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Before Harry Met Sevy by SevysGal

Format: Novel
Chapters: 23
Word Count: 70,419
Status: WIP

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Mild Language, Strong Violence

Genres: Angst, AU, Drama
Characters: Dumbledore, James, Lily, OC, Remus Lupin, Sirius Black, Snape, Voldemort, Narcissa, Lucius, Peter Pettigrew, M. McGonagall
Pairings:

First Published: 06/12/2004
Last Chapter: 05/04/2005
Last Updated: 07/28/2005

Summary:
Part one of my series:

Severus Snape has endured his parents' abuse for five lonely years. Then he finds his solace in the spunky red-headed girl next door. Their friendship will stand the trials of childhood, but as they grow older, will it last through the choices each must make? Note: NOT a Lily/Severus ship.


Chapter 1: Introductions
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Chapter One: Introductions
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Severus blinked his eyes against the beam of sunlight struggling through the grime of his tiny bedroom window, his room slowly coming into focus. As he sat up on the mattress which comprised his bed, a vague feeling of uneasiness settled around him. No noise came from elsewhere in the house - no sounds of his father's morning tirade about the how late his mother allowed him to sleep, and likewise, no sounds of his mother's busy footsteps in the kitchen directly below his room. He jumped to his feet, pulled on a set of clothes in which he positively swam, and rushed to the hall.

The corridor was silent and still, and he crept soundlessly down the stairs, lest his instinct proved incorrect. Peering around the doorway into the living room, the lack of occupants spurred him forward, and when he found the same emptiness in the kitchen, he began to feel bolder than ever. He did not try to mask the noise he made as he went directly to his parents' bedroom and proceeded to jump on their bed, an act which was expressly forbidden. Going a step further, he retrieved his worn and ratty blanket from his mattress and slid down the stairs gleefully, relishing in the sense of freedom he always felt when his parents left him alone. It seldom happened more than two or three times a year, and there was never any explanation given for their absence. If he dared to inquire, he was told by his father that he should stop concerning himself with their whereabouts, and his mother's answers were always very vague.

When they hadn't returned by lunchtime, Severus' thoughts turned to his father's study. He'd never been permitted to so much as step foot into it, and he was just bursting to satisfy his curiosity while he had the chance. But what if they come home? he thought to himself as he sat in his father's armchair. It'll be at least a week in the basement, probably more. Deciding that he would be able to hear the crack of their Apparations, he pushed open the study door, his mouth dropping open in shocked awe. Bookshelves stretched from floor to ceiling, all of them filled with ancient-looking tomes. Severus looked at the shelf closest to him and read a few of the titles: Hexing your Houseguests, Miyardi's Irreversible Curses, and The Art of Magical Torture were just a few of the hundreds. He stifled a shiver of repulsion and headed towards the large ornate desk in the center of the room, upon which rested a number of odd-looking artifacts. The small boy climbed into his father's chair and studied the shrunken head that graced the desktop, wondering what possible use it could have. From that he moved on to a set of eerie looking glass spheres, picking them up and examining them with interest. They, like the shrunken head, held no clue as to their origins or use, and after a moment, he laid them aside. Severus continued on in this fashion for the remainder of the afternoon, going through the drawers of the desk and rifling through their contents. The rumbling of his stomach reminded him that he had not eaten, and he closed the final drawer, intent on finding something edible in the kitchen.

The sky outside the kitchen window was pitch-black, and for a moment, Severus thought it was going to storm. Upon closer inspection, however, he saw the moon, already high overhead, and realized it was nearly midnight. He frowned, concerned for a moment about his parents' return. They'd never left him for an entire day before, and he was certain they wouldn't start now. Knowing they would return at any moment, his appetite was lost, and he sat at the kitchen table morosely. It was doubtful that his mother would fix a meal upon their return, yet Severus knew if he were caught with any food he would be punished. He finally chose to return to his bedroom, knowing that if he was asleep when they came back he could not be accused of doing something wrong. As he undressed and climbed onto his cot, the shadows began to dance across the ceiling, and he realized that he'd never slept in the house by himself. The prospect was not a happy one, especially when his thoughts turned to the contents of his father's study. He lay in bed with the blanket pulled up to his chin, his eyes darting frantically around the room as sinister shapes began to emerge all around him. In an effort to block them out, he shut his eyes tightly, trying to think of something funny. He fell asleep to the sight of his parents having made an Apparation mistake, their bodies permanently splinched together.

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He woke the next morning to the same eerie silence, and his blood coursed through his veins in excitement. They've left for good, he thought to himself with glee. His mood quickly evaporated as he realized exactly what that would mean for him. The Ministry would be sure to notice his father's continued absence, and they'd probably come around to the house to investigate. When they found him there alone, they'd either put him in a Muggle orphanage, or worse, send him to live with his Uncle Sebastian. He was the only living relative Severus had met, though he didn't know him very well. Still, it had to be better than staying here alone, didn't it? Looking out the window at the sunny fall morning, Severus decided to break yet another of his parents' rules: he opened the front door and stepped outside, blinking against the strong, unfamiliar light. Taking a seat on the front steps, he began to ponder his circumstances. After only a few moments, he became consciously aware of the stares he was evoking from passersby. Though he was only five, he knew that he appeared at least a couple of years older. He'd inherited his father's tall, lean frame, along with his lanky jet-black hair and cold black eyes. Seldom allowed to go past the doors of his home, Severus' skin had attained a ghostly white pallor, though the clothes salvaged from his father's childhood things hung loosely on his gaunt frame to conceal the majority of bare flesh. He locked eyes defiantly with a stranger walking briskly by, and from the look that was returned, one would think Severus had been a vampire rather than a lonely child. The stranger passed, and Severus dropped his eyes to his knees, turning his thoughts back to the situation at hand.

"What are you doing?" The voice coming from his side startled him, and he looked over in surprise. Directly beside him stood a girl nearly a foot shorter than himself, her piercing green eyes studying his own with interest. She wore her fiery red hair pulled back into a ponytail, though it still flowed to her waist.

"Nothing," he replied, a bit more sharply than he'd intended, "just sitting here."

"You've been sitting there an awfully long time," she pointed out.

"So? Aren't I allowed to sit on my own steps?" he asked irritably. Couldn't this girl see he was preoccupied?

"I didn't think your mum and dad let you go outside," she said bluntly.

"Well, they're not here, are they?" he snapped, wishing she'd go away but at the same time grateful that she seemed interested in what he did.

"Really? Where are they at?" He shrugged indifferently.

"I don't know, but they've been gone since yesterday morning."

"Aren't you scared to be all alone in that yucky house?"

"No," he lied, thinking of the collections of dark magic in his father's study.

"I would be," she stated, staring at the house with her eyes wide.

"Well, you're a girl," he said matter-of-factly. She put her hands on her hips and glared at him.

"So? I think you are scared, and won't admit it."

"Lily?" The girl spun around as a woman called from the next house over.

"Coming, Mum!" she shouted back. "I've got to go. My name's Lily, by the way. What's yours?"

"Severus," he muttered as she ran over to her mother. Severus watched the two of them for a moment, then watched in astonishment as Lily's mother began walking towards him. Unlike her daughter, she had short brown hair, and bright blue eyes, and she walked with the confidence of someone who knew exactly what they wanted out of life.

"Hello, dear. Severus, is it?" He nodded as he looked up at her. Her eyes shone with emotions he'd never seen in his own parents' eyes - kindness, and concern. "Lily tells me that your parents aren't at home?"

"No, ma'am."

"Do you have any idea where they could be?" He shook his head, part of him wanting to scream out that he didn't care where they were, as long as they stayed there. "How old are you, dear?"

"Five."

"Five? What on Earth were those fools thinking?" Her brows had come together in a scowl as her eyes snapped with anger. "Right. You'll just come and stay with us until they come back, all right?" Severus' heart pounded in his chest. If his parents did come back to find him not at home, they'd be furious.

"No, thank you," he declined, "I'd rather stay here if you don't mind. They'll want me to wait for them."

"I think you'd best come with me," she said, a bit more forcefully."Your parents will understand." She held out her hand to him. "I'm Lily's mum, Rose Evans." He took her hand tentatively, and she smiled down at him. "We'll get you a bit of lunch, and then we'll see about finding them for you, all right?" Severus wanted to tell her not to worry, that he wouldn't mind if they were never found, but he somehow felt she would simply brush aside his protests. So, he stood and forced a smile, reluctantly following Lily and Rose from the overgrown weed patch that was his yard.

It felt as though he stepped into another world as they crossed the property line between the two homes. As they made their way across the front of the Evanses' neatly manicured lawn, he glanced back at his own house. The sight of it surprised him, though he quickly realized his father had probably enchanted it to keep nosy Muggles from approaching. A far cry from the pristine houses which lined the street, Severus' own house reeked of abandonment. The paint of the siding was gray and peeling, and the roof looked to be caving in over what was Severus' bedroom. Boards were placed over broken panes of glass, and the front porch was sagging, nearly touching the ground. He shook his head in disgust. No wonder he wasn't ever allowed outside: his father didn't want anyone to know they existed.

His mind continued making comparisons as he was ushered into the Evans' home. Light streamed through the light window coverings, and the fresh fall air circulated throughout the house, giving it an inviting air. Rose led them into the kitchen, where a surly looking girl of seven or eight sat at the table, eating her lunch. Looking nothing like her mother or sister, she was Severus' height, with a thin, pencil-like neck, and shoulder-length ratty brown hair. Her blue eyes held none of the warmth or humor that could be found in her mother's eyes, and the scowl on her face appeared to have been permanently fixed with a sticking charm. She gazed at Severus with unconcealed disgust as the trio walked into the room.

"Petunia, go and fetch your father, won't you?" Rose asked as she began fixing plates for the remainder of the group. Petunia stood soundlessly, breezing past Severus as she left the room. His attention was turned again to Rose as she handed him a plate heaped with roast beef, then turned and made his way to the table. Lily joined him a moment later, followed soon after by the appearance of her father.

Mr. Evans was quite the opposite of his petite wife - not an inch under six and a half feet, he looked as though he could push on a tree to cause it to fall. His bald head and round, jovial face set off his kind eyes, a shade darker than his youngest daughter's. Sitting in Mr. Evans' presence, Severus had the unfamiliar feeling that nothing bad could happen to him. For the first time in his life, he felt safe.

"Hallo there," Mr. Evans boomed, his voice deep and resonating off the walls as he sat down, "Who have we here?"

"This is Severus, dear, from next door," his wife stated before Severus had a chance to speak. "Albert, he woke up yesterday to find his parents gone."

"What do you mean, gone?" Albert raged, looking at Severus incredulously. "They didn't tell you where they were headed? Didn't so much as leave a note?" Severus shook his head and began to eat hurriedly in an attempt to avoid further questioning. "That's absolutely atrocious!" Albert declared, his round face growing red with indignation. "And they haven't returned yet?"

"No, sir."

"Wait a minute, you said he's from next door, Rose?"

"That's right, dear," Rose answered, her anger somewhat diminished in the presence of her husband's. Albert looked at Severus thoughtfully, then spoke as he stuck his fork into his food.

"Isn't your mother expecting, Severus?" The boy looked at him blankly.

"Expecting what, sir?"

"A baby, lad." Severus felt his cheeks flush with embarrassment as he nodded. Of course! That's where his parents had gone - to St. Mungo's to have the baby!

"Well, I think the mystery of where they're at is solved," Albert said brightly.

"Yes, but that doesn't excuse the fact that they left Severus alone. For a day and a half now, Albert." Albert frowned as he thought of his wife's words. They continued their meal in silence, Severus looking at them anxiously to try and gauge what they were thinking. As Lily and Petunia began to clear the table, Severus automatically jumped up to help.

"No, dear. You're our guest, you don't need to clean up." This house was definitely very different than his own home, and Severus wondered how they managed to not fight with each other. Rose and Albert began talking in hushed tones, glancing over at him every now and again, as though they were making sure he was still there. Finally, Albert straightened up in his chair and beamed at the boy.

"It's settled, then," he said cheerfully, "you'll stay with us until your parents come back."

"Really?" Severus sputtered, not believing what he'd heard. "You aren't going to send me home?'

"By yourself? I should think not!" Rose said
indignantly. "We'll just pop over and get a change of clothes and all that, and you can sleep in Lily's room. She can bunk with Petunia, and when your parents come back, I'm going to give them a piece of my mind!"

"Now Rose, they may have been in a bit of a rush -"

"I don't care how rushed they were to get there. His father might have at least come back for him, instead of leaving him alone and scared."

"I wasn't scared," Severus insisted. Petunia scoffed as Rose smiled down at him.

"No need to pretend, Severus. Everyone's scared at one point or another." He felt anger welling up inside him - why was this woman claiming to know his innermost thoughts? Then he thought back to the previous night, when the shadows had frightened him into going up to his own room. He didn't say anything more, but felt hope rising in his chest as the entire Evans family walked him back over to his house. He was uncomfortably aware of the curious looks some of the items in his father's collection were drawing.

"Why don't you girls wait back at the house?" Albert suggested as he took in the various artifacts scattered throughout the living room. The three of them quickly acquiesced, and they left to make up Lily's room for their guest as Severus led Albert to his room. It occurred to him that his parents would definitely not be happy that he was letting a group of strangers inside their home, but as they weren't here, there was little chance of them finding out. He threw a change of clothes into a bag, and turned to leave, only to find Albert looking around his room in disgust. Apart from the cot in the corner and a tattered dresser next to it, there was no furniture. A tiny window was set on the far wall, but it was completely blocked by the dust and grime that filled the room. A single candle illuminated the small space, casting an eerie glow on the grimy walls.

"Is this where you sleep, Severus?"

"Yes, sir."

"Don't you have a lamp or something?" Severus looked up at Albert in bewilderment. Lamp? Then it dawned on him - the reason the Evans were so different was because they were Muggles. As the realization hit him, so did the fact that his father would be even more angry that he'd let non-magic people into their home. He was suddenly torn between fear of his parents and the warmth and safety he felt at the Evans. "Severus?" Albert prompted, "Are you all right?"

"Fine, sir."

"Let's stop with all this 'sir' business. Call me Albert." Severus wasn't quite sure what to make of that. He'd never met an adult who requested he call them by their first name. This act alone made his decision for him.

"Okay, Albert. I'm ready."

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He stared at the ceiling in the strange bedroom, trying not to focus on the fact that everything around him was colored various shades of pink. The sheets he was using were frilly and lacy, and there were stuffed unicorns staring at him from a shelf above the window. It was so - girly. He was beginning to have his doubts about sleeping in this room - though it was definitely preferable to the dark solitude next door. Just as he was beginning to give up hope of getting any sleep, the door creaked open, and a shock of red hair peeked around the edge.

"Severus? Are you awake?"

"Yeah," he replied, sitting up in the bed and hugging his knees to his chest. She climbed up onto the foot of the bed and regarded him intently.

"Why is your house so dark and scary? Don't your parents pay their electric bill?" she asked seriously, her eyes not leaving his face. Severus found himself at a loss for words. He was almost positive that he wasn't supposed to tell Muggles about the existence of magic, but he couldn't think of anything plausible to tell her.

"I don't think we have an electric bill," he answered truthfully.

"How come you didn't have any lights on, then?"

"Um -" she suddenly leaned in closer.

"Have you ever made anything happen without knowing why?" The complete change of subject took him by surprise, but he shook his head.

"I know why they happen."

"Why?" He looked around the room, as if the gesture would reveal any eavesdroppers, then put his hand up to his mouth.

"It's magic," he whispered. She let out a squeal of delight.

"I knew it! Petunia keeps saying I'm nutters, but I knew there was a reason." She beamed at him, "How do you know for sure?"

"I'm a wizard, I've known about magic my whole life."

"Really? So do you know lots of spells?" she asked eagerly.

"Some," he shrugged, "but I'm not allowed to do any yet."

"Why not?"

"Because underage wizards aren't allowed to do magic outside of school."

"There's a school to learn magic?" He nodded, relishing the fact that for the first time in his life someone was interested in something he had to say.

"But you can't tell anyone," he said sternly. She held out her pinky, though Severus wasn't sure why.

"I pinky swear," she explained. Grinning, he linked his pinky with her own, sealing the pact.

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Severus woke with a sharp pain in his arm, and when he opened his eyes, he saw why. His father was looming over him, the vein in his neck throbbing menacingly. Severus rubbed his arm, aware that his father had most likely pinched him. Silias Snape was quite the opposite of Mr. Evans in every way: although nearly as tall, he was slim and lean, with a head of black hair that fell past his shoulders. His cold black eyes had none of the warmth or kindness of the Evans', and he wore a permanent sneer of disapproval whenever he looked at his son.

"Idiot boy," he hissed as he grabbed Severus by the arm and lifted him from the bed, "your mother's been out of her mind with worry!" Severus' eyes went from his father to the doorway, where the Evans family stood, looking enraged.

"It occurs to me that she has no right to worry where he's at if she chooses to leave him alone for two days," Rose said forcefully, pulling Severus back from his father's grip.

"Please," he whispered up to her, his eyes pleading, "you'll only make it worse." Rose either didn't hear him or disregarded it, for she continued to rant.

"What do you mean by leaving a five-year-old by himself? Did you stop to think of how frightened he would be when he realized you were gone?" Albert put a hand on his wife's shoulder as he saw Silias reach into his coat pocket. Severus knew he was reaching for his wand, and he broke free of Rose's grasp to stand obediently next to his father, his head held down.

"It is none of your concern where we go or how we raise our son," Silias said coldly, his hand still around his wand. Severus could tell that his father had been drinking - he could smell the familiar odor of Ogden's Fire Whiskey on his breath.

"See here, Snape," Albert began, standing directly in front of the other man, "Why didn't you take him with you? Or at least tell the lad where you'd gone?" Silias ignored the question as he pushed past Albert and grabbed his son's collar, pushing him towards the door. Albert and Rose followed him, trying to get an answer out of the angry man as he propelled his son outside. Silias pulled Severus inside their own house, and slammed the door in his neighbors' faces, turning immediately upon his son. "How many times have you been told not to leave this house alone?" he demanded, his face inches from the child's. Severus quailed with fear at the wild look on his father's face.

"T-they invited me, Sir," he stammered, bracing himself for the inevitable punishment.

"Severus, there you are!" his mother exclaimed as she walked into the room, holding a bundle. Rebekah Snape had once been a beautiful witch, but ten years of neglect and abuse had hardened her, both physically and emotionally. Her once brilliant blue eyes had long ago lost their innocent shine, and her silky golden hair had likewise dulled, and was now reminiscent of dirty straw. "You should know better than to go running around the neighborhood like that!" she scolded, her eyes flicking nervously to her husband. She leaned down and drew back the blanket that covered the bundle, and Severus glanced down at the face of his baby brother. "Meet Steven," she said softly, "isn't he beautiful?" Severus could see nothing beautiful about the child - he already looked as though he would be nearly identical to both his father and brother, but he nodded anyway in the effort to please her. Silias tightened his grip on the boy's shoulder, causing Severus to wince with pain. Despite the pleas from his mother to let him be, his father steered Severus towards the basement door.

"Let's see how cheeky you are after a few days by yourself," he sneered maliciously. Severus shut his eyes tightly, trying not to think of the horrible stench and bitter cold that awaited him.

Chapter 2: Friends and Enemies
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Chapter Two: Friends and Enemies
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Severus sat on the couch in the living room, trying to concentrate on the book he held open in his lap. His father was in the kitchen, berating his mother for not having dinner on the table as soon as he'd Apparated home that evening. Three-week-old Steven was laying in his cradle in the corner of the room, utterly unconcerned about the stream of obscenities that were carrying over from the next room. Severus closed his book with a sigh and trudged up to his attic bedroom, knowing that dinner would most likely be jinxed or otherwise ruined by his father before his rant was finished. He reached up and wiped a bit of the grime from the window, looking across the yard at the Evans household. Since his visit with them, he'd been constantly comparing the loving atmosphere found within its walls with the oppressing atmosphere of his own. As he was contemplating what his life would be like if he was shown even a fraction of the love the Evanses showered on their children, a blur of red hair caught his eye. It was Lily, walking from her yard over to his front door, Albert not far behind. His heart hammering in his chest, he ran down the stairs, disregarding the reprimand he knew would come, and opened the door before they had a chance to knock.

"Hullo, Severus!" Lily greeted him brightly.

"Hullo, Lily. Hullo Albert."

"Good evening, Severus."

"Mum wants us to invite you for dinner," Lily explained. Severus glanced uneasily back towards the house.

"I can't," he said finally, though he yearned for the sense of normalcy he had felt with them.

"Come now, lad, why don't you just pop in and ask your mother, eh?" Albert prompted. The door swung open to reveal Silias, red in the face and quite out of breath.

"What do you lot want?" he snarled, laying a heavy hand on his son's shoulder. Albert's eyes narrowed at the tone in the other man's voice.

"We came to invite Severus for dinner at our place," he said, not appearing to feel threatened in any way.

"He doesn't want to go to your place, Evans. I suggest that you mind your own business in the future and stay away from my family." Albert didn't move, and from somewhere deep inside of him, Severus found the courage to speak back.

"But I do want to go, sir," he said, his voice barely above a whisper. Albert and Lily looked up at Silias triumphantly as the vein in his forehead began throbbing angrily.

"What did you just say?" he hissed, his mouth now next to Severus' ear. "You want to associate with these Muggles, do you? That doesn't surprise me, you've always had a tendency towards the mundane." Silias straightened up, his eyes flicking from his neighbors to his son, who stood as if he were waiting to be struck. "By all means," he suddenly said, waving his hand, "if you want to soil yourself with their company, I'll not stop you." He smiled maliciously down at his son as Severus stared up at him in amazement. "No doubt Steven will prove to be less of a - disappointment." That said, he shoved his son towards Albert and slammed the door behind him. Severus stared at the door with a mixture of relief and resentment. Lily came up and took his hand.

"Come on," she said softly, "I don't think you're disappointing. I think it was very brave to stand up to him." Albert clapped the boy gently on the back as Severus stared into Lily's brilliant emerald eyes.

"Yes," Albert began, clearing his throat, "it was - brave. Now, let's get home before Rose begins to worry."

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From that moment on, Lily and Severus were inseparable. Now that Steven was there to occupy his parents' interests, Severus was free to wander wherever he chose, though his father's cruelty continued, unabated. Severus would return home late in the evening after spending a day with Lily to endure his father's countless tirades about the uselessness of Muggles, and how, in his opinion, they should all be wiped out. It was on one such occasion, on New Year's Day, that Severus felt he could no longer stand the constant degradation of his only friend and her beloved family.

"Lily's not a Muggle," he said forcefully, his eyes burning with anger."She's a witch. I've seen some of the things she's done, without meaning to." Silias stopped in mid-rant to glare down at his eldest son. Rebekah's spoon froze in mid-air, halfway to three-month-old Steven's mouth, as she looked anxiously from her husband to her son. Even the baby seemed to sense something important was happening, and didn't make a sound as he sucked on his fist, his eyes fixed on his older brother.

"Oh?" Silias sneered, his rancid breath flowing over Severus like a cloud. "And I suppose that makes her any better? She's still a filthy mudblood." Severus stood from the table, his small hands balled into fists as he shoved them into the pockets of his jeans. As he turned to leave, he heard his father's chair scrape across the floor, and he broke into a run as he tried to escape Silias's wrath. "Stupefy!" Severus's mind had barely registered the word when he felt himself fall, though he tried vainly to escape. He felt the rough hand of his father on his arm as Silias steered him towards the basement door, a sneer of triumph on his haggard face. "I believe we've been going far too easy on you, boy. Perhaps it's time for a reminder of what happens when we behave impertinently, eh?" He kicked open the door and tossed the boy inside, disregarding the howl that came unwillingly from Severus's lips as he struck the dirt floor. The door was slammed, and Severus saw the familiar blue light that meant he was now a prisoner once again. He struggled to his feet and made his way to the only shaft of light in the entire room, which filtered through a window just as grimy as the one in his bedroom. As he crouched against the cold stone wall, he thought about his actions, and wondered if he should have kept his mouth shut. No doubt his father's incessant observations on the Evans' bloodline would continue, most likely becoming even more disparaging, if that was possible. He drew his knees up to his chest and laid his head onto them in abject misery. Lord only knew how long his father would keep him down here, and no matter how many times he was thrust into this make-shift dungeon, Severus could never get used to the darkness that enveloped him once the sun went down. His vivid imagination never failed to provide him with images to attach to the noises around him - the sound of the rats scurrying on the dirt floor became the quick movements of something infinitely larger and far more sinister; the wind which whistled through the chinks in the walls near the surface was its eerie call; the constant drip of the moisture in the walls was the monster licking its lips in eager anticipation. As he struggled to turn his thoughts away from the countless horrors that abounded in the darkness, a shadow passed by his window, blocking his light. He looked up anxiously, afraid that the shadow meant evening, and a sleepless night, was dawning. Instead of the dusk which he imagined, he saw a small, toothy grin and a pair of bright green eyes staring at him. Lily began pushing at the window, giving up when she succeeded in only getting it open a few inches.

"What are you doing here?" he whispered up to her, looking fearfully over at the basement door.

"I came over to see if you wanted to play, but your dad said you were 'indisposed', so I thought I'd check to see if you were down here. And you are." She cocked her head to one side and stared at him quizzically. "How long do you hafta stay down there?" Severus shrugged.

"Until he decides to let me back up, I guess. That's how it usually works." She laid on her stomach and frowned down at him.

"But he brings you food, doesn't he?"

"When he remembers," he said quietly, turning from the window and leaning once again against the wall. There was no sound from Lily, and when he finally craned his neck to look up at her, she was gone. He sighed and rested his chin on his hands. He should have known she wouldn't want to talk to him very long. His mind began wandering to the days he'd spent with her family, and he began to yearn for the loving atmosphere that emanated from their home. As he began to daydream about Rose and Albert being his parents, a bundle landed next to him with a loud thud. Looking up at the window, he was surprised to see Lily had returned, laying on her stomach again and smiling down at him. "What's in there?" She grinned.

"Open it and find out, silly." He eagerly tore open the parcel, the folds of cloth falling away to reveal a stack of sandwiches, wrapped in wax paper, and a jug of water. "In case they forget," she explained softly, her eyes boring into his. Severus wasn't sure how to react.

"You didn't have to do that," he said, looking down at the sandwiches again.

"That's what friends do," she said simply. He glanced up at her as a grateful lump rose in his throat, but looked away before he shed a tear.

"Thanks," he answered as he stored the parcel underneath the stairs, to avoid having his father find them. Lily continued to stare down at him, following his movement with her eyes.

"What did you do that made him stick you in here?" she finally asked, her voice soft. He regarded her thoughtfully, not sure how much of the truth he should tell her.

"Because I talked back to him," he finally said, deciding that explaining his father's unjustified hatred of non-purebloods could wait for another time.

"Good for you," she said emphatically, "don't let him bully you, Severus." She peered into the basement, a frown on her face when she looked down at the boy. "Do they give you lights or anything?" Severus shook his head as he noticed the dusk he had feared was now settling over the house. Lily looked quickly over her shoulder to her own house. "I've got to go, Mum's calling for me. I'll be back tomorrow." She pulled the window shut and then waved wildly before returning to her own home. Severus drank in the remaining light as it grew dimmer, his fears coming back in full force now that he was alone once again.

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True to her word, Lily returned the next morning, bright and early. She dropped down another bundle, this time filled with candles and matches.

"Mum says we shouldn't play with matches, but I figured you'd be careful with them. Besides, it isn't like you could burn down this basement. The only thing down here to catch fire would be the stairs. So, there really isn't much of a chance that you'll set the house on fire." He looked at her, his eyebrow raised quizzically.

"Are you all finished now?"

"Yes," she grinned."My rant is now complete."

"Alright then. Thanks for the candles"

"You're welcome." She looked around the empty room, then addressed him again, "What do you do when you're down here all alone?" He shrugged.

"Mostly think about how different my life could be." An awkward silence settled over the two children as they both thought of his words.

"You've got a little brother now, though. Things are bound to get better." He brightened at her encouraging words, a smile springing to his face.

"You're right! Now that Steven's here, he's bound to punish him every so often, isn't he?" His face fell at the thought. "I can't let him do that, though. I'll have to look out for both of us now. " With that thought in his mind, he made the decision that he would make sure his brother would not suffer the same way he had. He would make sure that Steven never had to sit down in this cold, dark basement alone. Ever.

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Severus stared at the basement door morosely. For the third time in a month, he'd been banished to the basement. Before he had much chance to dwell on his punishment, a familiar shadow passed over his window. He automatically retrieved the makeshift ladder they'd constructed a few months before from its hiding place in the farthest corner, and held it under the window. A few moments later, Lily was standing next to him.

"What happened this time?" she demanded, her arms crossed over her chest.

"Steven was in his office. I only just managed to get him out before he came home."

"So he caught you instead." It wasn't a question, and he lowered his eyes to his shoes.

"He's only three years old, he shouldn't have to deal with him."

"But you should?" Her voice was soft, and Severus risked a glance up.

"I'm used to it," he grinned at her."Besides, it's not so bad down here since we've started stashing the supplies."

"You know that's not what I'm talking about," she prodded. He sighed in agitation - they had this argument every time he took the blame for Steven.

"It wasn't bad, Lily, honest."

"Your lip's bleeding. And you're shaking. I'd hate to see you when it is bad."

"Lily, please, will you just drop it?" She held up her hands in resignation.

"Fine. But you know what we must now do, right?" He smiled back at her.

"Plot the overthrow and destruction of the Snape patriarch?" She shook her head as she laughed softly.

"Nope, we're going to read this." She pulled a large book out of the bag she'd carried down with her and handed it to him.

"A Tale of Two Cities?"

"Well, we've finished Oliver Twist, and Mum said this one was a tragic love story." He rolled his eyes.

"A love story? Do we have to read that? Oliver Twist wasn't bad - it had thieves and cutthroats in it."

"That's right. You picked that one out, and so it's my turn. Come on." He obediently followed her underneath the stairs where a large patchwork quilt had been spread. Stacks of books lined the walls, along with candles of various sizes. They felt fairly safe keeping these belongings here, as Silias rarely ventured further than the top step. The only reason for his father opening the door was to either throw Severus in, or else to tell him to get up to his room. He never bothered to bring him food anymore, though Lily made sure he always had enough. Silias probably thought he'd gotten used to being starved, and could therefore ignore his son completely until he decided that his punishment was over. They settled onto the quilt and lit a candle, and Lily began to read quietly. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." Severus found himself so engrossed in the story that he didn't hear the heavy footsteps on their way to the basement door. He did hear the click of his father taking the charms from the door, and he pulled Lily to her feet.

"Quick! He's coming - you've got to go!" She scrambled for the ladder, but the door began to creak open before she reached it. Her eyes wide with fear, she ran back under the stairs, blowing out the candle and crouching in the safety of the darkness. Severus quickly stood in front of the ladder, hoping his tall frame and the gathering twilight would hide it from view. Silias began to descend the staircase, causing the boy's heart to race. What was going on? Silias never came down the stairs. The reason became clear when Severus saw the wand held loosely in his father's hand, and smelled the stale odor of fire whiskey on his breath.

"What are you hiding, boy?" he snarled, brushing Severus easily to the floor. "What's this?" He turned to look at his fallen son. "Trying to escape, are we?"

"No, Sir," Severus stammered as he got to his feet again.

"You expect me to believe that, when there is an open window with a ladder beneath it? Do you think I'm a fool?"

"N-no Sir," he replied quickly, hoping to avoid a confrontation with Lily watching from under the stairs. Silias threw the offending object into the far wall, where it shattered into pieces, then advanced menacingly on his son.

"Because I'm not a fool," he hissed, his cold black eyes burning with anger. Severus backed away, panicking slightly as he came in contact with the wall. There was nowhere else for him to turn as his father drew back his hand. As it connected with the boy's face, he staggered slightly, but stayed on his feet, which only enraged Silias more. "Evidently, boy, you have learned nothing from your punishments." He raised his wand to Severus's chest and grinned maliciously. "Perhaps it is time to try alternate methods. Morsius!" Severus sank to the floor in agony as the curse hit him. He felt as though he were being stung by hundreds of bees, and he began frantically swinging his arms in front of himself to ward them off. Silias let out a hollow laugh that seemed to resonate off of the stone walls. Severus remained curled into a ball on the floor, letting out a howl of pain as he felt the steel toe of his father's boot meet the hollow of his back. Silias sniffed loudly as he made his way back towards the stairs. "Stupid brat," he muttered as he slammed the door. The blue light of the wards lit the interior of the room for the briefest moment, but it was enough to show him the look of horror on his friend's face as she rushed over to him.

"Are you all right?" she whispered as she helped him sit up. In the dim light, he could barely discern her face, but he could tell by the quivering in her voice that she was near tears.

"I'm fine," he said sharply, upset that she'd had to witness his humiliation. As he tried to stand, the pain in his back flared, and he sank back onto the ground.

"Why'd he do it?"

"Since when does he need a reason?" he asked bitterly, his eyes following the beam of moonlight from the window. "Oh, no. Lily - the ladder!"

"What?" She followed his gaze to where the ladder lay in pieces against the far wall. Severus struggled to stand again.

"Stand on my shoulders, that should get you up to the window," he gasped.

"No, Severus. I'm not standing on you - not until you've rested a bit."

"But you've got to get out of here," he argued. She shook her head emphatically and crossed her arms over her chest.

"I'm not going to go anywhere." She said stubbornly.

"Rose and Albert - they'll be worried." His words had the desired effect: she looked up at the window with an anxious look on her face.

"I'd hate to have them worrying all night, but -" she shook her head again. "No. I'm not going. I'll explain it to them when I get back. It'll be all right." She didn't look nearly as convinced as she sounded, and Severus crossed his arms as well, prepared to be just as stubborn.

"I'm not going to make you stay down here because of me. It's my fault -"

"You didn't do anything!" she interrupted, her voice rising slightly. Severus put his hand over her mouth to prevent her from saying anything else as he looked anxiously at the ceiling, expecting to hear his father's heavy footsteps heading towards the door.

"Keep your voice down," he hissed as he released her and sank to the floor in defeat. "Do you want him to come back down?"

"Is it like that all the time?" she asked softly as she crouched on the ground next to him.

"No," he replied tiredly, the throbbing in his back thankfully turning into a dull ache. "This is the first time he's used a spell." He shuddered as he remembered the pain of the stings, and wondered what he could have done to stop it. "He won't be able to bully me forever," he said with determination. "I'm going to learn even more than he knows about curses." He was so involved in his plans for the future that he didn't see the look of alarmed concern that passed over Lily's face.

Chapter 3: Actions and Reactions
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Chapter Three: Actions and Reactions
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They dozed fitfully that night, neither of them able to relax completely. Not needing to voice their shared concern over what would happen if Silias chose to return, they leaned against each other, waking with a start at the smallest noise. The night seemed to drag on and on, until finally a ray of light pierced their dark prison. Severus looked over at his friend with determination as the basement slowly became flooded with the morning sun.

“Alright, Lily. It’s morning, and I've had a bit of time to rest. Climb onto my shoulders and get out of here.” He stood, trying not to grimace as every muscle in his back screamed in protest.

“I don’t know,” she said hesitantly, her green eyes searching his black ones. “You don’t look as though you feel any better.” Severus felt his irritation rising. He was trying to protect her, to get her to safety, and she was worried about how he felt?

“Do you really want him to find you down here?” he snapped. “Because he wouldn't hesitate to ‘discipline’ you, too.” He regretted his words as he saw the fear spring into her eyes again. “Look, just do it, alright? And don’t come back for a few days. He'll most likely come back to see if I've been properly humbled.” His eyes bored into hers pleadingly. “I don’t want you to have to see that again. Please, Lily.” She hesitated for another moment before nodding.

“Fine,” she sighed as he knelt down so she could reach his shoulders. As soon as she was situated, he stood, doing his best to ignore the pain shooting through his body. When she’d squirmed through the window, she turned around again. “I'm coming back after I've told Mum and Dad where I was,” she promised.

“Lily, no it’s too dangerous -” he tried to protest, but she’d already turned and gone. He made his way wearily over to their hidden spot under the stairs, where he proceeded to curl into a ball on the floor. Now that his friend had gone, he could give into the pain without worrying about scaring her. His moans were barely whispers, but to his own mind they sounded as though they were howls of agony. Not long afterwards, he heard a strange thumping coming from above him. His moans ceased, and he stood, wincing at the pain. The thumping continued, and he frowned as he realized that it was someone pounding on the door. All at once he realized who it had to be. Lily had gone home and told her parents what she’d witnessed, and now Albert was pounding on the door, enraged and ready to confront his father. Severus felt a lump of fear rise in his throat. Albert knew nothing of the wizarding world. He had no idea that he would be unfairly matched against Silias. The boy stood stock-still, wanting to warn his friend’s father to turn around, to forget that he’d heard anything, but knew it was impossible. Instead, he waited as he heard the pounding stop as the door was open, then sank to the floor as he heard the muffled conversation drifting through the floor.

“Sebastian!” his mother said, sounding startled. Her next words were muffled, and Severus strained his ears to hear the rest of the conversation.

“Never mind formalities, Rebekah. Where is my brother?”

“Silias is at the Ministry. Is there something I can help you with?”

“No. I need to speak with Silias. Good day, Rebekah.”

“Good-” his mother never finished her sentence as Severus heard the door slam behind his uncle. He breathed a somewhat shaky sigh of relief as he heard his mother return to the kitchen. Lily hadn't told Albert after all. His pain momentarily forgotten, he began to wonder if his father had gotten into trouble with the family again. The two brothers had never gotten along, and Severus had only met his uncle perhaps five times in his entire life, and that had been at family events. He’d never known his father’s older brother to come to the house. Severus had heard Silias ranting in the past about how his family didn't appreciate him because he was the youngest, and how nothing he did would ever be viewed as the proper course in his brother’s eyes. But from the few times he’d met his uncle Sebastian, Severus had liked him. He may have had the same stern exterior of his father, but he had never treated Severus with anything but civility. As he pondered his uncle’s motives, he heard his name being called from the window.

“I told you not to come back for a while!” he scolded as Lily waved from the opening.

“And I told you I’d come after telling Mum and Dad I was okay,” she retorted. Severus crossed his arms over his chest as he stared at her.

“I'm not letting you in,” he said steadily.

“Fine,” she declared as she made herself comfortable in the open window, “but I'm not leaving. I'll just sit here, then.” She propped her chin on her elbows and stared down at him, her eyes burning with the same stubbornness he felt. “Go and get A Tale of Two Cities, and start reading it aloud,” she instructed, gesturing towards the stack of books.

“Lily, if he comes home early -”

“Stop worrying so much,” she scolded airily. “When has he ever come home early?” He had to admit that she had a point: Silias hardly ever came home earlier than seven o’clock, though Severus knew he didn't stay at the Ministry past four.

“Fine,” he mumbled, retrieving the book, and settling himself as comfortably as possible against the wall beneath the window. He began reading where they’d left off, but he couldn't get into the story in the same way he had the day before. Every noise from outside distracted him, until he finally laid it aside with frustration. “I'm sorry,” he muttered. “I just can’t focus on anything else.” He rested his head on his knees, and heard his friend shifting positions above him.

“Don’t worry,” she said softly. “I understand.” Silence settled over the two when he chose not to answer. The two children sat in silence, neither one quite sure how to break it. Finally, Silias’ arrival ended it for them. As he heard his father Apparate above him, Severus’ gaze flicked to Lily.

“You’d better go,” he said quietly. “If he sees you -”

“I know,” she interrupted. She seemed reluctant to leave, but after a moment she smiled down at him. “I'll see you tomorrow, Severus.” He nodded in reply as he heard his father’s booming voice drifting through from the kitchen.

“What did you tell him?” Silias asked, his voice so loud that Severus had no trouble hearing every word.

“I - I told him you were at the ministry,” came his mother’s confused reply. “Isn't that where you were?”

“It is of no importance where I was,” he snapped.

