By the age of seven, Severus Snape knew that happiness didn't exist for him.
When he'd been six, he'd made a pet of a wild rabbit, feeding it cabbage leaves and carrots when no one was watching. He named it Reginald and told it all of his secrets while he picked at his skinned knees. He was sure Reginald was magical, because Reginald looked him in the eye and twitched his whiskers as if nodding when Severus said that he had magic and that made him more special than any of the other boys in town. He told Reginald they belonged together. Severus promised to take Reginald to Hogwarts, told him that he was Severus's familiar and that he would never let Reginald go.
But that was before his father found him one afternoon, levitating Reginald with great delight and pride; before his father wrenched Reginald out of the air—out of Severus's life—and told him that he was a perversion and that he should never have been born.
God punishes the wicked.
Severus found his mother that night, beaten bloody, sniveling on the sofa. Weak. She looked up at his creaking footsteps. And as she glanced at his questioning face, she shuddered and shook her head and hunched away from him.
Severus stepped into the shadows and told himself that tears would gain him nothing.
By the age of eight, Severus knew that his place in the world was in the gray half-light of shadows. He moved silently, invisibly, along the fringes of other people's lives. That was fine with him. He had no use for people.
Instead, he spent his days in a park, far away from his family's ramshackle house near the docks. He'd found a cluster of bushes and a small copse of trees where he could huddle down and dig in the dirt, read books on magic he stole from his mother's old trunk, and perform his experiments. He sometimes pretended he was at Hogwarts, learning Potions. His fingers traced over her notes and running commentary. He wished she was as bold in person as she was in ink.
Severus wanted nothing more than to be a wizard. So unwavering was his desire, that his hair had grown out long and refused to be cut short, much to his father's disgust. He stole clothes that he thought were suitable for wizards and wore them under a long, overlarge coat. Sometimes people stared at him and giggled. Severus didn't mind. They were only dumb Muggles after all. Just like his father.
"Oi! What are you doing here?" a stupid boy asked one day as he stumbled into Severus's earthen castle.
Severus said nothing. He didn't even bother to look up. He'd read in one of his mother's books that frog legs were more potent if removed while the frog was still alive. He'd been practicing the technique, refusing to get caught short for acting like a squeamish half-blood or, worse, a Mudblood. (He'd read all about those in his mother's school diaries and refused to be mistaken for one.)
The boy stared as Severus impassively wrenched a frog's leg from its socket. The frog's tongue leapt out and his other legs jerked.
"What are you doing to that frog?" the boy asked. "Girls aren't allowed to do that!"
"I'm not a girl!" Severus hissed through bared teeth, long stringy hair swaying in the breeze.
"You're dressed like one," the stupid boy said, entranced by Severus's activities, despite himself.
Severus wrenched the frog's other leg from its socket before slicing off both legs with a large whisky bottle shard. "No. I'm not," he said, once he'd finished. He looked down at the smock he'd pinched from the neighbor's line. "Go away, Muggle," he spat.
"What'd you call me?"
"You heard me," Severus muttered as he fished around in his little homemade dissection kit for the twine he'd salvaged from a rubbish bin. He bound the two frog legs together and tucked them in the pocket of his coat.
"You're a freak," the boy said, backing away.
Severus scrambled to his feet and pulled the crooked stick he'd found in the woods from his coat pocket. He jabbed it at the boy and hissed, "Leviosa!"
The boy screamed and ran away. Severus smirked and returned to practicing his potion ingredient preparation.
It was a few months after that stupid Muggle boy found his hiding space that he saw her. It was cold and the ground was hard and dead. Severus sat huddled in his imagined castle reading, his head poking through the bushes whenever a voice strayed too close.
"Don't, Lily! Mummy said we weren't allowed."
Severus looked up and dissected the ugly girl in a moment. Muggle. He dismissed her and settled back into the history of the Goblin Wars.
An answering laugh caused him to look up again, though. The sound was warm and rich and alive.
"Don't be so stupid, Tuney," the other girl said. She had ginger hair, pale skin, and a glow that could only exist in a magical being. (When the house was quiet at night, sometimes Severus crept into the loo, turned up the oil lamp, and stared at himself in the mirror, sure that his skin glowed with magic.) But it was her eyes that convinced him. She looked as though she belonged to the woodland fey, like the ones he'd read about in his mother's Defense Against the Dark Arts, Grade 1. When she moved, the ground bent to her. Her laugh caused wind to shake the trees.
Severus bit his lip in anticipation. This was far better than reading or practicing potion preparation techniques. Woodland fairies were dangerous. But if they could be captured and tamed, they belonged to you forever.
Severus had caught and tamed something once. He longed for something to be his again.
This time he'd be more careful, though. He'd keep her farther away, he'd protect Lily from stupid Muggles.
They came to the park every afternoon at three o'clock. The Muggle's mouth was always pursed as if she'd eaten a flobberworm while Lily pranced and chattered and seemed oblivious to the way the sun followed her. Every day, Severus waited impatiently for her to arrive. He would watch every move she made, catalogue every facial expression, every turn and lilt in her voice.
