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By the time they had Flooed back to their quarters, Freedom had calmed somewhat and was not longing to rip out the Headmaster's liver and spit on it. Instead he was contemplating slowly shredding him into pieces. The young Animagus had noticed that his current form tended towards violence as an answer to emotional upheaval, and usually sought to control that aspect of himself somewhat, unless he was hunting. Or now, when he was so furious he simply didn't care about civilized behavior. He felt the fury coiling within him, like a living thing, it pulsed and snarled, and suddenly he could not bear the confines of the four walls of the castle any longer. He needed to fly, to hunt, before he tore himself apart with hatred.

Severus, I need to hunt.

The Potions Master looked at his familiar in surprise. "Hunt? But I fed you just a half-an-hour ago."

The hawk shifted restlessly upon his wrist, fighting not to snap at the other wizard. Control, stay in control. It's not his fault, don't take it out on him, his mind ordered. The hawk gave a sharp screech, not the full-throated call of the red-tail, but a middling impatient sort of noise. I know, but . . .I need to be out, I need to fly.

Severus nodded, understanding his familiar's restlessness. After the conversation he had, he too was restless and longed to slam his fist through a wall repeatedly at his Headmaster's stupidity. "One moment. I shall let you out in a minute."

The wizard walked to the door of his quarters and opened it. Freedom sprang from his fist and was airborne in two seconds. He blurred and shot down the corridor at top speed, exiting the dungeons moments later. Severus watched for a moment, then shut the door and went back to his desk.

He had a pile of homework to grade and some seventh year independent study projects to approve for those in his NEWT class. He sat down at his desk, picked up his quill and an essay and then just stared down at the paper without reading it, his mind flying back to past in the flicker of an instant.

* * * * * *

Freedom burst through the alcove into the Owlery like a feathered whirlwind, startling some of the owls that were napping. They rustled and opened sleepy eyes and hooted in annoyance. He sent back a soft chirp of apology, then continued out the large casement and into the bright sunlight.

His wings caught the wind and he spiraled up into the sky, anger burning through him. He let the feeling fuel his wing beats, and drive him to greater heights than he had previously flown. Then he spun about and fixed his gaze upon the ground below, his amber eyes widening as he sought quarry to pursue and catch.

But nothing showed and so he sped up and flew beyond the castle and over the Forbidden Forest. There was always game to be had in the forest. He circled the closest part of the vast wood, allowing the wind to form a cushion of air beneath his wings, suitable for gliding, which conserved energy.

He still could not believe what Dumbledore had done. It was so unbelievable, so manipulative, that it boggled his mind. The man had created a prophecy as a diversion, a blind to fool his archenemy, but it had gone wrong and his parents had died and so had he, almost. Not only that, but instead of trying to fix the mistake he had made, he had taken Harry and placed him with his most unsuitable Muggle relatives, leaving him to grow up neglected and unloved for years until coming to Hogwarts, where he had been thrust into the role of savior to the whole damn wizarding world without so much as by-your-leave.

All the harrowing challenges he had faced-Quirrell, the basilisk, the dementors, the tournament and Voldemort-all of that had been Dumbledore's way of preparing him for his "great destiny"-killing the worst dark wizard in living memory. All of that had been done in the name of a prophecy that wasn't even real, that had been a lie, and he had been moved about like a pawn on a chessboard.

Anger seized him and he trembled for a moment. Damn you to everlasting hell, Dumbledore! Who the bloody hell do you think you are, trying to mold me to fit some kind of cracked vision, trying to make me into a savior so you could feel better about screwing over my family all those years ago? Fawkes said I was to be your redemption. Sod that! I'm through being your pawn! From now on, I do what I damn well please!

Right then, it would have pleased him to dive bomb the Headmaster, but since the Headmaster was not there, he settled for an unwary squirrel instead. Squirrels were sometimes difficult to catch, since they could scamper very quickly, but Freedom waited until the silly creature had moved some distance from a tree before stooping.

The wind screamed in his ears as he dove, wings clamped to his sides, like a bolt of lightning from the heavens.

At the last possible instant he pulled up and his talons curled and he struck hard.

The squirrel never even knew what hit it until the hawk's talons pierced it. It was dead in a minute and a half.

A minute after that, Freedom was rending it with his razor-sharp beak and talons, wishing it were Dumbledore. I thought he was my friend, that he cared about me, the hawk thought bitterly. But no, all he cared about was making me into the perfect hero, so he could erase forever the harm he had done. But that can never be. Nothing can ever bring my parents back, and nothing can give me back a normal childhood. It's all lost and I shall never forgive you, old man! Never!

The red-tail jerked his head back and screamed his rage and pain to the unfeeling sky and the forest.

Then he lit into the dead squirrel, ripping it to shreds and finally eating it, though the meat left a sour taste in his mouth and sat heavily in his crop.

He wished desperately that he had not been so eager to accompany Severus to the Headmaster's office. But how could he have known what dark secret the man harbored? Never in his wildest imaginings would he have ever guessed that the kindly old wizard, who had always been so thoughtful to him, was responsible for making him into an orphan and then continuing the charade to cover up his own heinous mistake.

God, oh God, I had enough to deal with before, and now this . . .I can't . . .I don't know what to think . . .I thought he honestly cared about me, but all I am is a pawn . . a pawn in his damned game to defeat Voldemort . . he lowered his head, feeling a sharp pain in the vicinity of his heart. And if he doesn't care about me, who does?

A picture of a tall spare man in black robes flashed into his head, but he brushed it aside. No. Not him either. He cares about me as his familiar, but if he ever knew the truth . . .The pain increased, and he realized that the only people who might have cared for him were long gone.

Desperate to ease the agony squeezing him in two, he launched himself into the sky and flew until he was exhausted.

Then he turned and headed back to the castle, so weary he almost couldn't lift his wings.

The awful throbbing ache was still there, and he wondered bleakly if it would ever go away.

He hovered over Hagrid's hut, debating on whether to keep flying or settle and rest for a moment.