“What did Sebastian wish to speak with you about?” Severus drew a sharp breath. Eight years of living with his father had taught him to never question the man. If he wanted you to know something, he told you. He cringed as he heard his father’s answer: the sound of flesh upon flesh, and the dull thud of his mother, no doubt falling to the ground. All of this was followed by the crack of his father Disapparating. Severus’ vow from the night before came back to him in the face of his mother’s treatment, and he returned to the quilt beneath the stairs, where he began to write down every jinx, hex, and curse he knew.

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He was still working on his list the following afternoon when Lily returned, and she had to call his name several times before he noticed her presence.

“Oh. Hi, Lily.” She frowned as he turned back to his paper.

“What are you doing?” she asked with curiosity.

“Just what I said I was going to,” he replied archly. “I'm determining what I already know about the Dark Arts he uses on me.” Lily’s eyes clouded with uncertainty as he approached the window, a reaction not lost on her young friend. “What’s wrong with that?” he demanded, feeling slightly hurt that she hadn't immediately offered her help.

“I don’t know about this, Severus,” she said after a moment. “How is learning all of that going to help you defend yourself?”

“Trust me,” he replied darkly, “it will help.” Lily seemed to weigh his words before she smiled. Severus could tell it was forced, but at least she was making an effort to move ahead.

“I've got a surprise for you,” she announced. Before he could ask what it was, she had gone, only to return a moment later.

“A ladder?” he asked with amazement as she lowered it through the window. “How did you ever manage to build that?”

“Dad helped me,” she replied as she proceeded down it. “But that’s not even the best part. Watch this.” When she’d reached the bottom, she lifted the ladder as if it were light as a feather, and proceeded to fold it neatly into a small rectangle. Severus watched, enthralled.

“But he’s a Muggle,” he said dumbly. Lily smiled again, though this time it was genuine.

“It isn't magic, silly. They’re hinges.” Severus stared at her incredulously.

“That’s brilliant!” he announced, running an approving hand over the object in front of him.

“This way, we can stash it under the stairs when we aren't using it. There’s no reason he’d ever need to see it.” Severus looked up at her, awestruck. The smile she returned gave him hope, as did her next words. “No matter what he does, together we can fix it.”

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"Where has that blasted boy gone to?" Severus' head snapped up at the sound of his father's booming voice directly below him. Reacting instantly, he sprang from his bed and tore up the loose floorboard under the window, stashing the book he'd been studying inside. He just managed to replace the board before his father slammed against the door, sending it smashing into the wall. The boy did his best to steady his nerves, knowing his father would perceive an admission of guilt if he did not remain perfectly calm. "What have you done with it?" Silias snarled, his torrid face inches from his oldest son's.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Severus said coolly.

"The book," he hissed angrily, "which was in my study this morning. The book which you've hidden somewhere." A small voice spoke from behind Silias, the words sending tendrils of fear down Severus's spine.

"Severus didn't take it, Daddy." Silias spun around to glare at the child in front of him, and Severus used the opportunity to signal frantically to his younger brother not to say a word, but the three-year-old ignored him.

"Oh?" Silias sneered. "What do you know about it?"

"I - I took it," Steven answered, his tiny chin thrust out bravely. Silias narrowed his eyes in disbelief.

"You? You expect me to believe that an infant took a very valuable volume of Selbe's Curses?" He laughed humorlessly, his eyes glinting with mockery. Steven's fearful expression faded, replaced by a glare of indignation, and he placed his hands on his hips defiantly as he answered.

"I'm not an infant!" he retorted loudly, "and I did take it, so I could learn how to curse you!" Severus inhaled sharply, speaking without thinking.

"Steven!" Silias's attention was drawn momentarily away from the younger boy, and in his mind, Severus urged his brother to run. "I took it," he said flatly. Silias's eyes gleamed with triumph as he towered over him.

"And where is it?" he questioned, his voice deceptively low. Severus met his glare head-on, his voice retaining its flatness as he spoke.

"I put it through the wood-chipper at Lily's house." His father's face turned scarlet as his triumph faded into anger.

"You don't have it in you, boy," he spat, his voice rising. Severus arched his eyebrow, even though he knew he'd already gone much too far.

"Oh no? If you're so bloody sure, why don't you just find it, then?" He turned and began to walk back to his bed, not at all surprised when he felt Silias's strong arm close around his shoulder. He was spun around to face him, the man's eyes bulging angrily from their sockets.

"When - will - you - learn - some - respect?" he raged, striking the boy between every word. Severus fell to the floor, his eyes burning with hatred. He wiped his bleeding mouth with the back of his hand as he stood, facing his father again.

"You don't deserve my respect," he spat bitterly, bracing himself as he saw his father's wand rise.

"Ico!" Severus was flung backwards against the wall as the curse hit him, and through the instantaneous pain, he heard Steven's startled cry.

“No!”

"Steven," he croaked, "just go, now!" His warning came to late - Silias had already turned to the younger boy, his hand clasped around his small arm like a vise.

"So," he said through clenched teeth, "you're going to be just as difficult, are you? Perhaps you will learn a thing or two from a week alone."

"No!" Severus tried to shout, but his father was already gone, dragging his brother to the dark confines of the basement. Before leaving, Silias cast a charm on the door, essentially imprisoning the older boy. Severus struggled towards the door, but despite his efforts, it would not budge. He sank to the floor in misery, his hatred for his father burning hotly in his eight-year-old body.

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Severus had trouble sleeping that night, though it was not due to the lasting pain from his father’s curse. Every time his eyes closed, he imagined Steven huddled in the corner of the basement, his tiny eyes wide with fear. His gaze traveled to his window, and he sighed when he saw that it was a new moon. The poor boy wouldn't have so much as a ray of light in his prison, and Severus doubted that he would have found the relative safety of the stockpile beneath the stairs. He pounded his fist angrily against his side. This was all his fault. Steven was hardly more than a baby, and it had been Severus’ job to protect him. All the punishments he’d taken for his brother had been for nothing. He’d still ended up on the wrong side of Silias’ temper, and there was no way Severus could help him now. Unless - he sat up in his bed, his young mind racing with the thought of escape. There had to be some way out of this room. Silias hadn't planned this as a prison, he’d merely acted on his emotions, which meant there had to be something he’d overlooked. The window. Severus strode to the window and began to tug on it, willing it to open. After twenty minutes without success, he sank back onto the bed, panting. He’d never tried to open it before, and it seemed now that Silias had taken measures to ensure that he never would. Disheartened, he glanced around the room again. What now? He stiffened as he heard the wards on his door being taken down, and braced himself for another confrontation with his father. His eyes widened in surprise as Rebekah, and not Silias, walked through the door. Anger at the injustice she allowed both him and Steven to face caused him to turn on his side, his back to his mother. He felt the mattress sink as she sat next to him. She laid a hand on his shoulder, but he jerked it away angrily.

“He’s not had an easy life,” she said quietly. “Being the youngest, not inheriting anything as his brother did, he’s had to work hard for everything. He struggles with himself, you know. He doesn’t do these things out of cruelty, just frustration.” Severus continued to glare at the wall, not believing what he was hearing. She was trying to justify his behavior! She went on for a few more minutes, making excuses for Silias’ actions, and he clenched his hands angrily in front of him as he remained silent. Finally, she stopped speaking and reached for his shoulder again. He wrenched it from her grasp, not turning around until he heard the sound of the door closing behind her. Shaking his head in disgust at what he’d just endured, he stared angrily at the door. It took a few moments before he realized that he’d only heard the closing of the door, and not the replacement of the wards to lock him in. As he walked nervously towards the bedroom door, another thought struck him. His mother’s presence meant something far more significant - if she’d taken the risk to come into his room after Silias had imprisoned him, then that meant Silias wasn't in the house. His heart pounding in his chest, he pushed the door open and crept soundlessly down the stairs to the basement door. It was still locked, which meant his mother hadn't bothered to try and comfort Steven. Severus’ anger with her returned, and he made his way to his father’s study, intent on adding a few more tomes to his collection beneath the floorboards. As he passed the front door, another thought occurred to him, and he detoured toward it. He walked around to the side of the house, where the basement window was located. As he pushed it open, he heard a soft whimpering from below him.

“It’s all right, it’s me,” he whispered into the darkness.

“S-Severus?” stammered Steven.

“Yeah. Are you hurt?” There was no reply, and Severus felt himself growing agitated. “I can’t see you, Steven. You have to talk. Did he hurt you?”

“I-I'm alright,” he sputtered, the quaver in his voice depressingly clear. “It’s dark down here, Severus.”

“I know, but see if you can’t find your way underneath the stairs, okay?” He heard his brother whimper again. “Trust me, Steven.” The sound of the toddler’s footsteps faded away, followed soon by an exclamation of delight.

“There’s a blanket here!” came his muffled voice.

“Feel that bag in the corner?” Severus called into the darkness.

“Yeah.”

“Inside are candles, and matches. They’re what Muggles use to start fires.” He heard the rustle of the paper bag, then heard the rattle of the box of matches.

“How do they work?” Steven asked curiously.

“You have to rub the tip against the scratched surface,” Severus instructed. “But don’t try it right now. Stay put a minute, I'll be right back.” He stood and ran back into the house, careful to avoid the kitchen, where he could hear his mother bustling around. Grabbing one of the candles from the dining room table, he watched with satisfaction as it lit at his touch. He rushed back out of the house, thrusting the candle through the window. “Can you see the box now?” he called down.

“Yeah,” Steven replied, bringing the supplies into the circle of light from Severus’ candle. He managed to light the candle after only three tries, then looked up at his brother for further instructions.

“Blow on the match, then set it in that glass dish in the corner.” He waited while Steven did as he was told, then spoke again. “Leave the candle somewhere on the floor, but not too close to the blanket,” he said. “Otherwise, you might catch it on fire. And make sure you hide it if you hear him coming down. ” Steven looked up at him, his black eyes shining gratefully.

“Thanks, Severus.”

“I- I’d better get back inside,” he whispered, fearing the return of their father. He pulled the window shut, then proceeded to the room he’d originally headed for. As he began selecting books he didn't think his father would miss right away, the thought that he had done all he could for his brother spurred him on. He climbed the stairs quietly, eager to begin reading the volumes. If Silias was going to begin disciplining Steven on a regular basis, Severus was going to make sure that he protected him in any way he could.

Chapter 4: An Unexpected Ally
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Chapter Four: An Unexpected Ally
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THE FOETIDUS CURSE
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Incantation: Foetidus Eternum

Effect: Causes the affected person or object to emit an unmistakable odor of rotten cabbage.

History: The first specified use of the Foetidus curse can be found in Ledwick's Curses of the Thirteenth Century, where it is said to have been discovered by accident. Wendelin the Weird, during one of her many burnings, cursed the Muggle executioner standing beside her. Though Wendelin the Weird is the first witch to have her experience recorded, many medieval texts list Ethelred the Ever-ready as the actual inventor.

Uses: Quite practical when used to keep track of a person or object, as the odor carries several miles.

Counter: The Novonidor Charm
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“Yeah, but I doubt very much he’d ever use that on me,” Severus scoffed as he finished reading the entry in Curses by Trinik. Nevertheless, he added it to the thick notebook he’d started nearly six months ago.

“Severus!” He looked up at the impatient tone of Lily’s voice.

“What?” They were sitting in her backyard, he reading his book, she doing her best to interest him in something else.

“Tell me about Hogwarts,” she asked, her eyes shining with excitement.

“Lily, I don’t know much about it. It isn't like I can just walk up to my parents and ask them questions about it. Besides, we don’t get to go for another-”

“Two years, three months and fifteen days,” she finished.

“You’re counting down?” he asked, arching his eyebrow as he turned back to his book.

“Aren't you?”

“I have a good reason for wanting to escape my house,” he said bluntly. “What reason could you have?”

“Petunia.” Even though he wasn't looking at her, he could tell she was making a face. It was no secret that she and her sister did not get along, and Severus smiled distractedly as he began to read about the Jelly Legs Jinx. A hand appeared over the edge of his book, and pulled it into his lap. “Who’s that?” she asked, pointing towards his house. A tall, thin man with short black hair and graying temples was making his way up the walk, paying no attention to the children in the yard next door.

“That’s Uncle Sebastian,” he said with interest. “I wonder why he’s come back again?” His book was momentarily forgotten as he watched his uncle disappear around the corner of the house, to the unseen front door. “He must be home,” he muttered forlornly when Sebastian did not immediately reappear.

“Stay for dinner, then,” Lily prompted immediately.

“Thanks,” Severus said with relief. He certainly didn't relish the thought of eating with both his parents and his seldom-seen uncle. Especially with the way his father had responded to his mother’s questions the last time Sebastian had stopped by.

“How’s Steven?” she asked tentatively. Severus whipped around to face her, his eyes narrowing in anger.

“Fine,” he said shortly. Steven had just been released from the basement the morning before, having broken a glass while clearing the table. Severus had attempted to point out to Silias that the glass could easily be fixed, but all he’d gotten for his trouble was a split lip and a black eye. Steven had received a week in the basement. If Lily had been trying to take Severus’ mind off of his mission, she’d failed when she mentioned his brother and the ludicrous punishment he’d received. He turned back to his book with a newfound interest, and she sighed with frustration. A few moments later, she pulled the book down again. Before he had a chance to object, she’d pointed towards the back door of the house. Petunia had come outside, apparently looking for them.

“Dinner’s ready,” she announced, eyeing the book Severus was trying to hide with suspicion.

"We'll be in in a minute,” Lily said agitatedly when Petunia remained by the door. She turned reluctantly, glancing over her shoulder as she closed the door behind her. As soon as she was out of sight, Severus stashed both his book and his notebook in the trunk of a hollowed tree, then got up and walked into the house. Lily came in a moment later, taking her seat next to him. His mouth watered as Rose set a bowl of vegetable soup in front of him, and he began to eat eagerly. Albert and Rose made small talk throughout the meal, though Lily remained unusually quiet. Until Petunia spoke up.

“How come you’re always dirty and greasy-looking?” she demanded shrilly, her eyes focused on Severus. He chose to ignore her, not wanting to cause trouble with Rose and Albert. Lily, however, immediately rushed to his defense.

“How come you always look like you've got something up your nose?” she shot back.

“Lily! Petunia!” Rose’s sharp tone silenced the girls, though they continued to glare at each other across the table. Severus quickly finished his soup, then excused himself before he managed to get Lily into more trouble. He bid the Evanses goodbye, then walked out the back door, and went directly to the tree where he’d stored his books. As he reached inside to retrieve them, his fist closed on air. His pulse racing, he thrust his head into the hole, but could not discern anything in the darkness. He cursed loudly as he bumped his head pulling it out, then began to search the yard frantically. Where could they have gone? He had to return that book tonight, before Silias noticed it was missing. His mind raced, trying to come up with a solution. What if someone had taken it? But who? Petunia? She’d been following Lily and him around for ages, trying to stick her enormous nose into whatever they happened to be doing. And maybe she’d seen where he’d hidden them. Then he recalled that Petunia had already been seated at the dinner table when he came in, and she hadn't gotten up from the table once before he excused himself. But Lily - Lily had come in after him, and she’d been getting more and more upset at the amount of time he spent studying those books. Had she taken them after he’d gone inside? He immediately felt guilty just for thinking it. Lily was his only friend - she’d defended him at dinner. Which left only one other possibility that he could think of. Had Silias been spying on him through the window of his own house? Had he come over while they were inside to see what he’d been up to? If so, he was probably waiting in the house now, going through Severus’ notebook and planning on using every spell it contained on him when he returned. The thought turned his insides to ice, and he sank against the tree, unable to bring himself to walk home just yet. Finally, the thought that the more he delayed, the more angry Silias was going to be brought him to his feet. He drew a shaky breath, then began to walk, his head held high in case his father was observing his every move. As he turned the corner, he stopped short at the sight that awaited him. Sebastian was sitting casually on the front steps, flipping idly through the missing books. He hadn't yet shown any sign that he knew Severus was in front of him, and the boy had a fleeting urge to make a run for it, not knowing how this stranger would react to his all-consuming interest. Before he had a chance to act, his uncle spoke.

“Ah, Severus, my boy. We need to have a little chat.” Sebastian’s eyes did not leave the notebook which was filled with his nephew’s spiky scrawl, but the tone of his voice left no room for argument. Severus walked towards him hesitantly, eyeing the man with unconcealed suspicion. Sebastian did not speak for a moment as he turned the book of curses over thoughtfully to examine it. “Tell me how you came by this book,” he demanded, his eyes snapping to his nephew’s. Though his tone was commanding, his eyes were strangely unfathomable. They were not the cold black of his brother’s and nephews‘, but the deep hazel of his mother’s, and Severus had the eerie feeling that they were probing into his thoughts. The boy shook his head idly as he quickly formed his story.

“I asked Mum to buy it for me,” he lied, his eyes flicking nervously from the book to his uncle’s face.

“I see,” Sebastian answered evenly. “Then tell me, boy - why did you feel the need to hide it? If you came by it honestly, there could be no harm in perusing it in front of others, could there?” Severus looked at him in confusion.

“But - it’s a - a Dark Arts book,” he stammered, unsure why that hadn't set his uncle on guard.

“I see. Is that the only reason?”

“Well, that and the Evanses are Muggles,” he admitted quietly. His eyes immediately went to his uncle’s face. Did he feel the same way towards non purebloods as his father? But Sebastian’s eyes still gave no hint as to what he was feeling.

“I see. And yet, you did not attempt to hide it from your little friend,” he observed.

“Oh, Lily’s not a Muggle,” he explained quickly. “She’s a witch, and she’s going to go to Hogwarts in a few years.” Sebastian cocked his head slightly to one side.

“How does she know that she‘s a witch?” he inquired softly. Severus felt his heart plummet. Now he was going to have to admit that he’d told Lily about the magical world, and Sebastian was sure to tell Silias. This would earn him at least two weeks in the basement. He looked down at his hands, which he was holding in his lap. “You needn't be afraid,” he said suddenly. “I'm not going to report this conversation to your father.” Severus looked up at him in surprise.

“S-she told me some things that she’d made happen,” he said slowly. “A long time ago, the day Steven was born. She asked me if I knew what they meant, and I told her. That’s how she knows. But she hasn't told anyone else, not even her family,” he finished quickly. “We pinky swore on it.” Much to his astonishment, Sebastian chuckled.

“Ah, yes. The infamous pinky swear. An imperturbable pact.” He looked off into the distance for a minute, then turned his attention back to the books, as if he’d forgotten they were there. “I'm going to ask you again how you came by this book.”

“I-I told you,” he said nervously. “Mum bought it for me.” Sebastian sighed and shook his head.

“Very interesting,” he mused, “especially since this book was given to your father for his fifteenth birthday, by our cousin Gideon. I remember it to this day, as it was a cause of great friction between the two of us.” He turned again to his nephew. “What caused you to want this particular volume?” Severus stared at him for a moment, not sure what to say.

“I - I saw it in a bookshop, and thought it looked interesting.” Sebastian fixed a steely gaze on the boy, causing him to shift restlessly.

“Severus,” he said quietly, “even were I not a highly-skilled Legilimens, I would have no trouble in seeing through your lies.” Severus looked again at his hands. Though he had no idea what a Legilimens was, he knew that he’d been caught. “There are many more spells written in this notebook than are found in this tome. Come, boy. The truth, now.” Severus shook his head. How was his uncle going to react when he told him the reasons behind his search? Would he scoff and call him a liar? Would he be enraged and confront Silias? Or would he simply do nothing?

“I wanted to learn them all,” he began quietly, his eyes not leaving his hands,“so that I can defend Steven and myself from him.” There was no response from Sebastian, and after a moment, Severus looked up at him. His uncle was studying him thoughtfully, an odd gleam in his eye.

“Why do you feel the need to defend yourself?” he inquired softly. Severus felt a newfound sense of courage, and he stared into the man’s eyes as he answered.

“Because right now, we’re nearly helpless. Right now, nobody does anything to stop him. But he isn't going to push us around much longer.”

“I see.” Severus felt a rage growing inside of him. The simple statement that his uncle continued to make was infuriating him. ‘I see’. But did he? Did he see what Severus and Steven went through on a daily basis? Did he see how their own mother stood idly by while their father hurled curses at them?

“You don’t see anything." The boy didn't realize he’d spoken his thoughts aloud until his uncle responded to them.

“Yes, boy. I do see,” he said quietly. “But do you realize that you named only yourself and your brother? Does your mother not deserve protection as well?” Severus’ gaze turned as cold as his father’s.

“She’s never protected us,” he muttered angrily.

“What is your opinion of your parents?” Sebastian asked suddenly.

“I hate him,” the boy answered automatically.

“He’s still your father, boy.”

“Sharing the same blood doesn’t mean he’s earned that role,” he spat bitterly.

“And your mother?” he inquired, his voice neutral. Severus paused a moment before he answered.

“She’s nearly as bad,” he decided. “She doesn’t lift a finger to stop him, ever. She just sits there and lets him do it! For Merlin’s sake, he’s only three! And she tried to make excuses! She tried to tell me -” his voice cracked with emotion, and buried his face in his hands as he choked back a sob. He felt a strong but comforting hand on his back, and turned to his uncle in surprise.

“She’s led a hard life, Rebekah has,” he said quietly, his eyes focused on a spot in the distance.

“That’s what she said about him,” Severus responded coldly.

“I'm not excusing their behavior, by any means,” Sebastian explained quickly. “However, things are not always so black and white, my boy. This is a difficult way to learn that fact, but once you understand that, it is a lesson you won’t soon forget.” He turned his gaze back to his nephew, his hazel eyes now soft with understanding. “Have you considered that all of these curses and counter-curses are useless without a wand?” Severus nodded.

“After I've gotten my Hogwarts letter, I'll have a wand. And then we'll see how useless I am.”

“There’s no reason to get defensive, boy. I was merely pointing out the obvious.” He didn't speak again, and Severus finally had the courage to ask him the question that had been on his mind.

“Why are you here?” Sebastian’s gaze turned piercing at the question.

“I wished to speak with your father,” he responded shortly. “However, he is conveniently out. Again.”

“Maybe he’s at the Ministry,” Severus offered. Sebastian shook his head.

“The first place I checked,” he replied gruffly. “No, there’s only one other place Silias could be. He has most likely gotten wind of my coming here, however, and will have left it by now.”

“What did you want to talk to him about?”

“A family issue,” Sebastian responded, his gaze returning again to the distance. “Merely a family issue, boy.”

“My name is Severus, not boy,” Severus suddenly said angrily. Sebastian chuckled yet again.

“So it is. And don’t you ever let anyone forget that, Severus. How have you been coming by these books, then? Taking them from your father’s study, I’d imagine?”

“Yes,” Severus admitted. “But I put them back once I'm through.” Sebastian looked at him thoughtfully, then handed the books back to him.

“I'll have to see about getting you your own copies, then, won’t I?” As the boy looked up into his uncle’s face, he knew he’d unwittingly acquired a new ally in his quest for knowledge.

Chapter 5: Birthday Gifts and Their Consequences
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Chapter Five: Birthday Gifts and Their Consequences
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Nearly two weeks later, Severus awoke with a heavy heart. Today was his ninth birthday, though he doubted his parents would acknowledge it in anyway. To make matters worse, it was a Saturday, which in turn meant that Silias would indeed be home the majority of the day. Severus trudged to his shabby bureau and pulled on some clothes before taking a deep breath and going down the stairs to breakfast. The rest of his family was already seated when he arrived, and from the look his father gave him as he took his chair, he knew that any hope of a happy birthday would soon be crushed.

"Happy birthday, Severus!" Steven announced happily, smiling up at his older brother. Severus' eyes flicked to his father's face anxiously, relaxing as his father snorted derisively and continued to eat his bacon.

"Thanks, Steven," Severus said quietly as he reached for the eggs.

"Here you are," Rebekah said suddenly, laying a small package in front of him. Severus glanced at his father, who seemed as startled by the gift as the boy himself. "Open it," she prodded, ignoring the glare from her husband. Severus picked it up carefully, holding his breath as he waited for his father's reaction. When none came, he proceed to unwrap the paper to reveal a set of wizard chess pieces. For one split second, he thought he was dreaming. They'd never given him anything he'd actually wanted before, and he wondered why they would start now. Then it hit him. From the way his father was glaring at his mother, he knew that Silias had had no part in the gift. Severus narrowed his eyes angrily. She was trying to buy his forgiveness for her complacency. He shoved the set into his pocket.

"Thanks," he muttered before excusing himself from the table. He didn't look over his shoulder to see his mother's reaction, but he knew that she'd gotten the message. It would take more than bribery for him to ever forgive her.

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Lily and Severus were deeply engrossed in the book that had been Lily's birthday gift when he showed up. His arrival startled them so much that Lily dropped the book onto the grass. Sebastian leaned over and picked it up, studying the cover with interest.

"The Once and Future King," he read aloud. "Are you enjoying it?" he asked as he returned the tome. Severus nodded immediately.

"It's about King Arthur," he explained. "Lily gave it to me."

"What, no books on curses for your birthday, Severus?" he smirked. Lily frowned as she looked from the man before her to her friend.

"Lily doesn't approve of them," he explained quickly.

"Ah. Smart girl," Sebastian observed. "Come with me, Severus, I have a gift I wish to give you." Severus stood up, then beckoned for his friend to follow them. His uncle led the children around to the back of the Snape house, where they were screened from prying eyes. Sebastian took out his wand and conjured a package out of thin air. Severus heard his friend squeal with delight - Lily had never seen any magic other than Silias' curses before. Severus' eyes light up with anticipation. Perhaps it was a collection of Dark Arts books of his own, as his uncle had promised. He tore into the paper at his uncle's prodding, his mind racing with ideas for what the box held. When he opened up the lid, he found something totally unexpected.

"A cauldron?" he asked in confusion.

"Yes, Severus. And that isn't all. Take the cauldron out, boy." He did as instructed, only to find a large book beneath it.

"Healing Draughts," he read aloud. Then he turned to his uncle again. "Potions?" Sebastian smirked.

"Can't put anything past you, can we? Let me explain. You are an underage wizard. As such, you are unable to perform magic spells without risk of detection by the Ministry of Magic. Potions do not require any sort of foolish wand-waving, and are often times highly useful. That being said, that book should prove to come in quite handy until you're of age. Don't you agree?" Severus examined the book again as his uncle's words sank in.

"Thank you," he said quietly. "I think it will."

"Don't hesitate to let me know when you're in need of supplies," Sebastian added. "I'll be sure to get some to you straight away." Severus nodded absently as he flipped through the pages of the book. He stopped as he thought of Silias' reaction to his brother's generosity.

"He'll never let me keep them," he said dejectedly.

"As a matter of fact ," Sebastian said mildly, "I have already discussed the matter with my dear brother, and after a bit of persuasion, he has agreed to allow you to have them." Severus' face lit up.

"What did you have to do?" he asked eagerly.

"Oh, I just happened to mention that bit of family business I told you about the other day. Your father is hardly in a position to deny any of my requests at the present time. And Severus, I'm not sure how much good it did, but I also spoke to him about your treatment." Severus' head snapped from the book to his uncle instantly, his heart beating furiously in his chest. "Now, at least, he knows that I am aware of the situation. I hope, for your sake, that he heeds my words. But just in case -" Sebastian added, holding a long, thin, box out for his nephew. Severus took it gingerly, as though it were made of glass.

"What is it?" Lily asked from behind him. Sebastian chuckled.

"Why don't you open it and satisfy your friend's curiosity?" he suggested. Severus obeyed immediately, opening the box to reveal-

"A wand?" he breathed.

"Right on three," Sebastian said with a smile. He withdrew the wand from its box, and Severus could see the frayed dragonstring poking through the end of it. Sebastian's tone became very serious as he handed the wand to his nephew. "It was my mother's, but it should serve its purpose until you procure your own. But I want you to listen very carefully to me, Severus. This wand is not to be used, except when you absolutely have to. Do you understand?" Severus nodded, taking the proffered piece of wood with awe. "Good. Now, I'm afraid I've got to be going. There is a set of phials, along with some basic ingredients at the bottom of that box. Happy birthday." The two children watched as Sebastian Disapparated with a crack, then Lily turned to her friend.

"That was very good of him," she said happily. "Now you don't need those silly Dark Arts books anymore."

"Oh, I'm still going to learn all I can about that," Severus replied without looking up from his book. "Potions can only do so much." The book was ripped out of his hands to be replaced with the angry visage of his friend.

"No," she said adamantly. "There's no reason for you to learn them now."

"Lily, how can learning about them hurt?"

"You've changed since you started hunting for them," she protested. "You've always got your nose stuck into one of those books, and you get irritated when I try to talk to you. I miss the way things used to be," she said quietly. Severus eyed her curiously for a moment. Had he really changed all that much? He didn't feel as though he had. Maybe Lily was right.

"All right," he said resignedly. "I won't give them up completely, mind, because I do think they'll be handy to know."

"But you'll stop obsessing over them night and day, right?" she pressed.

"I'll do my best," he promised.

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"Add the fluxweed," Severus grabbed a handful from the jar next to him and dropped it into the bubbling potion he stood over. "Now simmer for twenty minutes," he muttered.

"Isn't it done yet?" Lily asked impatiently from a few feet away. She was lying on her back, her finger marking the spot where they'd left off in their newest book.

"Nearly," Severus answered, eyeing the brew carefully. "It's just got to simmer a bit before I add the final ingredient." He plopped onto the ground next to his friend as she grinned impishly at him.

"Let's hope you don't blow this one all over the yard."

"It won't blow up this time," Severus said with confidence. "It's only got one ingredient left, and I know I've done it right." As he spoke, he felt a drop of water fall on his head. "Oh great," he mumbled, looking up at the gray sky. "Now it's raining." He jumped from the ground, and hurried to his cauldron. "I've got to move it inside!" he yelled over the rising storm. Lily nodded, then waved her farewell. She'd not been in his house - apart from the basement - since the first day they'd met, and she preferred to keep it that way.

"I'll talk to you later," she promised. "You'll have to tell me all about the explosion!" Severus tried to defend his potion, but she had already disappeared around the house. He grabbed the handle of his cauldron and hefted it inside, creeping up the stairs before he was noticed. As he set the cauldron on the floor, he realized he'd need a fire to keep it boiling, so he ran and grabbed the matches from the basement. The potion began to boil almost instantly, and he sat back on his heels, keeping an eye on his watch. Before long, Steven appeared in the doorway.

"What are you doing?" he asked with interest.

"Trying to finish this potion," Severus replied, measuring out the toad entrails which were to be the final step.

"What's it for?"

"It's supposed to numb pain," Severus said softly, his eyes flicking up to meet his brother's. Steven's eyes had grown wide with understanding.

"Do you think it will work?" he asked, coming to stand next to him.

"I hope so. All that's left is to add these toad ent-" the end of his sentence was silenced by a deafening boom as he added his final ingredient, and the boys were flung backward into the wall. They stared around at the walls and themselves, which were now covered in the slimy contents that had previously been in the cauldron. "Must have been the break in heat that messed it up," Severus muttered angrily. He stood and made his way over to the upturned cauldron, thankful that it was far too early for Silias to be home. As he began to pick up the largest chunks, he heard a sound that made his blood run cold: heavy footsteps thundering up the stairs. Before he could react, his father's livid figure appeared in the doorway.

"Blast it, boy! Look at this mess! How many times do I have to pound it into you that you do not experiment in my house?" Severus looked around the room in abject misery, following a glob of entrails that was slowly making its way down the wall. Silias reached out and shook him by the shoulder angrily. "Are you paying attention, boy?" Severus' eyes snapped to his father instantly.

"It was raining outside, and it was nearly finished-" he tried to explain.

"I don't give a damn what the bloody weather was like!" he roared.

"We'll clean it up," Steven said quietly from the corner. "It'll be better than before, honest." Silias swung around and grabbed his five-year-old son brutally by the arm.

"Oh?" he sneered. "And how do you propose to do that? Going to do it the way that filth next door would?" Severus clenched his hands into fists at the slur on his friends.

"You shut your filthy mouth!" he shouted without thinking. The room grew deathly silent as his words echoed away. Silias released his grip on Steven and advanced on his oldest son.

"What did you say?" he breathed, his face inches from Severus' own.

"I said shut up about Lily and her family," Severus repeated with a bravery he did not feel.

"This is my brother's doing," he snarled. "That pompous git wouldn't listen when I told him you were too mouthy for your own good." Severus felt his anger beginning to well up again at hearing his uncle berated.

"If he were here now, you wouldn't dare touch me," Severus spat bitterly. He kept his eyes locked on his father's, but he could sense his brother's eyes on him as well.

"Get downstairs, Steven," Silias instructed, his eyes never leaving his oldest son's.

"But we could clean it," he protested feebly.

"NOW, boy!" Silias shouted, turning to glare at the child. Severus saw him leave out of the corner of his eye, then braced himself for what he knew was coming. The four months of rage which Silias had been keeping bottled up found a release on the boy before him. "Ico! Morsius! Doleo! Frons Disrumpo!" Silias hurled the curses at his son as quickly as he could, sending the boy careening across the room. Severus lay on the floor, unable to suppress the groan of agony as each spell ran its course. His head pounding, his entire body quaking with pain, and his vision blurring, he struggled to stand, only to be struck down by yet another curse flying from his father's wand. He held his hands to his head and shut his eyes as though the act could shut out the pain. As if in a dream, he heard Silias laugh brutally before leaving the room and slamming the door. A blue light shone through the crack, and Severus knew he was a prisoner once again. His father's footsteps thundered below him, and he heard the cries of his brother, sounding very far away.

"Let him out!" Steven sobbed, his breath catching. "What did you do? Please let him out!" Severus felt fear creep into his heart. Silias was never going to let the boy get away with speaking to him like that. The faint cry of Steven being tossed into the basement was the last sound he heard before he blacked out.

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Severus woke later to find the room cloaked in darkness. Again he tried to move, only to find that any motion caused the pain to flare up. From two floors beneath him, the strangled sobs of his brother floated up, and his heart constricted with sorrow for the boy as he once again fell into oblivion.

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The next sound he heard was a knock on the front door. Sunlight streamed through the grimy window, but he had no sense of what time of day it actually was. Lily's voice drifted upwards, and he tried to shout for her to get help, but no sound passed his lips. He heard his mother getting rid of his friend, and as his hope faded, he lost consciousness for the third time.

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There was an insistent pounding in Severus' head as he opened his eyes again. It took several minutes for him to realize that the pounding was in fact coming from the front door. As his battered mind attempted to work out who it could be, he heard a crack below him, then the hurried tones of angry voices.

"Where are the boys, Rebekah?" Sebastian's voice was a welcome sound, and Severus allowed himself a small sliver a hope that his uncle would find him.

"Sebastian! I don't know -"

"Enough! You're not fooling anybody!" He heard a door slam into a wall, then heard Steven's relieved sobs. The next moment, he heard something heavy slam into his own door.

"Severus? Are you in there?" Severus tried to answer, but found he was still unable to speak. "Alohomora! Finite Incantatum! Damn! Rebekah, what wards has he placed?"

"I- I don't know," he heard his mother stammer.

"He isn't here to stop you," his uncle's voice was still firm, but more subdued. "Think of your son, Rebekah."

"I don't know," his mother whispered once again. He heard a crack as his uncle Disapparated, and waited anxiously for him to reappear in his room. Seconds later, there was another loud crack outside his door, and he heard Sebastian swear.

"He's placed an anti-apparation charm," he muttered angrily. "Rebekah, you must tell me. It's the only way to help him. Help your son, Rebekah. Tell me which wards were used." There was silence, as though she were considering his words.

"I can't, Sebastian." Her voice held nothing but defeat, and Sebastian pounded his fist angrily on the door.

"They were blue," Steven suddenly said. "When he put them up, they were blue. Does that help?"

"A bit," Sebastian replied, relief edging into his voice. "Effringo! Absolvo!" The edges of Severus' vision faded to black as the door swung open.

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When he woke again he was laying in his bed, his room bathed in the soft glow of the moon. Though his pain was virtually gone, he felt his shame and embarrassment burning hotly inside of his body. He'd let Silias get the best of him once again, even after his uncle had given him the tools necessary to defend himself. What's more, his uncle, who'd he had come to respect and admire, had seen the outcome of the confrontation. He would know that Severus had foolishly forgotten about the wand tucked beneath the floorboards. He would know that his nephew hadn't mastered even one of the potions in the book he'd given him nearly four months ago, and worst of all, Sebastian would know that he had once again failed to protect his brother. Severus stared up at the ceiling morosely, wondering what his uncle now thought of him.

"How are you feeling?" The voice that spoke from his bedside startled him enough to cause him to jump slightly. He turned his head to find his uncle, seated in a wooden chair, his eyes studying his nephew intently.

"I'm fine," Severus answered quietly, lowering his eyes to his chest.

"I didn't mean your body, Severus," Sebastian intoned. Severus began to pick at the lint on his blanket idly, choosing not to respond. "There was nothing you could have done," Sebastian said reassuringly.

"I should have summoned the wand," Severus replied flatly. "But I was too stupid to think about it until after."

"What would have happened if you would have thought of it, Severus? Did you have a chance to defend yourself?"

"It would have been different if I'd had the wand ready," he said sullenly.

"Would it, though? Think, Severus. If you'd had your wand in your pocket, would you have had a chance to react after your father cast the first curse?" Severus thought back, then finally shook his head.

"He was too quick. I barely had time to realize what curses he was performing."

"Exactly," Sebastian said firmly. "What would you have done if you had been given the opportunity?" Severus' eyes turned cold as ice as he answered.

"I would have hurt him. As much as he's hurt me." Sebastian nodded gravely.

"Listen to me, Severus. I did not give you that wand so that you could best your father in a duel. I gave it to you to defend yourself. Only to defend yourself, boy. You don't want to lower yourself to his level." Severus looked at the man beside him with interest.

"Why are you so different from him?" he asked quietly. The question took his uncle by surprise, and it took a moment before he answered.

"We are two different people, Severus," he answered softly, absently smoothing a wrinkle in the blanket covering his nephew.

"I know that, but you're almost completely opposite from each other. You grew up the same, didn't you?"

"Nearly. I suppose Silias feels as though I've taken what should be his. But that is not important now. What is important, however, is that you remain resting."

"How did you know which curses he'd used on me?" the boy asked, curious to hear the answer.

"I didn't." Severus frowned. The only way he knew of counter-acting a curse was to know which one was performed. "Ah. I see by your face that you are confused. Do you recall how I mentioned that potions could prove to be very useful?" Severus nodded in awe.

"You can counter-act curses with potions?" he asked, incredulous.

"Some. I simply administered a numbing potion - much like the one that covered your walls, I believe - and then let them run their course. Very few curses leave lasting effects which are not noticeable. Do you recall which he used on you?" Severus nodded, then went down the list. When he was through, Sebastian was frowning, and his eyes were flashing with indignation. "I had no idea he'd used so many," he spat. "They'll have all gone by now. You won't be needing another dose."

"Where's he at?" Severus suddenly asked as he realized that he hadn't heard Silias' footsteps thundering below him.

"He did not return home this evening," Sebastian said bitterly. "No doubt he has heard of my presence."

"Maybe he'll stay away forever," Severus suggested hopefully.

"I wouldn't count on it," Sebastian said with a smirk. "This is still his home, Severus."

"What happens now?" he asked, hoping that his uncle would act by taking both him and Steven from danger.

"I'm afraid not much," Sebastian said, his voice heavy with regret. "I have done all I can." Severus felt rage boiling within him.

"You should take us away from him!" he nearly shouted, not believing that Sebastian was going to allow them to suffer more.

"I cannot do that, Severus. He is your father. Rebekah is your mother. I cannot simply take you from them."

"Why not?" he asked, feeling close to tears. "You can't just let him get away with it!"

"Severus, things are a bit more complicated than that - I cannot -"

"Then why did you save me?" he asked bitterly. "You should have left me alone."

"If I hadn't found you, boy, you would be in a far worse spot than you are now."

"I don't care," he said, turning his gaze to the ceiling. "I'm not going to be much better off when he comes home, now am I?"

"You'll be better off once you learn to brew those potions properly," he replied archly. "For now, I'll leave a supply. I must say, I thought you'd have had a stock of them by now."