He was having trouble concentrating on the old, battered copy of Hogwarts, A History, he'd found in the garden shed. It was a treasure, no matter what it had cost him. He was fingering the bruises high on his cheek and around his neck when he heard her laugh.
He snapped his book closed and scrambled to his haunches, anxious to see her. He knew something would be different that day—he could feel it. His mother's books spoke of Divination and he wondered if he were a Seer.
He hoped she would fly through the air again after leaping from her swing. He wished he could snare her like he had Reginald, but she was too big for a trap made of twigs and twine.
"I wish there wasn't so much snow," Lily said as the ugly Muggle trudged behind her towards the swing set. "Wouldn't it be brilliant if we could play tag?"
"We shouldn't run in the snow. Mummy wouldn’t like it," the Muggle said, her wary voice and pursed lips disapproving.
Lily crouched down, balled her fists, and squeezed her eyes shut. "How I wish it was spring, I wish it was spring, I wish it was spring," she chanted over and over and over again.
In front of her, snow receded and soft blades of green grass shot up. Severus wrung his hands with delight. He'd known she was a witch! He'd known it!
The Muggle gasped and brought her hand to her mouth.
Lily's eyes snapped open and the green shoots of grass began to curl and turn brown as the snow surged across the Conjured patch of spring.
"What did you do?" The Muggle asked, her shaking finger pointing at the dying grass.
"I—I—" Lily faltered, looking as terrified as the Muggle.
"Make it stop! Make it stop!" The Muggle cried, backing away.
"I didn't do anything. I didn't!" Lily said as she tried to get to her feet and go to her sister.
"I'm telling Mummy!" the ugly Muggle screamed as she turned and started to run.
"Tuney! Wait! Don't tell! Please, don't tell!"
Severus shoved away the repulsive thought that his Lily was a Mudblood–he refused to believe that she was such a lowly creature. He growled low in his throat as hot anger roiled through him. How dare that stupid Muggle make his Lily, his woodland fairy, feel inferior, make her feel like a freak? Oh, how he wished the Muggle would disappear, how he wished she'd fall and die and leave Lily alone, how he wished he could wrench her legs from their sockets and saw them off and make potions out of her. How he wished and wished and wished—
A cry startled him.
The Muggle was splayed across the ground, her hand pressed against the side of her forehead.
"Tuney! What happened? You're hurt!"
The Muggle sat up, looking dazed. "I—I must have slipped on the ice." She looked up at Lily, clearly struggling. "Were we playing tag?" she asked, confused.
Lily's eyes shot to where green grass had just been. "Erm, yeah…."
"Oh," the Muggle said.
"You're bleeding. We need to get you home," Lily said as she fussed over her sister and helped her to her feet.
The Muggle nodded and staggered to her feet with Lily's help. As they walked away, Lily turned one more time and stared at the ground where the grass had grown. Severus held his breath in anticipation, wondering what Lily would do. Lily's mouth curved into an impish smile, her green, green eyes lingering a moment before turning back to her sister.
Someone who didn't know the curve and stretch of every part of his Lily wouldn't have understood how significant that glance was. But Severus did. He'd seen the longing in her eyes. She hungered for magic.
Spring had finally come for real. Green grass (which paled in comparison to Lily's eyes) shot up through the ground in sprawling patches, choking out the hard, dead ground. Severus sat huddled in his earthen castle, teaching himself spells, practicing with his crooked little stick, and planning how he would gentle Lily and make her his.
Severus was nine now, and knew the two most important truths in his life. Hogwarts would save him and Lily was his salvation. (Sometimes—when it was very dark and quiet and no one, not even Magic itself, could hear him—he allowed himself to wonder if he might be her savior, too.)
The enchanting laugh he'd come to depend on drifted into his little copse of trees and bushes. Severus abandoned his books and stick and crouched in the bushes. His crooked nose stuck out and his lank hair caught in the budding branches, but he pressed closer. How he longed to take her away from the pursed-lip, ugly Muggle. He would teach her everything about magic. She would be so grateful to him that she'd never leave him or hurt him or tell him he should never have been born.
The Muggle was telling her not to swing so high, but Lily wasn't listening. Severus knew she wanted to fly. Pure joy—a feeling he only had with Lily—bubbled up in him as she leapt from the swing, held out her arms, and flew. Severus imagined she had invisible wings. He wondered if they would be strong enough to carry him, too.
He watched as she laughed and chattered and pranced and made the park come alive.
"Lily, don't!" the Muggle cried, but Lily wasn't listening. She wanted a flower. Severus knew she would Conjure one. He'd seen her do it before. He watched as she wished, and wished, and wished, and created the most delicate flower he'd ever seen. It was her best magic yet. He gasped and pressed closer, rattling the bushes.
Lily's eyes shot to his. Her gaze pierced him straight through, knowing him—i>seeing him—in a moment. She tilted her head slightly and invited him to come out before she ever said a word.
She beckoned him with light dancing in her eyes. He stepped out of the shadows. And all he could see was green, green, green, more fine than spring.
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