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posted by [personal profile] marauderbigbang at 05:50am on 29/09/2010


Title: Advanced Potion-Making
Author: [info]fire_everything
Beta, cheerleader and all-around facilitator: [info]brighty18
Artists: [info]lilmisblack (banner), [info]niccc (all other art)
Pairing: Snape/Lily
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Authorial presumption, profanity, magical dub-con, mild kink, possibly disturbing reproductive issues/procedures, angst, excessive length
Word Count: Um…shorter than Half-Blood Prince?
Summary: Nineteen-year-old Snape’s post-Hogwarts life is going surprisingly well. He has gainful employment, valued skills, a place of his own, a political affiliation, a mentor he admires, and hard-won freedom from several past relationships that tormented him. But he also has stubbornly lingering feelings for his estranged friend Lily Evans, an unquenchable hatred for her fiancé James Potter, and a continuing compulsion to tamper with and improve perfectly adequate potions recipes. When these three conditions come together one fateful day, Snape undertakes a potions experiment that will irrevocably change several people’s lives for better and worse.
Author’s Note: At one point while reading Deathly Hallows, I actually thought the book was going to end with the twist that serves as this story’s central plot point. When it didn’t, this corrective fic became necessary.
Acknowledgments: Enormous thanks to the Marauder mods, who have dealt kindly and tolerantly with this deadline-flouting, ever-expanding white elephant of a fic from the very beginning. Back in June, [info]fallenmelody allowed me to join the Bang with a draft that was only about 70% complete. More recently, [info]brighty18 took on the mighty task of betaing, with humor, patience, diligence and care, a monstrously long fic centered on a character she doesn’t even particularly dig; then, when the project’s growing scope threatened to make my continued participation impossible, she suggested a constructive compromise in the form of a flexible, add-a-chapter-as-you-finish posting schedule. She deserves extra-special thanks, a nice bottle of wine, and a massage. My two artists, [info]lilmisblack and [info]niccc , were likewise flexible and tolerant of the irregularities of my entry and its modified posting schedule; many thanks to both of you not only for the lovely art you’ve contributed, but for being so cool about everything. Finally, there are several extra-Bang parties whose contributions and assistance I’d like to acknowledge; in the interest of conserving space, those acknowledgments can be found at my journal here. (fire-everything.livejournal.com/10098.html)
Special Note: Due to the unusual length and complexity of this fic, it will be posted in multiple parts. (This initial post, which includes the first four chapters, is already longer than any of the other fic entries in the Bang, so it should keep readers busy for a while.) Subsequent chapters will be posted as they become ready, and will appear as new posts in your friends lists, so that readers who want to continue following the fic as it progresses will be automatically alerted to the appearance of new installments.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all characters, places, objects, ideas, and related material are the property of JK Rowling and her various publishing entities. Neither the author, the artists, nor the [info]marauderbigbang are in any way making a monetary profit from this posting.

This post includes the following chapters:

1: The Owls of October
2: Snape, Suspended
3: The Hearing
4: The Worst Summer



Chapter 1: The Owls of October

The owl arrived on the first of October.

Snape rarely got owls these days, as his present associates did not conduct business with them. Communication via Dark Marks (or, for those few who possessed the skill, Legilimency) was far safer and more efficient; moreover, owls were simply not consistent with Death Eater style. They were homely and sometimes affectionate creatures, and tended to ease fear in their recipients rather than reinforcing it. As messengers to the general public, they undermined the desired message; and among the Death Eaters themselves, they would have rather interfered with the group’s self-image. If it was absolutely necessary to deliver something by bird, a Death Eater would use a raven, a crow, or, if one could be had, a vulture.

So it was an odd enough thing that an owl was interrupting Snape’s morning meal to begin with. But a second glance at the creature tapping politely but firmly on his kitchen window did more than give him pause; it actually made his breath catch in his throat. Surely this was not…No, it was a ridiculous leap on his part; there must be many midsized tawny owls in Britain with those same arrowhead markings on their breasts.

No one else was present to overhear his foolishness, however, so he said aloud, “Aubrey, is that you?”

The owl made an impatient swoop into the air, landed precisely again on the windowsill, and resumed boring into him with its eyes. In that brief moment of flight, the owl had showed Snape that a roll of pale green parchment was tied to its leg with a dark green ribbon. The parchment looked to be of a formal, special-occasion thickness, and Snape thought he saw a bit of gilt on its surface catching the early morning light.

With a sickening drop in his stomach, he got to his feet; he suddenly felt certain he knew what the parchment was. He walked to the window, opened it, and quickly relieved Aubrey – for close range revealed that it was definitely he – of his burden. Although he had not seen this owl in nearly four years, panic made him brusque and unceremonious, and Aubrey moved well back from him along the windowsill at the first opportunity, looking rather miffed.

A quick break of the seal confirmed his worst suspicions.
 
We,
Lily Eustacia Evans and James Augustus Potter,
request the honour of your presence as we celebrate our union
on
Tenth November nineteen hundred and seventy-nine
One minute past eleven in the morning
at
The Church of St. Fidelius
Godric’s Hollow

The joy that we take in each other, we hope also to share with you.


He sat down at the table and pushed his breakfast aside; he knew he would not finish it now.

This announcement could have come as no surprise to anybody of Lily Evans or James Potter’s acquaintance, even someone on its outermost edges like Snape. They had been an established couple for nearly two years, and though he was not on speaking terms with either of them, he had learned enough through hearsay to know that they had not broken up – not yet, anyway. Even so, there had always been that tantalizing possibility. Now all such hope was gone, or very nearly gone, and one of the key sources of optimism in Snape’s life was thereby extinguished.

Apart from the dreadfulness of the news itself, he did not at all know what to make of the invitation. Why had Lily (certainly it had been Lily; James Potter would have had less than no part in this) thought to invite him? They had not been in touch since their one-sided falling-out when they were sixteen; even had this not been the case, he hated her husband-to-be and assumed that the feeling was still intensely mutual. Politically, too, he and they were enemies. Why would she even think of having him at her wedding?

And yet…here apparently was the overture, the olive branch from her, that part of him had never ceased longing for ever since their break. Even though she had ended her silence only to confirm that she was spoken for, he could not help but feel a strange, nebulous hope. And certainly he had curiosity, however morbid, about what she now felt toward him.

A tapping sound interrupted his thoughts. Aubrey had invited himself in through the open window and was now perched on the kitchen counter, rapping peremptorily on a nearby cabinet with his beak.

“What are you waiting for, Aubrey? Go home!” said Snape irritably, but the owl only settled himself more firmly in place. Had he been human, Snape was sure, he would have folded his arms stubbornly across his chest.

What was Aubrey on about? Lily could not possibly expect a reply by return owl. He felt a flash of resentment. Was she so certain of his gratitude at her resumption of communications? – so sure he would drop all other commitments to attend her wedding that she felt no need to allow him the courtesy of a little time to think? Was there something he was missing here?

Suddenly a thought, or rather a very old memory, occurred to him. Following an impulse, he reached for his wand, tapped the parchment with it, and muttered “Aparecium!” And sure enough, a faint green flush colored the bottom of the parchment as a postscript, hand-written in jade-green invisible ink, gradually revealed itself.


Severus,
I’ve been worried about you. I hear all sorts of rumours lately, and I don’t like the sound of any of them.

I’ll be in Diagon Alley this Friday and Saturday. If you’re free, could we meet and talk for a bit? If you’re able and willing, please send your reply with Aubrey and suggest a time and place.

Yours,
Lily



Snape was now even less sure how to feel. Should he be flattered or insulted by Lily’s professed concern for him, her predictable (and probably smug) disapproval of his rumoured political allegiances? He wavered between opposite responses. But one thing he did know: to see that invisible ink appear, and to know she still retained the memory of their writing to each other this way as children, had thrilled him. During the two years between their first meeting and their entering Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, they had clutched eagerly at any activity that seemed akin to the magic they were longing to be formally trained to do, and the writing of notes in invisible ink had been one of their favorite such pastimes. That Muggle children also knew about it did nothing to interfere with its charm.

The summer when they were ten, they had exchanged invisible-ink communiqués almost every morning, importantly setting forth what they planned to do together during the day. Snape’s mother’s owl, Pascal, had handled deliveries in both directions; Lily’s family, Muggles that they were, did not have an owl, and this small induction into the ways of the wizarding world had been an endless source of delight to her. Like Muggle children everywhere, they had used lemon juice to reveal each other’s messages, unaware that there was a simple magical spell to do that for them.

Her resuming this old custom now, when they were adults, was like having a stranger come up to you and give you a secret handshake, then realizing that the man was in fact the brother you had given up for dead. James Potter of course must know that Lily had invited him to their wedding, but Snape wondered if he knew about her invisible-ink postscript; he strongly thought not, and this idea made him very happy indeed.

Meanwhile, Aubrey was still standing by, waiting for his response to the second, secret part of Lily’s invitation. Snape thought fast. He certainly had his share of misgivings about seeing Lily again; the more sensible part of his mind told him that reminders of his Hogwarts days were best dispensed with, and that such a meeting could derail some of the progress he had made in his life since leaving school. But a larger part of him, one with a louder voice, longed to think that he could, after all, be reunited in some capacity with his oldest and dearest friend, in spite of the seeming gulf between their present lives. In the end, too, he had a simple curiosity that demanded to be satisfied.