"I nearly had it this time," he protested, his eyes leaving the ceiling and resting on his uncle's face. "It was just the break in -" he stopped as he realized what his uncle was doing. "I'll try harder," he promised.

"I know you will, Severus. Which is a good thing, as I have only a small phial to give you. I sincerely hope that it lasts you through your next two years at home." Severus accepted the phial from his uncle gratefully.

"Two more years," he said quietly. "Just two more years, and I'll be off to Hogwarts. I can do it."

Chapter 6: A Ray of Hope
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Chapter Six: A Ray of Hope
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Severus was sitting at the breakfast table the morning his letter came. The family owl swooped onto the windowsill of the kitchen with the post, and Silias began looking through it disinterestedly. His hand stopped as he reached a square envelope, and his eyes darted disbelievingly to his eldest son's face. Severus, almost sure of what the letter contained, said nothing, and hoped his silence would be rewarded with his letter. Silias sneered contemptuously as he tossed the letter to his son, and Severus scooped it up eagerly to examine it. It was addressed to him, written in loopy green ink, and the seal was the Hogwarts crest.

"I'm surprised they've accepted you," Silias said with a sniff. "After they see what an undesirable brat you are, they'll send you packing straight back here." Severus waited impatiently as his father finished breakfast, then Disapparated, leaving the boy free to tear eagerly into his letter.

Dear Mr. Snape:

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Enclosed you will find a list of supplies needed for your first year. Term begins on September the first. We look forward to hearing your reply, and will expect your owl no later than August the first.

Sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall
Deputy Headmistress


Severus looked up from the letter and grinned. Without finishing his breakfast or waiting to excuse himself, he ran out of the door and across the yard to Lily's house. He rang the bell, shifting from one foot to the other impatiently. When Rose finally opened the door, he grinned like an idiot.

"Lily home?" he asked quickly, trying to peer around her.

"In her room," Rose said with a slight frown. "What are you looking so giddy about?"

"I'll explain in a bit," he promised as he raced past her and up the stairs. Bursting into Lily's room, he found her laying on the floor, a book propped open in front of her.

"Morning, Severus," she greeted as she remained focused on her book.

"Morning yourself," he said excitedly. "Did you get it?" Lily frowned.

"Get what?" Some of Severus' excitement diminished as he saw the confused look on her face. He handed his letter to her silently, watching as her face fell to match his. "I didn't get one," she said softly, her disappointment evident.

"Well, maybe yours will come with the Muggle post," he offered. "I don't know how it works with Muggles." She brightened slightly, then re-read the letter.

"Where will we go to get all the supplies?" she asked as she perused the second sheet.

"Diagon Alley," he answered, sitting cross-legged on the floor beside her. "I know he won't take us, and your parents don't know how to get in. I'll see if Mum will take us."

"If I get a letter," she said softly.

"You'll get one," he assured her.

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But when the post came, there was no letter for Lily. She tried to hide her disappointment as she trudged back upstairs, but Rose had noticed something was wrong.

"What is it?" she asked, joining the children on the floor. They exchanged glances, then Severus held up his pinky to remind Lily of their vow made six years earlier.

"Nothing, Mum," Lily answered sullenly. "I was just hoping for a letter. I expect it will come tomorrow." Rose smiled and left the room. As soon as she'd gone, Severus reassured his friend once again, though he was not as confident as he sounded. What if she didn't get accepted to Hogwarts?

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By dinnertime, both children were sullen and quiet. They did not respond when Rose and Albert addressed them, and when Petunia made a comment about their wits being gone, they ignored it as well. As they were clearing their places, there was a gentle rapping from the back door. The inhabitants of the house exchanged confused glances before Albert went to answer it. Severus felt a small twinge of hope that this was what they had been waiting for, and his thoughts were confirmed when Albert returned with their visitor. Severus knew right away the man was a wizard. He had flowing silver hair, with a beard to match, and the robes he wore were a deep purple. The wizard smiled kindly, his light blue eyes twinkling over his half-moon glasses as he looked at the children.

"Can we help you, sir?" Rose asked, looking at his outfit with a bemused expression.

"Yes, I believe you can. My name is Albus Dumbledore," he said as he extended his hand. Rose took it without hesitation.

"Would you like to have a seat, Mr. Dumbledore?" she invited, motioning towards the living room. "Why don't you children go upstairs?" she instructed.

"Actually, I would like to have a word with the entire family, if I could," Dumbledore requested. Rose, looking slightly confused, nodded.

"Very well. Children, into the living room. Would you like something to drink?" Dumbledore smiled and shook his head.

"No, thank you. I would like to get right down to business. This is not, unfortunately for me, my last stop this evening." He sat in an armchair as the rest of the family settled themselves onto the couch. Severus pinched Lily's arm lightly, then grinned and gave her a thumbs-up sign. Once everyone was seated, Dumbledore spoke again. "As I said, my name is Albus Dumbledore, and I am the current headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry." He paused, as though to let his words sink in, then withdrew a letter, looking very similar to the one Severus had received that morning. He looked from Lily to Petunia, then handed the letter to Lily. "I believe this is for you," he said with a wink. Lily's hands shook with excitement as she opened the letter, then gave a squeal of delight and hugged Severus, catching him off guard. Her eyes shone with happiness as she showed the letter to her parents.

"You've just got to say yes," she begged. "Severus and I have talked about it for years. I've just got to go!" Rose and Albert read the letter carefully, then looked up at their daughter.

"What does all this mean, exactly?" Albert asked carefully.

"It means, Mr. Evans, that your daughter Lily is a witch. She has been accepted into Hogwarts, where she will receive training in all aspects of magical learning. This is, of course entirely your decision, but I am here to answer any questions you may have." The Evans family was silent for a moment. They looked stunned. Petunia looked as though Christmas had come early as she looked from her sister to her parents. Severus narrowed his eyes as he watched her. She was no doubt hoping that Rose and Albert would decline Dumbledore's offer.

"Where is this school?" Albert asked.

"It is in the north," Dumbledore replied vaguely. "We do not like to give it's exact location, for fear of an unsuspecting Muggle, or non-magic person, stumbling across it. I assure you it is very safe."

"Oh, we don't doubt that," Rose said immediately. "It's just so - strange."

"How do we know you're not some nutter who wants to kill her?" Petunia said suddenly. Rose and Albert looked at her, horrified.

"Petunia!" But to their surprise and relief, Dumbledore chuckled.

"It is very good to see that you are so concerned for your sister," he said with amusement. "I have no proof that I am not a - nutter - as you said, except my word."

"He's not lying," Severus said suddenly. Every pair of eyes turned to him. "I'm going to Hogwarts as well. I got my letter this morning. My whole family has been there. Steven will go when he's old enough. It's a real place." His eyes burned with excitement as he spoke. "It's going to be fantastic."

"You must be young Mr. Snape, then," Dumbledore appraised. "I am delighted that you have such enthusiasm for school. I daresay many of our students are not quite so exuberant."

"I've been waiting to go my whole life," Severus said quietly, suddenly very aware of everyone's stares.

"Well, I hope that your experiences at Hogwarts live up to your expectations," Dumbledore said with a smile. Severus did not respond, but exchanged a look with Lily. He knew that she understood why he was so anxious to get to Hogwarts without him saying it. She gave him a small smile before turning again to her parents. They were looking past her at Severus, who began to shift uncomfortably in his seat. He'd never imagined that they wouldn't allow Lily to go.

"How long have you known that Lily was a witch?" Rose asked.

"The first day we met," he answered quietly.

"Witches and wizards aren't supposed to tell Muggles about the magical world," Lily explained. "But I told Severus about some things that had happened, and he told me." She turned to Dumbledore. "I never told anybody, though. It was our secret." Dumbledore said nothing, but was eyeing Rose and Albert with interest. Lily's parents looked at each other, then looked down at their daughter, her eyes shining with excitement. Finally, Rose sighed and smiled.

"We will miss you," she said. Lily leapt from the couch with a shout of joy, and Severus felt relief flooding through him. He hadn't wanted to leave Lily behind when he went to school, and he was happy now that he wouldn't have to. Dumbledore smiled at the gathering before clearing his throat to get their attention.

"She will be needing her school things, of course," he began.

"Oh, I can help them with that," Severus offered immediately. "I'll ask my mum if we can take them to Diagon Alley."

"That's very generous of you, Mr. Snape," Dumbledore acknowledged as he stood. "If you have any further questions, you may reach me by owl at Hogwarts."

"By owl?" Rose asked, confused.

"No doubt young Mr. Snape can explain," Dumbledore said with a smile. In the blink of an eye, he'd Disapparated, leaving the others chattering excitedly.

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"I don't have time today, Severus," Rebekah said shortly as she bustled around the kitchen.

"But it's only two weeks until term begins," he protested. "We have to go to Diagon Alley at some point. You keep saying you'll take us."

"I will, Severus. But not today."

"When?" he prodded, his arms crossed angrily over his chest. "Rose and Albert are starting to worry that we won't get our supplies."

"Don't be ridiculous," Rebekah snapped. "I won't send you to school without your supplies. Go find your friend, I'm much too busy to talk about this now." Kicking the table leg in aggravation, he ignored her admonishment as he sulked his way out of the kitchen. Lily was waiting outside, her eyes expressing her anxiety.

"What did she say?" she asked quickly.

"What do you think?" he retorted. They sank onto the ground in defeat. "I'd take you myself except that I don't have a key to our vault," he moaned. "But you'd be alright. Your mum and dad could exchange Muggle money at Gringotts."

"Add to that the fact that you've not actually been to Diagon Alley, and we'd have ourselves a right mess," she said with a sigh. " We'll just have to wait until she'll take us is all." Severus didn't respond. He didn't want Lily to know the reason behind Rebekah's procrastination, though it was all too clear to him. Silias had expressly forbidden her to associate with the Evanses, and so she kept coming up with excuses to delay their trip, in the hopes that they'd find somebody else. No doubt she would take Severus the day before term, conveniently forgetting his friend. It just wouldn't do for the Snapes to be seen with a Muggle family, he thought to himself with disgust. He began to tear up handfuls of grass as he stared into the sky, not noticing the figure approaching them until he spoke.

"Doing a bit of yard work, Severus?" The boy spun around to see his uncle smiling down at him.

"Hullo, Uncle Sebastian," he greeted him warmly. "Where have you been? You haven't stopped by in ages!"

"I've been away on business," he answered. "What has you two looking so worried?"

"Mum won't take us to Diagon Alley," Severus said tersely. "We've only got two weeks before we leave, and she still won't take us. Lily's parents don't know how to get there, so they have to rely on her. It isn't as though they know any other wizarding families." Sebastian rubbed his chin thoughtfully, then snapped his fingers as though he'd just thought of something.

"I've got the answer, my boy."

"Really?"

"I'll take you myself," Sebastian explained. "Are your parents free this afternoon, Lily?"

"I believe so. I'll just go and check," she said breathlessly. Severus watched as she raced over to her house.

"I don't have a key to our vault," he said sullenly. Sebastian simply laughed and patted him on the back.

"No worries, Severus. I believe I can spare a few galleons to further your education."

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Twenty minutes later, they had congregated in the living room, trying their best to ignore Rebekah's disapproving stares. Sebastian held out the jar of Floo powder, and instructed Severus to go first. The boy took a handful of the powder, tossed it into the fireplace, then stepped inside.

"Diagon Alley!" he shouted. He was instantly traveling rapidly through the Floo network, his eyes shut tight against the dust and ash. Before he knew it, he was spilling out onto the floor of the Leaky Cauldron. He stood and brushed the soot from his clothes as best he could, then stepped back and waited while the others arrived. Lily came next, sputtering and landing face-down. Severus hurried to help her up, then tugged her out of the way as Petunia came spiraling out. Severus and Lily laughed at the sight of prissy, meticulous Petunia covered in filth from head to toe. Not long after came Rose and Albert. They waited for Sebastian, but he did not come immediately after. The group began dusting each other off, and laughing at each other's appearance, but by the time they'd finished, he had still not arrived. Severus looked at the fireplace worriedly. "I don't know what could be keeping him," he said. "He knows at which grate to get off." As he finished his sentence, Sebastian emerged from the fireplace, looking a bit haggard.

"I apologize for keeping you all waiting," he said shortly. "Shall we head to Gringotts, then?" Lily and Severus exchanged confused looks before following the rest of the group into Diagon Alley.

"Maybe he came home," Severus suggested as they made their way towards the imposing white building at the end of the street.

"Maybe," Lily agreed distractedly. She was staring at the shops they were passing, filled to the brim with anything anyone would need in the magical world. Shops which sold owls, wands, broomsticks, potion ingredients - the two of them exchanged a grin as they soaked it all up. They climbed the steps to the bank, stifling laughs as Petunia shied away from the diminutive goblins guarding the entrance. Sebastian led them to a queue which formed in front of a large counter, with a sign reading : Muggle Exchanges.

"I'll leave you here for a bit," he said to the Evanses, "And I'll just take Severus down to the vault. We'll be back in a few moments."

"We'll wait for you here, then," Rose said. "Thank you again, Mr. Snape, for escorting us."

"Think nothing of it," he replied. "Didn't want these two to head off to school unprepared. Now, if you'll excuse us?" He led Severus to another counter, where a goblin sat stamping a sheaf of parchment. Sebastian handed him a key, then the two of them followed the goblin down to the awaiting mine cart. Severus looked at his uncle thoughtfully, then raised his voice to be heard as they began to barrel along the track.

"What kept you back there?" he asked, hoping he sounded casual. Sebastian looked at him sharply, his eyes slightly narrowed.

"Do not dwell on it," he said simply. "It was nothing of importance." Severus rolled his eyes with annoyance.

"If it wasn't important, why won't you say?" he shot back. Sebastian fixed a steely gaze on his nephew, his eyes fathomless.

"It does not concern you, boy. Do not meddle in the affairs of others." The cold tone of his voice chilled Severus to the bone. He'd never heard him speak like that to him, not once.

"You're beginning to sound like him," he said tersely, turning away to stare at the blurring scenery. Sebastian said nothing until they'd collected a bagful of coins from his vault. As they were speeding back towards the entrance, he laid a hand on his nephew's shoulder.

"I apologize, Severus." The boy turned to stare at him, unsure of what to say.

"Okay," he finally replied, turning back around. They continued on in silence for the remainder of the cart ride.

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If the Evanses noticed a change in either of their attitudes, they did not mention it, and for that Severus was thankful. He didn't particularly want to share with them the fact that his complete confidence in his uncle had been shattered. From Gringotts they went to Ollivander's for wands, and from there to Flourish and Blotts, but the excitement of the day was dimmed in the shadow of his uncle's startling reaction. What had made him so angry? And why was he keeping so quiet about what had held him back? As he stood in Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions, he studied Sebastian's face. He was busy talking to the Evanses, and seemed not to notice his nephew's penetrating gaze. He seemed to be in a better mood, at least on the surface. Maybe he had simply over-reacted to the entire thing. After all, everybody was entitled to get angry every now and again, right? Chimes rang through the store, marking the arrival of another customer. Severus looked towards the door to see a boy his own age, with neatly trimmed light brown hair, looking around nervously. He was standing with his parents, who looked equally as uncomfortable. Severus nudged Lily as the boy was directed to the spot next to him.

"Hullo," Lily said brightly, extending her hand across Severus and earning an admonishment from Madame Malkin. The boy looked at her as though she were going to bite before timidly shaking the proffered limb.

"Hullo," he said quietly, his large brown eyes not quite meeting hers.

"I'm Lily Evans. And this is my friend, Severus Snape." The boys nodded greetings, each eyeing the other warily. "And you are?" she prompted when the boy didn't respond.

"Oh, sorry. Remus Lupin."

"Starting at Hogwarts this year?" Severus asked, feeling stupid. Of course he's starting, or he wouldn't be here getting fitted, would he?

"Yes," Remus replied, his eyes flicking to his parents. His mother smiled up at him, then jumped slightly as Sebastian introduced himself and the Evanses.

"They're a bit nervous," Severus observed with interest. "Are they Muggles?" Remus shook his head, but didn't offer any further explanations.

"My parents are Muggles," Lily offered in an effort to get him to open up. "They were quite surprised when Professor Dumbledore showed up to tell them about Hogwarts." The boy's eyes lit up at her words.

"You've met Professor Dumbledore?" he asked with awe. Lily nodded, as did Severus. "He's a good man, you know," Remus finished. Severus furrowed his brow in confusion as he looked at Lily, who shrugged.

"How do you know Dumbledore?" Severus asked. "You said your parents weren't Muggles."

"They aren't," the boy answered quickly. "I just know him from the famous witches and wizards cards."

"Oh, right," Severus said, though he thought there was more to the boy's story than that.

"Which house do you think you'll be in?" Lily asked him.

"I hadn't thought about it much," Remus replied. "I'm just relieved to be able to go to Hogwarts at all." Severus eyed the boy with interest. There was obviously something he wasn't telling them. From the sound of it, Dumbledore had something to do with his acceptance at Hogwarts. It made Severus wonder what had been barring his way.

"I'm hoping for Ravenclaw," Lily revealed. "Severus has told me all about the houses, and I think I'd do best there. But like you, I'll be happy wherever they put me."

"What about you?" Remus asked, his gaze fixed on Severus.

"Slytherin, I suppose," he answered absently. "My family's been there for generations." Their conversation was cut short as Madame Malkin announced that both Severus and Lily were done. They stepped down from the platform, then bade their new acquaintance farewell.

"We'll see you on the train, Remus," Lily called as they exited the shop. "He seemed nice," she commented as they made their way to the Owl Emporium.

"Yeah," Severus said, looking back over his shoulder, "a real bubbling personality."

"Look who's talking," she said, giving him a playful shove. Severus feigned surprise.

"Whatever do you mean? Are you saying that I'm -"

"A bit awkward when you meet someone new? Yes." She grinned at him. "But once they've met you, they learn what a delight you are." He shook his head at the sarcasm in her voice, then chose to ignore it as they entered the Emporium. He selected a fierce - looking eagle owl as his pet, and Lily chose a well-mannered barn owl as her own. It was as they were leaving that they ran into a very unwelcome sight. A tall man stood next to an equally tall boy, both eyeing the congregation with amusement. His white-blonde hair was cut very short, making his cold gray eyes stand out. The boy next to him was nearly identical, though his chin ended in a severe point. The man spotted Sebastian and smiled, though it did not fool anyone present. His eyes remained cold and calculating as he waited for Sebastian to acknowledge him.

"Braeden," he acknowledged, with a short nod. The man nodded back.

"Sebastian Snape. I didn't think I'd ever see you traipsing about with a group such as this."

"Severus is my nephew," he said shortly. "I brought him and his neighbors to get their supplies for school. My brother was - unavoidably detained."

"I can imagine," Braeden replied, his eyebrow arched. "You've met my son?"

"Many years ago," he affirmed. "You're looking well, Lucius."

"Thank you, sir," though his tone was polite, the boy's eyes held the same aloof coolness of his father's.

"A Snape at Hogwarts again, eh?" Braeden said, looking Severus up and down. "You will be in Slytherin, of course?" Severus shrugged.

"I guess. We won't know until I get there, right?" He felt his uncle prod him in the back, and he looked at him, confused.

"Indeed," Braeden replied archly. "Well, every other Snape for generations has been in that most hallowed of houses. It would be a shame for you to break that tradition. What would your father say, I wonder?" He smirked as he gestured to his own son. "Lucius is a prefect this year. He'll be sure to look out for you, won't you, son?" Lucius nodded, and Severus thought he saw a hint of a smile at the corners of his mouth.

"That's very courteous of you," Sebastian replied stiffly. "We must be going now. If you'll excuse us?" Braeden and Lucius stepped aside to let the group by, but Severus felt their eyes on him as he walked away. "Don't look back," Sebastian instructed shortly as Severus began to do just that. He snapped his eyes back in front of him, not at all sure what had just happened.

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By the end of the day, they were laden with packages, and utterly exhausted. They made their way back to the Leaky Cauldron, grateful to be going home, but equally grateful to have had the experience. Severus stepped up to the fireplace to go through, but his uncle's hand held him back.

"Why don't we let the Evanses go through first?" he suggested. Severus stepped back, watching as first Albert, then Petunia used the Floo powder. Lily went next, followed shortly by Rose, and then Severus stepped forward again. "Not just yet, boy." Severus turned and faced his uncle, wondering why he wanted to wait. "Severus, I wanted to discuss the Malfoys with you."

"Who?"

"Braeden and Lucius."

"Oh."

"They are a very dangerous family to get involved with, do you understand that?"

"Why?" he asked, curious. He'd heard Silias talking about the Malfoy family from time to time, saying how much he admired them, and how he aspired to be considered their equal. But that did not explain why Severus should keep away from them.

"They've been pureblooded for as long as anybody knows," he explained. "Their family tree doesn't hold a single Muggle. Because of that, they feel superior to other wizards."

"How does that make them dangerous?"

"Their influence with the Ministry is unparalleled. They hide behind their wealth and bloodline, presenting that facet of their lives to the public. It is the life they live behind their own doors that you should be wary of. Watch yourself around the boy. You've got only two years at school with him, but there is much that can happen in that time." Severus frowned.

"What do they do behind their doors?"

"Just be careful, alright?" He nodded reluctantly.

"Alright," he said. "I promise."

"Good lad," Sebastian said, smiling and patting him on the back. "Let's get you home. The others are probably worried about you."

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Later that evening, Lily and Severus were going over their school lists once again.

"I know we got everything, but I sort of wish we hadn't," she said with a sigh. "Diagon Alley was amazing!"

"Yeah," Severus agreed, still thinking about what Sebastian had told him in the Leaky Cauldron.

"Did you see the apothecary?" she asked in an attempt to get him talking.

"Yeah. Pretty neat."

"What are you going to name your owl?" she asked, giving a treat to her own.

"I don't know just yet. What about you?"

"Jovianne," she replied at once. He stifled a snicker as he looked at her.

"You're serious?" he asked, his mouth hanging open.

"Yes, I'm serious!" she retorted. "It fits her perfectly. At least I've got a name for her." He shrugged.

"It's your owl. "

"How about Kacela?" she suggested as she watched his eagle owl floating above them.

"I think it's a male," he said idly, picked up his Defense Against the Dark Arts book.

"Ok, then how about Zeus?" He gave her an I-am-not-amused look as he shook his head. "What?" she demanded. "What's wrong with that?"

"I am not naming him Zeus," he said shortly.

"Well then, you think of something," she retorted. He watched as his owl floated easily across the trees, and at once he decided on a name.

"Kenoa," he whispered. "Free." He examined his train ticket, then looked up again at his owl, looking forward to the day when he too would be able to fly away.

Chapter 7: Escape?
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Chapter Seven: Escape?
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"Why didn't you do this earlier?" Severus inquired. It was the evening before they were to leave for Hogwarts, and Lily's room looked as though a tornado had come through. "I've been packed for a week."

"I did pack last week," Lily argued. "I just wanted to make sure I haven't forgotten anything."

"It looks like you're trying to stuff your entire room into that trunk," Severus observed with a laugh. "I doubt you'll be missing anything."

"I always forget something," she said morosely. "Whenever we go on holiday, I'm always the one to leave something behind. I'll most likely get to Hogwarts and then remember what it is I've left."

"Oh, well," he said with a sly grin. "Rose and Albert can always owl it back to you."

"That isn't funny," she said, tossing a pillow at his head. "They do try, you know." Ever since Dumbledore's visit, the Evanses had been trying to learn what they could about the wizarding world. Unfortunately, they had yet to get the hang of the owl post. Lily had taken out a subscription to The Daily Prophet in order to keep up with things, and her parents were constantly forgetting that they needed to give the delivery owl a few sickles. As a result, they were consistently covered with welts from the disgruntled carriers. They were also having a bit of trouble with the wizard money, though Severus had explained it to them on more than one occasion.

"It'll just take some getting used to," Rose had said with a sigh after trying to determine how much pocket money Lily would take with her to school. She'd finally simply given her the remaining money they'd exchanged at Gringotts, which amounted to two galleons, seven sickles, and three knuts.

"At least you'll have spending money," Severus had pointed out when Lily had told him. She'd only shaken her head and buried herself deeper into her Charms book. Now, as she tossed her bag of coins on top of her robes, she took another look around her room.

"I think that's everything," she said with satisfaction. Closing the lid, she jumped on top of it, and instructed Severus to fasten the straps.

"It'll be very interesting to see you getting your robes out on the train," he smirked. "Everything will probably spring out all over the compartment."

"You'll just have to use a spell to get it all back in, then," she said, undaunted. "We'll be on the train, you can use spells then, can't you?"

"I think so," he affirmed, taking a seat again on the floor.

"Good," she said firmly. "Then you can show me how that shield charm works that you go on about all the time."

"I haven't actually gotten that one down yet," he admitted. "I've been sticking pretty much with the Numbing Potion."

"Well, we can practice so that you will be able to use it," she said resolutely. "I've been dying to try a spell. Once we're on that train, you're going to show me how to do them properly."

"Lily, I've never cast a spell successfully, remember?"

"All the more reason to get started," she said with a grin. "Just think, Severus, this time tomorrow evening, we'll be miles away." Severus did not return her smile. His thoughts had turned to his brother, and how Steven would be left defenseless without him. For the past week, his excitement of leaving had been marred by the thought that his young brother would have no one to protect him for nearly ten months. Lily was chattering away, but he wasn't listening. He had to go home, to think of a way to shield his brother while he was at Hogwarts.

"Uncle Sebastian's taking us to the station," he said quietly, interrupting whatever it was that Lily had been saying. "We'll be around about ten - thirty." He stood and exited the room, leaving his friend in a state of confusion. As he made his way over to his house, he tried again to think of something that would help Steven while he was gone. He was so lost in thought that he nearly stumbled over his brother as he began to climb the stairs. Steven was crouched at the bottom, his knees pulled tightly to his chest. Severus wondered what he was doing, then heard shouts drifting from the floor above. "What's going on?" he asked immediately.

"They've been at it for ages," Steven said fearfully, glancing upwards to his parents' bedroom door. "Mum was angry because she'd kept dinner for him, and when he came home he threw it at the wall. She slapped him, Severus, and then she started yelling. He just stood there while she did it, with a strange look in his eyes."

"What did she say?" he asked as he pulled his brother into his bedroom, lest they be heard during a lull in the fighting.

"She said -" his little face puckered with concentration as he tried to recall her words,"she said that she was sick and tired of him coming home late every night, and told him that he should just go and live with one of those -" here he paused, and looked around before putting his hand up to his mouth and whispering, "tramps - that he spent all his time with." Severus felt his blood turn to ice. He remembered the last time their mother had stood up to their father - she'd been bedridden for nearly two weeks, with Silias telling anybody who inquired only that she was 'ill'.

"How long ago was that?" he asked hurriedly.

"What time is it now?"

"Nearly ten o'clock."

"Ten o'clock? Let's see, then, that was after dinner - dinner was at six - we waited until six-thirty for him - I'd say he came home about seven-thirty," Steven mumbled under his breath.

"Seven-thirty?" Severus nearly shouted. "He's had her in there since seven-thirty?" He threw open his door and strode purposefully down the hall, Steven clinging to him the whole way.

"Severus, it won't make a difference! He'll only hurt you too! Severus, please don't!" Severus shook his brother off angrily as he twisted the knob on the door, and swore loudly when it wouldn't budge. Steven's eyes were as round as saucers as he looked at his older brother. "You're not supposed to say that," he reprimanded.

"I don't give a damn what you think I'm allowed to do!" he roared. As he loomed over the frightened child, he realized that he'd reacted just as his father would have, and the thought sickened him. From behind the door they could still hear Rebekah, sobbing.

"You've had your fun, Silias," they heard her wail. Her sobs were interrupted by the sound of a slap, and as the boys saw the flash of red light under the door, they knew their mother was being punished. Severus continued pounding on the door, shouting obscenities.

"Leave her alone!" he shouted. "Just let her be!" It took them a moment to realize that an eerie silence had settled over the house, and as Severus looked questioningly at his brother, the door was flung open. Silias was silhouetted in the doorway, bleeding from several scratches on his face and the backs of his hands, and was wearing only his trousers. Without hesitation, Severus began pummeling him with his fists, shouting every curse word he'd ever heard and wishing he had thought to grab his new wand. Silias grabbed his son by the wrist, and as he drug him down the hall, the boy caught a glimpse of the scene his father had left. He had the sudden urge to vomit as he saw his mother laying on the bed, her dress shredded to bits, her face already bruised and bloodied. Her eyes were closed, and Severus had the sickening feeling that she was dead. As he was tossed down the stairs, he heard a horrible thud as his head connected with the floor.The last thing he saw before blacking out was his father's torrid face, a hideous smile contorting his features as he leaned over his son.

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When he woke, he was in the basement, lying uncomfortably on the dirt floor. His head was pounding furiously, and he raised a shaky hand to it, not at all surprised to find his fingers covered in blood when he pulled them away. For a moment, he could not recall what he'd done to bring him here, but as he pulled himself into a sitting position, the memories of the night before came rushing back. With his memory came the realization that he was due to leave for Hogwarts, and he looked up at the window with trepidation. The unmistakable light of the morning sun illuminated the glass, causing the boy to hang his head in defeat. He was going to miss the train, if he hadn't already.

Lily never came to look for me, he thought morosely. She's probably too busy thinking about all the fun she'll have at Hogwarts. Even as he thought the words, he felt ashamed. Maybe it was still early enough that they hadn't missed him at the Evanses yet.

The sound of the door opening brought Severus' attention back to his immediate predicament, and he glanced up sharply. Steven's tear-stained face was studying him, a gaze akin to hero-worship upon it.

"Steven," Severus croaked, his throat excruciatingly dry, "go and get into my trunk. There are phials inside, clearly marked. Bring them down, please." Steven made no effort to leave, and Severus felt himself growing impatient. "For Merlin's sake, Steven! Move!"

"I - I can't," the boy stammered. "It's locked, and I can't get in." He looked at his brother apologetically.

"Perfect," Severus muttered, resting his throbbing head against the coolness of the stone wall, "he knew that's where I'd go first. He isn't here, is he?"

"No, he Disapparated right before I came down." Severus felt himself relax slightly, until he thought about the train.

"What time is it?" he asked quickly.

"It was half past when I came down."

"Half past what?" Severus snapped, unable to mask his annoyance.

"Nine o'clock," his brother replied. Severus breathed a sigh of relief.

"We've got an hour before we've got to leave," he said with satisfaction. In an effort to try and block out some of the pain, he closed his eyes, and wished he hadn't. Images of his mother sprang to his mind, and his eyes snapped open and rested on the face of his younger brother. "Is she -" he was unable to finish the sentence. As much as he hated that his mother sat idly by during their abuse, he hated the thought of her dying at their father's hand even more. Steven shook his head.

"But she would have been if you hadn't stopped him," he said with awe. Severus' thoughts from the night before came into his mind, and he grasped his brother's arm frantically.

"Steven, you've got to understand how - different - it will be after I'm gone. With Mum - while she's - ill, you'll be his only target. Try to stay out of his way as much as possible. Don't do anything you think he'd dislike. Do you understand?" Steven nodded his head, his eyes widening slightly with fear. Severus struggled to stand, wincing as a shooting pain spread down his side. He made his way slowly over to the stairs and motioned to the books beneath them. "I know you've seen these before," he began. "I want you to read them. All of them. Most of them are about the Dark Arts, but don't be afraid," he added quickly as he saw the uncertainty in Steven's eyes. "It's good preparation for when - when he wants to punish you. If you know what spell he used, it makes it easier to find the counter-spell."

"Uncle Sebastian told me to never, ever, study the Dark Arts," he said softly.

"He essentially told me the same thing," Severus spat bitterly. "See where it's gotten me? Nowhere. Learn to defend yourself, Steven, and use it."

"But Uncle Sebastian -"

"Fine," Severus said angrily. He saw that Steven was teetering on indecision, and his voice grew colder. "Of course, if you'd rather let his spells run their course, be my guest. I'm only trying to spare you some pain. Once you've lain on the floor for a week, your body riddled with pain from the Abicio curse, I'm sure you'll change your mind." Steven's lower lip quivered, though he tried vainly to suppress the tears that immediately sprang to his eyes. Severus sighed. "Look, I didn't mean to - oh, hell. Just read the books, okay?" His tone had become less stern, and his brother looked up at him, sniffling loudly. "Uncle Sebastian gave me his mother's old wand," Severus said quietly. "It's underneath the floorboards in my room. It's yours now. And if you're still not sure about learning these, I'll leave some phials of Numbing Potion for you. There's a book down here that tells you how to brew it. I'm sure Uncle Sebastian will get you the ingredients." He headed in the direction of the staircase, but as he moved towards it, his body quivered once again with pain. He knelt on the floor, willing it to fade, vaguely aware of his brother's offers of help. The younger boy's voice sent new waves of anguish through his head, and his voice was hoarse when he responded. "Just be still Steven, please!" He was no longer aware of anything but the all-consuming misery he was feeling until he felt a strong hand help him to his feet. Though his vision had begun to blur, he could barely discern the figure of his uncle, studying him anxiously. Severus heard the low murmurs of Sebastian and Steven talking, but could not concentrate on their words through the veil of pain. He teetered on his feet, finally seeking support on the edge of the stairs. Before long, he felt an object pressed to his lips, and he accepted it gratefully. Within minutes, he felt the familiar warm sensation of the Numbing Potion flowing through his veins. His pain continued to lessen, finally settling into a dull ache, and he looked up at his uncle with relief. "Thanks," he said softly, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

"Don't thank me," Sebastian replied coldly. "Apparently my brother has not taken my warnings seriously."

"Did you really think he would?" Severus asked angrily. "He's done this to me for eleven years, do you really think talking to him would help?" Sebastian ignored the question as he stared at the gash on his nephew's head.

"What did he use?" he asked, withdrawing his wand.

"I don't know," Severus said flatly. "I was blacked out at the time." His uncle shook his head, then raised his wand to the level of Severus' wound.

"Rimarginarsi Medicorum." Severus felt an odd sensation where he knew the wound to be, and he reached up to it, only to find that it had vanished. "Be careful that you do not receive another wound in that location," Sebastian advised. "It won't completely heal for nearly a day." Severus nodded absently. "Are you going to tell me what happened?" His uncle's voice was low yet forceful.

"Severus was trying to get him to stop hurting Mum," Steven said quietly. Sebastian's face went white with - was it fear? In the dim light of the basement, Severus was unable to determine the nature of his uncle's reaction, but the quick retreat up the stairs told him that he'd been surprised at the least. The two brothers shared a confused glance as they heard his footsteps going into their parents' bedroom. When he did not return immediately, Severus turned to his brother.

"Let's go and get my trunk," he said softly. The boys trudged up the stairs in silence, neither of them knowing what to make of their uncle's reaction. As they turned the corner to continue to the second floor, Sebastian emerged from Severus' room, the trunk levitated behind him, and the cage containing Kenoa in his hand.

"I'll take this to the Evanses," he said, his voice uncharacteristically tight. He handed the owl to Severus , but did not say anything further. His nephews felt it would be better not to ask anything as they followed him to their neighbors.

Lily's smile of welcome faded as Rose welcomed the trio into the house. "What's wrong?" she asked immediately. Severus shook his head - he'd tell her later.

"Mrs. Evans, I wish to offer my sincerest apologies, but circumstances have arisen which prevent my accompanying you all to King's Cross station. I do hope you'll forgive me for my abrupt change of plans, but it is impossible for me to do so now." Rose looked at him, a confused frown on her face.

"I certainly hope it isn't something serious, Mr. Snape," she said with sincerity. "Is there anything I might be able to help you with?" Sebastian shook his head, his gaze turning to his oldest nephew.

"The only thing I ask is that you see Severus to the station in my absence. You know how to get onto the correct platform, Severus?" The boy shook his head as he stared up at his uncle. "It's fairly simple," Sebastian explained. "All you do is walk at the barrier between platforms nine and ten." He looked up again at Rose. "Unfortunately, Muggles cannot reach platform nine and three-quarters," he said with a sigh. "The train leaves at precisely eleven-thirty, so as long as you wait until eleven-forty for the two of them to come back through, there should be no problems. And if there are, they can always owl." He looked over towards where Lily's trunk sat by the door. "Will you be taking your car, then?" he asked abruptly. Rose nodded.

"Albert's just returned from seeing Petunia to a friend's house," she answered.

"I'll just pop these in the trunk then, shall I?" Sebastian asked. Without waiting for an answer, he promptly levitated Lily's trunk and proceeded back out of the door. Rose looked after him concernedly.

"Is everything all right, Severus dear?" she asked as she watched her husband helping Sebastian with the luggage.

"Yes," he answered quickly, not wanting to alarm her. It wasn't exactly lying, he thought as they piled into the car and bade Steven and Sebastian goodbye. After all, with Sebastian looking after her, Rebekah was bound to recover more quickly, wasn't she? Severus watched his uncle and brother walking swiftly back to the house as the car pulled away, then settled moodily into his seat. He stared out the window silently, ignoring the questioning looks he was getting from the other occupants of the car. Kenoa hooted loudly and pecked his arm affectionately through the bars. As he absently stroked his feathers, he thought again of his uncle's strange reaction. Now that he thought about it, Sebastian always seemed to explain away his mother's behavior towards her sons, and he never let Severus forget that she was also a victim. Now he was forgoing his trip to King's Cross to look after her? Was she something more than a sister-in-law to him? He shook his head as the scenery whipped past the window. So far, his escape from his home had not been anything like what he'd expected.

Chapter 8: Hogwarts
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Chapter Eight: Hogwarts
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Severus shoved his trunk into the corner of the compartment, a book of antidotes tucked under his arm. Without glancing at Lily, he settled into the seat and began to read. After only a moment, he heard her click her tongue impatiently and her hand appeared over the top of the tome.

"Are you going to tell me what happened, or aren't you?" she demanded.

"I came home and he was disciplining Mum. I tried to stop him. I'll let you fill in the blanks." He lifted the book to eye level again, rolling his head impatiently to the side as it was pulled down for the second time.

"How bad was it?" she asked quietly. "I mean, you look fine now."

"Only thanks to my uncle," he said bitterly. "He locked my trunk so that I couldn't get to my Numbing Potion. Uncle Sebastian got some to me, then healed the gash I had on my head."

"He can't get away with this," Lily said angrily. "Somebody's got to do something. I'm going to owl Mum and Dad, and they'll get the police -"

"NO!" The vehemence in his voice must have startled her, as she stopped in mid sentence and stared, her mouth still hanging open.

"What?" she asked quietly. "Don't you want it to stop? Don't you want to see him punished for what he's done to all of you?"

"You can't get Muggles involved," he said wearily. "He'll only annihilate them. Don't you see? There isn't anything Rose and Albert could do. So don't drag them into this."

"But -" she was stopped again as the door to their compartment slid open, and a shy-looking boy stuck his head inside. It took a moment for Severus to recognize his face, but before he had a chance to speak, Lily had already done so. "Remus! Hullo again!"

"Hi," he said quietly, his eyes darting around the empty compartment. "Would you mind if I joined you? I couldn't find anywhere else, and -"

"Of course," Lily said immediately, gesturing towards the bench opposite Severus and herself.

"Thanks," he said with a relieved smile. He stowed his trunk with theirs, then sat down as the train began to pull out of the station. Remus looked out the window, waving wildly to his parents on the platform. Severus glanced up in time to see Mrs. Lupin fading away, tears rolling down her face.

"A bit melodramatic, isn't she?" he said snidely. "It isn't as though you're never coming back." Remus chose not to reply, but kept his eyes glued to the window as the scenery rushed by.

"It's exciting to finally be going, isn't it?" Lily asked, shooting a glare at Severus.

"Yes, I've been looking forward to it for ages," Remus acknowledged. "Mum and Dad have told me so much about it, I can't wait to get started."

"Neither can I," Lily said excitedly. The two began to chatter as Severus delved deeper into his book, not sure he could put on a cheerful pretense for the entire trip.

"Is he always this quiet?" Severus heard Remus ask quietly some time later.

