing to do the unthinkable when the moment came, when Voldemort commanded?
"So who you done in then?" Atwater asked looking skeptical.
Garrick smiled and took a seat next to them, his large height meant he garnered the same effect as when he stood over them.
"I've had my fair share of scrapes, I've earned my stripes Atwater don't you worry." He chuckled to himself.
"Making cups of tea were you?" Atwater shot back.
Severus chocked on his pumpkin juice, and Avery masked his laughter with a coughing fit.
"This sort of disrespect won't do you any favours if you want me to put in a good word for you." Garrick could't hide the fact that Atwater's lack of faith annoyed him but he kept his tone level as he spoke. "I'm not sure I made the right decision in letting you into our little consortium."
He leaned over to Atwater's plate and lifted a slice of toast off it and took a bite before putting it back. "But we'll see what you are made of tonight won't we?" He added narrowing his eyes to all of them.
"Tonight, what's happening tonight?" Avery asked curiously.
"Oh just a little bit of fun, a show of faith if you will. We'll have to break a few rules, might get in trouble, who knows but that's nothing compared with what you'll have to do if I get you in with us." Garrick grinned again, baring all his teeth, a flame behind his eyes.
"But I don't want to get chucked out of school my dad will go mental." Avery said nervously, Mulciber scoffed behind him.
"Don't come then Alabaster. We don't want cowards, you can go fight for Dumbledore." Garrick rose from his seat. "Those of you who do want to prove they've got some nerve meet me tonight after lights out in the boathouse."
"After hours?" Avery swallowed.
"After hours at midnight in the boathouse." Garrick repeated and then left with his hands in his pockets and a swagger in his step.
"Right then..." Mulciber let out a long whoosh of air and surveyed the remaining occupants of the table.
"He's so full of it." Atwater moaned as he took the paper from the table to read the article in more detail.
"Yeah, but he must have done something pretty bad to earn the mark, surely. My dad says only the inner circle get those." Mulciber pointed out with a look of trepidation on his face.
"Maybe or maybe he needed to have the mark to convince others he's for real." Avery added. "I mean if The Dark Lord really is looking to Hogwarts for followers then he's not going to be offhand about it is he?"
"So he sent Garrick?" Atwater said. "All he's done so far is had you guys running about the castle doing his grunt work."
"No he hasn't." Mulciber shot back with a narrowed brow.
"I know for a fact he had you take his dirty laundry down to the kitchen only last week, I passed you on the way out of the common room moaning about it."
"Yeah he did." Severus added having recalled he was the person Mulciber had been moaning to at the time.
"Well..." Mulciber looked to Avery for help only to receive a shrug. "He said he needed to send a letter to his father before the end of the day. He said he would mention me in it, so..."
"And you... blonde boy." Atwater turned his attention towards Avery who stared back wide eyed in surprise.
"Avery." Severus told her not daring to look his way.
"I've sat at this table with you since term started." Avery grumbled looking throughly unamused.
"Yes Avery, I saw you polishing a Comet Caster broom last night by the fire. You don't even play Quidditch so who's broom was that, hmm?" He flicked his finger towards his nose so that he went cross eyed looking at it.
"Very observant ain't you?" Avery replied through gritted teeth.
"I'm not trying to mock you, I just don't see what this has to do with being a Death Eater that's all." He returned his frown.
"Oh and you know all about it then?" Mulciber shot back.
"I don't know anything but that's my point, how are any of us going to learn anything if we keep running round after that moron." He directed his pointed finger towards the door Garrick left from.
"I don't fancy your chances much with that attitude." Avery pointed out but he couldn't prevent a grin appearing on his face.
"Well we'll find out tonight won't we?" Said Mulciber "Unless you're too scared of getting into trouble." He added with a look in Atwater's direction.
"Make sure you've finished darning his socks before you set out." Jabbed Atwater leaving Avery to choke on his toast.