He reached for the pale green outer parchment that had enclosed the invitation, turned it over, thought for another moment, and wrote in a studied scrawl he hoped would seem informal rather than overeager:


The Leaky Cauldron, Friday morning, ten o’clock.


Aubrey, who was now perched on the edge of the breakfast table, took up the parchment the moment Snape had folded it, and flew off with a series of low chiding noises. Old acquaintance was not, for certain owls, a sufficient excuse for wasting their valuable time.

Aubrey, however, was hardly the only one with a full day’s work still ahead of him. Glancing up at the kitchen clock, Snape saw that his transactions with the owl had consumed nearly half an hour, and that he was due at Foulmouth’s in five minutes. He slipped his wand into an inner pocket of his robes and picked up from the kitchen table the copy of Hemlock’s Potion-Making: The Art and Science that contained the notes and adjustments he had made the previous evening to a potion to induce temporary blindness. He headed for the back door, walking through the sitting room to the mud room. Before leaving, he glanced at himself in a small mirror that hung at shoulder height by the back door, grimaced, smoothed his hair, and grimaced again. He then stepped through the back door, shut it behind himself, muttered “Colloportus!,” scanned the yard for nosy Muggle neighbours, saw none…but then stood by the door, hesitating.

Finally he muttered “Alohomora!,” re-entered the house, strode back to the kitchen, picked up the roll of pale green parchment where it lay like a coiled snake on the table, tucked it into his robes, and retraced his steps out the door. He scanned the yard again and hastily Disapparated.

Having no time to spare, he arrived directly into the basement laboratory at Foulmouth’s – his privileges as an employee allowed him to bypass the protective charms that surrounded the building. He laid the Hemlock open on the counter to the page he had marked and got right to work, taking down various herbs and extracts from the supply cabinet above his head.

And not a moment too soon, for just then Snape heard the sound of boots descending the stairs from the main level.

“That you, Severus?” It was the voice of Fenwick Falmouth, the younger of the brothers who co-owned the business with their father.

“Yes, Fen,” answered Snape, not looking up from his scales.

Fenwick appeared a moment later, running a hand through his mousey-brown hair in vexation.

“A minute past eight in the morning, and Mrs. Klingenhammer’s already here, damn her,” he said. “You don’t by any chance have her brew ready?”

Snape reached into a rack of vials whose necks were tied and tagged with bits of parchment, picked out a tall, slender vial full of a murky green substance, and handed it to Fenwick with a grin. “Stayed late yesterday,” he said in explanation. “I knew she’d be banging down the door first thing. Anything to make a nuisance of herself.”

Fenwick grinned jubilantly. “She lives to find fault with ‘the help,’ does Madam Klingenhammer. This’ll ruin her whole day!” He vanished up the stairs with the vial.

Lucky saves like this (and by dint of knowledge, skill and hard work Snape had made his own luck) had been the trademark of Snape’s eight-month tenure at Foulmouth’s – still known formally on its Knockturn Alley storefront and its letterhead as Falmouth and Sons, but colloquially referred to by the entire wizarding population of Britain as Foulmouth’s. Fittingly, too – Snape had made many a disgusting concoction while working here that he would have hated to pass between his own lips.

His initial placement at the apothecary had undoubtedly been assisted by a favorable word from a certain dark wizard to whom one did not say no, if one valued one’s life and livelihood; but his rapid rise had been clearly attributable to his own merits. Had he been merely competent, he would have remained in the shop assistant’s position in which he had started, for there was no apparent opportunity for upward mobility at Foulmouth’s. However, Snape quickly proved himself superior in skill to the then junior potions master of the house, an old dog in his forties named Bronson Hemp. Berwick Falmouth, owner of the apothecary and father to Fenwick and his brother Warwick, then took it upon himself to fire Hemp and promote Snape into his job.

By the time a few more months had passed, it had become clear that Snape was the best potions maker under Foulmouth’s roof, and Berwick, a man of strong family loyalties and equally strong hunger for profit, had kicked his elder son Warwick, the erstwhile senior potions master, upstairs to handle (perhaps manhandle would be a better word) the house books. Warwick did not hold this against Snape, however, as his new accounting duties were far less labour-intensive than his old potion-making ones, and both brothers continued to get on with Snape more or less like a house afire.

The recently promoted senior potions master now lit one of the house cauldrons and began the blindness potion. He had made this recipe many times, and his newest alterations – reducing the cassava extract to let the white mangrove dominate, substituting heliotrope for valerian root, filtering the mixture through a mat of cowhage leaves – came mostly at the beginning of the recipe, so that after a few minutes his hands took over, leaving his mind free to wander.

Today was Monday, the first of October; on the fifth, Friday, he would see Lily again. He had chosen Friday partly because it was sooner than Saturday, and partly because he was certain he would be able to take the day off; he had not yet taken a holiday during his time at Foulmouth’s, a circumstance which Berwick had reminded him of the previous week and urged him to rectify. He now had a real reason to do so. He was not sure why his immediate instinct had been to free the whole day for the occasion; he could have easily arranged to meet Lily for lunch or for dinner after he finished work, but something made him loath to mix business with pleasure in that way.

But was pleasure even the right word? He was not sure he would not be miserable after their meeting; after all, she was about to marry his worst enemy. Perhaps that was why he had wanted the whole day: it would give him more time to recover afterwards.

But now Snape wondered whether his choice of Friday had been ill-judged: He did not, after all, want to appear to Lily as though he was chomping at the bit to see her. Nor was he sure it sent the right message to have offered to meet her on a workday, during working hours. Would she take from this that he was unemployed, idle, and in need of ways to kill time? Or that he was working full-time for Voldemort, and therefore conducting business primarily after dark? (Which was a ridiculous notion, based on fear and an ignorant misunderstanding of how both political resistance movements and the Dark Arts operated – but a widely held one nonetheless.)

No, Snape thought: if Lily had heard enough about his recent life to know of his reputed political activities, she would also have heard where he was working. This was a good thing, for in spite of its Knockturn Alley location and generally disagreeable reputation, Foulmouth’s retained a certain political ambiguity, largely because Berwick was thought to be an opportunist who would blow with whatever wind seemed likeliest to bring him profit. For this or whatever other reason, neither he nor his sons (who were deemed apolitical layabouts by most, and therefore unthreatening) had ever officially joined the Death Eaters. So while Snape’s own leanings might be generally suspected, and talked about as if they were known with certainty, when it came to the point he could not be firmly pinned down. He rather liked this – liked being an unknown and therefore potentially dangerous quantity.

He bristled with irritation, though, when he imagined what Lily would probably say about the impropriety of even appearing to sympathize with Voldemort. Lily had always operated on the assumption (a naïve one, in Snape’s view) that distinguishing good from evil was a fairly simple and instinctive matter. Nevertheless, her supposedly impeccable moral compass had not prevented her from attaching herself to one of the least commendable people the wizarding world had to offer, though this judgment unfortunately seemed to be held by few people besides himself. He remembered again their last year at Hogwarts, when Lily had, as Snape saw it, finally surrendered to the machinations and flattery of James Potter; and, once the initial phase of scorching hurt at her betrayal had passed, how angry he had been with her for giving herself away like that, along with all her principles.

That anger could not coexist indefinitely with Snape’s other feelings toward her, and eventually it faded to a kind of grim, sardonic acceptance – but a shallow, temporary acceptance only. If he knew her at all, this “romance,” or whatever it was, would not last; this conviction had been so strong as to give him a measure of hope in the intervening years. And although it had been deeply shaken by seeing contradictory information laid out that morning in elegant, official script, his conviction still stood, he realised. He would not accept the notion of Potter and Lily as man and wife until he was forced to, and as he had this defiant thought, he almost looked forward to the meeting with Lily as a chance to examine her seeming happiness, her supposed love for Potter, at close range and in person. If there were cracks anywhere in the structure, he would find them.

In a sudden access of courage, he pulled the invitation from his robes and read it over again, taking in the details that he had missed at first. He realised that the wedding was over a month away. Between now and the tenth of November, he thought, a great deal could still happen.

He let his eyes drift past the gilt printing, past the cloying final line in which Potter and Lily generously sought to donate their excess joy to charity cases like himself, down to the postscript. He stood there gazing at the familiar curves and loops of the jade-green script, and analyzing every word of the message. Brief though it was, it sounded so much like her: frank, intelligent, down-to-earth, kind. In spite of Potter, she had not forgotten that he, Snape, existed; she had voluntarily thought about him, even if only in response to whatever gossip was circulating attached to his name. She had closed the note “Yours, Lily,” when she could have just said “Lily”: perhaps she did still care about him on some level.

“What’s that, a love letter?” Snape’s head jerked upward, and he instinctively pulled the invitation closer to himself, at such an angle that Lily’s writing would be hidden. Warwick Falmouth, a taller, darker-haired version of his younger brother, was standing at the foot of the stairs, grinning inquisitively at Snape. Either his descent had been unusually quiet, or Snape had been too lost in thought to hear him. Realizing that his protectiveness toward the invitation might itself give more away than he intended, he immediately made his posture casual again.