"He's not had a good start to the day," Lily revealed awkwardly. Severus shook his head and continued to read his book, though it grew quite difficult when Lily placed her hand once again on the page. "Come on, Severus," she pleaded. "Let's practice some spells. It will help you blow off steam." Severus looked up at her, not bothering to hide his interest.

"All right," he conceded, "but I've got to teach you some jinxes first. That way, we can practice throwing them at each other." Lily's eyes were bright with excitement as she listened patiently to Severus' explanations of the incantations.

"I think I've got it," she said after nearly twenty minutes. "So you'll go first with the Shield charm, and I'll try and hit you with the Babbling Curse."

"Right. Now, if I don't get the Shield Charm up in time, you'll have to remove the curse. The incantation is -"

"Affatus Lente," she finished for him.

"Alright. You ready, then?" He stood in front of the window while Lily stood before the door of the compartment. They raised their wands, and as Lily opened her mouth to speak, so did Severus.

"Affatus Accelero!"

"Protego!" A spurt of purple light came from Lily's wand at the same time that an indistinct mist floated from his own.

"That was a start," Remus offered from his viewpoint. They laughed as they realized they'd both failed miserably.

"I think you need to swish your wand a bit more," Severus said between breaths. "And I need to stop worrying about what will happen if you hit me with it. Let's do it again."

After a dozen more tries, the pair had successfully cast each of their spells. They tried a few more for good measure, then decided to switch spells. Due to their practice earlier, it took only a few tries to master the opposing spell. The excitement of victory coursed through their veins, making them eager for more.

"Try a different jinx," Lily instructed as she prepared to cast her charm. "A stronger one. I want to see if it's going to make a difference in how I set up the shield." Severus frowned. Any stronger jinx would mean putting Lily in danger of getting hurt.

"I don't think so. I'll keep on with the Babbling Curse," he decided. Lily put her hands on her hips.

"Don't worry about hurting me, I'll be fine!" she insisted.

"If the shield doesn't stand up to a stronger curse -"

"It'll be alright," she insisted again. "Would it make you feel better if I threw it at you first?" She grinned impishly as he shook his head.

"I'd rather have both of us unscathed," he said shortly. She grinned at him again.

"Come on, Severus! Where's your sense of adventure?"

"Lily, this is ludicrous. I'm not going to hurl something like the Laniatus Curse at you. And that's the next strongest one I can think of."

"That sounds interesting," she said immediately, her eyes blazing with excitement. "What do you think, Remus?"

"If she wants you to throw it at her, why not?" Lily smiled her thanks, then turned expectantly to Severus.

"Lily, this curse -"

"I don't want you to tell me!" she cried shrilly. "I want it to catch me off guard."

"Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Positive."

"Alright," Severus sighed, promising himself to aim above her, just in case. He raised his wand hesitantly, then spoke the incantation, "Lanio!" Just as the words flew from his lips, the door crashed open, sending two boys toppling over Lily. The sudden movement caused Severus to drop his wand, and the curse he'd performed hit one of the boys in the face. An ugly gash appeared immediately, and the two newcomers stood up, looking at Severus with outrage.

"Say! What are you playing at?" demanded the one with the gash. He was about Severus' height, with unkempt black hair and glasses covering his hazel eyes. His companion was slightly taller, with the same shade of hair, though his eyes were gray, stirring a memory of Lucius Malfoy. Severus felt his anger rise at the insolence of the boy's question.

"What am I playing at? You're the ones who came barging in here," he snapped, giving Lily a hand up. She brushed off her robes and looked at the duo scathingly.

"Who are you?" she asked with unconcealed anger.

"We didn't do it on purpose," raged the taller boy, ignoring her question. "It isn't as though we meant to crash through the door." He glanced at his friend, then looked at Severus angrily. "Go on, fix his face!"

"Oh, is he afraid his face is going to be scarred for life?" Severus goaded.

"No, just afraid it'll turn out like yours," the other boy spat. Severus' scowl deepened as he kept his wand raised.

"Why don't you just sod off?" Lily suggested, her arms crossed angrily over her chest. The two boys looked at the three inhabitants of the compartment, then turned to leave.

"By the way," said the boy with glasses, turning from the door, "I didn't get your name."

"Severus Snape," Severus said immediately. "And I'll wager you won't forget it."

"Well, Severus," the boy began, his voice filled with loathing, "I expect this time tomorrow you'll be back on this train, once I've had the chance to report you." Severus said nothing, but continued to glare at the boy. "C'mon, Sirius," he said finally, "Let's find a prefect." They slammed the door to the compartment as they left, the shorter boy's hand to his face. Lily kicked the door angrily before throwing herself down on the seat next to Remus.

"What a couple of nutters!" she raged, her cheeks flushed with indignation. "It isn't as though you meant to curse him! It was all an accident! The great prat! I hope he does tell a prefect! We'll set the record straight - there's three of us!"

"We'll have a terrific time explaining to the prefect why we were tossing around dangerous jinxes to begin with," Severus said flatly as he, too, sat down.

"But - we were just trying to learn on our own! They wouldn't punish us for that, would they?"

"Professor Dumbledore wouldn't throw you out or anything, I'm sure of it," Remus said quietly.

"It doesn't matter," replied Severus archly. "I don't think they really expect it - there was something in that taller boy's eyes. They'll want revenge, not expulsion. But I'll be damned if I'll let them get the better of me. Let them try, I'll be ready for them."

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Hours later, the trio stood with the rest of the first years in an enormous corridor, which they'd been led to by a very large and wild-looking man. A stern looking witch, who revealed herself to be Professor McGonagall, had instructed them to be still, so here they now waited. They weren't exactly sure what it was they were waiting for, but every pair of eyes was taking in the wonderful decorations of the Entrance Hall. All that is, save for two. The boys who'd crashed into their compartment were a few feet ahead of the trio, and the shorter boy's eyes were clashing angrily with Severus'. While he heard Lily and Remus exclaiming over the architecture and decor, his attention was focused entirely on the other boy. He allowed a smirk to appear as he saw that the gash on the boy's face was still an angry-looking red, and looked as though it would leave a scar if it wasn't seen to properly. Before he'd dwelt too long on the matter, the huge doors in front of the line swung open, and Severus glimpsed a bit of the room beyond. He forgot his new nemesis momentarily as they began to shuffle into the room and he saw the way that it was decorated. Four long tables lined the room, each filled with students wearing identical black robes and pointed hats. Lit candles hung from the ceiling, which in turn was reflecting the tumultuous night sky they'd just been ushered in from. At the very end of the hall was another long table, slightly elevated and filled with witches and wizards whom Severus assumed must be the staff. Dumbledore himself sat in the very center, in a high-backed chair adorned with shimmering stones.

As Severus was turning with the other students, he caught the headmaster's eye. The older wizard winked at the boy, causing him to stumble slightly with surprise. Had he really remembered Severus from the one meeting they'd had at Lily's house?

"Are you alright?" Lily asked quietly as he continued to stare at Dumbledore.

"Fine," he said absently, turning back towards the front of the Hall. In front of the line of students stood a battered stool, and upon it sat a hat, in even worse shape. From the looks of it, the hat was centuries old, and for a fleeting moment, Severus was confused. He looked back over his shoulder to the staff table, but Dumbledore now had his attention on the hat. So, it seemed, did the other students in the hall. He and the other first years were beginning to glance around at each other, unsure of what to expect. Then, out of nowhere, a tear near the brim of the hat opened, and it began to sing.

"As well you know,
Many years ago,
A school for magic there came to be.
Four houses created inside,
Wherein each a different virtue was prized,
The students clamored to see.
The choice is mine, but do not fret,
For I am not all I seem.
I'll delve into your mind
And decide where you ought to be.
Perhaps in Ravenclaw,
Where knowledge reigns supreme?
Or in fair Hufflepuff,
Where loyalty is king?
You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where courageous acts are shown,
Or then again in Slytherin,
Where ambitious minds will go.
So step right up, and put me on,
And soon you will see,
That I am always right
When it comes down
To where you ought to be."

There was a tumultuous sound of applause from the staff table as the sorting hat's song ended, though Severus couldn't see what all the fuss was about.

"That was rubbish," he whispered to Lily, who elbowed him.

"Stop being so pessimistic," she chided as Professor McGonagall picked up the hat from its stool.

"When I call your name, please step forward," she instructed. "The sorting hat will be placed on your head, and will determine which house you will be in. Avery, Nikolas!" A short boy strode nervously to the seat, looking around anxiously as the hat was placed onto his head. It seemed as though the thing were debating where he belonged before it finally decided.

"SLYTHERIN!" The tear near the brim opened wide with the hat's answer, and the boy rushed off to join his fellow housemates. Severus watched him with amusement, but his smirk faded as he locked gazes with Lucius Malfoy. Severus turned away, feigning interest in the next student being sorted.

"Black, Sirius!" The taller boy from the train stepped up to the stool with confidence.

"GRYFFINDOR!" Sirius looked surprised, but pleased, when the hat was removed, and he joined his house table with a smile. Severus was too busy eyeing Sirius with contempt to keep track of the next few names, but suddenly Lily nudged him. Apparently, McGonagall had just called her name, and she was making her way to the stool, a look of sheer excitement on her face. The hat had barely sunk over her head before shouting, "GRYFFINDOR!" She smiled at Severus as she made her way to the table, but made a disgusted face as she was forced to sit next to Sirius. Severus smirked, then turned his attention back to the sorting.

"Goyle, Geoffrey!" A rather tall, stout looking boy strode purposefully up to the stool. The hat had not yet touched his head as it shouted,

"SLYTHERIN!" Goyle's features twisted into a victorious smile as he rushed over to his table. Severus felt the urge to look toward the table, curious to see if Lucius was still studying him, but he remembered his uncle's words in Diagon Alley, and chose to ignore it. A small girl had been sorted into Hufflepuff, and another was sitting on the stool. "HUFFLEPUFF!" shouted the hat.

"Lupin, Remus!" Remus walked to the stool, unsuccessfully trying to hide his nervousness.

"GRYFFINDOR!" Severus started. Both of his traveling companions had been sorted into the house of courage? He doubted very much if he would be placed there. He turned back to the stool, his mind racing.

"McDowell, Marie!" A short girl with long auburn hair sat on the stool, the hat placing her as the first Ravenclaw of the evening. Severus' gaze flicked back towards the Gryffindor table, where Lily and Remus were whispering, their eyes shining. Instead of catching Lily's eye, as he planned, he caught Sirius', and he narrowed his gaze in contempt. Sirius finally tore his gaze away, and Severus followed it to the friend who still stood in line. "Potter, James!" The shorter boy walked to the stool, his hand going self-consciously to his face.

"GRYFFINDOR!" Severus shook his head with astonishment. Perhaps if that oaf had managed to get into the house renowned for bravery, Severus did have a chance. James sat next to Remus, though it was apparent he was not happy with the arrangements. He tried to talk to Sirius, but Lily continually blocked his vantage point, until James was seething two seats away.

"Snape, Severus!" Severus' attention was snapped back to the sorting as he made his way over to the chair. Would he be in the house which held both his companions and his enemies? Before the hat fell onto his head, he saw James glaring at him. Then the hall vanished, and he jumped as a voice began to speak in his ear.

"Scare easy, eh?" it said with amusement. Severus frowned.

"Didn't expect you to talk to me," he muttered angrily.

"Well, well. You certainly possess a quick temper," the hat observed. "Though your mind is equally so, isn't it?" But Severus had stopped listening. In his mind, the image of James Potter leapt up, and he felt a surge of anger and resentment. He was not going to let his school life mirror his home life. He would retain the footing he'd won over the boys. "An ambitious task," the hat stated dryly. "You'll do well in - SLYTHERIN!" The hat was taken from Severus' head, and he made his way over to his table, his heart beating painfully. Why was he so disappointed? Hadn't he expected to get into the same house his father and uncle had been in? Wasn't he glad that he didn't have to share a dorm room with Black and Potter? As he approached an empty spot near the end of the long table, a voice spoke from down the line.

"No, Severus. I've held your seat here, across from me." He looked over to see Lucius Malfoy, a cold, calculating smile on his face. Severus took the seat that was offered, then attempted to focus on the sorting ceremony once again. Lucius would have none of it. "Wouldn't want you to feel unwelcome, now would we?" Severus stared at him, his uncle's words of caution flowing through his mind.

"Thanks," he said quietly. The sorting ended fairly quickly, and Dumbledore stood to say a few words.

"There aren't many announcements this year," he said with a smile. "So I'll just go through them now, if you don' t mind. First of all, I'd like to welcome all of our first years to Hogwarts, and hope they have many happy years here. Second, though I know it is very tempting, the Forbidden Forest remains off limits to all students. And last, but certainly not least, I would like to congratulate all of our new prefects, along with our Head Boy and Head Girl. Now, tuck in!" The plates in front of Severus filled with a variety of food, and he loaded his plate as he suddenly realized he hadn't eaten a thing since dinner the night before.

He was just getting started on his roast beef when Lucius nodded towards the Gryffindor table. Severus turned in his chair to see Lily smile and give him a thumbs-up sign. James caught his eye as well, and he glared at him, his hand tracing the rapidly reddening gash.

"Your handiwork, I presume?" Lucius intoned. Severus assumed he meant the gash, and nodded. "Excellent job," said the older boy, his eyes snapping playfully. "The git tried to come to me to report you. I told him I'd take care of it." Severus swallowed the lump that had risen in his throat. He wasn't quite sure what Lucius meant by 'taking care' of the problem, and he didn't particularly want to find out. Lucius' eyes swept towards the Gryffindor table again, though this time Severus kept his eyes fixed on the other boy. "Hogwarts is going to the dogs," he muttered maliciously. "Why do they let filth like that in? They should have drowned her in the lake when they had the chance. Isn't she your neighbor, Severus? How do you stand it? I wouldn't be caught living that close to a Muggle." Severus' fists clenched to his sides, and his eyes filled with anger. Who was this boy to talk about his friend like that? He didn't let his father do it around him, and he sure as hell wasn't going to let Lucius get away with it either.

"Lily is my friend," he said quietly, but firmly.

"Oh?" Lucius raised an eyebrow with interest, a smirk playing at the corners of his mouth. "Slytherins do not befriend Gryffindors, Severus. You should take care to uphold the values of your house." Severus glanced back over at Lily, who smiled again before turning back to her conversation with Remus.

"I said, she's my friend," he said with a bit more force. His eyes fixed on the older boy's as he continued, "And anyone who tries to hurt her will have to get through me first."

"It is very unwise to disrespect those above you," Lucius warned, his cold gray eyes turning to steel.

"Show me that you're above me in any way but age, and maybe I'll remember that," Severus retorted, his eyes never leaving Lucius'. The table around the boys had grown quiet as the other students looked from one boy to the other. Neither boy looked away, and Severus had the unsettling feeling that Lucius was searching for something with his penetrating gaze. Finally, a smirk and a slight nod from Lucius ended the stand-off.

"I see that you are not easily dissuaded. You will do well in Slytherin." Severus opened his mouth to respond, but before he had the chance, Dumbledore was standing, and the students were dismissed to their common rooms.

Chapter 9: New Worries
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Chapter Nine: New Worries
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Any inclinations Severus had about feeling at home in his dorm room vanished as soon as he met the boys he'd be sharing it with. First was Nikolas Avery, the first boy he'd seen sorted that evening. Short and round, he revealed to Severus that his parents had toyed with sending him to Durmstrang, where his mother believed he'd receive a more suitable education.

"They don't let mudbloods into Durmstrang," he'd announced while they had been changing into their pajamas, his blonde hair sticking in all directions. "Father and Mother would have been much happier if I'd gone there."

"Why didn't you, then?" Severus asked with annoyance.

"Grandmother threatened to cut Father from his inheritance," he said knowingly. "So here I am."

"Hooray for us," sneered another of his housemates, Geoffrey Goyle. Geoffrey was every bit as tall as Nikolas was short, with brown eyes that held no warmth, and a body mass which discouraged contradiction. Adrian Crabbe, who seemed to be Geoffrey's constant companion, was in all physical appearances identical to that of his friend, though his dull blue eyes hinted at his low intelligence.

"I've seen you somewhere before," he demanded of Severus as he pulled on his pajama top.

"If you have, I obviously didn't notice you," Severus said derisively. He was not going to hide that the way the boy clung to his friend disgusted him.

"I don't think anybody notices Adrian," laughed Callum Nott as he jumped into the bed across from Severus'. Apparently, he and Nikolas got along fairly well, though the strawberry-blonde haired Callum towered over the diminutive Nikolas. His scornful green eyes scanned the room before he turned to his friend. "What do you think, Nikolas? Have you ever really noticed old Adrian over there? I know I try to avoid the git at all costs." Nikolas snorted with laughter as Adrian turned a violent red. His eyes snapped angrily, and he stepped up to the side of Callum's bed.

"That's only because I know something about you that you don't want me to tell," Adrian shot back, the vein in his thick neck bulging grotesquely. Callum sat up immediately, his eyes flashing a warning. Severus noticed that the boy's wand had somehow found its way from his nightstand to his hand.

"And you aren't going to tell, are you?" he said scathingly, his gaze not leaving the other boy's face. Adrian looked from the wand to Callum, then glanced over his shoulder at Geoffrey. The other boy shook his head, nearly imperceptibly, before noticing Severus' stare. Adrian turned away and threw himself down on his bed, fuming as the ringing of Nikolas' laughter filled the room.

"What's wrong, Callum? Afraid he's going to reveal some dark secret? Like how your sister's marrying a Muggle next month?" A flash of light sprang from Callum's wand to cut Nikolas' laughter short. The smaller boy looked enraged as large boils began to creep across his skin. He quickly found his wand and performed the counter curse, muttering about people not being able to take a joke as he crawled into bed and pulled the draperies shut. Callum turned to Severus and Geoffrey, his wand still raised defiantly.

"Either of you feel like having a go at my family?" he asked angrily. Severus shook his head.

"I don't give a damn who's in your family, mate," he replied evenly before crawling underneath his own covers and surrounding himself with the darkness from the closed curtains. His heart was thudding in his chest as he stared overhead at the canopy. Callum seemed awfully touchy about people knowing he was going to be related to a Muggle, indicating the boy had the same ideas Silias had tried in vain to impress upon Severus. And judging from the reaction and conversations of the other boys, they held the same beliefs. And at least two of them had enough Dark Arts knowledge to produce a very complicated curse and it's counter. Lying there in the darkness, Severus fought a battle between his conscience and his instinct for survival. Sebastian's words flitted through his mind, the words warning him against the Malfoys and their pureblooded ideas, and yet - if it would ensure that they left him alone, wouldn't it be in his best interests to at least seem as though he shared their beliefs?

"As long as I don't start hating Lily," he mumbled to himself as he drifted into a restless sleep.

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Severus met his Head of House early the next morning at breakfast. Perhaps met isn't the right word...it was more like he caught a glimpse of him. He seemed weak and frail as he stood at the head of the Slytherin table, passing schedules down the rows of first years. The wrinkles which lined his face were furrowed in concentration as he looked along the line, his deep brown eyes studying each new student. Severus glanced down at his timetable and read the first two lines:

Slytherin First Year Timetable

Head of House: Professor Malichi Melison

He looked up again at the wizened old man who was now returning to his seat, and barely suppressed a snigger. It was no wonder Lucius had made prefect: this doddering fool was probably scared to death to make him angry! Shaking his head in disbelief, Severus looked again at his timetable. He was both thrilled and disgusted that he had many of his classes with the Gryffindors. It meant seeing Lily again before the afternoon, and he was anxious to warn her about the possibility of danger from the Slytherins. On the down side, it meant being stuck in lessons with James and Sirius, something he would have traded a month's supply of Numbing Potion to avoid. He stood from the table, realizing with a groan that his dorm mates had risen immediately after him, and resigned himself to the fact that they'd most likely be walking to Transfiguration, their first class, as a group. Gritting his teeth, he did his best to ignore Callum's disgusting and totally inappropriate joke regarding a Muggle, a mudblood, and a squib. His dorm mates would have none of it, however.

"You can't tell me you didn't think that wasn't hilarious," Nikolas chided, clapping Severus on the back and grinning. Severus forced a smirk onto his face.

"Oh. Yeah, it was very - amusing," he said shortly, spotting the classroom just ahead. As they walked in, he noticed Lily was sitting by herself, and he made a beeline for the empty chair beside her. Remus sat at the desk ahead of them, next to a very round boy who continuously glanced over his shoulder.

"Hullo, Severus!" Lily greeted. He saw her eyes shift behind him, and realized his move had most likely startled his new 'friends'. "Are those your dorm mates?" she asked with interest.

"Yes," he said shortly.

"Oh. Why do they look so surprised?" Severus did not need to glance over his shoulder to get a glimpse of the other boys' faces.

"They probably didn't expect me to want to sit next to a muggle-born," he said with disgust. Lily's lips tightened in anger, and he had to restrict her from giving the boys a very rude gesture.

"Honestly! Just because I'm muggle-born doesn't mean I'm any less of a witch," she fumed.

"Lily, you're preaching to the choir. I'm not expressing my beliefs, only theirs. Believe me when I say I will never view you as anything but my friend." She smiled her thanks at him, and he retrieved his textbook from his bag. Class began without Severus having looked at his dorm mates once. He did, however, notice when James and Sirius came rushing into the classroom twenty minutes later. As did the rest of the class. Professor McGonagall looked up at them sharply, her lips pressed thinly together, her eyes showing her disapproval.

"Sorry," James breathed as the boys found an empty desk at the front of the room. Evidently he'd managed to go to the hospital wing to mend his face, as it now bore no mark of the curse from the previous day. The duo glanced back at Snape as McGonagall resumed her lesson - after only a short ten minute lecture on punctuality - and glared at him. He returned the favor gladly before focusing again on McGonagall's lesson.

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Severus parted company with Lily, Remus, and Peter Pettigrew (the boy Remus had sat next to) after class. They were headed for History of Magic, while the Slytherins were on their way to Defense Against the Dark Arts. Much too soon his dorm mates had caught up with him, and from their faces, they were not at all pleased.

"What are you hanging around with that mudblood for?" Geoffrey demanded.

"I do not feel it's necessary to justify my friendships with you, Geoffrey," he responded dryly.

"But Severus, she's a Gryffindor!" Adrian admonished. Severus shrugged indifferently.

"What's your point?"

"You can't go around being seen with that trash," Callum said firmly. "It will ruin your reputation."

"I wasn't aware I'd made a reputation for myself already," Severus said idly.

"Well, you have," Nikolas pointed out. "Cursing that Potter boy on the train yesterday, and then that face-off with Lucius -"

"You can't have been paying that much attention to our conversation if you think I'm going to abandon my friend just because of her bloodline or school house," Severus interrupted. Nikolas laughed.

"You can't be serious, Sev! She's nothing! Why risk the alienation of your own house for the unfounded friendship of that worthless piece -" Nikolas did not get a chance to finish his sentence as Severus whipped out his wand.

"Corium Macula!" The curse hit the other boy full-blast in the face. His skin began immediately to erupt in large, blotchy black circles. "And my name is Severus" he said coolly, turning away to proceed to class.

"Snape!" Professor McGonagall's voice carried from down the hall, and Severus turned to see her fussing over his victim. She looked absolutely livid. "Detention! How dare you curse another student! And on the first day of term! Get to your next class, all of you! Snape, I shall send you an owl when I've arranged for your punishment. Honestly! Leave it to a Slytherin to cause problems immediately after the first class," she muttered as she steered Nikolas to the hospital wing. Severus ignored the stares he was getting from the other students in the hall. So what if he had earned detention already? At least now they knew he was willing to back up his threats.

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Severus sat alone during his next classes, choosing to let the boys stew over his actions. And stew they did. By the end of the day, he was catching snippets of conversation from people in other houses, all of them talking about how he'd cursed Nikolas. He smirked as he walked out of Charms, past a conglomeration of Hufflepuff boys who grew silent as he strode by. All this because of a simple curse? He thought with interest. I could definitely get used to this. His good mood diminished slightly as James and Sirius spotted him. Instead of running the other way, as he'd hoped they would, they approached him, triumphant grins on their faces.

"Hexing your own housemates now, Severus?" Sirius said smoothly as the duo matched their strides to his own. "That's low, even by Slytherin standards."

"If you two don't sod off," he said through clenched teeth, "you'll be headed for another one yourselves. And this time, I'll make sure it can't be healed."

"Tsk, tsk, Severus," James chided. "Such a temper! You know, I don't think Severus really suits you, do you Sirius?" Severus continued to stare straight ahead as he tried to make his way to his common room, his hand clenched around his wand.

"You know, James, I think you're right!" Sirius responded with mock astonishment. "Maybe we should find something a bit more - suitable - for our dear friend." Severus' grip on his wand grew tighter, fighting the urge to end this now and have them lying on their backs, humiliated in front of the school. Why not? he reasoned. I've already got one detention, and they are definitely asking for it. Before he could decide, however, James spoke up again.

"I've got it," he said loudly. "We shall call him Snivellus!" The boys roared with laughter, as did a few of the students who were passing the trio. Despite all of his efforts, Severus knew his face had gone red. He'd made his decision. As he turned to hurl the first hex that came to mind, he noticed they had begun to walk away.

"See you later, Snivellus!" Sirius called back over his shoulder, sending James into fits of laughter once again. Severus stood with his wand held before him, but did nothing. He was not going to curse someone when their back was turned: it would equate him with his father, and he did not want that to happen. Ever. He shoved the wand back into his pocket and stormed into the common room, aware of the eyes of his housemates as he threw himself angrily into a chair. For the next few hours, he attempted to focus on his assignments, but found it was impossible. Disgusted with himself and the pair of Gryffindors, he took his books to the dorm and stalked down to the Great Hall for dinner. As he speared a potato, imagining it was James' head, the now-familiar drawl of Lucius floated from across the table.

"You ought to exercise a bit more caution, Severus." The boy looked up into the prefect's gaze, his anger diminishing slightly in the face of Lucius' soft tone. "Detention already?" he continued, dishing out his own dinner.

"I was showing those dolts that I wasn't going to put up with their snide comments about my friend," he said angrily, spearing another potato. Lucius laughed, startling Severus so much that he dropped the spud from his fork. "What's so funny?" he asked with annoyance.

"You are, ickle firstie," the older boy replied, his eyes reflecting his amusement. "Perhaps it would behoove you to learn a bit of discretion. Be at the edge of the Forbidden Forest after classes tomorrow." Severus watched him as he took his plate and joined his friends at the other end of the table, now suddenly finding himself without an appetite. What exactly was it that Lucius had planned for him?

Chapter 10: Lessons Learned
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Chapter Ten: Lessons Learned
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Severus returned to his dormitory that evening, relieved to find it empty. Apparently none of his dorm mates had quite forgiven him for cursing Nikolas, which suited him just fine. Either that, or they were formulating a plan to get back at him. As a precaution against the latter, he made it a point to be sure his wand was under his pillow before he secured his curtains around the bed. The thoughts of what Lucius' plan for the following afternoon would entail, combined with the anxiety of his dorm mates' actions upon their return, served to banish all chances of sleep from the young boy. He gripped the wand beneath his pillow as he heard the door to the dormitory creak open, relaxing only slightly as he heard the boys' conversation.

"He didn't have to use that one," Nikolas was grumbling. "Madame Pomfrey said they'll be there all week!"

"Actually, I think it's an improvement," Geoffrey said with amusement.

"Yeah," Adrian quickly agreed. "It brings out your eyes!" The other boys let out audible groans.

"Yet again you prove how useless you are, Adrian," Geoffrey said scathingly.

"Why doesn't everyone just shut it and go to sleep?" Callum suggested, sounding as though he were already behind his own curtains. Severus assumed they had done precisely that, as no further conversation continued. He pulled his hand from his wand, thankful that they seemed to accept his actions from earlier as appropriate. With one less worry on his mind, he drifted into a fitful sleep.

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The next morning brought with it the first Potions lesson of the term, a class he shared once again with the Gryffindors. Severus ate his breakfast quickly, then met up with Lily to walk to class.

"Where'd you rush off to after dinner last night?" she asked with concern as she studied his face. "From the looks of those bags under your eyes, you didn't get much sleep, either. What's going on?" Severus quickly and quietly relayed his and Lucius' conversation from the previous evening, his lips pressed tightly together as Lily frowned. "Sebastian did warn you not to get too close to him," she reminded him.

"I know what Sebastian said," he muttered as they reached the Potions classroom.

"Just be careful, Severus," she cautioned quietly as other students began to file in.

"Morning, Snivellus!" James greeted as he and Sirius passed their table. Severus gritted his teeth and appeased his anger by imagining which hex he could use the next time they turned around.

"Don't do it," Lily warned, as if she had read his thoughts. Severus looked at her in shock.

"Why not? You know they deserve it!"

"You'll only get into more trouble," she chided. Oh, so that's it, he thought. She's found out about Nikolas and the detention as well. He studied her face to try and determine if she knew why he'd hexed his dorm mate, but her eyes remained pointedly on the professor who had just entered the room. Severus turned his own gaze towards the man, and attempted to stifle his laugh as he recognized Professor Melison. The man looked as though he wanted nothing more than to shoo the children away and retreat again into his office.

"You are here to learn the precise art of potion making," he began, his strong voice echoing over the dungeon and commanding the attention of every student. Severus perked up immediately: if his voice belied his appearance, perhaps the lessons would not be a complete waste of his time, after all. "I would like to stress the importance of the term precise," continued Professor Melison. "If you are unwilling or unable to follow directions to the letter," he paused to look at each student to emphasize his words, "you will find yourselves failing this course. I do not offer remedial lessons, as I feel they are a waste of my time. And yet, failure will not be tolerated. That being said, I trust each of you will do your utmost to assure your success with me. If that requires you to seek outside assistance, then so be it. I do not feel my coursework to be abnormally difficult, nor do I have reason to believe it impossible to complete." The students began to look at one another, worry clear on their faces. No assistance from the professor aside from class? Severus snickered behind his hand as Adrian gave Geoffrey a stricken look. Professor Melison focused immediately on the noise, his head of gray hair whipping around with his gaze. "You, boy!" he barked. "What is your name?"

"S-Severus Snape," he answered, stuttering out of surprise.

"Tell me, Snape, which bit of what I've said do you find humorous?"

"None of it, sir," he answered honestly.

"Then explain to me," he said quietly, coming to stand directly in front of his desk, "exactly what you were giggling at." Two desks up, Sirius and James were rolling with silent laughter behind Melison's back, and Severus felt his blood begin to boil.

"I wasn't giggling," he said coolly."I was laughing at the dumbfounded stare of some of your other pupils when you announced you would not be teaching your lessons twice." He crossed his arms angrily over his chest and leaned back in his chair, awaiting what would no doubt be his second detention in two days. Severus felt Lily's astonished gaze, but ignored it, keeping his eyes on the professor.

"Indeed?" the professor stated sardonically, raising an eyebrow. He wasn't sure, but Severus thought he saw the corners of the man's mouth twitch before he spoke again. "Perhaps you feel you are above such worries, Mr. Snape? Alright then, let's see," he crossed his arms and looked up at the ceiling for a moment, lost in thought. "Tell me, Snape, what would you add to a simple calming draught to switch it to a sleeping draught?"

"You wouldn't add anything, sir," Severus answered. "You would need to replace the aconite with asphodel, or it would be too potent. Unless that was your intention, to create the Draught of Living Death." Surprise settled over the professor's features as he gazed down at the boy, though he quickly replaced it with a smile.

"Well done, lad. It's clear at least one student has managed to read their textbook," he said to the class, his voice considerably lighter than before. "If you would all take them out now, we will begin the lesson." There was a scurry of movement as the class did as they were instructed, then waited for Melison to speak again. "Turn to page three hundred and ninety-four." The class broke out in confused whispers as the pages were turned. Severus heard a boy speaking directly behind him, and suppressed a smile.

"That's nearly halfway! Shouldn't we start from the beginning?"

"You have an issue with the way I teach my class, Mr. -?" barked Melison from behind his desk.

"P-pettigrew, sir. No, I was j-just -"

"Questioning my judgment?" Melison interrupted. Severus turned in his seat to see Peter cowering next to Remus, who looked as though he wanted to slink off and not be noticed.

"No, sir. I just thought -"

"Rule number one, Mr. Pettigrew, never question my judgment!" Professor Melison's voice thundered through the classroom , causing more than one student to flinch in surprise. He turned to face the class again. "I am the professor in this classroom. It is my understanding that all of you are here to learn. If that is not the case, you may take your leave now, before wasting any more of my time." He paused, looking over the classroom with disdain. "I thought as much. Now, if you've all turned to the desired page, and have looked at it, perhaps you will see why I directed you there. Read the page. Do not talk." Severus looked down at his own copy of Developing a Passion for Potions and grinned. The page they'd been instructed to read was headed: The Draught of Living Death. He looked at Professor Melison, already sure that he was going to enjoy this class.

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By the end of class, there had been one explosion (Peter had added an ingredient too late), one implosion (Adrian's cauldron, it seemed, had been jinxed to swallow itself upon the addition of any ingredient), and eight of the twenty-odd students had been sent to the hospital wing for burns. Professor Melison had begun making rounds of the classroom, making comments on the remaining students' brew.

" Miss Renthorne, that draught should be red, not green," he pointed out to a weary-looking Gryffindor. "For next class, I expect a foot on what you did wrong, and how you could have still corrected it." Miss Renthorne scowled as his back was turned, then poured a bit of her potion into her phial and labeled it with her name. "Mr. Wingett, what exactly is that supposed to be?" A tiny-looking Gryffindor boy, trembling slightly at the professor's booming voice, looked at his potion morosely.

"A-a fever reducer?" he stammered.

"Indeed?" Melison inquired, his face lowering to the surface of the boy's cauldron. "This does not even resemble the potion I assigned. You will have the same homework as Miss Renthorne." He passed among the rows of desks, finally arriving at the desk Severus and Lily were sharing. He eyed the brew in front of Severus carefully, then looked at the boy with a smile of satisfaction. "It seems you have not merely read the textbook, but understood it as well. I believe this is the only time I've seen a first year brew a perfect fever reduction draught. Ten points for Slytherin." Severus tried to refrain from grinning like an idiot at the Professor's praise, failing miserably when Melison began berating Callum's work. "This is atrocious, Mr. Nott! You've gone from step one to step four, and then back to step two!" He waved his wand and emptied the boy's cauldron. "A zero for today, then, and two feet on the proper procedure to brew this draught. Carelessness will not be tolerated in my class." The bell rang to signal the end of the lesson, and the students quickly labeled their potions and set them on Melison's desk as they hurried to the door.

"Brilliant, Severus!" Remus stated as he Lily and Severus exited the dungeon. "Potions must be your strong suit, eh?" Severus shrugged indifferently.

"I suppose," he mumbled, though he began grinning again at the smile on Lily's face.

"Good work, Severus," she said approvingly.

"Yeah, Snivellus, excellent job," came a scathing reply from behind them. Severus whipped around to face them, his hand gripped tightly around his wand.

"Leave it," Lily warned quietly. James and Sirius were smiling broadly, apparently unconcerned about the effect they were having on Severus.

"Becoming teacher's pet already, Snivellus?" James sneered as the boys began to pass. Focused on James, Severus didn't see the phial in Sirius' hand until it was too late. He felt cold liquid trickle over his head, then a strange tingling sensation covered his scalp. His hand went immediately to his head as the two Gryffindors began laughing hysterically. He felt his hair sticking in all directions, and against protests from Lily, produced his wand.

"Foetidus Eternum!" he shouted, his body shaking with rage. The curse hit both boys as they were doubled over, and an immediate stench began to fill the corridor. Students who were still filing from the room walked past hurriedly, their faces twisted up in disgust as they hastened away from the smell. Severus smiled with triumph. "I'll meet up with you after dinner, Lily," he said, intent on getting away from his handiwork before he was caught. She nodded shortly, though her eyes were reflecting her disapproval, and walked hurriedly past. Severus sneered at his nemeses before proceeding to walk down the corridor. He was halted by a rough hand on his shoulder, and he was spun around, not to face his victims, as he'd assumed, but his Head of House. Professor Melison was looking at Severus sternly, though his eyes held a trace of mirth as he stared at the boy's hair. His gaze went to the Gryffindors, who were no longer laughing, but staring at Severus with loathing.

"Ten points from Gryffindor for fighting," Professor Melison intoned as he turned his nose up in disgust. "Get to the hospital ward, boys. I'm sure Madame Pomfrey can set you right. Snape, I'd like a word with you in my office." Severus watched the boys leave, their faces showing the triumph they felt. His heart sinking in his chest, he followed his professor through the door behind his desk. Melison's office was filled with bookcases, and the similarity between this and his father's study at home caused his breath to catch. Professor Melison, however, kept tomes of a far less sinister nature on his shelves. The artifacts which lined his desk were merely jars containing potions ingredients, though on the far side sat an ancient-looking cauldron, seeming for all the world as though it would disintegrate if a fire were lit beneath it. Professor Melison sat on the edge of his desk, his leg dangling nonchalantly over the edge. "Have a seat, son." Severus obeyed, taking a chair directly in front of the professor. "What happened here?" His voice held no trace of judgment, causing Severus to feel slightly at ease.

"I cast the Foetidus Curse on them," he answered simply.

"That was glaringly apparent," Melison replied tersely. "I do not appreciate my students creating chaos near my classroom, Severus. May I call you Severus? " The boy shrugged indifferently. He'd never had an adult ask permission to use his given name before. The man before him certainly was unlike any he'd known. Melison cocked his head to the side and looked at the boy with interest. "It is curious, however, that Mr. Black procured a hair-raising potion."

"All he had to do was add rat tails and daisy roots to the fever reducer," Severus said morosely.

"Yet the potion sample he turned in wasn't nearly up to the standard of your own," Melison mused as he held out a phial to Severus. The boy took it, assuming it was the antidote for his predicament, and was proved right when he felt his hair fall back against his scalp. "I find it surprising that he knew to do that." Severus didn't want to admit it, but he was intrigued. If Sirius and James had managed to alter their potions for their own purpose, perhaps it wasn't going to be so easy to unsettle them. The thought both infuriated and interested him. All this meant was that he would need to find cleverer ways of getting back at them. This was going to get very interesting. He grinned without realizing it, incurring a disapproving glare from his Head of House. "Since you seem to find this all so amusing, Severus, perhaps it is best to release you on your way, before my temper finds an outlet in you. Five points will be deducted from Slytherin for fighting in the corridors. You may leave." Severus rose, no longer smiling. He'd lost points for Slytherin, and just last evening Lucius had warned him to tread carefully. What would Lucius have to say about his latest infringement?

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Severus held his breath as the bell rang to mark his final class of the day. With a heavy feeling in the pit of his stomach, he gathered his books and returned to the common room. Climbing the stairs to his dormitory, he dropped his bag onto his bed, sinking next to it almost instantly. Lucius had instructed him to meet at the edge of the forest after classes, and no doubt the older boy would be wondering what was keeping him. Despite that thought, however, Severus was loathe to leave the dorm. No doubt his loss of points would have reached Lucius' ears, and Severus knew the prefect would not be pleased. With a heavy sigh, he stood from the bed, resigned to his fate. It wasn't as though he'd be able to hide forever, and he may as well get it over with sooner rather than later. Ignoring the curious looks of the other students, he made his way out of the dungeons and up into the Entrance Hall. The bright autumn sunlight seemed to mock the turmoil of his mind as he strode reluctantly through the doors. He could just make out the brilliant white-blonde of Lucius' hair as he rounded the corner of the castle, and he headed towards him with trepidation.

"A word of advice, Severus," Lucius said coolly as the boy grew nearer, "Never keep me waiting again."

"I dropped off my books in the dorm," Severus protested feebly.

"And don't make excuses," Lucius chided as he turned away and disappeared into the trees. Severus followed, albeit hesitantly.

"Professor Dumbledore told us the forest was off limits," he said carefully. Lucius snorted.