The sound of the big man moving about inside, cups rattling, and then a familiar silky baritone decided him. Severus was visiting Hagrid, it seemed. And despite his misgivings of the man and how he had treated his other self, Freedom found that just hearing the man's voice made the knot of dread ease somewhat. Then too, he was curious, what had made Severus come down here at this hour, when he was supposed to be grading papers or whatever? It was not like Snape to shirk his duties as a professor.

The hawk spiraled down and came to rest upon the window ledge. He could rest his wings and hear every word that was said at the same time.

While he knew it was the height of bad manners to eavesdrop, he simply couldn't help himself, and after Dumbledore's revelation, he was certain nothing that was spoken of between Hagrid and Snape could shock him.

But he was wrong.

* * * * * *

Severus's hand tightened about the cup, and he frowned down at the steaming contents as if it were a potion gone wrong. He had been unable to concentrate any longer on his work, for once his discipline had failed him, and he had given up grading any more homework as a lost cause and decided to go and walk around the grounds. Walking usually helped him clear his head. Inevitably, perhaps, his feet took him down the well-trod path to Hagrid's cottage.

He had thought he wished to be alone, till he caught sight of the trickle of smoke coming from the stone chimney, and then he wished for nothing more than to have a cup of tea and listen to his mentor ramble on about whatever creature he had been tending that day. At least with Hagrid he need not have to sift through the man's words for a hidden meaning, the way he often did with Dumbledore. Hagrid was as straightforward as sunlight. He needed that, after the morning with the Headmaster. Discussing that damnable prophecy always brought the memories back, and he was tired of chasing them about in circles.

So he stepped up to Hagrid's door and knocked firmly.

A moment later, the big man appeared, smiling genially. "Hello, Professor Snape! What brings you here? Do you need something for your potions stores?

"No. What I need is tea."

Hagrid grinned, then beckoned the other man inside. "O' course. Come in, Severus."

Snape followed him inside, and before he knew it, was sitting at Hagrid's table and been given a steaming cup of Black Bohea with plenty of honey and lemon in it. Seemed that Dumbledore wasn't the only one who knew that old remedy.

Hagrid bustled about, getting a loaf of bread out, plus a tin of clotted cream, jam, and butter. Then he sat down across from his old friend and proceeded to butter a piece of bread and eat it. "So, what brings you here, Severus? Need a break from the dungeons and all that paperwork, eh?"

Severus met Hagrid's crinkled black eyes and gave a short nod. Then he took his own piece of bread and buttered it.

The big man knew from experience that Severus would talk when he was ready, and not before, so he began telling the younger wizard about his own not-uneventful day, freeing a trapped wild pegasus from a tangle of Devil's Snare in the forest and treating a vixen with a cut paw, as well as hunting for conies for the stewpot.

Snape made no comment, but he listened politely, and the slightly cocked head and attentive expression reminded Hagrid of that week Severus had spent in his home, after his disastrous attempt to destroy himself. Severus had at first refused to speak to him, and Hagrid had gotten in the habit of talking to him anyway, sensing that his voice somehow soothed the distraught boy. It was the same now.

By the time Hagrid had finished telling Severus about his day, the Potions Master had unwound enough to speak to his mentor about what was bothering him-namely the conversation with Dumbledore and the memories it had roused. Hagrid was the only one he trusted to speak so openly of them, for he had been there during Severus's schooldays and had known young Severus, Lily, and the Marauders.

"Every time he brings up that bloody prophecy, I remember her," Severus said softly, his dark eyes lit with a strange light, part terrible longing, part guilt, and part unwavering love. Hagrid knew of the prophecy, not the truth of it, of course, but he knew whom it referred to and how it had led to the Potters' deaths that long ago Halloween night. "Not that I've ever really forgotten her, nor do I think I ever shall, but . . .I could not concentrate on my bloody essays, every time I picked up my quill, I kept seeing Lily in my mind, staring at me with those brilliant eyes of hers . . .They say the eyes are the windows of the soul, and hers reflected everything she ever felt, I always knew what she was feeling by one glance into her eyes . . .She had never learned, as I had, to hide what she felt, but then she never grew up with Tobias . . ."

The hawk upon the ledge froze. He's talking about my mother! I know that he . . .said he loved her once . . .but I never knew she grew up with him . . .I thought they had met at school . . .Freedom tilted his head, listening in astonishment as Snape began sharing his memories of a bright red-haired witch who had been at once his heart's desire and his greatest regret.

* * * * * *

That was the first thing I noticed about Lily-her eyes. Even as a child, she had the largest green eyes I had ever seen, a deep emerald green flecked with lighter green, and they drew me like a moth to a flame. They were the first pair of eyes that I can say actually sparkled with laughter. Up until then, I had seen only anger and disapproval in my father's eyes, and a sort of weary helplessness in my mother's. But that day at the playpark, I saw true delight and curiosity when she looked at me, after I had come out of the bushes I'd been hiding behind and told her that she had magic.

I had been hiding there because a few of the older boys had decided they wanted to play "smash Snape's face into the pavement" again, I was an easy mark because everyone in town knew my father was a damn drunk and useless since he'd lost his job when the mill shut down and my mother was considered "odd" because she rarely mingled with any of the other women, and we were always just getting by. That meant we barely had money for necessities and half my clothes were patched, worn, cut down versions of my father's, they were usually too big and I looked like a walking advertisement for a ragbin most times. And that was enough to be labeled an outcast, as was the fact that I was smarter than half of them, who could barely add two and two and get four.

Lily was there with her older sister, Petunia, who looked at me as if I were an annoying stray dog, but that changed when I told Lily that I had seen her fly through the air when she had jumped off the swing.

"You musn't tell anyone, boy!" Petunia cried, glaring at me fiercely.

"My name isn't "boy"," I told her, giving her a glare right back. No way was I going to let a girl get the better of me. Even if she was older and bigger than I was. "It's Severus Snape."

Petunia wrinkled her nose. "Severus? What kind of weird name is that?"

"It's the name of a Roman emperor," I answered coldly. "And also a saint too." I got sick and tired one day of kids making fun of my name and did some research on it, so I could tell them off when they started on me. "What's it to you?"

Petunia sniffed, but before she could say anything, Lily looked at me and said, "Don't mind my sister Petunia. She's just bossy sometimes. Nice to meet you, Severus. I'm Lily. Lily Evans. We just moved here from Liverpool." She held out her hand to me and I shook it cautiously.