“Warwick,” Snape acknowledged, pressing his free hand to his chest in a gesture of exasperated surprise. “You won’t half give people heart attacks, coming up on them like that.” As indifferently as he could, he dropped the invitation onto the counter next to the Hemlock, hoping that by seeming uninterested in it himself, he might nip Warwick’s curiosity in the bud.

“I can’t help it if you’re hard of hearing,” said Warwick jovially, coming toward him. “Seriously, though, what is that?” he repeated, gesturing toward the invitation. “It’s Slytherin green, that bodes well. Spill it, Severus. Who’s your secret correspondent?”

Snape rolled his eyes and replied, in a tone of distaste, “It’s a wedding invitation, Warwick. From a bloke I can’t stand, too. I haven’t even responded to it – I was using it as a bookmark.” Indeed, he would have liked to shut the invitation away in the book that very moment.

“What bloke is that? – Don’t you worry, he’ll get what’s coming to him soon enough,” added Warwick, who was married himself and regarded the matrimonial state as a catchall punishment for whatever one’s sins happened to be. He reached over and grabbed the parchment; Snape, thinking of the postscript, groaned internally. There was no way he could prevent Warwick from reading it, and no way that questions would not follow once he had done so. But Snape kept his eyes to himself, reaching up into the cabinet over his head with feigned calm and removing exactly three sopophorus beans from a large jar of them.

“James Potter?” said Warwick, looking up from the parchment. “The big Quidditch star?” The mocking note in Warwick’s voice as he said this was gratifying, but the unwitting proof he had provided of the extent of James Potter’s fame was not: Warwick had graduated Hogwarts a full five years ahead of Potter and still managed to hear of his exploits on the Quidditch field.

“Marrying Lily Evans,” Warwick continued. “I think I remember her – uppity little redheaded Gryffindor girl, wasn’t she?” Snape did not dare contradict this description, which was as accurate a one as a Slytherin would be likely to provide in any case.

“Just Potter’s speed, I’m sure,” Warwick concluded. “But why on earth did they invite you?” he added, having finally registered the illogic of the situation.

“No idea,” said Snape. “They must have invited our entire year. Potter’s such an egotist he probably thought the whole school would be longing to come.” His voice remained controlled, but internally he was in a panic: Warwick must be reading Lily’s postscript now.

But Warwick dropped the invitation back onto the counter, and said only, “Do you have that sleeping potion for Mortimer Muyskens finished?” He began perusing the rack of tagged potions.

“Top row,” said Snape, bending over the blindness potion as if critically examining its depths. “Take the whole rack upstairs, why don’t you?”

“Actually I quite enjoy making people wait while I come down here,” said Warwick. “But I suppose you’re right – my laziness should take precedence over my desire to inconvenience our customers.”

“I can see what a painful choice it is for you,” said Snape sardonically.

Warwick grinned. “You’ll be up at half past noon, then?”

“Right.”

As soon as the basement door had closed behind Warwick, Snape reached for the invitation, his pulse still racing anxiously. He was startled to see, however, that the postscript had completely vanished. He was now in a panic of a different kind, and felt for his wand, wanting to restore Lily’s handwriting immediately. But the gesture was needless: already the green script was reappearing, as if it recognized him as the rightful recipient of the message. Snape was impressed, but not altogether surprised; Lily had always excelled at Charms, and this was a good one.
 
* * *

Snape added a final setting agent to the blindness potion, stirred it five times counterclockwise, and extinguished the flame. He would let it cool for an hour while he went upstairs to take over the till during Warwick’s lunch break, then bottle it when he returned. Meanwhile, he covered the cauldron with cheesecloth to keep out the air and anything unsuitable that Fen might inadvertently release into it while making potions in his absence.

In the spare moments he had between ringing up customers, Snape surveyed the apothecary with satisfaction. Not only was business booming, it had increased noticeably since he had begun working there less than a year ago, and he thought that he could safely take credit for part of that increase. Beginning with the first potion he had ever made at Foulmouth’s, Snape had kept a precise log not only of the orders he filled, but of the customers who placed them – their ages, occupations, family situations and other facts he thought might be relevant, along with their names. He likewise consulted the somewhat more haphazard records that Bronson Hemp and Warwick had kept, and as he became personally acquainted with some of the apothecary’s clientele, he began to develop a sense of who was buying what, in what quantities, and how often.

He made notes on any item a customer requested that Foulmouth’s did not carry or had run out of, to get a sense of how their stock might be improved. He made stealth visits to Slug and Jiggers, Foulmouth’s Diagon Alley competitor, to compare notes on their stock, prices and clientele. In particular, he consulted books and his own extensive knowledge of Dark potion-making, and drew up lists of items and ingredients that Slug and Jiggers seemed to have qualms about carrying, but which he knew there would be a demand for.

He also thought about what could be done to make the store more inviting and thereby draw in new customers. It was in this area that Snape had the early stroke of genius that made Berwick Falmouth receptive to any business suggestion he put forward thereafter: he changed the way Foulmouth’s smelled.

Every apothecary Snape had ever been in had reeked of cooked cabbage and rotten eggs; these drab, homely, depressing smells seemed to come with the territory. But all apothecaries sold pleasant-smelling ingredients as well as foul-smelling ones, and Snape did not see why the pleasant smells could not be made to dominate. He set to work first on a scent-suppressing charm, testing it at his house in Spinners’ End by actually preparing several large batches of cabbage (a food Snape detested; its smell and taste were to him the smell and taste of childhood poverty) and attempting to render them odorless as they cooked.

When he had achieved success at this, he reworked the charm so that rather than having no scent at all, the cooking cabbages would smell like bacon. This variant of the charm also proved successful, although the anticlimax of having one’s olfactory expectations of bacon met with the awful reality of cabbage was so intense that Snape had no choice but to return to the kitchen five minutes later and fry up some real bacon, meanwhile tossing the cabbage over the back fence to the Muggle dog next door. The dog bolted over eagerly at the smell, but then appeared to experience a similarly crushing disappointment when the truth was discovered; he walked disconsolately away, leaving the cabbage to rot in the yard.

When he felt practiced enough at scent alteration to apply his new skills at his workplace, Snape considered which smells would be likeliest to appeal to Foulmouth’s customers – or, to put it more bluntly, what would most entice them to buy things. He came into work early one day and placed the scent-suppressing charm on everything Foulmouth’s sold that smelled foul or dismal. Then he chose a few select wares from among the stock and applied their scents to the offending items. When he had finished, the whole place smelled sharp and spicy, like some mysterious incense that hinted at faraway, dark and dangerous places. Berwick Falmouth came downstairs from the family rooms, took one sniff, and immediately gave Snape a ten percent raise. Looking at the crowded storeroom floor now, and taking in that intoxicating scent, Snape wondered how much of Foulmouth’s increased traffic could be attributed to this change alone.

He had been behind the counter for nearly an hour when he spotted a friendly figure cutting through the crowd of lunchtime shoppers: Lucius Malfoy, elegant as always in his exquisitely cut black robes. Malfoy scanned the store quickly, located Snape at the register, acknowledged him with a broad grin, and made his way over.

“Severus, how goes it?” he said pleasantly, clapping Snape on the arm. Snape was struck yet again by the perfect model of dignified civility that Malfoy presented; this, he thought, was how social relations ought to be managed.

“Lucius,” he returned in the same spirit, smiling. “We missed you at last week’s meeting,” he added, lowering his voice. “We were told you were away doing some sort of field work.”

“You might say that,” said Lucius with a chuckle.

“All went well, then?” asked Snape.

“Very well,” replied Malfoy. “You’ll hear the details in good time. But Severus, I’m not actually here on business.”

“No?” said Snape. There was a twinkle in Malfoy’s eye that had lifted Snape’s mood without his really knowing why.

“No, I’ve a message from Narcissa,” said Malfoy. “She sends her greetings, and hopes that you’ll be able to come to dinner at our place on Wednesday night.”

“Our place” was Malfoy Manor, one of the most sumptuous wizard residences in Britain; though Snape had dined there several times before, he was by no means complacent about repeating the privilege. “Thank you, I’d love to,” said Snape, with genuine enthusiasm. “What’s the occasion?”

“Well, I think you’ve heard me mention my cousin Zenobia?” said Malfoy, with an expectant smile.

The Malfoys, who might be called clannish, mentioned their cousins, nephews, great-aunts once removed, and various other relations constantly. But for her unusual name, Snape would probably not have remembered this one. Remember it he happily did, however; and furthermore, it was dimly coupled in his mind with some other odd distinction. After a moment of sifting through various associations in his mind, he thought he recalled what it was.

“Doesn’t she go to Durmstrang?” Snape asked. Durmstrang Institute was indeed a place with odd and rather forbidding associations to Snape. The Continental, Germanic equivalent of Hogwarts, Durmstrang was rather shrouded in mystery, but one thing about it was perfectly well-known: it admitted only purebloods as students.

Did go to Durmstrang,” corrected Lucius, “she’s been out for a year. But yes, she’s the one,” he added, obviously pleased. “She’s coming to stay with us at the Manor for a while. Narcissa and I haven’t seen her since she was sixteen, so this is really rather exciting for us.”

“You sound quite fond of her,” said Snape.

“I am, rather,” said Malfoy. “She’s, perhaps, a little eccentric” – here he leaned toward Snape conspiratorily – “she’s a writer, you know.” He said this last as if it explained a great deal.