"I do not allow Muggle-loving old fools to set my bounds," he sneered. The pair continued on in silence, foraging along a path Lucius seemed to know well. As they reached the edge of an immense clearing, Severus felt his eyelids droop. Try as he might, he could not lift them, until he stumbled onto the ground. All at once, he was fine, and blinking into the smirking face of Lucius. "Discretion, Severus. Discretion and vigilance. They are the key to survival in Slytherin. If you're going to curse someone, be sure they don't see it coming." He held out a hand to assist the younger boy to his feet, and Severus took it, excitement coursing through his veins. It sounded as though Lucius were planning on showing him techniques for cursing his enemies. His mind went immediately to Sirius and James, and he grinned. "Glad to see you're intrigued," Lucius drawled. "Now get your wand out - act as though you're going to hex me." Severus did as instructed, whipping his wand from his pocket. Lucius shook his head and sighed. "It's worse than I thought," he muttered. The older boy pushed Severus' wand idly aside. "How is brandishing your wand like a sword beneficial, Severus? The only purpose a wand serves is to channel the magic. It can be just as effective if hidden, say, beneath the sleeve of your robe." He waved his hand idly in the air at the same time a sharp pain began to spread along Severus' side. "You see?" Lucius smirked. "It's simple, yet highly useful. Give it a go."

Lucius lifted the curse as Severus stowed his wand inside his sleeve. Hands sweating slightly, Severus raised his hand as if to brush aside a stray hair, and watched as the tree to the far right of Lucius let out a squeak and grew a lovely pair of mouse ears.

"You'll need to work on your aim," Lucius observed dryly. "Otherwise, well done." Severus tried to contain his delight at being praised, though a small smirk managed to affix itself to his features. "Right. Now, to perfect your aim -"

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The two boys toiled well over two hours in the clearing, at the end of which Severus was hitting his targets with a fair amount of accuracy. They paused only when Lucius declared he was too hungry to continue.

"Not bad for starters," he commended as the duo made their way back onto Hogwarts grounds. "We'll need to continue these sessions, obviously, until both you and I are confident of your ability to act inconspicuously. Same time tomorrow, then?" Severus nodded eagerly. The afternoon's activities had made him anxious to learn more, anxious to use every weapon available to him in his quest for supremacy over the Gryffindor boys. "One last thing, Severus," Lucius added quietly as they reached the doors. "Now that you know the basics of subterfuge, there should be no cause for you to lose additional house points. You'll find that some of your housemates are far less - forgiving - than I when it comes to such matters. Bear that in mind, won't you?" The younger boy nodded instantly, though it was more of an instinctive reaction than a conscious movement.

He followed Lucius automatically, taking a seat beside the older boy amidst his friends when it was offered. Severus looked at the faces surrounding them with interest. Lucius was the undeniable leader of this group, and the self-assurance he emitted swept over the table like a cloak.

"Severus, these are my associates," Lucius explained as a thin boy across from them hurriedly prepared a plate for the prefect. "This bumbling fool is Walden MacNair. We keep him around for laughs." The thin boy blushed as he placed Lucius' plate in front of him. "After Walden is Evan Rosier, next to him is Antonin Dolohov, then Rodolphus Lestrange, and this is Narcissa and her sister Bellatrix Black," he introduced, pointing to two stunningly beautiful girls beside him. Severus started at their surname.

"Did you say Black?" he asked with disgust.

"Yes he did," Narcissa answered tightly, her nose thrust into the air. "That dolt you have made enemies of is our cousin. My compliments on his new fragrance." Severus grinned, as did a few others of the group.

"Welcome to our little society, Severus," Lucius said brightly. "We are the best of the best, from the finest pureblooded families, representing the best of their respective years. You'll find that if you stick with us, your days at Hogwarts will be infinitely more fulfilling." A feeling of acceptance suddenly surged inside of the young boy's body. He'd felt this way with the Evanses, and now at school, less than a week into term, he'd found a group of students welcoming him into their midst. At last, he had found a place he could call home.

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When he relayed the afternoon's events to Lily nearly two hours later, he received a different reaction than what he'd been expecting.

"He took you into the forest?" she questioned unbelievingly. "He's a prefect! He shouldn't go against Dumbledore's rules!" Severus refrained from repeating Lucius' remarks regarding Dumbledore, aware they would most likely prove to upset his friend even more. Besides, he wasn't quite sure he shared the older boy's feelings regarding the headmaster.

"Aren't you at least a little happy that I've found friends within my house?" he retorted.

"I don't think Lucius is your friend, Severus," she said quietly. "Remember what Sebastian-"

"You're always going back to what Sebastian said," Severus snapped angrily. "What has he ever told me that's helped? Lucius is teaching me how I can stand up for myself, defend myself against anyone who wants to hurt me. Why is that so wrong?"

"I just hope he isn't going to expect you to return the favor someday," she said quietly. "Even if you aren't taking your uncle's words seriously, I am. Sebastian's a good man, Severus. You, of all people, should realize that fact. I think you should listen to his advice a bit more carefully, that's all."

"I listened to his advice before," he replied, his voice low and hurt. "It didn't do me much good, though, did it?" His question was greeted by silence, and he could tell that she was battling with herself, determining what she should say.

"I'm writing home," she said finally. "Maybe you should send an owl to Sebastian," his gaze hardened as he opened his mouth to refuse. "So you can ask about your mum," Lily finished quickly. Severus' gaze softened slightly.

"She's never checked on me," he said tightly. "Uncle Sebastian will write if there's something I should know about."

"Is there anything you want to put into my letter to Mum and Dad?" she asked quietly.

"Just tell them hullo for me," he answered absently, his mind straying to his mother, despite his defiant protests that he wasn't concerned. Sebastian would write if something went wrong, wouldn't he?

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Okay, peoples. Review, or I'll be forced to serenade you. Trust me, you do not want that to happen...


Chapter 11: Notes From Home
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Chapter 11 ~ Notes From Home
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Severus' skills were carefully honed over the next few months, as he and Lucius continued to meet in the clearing. By the beginning of December, Severus had mastered the art of discretion, able to cast hexes at Sirius and James ( or the Dynamic Duo as he and Lily had dubbed them) without having been caught by a teacher once. They'd attempted to get him into trouble, of course, but couldn't prove that it had been he who'd cast the spell. The Dynamic Duo, however, seldom got away with cursing Severus, though they'd come up with some pretty nasty jinxes in their aggravation.

Lily, though not supportive of the feud between her housemates and Severus, said nothing to discourage her friend. The subject only produced more tension between the two, something which was becoming increasingly difficult to avoid. Severus, for his part, had begun to completely disregard his own dorm mates for the company of Lucius' group of friends, something Lily was also not very happy about.

"What if they're just using you?" she asked with concern one December afternoon. The two of them were sitting in the library, working on a particularly nasty Transfiguration essay. Somehow they'd gotten onto the topic of Severus' Slytherin friends yet again.

"They aren't using me, Lily. Do you think you're the only one who can stand me?" he retorted.

"I didn't mean that, Severus, and you know it," she chided softly. "I'm worried, that's all."

"Don't be," he snapped. "Lucius is my friend, whether you like him or not. Just like you are my friend, whether he likes it or not. Neither one of you are ever going to change my mind about the other."

"Fine," she sighed, turning back to her essay. "I just hope- never mind," she said quickly, seeing the way Severus' eyes were glittering. They attempted to do their homework again, but Severus found it impossible to focus. The fact that Lily was upset with him again played on his nerves, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't shake the feeling.

"Sorry," he muttered, turning back to his book.

"You don't have to keep apologizing every time we get into an argument," Lily said with a smile. "I know you mean what you said, and I do too. Let's just agree to disagree, okay?" He nodded, then grinned at her.

"I wrote to Uncle Sebastian last week," he told her. She looked up at him, her eyes reflecting her surprise.

"What made you do that?"

"I still haven't heard any news about Mum," he explained quietly. "Since I'm staying over for Christmas, I thought it'd be best to write him and find out how she's doing."

"I'm so glad you finally did it!" she exclaimed, throwing her arms around his neck.

"Lily!" he reprimanded, wiggling free from her grip. "Geroff me!" She laughed, earning a disapproving glare from Madam Pince.

"Come on," she said brightly. "Let's go outside. It's so lovely out!"

"Lovely?" he questioned as they gathered up their books. "There must be a foot of snow on the ground!"

"Don't be such a pessimist," she grinned as they reached the staircase. "I'll meet you in the Entrance Hall, okay?"

"What about our Transfiguration essay?" he called after her.

"Bring it with you, if you're so concerned!" she replied as she disappeared around the corner. Severus continued on down the stairs and into the Slytherin common room, well aware that if he brought his essay with him, Lily would see to it that it was soaked before he finished it. She seemed to delight in seeing him aggravated these days, though perhaps it was because it did seem to happen more often than before.

He retrieved his cloak and scarf from his bedside table, then decided to take his bag, just in case Lily decided to behave herself. Passing through the common room, he ignored the stares he inevitably drew from some of the older house members, and made his way up to the Entrance hall. As he stood near the door waiting for his friend, he spotted Kenoa flying down the stairs, a letter tied to his leg.

"Hullo," Severus greeted him softly as he untied the letter. Kenoa responded by pecking his ear affectionately, then taking off again towards the owlery. Just as Severus was beginning to unroll the parchment, Lily appeared beside him, breathless.

"I saw Kenoa. Is that Sebastian's reply?" she gasped.

"It must be, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet," Severus replied. The pair walked out onto the grounds, and headed for the edge of the lake, where Severus promptly unrolled his uncle's note:

Severus,

It distresses me that you waited so long to inquire after your mother. Does she truly mean that little to you? Do you honestly feel such a lack of love for the woman who gave you life?

As to your inquiry, Rebekah is doing well - as well as can be expected, I should say. It would do her good to hear from you, Severus. I urge you to send her a letter.

I have it on good authority that you have taken to associating with Lucius Malfoy, despite my words last August. Be careful, boy. Do not get in over your head, and you should do well.

Yours,
Sebastian

Severus crumpled the note in his hand, his blood boiling. How was he supposed to feel about his mother? How would Sebastian have felt if he were in Severus' shoes? Lily put a gentle hand on her friend's shoulder, but he shrugged it away.

"What did it say?" she asked quietly. He thrust the letter into her hand and continued to glare out over the water as she read it.

"I'm not writing her," he said immediately. "If she's so bloody keen on speaking to me, she knows how to pick up a quill."

"Severus, that's not-"

"All right, Snivellus?" Severus shut his eyes against the rushing tide of anger that swept over him upon hearing James' taunt. He kept his back turned, his wand up his sleeve, just in case.

"Sod off, Potter," Lily said firmly. "I can tell you right now is not the time."

"Oh, look, Sirius! Snivelly's got himself a girlfriend. Isn't that sweet?"

"Sickening, more like," Sirius responded gleefully. "Evans, don't you know Gryffindors hate Slytherins?"

"Not always," Lily replied coolly. "Sometimes Gryffindors hate other Gryffindors as well." The boys stopped speaking, and Severus turned around to view their expressions. Both boys looked dumbstruck.

"See here," James demanded. "That was uncalled for!"

"Maybe we should teach her some manners," Sirius said darkly. "I've been itching to try out -" The words were not even past his lips before his head began to inflate, literally. James' soon followed suit, and the two boys looked at each other in alarm before turning on Severus.

"Perhaps you two should see Madame Pomfrey." The steely voice which came from the side startled all four children enough to cause them to jump slightly as they sought out the speaker. Professor Melison was studying the two Gryffindor boys, whose heads were inflating at an incredible rate, from a few feet away. "She will undoubtedly have a deflating draught at her disposal. I believe I restocked her supply just last week." The boys stayed rooted to the spot, unsure whether they wanted to follow Melison's orders or tell him off for interrupting."Off you go, boys." The tone of his voice left no further room for argument, and the duo headed up to the castle, shooting backwards glares at Severus and Lily the entire way. Lily grasped Severus' hand reassuringly as his Head of House turned his attention on them. "Miss Evans, would you kindly return to your dormitory? I wish to speak with Severus for a moment."

"I-I'd like to stay, if you don't mind, Professor," Lily stammered. Severus stared at her in amazement. Lily never disobeyed a teacher.

"I'll be alright," Severus assured her. She nodded uncertainly before glancing back at Professor Melison, then began to trudge back up to the castle.

"Severus, is everything all right?" Professor Melison inquired gently. Severus' gaze went from the retreating form of his friend to his Head of House.

"Fine, Sir," he answered tersely.

"Bad news?" Melison asked, indicating the letter that was lying on the ground at Severus' feet. The boy scooped it up and shoved it quickly into his pocket.

"No, just a letter from my uncle," he replied hastily.

"That was quite a reaction for 'just' a letter," he pointed out. Severus chose not to respond, focusing instead on the distant mountain peaks. "I saw that you were the first to volunteer to stay over the holidays. Any particular reason?" Severus shrugged.

"I prefer Hogwarts," he answered simply. And it isn't a lie, Severus thought to himself. I do prefer it here.

"Your home life must be very boring if you'd prefer a drafty old castle for your holidays," Melison observed. "I'd like to show you something, Severus. Would you mind accompanying me to my office?"

"Are you going to keep asking me about my problems?" Severus asked before thinking.

"Ah. You do admit that there are some problems, then?" Melison pressed as the pair began to walk back towards the school.

"What, you mean aside from the fact that Potter and Black find any and every excuse to try and make my life hell?" he spat bitterly. Melison chuckled dryly.

"Oh yes. No doubt you are a complete innocent in the whole affair?" the professor goaded.

"I - I, well that is -"

"No matter, son. I don't like how they fight. Two against one isn't fair odds in my book." Severus remained silent as they entered the hall, wondering exactly what Melison was fishing for. The pair continued on in silence until they reached Melison's office, where he offered Severus the same chair he'd been in on the second day of term. Severus accepted it, feeling slightly ill-at-ease. Melison rifled through some papers which were sitting on his desk before finding what he was looking for. He handed the paper to the boy, then perched on the edge of his desk and waited. Severus accepted the parchment, then frowned as he saw what it was.

"This is my last assignment," he stated.

"Yes, Severus, it is," Melison said simply. Severus waited for the man to elaborate, but when he did not, he cleared his throat.

"Was there something wrong with it, sir?" he asked.

"Not at all," Melison replied.

"Then why are you giving it to me now?" Severus asked, not bothering to conceal the frustrated confusion he felt.

"I would like for you to look over it for a moment," Melison prodded before handing him another sheaf of parchment. "And then I would like you to examine this essay, written by my top Ravenclaw student." Severus obediently examined his own paper, found nothing unusual, then turned to the Ravenclaw's essay. After reading it, he looked up at his Head of House.

"I don't understand," he admitted, handing the papers back to the professor. "They're both correct, aren't they?" Professor Melison sighed heavily as he placed the papers on his desk.

"For a bright boy, you don't pick up on things too quickly, do you Severus?" His sharp words caused the barely suppressed anger to flood through his body once again, and Severus fought the urge to tell the professor exactly where he believed he should go.

"Perhaps if you were a bit less vague," Severus goaded, "I would be able to pick up on whatever you're trying to prove."

"Perhaps if you were a bit more patient, the meaning would have become clear," Melison retorted sharply. "I brought you here, Severus, to ask you one thing: do you find my classes too easy for you?" The question took the boy by surprise, but he nevertheless shook his head.

"Not challenging, really, but not simple, either," Severus responded instantly.

"Truly?" Melison asked, holding up Severus' essay again. "I ask only because for every assignment, you do twice the required limit. For each essay I put to you, the response seems to flow effortlessly from your mind."

"Thank you?" Severus attempted, still not quite sure why his Head of House had brought him here.

"I do not give idle praise, Severus," Melison said coolly. "You are, by far, one of the brightest pupils I've had since beginning as Potions Master here."

"What about Potter and Black?" Severus spat, knowing they earned equally high marks in the class.

"I don't deny the two are smart. They certainly know all they can glean from reading the textbook. But you, Severus," Melison leaned forward eagerly, "you have a passion, a drive, unparalleled by any student I've seen. I thought perhaps the lessons I have chosen were too simple to hold your interests, and am therefore willing to allow you access to the volumes in this office, to peruse at your leisure. Supervised, of course," he added as an afterthought. "Some of the volumes in this room are too advanced, too dangerous for the rashness of youth." Severus looked around the room in awe, a wave of excitement replacing the earlier anger he'd held.

"You're going to allow me to read any of these I want?" Severus asked breathlessly.

"I am," Melison replied airily. "I do, however, have a few other questions for you." Severus did not respond - he had already risen from his seat to inspect the tomes which lined the room. He did not realize his professor had risen as well until he heard his voice speaking directly beside him. "This interest is quite unusual in one so young, Severus. I do admit I have had past pupils who, over time, develop an interest in potion making, but you -" He paused and looked down at the boy. Severus could see that he was intrigued, but also a bit confused. "-you came to Hogwarts with this passion, son. You demonstrated it in that first class. Why?"

"Why what, sir?" Severus asked, still examining the spines of the books.

"What made you take such an interest in Potions?" Severus' body stiffened, and his hand came to rest on the book it had been over. What should he say? He couldn't very well admit the reason behind his determination to brew perfect potions, and yet, perhaps he could.

"My uncle gave me a cauldron and a Potions book for my ninth birthday," Severus responded in what he hoped was an off-handed manner. His body relaxed slightly - he wasn't lying to the man, after all - and his hand resumed its exploration of the tomes.

"Indeed? Why Potions? Had you expressed interest in them before that point?"

"No," Severus answered, happy that he could actually be semi-honest with his Head of House. "I wanted to do real magic, to do curses and such. Uncle Sebastian told me Potions was the perfect way to begin, as it wouldn't get me into trouble with the Ministry."

"Wise move on his part," Melison muttered. "But you do know a fair amount about the Dark Arts, Severus. I've seen the things Potter and Black are sent to the hospital ward for." Severus' eyes snapped from the books in front of him to his professor's face.

"Yes, well -" he began slowly, "-I read all I could about them. I have a younger brother, you know." That's good, Severus thought with disdain. Let him think you wanted to curse your brother and not your father. Brilliant.

"It seems that you share a similar passion for your Defense Against the Dark Arts lessons."

"They're very interesting, sir, " Severus said quietly.

"I am sure that they are. Professor Burtram is a very capable teacher. You are avoiding my question, son."

"I'm not avoiding anything," Severus responded tightly. "What is it you want to know, Professor?"

"Why the interest in the Dark Arts? Your brother is barely out of diapers, you wouldn't have wanted to curse him. What interest could the Dark Arts hold for you?" Severus returned his gaze to the books and began leafing through one at random, determined not to relinquish his most private and personal affairs. "Severus," the professor prodded, "I'm waiting."

"I'm in Slytherin for a reason, aren't I, Professor?"

"What do you mean by that?" Melison asked, folding his arms across his chest.

"Slytherins are renowned for being really bad eggs, aren't they? I wouldn't want to disappoint everyone's preconceived ideas of what should interest me, sir."

"That isn't an answer, Severus."

"Why don't you tell me what it is you're expecting to hear, Professor, and I'll be sure to answer correctly."

"Why don't you simply tell me what's bothering you, son? I'm here to listen." Severus eyed him warily.

"Nothing's bothering me," he said flatly. "May I go now, sir?" Melison glanced down at him, his expression unreadable.

"Yes, Severus, you may go. My offer of these books remains, and remember, my door is always open if you wish to change your mind." Severus glanced over his shoulder as he left the office.

"Thank you, Professor," he mumbled as he closed the door behind him.

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Severus returned to the common room, his mood pensive. Why was Professor Melison expressing such an interest in his affairs? Did he know more than he was letting on, and if he did, how did he know? He'd certainly not shared his secrets with any of his house mates, which left only Lily. She alone knew what he went through at home, but he knew it couldn't have been her. Unless she was trying to prove a point -

"Stop it," Severus muttered to himself.

"Talking to yourself is not advisable in public places." Severus smiled a welcome as Lucius approached him. "I saw that you signed on to stay over the holidays," Lucius drawled unconcernedly.

"Yes, I did," Severus confirmed. Why was everyone so interested in what he did over Christmas?

"That's a shame," Lucius droned on. "Now you won't be able to attend our little party. And after all that persuading I did so you'd be allowed."

"Party?" Severus frowned. "What party?"

"The annual Christmas party at the Malfoy estate," Lucius responded."I told Father all about you, and he is quite anxious to meet you again. That brief moment in Diagon Alley gave him no chance, and he would very much like to see you and your family there." Severus thought over his friend's words, then sighed.

"I suppose you'd be horribly distraught if I didn't show up," Severus said jokingly. "Honestly, though -" his words were cut short as his father's owl flew through the window, dropped a letter into his hand, then swept out once again. Severus unrolled the letter, surprised to see his father's handwriting.

It has come to my attention that you wish to stay over at school for the holidays. This is unacceptable. We have been asked to attend the Malfoy's Christmas party, and you will return in time to attend. Take your name from that inane list immediately.

Severus looked up from the parchment, and grinned at Lucius. He had been about to say he didn't think his father would allow him to go, but here was a letter, no doubt intending to berate him, giving him permission. Standing, Severus strode to the list hanging on the bulletin board and scratched a line through his name.

"I'll be there," he announced triumphantly.

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Any rantings and such are welcome. If you'd like to know when I update, go to my website and click on 'Mailing LIst'. I send it out whenever I update for my site, and that's when I'll submit the story here as well. Thanks to all who've read, and even more to those few who've reviewed!

Chapter 12: A Cold Reunion
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Chapter Twelve: A Cold Reunion
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They had just pulled out of Hogsmeade when Lucius entered the compartment in which Lily and Severus were riding. The older boy looked disparagingly at Lily before turning to address his young friend.

"We're all just a few doors down," he said silkily, "just in case you decide to seek worthier company."

"I like my company just fine, thanks," Severus responded sharply. "Appreciate the offer nonetheless." Lucius snorted before casting one last loathsome look at Lily, then swept into the corridor.

"He - is - such - a - git!" Lily said through clenched teeth.

"He's not all bad," Severus argued.

"Thanks for what you said, though," Lily added softly.

"I meant it," he said honestly. "You're my best friend, Lily. I'm not going to let anyone treat you like that. There's no reason for it."

"Severus, are you really friends with him?"

"Of course I am. What kind of a question is that?"

"I just meant - I mean, he's got these ideas about Muggle-borns, and I'm just afraid -"

"What? That he'll rub off on me?" Severus interrupted angrily. "Lucius is all talk, Lily. I don't agree with him, and he knows it. He hasn't done anything to make me think he'll actually act on his words."

"Alright, alright," she conceded in the face of his anger. "Forget I said anything about it."

"Fine," Severus said shortly, his mood becoming increasingly darker as they grew nearer to London. He was not relishing going home, even with the thought of Lucius' party. Sebastian had told him his mother was as 'well as could be expected'. What had he meant by that? Was she in some way permanently damaged? A cold feeling settled in the pit of his stomach as the skies began to darken.

"I expect we're nearly there," Lily said softly. Severus looked up at the sound of her voice, startled to see that she'd been crying. "If I don't see you before you go to Malfoy's party -"

"Don't be ridiculous," Severus interrupted. "Of course you'll see me at least once over the next five days! What, do you think I'm going to hole myself up with my family?" She laughed softly.

"I thought you were still angry," she said apologetically. "I didn't think you'd want to-"

"Lily, I told you before - you are my best friend. I will never be angry enough to avoid you." She smiled a genuine smile, then pressed her face against the glass as the train began to slow.

"There's the station!" she cried with excitement. Severus knew how anxious she was to see her parents again, and he had to admit that he was equally keen to see them. As soon as the train had pulled up to the platform, Lily and Severus hefted their trunks through the doors. Having secured a compartment near the front of the train, they managed to disembark rather quickly and grab trolleys for their things. Severus caught sight of Lucius and his other friends swarming around Mr. Malfoy, and he gave a hesitant wave at the group. Most returned it, though rather stiffly, causing Braeden to turn in interest. He acknowledged Severus with a terse nod, and the boy returned it nervously. He began to wonder if Lucius should have bothered persuading Braeden to allow him at the party, and the hollow feeling inside of him continued to grow. "I don't see your parents," Lily said suddenly, bringing him out of his reverie. He craned his neck around the throngs of people, then frowned as he realized she was right.

"Probably don't want me to think I'm welcome," Severus muttered. "If they're not here, we'll see them when they have to get through. Let's find your folks." She quickly agreed, and they made their way over to the queue which was forming to go through the barrier.

"I wonder if they've brought Petunia?" Lily questioned as they advanced slowly through the queue.

"I sincerely hope not," Severus grumbled. "That's all I need - seeing her prune of a face as well as my father." Lily giggled as Severus stepped up to go through the barrier, but it was cut off as he passed through and exited between platforms nine and ten. He spotted Rose and Albert immediately, thankfully minus Lily's older sister, and headed straight for them. A moment later, Lily joined him, and they were both caught up in hugs from Rose.

"Oh, we missed you so!" Rose declared, squeezing Severus so tight he couldn't breathe.

"Mum, you're choking him!" Lily chided, prying her mother's arms from her friend and settling into her own embrace. Severus grinned at Albert, who extended his hand.

"Good to have you home, Severus." He glanced at his wife, then leaned over so that his mouth was next to Severus' ear. "Between you and I, Petunia's not exactly the same type of company the two of you are." He stood again, giving Severus a conspiratorial wink. After the greetings had been exchanged, Albert glanced around the platform. "Parents not here yet?" he inquired, not bothering to hide the anger in his voice.

"No, I expect they'll be along any minute," Severus said quickly.

"We'll just wait with you until they come, then," Rose answered immediately.

"That's okay," Severus replied hurriedly. He knew if his parents came face-to-face with Albert and Rose, one of the Evanses would speak their minds about his treatment, and it would only create more trouble.

"Nonsense, lad. Isn't a problem at all. We have loads of catching up to do!"

"Yes," Rose chided gently. "You haven't written us once, the entire term."

"I - I've been busy," Severus attempted to excuse himself. "Professor Melison, he's the Potions professor and my Head of House, he's been impressed with my potion making skills."

"Yes, Lily's told us you're getting top marks in most of your classes," Rose said approvingly.

"Professor Melison told me just before break that he'll allow me to study some of his advanced books," Severus revealed, relishing the praise.

"Excellent!" Albert exclaimed. "Well done, lad." Severus beamed. Maybe coming home wouldn't be so bad after all.

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An hour later, the foursome were still waiting on the Snapes. The snow and winds had begun twenty minutes earlier, and they were soaked to the skin and freezing. The last of the other students had long since gone, and Severus was acutely aware of the stares of the station workers as the four of them huddled against the partition.

"Well," Rose said brusquely, looking around one last time. "I think it's obvious they're not coming."

"Come on, then," said Albert tightly. "We're going home. We'll drop you by your place, Severus." As he followed them to their car, Severus said nothing. He was thinking that it had most likely been Silias' plan all along to have the Evans bring him home, but hadn't wanted to bother to ask them. It seemed like something he would do. He'd probably even be angry that it had taken Severus so long to return. With a sigh, he helped Albert heave the trunks into the car, then climbed into the backseat with Lily. The atmosphere inside the vehicle was electric, with Albert and Rose talking in low tones so as not to be heard over the radio, and Lily and Severus doing the same in the backseat.

"I thought he told you to come home," Lily whispered.

"He did," said Severus flatly. "He didn't forget. I'd wager 20 galleons this is one of his 'maybe it'll teach him a lesson' bits."

"What lesson are you supposed to get from this?" Severus shrugged.

"That I'm not a priority in my parents' lives?" he suggested bitterly.

"Do you want to be a priority to them?" questioned Lily with a smirk.

"No, I suppose not," he replied absently.

He was still thinking of Lily's words when they pulled up in front of her house. What did he want from his parents? He knew he'd never receive love, but was acceptance too much to ask? He thought back to the conversation when they'd first gotten off the train. Rose and Albert had seemed genuinely glad that he was doing well in school. What would his parents have to say about it? Would they even care? Did he really expect them to? Did he even want them to? His mind was in turmoil as he bid goodbye to Lily and Rose and followed Albert over to his own house. The desolate look of the place did nothing to ease his apprehension as they mounted the front steps. Severus reached out for the doorknob, only to bring his hand away sharply as he received a jolt.

"What is it?" asked Albert, concern clear in his voice.

"The doors are locked," replied Severus, shaking his hand in an effort to eradicate the stinging pain. "And he's put a stinging hex on the knobs." Albert's mouth settled into a firm line.

"So they aren't at home, then?"

"It appears not," responded Severus stiffly. "I'll just sit out here, Albert, you can get back -"

"I wouldn't dream of it!" cried the man. "It's dinnertime, and you've not eaten anything since you've left school. You'll come on back to our place and get a proper meal in you."

"Father wouldn't be happy if I'm not waiting here," argued Severus. "I'd best stay put."

"Nonsense," repeated Albert firmly. "You're getting a meal, and that's final." Severus sighed as he was forcefully led back across his yard and into the Evans' kitchen. Arguing with Albert seldom resulted in anything less than the man getting his way. Stubborn as Severus was, it was nothing next to Lily's father's resolve. Rose looked startled when they came in, but asked no questions as Severus took the chair in which Albert had directed him. Lily shot him a questioning look, but also remained silent. As Rose served the dinner, Severus quietly thanked her, then began to eat as quickly as he could. If he knew his father, he'd be home before long, wondering why he'd been kept waiting. Within minutes, he had finished his dinner, and excused himself to leave.

"I've got to," he responded quietly when Rose questioned his speedy departure. "They're most likely home by now." As he walked from the room, he heard Albert's voice carrying through the house, though the boy had no doubt it was unintentional.

"They bloody well knew he'd be coming on that train today! Why, in heaven's name, weren't they there?" His pace quickened as he neared his house, relaxing slightly at the sight of his trunk. Perhaps they hadn't returned yet, after all. As he reached the door, it was cracked the tiniest bit, and his heart sank. Mustering his courage, he hefted his trunk and walked in through the door, expecting to be assaulted by his father at any moment. To his surprise, he made it past the living room and to the foot of the stairs without any problems. With one foot on the stairs, the sound of a glass being set down from behind him made his body and heart stop.

"Where have you been?" The cold, low voice emanating from the darkened living room chilled Severus to the core, and he turned slowly around to face his father. Silias was seated in his armchair next to the doorway, a glass and a bottle of what appeared to be brandy by his elbow. "I asked you a question, boy."

"I- I was over at Lily's," stammered Severus, silently cursing his weakness. Why couldn't he ever keep his voice steady around him? Silias snorted.

"Hanging about with that mudblood still? I expected you would have learnt otherwise, now you're in Slytherin."

"You expected wrong, then." responded the boy, turning back around. "I'm going to unpack my things." In a flash, Silias was next to him, his rank breath blowing onto Severus' neck.

"Why didn't you wait at the station?" Silias hissed in his ear. Severus' rage began to surface.

"We were there for an hour after the train arrived!" he exclaimed. "Where were you?" His trunk fell to the floor with a bang as his father grasped his arm.

"School has done nothing for your insolence," Silias observed as he began to drag Severus towards the door. Severus managed to throw his arm off, his eyes glittering with hatred.

"Don't bother," he snarled. "I know the way." His response was rewarded with a backhand before he was shut into the basement.

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He slept very little that night, thinking over his folly of returning home. Sitting on the faded quilt with his back against the stone wall, he realized that Malfoy party or no, he would have been better off in his dormitory at Hogwarts, alone. The only good thing he could think of was that his father had gone relatively easy on him, considering his past punishments. This made his mind wander to other possibilities. Perhaps this wasn't his entire punishment. Perhaps Silias fully intended to do something more - characteristic - before the week was out. His thoughts were so focused on this idea that he did not realize it was morning until he heard the sound of the window being forced open.

"Hullo, Lily," he said dully, without moving.

"Hullo yourself," she said sharply. "Are you going to leave me up here all morning, or could you find it in yourself to bring me the ladder?" With an irritated grumble, he complied, setting the ladder in front of the window, then resuming his position against the opposite wall. "You couldn't have seen your parents for more than five minutes last night," she commented. "How did you end up down here already?"

"It was more like three minutes, and I suppose I am down here because my father wishes to remind me that he's still got the upper hand. Either that, or he's reminding me what a greasy git he still is." The two of them remained quiet for a moment, each of them seething with anger towards Silias.

"How long do you suppose he'll keep you down here?" Severus shrugged.

"What difference does it make?" he asked wearily. "When he's through with his fun, he'll let me up. He hasn't been able to reign supreme over me for months, and now he's making sure I don't forget he still can."

"You don't think -" she broke off, as if she didn't want to finish the thought.

"What?" heprompted.

"I just thought," she said quietly, "that he may keep you here during Malfoy's party. All he'd have to do is tell them you were ill or something equally as pathetic." Severus stared at her in shock.

"But he told me to come back, in order to go!" What if it had all been some elaborate scheme to punish Severus once again? What if his father had brought him home so that it would appear that Severus had backed out at the last minute? Then his father would attend the party, just as he'd been wanting to for so long, and he'd get the added bonus of torturing his son. Severus looked up at the ceiling with aggravation. This was definitely not a good start to his holidays.

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A/N: I know, this chapter is really short...Thanks to all those who have reviewed thus far! It makes my day to get that little e-mail saying: review alert! :)



Chapter 13: The Malfoys' Party
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Chapter 13: The Malfoys' Party
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For three nights and four days, Severus wondered what his father had planned. Silias didn't go near the basement, and despite Lily's attempt to convince him otherwise, Severus was sure that his holiday plans had been altered. On Christmas Eve, the door creaked open, causing the boy to leap to his feet. His father had failed to disarm him upon his homecoming, and the boy grasped the handle of his wand, anticipating a confrontation. Silias, however, looked - happy. Severus withdrew his hand from his wand, utterly perplexed.

"Get your dress robes on," snapped his father. "Your mother's had them cleaned and pressed. I trust I do not need to remind you of how to behave?" Severus shook his head, excitement coursing through his veins. That's why he kept me here, he realized. He wanted to be sure I was on my best behavior tonight. He was so wrapped up in his own thoughts that he failed to hear Silias' next sentence. "Are you listening, boy?"

"Yes, sir," responded Severus immediately.

"Hmph." Silias continued to glare at the boy for a moment before turning to make his way up the stairs. "You have one hour before we are to leave. I suggest you be ready." Severus smirked behind his back as he followed him up the stairs. His father was concerned that he'd embarrass him at the party, and Severus was equally concerned that Silias would do something to embarrass him. Wordlessly, he climbed the stairs to his bedroom, where his trunk, surprisingly enough, had already been brought. A set of dress robes lay on his bed, and as he pulled off the clothes he'd worn for four days, he realized it might be wise for him to bathe before changing. Making his way down the hall to the bathroom, he didn't see or hear a single member of his family stirring. That's odd, he thought as he turned on the tap and climbed in.

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Thirty minutes later, cleansed and dressed, Severus lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling. He had still not heard a sound from the rest of the house, but automatically assumed he should not seek the others out. Silias would let him know when he was preparing to leave - he'd already demonstrated to his son that he desired his presence at the event, and Severus was sure he would not neglect to inform him when they left. As he lay there, he thought about his uncle's words from the previous summer, and thought also of Silias' wish to be considered the Malfoys' equal. That doesn't mean they're the same as him, Severus rationalized. Just because he wants their approval. Maybe they're just powerful. That has to be it. Even with his attempt at explaining it, Silias' interest in the Malfoys did not sit easy with him. Normally, anything which Silias found desirable was something Severus would strive to avoid. Yet now - he had a trace of a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, reaching for the same goal as his father. But was he really? It wasn't the entire Malfoy family Severus wished to cling to - merely Lucius, his friend - the one person at school, aside from Lily, who accepted him as he was.

"Severus?" The small voice that spoke from the doorway broke into his thoughts, causing him to look up. Steven stood in the doorway, dressed in similar black robes, struggling to restrain himself from rushing to his brother's side, and failing miserably. "What's Hogwarts like? Is it much better there? Are you learning lots of spells? Will you teach me some? Will you-"

"Slow down!" interrupted Severus, shaking his head. "Did Father send you up?" Steven nodded as Severus leapt from the bed. "Excellent. Let's get going, then." He strode through the door, his brother close at his heels.

"But do they really have ghosts? What's your favorite subject? Are the professors nice?"

"Yes," Severus answered obliquely.

"To which part?" asked Steven, evidently confused. Severus was spared from a further barrage of questions as the pair arrived in the living room, where their parents were waiting. Rebekah did not acknowledge her sons in any way - indeed, she looked far worse than Severus ever remembered seeing her. There were no visible blemishes on her green velvet robes, nor were there any signs of injury in any form, but her eyes were dull and devoid of emotion, sending a chill down the boy's spine. As his father spotted the pair of them, he pushed his eldest son inside the fireplace.

Severus grabbed a handful of Floo powder, and yelled, "Malfoy Manor," not bothering to hide the excitement from his voice. He stepped out of the ornate fireplace to which he'd been Flooed, and nearly tripped over a wizened house elf.

"Good evening, sir," the elf wheezed, bowing to the floor. "You come alone?" Severus shook his head.

"No, the others are-" before he finished, his mother emerged from the hearth, followed shortly by Steven and Silias.

"This way," instructed the house elf, disappearing through a set of large wooden doors in the wall directly opposite where they stood. They followed immediately, though eyeing the new environment with curiosity. The room they had entered was overly large; the furniture which it housed equally so. As they passed through the double doors and into the dining room, Severus heard his father let out a soft moan of longing. A brilliant crystal chandelier hung above a table in the center of the enclosure. Made of solid mahogany, both the table and the matching high-backed chairs were massive. Large enough to seat at least a hundred guests, it was draped with a black tablecloth and adorned with the most dazzling dinnerware Severus had ever seen. The flatware looked to be solid silver, with gold etchings on the handles. The plates were the same, but the goblets - Severus looked back at his father, who had stopped in his procession to openly gawk at the goblets inlaid with emeralds and rubies. He saw the lust and envy in Silias' eyes as he began to walk once again behind his family. That's what he wants, Severus suddenly realized. It isn't anything to do with who the Malfoys are. It's what they are that he cares about. Rich. Powerful. The thought raised his spirits somewhat - he wasn't after the same thing his father yearned for at all. Unable to suppress the grin that graced his features, he triumphantly followed the house elf out of the French doors and onto the veranda.

The yard was decorated even more beautifully than the dining room, with brilliant glowing spheres of every shade floating overhead, and fairies darting through the fountain in its center. A live band was set up near the fountain, playing songs which Severus had never heard before. The yard and veranda were filled with witches and wizards, most of whom Severus did not recognize. His view was soon blocked by the arrival of their hosts. Braeden and Lucius approached the foursome, matching cold smiles on their faces. As Lucius turned with his father, however, Severus swore he saw the older boy wink at him.

"Silias," Braeden greeted, inclining his head the tiniest bit. "I was beginning to doubt you would come at all."

"The invitation which I received specified nine o'clock," Silias said coolly, though Severus could see he had been caught off guard. Braeden glanced at his watch, then flicked his eyes back to Silias.

"Indeed. It is curious that none of our other guests kept us waiting," Braeden drawled, his eyes fixed onto Silias' face, which was growing increasingly redder.

"It was the boy, I assure you," he stammered, jabbing his finger at Severus. The child narrowed his eyes and opened his mouth to speak, pausing only at the nearly imperceptible shake of Lucius' head. Severus tore his angry gaze from his father, and stared instead at Braeden, who was studying him in turn.

"Well," Braeden began slowly, "that certainly does not sound like the young man Lucius has been singing the praises of." His eyes moved from the boy to his father. "Or perhaps you are saying that my son has made an error in judgment, Silias?" A grim feeling of triumph arose in Severus' body as he watched his father squirm uncomfortably.

"I - I didn't mean to imply -" he stammered.

"Father, may I escort Severus and his brother to where the other children are waiting?" A brief nod from his father had Lucius motioning for the boys to follow him. "Don't worry about it," Lucius advised as Severus shot a look back at his parents. "Father doesn't believe him any more than I do." Severus nodded absently, his eyes still focused on his father, who seemed to be squirming under the scrutiny of Braeden Malfoy. His attention was brought back to Lucius as Steven tugged on the sleeve of his robe, pointing towards a group of children, ranging in ages from those as young as Steven to a few seventh years Severus recognized from school. The assembly was separated into two unequal units, the smaller of which was continually glaring at the larger. Severus stopped in his tracks as he recognized Sirius amidst the smaller group.