"Hello," I answered, wondering if this was the first time she had ever done magic before. She was the only child my age that I knew that also had magic. "Figured you might be new, since I've never seen you around before. Where do you live?"

"On Weaver Street, just before the old mill." Lily answered. "Where do you live, Severus?"

"Spinner's End," I replied.

Petunia made a face. "Spinner's End? But that's where all the poor-Ow!" she yelped as her sister elbowed her in the ribs.

"Don't be rude, Tuney!" Lily frowned. "He can't help where he lives."

I gave her a small smile. I liked her already. "I won't tell," I said.

"How do we know that?" Petunia demanded suspiciously. "You could be lying, and run and tell everyone and then we'll be labeled freaks and weirdos like we were back home."

"I won't," I insisted. Nobody knew better than me what it was like to be an outcast. "Look." I knelt and picked a small dandelion out of the grass. Then I concentrated and the dandelion changed colors-from yellow to red to blue and then back again. "See? I can do magic too. That's 'cause I'm a wizard, and you're a witch."

"A witch! How dare you call my sister that vulgar name!"

I rolled my eyes. "A witch isn't vulgar. It's just what we call a girl that can do magic. It means a "wise woman", it's not a bad word. Muggles!"

"What did you just call me?"

"A Muggle. It's what wizards call a person without magic." I explained.

"Well, I don't like it," snapped Petunia.

I shrugged. "It's what you are. My father's one."

"How about your mum?" Lily asked.

"No, my mum's a witch. She can do magic like us."

"Really?" Lily's eyes glowed. "Then we're not the only ones?"

I shook my head, amused. "No, of course not. There are lots more of us, all over Britain. They live in their own parts of it, see, and hardly come into Muggle places at all, unless they're married to one or are Muggleborn, like you."

"What's a Muggleborn?"

"A witch or a wizard born to Muggle parents. Your parents can't do magic, can they?"

"No. But I think sometimes Mum wishes she could," Lily said, smiling.

I wasn't surprised at that. Who wouldn't want to do magic? Well, my father didn't, but I wasn't counting the bastard. I went on to explain the difference between purebloods, half-bloods, squibs, and Muggleborns.

"What are you, Snape?" asked Petunia.

"A half-blood. My mother, Eileen, was a Prince from an old line of purebloods. But my father, Tobias Snape, is a Muggle."

"Where's he from?" asked Lily.

I almost said "hell", but remembered just in time that my mother had always said never to swear in front of ladies. So I said, "Harrogate, North Yorkshire."

"Does it make a difference, what you are?" Lily wanted to know.

"Not really. Well, some purebloods will say they're better than Muggleborns and half-bloods, but that's codswallop. Mum says that all purebloods have some Muggle ancestry and most half-bloods and Muggleborns are stronger in magic because they . . .uh . . .diversified their gene pool."

"Huh? Speak English!" ordered Petunia. "What's that mean?"

"Uh . . ." I thought hard. "I think it means something good, like when you cross plants and get a hybrid and it's stronger than the original sometimes. Mum said too many purebloods were intermarried and it weakened them."

"Oh. I get it. Like when you breed dogs, you can't breed too close, otherwise you get retarded puppies," Petunia said.

"Uh, yes. Something like that, anyhow."

"What can you do with magic?" was Lily's next question.

"Lots of things, when I'm older. Right now it only works sometimes. Accidentally, my mother calls it, like when you're scared or hurt or just want something really bad."

"Oh. Like I wanted to fly. Have you ever done that, Severus?"

"Uh, no. But once I jumped up a whole flight of stairs." I had been running from my drunken father and desperate to get away and my magic had given me strength in my legs and I jumped all the way upstairs. Not that it did me any good, because there was nowhere I could hide and I ended up getting beaten anyhow for using my freaky powers. But I wasn't about to tell them that. I never told anyone what went on at my house, I knew better.

"Cool!" Lily grinned. "What can your mum do with her magic?"

"She's a Potions Mistress. And when I'm older that's what I'm going to do too. After I've gotten my wand and gone to school that is."

"Wand? You use wands?" exclaimed Petunia.

I nodded. "All wizards do when they start school."

"Where do you get one?" Lily wanted to know.

"Ollivander's in Diagon Alley."

"Where's that?"

"Wizarding London," I said, then remembered that Mum had an atlas in her library of wizarding Britain. "Look, I've got a book at home that'll show you all these places, it's a magical atlas, sort of. I can bring it tomorrow, if you'd like?"

Lily nodded eagerly, and even Petunia looked interested. I smiled, for it seemed as if I had actually made a friend.

The next day, I met Lily and Petunia at the park again, the atlas and another book about basic spellcraft tucked under my shirt, which was so big it came down to my knees.

Petunia sniggered when I showed up. "Nice shirt, Snape. Looks like your mum's dress."

I glared at her angrily. "Shut up!"

"Well, it does."

"Petunia! Just go away if you're going to be mean," Lily ordered crossly, her green eyes shimmering with anger. "Remember what Mum said."

"Oh, be quiet, you little know-it-all. You're not the boss of me, Lily Elizabeth Evans. I'll go where I please."

The two locked gazes for a minute, then Petunia whirled and stomped away. "Like I wanted to learn about your stupid fantasy world anyhow! You're both tetched in the head, if you ask me!" She went to play with some other girls on the swings, and I dragged Lily behind the bush at the edge of the park and showed her the wizarding books I'd brought.

Her eyes glittered excitedly as she looked at them and then grew round with wonder as she saw that I had not been making up stories, that there was an actual picture of Diagon Alley and that it moved.

Then I had to explain about wizard photos and half-a-dozen other things besides. It was one of the best afternoons I'd ever had.

* * * * * *

We met in the park or at Lily's house, since I was too ashamed to let her see where I lived, almost every day. Since it was summer, the park was my only refuge from my father, and Lily was the first real friend I'd ever had.

One day we were sitting in a kind of culvert in the woods behind her house, and she was asking me again about Hogwarts. I'd told her everything I could remember about it from my mother's descriptions.