Snape, wondering what the conservative, traditional Malfoy family made of having an artist in its midst, asked, “Is she a Malfoy, then, or from a different branch of the family?”

“She’s a Wunderin,” said Lucius. “My mother’s cousin Hydrus’s daughter.” Snape knew he would never remember this information, but nodded amiably.

“Anyway,” continued Lucius, “I’ve always found her extremely entertaining. She’s good to talk to; she has all sorts of interesting opinions. In fact, Severus – I think the two of you might really get on.” And here Lucius grinned significantly.

Snape, rather astonished, was wondering if this meant what he thought it meant, but he thought it best to assume, and presume, nothing. So he merely said, “She’ll be at dinner on Wednesday, then?”

“Yes, the dinner is to celebrate her arrival, actually. Narcissa’s idea, and a capital one, I think. You’ll come, then?”

“Of course,” said Snape. “I look forward to it.”

“Good, good! Narcissa’s longing to see you again. It’s been too long since you were over.”

“How is Narcissa?” asked Snape.

“Well, since you mention it…” Lucius began, then proceeded to ask whether Foulmouth’s had anything on hand in the way of a headache cure. Narcissa had been complaining of a recurring ache near her left temple. Nothing serious, Lucius was sure, but all the same…

At that moment Fenwick appeared from behind Snape to relieve him at the till. Fen had clearly overheard the last part of the conversation with Malfoy, and, eager to give assistance to one of Foulmouth’s more distinguished customers, he immediately launched into a descriptive list of the several general headache remedies that the store carried, pulling samples down from a nearby shelf as he spoke.

Malfoy examined the four bottles that Fenwick had produced, selected the most expensive one, and paid for it with a Galleon note in a denomination so exotically large that Snape could not recall ever having seen any customer use one in a sales transaction before. Fenwick, indeed, seemed momentarily flummoxed by the prospect of making change for it, and handled the note with obvious awe.

Meanwhile, what Lucius had said about Narcissa’s headache recurring at the left temple interested Snape, and suggested to him a customized remedy for her ailment. “Come down to the lab with me for a moment,” said Snape to Malfoy, taking the bottle Malfoy had purchased with him. Lucius followed him through the door and down the basement stairs.

While Lucius looked around curiously at the well-stocked shelves and cupboards, Snape pulled Pilson Armley’s Encyclopaedia of Medical Potions down from the shelf, consulted it quickly, and added a miniscule amount of bright green liquid from a nearby flask to the bottle they had brought with them. “Headaches near the left temple are often caused by inflammation of the nerve endings under the eye,” he said. “I’ve added a touch of Shrinking Solution to help bring the swelling down. An off-label use, mind you,” he added, “but perfectly safe, and it works.” He handed the bottle to Lucius.

“You’re a brick, Severus,” said Malfoy.

“Well, it is my job,” Snape said equably. “Tell Narcissa to send it back if it doesn’t do the trick, and I’ll adjust it.”

“I’ll do that,” said Malfoy. He turned toward the stairs. “I ought to be going,” he said. “I’m due at the Ministry in a few minutes.”

“All right. See you Wednesday, then,” said Snape. “What time shall I be there?”

“Eight o’clock,” said Malfoy. He hesitated a moment, then added, “There’s something I ought to mention about Zenobia. It’s a bit delicate, so if I could ask you not to spread the information around…”

“Of course,” said Snape, now curious.

“She was married briefly, right out of Durmstrang, but it didn’t take. A bad match; her husband was some Romanian or Czechoslovakian half-blood – no offence,” added Lucius hastily.

“None taken,” said Snape.

“What I mean to say is, he was a person of dubious origins, and he treated her abominably. I don’t know all the details, but he was threatening, manipulative…some people in the family say he even beat her. She left him after less than a year. She really had no choice.”

“I don’t doubt it,” said Snape, quite sincerely.

Malfoy looked grateful, and said, “I knew you’d understand. But not everyone will look at it that way, of course…there are those who would see it as the stuff of scandal.”

“I won’t speak of it to anyone,” said Snape. “You have my word.”

“Narcissa and I would both appreciate that very much. And of course, please don’t mention to Zenobia that I’ve told you this.”

“I shan’t,” said Snape. “It’s none of my business, anyway.”

Malfoy smiled, and said again, “You’re a brick.” He pulled a pocket watch out of his robes and exclaimed, “I really must go, I’m late. Till Wednesday?”

“Till Wednesday,” said Snape, and followed Lucius up the stairs to see him out.
 
* * *

As Snape returned to the basement to start work on that morning’s orders, his thoughts were in an increasingly turbulent state. He fully intended to keep the promise he had just made to Malfoy to discuss his cousin’s failed marriage with no one; yet within the confines of his own mind he could not help dwelling on what he had just heard. It struck too close to home for him not to.

As a small child, Snape had regarded his mother and father as almost equally disagreeable people. Both Eileen and Tobias Snape were resentful, moody and inclined to take out their moods on their only child; both frequently punished the young Snape in ways that, even at the age of four or five, seemed to him arbitrary and unfair.

His mother, perhaps, had more understandable reasons for moodiness than his father. She often complained of feeling weak or sick and would sometimes retire to her room for hours or even days on end. Snape resented her illnesses, not only because they worsened her own moods, but because they left him alone in the house with his father. Tobias Snape was a man whose numerous and bitter grievances often spiraled into rages that terrified his son; though he had only slapped or smacked the young Severus on a handful of occasions, the threat of violence seemed to hang over all their interactions like a dark cloud.

Making matters worse, Eileen Snape’s prolonged absences from the family meant that chores would not get done around the house, which made Tobias’s mood even fouler. In an attempt to preserve the tenuous household peace, the young Severus had begun early on to step in for his mother when she was ill, doing dishes, sweeping floors, and even putting together rudimentary meals.

Of these tasks, the meal-making was the most critical in keeping his father’s anger at bay. One evening when he was nearly eight, Snape had been reading his room when Tobias arrived home at the dinner hour. Soon after, there was a loud banging on his bedroom door.

Snape, who had already learned to lock the door whenever he was in his room, called warily, “What is it?”

“Where’s your mother?” demanded Tobias. “Where’s my dinner?”

“In the icebox,” said Snape impatiently. Eileen had fallen into the habit of preparing dinner ahead of time and leaving it for them to eat while she retired to her room, and Snape assumed that today was the same as any other day.

“No, it isn’t!” yelled Tobias. “Your mother left us nothing. Get downstairs and fetch me something to eat!”

Dread crept over Snape. Was it true? Such a thing had never happened before. Had his mother really shirked her family responsibilities so completely? This could mean any of several things, all of them bad. And in the meantime, what on earth were they to do about dinner?

“Now!” shouted Tobias. “Or so help me I’ll break your mother’s door down.”

Terrified that his father might make good on this threat, Snape unlocked the door, stepped over the threshold, and quickly ducked out of range of his father’s hands – sometimes it was good to be small and thin. He ran down the stairs.

In the kitchen, he opened the icebox door: yes, it was true. There was certainly nothing made for dinner; in fact there was scarcely anything to eat at all.

As Tobias stood in the doorway with his arms folded, Snape moved frantically around the kitchen, searching for something they could make a meal from. He found the end of a loaf of bread, and was relieved: he knew how to make toast. He cut the bread into four not entirely uniform slices and began heating it in a pan on the stovetop.

While the bread was toasting, he unearthed three long, dirty carrots and a couple of bruised apples from the bottom of the icebox. He was pleased, almost excited: they would have more than one thing to eat. He washed these items, but the carrots still looked dirty. He remembered that you were supposed to peel carrots to get that dirty outer layer off, and went rummaging in the drawers for a utensil he could use for that purpose.

Miraculously, he found a vegetable peeler, but his hands were clumsy and it took him a long time to peel even one carrot. As he reached for the second one, he smelled something burning.

The toast! He flew to the stove and removed the pan, but the underside of the bread was black and smoking. There was no more bread, so Snape did his best to salvage the toast by scraping off the burnt part with a knife. Looking up, he saw Tobias coolly watching from the doorway, and tried to scrape faster.

Taking a deep breath, he resumed peeling the other two carrots. He began getting the hang of it by the time he began on the third carrot, but it was very unnerving having his father’s eyes on him all the while.

There was no butter, but he managed to find some jam for their toast. He went to spread it on the side that was not burnt, and realised he had not toasted the other side of the bread at all. But Tobias was waiting none too patiently, and Snape thought it best not to lose another few minutes on such niceties.

He prepared plates for each of them: two pieces of toast with jam and an apple each, plus two carrots for Tobias and one for himself. Warily, Snape brought Tobias’s plate to him where he stood in the doorway.

Tobias paused for a few seconds, looking down at his dinner.

“This is disgusting,” he pronounced, and flung the plate into the kitchen sink. Food flew everywhere, and the plate broke into several pieces.

“I’m going out for dinner,” Tobias announced to no one in particular. “If Eileen dares lecture me about the cost—” And he slammed out of the house.

The following day, knowing he could not risk the same thing happening again, Snape went to his school library after classes were over for the day. He was miserable in Muggle school, where no one liked him except for a few sympathetic teachers, and even they could not pretend to understand him. But the school library was a refuge for him, and the librarian was always tolerant of his presence. Having an urgent mission and no time to spare, he went straight up to her and asked if the library had any cookbooks.

