Chapter Two: Friends and Enemies
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."
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.
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.
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.
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