Chapter Five: Birthday Gifts and Their Consequences
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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