He came away with several; they were aimed at children, and had titles like Cooking A to Zed and A Book for Young Cooks.

He paged through them and decided he would make spaghetti; it seemed simple and his mother had sometimes made it in the past, so it would seem a plausible menu to Tobias.

Snape knew from yesterday’s search how little food there was in the house, so he went to a local market on his way home and stole a box of dried spaghetti, some bottled tomato sauce, a can of processed parmesan cheese, a tiny container of oregano (the recipe had seemed to think this ingredient was very important), a packet of butter, and a squash. He looked around for the market’s security camera first, and disabled it by discreetly floating his hat up toward the camera and hanging it over the lens; after that it was easy to stuff the items he needed into his knapsack.

The spaghetti recipe was not hard to follow, and he made the squash with no recipe at all, simply slicing it and cooking it in a bit of butter, salt and pepper. He put the food into serving dishes and left it in the icebox as Eileen would have done.

When Tobias came home, he removed the food from the icebox with no comment, as if he had forgotten the incident of the previous night. He commented that the spaghetti was bland, but otherwise he ate it without complaint. Snape, tasting the food, thought it was not at all bad for a first attempt, and felt rather proud of himself.

From then on Snape cooked dinner whenever he came home from school and found the icebox empty; as time went on this happened more and more often. Sometimes he still resented the obligation, but increasingly he took a secret enjoyment in cooking. At first he followed recipes diligently, but as his skill increased he found he could improvise and do things by instinct.

It was not long before he had become a better cook than his mother, though admittedly this was not saying very much. Tobias, who had surely noticed that the quality of his dinners was improving, must have figured out that someone other than Eileen was cooking for him, but he never mentioned this to Snape, or, indeed, said anything at all about the food. As long as he was fed, he did not seem to care where the food came from.

Apart from cooking, however, the young Snape did not enjoy domestic chores, and he was frustrated and angered by the knowledge that his mother could have easily performed by magic the same tasks that he labored over manually for minutes or hours.

When Eileen was ill, she claimed that her magic was impaired, that she was not strong enough to order the dishes to wash themselves or to command a broom to sweep the floors, but the young Snape found this difficult to believe. At the same time, his mother forbade him to even attempt these tasks with magic, saying he was too young and the Ministry of Magic would send someone to punish him if he tried it. And magic or no magic, some household tasks were simply too complicated or difficult for a child under ten to undertake.

When the roof of their house in Spinner’s End began leaking during the rainy summer of Snape’s eighth year, he had no idea what could be done to fix it; the only thing he could think to do was to put cups and bowls out in the attic to catch the dripping water. Eileen insisted that magically repairing the roof was beyond her strength, but Tobias refused to believe her. Their arguments went on for months, while the leaks worsened.

Finally Eileen borrowed money from one of the few members of her family who were still speaking to her after the inexcusable marriage she had made, and paid a Muggle contractor to fix the roof. Even though the money had not come out of his wages – indeed, the loan was never repaid – Tobias could not forgive Eileen for this. He maintained that she could have made the necessary repairs magically, had she not been so lazy and willful; and even as he hated his father for saying this, Snape wondered whether he was right.

Why couldn’t his mother try a little harder to do her part, and why did his father have to be so mean and unforgiving? He tended to place greater blame on his father, whose attitude he felt was completely unreasonable; yet sometimes he could not help suspecting that his mother was exaggerating her symptoms in order to withdraw from their unpleasant family life, leaving an unequipped child to fight her battles in her place.

As he grew older, however, Snape began to see his mother’s illnesses in a different light.
 
* * *

When Snape was nine he had found an old photo album at the bottom of a box in the attic. It contained many pictures of a remarkably handsome young man who looked oddly familiar, but it was not until Snape came upon a wedding portrait in which this man stood next to his mother (as Snape watched, the man waved and hooted to people outside the frame and made rather mocking hand gestures behind his mother’s back) that he realised with a shock that the man was Tobias. The deterioration of his father’s looks over the previous decade had been as precipitous as the one that seemed to have taken place in his mother’s magic.

Astonished, Snape had taken the photo album to his mother and asked her about the pictures. As soon as she opened the album, a shadow had passed over his mother’s face and she had asked him to take it back to the attic and put it in a place where she would not stumble across it accidentally. “I can’t speak of that time, Severus,” she had said in a strained voice, “not even to you.” Snape hastened to remove the album from his mother’s sight, but he did not put it away; rather, he kept it in his own room and pored over the photos obsessively. That this handsome man had been his father was almost impossible to believe; the hooked nose that some might have considered Tobias’ only flaw was also the only characteristic he had passed on to his son.

Snape’s dark oily hair, sallow complexion and disagreeable cast of feature were all Eileen’s; the photos made clear that her ugliness had been no by-product of aging, but one of the constant facts of her life. He imagined what it must have meant to her to be courted by someone as attractive as Tobias had once been: important enough, perhaps, to make it meaningless that he was a Muggle. How much attention had young wizards ever paid Eileen, with a face like that? Nor, unless Eileen had once been far more amiable than she was now, would her personality have been any kind of redeeming factor to a potential suitor. Would she ever have had an opportunity to marry one of her own kind? Indeed, what would any man, wizard or Muggle, have seen in her?

Snape began asking each of his parents indirect and seemingly unrelated questions about their lives before they met each other, and gradually a picture emerged. Without his mother ever saying so aloud, Snape came to realise that Tobias had never loved Eileen, not even in the first flush of their acquaintance; he had only married her for her magic. A ne’er-do-well and a layabout in his youth as in his middle age, Tobias had been looking for an effortless fortune or at least a meal ticket, and had thought that in Eileen, an ugly but powerful young witch who was desperate for love, he had found exactly that. 

Once, in a fit of pique, Tobias told his son how he and the young Eileen Prince had met: in a Muggle pub, Eileen had seen him playing billiards and (according to Tobias) fallen for him on the spot, coming back night after night to watch him play. He, on the other hand, had not known she was alive until, one night, she stepped up to the billiard table and bet a conspicuously large sum of money on him. He won handily, and Eileen collected accordingly. The next night she was there again; once more she bet on him and claimed a substantial payout upon his winning.

After several more nights of this, Tobias became annoyed that this odd, ugly girl was profiting more from his billiards prowess than he was, and confronted her. She drew him aside and told him that, in fact, she was controlling the outcomes of his games, and could force him into a losing streak as easily as she could help him to keep winning.

“‘I can move the balls with my mind!,’ she said, and I laughed in her face,” Tobias recalled. “But oh, did she punish me for that! I couldn’t win for losing, all the rest of the night. She always was vindictive – if only I’d seen her true nature back then, what a lot of grief I’d have spared myself.”

After Tobias’ fourth straight loss of the night, with the pub about to shut, Eileen grabbed his arm and told him that she had rigged all his losses, and that she would prove it to him right then and there. With the back room of the pub empty but for themselves, Tobias watched as the triangle restraining the billiard balls flew off the table of its own accord; then some mysterious force, behaving exactly like an unseen cue, directed each ball in turn neatly into a different pocket of the table.

All his anger and skepticism were forgotten in light of the thrill of this discovery. Tobias, who was not at all happy in his current employment at the local textile mill, saw the potential uses to which Eileen’s powers could be put as quickly and clearly as Eileen herself had, and they immediately became a team. Eileen was clever and subtle, and used her invisible hand sparingly, allowing Tobias to struggle and to make errors in each game, so that bystanders would find his performances convincingly human. But he always won (or lost, if that was the way they had bet) in the end, and they split the resulting winnings. They always entered a pub or billiard hall separately, and never let on that they knew one another. Eileen further insured that no one would catch on to them by transfiguring her appearance, most often with Polyjuice Potion (Tobias called it “this awful mucky-looking stuff,” but his son, who had seen pictures of Polyjuice Potion in his mother’s books, immediately knew what he meant).

After a few highly lucrative months like this, Eileen “was madly in love with me,” as Tobias bragged; Tobias, for his part, thought that “there was no end to the money we could make together,” adding bitterly, “Little did I know what was coming.” It made sense to pool their winnings and for Tobias to secure his new cash cow legally, and they were married shortly thereafter.

For about a year, they had made quite a good income from their billiard betting. They bought the house in Spinner’s End and a car, long since broken down and abandoned. Then Eileen had fallen pregnant, which seemed to render her powers erratic and unreliable. Tobias assumed that after the baby was born, her abilities would bounce back, but in fact they continued to diminish. After a brief retirement from the town mill, Tobias had had to resume working part-time to supplement the income that Eileen’s increasingly infrequent scams brought in; then, as she worsened, he had been forced to become the family’s sole breadwinner, in maddeningly direct opposition to his plans.

Far from his ticket to a life of leisure, Eileen had become a millstone around his neck, a sideshow freak whose grotesqueness did not even bring in money. Their union tied him to the work he hated and, to add to his burdens, produced a son who was just as ugly and freakish as his mother, and whose magic was just as maddeningly out of the reach of exploitation.

