On most days Severus wondered what kind of sick deal Fate struck with him so that he ended up here.
Here was an ageing house in the dodgy end of the country called Spinners' End. Everything looked as if it belonged in the time where some brilliant mind discovered the steam engine. All the houses were identical two storey structures made of stone and covered in soot, so that when night fell they blended in with ease.
No one ever smiled there. They went on with their lives wearing the overwhelming air of indifference. Nothing better would come along, they were sure of it, so what was the point? He wondered if what happened to their happiness was the same thing that happened to his.
He sat swinging his legs on the wall of an old house across the street from his house. He's not sure what happened to the people who lived there, but the boarded up windows told him they never planned to come back. It didn't matter to him if they stay gone he liked to think of the house as his own even with its broken windows and patched roof. It still felt more intact that his real home anyway.
He used to sit out there on most afternoons when his mother shooed him out the door, insisting he needed to play with the other children. It was not that he never tried before. The first afternoon he stumbled along after them in his too-tight shoes, and an old work shirt of his father's. They laughed at him, told him he looked like one of hell's scarecrows. Even on his trek back home, their mocking laughter rang in his ears. He knew if he told his mother it would break her heart, and she didn't need that - not from him. So he pretended for her sake to walk along the pavement in the direction of the park where he knew she'd watch for him before moving away from the window. He counted to one hundred from the moment he set foot out of the house. At one hundred and one he took a left and ran between the neighbours' hedges until he appeared at the house across the road, and he sat on the wall hidden from sight.
For the past few months he sat on the wall watching his house where every now and then his mother peered out of the second floor window and looked down the street. She never noticed him there and he knew it. He imagined she had more important things on her mind at the time.
Every day he sat muttering the same words under his breath like a prayer.
Dear Lord, please let her set the table right.
It was almost half four, and his father was coming home for tea.
His father was never home much. He left before the sun came up in the morning and stumbled home in the afternoon. Severus doubted he even had a job - the factory shut down eighteen months earlier. The hours of his father's absence were the ones he enjoyed the most. That was when he found his mother was more herself instead of the subservient drone he found at supper time.
As long as he could remember his mother's world revolved around magic. When Severus turned five, he set his father's newspaper on fire. Maybe it was a sign of some sort that he didn't quite understand just yet.
The old man took away his favourite toy - a small broomstick his mother saved and bought for his birthday. He remembered when she woke him up that morning after his father left. She wrapped it in the same brown paper she used sometimes to clean the windows. His little fingers shook with excitement when she placed the broomstick on the floor and with a whispered word it rose a few feet off the ground. Little did he realise that he was about to make his first mistake.
When his father got home, Severus ran down the stairs with it to show him what it could do.
“Look Papa, it's magic!”
He beamed up at his father in delight, not hearing the small gasp that escaped his mother's lips. Tobias Snape let his battered toolbox hit the ground with a clatter.
“Magic, you say?” his words were but a hiss and his eyes skipped over his son's completely, and landed harshly on his wife's.
“No, my boy,” he stepped forward, snatching the toy out of the air, “it's nothing of the sort.”
He marched into the kitchen, and threw the toy through the door.
Severus felt the tears well in his eyes as any objection threatening to rise in his throat jumbled at the thunderous look on his father's face. The man strode over to his armchair and took up the newspaper awaiting him. He wasn’t sure he understood what hatred really was until that point in his life. Before his eyes the paper his father held in his hands burst into flames. Tobias yelped, flinging the remnants of the newspaper on the floor and stamping on it with as much energy as he could.
The only person who found this scene funny was Eileen, his mother.
Tobias, almost breathless, glowered at his wife. Clenching his jaw, he pointed at Severus.
“No, it's not fair,” he squeaked, gesturing at the toy which probably lay broken in the yard. “I never get-”
Tobias stared incredulously at his son. “What did you say?”
Severus hiccoughed and shook his head. He could taste salt on his tongue. His mother placed firm hands on his shoulders.
Tobias Snape curled his hands and held them tight at his sides. “Go upstairs, Severus. Now.”
“Papa doesn’t like magic, so you must be careful.”