"Petunia says that Hogwarts isn't real. That it's just some make believe castle and I'm stupid to believe you, Sev." Lily said, her green eyes crinkling with worry.

"It's real. But only people like us can go there, Lily. You'll see when you get the letter from the Headmaster when you're eleven."

"Why eleven? Why do we have to wait so long?" she sighed impatiently. We were nine that year.

I shrugged. "I don't know. That's just how they do it here." I picked up some leaves and made them swirl about in pretty patterns.

Lily grinned. "Oh! Teach me how you did that, Sev!"

"Uh . . .I can't. 'Cause I don't know exactly what I did," I admitted. "My magic just does stuff when I think about it. Since I don't have a wand yet, I can't cast spells."

"Oh." Her face fell. "I can't wait to get my wand. Then I'll be able to cast spells whenever I want."

"Not quite, Lily. You're not allowed to do magic outside of school. Once you go to Hogwarts, the Ministry keeps an eye on you, and if you break the Underage Wizardry Restriction, they'll send letters home and you'll get in trouble."

"What about now?" she asked nervously.

"No, when you're little, they know you can't help it, so it's okay."

"What do they do to you if you break that rule? Do they send you to Azkaban? With the . . .dementors?"

I had told her about Azkaban yesterday and the dementors. I shook my head. "No, of course not! Azkaban's where they send the really bad people, criminals that use Unforgivable Curses and kill people and whatnot. They'd never send you there, Lily, you're just a kid and besides you'd never do anything to get sent there."

She was gazing at me with undisguised curiosity and then she said, "Tell me again, Sev, about the dementors."

"All right." I sighed and repeated what I'd told her the day before, how the dementors were kind of like corporeal spirits who fed on all the good thoughts and feelings a person had and they could drain a wizard of his magic and also suck out his soul by Kissing them.

By the time I was done, both of us were shivering, deliciously scared to death, and we nearly died when the bushes behind us rustled and Petunia stepped out of them. "Oh, gimme a break! You're making this up, Snape!"

"I am not!" I cried, angry that she had to come along and ruin our fun. Why couldn't she just leave us alone? "Everything I said is the truth. Why are you spying on us?"

She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at us. "I wasn't spying! I just wanted to make sure you weren't eaten by a demented thing or whatever you call them."

"It's dementor," I corrected.

"It's a stupid lie too!" Petunia cried angrily. "Lily, how can you believe any of this?"

Lily looked at Petunia and said quietly, "Because it's true. You saw the book and the pictures too, Tuney. And we can both do magic."

She turned on me then, her eyes flashing. "You stop putting nonsense in my sister's head, Severus Snape! She's already weird enough as it is."

"I am not!" Lily cried.

"It's not nonsense. You just don't understand," I said, using my most smug tone.

"I understand that you're making Lily into a freak just like you. Look at you, Snape. What's that you've got on, your mum's dress?" She pointed at my overlong shirt, which I knew was too big for me, but I had no money for decent clothes.

She was always making remarks like that, and usually I just ignored her, but not this time. This time I got angry and a branch snapped overhead and hit the sneering Petunia on the shoulder.

She yelped and burst into tears, the big baby. "You wicked brat! I hate you, Snape!" Then she ran away.

"Severus! Did you do that?" Lily demanded, and for some reason she was mad at me.

I swallowed hard. "Um . . .well . . ."

"You did, didn't you? You hurt her!"

"No!" I cried, scared that she would be afraid of me too if I admitted I had lost my temper.

"Don't lie to me, Snape! You made that happen!" She jumped to her feet.

"Wait! Lily, where are you going?"

She didn't answer, just gave me an angry glare and walked off after her sister.

"I didn't mean to!" I called after her. "She just made me mad, making fun of me that way!" But she didn't listen and I was left alone, wondering if I had mucked up our friendship. I kicked a rock, mad at Petunia, the insufferable snob and mad at myself, for letting my temper run away with me. Why couldn't I ever do anything right? Maybe my father was right, and I really was hopeless.

* * * * * *

But the next day at the park, I waited all day for Lily to show up, and when she finally did, I told her I was sorry and she said she forgave me and that Petunia shouldn't have teased me and we were still friends. I was very glad to hear that, and then I told her the good news, that my mother had agreed to tutor us in basic potions on Fridays, until we went to Hogwarts.

"She's free then, and we can use St. Mungos, she has a small lab she rents for when she brews for them. Do you want to learn, Lily?"

"Yes! Oh that's brilliant, Sev! Oh, I can't wait! I wish it were Friday already."

So did I. But since it wasn't, we decided to amuse ourselves till then reading another book--Newt Scamander's Book of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I read it about a dozen times already, but Lily never had, and so we went through it together, and that's when she asked how it was possible to keep all the magical creatures hidden from Muggles.

"Sometimes it's not, and that's when we have to Obliviate them," I told her.

"Obliviate? What's that?"

"A spell to make you forget anything you heard or saw. It's advanced magic, moslyt Aurors do it. It's for our own protection. If Muggles ever knew we really existed, Mum says they might attack and hunt us again, like they did centuries ago."

"Oh. Then I guess it's okay then." Her eyes shifted to a picture of a large silvery snake with three heads. "A Runespoor. Cool, but three heads must make it hard to eat, since you have to make sure each head gets a fair share."

I nodded. I loved discussing things with Lily, she always had a unique perspective on things.

Our potions lessons started that same week, and were a great success. Like me, Lily had an aptitude for potions, and loved brewing as much as me. Mum was happy to have found two such good students and joked that she would have to chase us out of the lab with a broom or else we'd waste away. I rarely saw Mum smile, because at home she hardly ever had anything to be happy over, since my father was there, but she always smiled when she had lessons with us.

"One day you'll grow up and get your own mastery and then I can say I taught two of the brightest students ever to stir a cauldron."

I wanted that more than anything. I wanted my mother to be proud of me so much. At least someone would be, because I knew my father would never be proud of me for anything, I was a disappointment and a freak 'cause I had magic and that would never change.

That's why I couldn't wait to go off to Hogwarts, where I'd finally be normal.