As all this slowly became clear to Snape, his parents in their turn came gradually to understand what Snape knew about them. His relations with his mother underwent a subtle change during these years. Even at her moodiest, even when she was most angry with him, Eileen had always been intensely proud of her son’s magical abilities. She loved to revisit (in private, since the telling of it made Tobias furious) the story of the young Severus’ first display of magic: at the age of two, he had levitated a bottle of beer out of his father’s hands during dinner one night, and moved it through the air as far as the kitchen sink, where it dropped and shattered. In light of Tobias’ ever-increasing consumption of alcohol, and his exacerbated surliness when drunk, this incident had come to seem emblematic of Snape’s character to Eileen: “You were looking out for us even then,” she once told him.

As her own magic declined, and as relations between Eileen and her husband changed for the worse, she became more powerfully invested than ever in the young Snape’s growing magical ability. His every childish display – spontaneously turning a red wagon green, or suspending a mouse yowling in midair – seemed to increase the bond between them, and gradually they became allies in a cold war against Tobias, who, now that it was no longer useful to him, had grown to hate magic in all its forms.

Eileen began telling Severus everything she knew about magical defense, even though he would not be able to make practical use of the information until he left for Hogwarts. Both mother and son, in their different ways, feared not only Tobias, but the larger Muggle world that he stood for, with all of its hostility and jealousy toward magic and its eagerness to exploit what it could not have. Eileen, by now, deeply regretted the life she had married into, and feared the community around her, which could do nothing to alleviate or compensate for the disaster that her domestic life had become. The idea of self-defense and retaliation were powerful fantasies for her, and she passed them on to her fascinated son.

She told him all about Defence Against the Dark Arts, a subject she had excelled at at Hogwarts and that he too would soon learn; she pored over her old Defence textbooks with her son, confirming his view of the world as a dangerous place, but giving him an idea of all the things that magic could do to protect oneself and to punish one’s enemies. She taught him all sorts of curses and hexes, warning him simultaneously of the penalties he could incur for using them; she even told him about the three Unforgivable Curses, which most wizarding parents wanted to keep their children ignorant of for as long as possible. She told him too about Azkaban, the wizard prison where those who performed the Unforgivable Curses were sent, and from which no one had ever escaped. It was better, she said, that he know about such frightening things from the outset, for only by understanding the possibility and the nature of danger could he protect himself against it.

By the time the eleven-year-old Snape left for Hogwarts, the whole history of his parents’ marriage and the state of the family’s present relations had become an open secret, never spoken of but silently acknowledged as a subject of mutual understanding by each member of the household. Severus knew that Eileen would support him completely in his studies and his attempt to find a place for himself in the wizarding world; Eileen knew that Severus would take her part in the growing conflict between herself and Tobias. Tobias knew this too, and without ever saying so in words, he let it be known that he had no intention of letting the two “magicians” (a word which, in Tobias’ usage, clearly meant both “freak” and “fraud”) who shared his name and his household get the better of him. The powers of one were waning, while those of the other were immature and subject to restriction; a window of opportunity for triumph over them might soon present itself. Till then, he was biding his time.

In the later years of his childhood, Snape had often wished that he and his mother could escape from Spinner’s End and be shut of Tobias for good. Eileen had long since lost the ability to Apparate, which would make getting away much harder; still, Snape had a persistent fantasy of being roused in the middle of the night by his mother, who would tell him not to make a sound, then spirit him out of the house so that they could board the Knight Bus, a conveyance of which Tobias knew nothing, and vanish together into the safety of the wizarding world. But when Snape thought about what would happen after they were on their own, he saw what an impossible dream this was. They had no money, and his mother’s magic had deteriorated so much that Snape did not see how she could secure any kind of wizarding employment; on the other hand, she was too physically weak for Muggle work. He himself, it was already apparent, had magic in spades, but he could do nothing to support the family with it while he was underage, and anyway he had school to attend; all his hopes for something better in life were now pinned on Hogwarts.
 
* * *

Snape brooded on all of this as he prepared a double batch of Forgetfulness Potion. He sometimes wondered whether he would benefit from taking this stuff himself, but he always came back to the notion that only by maintaining a clear memory of the past could one ensure that one did not repeat it.

He thought again of Lucius’ cousin Zenobia. Miss Wunderin, unlike his mother, presumably had no loss of magic and no health problems to contend with; what was more, she apparently had no children to tie her to her husband or add to her cost of living. There was nothing to stop her from leaving her unhappy marriage, striking out for a new country, and starting her life anew – nothing except the weight of public opinion, and if she was as eccentric as Lucius seemed to think, that might not matter much to her anyway.

Why in the world should she not have done what she had done? In his mind Snape conjured up a picture of Zenobia – a vague one in the sense that he had no idea what she was like, but one which he endowed with all the thwarted hopes and possibilities of a young and not-yet-bowed Eileen Prince, and all of his own anger and desire for retribution against his father.

Then, somehow, this picture merged in his mind with one of Lily – a future Lily, married to James Potter and miserable, longing to be free of him and strike out on her own. Snape still hoped this terrible possibility could be prevented from coming to pass, but if it did come to pass…if it did, then nothing should be allowed to stand in Lily’s way either.

In the midst of all these thoughts, Snape felt a sudden painful heat on the inside of his left forearm. He had a flicker of panic: the Dark Lord was calling him, and in a moment, as he knew from long experience, a visual image would be projected via Legilimency from Voldemort’s mind into Snape’s of the place he was to go tonight for his Occlumency lesson – an obligation Snape had, in the agitation of the morning’s events, entirely forgotten about till now.

He must clear his mind immediately to receive the message, and if at all possible dissipate the emotions of the last few minutes, so that Voldemort would be unaware he had been thinking of such unseemly, un-Death Eater-like things. His heart sank with this last thought – his attempts at blocking the Dark Lord had never worked thus far – and sank still further at the realization that he also needed to prevent Voldemort from noticing that his heart was sinking. And all of this needed to be accomplished in no more than a couple of seconds!

Snape thought hard of an expanse of gray stone wall, like the wall of a cave, bare of any distinguishing marks – literally a blank slate. But outside the frame of this mental image, he could still feel his own agitation where it had been crowded onto the sidelines of his mind. He must do better at this, he must.

The next moment, the gray wall was replaced by an image of a windowless room lined with books, followed by another image of the exterior of a Muggle building, modern and ugly in style. Snape recognized the room and the building: the Rare Music and Books Room at the British Library in Euston Road. They had met there once before for their lessons: Voldemort had commandeered the room as the library closed for the night. Such temporary seizures of Muggle locations for his own use could be accomplished effortlessly, and though distasteful, these places were safer for him than anywhere in the wizarding world. It was as quiet as a tomb there, Snape remembered – quiet enough for Voldemort to hear the echo of every thought that had passed through Snape’s mind in the course of the day. But he must not think such things aloud, not now! He must find a way of thinking his thoughts without letting them become thoughts.

Although the information was not part of the image, Snape understood that he was to be there at eight o’clock sharp. Via Legilimency, Snape sent an acknowledgment to Voldemort that he had received the message and would be there at the appointed time – a sort of mental RSVP. The image of the reading room disappeared abruptly, and Snape, feeling the Dark Lord release his mind, began breathing normally again.
 
* * *

After Foulmouth’s closed that evening at seven, Snape stayed late for a few minutes cleaning up, then set off for his appointment with Voldemort. Whenever possible, he allowed extra time to reach the designated place for his lesson; Voldemort did not appreciate tardiness.

It was a pleasant evening, and he chose to walk to Euston Road rather than taking the tube; being underground and surrounded by Muggles always made him feel constricted and uncomfortable, in any case – it was like using the Floo Network, only slower. He arrived at the Library at ten minutes before eight; the building had already been closed for several hours. He stood in the deserted plaza in front of the entrance for a few minutes and tried – with some success, he thought – to empty his mind. At three minutes to eight, after looking around him carefully, he stepped into the shadows by the front face of the library and Apparated past the locked entrance directly into the Rare Books and Music Room.

Voldemort was sitting in a reading chair in the dimly lit room with an ancient-looking volume draped over his lap.

“Ah, Severus,” he said as Snape materialized. He closed the book, and with a dismissive “The things Muggles think precious,” sent it soaring across the room. It penetrated the glass of a display case without leaving a mark on the surface, and came to rest lying open against a bookstand inside.

Snape sat down in a chair opposite Voldemort. “Good evening, my Lord,” he said.

“Good evening,” said the Dark Lord. “How have you been since I saw you last?”

“Well, thank you,” said Snape, but he immediately moved to barricade his mind. He knew from experience that Voldemort might use Legilimency to test the honesty even of a trivial pleasantry like this.

“Yes, you are fairly well at the moment,” said the Dark Lord, “but that was not the case earlier today, was it?”

Snape took a deep breath and considered his response. “I’ve had a few irritating moments in the course of the day, yes. Difficult customers and such.”

“That is not what I mean,” said Voldemort. “When I contacted you to give you the details of our appointment, you were not happy to hear from me.”

“I confess I was not,” said Snape, “but only because I knew you would be disappointed by my failures in regulating my mind today.”

“Whether or not I am disappointed has yet to be determined, Severus. I am well aware that you are not yet advanced in your practice of mind control. But let us first look into the sources of your troubles. You received a communication this morning that agitated you, did you not?”