His mother appeared at his bedroom door the next morning, holding the toy broom in her hands. She wore her blue dress that day, the one that brought out her eyes, but he found that something about her face looked different – it looked rounder. Severus stared the broom with a frown. It looked as it did yesterday when he tore the brown paper off it, and he was sure he heard a loud snap when his father threw it outside.
“Thanks Mum.” He took it gingerly from her outstretched hands and kissed her cheek noticing the tiny wince from her as he did.
He waited as she closed the door behind her to hide the gift under one of the loose floorboards in the corner of his room. There was heaviness in him as he placed it out of sight knowing full well he’d never touch it again.
The floor shook after the resounding crash. The air filled with shrieks. Severus sat with his hands over his ears in the corner of his bedroom. With every thud sent a fresh wave of tears down his pale face. All that was left to come was the slam of a door. He rushed to his feet as he heard it and crept to the window in time to see his father’s stocky frame head down the street, flexing his fingers as he did.
It had been like this for the past few months, and it took him a while to understand exactly what happened when his father came home for tea. Of course, those were in the days where his mother sent him out to return hours later for supper. Back then pretence was necessary so they could hide, but not anymore.
Under his bed sat a little kit he’d put together after reading one of his mother’s old Potions books – the few his father hadn’t found and destroyed. He took the box from its hiding place and disappeared down the stairs, half afraid of the state he’d find her in this time. There was no light in the cramped living room, but his eyes became used to the darkness – he’d done this many times.
The pieces of broken glass glittered eerily from the artificial light of the street lamp; he tiptoed around them and paused waiting for the slightest sound. He followed the faint weeping to the kitchen where he found his mother sitting on a stool by the window.
Gone were the days of not knowing what to say during the awkward pause at the door. He set his kit down on the counter and went to work.
“Your birthday’s coming up soon,” her voice sounded strained.
Severus swallowed and continued to rub the salve on her face. She didn’t have to say anything else, but he knew she was afraid. His eleventh birthday was in two weeks and soon she’d be alone.
The past few years he’d been at Hogwarts Severus loathed going home for holidays. The war in his family home reached a temporary stalemate where the opposing sides tiptoed around each other until they started up again. His father never looked him in the eye since his first day at Kings’ Cross though Severus grew to understand not to expect anything less.
His absence changed things somehow.
His mother met him on the platform every year with the brightest smile she could muster. He knew she only did it for him for when he looked away, her face fell.
You should stop protecting me, Mother. I know what sort of a house we live in.
Her hand shook on his shoulder. Severus closed his eyes tightly at her sharp intake of breath. She bowed her head with enough reverence the topic never deserved.
You’re just a boy, things should be better than this.
He never was much of a cynic until he heard those words. He would have agreed, but the lie felt too heavy on his tongue. He turned sixteen two months before and he spent it watching an old friend walk hand in hand with her boyfriend.
Yes, of course things should be better.
As a young man he figured he’d gotten his neighbours all wrong. There was no indifference about them, merely acceptance. They’d gotten through the five stages faster than he realised.
He had not set foot in the town in five years, but now he looked upon it with clearer eyes. The houses hadn’t changed much, and at first glance neither did the people. He stood behind the wall of his old childhood hiding place, watching them all like he used to. Women walked around with slumped shoulders and bowed heads with small children in tow. Some nervously pulling hair over the blackened eyes they never got the chance to cover up before going out. Others chatted quietly to each other, but checked their wrists for the time.
Severus’ eyes flickered to his old home where he imagined his mother pulling the curtains away and peering through the window. It was half past four.
His feet came alive and took him to the pavement where they carried him down the road and to the right. The village cemetery stood open, beckoning him closer to the past he tried to avoid for the past ten years. As the train pulled into the station in London for the very last time, his mother's face failed to greet him; a stern-looking Auror took her place.
On the longest day of the year, Severus always wondered why.
Author's Note: This is one of the few things I've written in months that I actually like. If you have anything you want to say about it, or critique, drop me a line in the review box.
The scene with Severus huddled in a corner while his parents argued was taken from the UK version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 26, 'Seen and Unforeseen'.