Her stepfather had come home drunk again, staggering into the house reeking of cheap booze and stale cigarettes. Her mother had been studiously contemplating her lighter, one of the many symptoms of her drug addiction, and had not realized that her husband had returned to the house until his voice had cut through the silence. This had been Carmen’s cue to retreat to the only place in the house she knew he would never go-- the attic. He was terribly afraid of heights, and since she had been very young, she had learned to capitalize on this fear. Too young to use magic outside of school yet, she had to rely on superior daring and cunning to keep her from suffering his drunken wrath, or sometimes, his maniacal attempts at seduction.
So she sat, her fingers laced around her knees, and recited every spell she had ever learned in alphabetical order: Accio, Aguamenti, Alohamora, Anapneo, Aparecium, Avis, Cave Inimicum, Colloportus, Confringo, Confundo, Defodio… A scratching noise cut through the quiet of the attic, and Carmen feared the worst, that her stepfather had finally drunken himself brave and found her hiding place. The scratching sound continued, and she made a decision; she would not let him find her, she would run out past him before he had a chance to corner her. She moved quickly, but quietly, and prepared herself to make the dash to the attic window, where she could climb out onto the roof.
She flung the door open and sprang for the window. It was open; she could not believe her luck. Just as she leaped for the open window, she heard a startled cry from behind her. She smiled to herself; she had succeeded in escaping, and managed to frighten the perverted old drunk to boot. Once outside the window, she climbed quickly onto the highest part of the roof and crouched there, ready to attack the dirty old bastard if he managed to follow her out here.
But it was not his head that peeked out of the window moments later; she recognized the long, dark, greasy hair of her friend and classmate, Severus Snape. She called softly to him, and he climbed out of the window to join her on her new perch. When he got close enough, Carmen punched him hard in the arm, causing him to let out a little yelp and retreat a few steps.
“You dolt!” she hissed. “What were you thinking, poking around in my attic like that?”
“Our dads came home at the same time. I saw from my bedroom window, and I knew you usually hid in the attic; thought I’d come sit with you until they fall asleep or something.”
The Snapes had lived next door to the Breaves ever since Carmen could remember. Often, when things got rough for Carmen and Severus, they would hide together, either in Carmen’s attic, or on one of their roofs until it was safe to come down, or until they got hungry and were forced out of hiding. For ten years now, since they were both old enough to climb out of their windows and into one another’s, they had been, each to the other, a source of safety and compassion in a place where those traits were in short supply.
Carmen looked over at her friend, who was still rubbing his arm and looking not a little wounded. She had never hit him before, but he had never scared her like that, either. She moved closer to Severus and placed a kiss on the part that was already turning a purplish-blue color. He looked at her strangely, an expression of surprise mixed with utter befuddlement that made him so resemble a wary deer on the verge of flight, that she had to laugh.
“Why’d you do that?” Severus asked her, still cradling his bruised arm.
“Because you looked so funny just now!” Carmen was holding her sides now; Severus still wore that puzzled expression, and it had been a long time since she had felt safe enough to laugh like this.
“I meant to say, ‘Why did you kiss me just now?’”
Carmen stopped laughing; there was something in his tone that meant this was not a laughing matter. Something was troubling her friend, and she must take this seriously. “I didn’t mean to offend you, Severus, I only wanted…I mean to say, I was only trying to… I am sorry.”
Severus looked as though he were trying to solve some complicated math problem in his head. His face was a mask of concentration as he sat quietly, just looking at her. Then, as though he had come to a complicated conclusion, he leaned in and kissed her on the cheek.
Carmen froze as his lips touched her, his hair brushing her ear gently as he did so. She turned to face him, and just stared. For a long moment, they sat there like that, their eyes locked, hands only just touching between them.
Carmen was the first to break the intensity of the moment. She slid over closer to Severus and nestled against him. He wrapped an arm around her, and they sat silently, gazing up at the night sky.
“So, what does this mean, if anything?” Carmen whispered.
Severus buried his nose in her hair and breathed deeply the smell of vanilla and mothballs. “I don’t know,” he murmured into her long, black tresses. “But I am sure we can figure it out together.”
Carmen shifted so she could see his face, and smiled. “I think I know what I would like to do first.”
Severus waited, he was pretty sure he knew what he wanted to do first as well. He wanted to be able to hold her close and just breathe her in; he wanted to be a comfort to the girl who was his sole comfort outside of Hogwarts. For so long now, they had shared every bond but that of romantic love. This girl next to him was as close to a true soul mate as he was sure he would ever find. So many nights spent alone together, innocently clinging to one another in the darkness while his parents fought or her stepfather stumbled around the house in search of someone or something on which to release his frustrations.
Carmen’s voice was so soft when she spoke, he almost had to ask her to repeat herself, but his heart heard everything, so there was no need.
He scrambled down from her roof, but returned, moments later, with a blanket, pillows, and a duffle bag. He went to the part of the roof that was flat and opened the bag; inside it was a small tent which started erecting itself as soon as the pieces were laid flat. Carmen ducked inside the tent when it was finished, and laid the blanket on the floor. Severus came in behind her with the pillows and duffle bag.
“I brought you a long t-shirt to sleep in,” Severus offered, holding it out to her. She took it and pulled it on over the clothes she had worn that day, and slid out of her blouse beneath it. Severus watched her shyly as she next kicked of her shoes and stepped out of her blue jeans.
Now dressed only in Severus’ t-shirt and her panties, Carmen lay back on the blanket and smiled up at her friend, who was trying to pull his shirt over his head without having first unbuttoned the collar. Carmen giggled softly and reached out to free him of his cotton ensnarement. Once his shirt had been tossed into a pile with her clothes, and his jeans joined them, they wrapped their arms around one another and held tight.
Carmen inhaled deeply, but it was not the smell of the old tent, or even the young man who lay beside her that she wished to breathe in, it was the moment; the feeling of security, of love, of her dearest friend’s heartbeat so close to her own. Severus’ hands gently stroked her back and hips, and she snuggled closer, tracing his spine with her fingertips. Gradually, their caresses became softer, and more sporadic as they drifted off to sleep, each in the arms of the person who loved them best in the world.