Snape evaded Voldemort’s eyes and did not answer. The Dark Lord had clearly gained a foothold in Snape’s mind, but he might still be prevented from gaining anything more. “It came from a woman,” continued the Dark Lord. “You are angry with me for my prying, Severus,” he added. “But that anger will not help you to block me.

“The woman is a figure from your childhood,” Voldemort resumed. “She is someone for whom you cared a great deal.” At this probing of an already vulnerable spot, Snape’s anger flared again, but he knew that the Dark Lord was right about its being counterproductive to successful Occlumency. In any case, he did not want Voldemort to think he could provoke Snape’s emotions so easily. He strove to calm himself.

“She was my best friend as a child,” Snape finally said. He felt the need to explain or justify his own feelings, even though he confirmed Voldemort’s suspicions in doing so.

“But I cannot tell what you feel toward her now. Better, Severus! Or perhaps you yourself do not know. Regardless, the fact that I cannot tell which it is indicates progress on your part.”

“Thank you, my Lord,” said Snape. He had largely mastered his earlier anger now, and was even calm enough that he could accept the Dark Lord’s compliment collectedly.

“Severus, I want you to think about your old friend now while I enter your mind. This time you will be able to feel me there. I will give you a moment to prepare yourself.

“When you feel me, I want you to block me. I will try to learn more about your friend. You must do your best to prevent me.”

Snape was afraid. He was not happy to have learned that Voldemort now knew of the fact of Lily’s existence, even in the most general way; it was now imperative that he, Snape, prevent the Dark Lord from learning anything more specific about her – any details that could be traced to Lily herself.

The first order of business was to thrust his fear into a place far away from his conscious mind, since fear in itself was telling and dangerous. He imagined his mind as a cross-section of earth, made up of multiple levels of sediment. He would bury his fear many layers below the surface, and everything he knew about Lily he would hide even deeper, in the very bedrock of his mind. Then he would lay anger (never a difficult emotion for him to conjure) thickly across the surface of his mind. Like a swarm of bees, it would distract and injure intruders, and deter excavation into the layers of soil and rock below.

“Are you ready?” asked Voldemort.

“Yes,” said Snape. It was as true as it was ever likely to be.

Voldemort raised his wand and said softly, “Legilimens.”

The next moment Voldemort was inside Snape’s mind. The intimacy of Legilimental penetration was something one could never get used to, Snape thought. He could feel the tentacles of Voldemort’s thought uncurling inside his head like those of an octopus, probing, finessing, seducing, trying to attach themselves to his own thoughts and pry them open. To have the Dark Lord deign to enter his head was both an unspeakable privilege and an undeniable assault; the flattery of it could not be separated from the brutality of it, or at least Snape had never been able to separate them.

He knew that Voldemort could hear him thinking all of this, but that was all right: the Dark Lord would accept it as a blocking tactic, and assume that Snape was thinking about him only to keep from thinking of the person he was trying to protect.

“What is her name?” asked Voldemort from inside his head.

“Petunia,” answered Snape, from the same location. The name had come readily to hand for reasons that were clear only to Snape; meanwhile, Lily and her older sister were so diametrically opposed in every important way that one woman’s name would probably never lead the Dark Lord to the other’s.

“Obviously it is not,” said Voldemort. “You will need a stronger defense than that. Such walls can be breached. What is her blood status?” the Dark Lord added, changing his line of attack.

Snape thought immediately of Petunia’s snobbery, as intense within her world as some unfairly supposed Lucius Malfoy’s to be within his.

“Severus, is this a wise tactic?” asked Voldemort in response. The thrust of his thoughts against Snape’s was almost physical, almost palpable. “Half-bloods and Muggle-borns are often shriller in their protests of blood purity than real purebloods, after all.”

Snape tried to simulate the feeling of having been found out. He paused in an imitation of reluctance. “She is a half-blood, my Lord.”

“You are lying,” said Voldemort. “That was clumsy, Severus. Your friend is either a pureblood or Muggle-born. And you grew up among Muggles, did you not?”

Snape had, and he had hated every one of them. A half-second’s calculation told him that a display of truthful emotion, in this case, would protect him better than a lie.

“Muggles are indeed detestable,” said Voldemort, “but that hardly means your friend is not the child of Muggles; she might even be one of them.” Abruptly Voldemort pulled himself out of Snape’s mind, leaving the space where he had been cold and void. Snape struggled to fill the vacuum with his own thoughts and restore his equilibrium.

“And,” Voldemort added aloud, “you were not only allowing me access to your honest thoughts just now, you were serving them to me on a platter. That was not good Occlumency, Severus.”

“I did the best I could,” said Snape, almost defiantly. Somewhere in his subconscious mind he was aware that his supposedly poor Occlumency had nevertheless detained the Dark Lord from discovery of Lily’s identity, but he did not allow this awareness to reach the level of conscious thought.

“Your irritation is understandable,” conceded Voldemort. “On the whole, you did improve on your performance of last week. Let us see if you can keep it up.

“You were also thinking quite a bit about your mother today. That made you agitated too, and I hardly need Legilimency to know why; your mother was an ill-served woman, I am well aware. But what, I wonder, brought on this bout of deep thinking? Legilimens,” said Voldemort with no further warning; he had not even raised his wand this time.

No, was Snape’s only thought as Voldemort entered his mind again. Was everyone who had ever been important in his life to be subject to this kind of probing and harassment? Wasn’t it enough that one woman was estranged from him and the other was dead? Couldn’t his mother be left in peace, even now? He spoke this final thought aloud inside his head.

“Keep me out, then,” responded Voldemort.

Snape felt incapable of any more of the exhausting concentration required to put up these mental walls; his mind groaned in protest. All he could think of was how unfair it all was. His mother had given so much to him when she had so little for herself. Her health and magic had failed, but her support of him had been unwavering. Now that he was an adult himself, it was even more painfully clear to him what she must have gone through while he was growing up. The loss of her magic had meant not merely the loss of specific powers, but of her whole identity. Meanwhile, the Muggle man and the Muggle world she might have looked to for a new one (however inferior) had failed her utterly. By the time of her death, at which point she was essentially a Squib, she had had nothing left – nothing except him, her only child.

Thinking of her, Snape was suddenly on the verge of tears. He knew he would get a lecture from Voldemort for letting emotion get the better of him like this, but at the moment he did not care. He felt an intense protective affection toward his mother, and an intense desire that the rest of the world, including Voldemort, leave her and her memory alone.

Suddenly he felt a vacuum in his mind again; Voldemort had withdrawn.

“You are tired, Severus,” said the Dark Lord. “Your Occlumency always declines when you are tired, but that is true of every beginner. We will stop for tonight.”

Snape was somehow even more disappointed than he was relieved. He had wanted to bring this lesson to a close by meeting Voldemort’s demands, not by inspiring his pity. But the Dark Lord’s decisions in such matters were not to be argued with. Snape rose to take his leave.

“Nevertheless,” said Voldemort suddenly, “there was a moment just now when you blocked me completely. Only a moment, but if you can find such a moment again and prolong it, you will have made a breakthrough. We will try again next week.”

“Thank you, my Lord,” said Snape. He had absolutely no idea which moment Voldemort was referring to, or what he had done to create it.

“Good night, Severus,” said the Dark Lord, who remained seated. “When it is time for us to meet again, I will call on you.”

“Good night, my Lord,” said Snape. He looked down at Voldemort, who was altogether relaxed, an emperor at home even on this borrowed throne. Snape felt his earlier resentment submerged in a wave of admiration for this most powerful of wizards, a leader of a great cause who nonetheless found time to spend with an insignificant person like himself, to pass along some small part of his knowledge and skill. He wished now that he could stay and continue the lesson, that he could reverse the course of the last few minutes and make the Dark Lord proud of him. But it was time for him to go.

The Dark Lord was looking up at him calmly, as if he understood all that was in Snape’s mind. “Thank you, my Lord,” Snape said again, and finally Disapparated.



Chapter 2: Snape, Suspended

Snape had first met Voldemort face to face the summer after his fifth year at Hogwarts. It had been, in fact, the very day he returned home from school.

The Snapes lived in northern England – not so far from Hogwarts, had Snape only realised it as an isolated and lonely child wizard. Since the Hogwarts Express made only one stop, at King’s Cross station in London, the train was an inconvenient means of transportation for children like Snape, a fact which the school acknowledged in its initial acceptance letter to him.

The letter outlined several alternate means of getting to Hogwarts for those families not well-served by the train’s London terminus, including the Knight Bus and the Floo Network; but Snape had heard so much about the Hogwarts Express from his mother – its departure from the hidden Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, the journey north through the mountains, the snack cart, the owls and cats and toads that accompanied the students, the excitement of changing into Hogwarts robes as the school neared – that he would have been heartbroken to travel to school by any other means, and insisted on being taken to London to meet the train there.

Had Eileen still been able to Apparate, this would have been a simple matter; as it was, however, their travel options were severely limited. Any wizarding home which also housed Muggles was legally barred from the Floo Network, and as getting to school the long way round was not exactly a situation of emergency, Eileen did not think the Knight Bus would see fit to pick them up. She was concerned about the expense of two Muggle train tickets from Manchester (the nearest large city to their village) to London (his father objected, and rather more violently, not only to the expense but to the entire enterprise). However, this worry was alleviated when Lily’s mother, who was as fascinated by the idea of the magical train as her daughter and was driving Lily down so that she should not miss out on such a crucial experience, insisted upon taking Snape, his mother, his trunk and the family owl, Pascal, with them in the Evanses’ car. Both children fell in love with the train during that first journey and would not hear of traveling to and from school in any other way thereafter, however geographically redundant it might be.