* * * * * *

The letter finally came, and Mum took Lily and I to Diagon Alley to get school supplies and I spent the rest of the summer teaching Lily how to write neatly with a quill. (I'd had lessons with Mum in secret since I was eight)

Finally it was September 1st and I was meeting Lily and her parents and Petunia at the platform. Mum hugged me before she left, saying quietly, "Remember, Severus, to behave and study hard and make me proud. Be the best you can be."

I promised I would. Then she said goodbye, she had to get to work, and I took my trunk and dragged it over near the edge of the platform, so it would be easy for me to get it on the train, I was small and the trunk was heavy for me. That was when I spotted the Evans family, Mr. and Mrs. Evans were checking over Lily's things, making sure she had everything, and Lily was having a discussion with Petunia, who looked even more annoyed than usual.

I snuck closer to hear what they were talking about.

"I'm sorry, Tuney, that you can't come with me," Lily was saying, her green eyes dark with regret. I nearly fell over. Petunia at Hogwarts? God help us all! She'd drive me crazy in two seconds, not to mention everyone else, with her snotty ways.

Petunia sniffed. "Like I want to go to some freak school. I'm glad you're going, you'll finally be out of my hair, Lily! Glad!"

Her sister shook her head. "You don't mean that. I saw the letter you got from the Headmaster . . ."

"How dare you! You went through my desk, you little sneak!"

"It was lying right out on the top and . . .Sev recognized the seal and we just wanted to see how come you'd get a letter from a wizard because you don't have magic. It wasn't really sneaking, not really . . ."

Petunia flushed hotly. "Was too! I said that Snape boy would be a bad influence on you. He's always poking his big nose into everyone's business."

"Tuney, it's okay, you don't have to be mad, it's all right to want to have magic . . ."

"Who said I want to have magic like you, brat?"

"Tuney . . .I know what he said, he said only those with magic could attend Hogwarts, but he was sure you'd find something just as valuable to learn. He was very kind."

"Oh, be quiet, won't you? Hurry up and get on the blasted train. I don't care anymore, Lily. Go to that stupid school, you and that Snape boy deserve it. Now you can all be freaks together!"

"We're not freaks, Petunia!"

"What are you then? Because you sure as hell aren't normal, Lily." Petunia hissed. "You never have been." She stalked away, and I saw Lily's eyes fill with tears.

I shot a nasty look after her older sister and wished I could hex her tongue out. Then I walked up to my friend and said, "Hey, Lily. Are you ready to go to Hogwarts?"

"Yeah. I guess." She gave me a watery smile. "C'mon, let's get on." She turned to say goodbye to her parents, then she followed me onto the train, biting her lip nervously.

* * * * * *

Freedom nearly fell off the window ledge, he was so stunned by that little tidbit of information Snape had provided. Bloody Merlin's ghost! Aunt Petunia used to wish she had magic? And she wanted to go to Hogwarts? Maybe that's why she's so angry that I have magic and she doesn't. Maybe that's why she never lets me mention it around her. 'Cause she's jealous or something. That would explain a lot.

Then he refocused on Snape and Hagrid, who had noticed him sitting on the ledge.

Severus whistled at him, and Freedom had no choice then but to obey, and he came in to sit upon the Potions Master's shoulder.

"How was your flight?"

Good. But I'm kind of sleepy, the hawk lied, and pretended to drift off, hoping Severus would continue the conversation. A moment later, he did.

* * * * * *

The Sorting did not go as I had expected, since Lily and I ended up in rival Houses, a thing which I knew was bound to cause problems for us. Lily swore it didn't matter, and maybe it didn't to her, but it did to several others, namely Potter, Black, Lupin, and Pettigrew. They'd had it in for me since we met on the train going to school, and Potter said that he'd rather leave school than be Sorted into Slytherin, and Black agreed with him. Then they laughed at me for saying they had brawn but no brains and claimed I wouldn't end up anywhere, because I had neither.

Lily got mad then and said we should move to another compartment, and Potter sneered and said, "See ya around, Snivellus!" Thus giving me my most detested nickname, and also showing what arrogant idiot he was.

I would have been satisfied to leave it there, but Potter and Black had other ideas. They wanted to teach "the upstart snake" his place, and they started ambushing me on my way to class sometimes, not realizing I wasn't quite the easy mark they thought.

Mum had taught me to defend myself, using Stinging Hexes and things like that, and for awhile I gave as good as I got. Until they started cheating and hexing me three and two on one, I could usually dodge or reflect at least two hexes back but Pettigrew used to like to attack me from behind, and then I ended up worse for it.

But they taught me one good thing. Always be prepared for anything and watch your back.

By the time our first year ended, they had a reputation as the worst pranksters and bullies in our year, and I hated them with a passion. So did Lily. Sometimes she helped me, if she was around when they hexed me, and once or twice she got Black and Potter or even Pettigrew back for tormenting me. I was their favorite target, but I wasn't the only one who ended up on the wrong end of their wands. Plenty of Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs were hurt or humiliated by their stupid pranks, the only ones who were safe from them were the Gryffindors.

Lily gave them the monicker "The Marauders" one day when she caught them hexing a Slytherin firstie when we were in our second year and the name stuck. The gits were even proud of it! They thought it sounded wonderful. I suppose they were too dense to realize that their "wonderful name" meant "a band of raiders who preyed upon the weak and helpless". But it suited them, for that's what they did, all right.

Only they claimed it was all in fun, and hardly ever got in trouble for their nasty pranks. I thought they were about as useful as a plague of boils and made it a point to outperform them in potions and nearly every other class that I could.

One time, Lily and I were making a new potion for extra credit, since Slughorn always paired us for most projects, he liked to see what we came up with, since we were among his best potions students, and we had nearly finished the draft when Potter and his gang came by and started with me.

Before I knew it, hexes were flying, and stupid Pettigrew did something to our cauldron and totally ruined the solution we'd been brewing for two days. I never saw Lily lose her temper like she did then.

"You bloody great imbeciles! What HAVE you done?"

"Aw, calm down Evans, it isn't like you can't make another one," Black said, giving her his famous smile.

"Do you know how long it took us to make that potion, Black, you dumb arse-licking son of a toad?" she screamed. "TWO DAYS! D'you hear me? Two days and now it's ruined! What were you thinking, that it was just some kind of joke? Huh? We were bored, so let's go prank Snape and Evans?"

