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At Great Personal Risk by academica
Chapter 1: Two Owls
The thirty-first of July was an incredibly important day in the wizarding world.
There was much ceremony surrounding the departure of the owls that carried the acceptance letters for the new class of first years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The house elves had been working around the clock for a week; half of them busily inscribed identical letters on immaculate pieces of parchment, and the others carefully composed standard supply lists to accompany the message. After many years of performing this particular aspect of her duty as deputy headmistress, Minerva McGonagall could get through the stacks of unsigned letters on her desk in just under three days. Approximately eighty-five percent of the acceptances would come back as students planning to attend in the fall. Ten percent of the denials were Muggle-borns who saw Hogwarts as a strange joke, and the other five percent were purebloods who felt their children would be better served at foreign wizarding schools. Most all half-bloods accepted.
When the letters were all sealed and addressed (another daunting task for the house elves), it was time to get them mailed. The first year it was open for students, Hogwarts had sixteen owls in its possession; now, it boasted a supply of fifty-eight. It usually took them each two trips, bringing one letter at a time, to deliver the highly important message to most of the potential new first years. A small percentage, the ones intended for Muggle-born students, were delivered by hand.
On this fateful morning, two owls separated from the thinning pack and dipped below the clouds, searching their surroundings to confirm that they were heading in the right direction. They flew together for several more miles, clutching the letters in their beaks, and then one turned toward Mill Town, leaving its companion to traverse alone the last half-mile to Spinner’s End.
It was quiet upstairs in the small house at the beginning of the row. Though he could hear his mother and father conversing mutedly through the wooden floor of his bedroom, eleven-year-old Severus Snape took his time in waking up and leaving his soft sheets and warm pillows. He propped himself up on his elbows, moving his thick, dark hair out of his deep black eyes as he lazily flipped the pages of the book beneath him. He did not understand much of Advanced Potion-Making just yet, but he was fascinated by the precise nature of the magic contained within it, and he hoped that one day he would be able to produce some of the solutions detailed in the worn pages.
He heard his mother, Eileen, calling from downstairs, and as he got out of bed and opened his door, the warm smell of buttermilk pancakes hit him delightfully hard. His mother had developed a bit of a gift for potions while studying at Hogwarts, and she liked to show off every Saturday morning with her homemade syrup and collection of specially brewed fruit and vegetable juices. She mixed extra ingredients into the raw materials, adding cheerfulness to orange juice or increased concentration to carrot juice, and she had recently begun selling her concoctions from a street side booth in Diagon Alley as a way of helping to supplement his father’s meager income. She often used her elaborate weekend breakfasts to test her latest brews on her family, but fortunately for Severus and his father, they usually turned out to be quite good.
“There you are.” His mother greeted him with a soft smile as he appeared at the bottom of the stairs, and his father, Tobias, nodded a hello as he took his seat at the kitchen table.
“How’s the headache?” He asked the older man, who was absorbed in his Muggle paper.
“Better.” Tobias commented. He had mentioned suffering from a migraine when he returned from work last night, and Eileen had promptly offered him a glass of apple juice that had been infused with a semi-powerful pain potion. Thankfully, this combination worked just as well as all of the others she had previously invented. It appeared that Eileen Snape could do no wrong.
Severus nodded, looking up just as his mother slid a plate stacked with pancakes onto the table in front of him. She winked at him covertly, enamored with the way her husband only begrudgingly trusted her. As a proper Muggle, he was never fully convinced about the truth or safety of magic.
“I tried cinnamon in the syrup today. I think you’ll like—” Eileen began, but she was interrupted by a peck at the window. She set the bottle down in front of him, turning to open the window and let the owl in. The bird perched on the back of the empty chair across from Severus, dropping the letter matter-of-factly in front of him, though the owl was careful not to let it touch his breakfast.
Eileen’s eyes widened as she noted the gleaming red seal that decorated the back of the envelope. She hardly resisted the urge to squeal joyfully. “Go on, open it!”
Severus picked it up carefully, sliding his thumb under the wax and withdrawing the folded letter from the envelope. He read it slowly, and then once more for good measure, giving the supply list tucked in with it the once-over as well. Finally, he looked up at them and smiled.
“It says I’ve been accepted to Hogwarts.”
Tobias smiled at his son, secretly grateful that Severus had inherited his mother’s unique talents and would not be confined to a life of mundane Muggle happenings as he was. “Congratulations.” He patted Severus lightly on the back.
“Ooh, it’s so exciting!” Eileen grinned, practically clapping her hands as she fed the owl a treat and sent it back on its way. “Why don’t we go to Diagon Alley and pick up your supplies tomorrow?”
Nothing could have sounded better to Severus.
Lily loved sitting alone outside, especially when they were fighting.
The slender redhead often occupied the small bench in the immaculate garden, her dark green eyes carefully studying the emerald leaves and colorful blossoms for signs of decay. She had contemplated stealing her mother’s wand and coming out here to tend to them, her way of passing the time, but she knew better than to risk attempting underage magic. Instead, she plucked off the dead bits by hand whenever she caught them, nipping away until the plant was in perfect condition once more. The Evanses could not afford to keep a house elf, and so Lily supposed her mother appreciated her efforts somewhere deep down, somewhere hidden.
As the sun began to set, she started working on a rosebush, being careful not to prick her pale fingers on the thorns that dotted the stems of the plant. Suddenly, a voice called her name.
“Hey, Evans! You and your parents going to have that séance anytime soon?”
She glanced up, but she already knew it was James Potter, the boy from down the lane. She frowned, standing up and facing him hesitantly. It seemed like he invented a new way to make fun of her family’s use of magic nearly every day. Nevertheless, she was proud of her parents’ abilities, and it was no secret that she hoped to inherit them. As her mother and father constantly reminded her, the pure blood that ran in her veins put all the Muggles around them to shame.
“Shove off, Potter.” The eleven-year-old called back, but she turned and entered the house like a coward all the same. She couldn’t deal with him, not when they were screaming at each other.
“I know I saw you staring at Mrs. Adams! Her and her filthy Mudblood husband—” Her mother was still laying into her father, staring venom at him across the kitchen table.
“That is a disgusting thought!” Her father roared, striding past her into the living room.
Lily moved quietly around the corner, knowing never to interrupt her parents in the midst of an argument. As she passed their battered couch, she noticed an official-looking piece of mail on top of the stack of bills and catalogs that had been sitting there for the past few nights. It was addressed to her, which was somewhat unusual. She picked it up, taking it upstairs to her room.
She crawled onto her bed, moving aside old issues of Witch Weekly that she’d stolen from her mother’s closet and entertained herself with on the last rainy day they’d had. When she turned the letter over, she noticed the Hogwarts seal on the back. Merlin, it was finally her turn.
She read through the letter, though she already had some idea of what it said, but she was more interested in the supply list that accompanied it, being a girl of practical leanings. As she looked through the items that she would need, her thoughts returned to her mother’s closet. She had seen a small bag of Galleons hidden behind the stack of magazines.
That must be the money they saved for this, she thought. I should ask Mum.
Downstairs, her mother hurled another insult about Mr. Evans and the Muggle woman.
On second thought, maybe I should just go and do it myself tomorrow.