"What's he doing here?" he hissed. Lucius smiled in an offhand manner as he made his way towards the larger group.

"His parents are good friends with Father," he said simply. "I believe he's forced to come. Most of the pureblooded families try and attach themselves to Father's side. They believe they'll be as respected as he is." Lucius cast a disapproving stare towards Silias."Of course, some are sorely mistaken. However, sacrifices must be made for the children of those sorry sods. Particularly when they display the qualities of their bloodline." Despite Lucius' words to placate him, Sirius' presence at the party served to cloud Severus' good mood. He continued to glare at the boy as they approached the larger group of children, earning a look of curiosity from Steven.

"Who is he?" the boy asked quietly, looking between the two classmates.

"Nobody," Severus replied shortly, tearing his eyes from his nemesis. "Nobody important." His attention became focused on the group of children which now surrounded him, and he studied their faces as Lucius introduced Steven to the group. The entire group of Slytherins with whom Lucius and Severus spent their time were present, along with a few scattered faces from higher years which he recognized. He greeted his companions, then stole another look over to the group in which Sirius stood.

"They prefer to think of themselves as morally above us," spoke a feminine voice directly beside him. Severus turned to see Narcissa next to him, her blue eyes dancing in the light from the overhead spheres. She raised a slim finger to point to a slender girl who stood by Sirius. The girl looked vaguely familiar, but Severus could not place where he'd seen her. "Our sister, Andromeda. She enjoys our cousin's company more than our own, though her attempts at restraining little Regulus are proving useless." Severus followed her stare to a young boy, not much older than Steven, having a heated discussion with both Andromeda and Sirius.

"Your brother?" Severus inquired idly.

"Cousin," replied Narcissa evenly. "He has the misfortune of being the sibling of your dear friend over there." He looked again towards the young boy, who had ceased his debate with his cousin, and turned instead to Sirius, who was shaking his head adamantly. The boy crossed his arms angrily and made to leave the group, but Sirius grabbed his arm and forced him to sit. Each of the boys began to glare in the opposite direction, evidently no longer on speaking terms.

"That always happens at these things," Rodolphus commented as he approached the pair. "They'll stay like that for ages, with Andromeda attempting to keep the peace."

"All we'll hear for days is how we've been a horrible influence on Regulus, and how we should stop 'poisoning his mind' with our 'wicked beliefs'." Narcissa smirked.

"Andromeda's a fool," snapped Bellatrix, joining them as they continued to stare at the trio. "We have had little influence on Regulus' choices. His parents have been seeing to it that he follows the right path. It is she and Sirius who are polluting his mind, attempting to 'reform' his thinking."

"The more you force your ideas on others, the more they'll fight them," Severus remarked quietly, thinking of his own family. The rest of the group eyed him with curiosity.

"You sound as if you've had experience in that matter," Lucius observed. The younger boy turned his head, realizing he'd inadvertently revealed a bit of his private life.

"Haven't I made it clear how I respond when attempts to change my beliefs are made?" Severus remarked in an effort to divert the attention to his school life.

"Indeed you have," commented the prefect. Lucius glanced around at his guests, then took the younger boy by the arm. "If you'll all excuse us for a moment or two," he drawled, leading Severus away from the party and beyond the sphere's illumination. He did not speak until they reached the edge of a large pond, where he instructed the boy to sit. Severus obeyed and looked out at the water, watching the moonlight dance over the surface. Lucius sat beside him, his piercing gray eyes studying his face. Severus felt slightly uneasy, not really knowing why Lucius had led him here. "Your father shares the beliefs of my father," he finally said, his voice low yet strong.

"And?"

"I presume he has attempted to press them onto you?" Severus looked over at him, their eyes meeting briefly.

"You could say that." Slowly and deliberately, Lucius slipped his arm free of his robes, and showed it to Severus. The boy blanched at the sight: a jagged scar ran from the base of his neck to just above his elbow. Though the wound looked as though it had been there for years, it remained red and oozing, as if it had been recently re-opened. After a moment, Lucius replaced his sleeve, then looked at Severus expectantly. He had no idea what he was supposed to say, and so remained silent.

"I began to change my beliefs to suit his after that," Lucius explained quietly. "Every man has a breaking point, Severus. Finding it is not always an easy task, but one which is necessary to survive."

"Does he still - I mean, you seem to get on with him quite well," Severus stated stupidly.

"Wouldn't want to make him unhappy, would I?" He smirked, but there was no trace of the usual cockiness when he spoke. "He's all I have left, Severus. Mum's been gone for ages, and my brother -" he stopped, leaving a thousand questions burning in Severus' mind.

"You have a brother?" Lucius smirked humorlessly again.

"One. He graduated six years ago. He did not agree with Father, about anything. Most likely the reason Father made a stronger effort to, er, convince me to see things his way." Severus' thoughts went immediately to his own brother. Would Silias make a renewed effort on Steven, once Severus seemed a lost cause to him? His heart began thudding in his chest at the possibility.

"Why hasn't your brother helped you?" he asked of his friend.

"He was killed," Lucius replied flatly.

"By your father?"

"I have my suspicions, but no valid proof. He's too clever for that."

"What happened?" Lucius did not answer his question, but stood abruptly.

"I am being a poor host. We should be getting back. I just wanted you to know - you are fighting a losing battle."

"Maybe," Severus said forcefully. "But I'm not giving in just yet." Lucius smiled down at him, not his usual arrogant smirk, but one filled with respect and understanding.

"Good man."

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The guests were seated in the dining room at ten minutes to midnight, with Lucius residing over the children at one end of the table, and Braeden overseeing the adults at the opposing end. Though separated by sixty-odd people, Severus could feel his father's eyes boring into him, waiting for him to say or do anything he deemed unsuitable. For his own part, he kept his eyes locked onto either his plate or his brother, who seemed to have grown rather attached to Sirius' younger brother.

"When do you go to Hogwarts?" Steven ventured as the soup appeared. Regulus stared at him, as if he were shocked that someone other than his brother and cousin had spoken to him.

"Two years," the boy responded, eyeing Steven carefully. Severus smirked. Sirius was silently fuming next to his brother, the presence of their parents prohibiting him from discouraging the boys' conversation. He turned his attention further down the table, to where his parents sat. His mother's movements were so wooden that he feared she was here only through the Imperius Curse. Rebekah, to his knowledge, had not spoken a word all evening, and the boy was beginning to worry. This was what his uncle considered fine? Even he could tell his mother was not the same, and the memory of that evening before term haunted his thoughts. Had his actions been for nothing? Had his father finally succeeded in obtaining, through force, an obedient and loyal wife? She had always followed his orders, yet knowing that she'd at last been defeated -

"Severus?" The sound of his name being called broke into his thoughts, causing him to seek the speaker. Narcissa, who was seated next to him, was eyeing him with concern. "Are you all right?" she questioned.

"Fine," he answered absently. She didn't look quite convinced as she looked between him and his parents.

"That's your mother down there, isn't it? Just across from mine?" Severus nodded, not having to look up to see if she was correct. "Is she ill?"

"You might say that," he said quietly, hoping she wouldn't force the issue.

"I understand," said Narcissa instead, eliciting a raised eyebrow from Severus. "She isn't the only one, you know," she stated, turning back to her food. "It is a bit commonplace, I'm afraid, within the families at this table." Her hand stopped midway to her fork, and her eyes snapped to where her parents sat. Her father was glaring at her, a look of fury in his eyes. Narcissa met his gaze unwaveringly, and it was he who finally broke contact first.

"You'll pay for that bit of pride," Bellatrix noted smoothly, her own gaze focused on her younger sister.

"It doesn't matter," Narcissa said carelessly. "I've stopped caring, really." Severus felt his heart stop for a moment. Fist Lucius, and now Narcissa, had revealed their own suffering. They truly understood what it was like, to grow up in a loveless home. His soul filled with a sense of belonging, and he knew that his place was here, with these people. He looked around at the faces surrounding him, acutely aware of the fact that it was he, and not his father, whose presence had been requested at this party. No longer focusing on his mother's behavior, he found himself picking up bits of the conversations from the others at the table.

"-an unparalleled catastrophe," said a thick-looking man sitting closest to them. He was addressing Braeden, and all of the adults seemed to be interested in the conversation.

"Yes, Dumbledore's appointment as headmaster was a bit of a disappointment. I had hoped to find a more suitable candidate, though the governors apparently feel quite differently."

"I was under the impression that you controlled the governors decisions," Silias put in. "Surely a simple thing like this could have been avoided?" Braeden stared coldly at Silias as every pair of eyes in the room focused on him.

"Evidently," he drawled, "your preconceptions of my business contacts are ill-conceived. Know that everything which was in my power to do has been done to advocate the replacement of that mudblood-loving old fool." The room grew quiet as even the children paused in their conversations to listen to the two men.

"And yet he remains at the school," Silias noted. "Losing your effectiveness, Braeden?"

"Braeden is the most influential man at this table," spoke Mr. Black, Narcissa's father, quietly. His lips turned up in a sneer as he continued, "A damn sight better than you, at any rate. What is it you do at the Ministry again? Janitorial work, is it?" His father's face turned red as he stood abruptly from the table, though his mother seemed not to hear or care what was being said. Before Silias could speak, Braeden had stood, one hand up in his direction, the other towards Mr. Black.

"Our honored guest should be arriving shortly, and it would not do to have him find us squabbling amongst ourselves. Now take your seats and do try to restrain yourselves." Severus watched as Silias remained standing, and feared that his father would succeed in getting the whole family booted from the manor. Apparently, however, the mysterious visitor who was due to arrive held some interest for him, and he sat.

The remainder of the dinner was spent in quiet conversation among the adults, and awkward silence among the children. None of Severus' friends attempted to address his father's outburst, and for that he was grateful. When the house elf came to announce the arrival of the final guest, Severus breathed a sigh of relief. As the adults retreated into the library off of the dining room, the children were told to amuse themselves in the yard. Bellatrix, however, staked out a spot immediately in front of the library doors, her ear pressed against the crack.

"Bella! If Father finds you -"

"Father is far too interested in hearing what this man has to say," Bellatrix snapped at her youngest sister. "He will neither notice nor care what we overhear." She resumed her position at the door, waving her hand to silence the others. It wasn't until Lucius joined her that the others followed, jostling for the best position. Severus found himself lying on the floor, his ear to the crevice beneath the door.

"Muggles and their mudblood supporters have denied purebloods their exclusive rights to Hogwarts for centuries," spoke a high, cold voice which Severus could not place. A chill crept up the boy's spine as the speaker continued on - who was this man? "Now they have appointed the champion of mudbloods himself, Albus Dumbledore, to the head of that institution. This man will be teaching your children, instructing them, no doubt, in the 'proper' way to treat that type of filth. It is time that we arrange for a few lessons of our own." What lessons the man was planning on teaching, the children failed to hear as Sirius suddenly fell from the chair he'd been perched on, sending the group at the door sprawling in every direction, and creating a great deal of noise. Time seemed to move in slow motion as Severus met Lucius' eyes amidst the flailing body parts of the others, each of the boys coming to the same conclusion: they had to run. Quickly.

Disentangling himself from the mob, Severus found his brother's cloak and pulled him from the ground, racing towards the doors to the yard. He could hear several of the others doing the same, but he did not look back until he had rounded the corner of the house and was out of sight. Within minutes, the others had joined them, little Regulus bringing up the rear.

"I heard the door open as I rounded the corner," he offered breathlessly. The children immediately began to put on placid expressions, as though they'd been standing outside all along. Braeden swept out of the doorway, accompanied by many of the men from the other room. They eyed their offspring with scrutiny, all eyes finally focusing on Lucius.

"Explain," Braeden demanded softly, his gaze alight with fury.

"Explain what, Father?" the boy responded, his gaze never wavering. Severus swallowed the lump in his throat as he witnessed the exchange. It was entirely too reminiscent of those he had first-hand knowledge of.

"You were to be entertaining your friends, away from our discussion. An overturned chair in the dining hall is evidence that you have been neglecting our guests." Lucius refrained from speaking, though his gaze remained on his father's face. Suddenly, the same cold, high voice Severus had heard from behind the doors spoke.

"It is apparent that you are ill prepared to meet with me this evening." Severus craned his neck to see the speaker, but to no avail. He remained hidden amongst the adults, his voice carrying easily through them.

"My apologies," Braeden said quickly, turning towards the voice. "I had thought my son would be capable of occupying a few children. Evidently, I was mistaken. It will not happen again, I assure you."

"See that it doesn't, Braeden. I will be in contact with you after the new year." With a loud crack, the man was gone. Severus couldn't help but feel disappointed - the adults, on the other hand, were seething. Each set of parents collected their children in stony silence, their angry glares saying volumes as to the treatment each was sure to receive upon returning home.

As they reached their living room, Severus and Steven headed immediately for the stairs, intent on getting out of their father's sight before he could take his disapproval out on them. Silias, however, seemed slightly pleased by the fact that the night was over.

"Try and tell me how to raise children, will he? Did you see the look on his face, when that Volde-what's-his-name told him off? Thinks he's so damn superior." There was no response from Rebekah, and Severus paused at the door to his room, his hand on the knob. Any minute, the punishment for her disrespect would be audible. No sound came, and after a moment, he heard her climbing the stairs as the familiar creak of Silias settling in his armchair reached his ears. He closed his door and lay on his bed, his mind spinning. This was entirely new. How could things have changed so much in mere months? What exactly was going on?

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A/N: Okay everybody, I know this chapter was a bit longer than my others, but it'll help to tide you over till the next one. As I'm in the midst of moving, finding a new job, a new house, AND finishing up the school quarter, it may not be up as quickly as I'd like. Hence this longish chapter. Hope you enojyed! Thanks to my reviewers!


Chapter 14: A Startling Discovery
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Chapter 14 ~ A Startling Discovery
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The next morning, Severus awoke to a barrage of wonderful smells wafting from the kitchen. A glance at the window told him he'd slept nearly all morning, and he pulled on a fresh set of clothes as his stomach rumbled with hunger. Making his way down to the kitchen, the absence of his father's thundering voice filled the boy with excited anticipation. Perhaps with his father out of the house, Severus would be able to nick a bit of bread pudding before dinner.

His mother was busy in the kitchen, going about preparing their Christmas dinner. Though her hands and feet were moving nonstop, her face was inscrutable. She did not even look up when Severus entered the room. Thinking of the previous evening, he approached her tentatively.

"Happy Christmas, Mum," he said quietly. Her back straightened immediately, and she turned to look at him. He saw emotion in her eyes, but it was not what he'd expected. She seemed startled that he had spoken.

"Happy Christmas, Severus," she returned, turning back to her preparations. Severus was about to head out the door and over to Lily's when he noticed that Steven was nowhere to be seen.

"Where is everyone?" he asked with trepidation, fearing that his father had recovered from his lethargy of the night before.

"Your brother is still sleeping," she replied, not turning from her work. "I allow him to overindulge when your father's not at home." The unanswered portion of his question hung in the air until he cleared his throat.

"And Father -?" he asked with hesitation.

"He had to go out," his mother replied briskly. Severus did not push the matter as he poured himself a glass of water then sat at the kitchen table. He watched his mother as she went about her preparations, trying to discern any difference. Without his father present, she seemed in a slightly better mood, yet her movements were wooden, as though she was past caring. The appearance of Steven in the doorway - his hair sticking in every direction, his pajamas rumpled - took Severus' gaze from his mother. His brother smiled a greeting, shouted, "Happy Christmas," and flung himself into Severus' arms. The older boy pushed him back in surprise.

"Don't do that again," he chided as he succeeded in releasing himself from the six-year-old's grip.

"I missed you," Steven announced, unperturbed by his abrupt brush-off.

"I miss Hogwarts already," Severus remarked in turn, ignoring the admonishment he received from his mother. He was spared further enthusiasm from his sibling by the arrival of his uncle.

"Happy Christmas, Uncle Sebastian!" Steven cried, rushing over to him. Instead of the cool reception he'd received from his brother, Sebastian welcomed he boy with an indulgent smile.

"And the same to you, Steven," Sebastian laughed. "Severus, it's good to see you," he welcomed, no hint of disappointment in his voice. It made Severus uneasy - was Sebastian still angry with him? Or had he forgiven him for his lack of concern already? Sebastian had turned his attention from his nephews to his sister-in-law. "You're looking well, Rebekah," he said quietly. Severus studied his mother intently, and swore he saw a glint of happiness reflected in the gaze she gave her husband's brother. Before he could dwell on her reaction, Sebastian had turned to him once again. "Aren't you going to look in the lounge to see what I've brought you?" he asked the boys with a mischievous glint in his eye. Severus and Steven glanced at each other before racing to the living room, where they stopped at the sight that welcomed them.

Just that morning, this room had been devoid of decoration, yet an impossibly large Christmas tree now graced the corner. The tree itself was adorned with dozens of lit candles, casting a peaceful glow over the room, and the floor beneath it was littered with gifts.

"Well?" spoke a voice from behind them. "Aren't you going to open them?" The boys looked over their shoulders at their uncle, then grinned at each other and began to search for packages with their names.

"Here's one for you," Steven said, tossing a package towards Severus. He caught it easily, and opened it to reveal Potions by Paracelsus. Thanking his uncle, he helped Steven continue his search for his own gift. Finally finding it, he sat back and watched his brother's face light up when he opened his own set of books by Darian P. Woodlin. The two sat down and began eagerly thumbing through their books, leaving Sebastian and Rebekah to exchange their own gifts. Severus watched out of the corner of his eye as his mother was given a pair of jade earrings.

"They're lovely, Sebastian. Thank you." Severus noticed that she did not put them in, but placed them in her pocket.

"You're welcome," Sebastian said quietly. "Where is Silias?" he asked, after clearing his throat.

"He had to go out," she answered immediately. Her demeanor had shifted somewhat, and her expression was guarded as she handed Sebastian a small box. "From Silias and myself." Sebastian's smile seemed forced to Severus, but it turned genuine when his uncle saw the contents. In the box lay a silver pocket watch, with numerous runes engraved on the casing.

"Give Silias my thanks," Sebastian responded, putting the watch in his vest pocket. Severus frowned. There was definitely more than just friendship in those gifts. He'd wager a cauldron of galleons that his father knew nothing about that watch. The trouble was, he wasn't quite sure if this was a good thing, or a bad thing.

"Aren't you going to open it?" Steven's voice edged into his thoughts, and he realized he'd been handed another gift, this one from his mother. Steven was nearly halfway through his own, and managed to get the wrapping completely off before Severus had a chance to look at his own. "A camera! Thanks, Mum!" The three of them were blinded by the flash as Steven immediately took a picture. "And the potions to develop them. This is brilliant!" Severus shook his head: it took so little to amuse his brother. He furrowed his brow as he opened his gift, looking immediately to his mother for an explanation.

"Cursing as an Art Form?" he questioned. Rebekah nodded, a gleam of strength edging into her face.

"I know how you like to study them," she responded softly. Severus looked down at the book again, then tentatively opened the front cover. Inside, in Rebekah's neat hand was written:

To Severus, in the hopes that you will always put the spells within to good use.
~Love Mum Christmas 1970

He looked up at her again, but she was deeply engrossed in conversation with Sebastian. Something had happened while he was at school, he was sure of it. This was his mother's way of urging him to fight back against his father. And like his earlier discovery, the eleven-year-old wasn't sure how to feel.

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"But that's good, isn't it?" Lily questioned later, after he'd told her his suspicions. Severus stared at her in shock. What was good about it?

"You're having me on," he suddenly realized. Lily, however, shook her head.

"Think about it," she argued as he gave a frustrated grunt. "If it is true, then he's going to treat her loads better than your father does. Don't you want her to be happy?"

"She isn't going to be happy with Sebastian," Severus scoffed immediately. Truth be told, he wasn't quite sure of that fact himself.

"I think you're just being stubborn," Lily declared.

"Really?" Severus retorted, his eyebrow arched. "Tell me, Lily - what do you think Father will do when he finds out?"

"It'd be an improvement," she argued. "Sebastian's bound to be a better wizard, right? I mean, he's much nicer than your father."

"Nice has nothing to do with it," Severus explained irritably. "Albert's a nice bloke, too, and Father would slaughter him in a heartbeat. Nice does not equal powerful."

"Just think how romantic it would be," Lily sighed, her eyes focused on the winter sky outside her window. "Sebastian would whisk you all away from your father's clutches. Just like in a fairytale."

"You live in a fairytale," Severus grumbled, nevertheless ceasing his arguments. Of course, it would be nice if Sebastian somehow managed to rescue us, he thought. His mind found a memory of nearly three years ago, when Sebastian had offered the feeble excuses for not saving them. "It'll never happen," he said, almost to himself. Despite his words, a seed of hope had been planted.

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"Happy New Year's!" Sebastian announced after Apparating into the living room. Severus looked up from Potions by Paracelsus in surprise. It was nearly nine o'clock, and he hadn't expected his uncle to put in an appearance. "Not reading your mother's gift?" Sebastian questioned idly as he took a seat next to his nephew. Severus shrugged indifferently before turning back to his book.

"I've read it before," he commented.

"Sebastian." Silias' growling voice caused both Severus and his uncle to look towards the doorway to the kitchen. "What are you doing here? I don't believe I invited you this evening."

"I thought I'd stop by to ask you all to accompany me," Sebastian said evenly, locking gazes with his brother. "A colleague is having a fireworks display at midnight."

"I have no interest in accompanying you anywhere," Silias snapped. "Now get out."

"Why don't you take the boys over?" Rebekah suggested quietly. Sebastian's gaze flicked from his brother to his sister-in-law, and nodded tersely.

"An excellent idea," Sebastian agreed, though Severus could tell he seemed a bit disappointed. He was sent upstairs to get Steven, and by the time the two returned, Sebastian seemed prepared to go. The three of them grasped the edges of the Portkey he held, and within minutes they were transported to a mansion rivaled in size only by Malfoy Manor. Severus gaped at the sight that greeted him. Lush green yard spread in every direction from the veranda on which they stood. He had a sneaking suspicion that if his father had known Sebastian's colleague was this rich, he would have been all too happy to tag along.

"Sebastian!" The woman who emerged from the doorway seemed genuinely pleased to see him. Petite in every way, she stood barely an inch or two above Severus' own head, and her tight red curls cascaded to her ankles, reminding Severus of Lily. She studied the boys with her electric blue eyes, her gaze piercing, yet emanating warmth. "I wasn't expecting children this evening. I'm sure I'll bore them to tears."

"Nonsense, Micaela. I'm sure once everyone arrives -"

"It seems everyone else had to cancel," Micaela said with a smile. "You're stuck with me all evening, I'm afraid." He wasn't sure if it was his imagination or not, but Sebastian seemed to tense beside him.

"I expect we will be just fine," Sebastian assured her. "Boys, this is Micaela Kale. She works with me at Gringotts. Micaela, these are my nephews, Severus and Steven."

"Hullo," chorused the boys.

"How nice to meet you both," Micaela greeted, a warm smile gracing her features. "I'm sure we can find something to interest you two until the fireworks show." Steven was looking at her with something close to awe.

"Do you get to work with the dragons?" he breathed, his eyes wide. Micaela winked at Sebastian, then knelt in front of the child.

"Actually, my job is pretty boring. I go through and make sure all the proper paperwork is in order. However -" she added quickly, after seeing his face fall, "I do, on occasion, get to drive the carts. It's amazing what you see down there, you know." Steven's eyes lit up, and she began regaling him with tales of her narrow escape from the dragons' fire. Sebastian shook his head and directed Severus to a small table.

"Fancy a game of chess?" he asked, withdrawing a board from the drawer and setting it on the table. He withdrew a small bag from the pocket of his robes, and Severus was surprised to see he'd brought his chessmen with him. "Never leave home without them," Sebastian advised as he began to set the board. Severus grinned as he pulled his own from his robes.

"I never do," he replied.

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They were midway through their second game when Sebastian broached the subject.

"She's doing her best, you know," he said quietly, casting a sidelong glance at their host.

"Miss Kale?"

"No, boy. Your mother."

"Oh." Severus refrained from comment as he studied his pieces. Suddenly, he remembered that the very chessmen he was playing with had been another attempt from his mother to gain his forgiveness. "Bribes don't work with me, Uncle Sebastian," he stated firmly, his eyes remaining on the board.

"It isn't bribery, boy. She's trying to show how much she cares." Severus scoffed.

"Then she isn't trying hard enough!" he nearly shouted. Micaela stopped midway through her story and looked over, concern written over her features. A shake of Sebastian's head turned her attention back to Steven.

"You may not believe it now," Sebastian explained, his voice low and commanding. "but I see how much her despondence hurts you, despite your words to the contrary. That is why, especially now, you must remember how fragile she is. Young as you are, without your strength, she would never last through this."

"Through what?" Severus asked, suddenly confused. Before Sebastian had time to answer, Micaela stood to announce it was time for fireworks.

"Why don't you boys go down on the lawn?" Micaela suggested. "If you lie on your backs, you'll be able to see them better." They obeyed, though Severus was too wrapped up in his uncle's words to truly enjoy the ensuing show. He stared blankly into the sky, hearing Steven's exclamations of awe, but not registering them himself. What had Sebastian meant by his last words?

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Blinking his eyes open some time later, Severus realized he and Steven must have fallen asleep. The fireworks had gone on for at least an hour, and the excitement had diminished somewhat. All around him, the night was still - save for the two low voices floating on the air from the veranda.

"-going to make me beg?"

"Micaela, I have already explained the situation. Under other circumstances, perhaps there would be a possibility -" Micaela interrupted him with a heavy sigh.

"Do you realize how frustrating you can be?" she asked, her voice tinged with laughter. There was a pause, and then, "She's never going to leave him, Sebastian."

"I should be getting the boys home," came his uncle's terse reply.

"Sebastian, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have -"

"Good evening Micaela." His voice was suddenly a mere few feet away, and Severus shut his eyes before his uncle could discover his eavesdropping. "Time to go," his voice spoke softly into their ears. Severus made sure to wait until after Steven had begun to stir before he opened his own eyes, feigning grogginess. The boys bade farewell to their hostess, then took hold of the Portkey once again. Sebastian wasted no time once they were back at the house. "Have a good sleep, boys." With that, he Disapparated.

"That was weird," Steven remarked as they trudged up the stairs to their rooms.

"Steven, is there something about Mum nobody's telling me?" Severus asked, his mind not on his uncle's behavior, but his words.

"They haven't told you yet?" Steven asked, his mouth agape.

"Apparently not," the older boy snapped. "Told me what?"

"I don't know if I should -" Steven began, casting a fearful glance towards his parents' closed door.

"Just tell me!" Severus demanded. The younger boy glanced at the door once again before turning his eyes on his older brother.

His words sent a shiver of cold dread down Severus' spine: "Mum's going to have a baby."

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A/N: Too Soap-Operaish? Or No? Anyhoo - somehow this chappie was deleted..don't know how..but thanks for re-reading it!

Chapter 15: Welcome Back
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Chapter Fifteen: Welcome Back
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Severus watched Platform 9 3/4 dwindle from sight, seeing his mother attempting to cease Steven's waving and get him home before their father. He sighed and glanced around the compartment. Lily was eyeing him with concern, though the students parading up and down the corridors most likely prevented her from asking what was on his mind, and for that he was grateful. He hadn't seen her since Christmas, and he was loathe to talk about the events of New Year's Eve just yet.

It wasn't until they were well underway, and the snack trolley had already passed that she finally spoke.

"Your mum looked well," she remarked casually.

"I suppose," he countered, his eyes remaining fixed beyond the windowpane.

"Severus, don't start doing this, please." There was a hint of pleading in her voice which caused him to look up in bewilderment.

"Doing what?"

"Not telling me what's going on - making me fish for answers. I thought we were best friends." Her voice wavered slightly, causing him to feel guilty. The unshed tears which shimmered in her eyes only contributed to make him more miserable as he struggled to make things right.

"You are my best friend," he consoled her, getting up and taking the seat beside her. "Don't cry Lily. I didn't mean to block you out, it's just -" he stopped as her eyes focused on him, and his reluctance to talk about his family overtook him once more. Just tell her, he thought. She's always got a way to turn things around. "Mum's pregnant," he revealed after a moment's pause. Her eyes widened in surprise.

"What - I mean, how do you think your father will act?"

"It's obvious, isn't it?" he retorted bitterly. "Just one more victim for him to terrorize. I'm sure he's thrilled to pieces."

"But Steven will protect it, like you protected him," she said in an attempt to reassure him.

"Let's hope Steven does a better job than I did," he answered morosely. Before she had a chance to respond, the door slid open, and Peter and Remus stepped in.

"Can we sit with you?" Peter whined. "All the other compartments are nearly full." Remus, however, shook his head. He obviously felt the tension between the friends.

"Why don't we sit with James and Sirius?" he suggested, giving the pair a questioning glance. Peter readily agreed as Lily shook her head, and the pair left. As the door closed, Lily put her hand over Severus'.

"You did everything you possibly could for Steven," she assured him. "This baby is going to have two older brothers to look after it. Between the two of you, it will be just fine." Severus wasn't comforted by her words. With him at school for most of the year, how would he be able to do anything? Glancing at Lily, however, he decided not to press the matter yet.

"Let's practice our jinxes," he said. "Maybe Black and Potter will burst in on us again." The sound of her laughter raised his spirits somewhat, taking his mind off of his family problems.

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Severus was in his dorm room alone, unpacking his belongings, when the trouble started. Or rather, the trouble entered. His dormmates approached him, eager smiles on their faces.

"Heard you got invited to Lucius' party," Callum noted with interest. Severus shrugged.

"And?"

"We were invited, only Father had a much more important function to attend," Nikolas input quickly. Geoffrey looked at the other boy with a smug smile.

"Callum's home is that important?" he sneered. Callum had to stop Nikolas from jumping at the larger boy, giving Aidan a chance to speak up.

"C'mon, Severus! Tell us how to get on Lucius' good side."

"Maybe it's the fact that I didn't try to get on his good side," Severus offered. The boys shot him scathing looks as they began to change into their pajamas.

"We're your mates, aren't we?" Nikolas finally asked. Severus looked at him, a cold sneer learned from Lucius on his face.

"Mates? Us? Do you live in this dorm, Nikolas? You four have been avoiding me ever since I hexed you! At any rate, Lucius found it very amusing that I'd managed to instill fear in the lot of you in a single day. I doubt he'd welcome you into his fold now."

"We aren't afraid of you, Snivellus," Geoffrey spat. Severus reached inside his pocket and whipped out his wand at the same moment that the other boy brandished his. Their curses met in mid-air and deflected back onto the onlookers. Soon the remaining boys had joined Geoffrey's side, until Severus was hard-put to defend himself. He simply kept his shield up, attempting to dodge the others' curses.

After a few moments, a well-aimed curse hit him in the side, and as he clutched the gash that immediately appeared, he threw the same curse in Aidan's direction, succeeding in hitting the other boy's hand. Aidan dropped his wand, and Severus attempted to take down the remaining three in the same way. Nikolas hit him with a full-blast boil curse, and he countered by sending the Morsius curse towards the other boy. Nikolas dropped his wand and began moaning as Severus lifted the boil curse from his own body, then took down Callum with the Ico curse.

Geoffrey remained standing, however, and he and Severus continued dueling, each managing to get quite a few blows in before the door to their dorm swung open with a bang.

"Accio wands!" Severus' eyes followed his wand to the speaker, and was startled to see Professor Melison silhouetted in the doorway. "Got it out of your system, have you, boys?" he questioned, his voice hard and low. None of the boys spoke, but Severus could hear Geoffrey's gasping breath behind him. His own heart was thudding in his chest, though he wasn't quite sure if it was due to the fight, or because Professor Melison's brown eyes were hard as steel. "Follow me," Melison demanded, turning around and sweeping down the stairs. The boys stayed where they were for a moment, glaring at each other, until Melison's harsh voice echoed into their dormitory again. "NOW!"

None of the dorm mates wanted to go before the others, but they finally filed out and followed an exceptionally angry Melison to his classroom. "Crabbe! In my office. You four, wait here until you're called. There will be no further fighting. Understood?" They nodded morosely as they watched Aidan follow their Head of House, then took up glaring at each other again.

Melison called them in one by one, never releasing the students he had called before. Finally, it was only Geoffrey and Severus again, and the boys were taking turns cursing each other with their minds.

"Still think we're afraid of you, Snivellus?" Geoffrey goaded. Severus stood abruptly, knocking his chair over and balling his fists at his side. He knew he was no match for the much larger boy without his wand, but he was past caring. Geoffrey stood as well, and the boys lunged at each other. Thankfully, Melison emerged from his office at that particular moment, saving Severus from living out the remainder of his life as a bloody pulp.

"Goyle, in here now!" Geoffrey sneered contemptuously at Severus before following Melison into his office. Severus righted the chair which had fallen, and placed himself in it once again. What punishment was Melison going to derive? Surely he wouldn't get away with this. He knew better than to think that any of the four boys before him would paint his part in the matter in a flattering light.

It was nearly an hour later when the door opened once again. "Severus," Melison beckoned. The boy stood and followed him into his office, surprised to find it empty. He sat in the proffered chair, wondering how the other boys had left. A sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach had him believing that the professor had cursed them into oblivion, though his mind told him to stay calm.

"Tell me what happened," Melison prompted.

"I'm sure the others have already told you," he retorted sharply. "Haven't you gotten tired of it yet?" Melison crossed his arms and scrutinized the boy carefully.

"I have heard the others' version of events," he said carefully. "I had hoped, however, that you'd refute their claims. Their stories are consistent, which alarms me. I would like to believe I know your character, son, and the petty behavior they described is beneath you. I would appreciate hearing your version, if you please." Severus met his professor's eyes as he answered.

"We were talking, then Geoffrey insulted me," he answered flatly.

"Haven't you ever heard the bit about the other cheek?" Melison asked, his voice sounding strained.

"I am not going to let them make my life miserable," Severus stated with passion.

"How were your holidays, son?" Melison asked after a moment of silence. Severus stared at him in surprise.

"Fine, sir."

"What stopped them from being great, if you don't mind my asking?" The boy continued to stare at him, debating what he should say. Finally choosing not to respond, he crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair. Melison sighed heavily. "Detention, then. Best get up to the hospital wing with the others." Severus stood and turned to go. "And Severus, try to avoid further fighting, eh?" The boy said nothing as he closed the door behind him.

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Severus climbed the stairs to his dormitory wearily, collapsing gratefully on his bed. Rest was not to be had, however. No sooner had he closed his eyes than he heard Lucius' drawling voice from the doorway.

"Perhaps you would care to explain to me how you lot managed to lose 100 points for this house?" he asked scathingly. Thinking the comment had been directed at him, Severus flicked open his heavy eyes. Lucius, however, had his eyes focused on the other boys, his gaze filled with contempt. "Do you realize we are now behind Hufflepuff?"

"It was Severus," Aidan immediately responded, his finger pointed in the air. Lucius sniffed derisively.

"Severus did not lose house points," he pointed out. "Whereas you four lost twenty-five apiece. I trust you will have earned double that amount by the end of the week, or face your housemates displeasure." He turned on his heel and left the room, his words leaving Severus' dormmates glancing worriedly at each other, and angrily at him. An overwhelming sense of triumph threatened to start him grinning, and he retired behind his curtains before he lost control.

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The next morning, however, brought Severus face-to-face with his own berating.

"I can't believe you!" Lily hissed as she stormed into the Transfiguration classroom.

"So you heard about my warm welcome?" Severus asked, suppressing a grin.

"Who hasn't?" she shot back, tossing her books onto the desk. "Honestly, Severus - they could have killed you!"

"Have at least a bit of faith in me, would you? I did just fine." She paused in retrieving her supplies and gave him a scathing look.

"From what Rianna Renthorne told me -"

"Who?"

"Rianna Renthorne? She's in my house, in every class with you that I am?" She sighed in exasperation when he failed to look enlightened. "There," she pointed, twisting his head to stare at a rather homely girl scowling at him from the back of the class. "She was in the hospital ward last night when you five were sent up there. She told me that you were bleeding through your robes."

"It wasn't serious, Lily. We were in Melison's office for a good couple of hours. You don't think he'd let us sit there if we would have bled to death, do you?" Lily's scowl deepened, but she didn't push the point.

"You need to ignore them," she said out of the corner of her mouth as Professor McGonagall began the class.

"Oh yeah, great advice. Just let them belittle me. After all, I'm used to it, right?" he snapped.

"I didn't say that," she protested. "I just meant - it's just like with Potter and Black. They're doing it to get a rise out of you."

"So now that I'm finally able to defend myself from being bullied, you want me to simply let their snide little comments slide off my back?"

"As long as you keep up this ridiculous feud, you're playing right into their hands," she said firmly.

"Miss Evans, Mr. Snape, would you care to teach this lesson?" Severus looked up sharply at Professor McGonagall, who stood beside their desk, her lips pursed in annoyance. He and Lily mumbled apologies, and spent the remainder of the lesson in silence. When the bell rang, Severus hurried out of the classroom, still angry that his best friend thought him unworthy of his own self-defense.

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A/N: Thanks to those who reviewed the last Chapter. It gives me heart to know I'm not thought of as a hacker of torrid soap opera thingys. Yes. Thingys. Sorry if this one feels short, I thought it was an appropriate place to end it, though. *EEP!* I only have 2 more chappies typed out above this. Must.....write....more often.....


Chapter 16: Aftermath
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Chapter Sixteen: Aftermath
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Saturday morning dawned one of the coldest days of the season. The dungeons were as cold as ice, and despite the fires blazing in their hearths, the Slytherins could see their breath in the air. Severus had just decided to stay in bed for another half a day or so when the dormitory door crashed into the wall, revealing Lucius and his companions. The group crossed their arms as they surveyed the room: Nikolas, having the habit of sleeping like a stone, had not been bothered by the disruption, but the remaining boys were watching the group with trepidation.

"Our lead has not been regained," Lucius observed.

"B-but it's only been a week," Adrian stammered. "One week, for two hundred -"

"It took you only twenty minutes to lose them," Narcissa pointed out. "If I were you, I would feel grateful that we gave you the extra days."

"Nobody can make up two hundred points in a week," Geoffrey scoffed. Lucius' eyes narrowed as he observed the large boy, then his gaze flicked to the still sleeping Nikolas. A wave of his hand had Nikolas leaping from the bed, clutching his backside and howling.

"What are you playing at?" he demanded angrily, rubbing the offended area and yawning.

"You have not made a satisfactory effort to put Slytherin in the lead once again," Lucius drawled. "If you are to survive in this house, the first lesson to be learned is this: you do not fail when set with a task. We are here to instruct you in that lesson." Severus felt a twinge of uneasiness as his friends advanced upon his dorm mates, efficiently ridding their opponents of their wands.

"Be still like good little boys, and you won't feel a thing," Bellatrix directed sweetly. The boys, however, did not heed her advice, and struggled with their 'teachers', causing Lucius to get very angry.

"Petrificus Totalus!" The four boys stopped struggling immediately, each one falling rigidly to the floor. Lucius smirked triumphantly, then allowed his companions to finish their work. When they'd stepped back, Severus had to stifle a laugh. Each of the four Slytherin first years wore identical robes: light pink, with the words: 'Curse Me! I'm Slytherin!' printed in green across their backs. Lucius lifted the body bind, and the boys began to protest loudly. Geoffrey immediately pulled his off, tossing it into the corner with disgust. "Not to worry," Lucius said lightly, retrieving the boy's robe with a wave of his hand. "You'll find all of your robes have been changed - permanently. When you've earned those points, we shall consider lifting the words. Until then -" he stepped aside, and gestured towards the door. "This dormitory is off-limits to you lot for the remainder of the day." Adrian headed for the open door immediately, hesitating when he realized his friends weren't behind him. Nikolas exchanged dark looks with his dorm mates before crossing his arms defiantly over his chest.

"We rather like it in here, thanks," he challenged. Lucius grinned.