"Blimey, Evans! We didn't know you were going to be here. We just thought Snivelly was here by himself. It was just a joke, don't get your knickers in a twist," began Potter.

Lily's eyes narrowed and burned like a dragon about to flame a wizard into ashes. "Oh really?" she said in a dangerously soft tone. I flinched. I knew she was going to kill them. And I didn't give a damn. They deserved every bit of misery she was about to unleash upon them. "Then let's see how funny you find this, Potter!"

She pointed her wand and to this day I don't know what hex she cast, but whatever it was hit all three of them and made them deathly ill for two days, with green pustules all over that itched and burned like hell and vomiting and the runs and well . . .it was quite nasty, had them in the Hospital Wing like that. And she also informed Professor Slughorn about out destroyed potion, so he took fifty points from them and gave them a week long detention on top of it.

After that, they learned never to muck up our potions, and they were very careful to never rile Lily up that way again.

And we won Slughorn's Best Potion Award for our Improved Bruise Salve.

* * * * * *

I'm betting I get my temper from her, Freedom thought, smothering a chuckle in his wing. She sounds like a real good friend to have in a tight spot. And I can't blame her for going all spare on Sirius and my dad either, I'd have flipped too if the potion I'd been working on for two days was ruined by some stupid prank. They deserved whatever she cast on them. He didn't much care for the way his father and Sirius and the others had behaved, they reminded him of Dudley and his friends, and that was not something he wanted to hear, but Hagrid did not jump to their defense, as he surely would have if Severus was exaggerating, and so Harry was forced to accept Snape's account as the truth.

Indeed, Hagrid was nodding through much of Snape's recitation, and once or twice he would add, "Aye, they were always in trouble of one kind or another, the scamps! Couldn't seem t'help themselves. Worse than a pack o'pixies."

He settled himself more comfortably on Snape's shoulder and wondered if the professor was going to say anything further about his mother during school.

After a few swallows of tea, Severus continued.

* * * * * *

Things changed radically during our fifth year, however. The rivalry between the Marauders and I had grown even more bitter, to the point that whenever we saw one another, our hands were immediately on our wand, ready to hex each other. I had taken to sitting in the desk with a wall behind me, so I could be sure no one could attack me from behind. And if that were not bad enough, we had OWL's coming up and I was trying to study for them with Lily in the library.

It was during one of those late night study sessions that I got up the courage to do something I had long dreamed of doing.

I kissed her.

I was prepared for her to smack my face for daring to accost her that way. I didn't know if she even liked me that way, as more than a friend.

But she stared at me for a moment, her eyes wide in silent surprise and then she grinned and said, "Really, Sev, what took you so long?" Then she kissed me back.

I felt as if I had died and gone to heaven. I kept praying this wasn't a dream or if it was, that I'd die right then and never have to face reality again, because I'd never be as happy as I was right then.

"You don't mind then?" I asked softly after we had managed to come up for air.

She laughed. "Severus, if I minded, you'd know. Trust me." She waved her wand in front of my nose and I pretended to shrink away. "I'd ask you to kiss me some more, but you know we'll get thrown out if Madam Pince catches us making out instead of studying. So . . .let's go over that last set of Ancient Rumes again?"

I groaned. "Do we have to?"

"No. I could just pack up and call it a night," she said mischievously.

"Never mind. What was number seven again?" I held her hand under the table and fought to keep from giggling like an idiot. I looked at my book, but I didn't see the words at all. All I saw was a pair of familiar green eyes, gazing into my own, filled with a passion that made me long to take her in my arms and kiss her senseless.

We started seeing each other regularly then, and after three months we considered ourselves a couple. It was very secret, since our Houses were practically at war with each other, and it would have gone hard for us if anyone knew we were together.

Not that I cared. I'd have endured a dozen Cruiciatus Curses for Lily's sake. She'd bewitched me thoroughly with her mesmerizing emerald eyes and I couldn't get enough of her.

* * * * * *

Freedom nearly backwinged himself off of Snape's shoulder when he heard that.

Holy flaming hell! Snape kissed my mum! And she kissed him BACK!

He wondered if he were dreaming then. Or lost in a parallel universe. He shook his head slightly, then went still as Snape's hand came up to stroke him gently.

"Maybe I ought to be going. Freedom's getting restless, maybe he's hungry still."

The hawk froze. No, I'm okay. I just . . .had an itch, but it's gone now. You can keep talking if you want. I don't mind. He would go mad if he didn't hear what else happened now.

"But it didn't last, did it?" Hagrid asked softly, his eyes bright with sympathy.

"No. As Dickens said, "It was the best of times and the worst of times" . . ."

* * * * * *

The pressure from our two Houses was intense, the Dark Lord was rising and many of the purebloods in my House were turning to him as a way to get power. And the Marauders were growing suspicious of Lily, and making it hard for us to continue meeting. So we decided to break it off for a little while, just until OWLS were over, give us some breathing space.

Lily started being with some girls from Gryffindor, Alice Stewart, Mary MacDonald, and another one, I can't recall her name now. Anyway, they encouraged her to ignore me, since I was a Slytherin.

My own Housemates weren't much better. Avery and Mulciber and Lestrange all wanted me to join their little clique, they were popular and had money and connections, everything I lacked, and I stupidly thought it might be good to be part of the popular set for once. So I started sitting with them after class and helping with their homework, they were complete dunderheads when it came to potions and charms, though all of them knew plenty of dark curses. All of them were violently anti-Muggle and Muggleborn, and I didn't like that one bit, but I kept my mouth shut. They were the way they were and nothing I said would change their minds, and I didn't want to have yet another bunch of wizards out for my blood.

Discretion was the better part of valor, and so I kept my head down and acted like I agreed with them. That's all it was then. An act. I was biding my time, waiting for OWLS to be finished so I could meet Lily again. But while I was lying low, Potter was trying to make a play for Lily.

He wasn't succeeding, Lily kept brushing him off, but it made me furious. How dare that bloody glory-seeker try and steal my girl away from me? Of course, no one knew she was mine, but that didn't matter. I was still mad as hell at the bounder, going after the only girl I'd ever had, when he had dozens falling at his feet every time he looked around. He was a big Quidditch star, their number one Chaser, and he never let anyone forget it. He strutted around the school like a cockatrice.