"I did rather hope you would put up a fight," he responded with unconcealed excitement. "Auduro Induviae!" A spark flew from his sleeve, where Severus assumed his wand to be, and fell on the bottom of Nikolas' shoes. The younger boy squeaked in fear, then began stomping on the flame in an attempt to extinguish it.

"That isn't going to accomplish much of anything," Rodolphus remarked scathingly. He waved his own hand and extinguished the flame, then looked at Nikolas expectantly. "Well?" he prompted. Without so much as a backwards glance, Nikolas hurried from the room, tugging on Callum's sleeve as he passed. Severus glanced over at Geoffrey, not surprised to see that the larger boy still stood his ground.

"It will take more than a petty spell like that to persuade me to leave," he stated firmly. Bellatrix grinned.

"Inferne Dolor!" she shouted. Severus stepped backwards in surprise as the curse hit his dormmate. Geoffrey doubled over, clutching his stomach and doing his best not to cry out. A slight whimper escaped him before Lucius lifted the curse, shooting a dissatisfied glare at Bellatrix as he did so. Geoffrey straightened after a moment, then looked at the group accusingly before lifting his head and striding through the door.

"Bella, if he goes to Melison, it's you who will answer for it," Lucius snarled. Bellatrix's eyes hardened as she raised her head defiantly.

"The little snotrag had it coming," she declared.

"That is not the point," Lucius snapped. "Such flagrant and inappropriate -"

"Do not tell me what is inappropriate," Bellatrix retorted, her voice rising and her eyes snapping angrily. MacNair suddenly inclined his head towards Severus, who had been listening to the exchange with unconcealed interest.

"Severus is a part of this group," Lucius responded. "It is best he learn now what we will tolerate, and what we will not."

"You had no reserve using the Dolorius Curse last summer," Bellatrix pointed out snidely.

"And last summer, we were away from the prying eyes of those who have the power to expel us," Lucius shot back. "While we are at this school, and while that Muggle-loving fool is our headmaster, we must exercise caution. I have warned you before, Bella. Do yourself a favor, and do not draw unwanted attention to this group." Bellatrix's eyes narrowed once again, but she did not respond. Instead, she swept from the room and down the stairs.

"She's a loose cannon," Evan said quietly. "We should -"

"Shut our mouths, if we know what's good for us," Rodolphus retorted tightly. With a scathing look at Evan, he followed Bellatrix and left the room. The remaining six members glanced around at each other.

"They will be powerful allies," Lucius explained to Severus. "We cannot ostracize them, especially now."

"Why?" Severus questioned. The others exchanged meaningful glances before Lucius shook his head.

"In time, Severus."

"What aren't you telling me?" he demanded angrily. "If I am a part of this little society you've fashioned, then I have the right to know what's going on within it!"

"This is far larger than the eight of us," Walden said forcefully. "Leave it for now, boy." Severus' anger threatened to overwhelm him as his hand found its way to his wand. Lucius held an arm out in front of his friend to halt his action.

"Leave it, Severus. He'd curse you into next week before you even drew your wand," he added in a quiet voice. Severus backed away, his face set with determination.

"I took on all four of my dorm mates," he spat. "I think I can handle one fourth year." Lucius rolled his head impatiently to one side and propelled himself at the younger boy, pinning him against the wall.

"I am telling you to walk away. Now. You will not win if you attempt this."

"I do not walk away," Severus responded through clenched teeth, though Lucius' grip on him was beginning to cut off his air.

"It's never too late to start," Lucius shot back.

"It is for me," the boy retorted. sharply. As on his first night at the castle, a silence fell over the boys as they continued their stand-off, neither wanting to give in to the other in front of the rest of the group. They remained that way for what seemed an eternity before Lucius spoke again.

"I will release you on the condition that you walk from this dormitory and forget our previous conversation. It is nothing which should concern you at present." Severus wanted to protest, wanted to know what it was the others all knew, but the hardness of Lucius' eyes dissuaded him. There was a stubborn glint which he had seen too often in his father's face to challenge further. Not taking his eyes from the older boy's face, he shrugged free of his grip. Without a backward glance, he left the dormitory and exited the common room.

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His first instinct was to go into Professor Melison's office to immerse himself in the soothing world of potions, but the door was locked, and no answer came upon his knocking. With a grunt of dissatisfaction, he headed towards the only other sanctuary he was afforded: the library. While on his ascent, he passed by his dorm mates, who were attempting to conceal themselves from a group of raucous Ravenclaws looking to follow the instructions on their brightly-colored robes. The sight cheered him very little, and he found himself in just as surly a mood when he reached his destination. To his surprise, Lily was seated at a corner table. They hadn't spoken a word to each other since Transfiguration, though Severus had to admit it was mostly because he chose to remain silent. She looked up upon his entrance, and gestured to the seat next to her. He took it hesitantly.

"Why aren't you in your common room?" he asked quietly.

"Nearly everyone's celebrating the fact that Slytherin has fallen behind," she replied with a grimace. "It was getting a bit tiresome. I mean, really, it was alright on the first day, but it has been nearly a week." Her eyes found his. "Besides, I hoped you'd show up here at some point. Severus - I'm sorry that I upset you the other day. It's just -" she sighed heavily. "I worry about you," she finished softly. Severus fought against the anger that threatened to surface. She doesn't think you can take care of yourself, a harsh and bitter voice said into his ear. She's just being a good friend, another voice, this one a bit fainter, argued. He shook his head absently.

"Have you seen my dorm mates?" he questioned idly, deliberately ignoring her apology, as she would have expected him to. A wicked grin spread over his features when she shook her head. "Lucius charmed their robes - it was bloody brilliant." He proceeded to describe the events of the morning to her, and was pleased when a genuine smile graced her features.

"Finally!" she gasped between laughs,"Malfoy does something I approve of!" Her sounds of approval, however, were met with disdain from Madame Pince, and the pair retreated from the library. Severus had the urge to confide in Lily, as he'd always done, and tell her about his own encounter in the dorm room. For the first time, however, she was approving of him having Lucius as a friend, and he did not want to ruin that. He remained quiet as they wandered through the corridors.

Lily was just getting into musing about Remus and his frequent illness when Lucius intercepted them. His eyes were cold and hard, causing Severus to feel slightly ill-at-ease. This side of his friend frightened him more than just a bit.

"Professor Melison would like a word with you," he drawled, pointedly ignoring Lily.

"About what?" Severus asked coolly, the scene from the common room burning brightly in his mind.

"I wouldn't keep him waiting if I were you," Lucius said nonchalantly as he swept past them and rounded the corner. Severus followed his friend's departure, a scowl pulling down the ends of his mouth. When he turned back to Lily, her eyes were searching his questioningly.

"What?" he asked, a bit testily as he began to walk towards the dungeons.

"I thought Malfoy wasn't mad at you," she stated, doing her best to match his long strides.

"He didn't lecture me about the fight, if that's what you mean," Severus replied vaguely.

"Then why was the tension too thick to cut with a knife back there?" she demanded. Severus hesitated before speaking again.

"He- he's still angry that we lost so many points," he lied, though a pang of guilt flashed through him. Lily either believed him or knew he didn't want to discuss it, because she remained silent until they reached the door to Melison's office.

"I'll be in the library later," she said quietly, leaving him to face their professor alone. After she'd gone, he raised his hand to knock on the door, but it was wrenched open before he had the chance.

"Your detention has begun," he announced brusquely, striding over to his desk. Severus, not sure what to do, followed. "Your wand, if you please," Melison ordered, holding out a hand as he absently searched his desk for something. The boy handed it over, knowing to protest would get him nowhere quickly. The aged man before him suddenly straightened, and held out a gleaming object that sent chills up Severus' spine. When it was offered to him, he accepted it with dread.

"What am I to do with this?" he questioned, examining the blade. Noticing it was dull, he looked up at his professor for clarification. Melison said nothing, but gestured to a barrel in the corner of the room. Severus waited for him to explain, but when he did not, ventured to the indicated container. Peering inside, he saw that it was filled to the brim with dead rats. The fumes rising from the barrel made him gag, and he took a step back instinctively. Directly behind him, Professor Melison chuckled dryly.

"If you are to delve into potions, son, you can't let a simple thing like noxious fumes get in the way." He prodded Severus' back, steering him again to the smelly barrel. Severus tried to hold his breath as he neared, but Melison's next words caused him to exhale explosively.

"What?" he demanded shrilly.

"I do not repeat myself, Severus. Surely you have learned that by now?" Melison intoned as he made his way back to the front of the room.

"You want me to cut through their hides with this? This knife wouldn't slice through an egg," he protested feebly.

"Then you'd best get cracking, if you'd like to finish before dinner, eh?" Melison retorted, rifling through a few papers in front of him. Severus turned back to the barrel, bracing himself for the smell. His nose wrinkled in disgust, he pulled the first rat from the confines of the container, relived that the smell seemed to dissappate in the open classroom. He had not, unfortunately, been mistaken about the dullness of the knife. It took nearly fifteen minutes of hacking at the animal to separate the tail from the body, and Severus was sure that he'd be sick before the night was out. Throwing the unusable body of the rat aside, he grabbed another one and set in.

He soon settled into a sort of macabre rhythm, and lost all sense of his surroundings. It wasn't until the owl flew in from the open doorway that he paused, looking at it with interest. He'd seen it somewhere before, but he could not place where. The owl landed on Melison's shoulder, and dropped the letter it was carrying onto his desk. As Melison picked it up, Severus noticed the seal on the flap. It was large and loud, just as the family it belonged to: the Snapes.

"You - you haven't written my father, have you?" he asked softly, a feeling of foreboding settling over him. Melison paused in opening the letter to glance up at the boy.

"Afraid of a good tongue-lashing, are you son?" No, just afraid he'll take it out on Steven, he thought miserably. When he did not respond, Melison held up the letter. "Like to know who wrote this, wouldn't you?" he questioned. Severus remained silent. "I'll make a bargain with you, Severus. I shall discuss my personal affairs with you when you decide to recipricate the sentiments. Until then, your questions shall remain unanswered." He turned back to opening the letter, then shook his head and deposited it inside of his robes. Without a glance at the boy halfway across the room, he settled back into the book he'd been reading. Severus, determined not to seem overly interested, turned back to his rats.

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Nearly two hours passed before the boy finished the barell, and by then, his curiousity was getting the best of him. He walked up to his Head of House and paused for a moment, then, "My mother's to have another baby," he announced quietly. Melison finished the page he was reading, then marked his place and looked up nonchalantly.

"So it would seem," he observed dryly.

"You asked what's been bothering me. I've told you - now who's been writing you?"

"Why does your mother's condition upset you? Are you afraid you'll receive less attention?" Severus snorted.

"No, sir."

"Then why?"

"It will merely be another burden for her," he spat. "It'd be better off dead."

"Surely you don't wish harm upon an unborn child?"

"I don't wish it any harm. If this baby is born, I -" he stopped, unsure of whether to continue.

"Go on," Melison urged gently.

"I won't be able to prevent the harm which is certain to occur," he finished quietly. Melison looked thoughtful for a moment. "I thought we had an agreement," Severus said after a moment. "What was in that letter?"

"The letter's contents I need not disclose, but I will tell you that it is from your uncle."

"Sebastian?"

"Do you have another?"

"Why is he writing you?"

"We went to school together - we've been close friends for years. He is concerned about the amount of disciplinary actions which you have received."

"How does he -"

"I chose to write to him instead of your parents. From my knowledge of your father, I felt he would have a better interest in your well-being." No more was said, but it was enough to make the boy wonder just how much his professor knew of his home life. Did he realize how he was treated? Or did he simply know of Silias' nature from Sebastian? Whichever the case may be, the man certainly knew more than he seemed to. The thought was strangely comforting to the boy. Perhaps he could be safe here.

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Chapter 17: Sabine
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Chapter Seventeen: Sabine
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The remainder of the term passed nearly uneventfully, with the exception of the month in which Severus and the Dynamic Duo alternated stays in the hospital wing.

After his detention with his Head of House, the boy felt it strangely comforting to be with Melison, and it was a rare occurrence to find him not in the professor's office, devouring the tomes which lined the room. Melison seldom questioned Severus about his home life, though the boy knew he would listen if it was asked of him. The room soon became his new refuge from the torment of the Gryffindors, and the distance of his own dormmates.

It was here that he sat, on the last evening before term, when Melison broached the subject that was foremost on Severus' mind.

"Looking forward to your holidays, son?" he asked, setting aside the book he'd been reading.

"No," the boy answered, not looking up from the book on Medieval draughts utilizing dragon's blood he wanted to finish. "I would rather the summer was already over, actually."

"You'll have a new sibling by month's end," the professor pointed out.

"Hooray," Severus remarked dryly.

"Still not overly thrilled, are you?"

"I'd like to finish this book, Professor," Severus retorted, not wishing to discuss the matter.

"A birth should be seen as nothing short of a blessing, son," Melison instructed quietly. Severus shut the book with a bang. Obviously, he was not going to be permitted to finish it.

"Not in my family, Professor," he said sharply, returning the book to the man's desk. "Have a good summer." Without waiting for the older man to reply, he strode from the room to finish his packing.

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His stomach sank further as the train pulled into King's Cross. Lily had not attempted to bring him out of his silence - perhaps she realized what was on his mind. Lucius and the other Slytherins had steered clear of the pair's compartment, though Severus was almost certain it was out of respect for his own wishes. As such, the trip passed quietly, with ample time to reflect on the imminent problem. He looked up as he got off the train, seeing his uncle and Steven immediately.

"I'll just go and find Mum and Dad," Lily said quietly as she brushed past him.

"Lily -" She stopped and turned, waiting. "Thanks," he said finally, not thinking of anything further to say. She smiled warmly at him, making the knot in his stomach ease slightly. She understood.

"See you at home," she said with a slight wave. He reciprocated as he made his way to where his uncle stood.

"Severus, you are looking well, boy," Sebastian said with a welcome smile. "It's good -" he stopped in mid-sentence, staring at something over Severus' shoulder. The boy turned around to see Braeden and Lucius standing directly behind him. They both eyed Sebastian with a cold contempt before turning to Severus

"Severus," Braeden began, his eyes shining with something akin to glee, "I enjoyed the time you spent with us at the Manor over the Christmas Holidays."

"Thank you, sir," he responded. "I enjoyed attending."

"We must see about having you out to stay for a time. There is much you need to learn - many important people you should be acquainted with. The right people. Your father's not been in a position to arrange these associations for you. It is time you become familiar with the proper families. Lucius will write you, of course." Severus couldn't believe his ears. Lucius had been a tad distant since the beginning of term, and the boy had been afraid he'd lost his friend. Now he was being invited to stay at his house. He opened his mouth to accept immediately.

"Thank you for that generous offer, Braeden," Sebastian said coolly. "Though I am sure Severus will be far too busy this summer to accept." Braeden's eyes remained on Severus as the boy began to bristle with anger.

"Lucius will write," he repeated. "Perhaps your engagements will change."

"Have a good summer, Severus," Lucius said as they walked past. The trio of Snapes watched them go. Once they had disappeared through the barrier, Sebastian turned to his nephew.

"It distresses me that you feel the desire to accept his invitation," he said coldly.

"Lucius is my friend, Uncle Sebastian. Why shouldn't I want to visit him?" His uncle said nothing, but led the boys out of the station and towards home.

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When they arrived at the house, there was no sign of his parents. When Severus inquired about their whereabouts, he was met with a terse reply from his uncle.

"They should return any minute." It was clear, however, that he had expected them to have been at the house. "These things take time, boy."

"These things?" Severus intoned, confused for a split second. "You don't mean -"

"They've been at St. Mungo's since early last evening," Sebastian affirmed. "I'm sure they'll be here for dinner."

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Dinner came and went, and still there was no news of Rebekah and Silias.

Sebastian's assurance that they were fine and would be home shortly sounded as doubtful as Severus felt. He and Steven trudged up the stairs to bed, each absorbed in their own musings. It wasn't until he was on his cot and staring at the ceiling that Severus realized his younger brother hadn't spoken since he'd gotten off the train. Now more worried than before, he rose from his room and walked to his brother's door. It was slightly ajar, and the older boy did not bother knocking before peering inside.

"Steven?" His voice was soft, but in the silence of the house, it sounded like thunder.

"I'm awake," came the small boy's reply, muffled from beneath the blankets. Severus strode to his bed, pulling back the covers under which he'd hidden. Steven's face, tear-stained and fearful, looked up at him innocently.

"You were crying?" Severus was dumbfounded. "What for?"

"I can't be like you," Steven sulked defensively. "I'm scared." Severus was even more perplexed.

"Of what? The baby?" The child shook his head.

"Of Father."

"Oh," Severus sighed. "Well, that's nothing new, is it?" Suddenly, Steven was sitting upright, his arms encircling his knees.

"I'm not like you, Severus. I can't protect the baby from him. What's going to happen when you go back to school?" The boy was nearly in tears, and Severus was at a loss. He hadn't the faintest idea how to comfort him, especially when he himself had been having similar doubts.

"You don't want to be like me," he finally said. "Look how badly I failed you." Steven's face turned to him, disbelief plain on his features.

"You haven't-"

"What happens, happens," he said brusquely. "There's nothing either of us can do about it, so stop worrying. Maybe it's even a good thing." Even as the words sprang from his lips, he knew he didn't believe them any more than Steven did. The boy's lower lip was trembling, his eyes threatening to spill over once again. "Go to sleep," Severus instructed as he stood. "They'll probably be home in the morning." Without a backwards glance, he stepped through the doorway and into the hall, closing the door behind him. What had gotten into him? He'd gone in to check on his brother, and succeeded only in frightening the boy even further.

"That was a bit harsh," came a quiet voice from the staircase. Severus started in surprise as he made out the form of his uncle on the top tread.

"It's true," the boy responded softly, turning to go back to his own room.

"Wizard's Chess?" Sebastian inquired nonchalantly. Severus shrugged indifferently. After all, he was probably not going to get much sleep as it was. He followed Sebastian wordlessly into the living room, where the board had already been set up. The pair set into the game, neither one speaking. Within minutes, Severus had won.

"You aren't even trying," he observed.

"My mind is elsewhere, boy. Forgive me," Sebastian said listlessly.

"She'll be fine," the boy responded quietly, his eyes on the pieces he was replacing onto the board. "She's survived him, hasn't she?" He could feel his uncle's piercing gaze studying his bowed head, causing Severus to concentrate even more on arranging the pieces.

"Of course she will," Sebastian affirmed, though Severus was sure his worry had not ceased. To his credit, he put forth a considerably better effort for their next game, so that it took Severus a good hour before the older man admitted defeat.

It was nearly two in the morning when they heard the insistent tapping at the window. Sebastian sprang from his seat and crossed the room, throwing open the window to admit a large snowy owl. Severus didn't recognize it, but his uncle seemed to as he stroked the bird absently while reading the correspondence. The boy read the note over his uncle's shoulder:

She's doing fine. It's a girl.

~MK~


"A girl?" Severus exclaimed in disbelief as the lines on Sebastian's face crept away. "She had a girl?" But Sebastian did not reply. He merely clapped the boy on the back, re-reading the parchment in the meager candlelight by the chessboard.

"She's fine," he breathed with relief. He turned to Severus, as if just noticing he was there. "Congratulations, Severus. You have a baby sister! Now, why don't you get some sleep? I'm sure you'll be anxious to welcome them home in the morning." He turned back to the note, finally folding it and putting it into his pocket. As he did so, the boy noticed the light reflecting off of another object in his vest. It was the pocket watch Rebekah had given him for Christmas. Without a word, he turned and made his way back to his bedroom. There was now no doubt in his mind of his uncle's feelings towards his mother. Those thoughts were pushed aside, however, as he thought of his new sister. He shook his head as he climbed into bed and stared again at the ceiling. A girl made things even worse!

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He lay awake for most of the night, his twelve-year-old mind turning over the problem at hand. So it was that when he heard his parents Apparate below him, he did not leap from the bed as he heard his brother do. Moments later, Sebastian appeared at his door, a beaming smile on his face.

"Aren't you coming down,?" he inquired, leaning against the doorway.

"For what?" Severus questioned, his voice even. Sebastian's smile faded slightly.

"She's done nothing to you, boy. Come and meet Sabine."

"Who?"

"Your sister," the man snapped impatiently. "They're waiting for you in the lounge." With an exaggerated sigh and a fixed scowl, Severus rose from the bed. His uncle put out a hand to stop him from going through the door, and the boy looked up in question. "Did you not sleep?" he asked quietly, indicating the rumpled clothes Severus still wore. Not feeling up to any 'discussions', he ducked under the outstretched appendage and continued down the stairs.

Rebekah sat on the couch, cradling a bundle in her arms. Were it not for the presence of his brother next to her, Severus would have felt he were reliving the day Steven was born. His mother looked up as he descended the stairs, a smile on her face for the first time in, well, since Severus could remember. The sight of her happiness eased his apprehension somewhat, though it was obvious as he stared down into the tiny face of his sister what brought it on. Her delicate facial features were identical to those of her mother, and it was glaringly apparent that she would share in the beauty Rebekah had once known. Severus sniffed. At least she wasn't another version of Silias. A smirk graced his features as he imagined another Snape look-a-like, this time clad in pink robes and bows. From the corner armchair, his father sniffed derisively.

"Well?" Rebekah asked, her eyes searching his.

"She's asleep," he pointed out. To his surprise, she laughed.

"Babies sleep all the time," she explained.

"Lazy, the whole lot of them," came the reply from where his father sat. Without another word, Silias rose from the seat and Disapparated.

"Do you want to hold her?" Rebekah asked her son, evidently not phased by her husband's abrupt departure. A tendril of fear crept down the boy's spine as he backed away.

"No," he said quickly, but it was too late. His mother had already placed the bundle of white blankets in his arms. He held her out from his body awkwardly, not sure what to do.

"Support her head, now," his mother instructed, positioning his arm beneath the infant's neck. As she released his hand, Sabine's tiny face screwed up in an enormous yawn, before she blinked up at her eldest brother.

"Her eyes-" Severus said immediately, looking at his mother. She stared back, her almond-shaped blue eyes focused on him. "They- they're brown."

"Hazel, actually," Rebekah corrected. "Just like your grandmother had." Severus turned to stare at his uncle, who was leaning against the doorframe unobtrusively.

"And Uncle Sebastian," he muttered inaudibly.
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A/N: Thanks to everyone who's reviewed! You all felt the rats were a bit grotesque, which was, of course, my intent. Got to have Severus weaned into nasty things early, haven't we? Anyhoo - thanks a lot again to those who have been following this..I'm still not as far ahead of myself chapter wise as I'd like, but I'm working on getting it back up to 5 chappies ahead, so that my posting doesn't fall behind!

Chapter 18: Summer Days
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Chapter Eighteen: Summer Days
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Over the next several weeks, it became very clear that Sabine was, well, different. Content to simply watch those around her, she seldom made any noise, and never cried. It was something Severus found to be quite unnerving.

"It's like she's always staring at me, like she's expecting me to do something" he complained to Lily one afternoon, nearly six weeks after his sister's birth. Lily scoffed.

"Severus, she's just a baby," she pointed out. "It isn't as though she's doing it on purpose." Nevertheless, Sabine's eyes focused on him alone when he was in the room, he was sure of it. And it was not endearing to him.

"Sebastian's arrived again," Lily said quietly, her eyes on her best friend as she inclined her head to the neighboring house. Severus' lips tightened as he looked away from his uncle's form.

"He's over nearly every day now. Always holding Sabine, always making a fuss over her. Sometimes it feels as though she's all he sees."

"That isn't fair," she argued. "You told me just the other day that you and Sebastian had discussed one of the theories from your new book."

"Only for a minute," he raged, standing from their places in the grass and pacing in agitation. "Everything's changed, Lily. I'm not sure if it's for the better. Father - of course, I have no complaints there - he's been nearly civil to us since Christmas. And Mother -" he glanced back at the house, thinking of the change which had come over both his parents. "She does seem happier."

"Of course she's happy!" Lily exclaimed. "She's just had a baby girl who looks more like her than the man she's undoubtedly hated for years!" Severus stopped in his pacing and glared at her.

"Unlike me," he stated dryly. Her eyes widened as she hastened to stand as well.

"That's not what I meant," she said quickly.

"It's the truth, though, isn't it? Maybe that's why she's never bothered to stop him. After all, Steven and I are nearly identical, aren't we? Can't get too attached to your own children, especially when they remind you every day of the hell you live!" He was panting with rage now, and sudden understanding. It did make sense - all those years, he'd thought it had been that she couldn't love any of her offspring, but now here she was, every bit the doting mother with her youngest.

"You're worth twenty of your father," Lily assured him, placing a gentle hand on his arm. "And if your mum can't see that, she doesn't deserve to have you." His breathing slowed as her words sank in, and he turned to her.

"How do you do it?" he asked in wonderment.

"Do what?" she replied, confusion on her face.

"Always see the good in things."

"Oh, that." She shrugged and grinned. "Part of my nature, I suppose."

"Really? So tell me, where's the good in your sister?"

"Petunia?" She frowned. "Well, she's been avoiding us like the plague recently, if you hadn't noticed. Mum says she's not comfortable with our 'special talents', but she's just jealous, plain and simple. At any rate, it's fine by me."

"So her good is that she isn't around?"

"Exactly,"
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He returned home long after sundown, after he knew Sabine to be asleep. When he opened the door to the kitchen, he found chaos awaiting him. A large, unfamiliar owl was swooping around the house, a disgruntled and haggard-looking Silias chasing after it. Narrowly avoiding a mound of droppings, Severus stepped inside and closed the door. The owl immediately flew to his shoulder, and held out its leg, to which a rolled parchment was tied. The boy took it with curiosity, and the owl flew off, hooting with triumph. Silias' face was red with indignation and exertion as he slid upon the aforementioned pile and fell onto his backside.

"So it's for you, is it?" he sneered, clamoring to his feet and grasping his eldest son by the arm.

"Evidently," came the snide reply which earned him his first 'disciplinary action' since Christmas.

"Bloody owl's been flying about all evening," he said viciously. "Look at the piles it's left! Clean it up, and be quick about it!"

"I'm not allowed to do magic outside of school," Severus pointed out. "Do a quick scourgify, and you'll set it to rights." Silias' face grew even redder as his grip tightened. There was no further exchange as he was unceremoniously ejected from the room and down into the basement. Once the door had slammed, Severus pulled the letter from his pocket and began to read:

Severus ~

Father has granted his consent for you to stay over the final week before term. He is very anxious to get to know you, as I have told you many times before.

I will arrive at your place at four o'clock on the afternoon of the twenty-fifth. Father has agreed to wait until you are here to go to Diagon Alley for our school supplies.

There is no need to send an answer by owl. Father has made it perfectly clear that the matter is settled.

~Lucius


Severus grinned as he folded the note and stashed it inside his shirt. Lucius had sent him an escape from his family - and the boy knew his father wouldn't dare refuse the offer.

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Lily came down to the basement the next afternoon, looking thoroughly disgruntled.

"So he's been civil, has he?" she exclaimed, crossing her arms over her chest. Severus was far too excited about his impending visit with Lucius to notice the sarcasm dripping from her words. He handed the letter to her eagerly, puzzled when her face fell slightly.

"I know you don't approve of Lucius," he began, but she cut him off with a shake of her head.

"It isn't that," she said quietly, re-reading the letter. "It's just - I thought you'd be going with us to Diagon Alley again this year. Mum and Dad don't belong to the Floo Network, you know." His heart sank slightly at the disappointment in her voice.

"Oh," he said after a moment's pause. "Of course I will. It isn't as though Lucius thought of -" he stopped before he finished the sentence, seeing Lily's eyes snapping with anger.

"Neither did you, apparently," she retorted, turning to go. He scrambled to his feet and grasped her arm in an effort to keep her from leaving.

"Lily, don't. I wasn't thinking. The thought of getting out of this house an entire week early - I apologize," he finished lamely. When she did not respond, he dropped her arm and sighed heavily. "I'll have Uncle Sebastian take you, if you'd rather not -"

"I just told you that I wanted you to go," she replied, though a bit of the harshness had gone out of her words. "And I'm sorry that I made you feel guilty. I don't like Lucius, and I'm worried about you spending an entire week alone with him. But I'm not going to harp on it," she assured him as he raised his own voice in protest. "At any rate, Mum and Dad wanted you over for dinner tonight. They've sent Petunia over to a mate's house for the week-end, and they said they won't take no for an answer. I'll have to think of something inventive to tell them. The 'he's not allowed' bit is getting old." Severus glanced at the door to the basement, then at the ladder beneath the window.

"He'd never know," he mumbled, almost to himself. Lily stared at him for a moment before his words sank in.

"You're not thinking of sneaking out?" she demanded, her eyes flicking to the basement door. "Severus, I didn't mean for you to try anything -"

"Why not?" he challenged. He felt invigorated at the very thought of defying his father, of slipping out from beneath his very nose. Not realizing that his intense feeling was finding release in his gaze, he stared at his friend. "What'll he do? Stick me back down here?" She shrank back slightly, and he immediately headed towards the ladder, the fire he felt in his very soul urging him on. It wasn't until he was nearly to the window and he realized Lily hadn't followed that he turned around. "Well?" he demanded shortly. "What are you waiting for?" She stared at him, her eyes holding a sadness no twelve-year-old should possess.

"He might not do anything to you," she agreed, letting her sentence trail off as her blazing gaze met his own. Severus' gut instinct was to keep going, and to the devil with the consequences, but that nagging little voice spoke again in his ear. Steven and Sabine can't hide, it said matter-of-factly.

"Sebastian can keep them safe," he muttered, aware that he was having an argument with only himself.

He isn't there at night, the voice pushed. Steven has let the supplies run low.

"And it's a new moon tonight," Severus said resignedly, causing Lily to cast him a confused glance. Reluctantly, he retreated down the ladder, to be caught up in an embrace by his friend.

"I'll tell Mum and Dad we'll have dinner another night. Don't do anything rash, Severus," she said as she began to climb the ladder. He nodded and sank to the floor beneath the stairs, his head held in his hands. What would Lucius say if he saw him now? Would he ridicule him and tell him he was letting his emotions control him? The vivid image of his friend's angry scar swam before his eyes, and Severus knew exactly what Lucius would do: he would be shaking his head ever-so-slightly, his eyes holding the 'I told you this would happen' that his lips would not utter.

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Severus stood abruptly as he heard the door creak open in the darkness above him. It was not Silias, however, that descended the stairs.

"All right, boy?" The voice that emanated from the bottom of the stair elicited a mixture of emotions in the child. He had trusted it once, but now there were too many unanswered questions, too many half-truths to know if his uncle was truly concerned for his well-being. Hesitantly, he began to nod, then realized that in the gathering gloom, the gesture would not be seen.

"Fine," he answered tersely instead.

"Good," Sebastian remarked firmly. "Care to discuss the contents of that letter? If the description I have received of the owl is correct, I can only assume it is from either Lucius or Braeden."

"Lucius," he answered crisply, his uncle's words from the train station ringing in his ears.

"Ah. An invitation to Malfoy Manor, then?" It wasn't really a question, and Severus knew from the heavy tone in Sebastian's voice that he still did not approve. It was eerie, holding a conversation in the inky blackness of the basement. Steven had let the supplies dwindle, and there were no remaining candles to illuminate the space. It seemed as though he weren't talking to a living person at all, but a mere figment of his imagination.

"Yes." Again a short reply. He had no inclination to rehash the argument which Lucius' name never failed to bring up. Sebastian, however, was not to be deterred.

"Do not allow yourself to be blind-sighted," he cautioned. "The Malfoys-"

"You don't even know Lucius!" Severus interrupted, his voice rising. "It isn't right to group him with his family simply because of his name. Father is different than you, isn't he? The two of you are complete opposites, yet your name is the same. Isn't it possible that Lucius is different from his father?" There was silence for a moment, making the boy question whether his uncle had ever been there. Finally, Sebastian spoke again.

"It's late. You had best get to bed," he instructed quietly. His voice held no trace of anger, but Severus thought he detected a bit of resignation in his uncle's words. He remained silent, brushing past Sebastian without a word. Halfway up the stairs, the hairs began to rise on the back of his neck. Turning around, he saw Sebastian illuminated from an unseen source of light. It was not his uncle that bothered him, however. It wasn't even the fact that he could not find the source of the light which bathed him that bothered him. In Sebastian's arms he held Sabine, and as always, her eyes were locked onto her brother. The feeling of unease grew as Severus turned again, but it did not fade even after he had locked himself inside of his room. It was as though she were accusing him of something - but he hadn't done anything!

He lay awake for a long time afterward, thinking of his sister, and of Lily's insistence that she couldn't have a reason for watching him. But she does watch me, he thought with a frown. Try as he could, no reason for her ever-present gaze sprang to his mind. Drifting off to sleep as the first rays of morning sun filtered through his window, his dreams were haunted by a tiny set of hazel eyes.
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Chapter 19: Visiting the Manor
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Chapter Nineteen: Visiting the Manor
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Severus stood at the top of the stairs, looking over the railing into the living room below. He was trying his best to appear nonchalant, but the excitement of his impending visit with Lucius was nearly bubbling over. Twenty minutes, he thought as he glanced down at his watch for the tenth time in as many minutes. Then it'll be months before I have to come back. The thought of not being around his family until Christmas was elating, and he glanced at his watch again. Nineteen minutes. He sighed. Four o'clock seemed as though it would never come.

A loud crack outside drew his attention to the yard below. His nose pressed to the window, he watched as Lucius made his way to the front door, rapping loudly with a silver-tipped cane. I haven't seen that before, he thought with interest. Not relishing the idea of having his wealthy friend see his meager bedroom, Severus grabbed his trunk and began hauling it down the stairs. He reached the bottom just as his father emerged from the living room. With a nasty sneer, Silias wrenched open the door.

"Lucius," he greeted silkily as the boy who nearly towered over him stepped inside. Lucius smirked slightly as he spotted Severus, then turned to Silias.

"Father and I would like to extend our gratitude for allowing Severus to spend the week at the Manor," he stated as his eyes took in his surroundings.

"You're doing me a favor, getting rid of him early," Silias replied. Lucius cast him a hard look.

"Had we known it benefited you in any way, I am sure we would have reconsidered," he retorted, his eyes now locked on the older man's. "The fact that you do not realize -"

"We should get going," Severus broke in. Though he was leaving for now, he had to return to the house eventually, and as much as he'd enjoy seeing Silias told off, he did not want to think of the welcome he'd receive at Christmas. Lucius' eyes flicked to his friend.

"Indeed." He reached down and gave the boy a hand with his trunk, and the two carried it to the fireplace. "It would be helpful to shrink this," Lucius commented loudly. Silias sneered at him.

"Shame neither of you are out of school," he drawled. "Maybe when you're all grown up, you'll be able to do things like that." Lucius' eyes snapped with anger at the tone of the man's voice, and he stepped up to him, unabashed.

"And perhaps when you grow up, you will be granted the companionship of the right people." He turned on his heel, tossed Severus' trunk into the hearth, then stepped inside and shouted, "Malfoy Manor!" Without hesitation, Severus grabbed a handful of the Floo powder and followed, almost before Lucius had completely vanished.

They emerged from the same fireplace the Snapes had come through at Christmas, and Severus saw with amazement that the opulent decorations which adorned the house on his previous visit were evidently the norm. In the dining room, the same jeweled goblets and silver were laid out, though for far less people. The same wizened house elf appeared by their side, taking Severus' trunk before he could protest.

Instead of going through the doors and onto the veranda, Severus followed Lucius and the house elf across the dining room and through the sitting room, where a spiral staircase led to the second floor. The boys dragged the trunk up the stairs, and down the corridor to which it led. Doors were spaced nearly twenty feet apart, and to Severus the hall seemed to stretch on endlessly.

"Your room's just across from mine," Lucius announced, stopping after the fourth door. The house elf opened it to reveal an enormous chamber with a magnificent bay window on the far wall, overlooking the grounds. Severus stared out in awe over the view - this was definitely better than what he was used to.

"There's a loo over there," Lucius pointed out, directing Severus' attention to the door to his left. "Mikin, tell Father that we've returned, and we will see him at dinner," he directed the house elf. Mikin bowed and silently left the room.

"This room is the size of my house," Severus said in wonderment. Lucius smirked.

"Not quite, but it is the largest of the guest quarters. Father and I wanted to make a good impression, you know." It was Severus' turn to smirk.

"A room half this size would have impressed me, and you know it," he chided. "Now you're just showing off." Lucius' smirk turned into a smile as he laughed.

"So it would seem. I'll show you around before dinner."

"I haven't unpacked -"

"Mikin will attend to it," Lucius replied with a wave of his hand. "If we're to cover the grounds before six, we'd best get moving."

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Lucius had not been exaggerating about the size of the manor and grounds. They were nearly late to dinner, as Braeden commented on when they took their seats.

"Have you had an enjoyable summer, Severus?" the man inquired as the soup was being served. Severus, still a bit overwhelmed, shrugged.

"It wasn't bad, sir, but I'll be glad to return to Hogwarts."

"Indeed?" Braeden remarked with a raised eyebrow, "Headmaster Dumbledore must not be making too much of a muck-up of things, then."

"No, sir," Severus responded uncomfortably. He knew Lucius' feelings about the headmaster, but Severus couldn't see anything wrong with the man thus far.

"Severus is top of his class in Potions, Father," Lucius announced, turning his father's attention away from Severus' reply.

"Is that so?" Braeden asked evenly.

"Professor Melison constantly hangs Severus' achievements over the less talented students in my N.E.W.T.s class. Says he's on track to becoming a great Potions Master." Braeden looked impressed, despite his obvious efforts not to. Severus, for his part, was beginning to feel slightly ill-at-ease. He wasn't used to anyone complimenting his talents so openly.

"And how are your marks in Defense Against the Dark Arts?" Braeden inquired, idly sipping his soup.

"I do well," Severus answered, growing more uncomfortable by the minute.

"Don't be stupid, Severus," Lucius chided. "You're top of your class in that as well. He does have a bit of trouble with Transfiguration, though," he added almost as an afterthought. Severus was alarmed that Lucius knew so much about his schoolwork - no doubt his friend had been keeping tabs on him throughout the school year.

"Good," Braeden said firmly, not attempting to hid his approval. "It seems you are every bit the boy Lucius has told me so much about." Far from calming him, the man's words elicited a tendril of fear from the boy. He was gazing at Severus with an odd gleam in his eye that the boy could not explain. "The second floor library should be of interest to you. Feel free to browse it at your leisure." Severus thanked him quietly, then turned again to his soup.

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The next morning, Braeden took the boys to Diagon Alley, as Lucius' letter had promised. They went into the routine shops to obtain Lucius' supplies, and then stopped outside of Flourish and Blotts.

"We have one final destination," Braeden announced after looking carefully around him. "I am in need of a few things not found directly in Diagon Alley. You should familiarize yourself with the area to which we are headed," he instructed as he began to walk towards the end of the alley.

By the time Severus realized where Braeden was leading him, they were at the entrance to Knockturn Alley. He had just opened his mouth to question whether they were in the right place when a familiar sight blocked the path.

"Severus!" The boy gave an embarrassed nod to his uncle. What was Sebastian playing at? "You will excuse us for a moment, won't you, Braeden? Severus has forgotten a few things for school that we need to pick up."

"I already have my school things, Uncle. This is the week I'm staying with the Malfoys," Severus said tightly.

"There are a few which have been overlooked," Sebastian argued, taking hold of Severus' arm. "I will see that he meets back up with you this afternoon." He began to half-drag Severus from Knockturn Alley as the Malfoys stared after him for a moment. When Severus turned to look, they had already gone.

"We have gotten all my things," he snapped. "What are you playing at?"

"Do you realize where they were taking you, boy?" Sebastian retorted, his voice crisp and even.

"Of course! Mr. Malfoy needed -"

"Whatever he told you was a lie, Severus."

"How do you know?" he demanded, trying to wrench his arm free from his uncle's grip. Sebastian responded by increasing his hold.

"I know Braeden Malfoy all too well. He's a dark wizard, Severus, and an evil man."

"He's done nothing evil to me!" Severus argued, his temper continuing to rise.

"Don't you see what they're doing? They're trying to get you on their side!" He paused as his eyes searched his nephew's face. "And they've nearly succeeded, haven't they?" he asked quietly.

"I don't know what you're talking about!" Severus protested. Sebastian knelt in front of the boy, his hands like vises on Severus' arms.

"Listen to me, boy," he pleaded, his eyes boring into Severus' own. "You must not allow them to use you. They'll discard you the moment you're of no value to them."

"I'm twelve! What possible use could they have for me?" There was a pause as Sebastian seemed to consider his words. Finally, he shook his head.

"You don't understand," he said wearily. "You don't now, and perhaps you never will." He stood up, looking defeated as he released Severus' arm. His gaze turned down Diagon Alley, and a smile suddenly lit his features. "Come boy. There is something you need."

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Chapter 20: Occlumency?
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Chapter Twenty: Occlumency?
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Sebastian's strides were quick, and Severus had to struggle to keep up with him. They entered Flourish and Blott's, and Sebastian led the boy to a back room as he nodded to the proprietor. Severus frowned as he examined the room to which he'd been taken. Tattered books lined equally battered bookcases, and stacks upon stacks of them created the illusion of a makeshift maze.

His uncle wove his way easily through the stacks, until they reached a corner in which shadows loomed. The flickering candlelight did not reach this corner, and Severus' curiosity was piqued. What was back here that could not be kept in the front of the store?

Sebastian began sifting through the volumes in front of him, pulling out nearly half a dozen and handing them to his nephew. Severus glanced down at the books, the titles Mastering Your Mind and How to Keep Your Secrets Your Own catching his eye.

"What are these?" he questioned as he flipped through the books he'd been handed.

"They are books, as I am sure you've noticed," Sebastian retorted.

"Yes, but what are they for?" he shot back.

"Occlumency, Severus."

"And that would be...?" he prompted.

"The practice of blocking one's mind to outside penetration. Learning to shut off your emotions so as not to reveal your feelings to those you choose." He stopped going through the books, laying one final one on the boy's stack. "Now, we've precious little time before the start of term, so it'll have to be on your Christmas Holiday."

"What will have to be on holiday?" Severus questioned, feeling he was not getting anywhere.

"Your lessons, boy. You need to read the books before we begin your lessons."

"But why -" Sebastian sighed impatiently.

"You do not believe me that Braeden Malfoy is a dangerous man. So be it. But I will not allow you to become one of his pawns. Swear to me that you'll try, Severus. If you can shut your mind from Braeden, it will limit the weapons he can use against you." Already intrigued by the snippets he'd read, the boy nodded immediately.

"Good," he said emphatically. "Now, you will take one of these with you today, the rest I will send via Malichi at Hogwarts. He will see to it that you get them. And Severus- you must not breathe a word of this to anyone."

"I won't," he promised.

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They were reunited with Braeden and Lucius outside of Ollivander's.

"I thank you for allowing me to tear Severus away," Sebastian remarked as they approached the Malfoys.

"Not at all," Braeden replied coolly. "Everything is settled, then, I presume?"

"It is," Sebastian stated with a smirk. "Have a good visit, Severus. Enjoy the new term at school." Severus nodded as he watched his uncle walk away.

"Let's see it, then," Lucius announced as soon as Sebastian was out of ear-shot.

"See what?" Severus asked as they began walking back towards The Leaky Cauldron.

"Whatever it was you forgot," Lucius replied in annoyance.

"Oh, right." Severus held up the book, which Sebastian had charmed to appear as a Potions volume. "I've read it, of course- in Professor Melison's office last term- but Uncle Sebastian wanted me to have my own copy." Lucius sniffed, but said nothing. Apparently believing his friend, he began to talk about Knockturn Alley.

"The shops there are much more interesting than these hum-drum stores," Lucius sneered. "Not to worry, though - there's always next summer."

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When they returned to Malfoy Manor, Braeden turned to the boys and laid a hand on Lucius' shoulder.

"If you'll excuse us, Severus, I need to have a chat with Lucius. Why don't you explore the grounds a bit on your own? I doubt Lucius had a chance to show you everything last evening." The boy nodded, wondering what the two were going to discuss. As they walked away, he decided to take Braeden up on his offer to peruse his second floor Library.

After many unsuccessful attempts, Severus finally located the room at the end of the second floor corridor. As he stepped inside, his eyes drank in the surroundings. It was the most impressive library he had ever seen - bookshelf after bookshelf towered around the room, some of them higher than he knew the ceiling should be. He approached the nearest shelf and gazed at the top wistfully. Suddenly the desired shelf appeared in front of him. He grinned. This was going to be fantastic!

He reached for a book at random, then hesitated as the titles caught his eye. From the looks of these tomes, this library was very similar to his father's own collection. Frantically he searched the shelves for anything innocent-looking, but was faced with volume after volume of age-old curses and Dark wizardry. His heart was pounding in his chest as he took down a book and began to sift through it. Horrible images swam before him - wizards in various stages of pain and suffering, curses which afforded the caster incredible power at the sacrifice of the innocent trampled upon - he shut the book and quickly replaced it, looking for the way out.

His uncle was obviously right about Braeden, but Lucius would never- his thoughts were interrupted as he heard voices filtering through a panel on the wall next to him. Pressing his ear against the partition, it moved slightly, creating a space large enough for him to peer through. On the other side of the wall, Braeden sat behind a large desk - different from the one in Silias' study only by its ornate appearance - and Lucius stood before his father, his hands clasped behind his back.

"He will prove a useful ally when he is older," Braeden said, his expression thoughtful.

"What of his family?" Lucius asked.

"That dolt of a father won't protest his association with us. It's Sebastian with whom we should concern ourselves."

"He has no control over the boy, Father," Lucius stated firmly.

"Severus certainly seems to look up to him," observed the older man.

"Merely a pretense, I'm sure," the boy assured him. Lucius leaned closer to his father. "There's something about the boy I cannot place my finger on, but Severus will follow where I lead."

"Then we must take it upon ourselves to teach him the things which he needs to know," Braeden remarked.

In the other room, Severus' blood ran cold.

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A/N: Okie Dokies, folks. This is the last chappie I'm posting here, as RL is getting way too hectic to keep up with 6 different sites, so if you'd like to continue reading, visit it at my personal site (http://www.sevysgal.com) thanks to all those at HPFF.com for their hard work, and thanks to everyone who has been following!



Chapter 21: Return to - Normalcy?
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Chapter Twenty-One: Return to - Normalcy?
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Severus wanted to run. He wanted to turn away from the wall, to put as much distance between himself and the Malfoys as possible. But his legs felt like lead, and he found that he could not move them. Rooted to the spot, the conversation he'd overheard whirled through his brain again and again. Lucius was his friend. Or was he?

A sound in the hall brought his attention back to his immediate surroundings, and he somehow found it in himself to turn away from the wall and go to the nearest bookshelf, grabbing a book at random and opening it. Lucius poked his head into the room, spotted him, and then walked over. Severus’ heart was pounding – would his friend see through his façade?

“Good, you found it,” Lucius appraised, nodding to the book in the other boy’s hands. “Find anything interesting?” Severus nodded, his fear diminishing somewhat. Lucius didn’t suspect anything now, and as long as he didn’t let on, he’d be fine.

“Yes,” the younger boy replied, his eyes on the page in front of him. “Very interesting.”

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The remainder of the week provided no more surprises to the boy, and Severus began to wonder if he’d really overheard what he thought he had. Lucius and Braeden were nothing but friendly to him, and they never pushed as his own family did. Severus soon found himself settling into life at the manor, and quite liking it. He'd even gone back to the library, where Lucius had pointed out several interesting books on hexes.

The conversation between his friend and his father was therefore pushed to the back of his mind as they arrived at King’s Cross, and he began looking for Lily on the platform.

“Come on,” Lucius urged. “What are you waiting for?”

“Just looking for –“ he paused at the look that came over Lucius’ face. “Never mind,” he muttered.

“The others are probably already on board,” Lucius observed, taking in the platform with a quick glance. “We’d best go and find them.” Severus followed his friend obediently, though still looking around for his neighbor.

They boarded the train and soon found their friends, as Lucius had predicted, already assembled. As Severus sat, he noticed there was one missing from their numbers, and it took a moment for him to realize that Rodolphus had been in his seventh year last term. Of course he wouldn't be here now. The others greeted the newcomers, and they began to discuss their summer holidays. Lucius left to go to the prefects’ meeting, leaving Severus sitting awkwardly with the rest of the group.

It was nearly halfway into the trip when Severus began to worry about Lily. He hadn't seen her on the platform, and he'd been watching the corridor since they'd left the station, but she hadn't passed by. Despite his companions' assurances that he would be better off to forget about her, he stepped into the hall in search of his friend. Peering into compartments as he went, the boy stopped outside one halfway down the train. Inside sat James and Sirius, along with Remus and Peter. Severus wrapped his hand around the wand in his pocket, getting ready to get a start on the year with one of the hexes he'd learned that week. A hand over his own startled him, and he turned to see Lily.

"All right, Severus?" she asked with a smirk. With a last longing look towards the boys in the compartment, Severus nodded.

"Didn't see you on the platform," he muttered.

"I was here pretty early," she admitted. "C'mon," she instructed after a moment's hesitation. "I want you to tell me all about your lovely stay with Malfoy." He followed her obediently down the corridor, to a compartment packed with giggling girls of all ages. Severus rolled his eyes.

"How are we supposed to talk in here?" he muttered as they entered. Lily ignored him as she introduced everyone. He tried not to notice the way they all looked at him - not one of the girls was in Slytherin. He nodded curtly as he took a seat beside his friend, wanting to tell her everything about his week with Malfoy, but the din had ceased upon their entrance. Nearly every face was turned towards the pair as he sat, brooding. One by one they left, his sour mood ruining their own excitement.

Finally, only one girl remained. Short and petite, the Ravenclaw sat next to the window, her nose buried in a book as large as she was. Her auburn hair was tied back into a not-so-neat ponytail, and she seemed completely oblivious to the other occupants of the compartment.

"Hey," Severus called, intent on ridding them of her presence as well. Lily laid her hand on his arm.

"Don't worry about Marie," she said lightly. "Once she's in a book, nothing distracts her." Severus cast a doubtful look towards the girl, but finally turned again to his friend. He told her about the trip to Diagon Alley, and Sebastian's appearance.

"Occlumency?" she questioned quietly. Severus nodded, and then continued to tell her about the conversation he'd overheard. Lily's face became set with determination, and then she opened her mouth to speak. The door of the compartment slid open before she uttered a word, admitting Lucius.

"We're nearly there," he remarked, ignoring Lily. "Best change into your robes, Severus." Lucius made no move to budge, and Severus rose from his seat.

"I'll see you after dinner," he promised his friend as he followed the older boy back to their own compartment.

“You’ll want to pay close attention to the sorting this year,” Lucius advised. “We have to earmark this year’s addition to our group. Best you learn what to look for – you’ll be choosing next term.” Severus stopped with a jolt.

“Excuse me?” he questioned, believing he’d misheard.

“Come now, surely you don’t think I’d entrust something as important as this to Walden, do you?”

“What about Antonin? Or Evan?”

“Evan is too involved in his Quidditch to be searching for just the right new Slytherin. And Antonin, well, let us just say that he is a bit too indecisive for his own good.”

“Why not Narcissa, then?” Severus asked, not at all sure he wanted this huge responsibility. Lucius smirked.

“Narcissa will have other things on her mind at this time next term,” he announced slyly.

“Such as?” Severus pressed.

“Such as things which do not concern you at the present time,” Lucius shot at him. “She isn’t even aware of them yet.” The boy furrowed his brow in confusion. What was his friend talking about?

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Severus sat in the Great Hall, the excitement of the impending sorting coursing through his veins. Despite his earlier feeling on the train that this was an unwelcome task, as Lucius began to explain what to look for, he became more and more intrigued.

“First and foremost, Severus, is intelligence. Not always easily noticeable – with Walden, we settled for his gullibility. It makes him very open to – suggestion,” Lucius explained. “Pathetic, isn’t it? He’s the brightest Slytherin in his year.” Severus and the others laughed as Walden turned red.

“Next is skill. Again, not always recognizable immediately. Yours, however, were made clear the first day of term. That gash hex was very impressive for a first year.” Severus smirked, trying his best not to beam at the praise. His eyes sought out the victim of that hex, and they narrowed as he saw that both he and Sirius were staring at the Slytherin table. They returned the glare until Remus began to speak to them. Severus turned back to Lucius, a triumphant smirk in place.

“Thirdly, family history is essential. I could tell you anything you wish to know about any family - their strengths, their weaknesses, their standing in the proper circles – knowledge of a prospective member’s background is crucial.” Severus frowned. He didn’t know anything about these families.

“Lucius, I –“

“I haven’t finished, Severus. Fourth is confidence – one of the first things you can determine. Some, like Narcissa, exude confidence from their very being. You lacked confidence, but made up for it with your dedication and passion, which leads me to number five – passion. We do not desire to be involved with those who lack the drive to succeed. As Slytherin is notorious for those who value ambition, there is seldom a lack of this. Occasionally, one will come along – such as that oaf, Crabbe – but not very often.”

“Finally, but most importantly – loyalty.” Severus’ mind was thrown back to the conversation he’d overheard in Lucius’ home. What kind of loyalty was he suggesting? “You demonstrated this as well that first evening. It was one of the things which first endeared you to our group. Though you do not appear to share all of our ideals,” he cast a disgusted look to Lily, who was watching the Slytherin table with a frown, “those you have you remain attached firmly to. Most newcomers require a bit of a test to prove where their loyalties lie.” There was silence as the doors opened and the first years began to file in.

“Lucius, how am I to choose a suitable candidate if I do not know the history of their family?” he asked quietly, his eyes taking in the line of students.

“Be sure that you learn them, Severus.” The sorting had begun, and by the time it was over, the Slytherins had gained ten new students.

“Tell me what you observed,” Lucius directed. “Start with that small boy on the corner.” Severus thought to when the boy had been sorted.

“He was frightened,” he realized as he recalled the way the boy’s eyes had nervously darted around the room.

“What else?”

“He hasn’t made any friends – he’s sitting in silence, his eyes down on the table.”

“Precisely. He lacks confidence, and –“

“And cannot demonstrate his loyalty as yet,” Severus interrupted excitedly. Lucius smiled with approval.

“Good. How about the others?”

“That one, there, he’s chatting with the older boys around him – obviously confident, but he seems a bit on the slow side.”

Severus continued to assess the new students according to Lucius’ criteria, and by the end of dinner, they had narrowed the ten newcomers down to seven.

“We will observe them over the next month,” Lucius announced as they stood.

“And then choose?”

“Perhaps. It may take a bit longer – with Walden’s year, we held out nearly three months, hoping for an alternative.” Severus grinned again, then followed the remainder of the group down to the common room as Lucius stayed behind with the first years.

The group remained quiet as they walked the halls, as they were wont to do, though Severus thought he detected something unusual in his companions’ silence. Was it contempt? Were they disappointed and angry that Lucius had not appointed them to choose their new member? Did they even know? They had not been in the corridor on the train when Lucius had explained his new responsibility, but Severus realized that though it may not have been announced, there was no doubt his friends knew. Lucius had spoken to only him about what to look for in a new student, and aside from Walden, these students were no dummies.

He mumbled a good-night when they reached the dungeons, then made his way up to his dormitory. Most of his dormmates had already arrived, and they looked up as he entered. There were no cheery greetings in this dorm – all Severus received were icy stares as he made his way to his bed, stares which he steadfastly ignored.

“Heard you spent the week at Malfoy Manor,” Callum observed dryly.

"I wouldn't worry about it," Geoffrey advised as he entered the dorm room, Adrian close by his side. "Lucius will graduate at the end of this year, and then Snivellus will have nobody to protect him."

"I don't need Lucius to fight my battles," Severus retorted, his teeth clenched in anger. "Or shall I demonstrate for you, Goyle?" His wand was ready, held just above the sleeve of his robe as he watched his dorm mate's reaction.

"As I recall," Geoffrey purred, "That little - incident - was interrupted before it had a chance to really begin. There is no doubt in my mind that had I been given the opportunity, you would have crumbled in seconds." Severus' lips pursed in a thin line.

"You name the location, and I will gladly disprove your little theory," he snapped, a plethora of hexes and defensive spells already congealing in his mind. Geoffrey's lips curled into a cruel sneer.

"The Forbidden Forest," he said immediately. "The clearing, which I am sure you know very well." Severus' eyes narrowed. "But not now - this time next term." Severus laughed.

"Afraid to face me now?" he spat.

"Not quite," the other boy replied, the same smug smile on his face. "But Lucius won't be there to stop it, now will he?"

"I wouldn't bother to show if I were you," Severus said with a smirk. "Save yourself the embarrassment and hex yourself at dinner." Without another word, he climbed into his bed and drew the curtains shut. Things were definitely back to normal.

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Chapter 22: Warnings
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Chapter 22: Warnings
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The timetables were handed out at breakfast the following morning, and Severus saw to both his delight and disappointment that he had no classes with the Gryffindors until the following day. Though it meant little chance of seeing the dynamic duo, he had hoped to talk to Lily again about the conversation from the train. He'd not had a chance after dinner the previous night, and he knew she would be expecting an explanation as to his absence. He cast an apologetic glance in her direction as she caught his eye from across the hall, and then filed behind his classmates to go to History of Magic.

As it was, he met up with her after classes, beneath the beech tree by the lake. She smiled up from her grassy perch as he approached.

“How’d you like the entirely Gryffindor-free day?” she asked with a smirk. “It’s your only one, you know.” He grinned back at her as he seated himself beside her.

“I know,” he sighed blissfully. “An entire day devoid of Potter and Black. Things couldn’t get much better.”

“Have you looked at tomorrow’s classes?” she asked hesitantly. He nodded. The entire day was to be spent in class with the Gryffindors. “Any reprieve is good, I guess,” she mused. They sat in silence for a long moment before Lily spoke again.

“You didn’t stick around much after dinner last night,” she commented. Severus nodded in acknowledgement.

“I had a lot on my mind,” he stated, relaying to her his responsibility for the next term. He was met with silence when he was through. “Well?” he prompted.

“I don’t think you should take everything Lucius does at face value,” she responded quietly. Severus narrowed his eyes. Lily, however, did not back down. “I know he’s your friend, and I know you want to trust him, but –“

“Why shouldn’t I trust him?” Severus challenged, his blood beginning to boil. He suddenly thought back to the Christmas party, when Lucius had shown him his own scar. The conversation he’d overheard now seemed trivial – Lucius and Braeden were undoubtedly looking out for his best interests – making sure he knew the people his father had always yearned to know.

“Severus, you asked my opinion, and that’s what you’re getting,” Lily said softly. “I’m sorry that it isn’t what you wanted to hear, but I’m not going to lie to you.” Her reply was met with stony silence. “I don’t know what you want me to say,” she admitted. “Maybe Lucius is worthy of your trust, but I just don’t see it.”

“What happened to seeing the good in everyone?” Severus retorted.

“Well,” she paused, evidently thinking about his comment. “The good in Lucius is that he makes you feel like you belong.” If those words weren’t surprising enough, her next had his head spinning in confusion. “That’s why I don’t trust him.”

“What sense does that make?” he questioned. Lily simply shook her head.

“Never mind. I don’t want to fight with you.” She forced a smile. “You didn’t tell me how your visit went, aside from - well anyway, how was it?” He looked at her in astonishment.

“How can you go from being angry to asking about my stay with Lucius?” When he was angry, he stayed good and angry for a long time afterwards.

“I’m not angry with you,” she explained. “Just – worried.” There it was again, the idea that he didn’t know how to take care of himself. For a moment, his anger resurfaced even more than before, and he turned his head towards the lake before she could notice. He was startled to see that the sun had already begun to set.

“We’d better get to dinner,” he advised as he stood.

“Will you find me after?” she questioned, grasping his proffered helping hand as she stood as well.

“I can’t,” he replied, feeling a bit guilty. “I’m supposed to meet with Lucius to discuss the first years.”

“Won’t you do that at dinner?”

“I’ll try,” he promised.

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Lucius started the discussion before Severus had a chance to even sit down.

“This is the most opportune time to observe our new recruits,” he commented as Severus set in to his dinner. “Be sure to pay careful attention to their actions.” The boy turned his attention immediately to the shy boy at the end of the table. He was chatting with his dorm mates, apparently having made them his friends.

“They seem to all be getting along well,” Severus intoned. Lucius nodded, but said nothing. Severus turned again to the first year boys. Their comfort with each other made him think of his own dorm mates, seated at the opposite end of the table. They had been correct in saying the next term would be different – Severus had the sinking feeling that when Lucius left, he would be infinitely lonlier. While it was true that he got on with most of the other members of the group, Lily and Lucius were his only true friends. Should he attempt to bridge the gap between himself and the other boys in his year? He knew when the thought made his stomach lurch that it would not happen. Even were he to be civil to them, they undoubtedly harbored a grudge which would only worsen with time.

“That boy – Minch, isn’t it?” Lucius’ voice cut through Severus’ thoughts, and he followed his friend’s gaze to the small boy he’d observed earlier.

“Jonathon, I believe,” Severus agreed.

“He’s earned twenty points for his skills in Charms and Transfiguration,” Lucius noted. “He’ll be one to watch – few of the others have done anything worth mentioning, and those who have have not done anything to brag about.” He went on to explain that one of the other boys had already received detention for disrupting a class and one of the three girls in consideration had been caught passing notes, thus incurring Professor Burtram’s wrath.

“Of the others I have heard nothing,” he admitted. “What have you learned?” He looked expectantly at Severus, who in turn grimaced.

“I haven’t –“ Lucius’ expression became stony.

“I had thought you understood how vital it was to choose an appropriate candidate,” he commented lowly. “With seven pairs of eyes and ears, it should be relatively simple to pick an addition. Six pairs are not acceptable.”

“I’ll see what I can do after dinner,” Severus promised.

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Severus met up with Lily after dinner, as he’d promised her, and convinced her to go to Melison’s office with him.

“What for?” she asked initially.

“I’m going to see if he can give me any information on the first years,” he replied. “I promised Lucius I’d try to find out something useful. Besides, I’ll bet he got a few new Potions volumes over the holidays.”

When they arrived at their professor’s office, the door was already slightly ajar. Severus knocked, causing the door to swing inward the rest of the way. He was slightly taken aback at the sight which greeted him. Melison was not alone. Sebastian was seated in the chair directly across from Severus’ Head of House, and both men turned as the two children entered.

“What are you doing here?” Severus questioned.

“I am simply paying a visit to my good friend Malichi,” Sebastian replied. “Though I am glad you decided to stop down. Lily,” he turned to the Gryffindor who had remained silent. “It is, as always, a pleasure to see you again. However, Professor Melison and I need to have a chat with Severus for a moment. Will you excuse us please?” Lily hesitated, but finally nodded.

“I’ll wait in the classroom,” she told her friend. Severus nodded in acknowledgement, and then shut the door when prompted.

“So?” Severus asked expectantly.

“Severus, Professor Melison has agreed to begin your Occlumency lessons here at school.”

“What, now?” the boy retorted.

“Don’t be impertinent, boy. You have yet to read the one book I gave you – once you have done that, Professor Melison will proceed with your lessons. It is still vital, however, for you to read the other books. They shall give you the extra edge you will require to succeed.” He handed Severus the remaining books, though the boy noticed they had all been charmed to look like textbooks.

“I expect to receive satisfactory reports on your progress,” Sebastian warned. “And no reports involving fighting. Is that clear?”

“I’ll try not to get caught fighting,” Severus replied with a smirk. Sebastian shook his head as he left the room. Once he’d gone, Melison spoke.

“What brought you down here, son?” Now that he was standing in front of his Head of House, Severus was hesitant in voicing the reason for his visit.

“Just wanted to say hello, Sir,” he lied.

“How kind of you,” Melison said, his head cocked to the side. “Now tell me the real reason you came down.

“I wanted to ask how your first years did in class,” he admitted.

“My first year Slytherins do not meet until tomorrow morning.”

“Oh.” Severus felt stupid. He should have checked that first! There was a moment of silence before –

“So you’re to pick the new addition this year, eh?” Severus’ eyes snapped to his professor.

“Sir?”

“Don’t play games, son. That little clique of Lucius’ wasn’t begun by him, you know. It’s been a Slytherin tradition for generations.” His professor’s words made Severus feel slightly better about what he was doing.

“Lucius is teaching me what to look for,” he explained.

“I see. Doesn’t trust your own judgment, then?” Severus’ good mood began to fade.

“Are you going to go on about what a bad influence Lucius is on me, too?”

“On the contrary,” Melison replied, leaning back in his chair. “I believe Lucius to have done well by you – thus far.” He leaned forward, resting his forearms on his desk. “My fear, son, lies with his graduation.”

“How so?”

“If Lucius Malfoy continues on the path he has forged for himself, he will become a great man.”

“But?”

“But I fear he will not be strong enough to resist his father’s will. I have seen evidence to that effect already. That is what you must be wary of, son. Not of Lucius as he is now, but of what he may come to be.” For the second time that day, Severus thought of the scar, and of his and Lucius’ conversation, and he knew that his professor was right.

“Take Lucius’ advice, and his teachings, but be wary of their hidden meanings. What may seem harmless now may prove of great importance down the line.”

“I trust Lucius,” Severus stated firmly.

“Do not allow your trust to blind you to caution.”

“Why are you so concerned about what happens to me?” Severus questioned, his head tilted inquisitively. Melison paused.

“Your uncle’s decision to begin your Occlumency lessons sooner is very wise,” he stated in response. Severus furrowed his brow in confusion. What kind of an answer was that?

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Chapter 23: Life Lessons
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Chapter 23: Life Lessons
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Severus' second day of classes was nowhere near as peaceful as the first. As he'd predicted, the proximity of James and Sirius throughout the entire day was nearly unbearable. Apparently eager to revive the previous year's feud, they took every opportunity available to provoke him. With all of their class time being shared, any hope of giving them the slip was soon squashed.

In Herbology, they wasted no time in hexing his giant sunflower into trying to attack him. Severus, in turn, made theirs spit boil-causing venom. Needless to say, all three of the boys earned detention from Professor Terrarum.

Their next class was Transfiguration. If their detentions weren't enough to dissuade them from anymore hijinx, McGonagall's strict gaze wasn't going to impact their decision, either. Sirius vanished Severus' chair before he sat down. Detention number two for Sirius. Before class ended, Severus managed to vanish Sirius' ears without detection from McGonagall, filling him with a sense of victory.

It was to be short-lived, however. Their next lesson was Potions, and Severus was eager to see what was on the syllabus for that term. He frowned as he and Lily took their seats – James and Sirius were seated in the very back, as far away from Melison's eyes as they could get. The Slytherin was immediately on his guard.

“They're planning something,” he whispered to his friend. She turned around in her seat and glanced at the boys in question, eliciting a smile and a wave from the pair.

“Don't do anything rash, Severus,” she cautioned. He wrinkled his nose in displeasure. He had wanted to cast something at them before Melison came in, but knew now he would not be forgiven very easily. “Ignore them,” Lily repeated as the sound of the boys' chuckles reached his ears, turning them beet red.

Melison entered, causing a hush to fall over the room. He set them to their lesson, and then began to walk among the students to survey their work. Severus kept one eye on the Gryffindor boys as he prepared his cauldron. Any moment now, he was sure of it.

He was not disappointed. As soon as Melison's back was turned, Severus saw James muttering, and pointing at his cauldron. Before he had a chance to react, the cauldron had overflowed, the watery contents spilling to the floor beneath his desk. Just before they reached the floor, however, a deafening boom filled the classroom, and sparks flew from beneath Severus' desk. Within seconds, Melison was by his side, extinguishing the wet-start fireworks and looking the boy over.

“Are you hurt?” he demanded, his eyes going over Severus' charred robes.

“No,” he said flatly, his hand clenched around his wand. He was in pain, but he wasn't going to let the Dynamic Duo see that. Melison, however, was not to be fooled.

“Get up to the Hospital Wing,” he commanded. “Have Madame Pomfrey check you over, just to be sure. Leave your things, I'm sure Miss Evans will bring them to you.” Lily nodded her agreement as Severus fumed the length of the classroom. As he was passing James and Sirius, their mocking snickers flooded his brain, and he mumbled a permanent sticking curse in anger. His spirits rose when he left the room without incident. The fools hadn't even noticed! They were still snickering at him as he walked out, oblivious to his own wide grin.

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“You boys need to stop all this silly fighting,” Madame Pomfrey tutted as she examined the burns on Severus' forearms. The boy remained silent, still relishing the fact that he'd won the day. He wished he'd been able to see the boys' faces when they found their feet unable to budge from behind their desk. Madame Pomfrey tutted again as the grin spread across his features, then instructed him to rest where he sat before she bustled off to a patient further down the ward.

He was still savoring the victory when Lily arrived with his books. She looked grim, and he arched an eyebrow in question, his smile still in place.

“I don't know what you're so happy about,” she chided, setting his books on the table beside his cot.

“I have the upper hand,” he exclaimed joyously. “What's not to be happy about? Tell me, were they furious?” he asked eagerly. “What'd they do?” Lily sat on the edge of the bed he was in and shook her head.

“At first, they weren't sure what had happened,” she explained. “Nearly everyone had stopped to stare, because they were going on about how they couldn't move. But Severus, everyone knows it was you. Everyone,” she stated emphatically. His grin faded slightly.

“What about Melison?”

“He was furious,” she said quietly. “He ordered everyone out of the room so he could start a de-sticking draught.” With her statement went the last vestiges of victory Severus felt.

“He can't prove it,” he muttered.

Nevertheless, after his release from the hospital ward, Severus spent the remainder of the day waiting for a summons from his Head of House. But none came.

At dinner, he continually glanced up at the professor, who was pointedly ignoring the boy. Despite the congratulatory remarks from his comrades about retaining the upper hand, a sinking feeling began in the pit of his stomach. Would this cause Melison to revoke the offer of his potions volumes? What, exactly, was his Head of House playing at?

He was soon to find out. The next morning at breakfast, he received a letter. Recognizing the handwriting as his uncle's, he again looked to his Head of House, who was again ignoring his existence. The sinking feeling grew as the boy read Sebastian's words:

Severus –

I cannot stress enough how very disappointed I am to hear of your behavior. After our conversation on the first day of term, I had hoped you would rise above petty retaliation. Apparently, you are more like your father than either of us previously recognized. Were it not for the fact that Slytherins do not air their personal affairs, you may rest assured that this letter would have been a howler, the likes of which you have never seen.

Perhaps you are not yet ready for the extra lessons we spoke of. Your future behavior shall determine that outcome.

~Sebastian

Severus turned his gaze once again to Melison, anger burning in his body. It was a stupid little feud – why did he have to write to his Uncle? Melison, as was apparently now the norm, made no movement to acknowledge the glare. The boy rose quickly from the table, his fists balled with rage.

At the head table, a grim smirk of satisfaction spread over Malichi Melison's features as the boy retreated from the Hall.

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The ensuing day was not getting much better. Severus' trepidation renewed as Professor Terrarum informed him icily that Professor Melison had requested the boy serve his detention with him on that Friday.

After Herbology had ended, Severus attempted to leave quickly, but Lily held him back.

“What's wrong?” she asked. “You act as though I'm going to bite you or something.” Severus shrugged, his eyes not leaving the forms of Sirius and James, who were making their way towards the pair. Shortly behind them were Remus and Peter, who had begun to stick to the Dynamic Duo like glue.

“I'll see you later,” Severus said shortly, ignoring Lily's protests as he rushed towards Defense Against the Dark Arts. As much trouble as he was in with his uncle – and presumably his Head of House – the last thing he needed was another confrontation.

His final class of the day was slightly better – the Slytherins shared the period with Ravenclaw, allowing Severus to breathe slightly easier. Professor Burtram was going over stinging hexes, which the boy had long ago perfected, and he allowed his mind to wander to his upcoming detention. Melison was playing at something, but there was no way of telling exactly what it was. Severus knew that any punishment he thought up would never compare to what Melison would be planning.

When the bell rang to end class, he retreated to the grounds and reread his uncle's letter. He couldn't remember Sebastian ever saying that he was disappointed in him. Angry tears threatened to well up as he thought over his behavior. Was he too much like Silias? He'd been trying to stay as far from that image as possible, but had it all been in vain? Was genealogy stronger than free will?

“Are you okay?” Lily's voice cut through his thoughts like a razor, and Severus quickly wiped his eyes before turning to her.

“Why did you hurry off after Herbology?” she asked. “I know you weren't worried about Potter and Black coming after you again – you saw them coming, you could have taken them, and they knew it.” He didn't even feel the urge to smile at the compliment.

“Melison won,” he responded morosely.

“I don't understand,” she admitted, her brows furrowed. “You haven't even had your detention yet –“ He thrust Sebastian's note into her hand, and she fell silent. There was no sound as she read the letter and he turned to glare out over the water.

“Oh, Severus,” she said quietly, folding the letter neatly and handing it back to him. “He's just upset – I'm sure he doesn't mean it.”

“He's right,” the boy retorted flatly.

“You don't really believe that, do you?” she questioned, trying in vain to suppress the quaver in her voice. Severus remained silent, and she continued. “If you were anything like your father, I certainly wouldn't hang around you.” He nodded absently, but his mind had not been changed. He knew that just as he'd inherited his father's hated visage, so too had he been burdened with his character flaws.

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“You gave me your word you'd have information today, Severus,” Lucius announced as the boy sat at the table for dinner. Severus glanced up at him before beginning to pick at his food.

“Things didn't go as planned,” he replied dully.

“So you have nothing?” the older boy inquired shortly. Severus shook his head as Lucius sighed in frustration.

“Do not make me regret choosing you,” he snapped.

“I never asked to be chosen!” Severus shot back, his eyes meeting those of his friend. A smile tugged at the corners of Lucius' mouth, but as the prefect glanced around at the others in the group, he forced them down.

“Be sure you have something by Friday evening,” Lucius compromised. Severus nodded absently. Friday was going to be a long day.

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Between worrying about his detention and seeking information on the first-years, the remaining days of the week seemed to race by. Severus entered Potions feeling somewhat confident, having just acquired a few tidbits about the prospective first-years, and took his seat beside Lily with an easier mind.

His uneasiness returned when Melison entered the room to begin the lesson. Passing over his usual nod in Severus' direction, the professor set the class to their task rather quickly, then sat at his desk to look over some papers. Though he tried not to let his Head of House's disinterest bother him, Severus continued to glance at the professor from the corner of his eye.

He was so lost in contemplating his professor's behavior that he didn't realize he was standing next to him until –

“Snape!” Melison's barking voice brought the boy's attention back to the class.

“Sir?” he responded promptly, not sure what he'd done to warrant his professor's attention. Melison was immediately next to him, grabbing a handful of Severus' chopped billywig stings and shoving it roughly beneath the boy's nose.

“What is this mutilated mess?” he demanded. Severus saw, to his horror, that his normally precise and even cuts were sloppy and disorderly. Apparently, he'd been too preoccupied with what Melison was doing to focus on his own actions.

“Lose your touch over the holidays?” the professor growled with a smirk. Severus maintained a stony silence, though he could feel the tips of his ears growing red with anger and humiliation. He glared at the professor before him, unwilling to let him win again. Severus did not turn away, even when he heard the barely suppressed snickers of James and Sirius.

“There is not sufficient time this period to rectify your error, Snape.” With an idle flick of his hand, Severus' station had been cleared. “A zero for today. I do hope this past week is not a glimpse of what I should expect from you the remainder of the term,” Melison announced scathingly. Severus, his angry stare unwavering, lifted his chin defiantly.

“No, Sir,” he replied.

“Glad to hear it,” Melison responded briskly. “For the remainder of class, you will observe Mr. Potter and Mr. Black. Perhaps you may learn something from them.” This last was too much for Severus. The redness of his ears spread to the rest of his face as his scowl increased. He glowered at the retreating form of his Head of House, his humiliation complete. Knowing that Melison would undoubtedly relish his refusal, the boy gathered his books and strode to his nemeses' side. The pair of Gryffindors wore identical smirks of triumphant glee.

“This ought to be the highlight of your life, Snivellus,” crowed Sirius quietly.

“Imagine, Sirius, Snivelly's learning potions from little old us. Guess you're not the teacher's pet any longer, eh?” Severus bit back the retort which sprang immediately to his lips. Instead, the fury within him continued to burn, growing with every slight from the boys' mouths.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the bell rang to mark the end of class. Severus sprang immediately towards the door, halting only when Melison's voice reached his ears.

“Snape! Your detention has now begun. Have a seat, son. Severus turned immediately, throwing himself into the nearest chair and glowering at the wall. His hands were clenched tightly into fists, the knuckles white with his barely controlled anger.

“Have a good afternoon, Snivellus,” James goaded as he and Sirius passed. Lily and Remus approached him, and Remus opened his mouth to say something.

“Oy! Remus! Come on, mate!” Sirius' call caused Remus' mouth to snap shut. He looked at Severus, then over to James and Sirius.

“Go on, Lupin. Don't want to keep your new friends waiting,” Severus snapped harshly.

“Sorry,” Remus mumbled as he hurried towards the waiting boys. Lily sat in the chair next to him.

“Severus –try not to get angry – don't do anything rash-“

“Miss Evans, class has been dismissed.” Melison's voice broke through her warnings.

“Please, Professor, I –“

“Unless you have something academic and pertaining to this class to discuss, you need to leave. If it is anything else, see your Head of House.” She looked at Severus apologetically as she rose.

“I'll see you later,” she promised. Once she had gone, Melison turned to Severus, who met his gaze with defiant fury.

“As you have most likely guessed from the hours spent in my office last term, one of my failings is lack of organization. Over the summer, my supplies have gotten into a sad state. Your task,” he explained as he led the boy to the storeroom within his office, “is to sort through and inventory all of this.” Severus balked at the sight which affronted his eyes. The stockroom was in total disarray – baskets were stacked haphazardly in every corner, bottles of all shapes and sizes were strewn about, and nothing was labeled. He started on the basket nearest to him with grim determination, his body still seething with rage. Melison knew this would be hell to him – he hated having his supplies out of place. The professor, meanwhile, stood in the doorway to the dimly lit room, studying the boy intently as he worked.

“You needed this lesson, son.” He spoke quietly, his powerful voice subdued. Severus did not respond, though he was hanging on every word. “You can't go through life – especially the one for which I fear you are destined – retaliating against every wrong done to you. Learn to choose your battles, and you will be better suited to control their outcome. Just something to mull over while you're working. I will return shortly to evaluate your progress.” With a flick of his wand, the torches around the room were lit, making it a bit easier to identify the items before the boy.

Severus turned only after he heard the sound of the door closing, his anger only slightly diminished. Though he fought stubbornly against it, his mind did begin to stew over his professor's words. What had he meant by the life he ‘feared' Severus would lead?

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The clucking sound of disapproval from the doorway much later drew Severus' attention from his work. Melison stood there, surveying the little progress the boy had made.

“If you continue on in this fashion, it will be Sunday evening before you're through,” he commented idly before retreating again to his office. Severus began again, working with renewed vigor as his stomach growled menacingly.

An hour later, Melison came to check on his progress again. “I must say, I thought you would have seen it by now,” he muttered as he left once again. Severus contemplated his words as he looked at the meager progress he'd made. Suddenly, it dawned on him that Melison had not confiscated his wand. Mentally chiding himself, he withdrew it and began again.

He was finished just as Melison came in for the third time.

“Ah. Excellent work, son. Lesson two for today: Don't permit your anger to cloud your thought.”

“May I go now, sir?” Severus was still burning with indignation, though his anger towards the professor was diminishing rapidly.

“I don't ask forgiveness for my treatment of you this past week,” Melison went on, ignoring his request. “I only pray you understand my reasons and my intent.” Severus made no response, and the professor sighed. “You may go.” Severus retreated to his dormitory to change into clean robes for dinner, all the while thinking over the man's words. By the time he reached the Great Hall, he had come to the conclusion that Melison had a far better method of teaching lessons than his father.

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