But I didn't have much time to worry about Potter, since the OWLS came and I was determined to get all O's in them. I was strongest in Potions and Defense, but it was after our Defense OWL that disaster struck.

* * * * * *

Freedom listened, stunned, as Snape related what had occurred on that long ago June day after his Defense exam, how he had been studying the test questions again under a beech tree when Sirius and James, bored and looking for some amusement, decided to hex him.

He listened while Snape told Hagrid about the entire fight, the hexes they cast upon each other, and how Sirius had used Snape's own spell against him, gleaned from his potions book, which Black had stolen from him once a week ago, but Severus had stolen it back, forgetting he had written the Levicorpus spell and its counter in the margin of the book.

"I had a silly habit of scribbling down ideas for potions and spells in the margins of my texts, since I usually didn't have a piece of parchment handy, and that time it cost me dearly." Snape grimaced. "So there I was, hanging upside down like a side of beef, and half the school, or so it seemed, was laughing at me again, and I thought I would die from embarrassment when Lily shows up and starts defending me and giving Potter and Black what-for."

Freedom opened his eyes and wondered why Snape had gone pale and looked ill. Surely his mother had helped Severus get away, given her previous track record? Freedom winced, for what Snape had described reminded him unpleasantly of the time Dudley had shoved him headfirst into the primary school toilet and nearly drowned him, then had the cheek to tell a teacher that his cousin had wet his pants. He'd been given the horrible name of Pee Pee Potter for the rest of the year and the teacher had sent him home with a note for his aunt that she should take him to a doctor and make sure he didn't have bladder problems. Petunia hadn't, she had just given him less to drink and lectured him about embarrassing the family and locked him in the cupboard. But he had never forgotten it, even now that memory made him blush furiously.

He could sympathize totally with how Snape felt then.

So it was quite a shock when Severus told Hagrid what he had said after Lily had defended him.

You called her a Mudblood? Severus, you stupid git, what were you thinking? He nearly cried aloud, biting back the comment just in time. But he nearly bit the wizard's ear, hard, for it.

Until Severus added, "As soon as I'd said it, I wanted to hex my tongue off. I don't know what the hell came over me, except that I was humiliated and furious and I just lashed out at the nearest person, which happened to be Lily. I was such a fool! With one word I'd destroyed our relationship. I was so upset at myself that I barely noticed when you came by and made Black and Potter let me down."

"Aye, I remember that. I was glad I could help, lad. What they did was wrong, dead wrong, and they shoulda gotten detention for it."

"They didn't. They got off, as usual. I went up to Gryffindor Tower later on that night, to apologize to Lily for my damn mouth, and I waited outside the portrait hole until one of her snooty friends, MacDonald, I think it was, told her I was there and to come out. I'd gone there to make peace, but instead we ended up quarreling . . ."

* * * * * *

"I'm sorry, Lily," I began, determined to make this right. I regretted my temper that night as I'd never regretted anything in my life. "I didn't mean it."

Her eyes were like two chips of emerald ice, so cold that they froze me where I stood. "Save your breath, Snape! I don't want to hear it!"

"Please! Listen to me! I didn't mean it!"

"Then why did you say it? You don't usually say things you don't mean. Is it because that's what all your new Slytherin friends say? Because I've heard them, you know. They think Mudbloods are scum of the earth, vermin, that we all should be exterminated. Is that what I am to you, Snape?"

"No! I never . . .it never mattered to me, Lily . . .you know that!"

"Then why are you friends with people like Avery, Lestrange, and Mulciber? Why do you hang around such evil people?"

"I don't . . .not really . . ."

"I've seen you, Snape, don't try and lie, damn you!"

"I'm not!" I exploded. "Just because I'm with them doesn't mean I believe what they do! You're the one who said let's try and be friends with other people in our Houses, Evans! And look who you're hanging around with-the bloody Marauders! You're a fine one to talk, making nice with Potter, who used to hex me till I bled!"

She blushed. "At least Potter and Black don't cast dark curses on people! Look what Avery did to Mary the other week! What do you call that? How can you be friends with someone like that, Sev? He's evil!"

I gritted my teeth. "Oh, and like Potter and Black are any better? They might not use dark hexes, but they don't need to. What they do is just as bad, humiliating people for the fun of it. You don't need a dark hex to hurt someone, Lily! It might not kill or maim or whatever, but it leaves other scars, dammit!"

"Don't start, Snape! I'm sick and tired of you and the Marauders! I'm tired of making excuses for you. You're so obsessed with them you don't even care that you're hanging around people whose greatest ambition is to kill Muggles and join You-Know-Who! Maybe they were right about you!"

I gaped at her, too shocked to utter a word in my defense. Surely she couldn't believe that? I loved her, for Godsake. I would never hurt her, not intentionally.

She gazed at me, her eyes shooting sparks, and I snarled, hurt by her willingness to believe the worst of me, "Fine! Believe whatever you damn well please! You know best, don't you, Evans?"

"It's over, Snape," she declared coldly, then she turned and walked back inside the portrait hole.

I just stood there, her words echoing in my head like a death knell. What had I done?

* * * * * *

That was the beginning of the end. After that I no longer cared much about anything, except my studies. I was moody, depressed, and my temper was as nasty as my father's at its worst. Everyone avoided me, which was fine with me. I was like a wounded dragon, ready to bite the head off of anyone who got too close.

I went home, and found that my mother was dying, and there was no magic that could save her. I tried, of course. Tried every remedy and elixir I could think of, every healing enchantment I knew. Useless. She died one freezing cold December night, just before Christmas. I was there, holding her hand, as she drew her last breath.

And with her went my last hope of anything resembling a family.

When I returned to school for second term, I was bitter and angry, torn all to pieces inside, but not knowing how to ask for help. All I knew was how to hide. So I did, and no one knew how close I was to the edge till after Black nearly killed me in the Shrieking Shack.

I went to the Headmaster, thinking surely he must act, I had nearly lost my life, the damn werewolf had nearly bitten me, and only Potter's quick reflexes had saved me, much as I hated to admit it. I owed the arrogant sod, and I wanted to see justice done. I thought Dumbledore would agree, but instead he told me to keep my mouth shut, that Lupin's secret must be kept, and swore me to secrecy.

"What about Black? He tried to kill me, damn it!"

"Now Severus, I highly doubt that. He says it was just a lark."

"Oh, brilliant!" I sneered. "Just a lark. It was really funny too, sir! I nearly died laughing!"

"My boy, you are overwrought. You ought to go and get some sleep. I shall settle with Mr. Black and the others."

I wasn't buying it, not for a minute. He didn't look the least bit angry, not the way he should have looked if he was really going to lay down the law. He looked concerned. But not for me. Oh no. He was concerned for Lupin, that someone might learn he had permitted a werewolf with an active curse to attend Hogwarts and endanger us all.

I was so furious I practically spit. But I managed, for once, to control myself, and all I said was, "Yes, sir."

I left, and only then did I realize just how much I was worth in the old man's eyes.


* * * * * *

Severus sighed heavily and rubbed his temples. "You know what happened after that, old friend. I walked the lefthand path into night and very nearly destroyed myself. I listened to Malfoy and Avery and became a Death Eater, servant to a monster. I let myself be used by him, I let hatred poison me, I was seduced by his promises, that he would appreciate me for my talents, and that I would never be forgotten and discarded. He played on my wounded spirit like an expert musician does a piano. And I very nearly succumbed."

"But ye didn't, Severus. You saw the lies in time and you came back to us." Hagrid said softly.

"It was a near thing. Only one thing kept me from falling. Do you know what it was?" Snape whispered, his face stark and pale. "Her eyes. I remembered that night, and her eyes, so angry and hurt, and I knew then if I became a true disciple I would never be able to look her in the eye again. Because then she would have been proven right."

Hagrid reached out and clasped the younger man's hand. "I am glad you did, Severus. For it would have been a terrible loss otherwise."

Severus met the gamekeeper's eyes and nodded. "I know. When I showed up at your door, half-dead from cold and fever, I was sure you were going to leave me to die. Instead you took me in again and cured me and then you told me to go to Dumbledore."

Hagrid shook his head. "Did ye really think I'd turn you away, Severus? After all I had done for ye before?"

Something unspoken passed between them, Freedom sensed it, but did not know what they were referring to.

Snape nodded, and looked away. "I was a Death Eater. You should have killed me."

The big man snorted. "Bollocks! Ye were a seventeen year old idiot who'd listened to the forked tongue of the devil himself. Like many another before ye. I thought you were dead, lad, lost to me. Then you show up in the dead of night, looking like death warmed over . . .half out o' your head with fever and the only sense I could get outta you was "Hagrid, I don't want to go back, help me," and what was I supposed to do?"

Severus's mouth twisted wryly. "Called the Aurors."

"Aye, and then I'd have been guilty of murder, because you'd not have lasted a day in Azkaban. Besides, I knew what it cost you t'come back, and I wasn't about to let that come to naught. So I saved you and I've never regretted a bit of it, Severus Snape. An' that's the truth of it."

"I can never repay you," Snape said quietly, humbly.

The half-giant flicked two fingers and cuffed the smaller man lightly on the ear. "Bite your tongue, sir! There's no debts between friends, damn yer stubborn hide. How many times do I got to tell ye that?"

"Until I believe it," the other answered lightly.

"Humph! Maybe I ought to jus' bang your head into a wall a few times."

Severus snorted. "That's been tried already. I have an extremely hard head."

"Bloody Yorkshireman!" Hagrid shot back.

"Quite." A glimmer of a smile quivered across Snape's lips. "Dumbledore accepted my pardon, and agreed to clear me of charges if I would be his spy, and I agreed. Then he gave me my first assignment-bringing that prophecy to the Dark Lord. I wish I had refused. Had I known what would come of it . . ."

Hagrid patted him on the arm. "How could ye know?"

"I should have suspected something. I was close to him, I should have known what he planned. I should have guessed the identity of the traitor in the Order. All my bloody intelligence and I still failed! I came back for her and she forgave me for everything and I swore to protect her son and it was not enough! Always too little too late! The last sight her eyes ever saw was the damned Dark Lord."

"No, Severus. The last thing her eyes saw was her son," Hagrid corrected. "You did all you could for her. The only way you'll fail her is if you don't keep that promise you made."

Severus was silent for a moment. Then he said, "I will find him, Hagrid. And I'll keep him safe. By whatever means necessary."

Freedom hissed at that. Whatever means necessary? Just what the hell's that supposed to mean? The Animagus clicked his beak irritably. I'm not some damn sack of Galleons that you can stick in a corner somewhere, Severus!

Over the course of the discussion, Freedom had come to the conclusion that Snape was more than just the snarky bat of the dungeons. He was a man of great courage and Freedom could grow to like and even respect the professor if not for one thing. Snape was going to have to stop thinking of him as a carbon copy of his father and start seeing him as just Harry, wizard and student, the boy with Lily's evergreen eyes.

Of course, he had no idea how to go about changing the professor's mind. As Hagrid had said, Snape was bloody stubborn. Perhaps if he saved Snape's life . . .? Right. As if. Still, it was food for thought. He had learned a great deal tonight about both his parents and Snape. They had all done things that were foolish and stupid, and yet managed to make something of themselves when given a chance. Not all Gryffindors were good and not all Slytherins evil, there was light and dark in everyone. What mattered was what you chose to do with it. James had chosen to stop being a bully, Lily had chosen to forgive her friend for a terrible mistake, and Snape has chosen to return to the light.

The young hawk knew that he too faced a choice. But as yet he didn't know what way he would choose. He only hoped that when the time came, he would make the right decision.


Chapter End Notes:

Sorry this took so long, but I was very busy with work and Father's Day. I hope you all like this glimpse into Snape and Lily's past.

Just a reminder, before anyone rags on me for not following canon--this is NOT a canon story, it's AU, similar in certain aspects, but that's all. So expect the unexpected.

Thanks to anyone who's been R &R ing this!

Next: Umbridge goes on a rampage and Freedom begins his own covert campaign to stop her from crushing Hogwarts under her pink high heels.

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