While Lily and Snape remained friends, this arrangement had not posed any problems; Mrs. Evans was happy to continue collecting and dropping off Snape and his luggage along with Lily and hers. When he and Lily fell out so bitterly in the spring of their fifth year, however, Snape realized he would have to make other arrangements for getting home from London. He was sure that the kind Mrs. Evans would offer to pick him up regardless of how things stood between him and Lily, but it would be awful and embarrassing to be trapped in a car with Lily for hours with her refusing to speak to him the whole way. The day before they were to leave Hogwarts, therefore, he sent an owl to Mrs. Evans, saying he would be staying with relatives in London for a few days after deboarding the Hogwarts Express, and that these entirely fictional family members would pick him up from King’s Cross.

That train trip home was the first time he had been thoroughly unhappy on the Hogwarts Express. For starters, on previous journeys home he had always sat with Lily; and though he was surrounded this time by a whole car full of Slytherin friends and should have had no call to feel lonely, he was haunted by the change and what it meant.

Then, when once he was through the barrier into Muggle King’s Cross, with no one having met him and no one to help him with his luggage, he spent nearly all his meager savings on a ticket for a Muggle train to Manchester. He dragged his trunk onto the train just as it was leaving, then found that every seat was taken. For the next two and a half hours he sat on his trunk near the door with Pascal’s cage balanced awkwardly on his lap, receiving stares and glares from everyone who squeezed past him on the way to the toilet.

He grew even more demoralized as he thought of what awaited him at home: two and a half months of family tension and the ever-present threat of violence; a dismal summer job in a Muggle market (critical for the extra income and discounted food it brought to the family); being forced to cook for Tobias again; and, to top it off, no Lily.

He would not even be able to do magic at home, for earlier that spring Eileen had contacted the Ministry to ask whether they could do anything to protect her from Tobias, whose drinking and aggressive outbursts were becoming more and more alarming. When the Ministry asked why she, a witch, was unable to defend herself against a mere Muggle, Eileen was forced to confess that her magic had diminished so much as to leave her nearly incapable of self-defense.

The Ministry’s response had been worse than useless: although they refused to intervene, claiming that marriages of mixed blood status were beyond the reach of their jurisdiction, they did notify Eileen that they would be closely monitoring all wand usage in the house in Spinner’s End from that point forward. When Snape read Eileen’s letter relating all this, he groaned aloud: the Ministry would now know that any magic performed during the summer originated not with Eileen, but with her underage son. His every Summoning Charm or use of Incendio to light the stove would bring on a Ministry inquiry at the very least, and most likely worse.

All in all, the next few months promised to be an unrelieved ordeal. Each of the previous summers had been a little less bearable than the last; Snape felt he was reaching a breaking point. He did not know what he was going to do to get through it.

At Manchester, he realized he did not have enough money left for a taxi, and Spinner’s End was twenty-eight miles away. He called home from a pay phone, hoping his mother might answer; though the family had no car, there was a slim chance she could enchant a passing lorry or van into coming to pick him up. But the line did not even ring; perhaps the phone had been disconnected.

He got into a taxi with Pascal and his trunk, knowing he would have to cheat the driver. When they reached Spinners End, he got out, pulled his trunk from the boot, handed the driver a pound note and ten, and said, “Sorry, this is all I’ve got.” The incredulous driver asked him to repeat himself, then slapped him hard across the face twice, got back in the car, and sped off in a stream of curses, nearly running Pascal over in the process.

With eyes still tearing from the slaps, and perhaps from more general causes, Snape made for the front door, longing to remove himself from the scene of his humiliation. It was locked. He went round to the back; it was locked as well. He banged on one door, then the other, for fully ten minutes, but no one answered. It was maddening: a simple Alohomora would have let him in, and would also have had the Ministry of Magic on his back practically by the time he was inside; he had been in trouble for using underage magic before.

Finally, cursing the world with every obscenity in his vocabulary, he broke one of the front windows by heaving his trunk through it, and climbed in after it – hopefully his mother could perform a quick repairing charm on the glass later. Right now, the door of her small room on the first floor was closed; if she had really not heard him – or worse, not been able to get up – it was clearly one of her bad days. His father, at least, was not around, so perhaps Snape could lock himself in his room, collapse on the bed, and enjoy a little peace and quiet as this long and trying day wound to a close. He seized his trunk yet again and heaved it up the stairs.

He was struggling backward into his bedroom, dragging the trunk after him, when a voice, high and cold, but quite civil, said, “Severus Snape, I presume?”

Snape nearly jumped out of his skin with surprise, but when he dropped the trunk and spun round to face the owner of the voice, he felt himself to be in danger of fainting outright. For there, sitting on the chair of Snape’s own desk with his legs calmly crossed, was a man whose appearance would have struck fear into anyone.

His dark hair and physical frame were normal-looking enough, but his skin was unsettlingly, abnormally pale, and there was a strange cast to his features that caused him to appear simultaneously more than and less than human. He could not have been said to be handsome - the perversely skewed proportions of his face prevented that – but there was nonetheless something compelling, something commanding about that face. And though he seemed rather altered from the pictures of him that Snape had seen – perhaps the Daily Prophet had only old photos of him on file? – there was no mistaking who he was. The Dark Lord, Voldemort himself, was sitting here in his bedroom, just as if he had been invited over for tea and biscuits.

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“You are Severus Snape?” repeated Voldemort – again quite politely, but fear of offending the Dark Lord with his delayed response finally loosened Snape’s tongue.

“Yes, sir,” he said, then immediately wondered: How did one address the Dark Lord? What was the proper form, especially given that they had not met before? He was afraid on the one hand of seeming too sycophantic – then again, perhaps that was what Voldemort would want? – and on the other of being too familiar. In the end, it seemed safest to address the Dark Lord as if he were a particularly exalted type of Hogwarts headmaster.

“Do you know who I am?” asked Voldemort.

“Yes, sir. You are Lord Voldemort, sir,” said Snape, managing with effort to keep his voice steady.

“Quite right,” said the Dark Lord. “Do you know why I am here, Severus – if I may call you that?”

“Of course – of course you may, sir,” Snape stuttered, completely flustered by the irony of Voldemort’s deigning to observe such niceties with him. “But I’m afraid I have no idea what brings you here.” Had this been the wrong thing to say? Should he have hazarded a guess, or would Voldemort have considered that presumptuous?

“I will get to that in a moment. But first of all, I must congratulate you, Severus,” said Voldemort. “You’ve done extremely well on your O.W.L.s.”

“Sir?” Snape was completely baffled. How was it possible Voldemort could know this? Fifth-year students had been told not to expect the owls that would bring them their test results for at least a week following the end of term.

“ ‘Outstanding’ in nine subjects, and ‘Exceeds Expectations’ in the remaining one,” elaborated the Dark Lord.

“Sir, are you sure there hasn’t been some mistake? You see, I haven’t actually received my O.W.L. results yet.”

“Nevertheless, I have seen them. One ‘E’ and nine ‘O’s. Really exceptional. You must be the top of your year.”

“Er,” said Snape, flushing, “I don’t know about that.” His emotions were a confusing blend of pleasure and discomfort, but at the moment the discomfort was rather strongly prevailing. He had to admit he was disappointed by the one ‘E.’ If the Dark Lord was going to be previewing his test results, he would have liked him to have seen a column of uninterrupted ‘O’s, of course, but it was more than that: he had worked devilishly hard in pursuit of a top score in every subject.

“Sir, if I may ask –” said Snape. He felt somewhat ridiculous, but he also wanted very much to know how things stood.

“Go on,” said Voldemort.

“What subject did I get the ‘E’ in?”

“History of Magic,” replied Voldemort. “So your deviation from perfection in this one case is more than forgivable. In fact, it is amazing that you managed to learn anything at all from that incompetent ghost.”

Snape almost felt that Voldemort was trying to engage him in a conspiratorial laugh at the expense of Professor Binns, the History of Magic teacher at Hogwarts, but he did not feel quite enough at his ease to indulge in any such thing.

“Did you have Professor Binns too, sir?” he said – then realized that it had probably been a stupid thing to ask. As a ghost who had already died ages ago, Binns would have had no cause to interrupt his tenure at Hogwarts for many decades.

“I certainly did,” said Voldemort. “I believe every student to attend Hogwarts for at least the last hundred years has had the misfortune of being taught by Binns. I remember that he never knew any of our names.”

“That hasn’t changed,” said Snape, venturing a grin. He was feeling a little more relaxed now.

“He used to call me ‘Conundrum’ – I am not sure whether he thought that was my first name, my last name, or simply a description of me. Perhaps he knows my name better now.”

“I would think so, sir.”

“At any rate, Severus, I did not come here to talk to you about Professor Binns. I came here to meet you, and to ask you a few things about yourself.”

“Me, sir?” Was this some sort of perverse joke? Snape did not see how a sixteen-year-old boy of no family or position could have the slightest significance in the Dark Lord’s worldview, no matter how well he might have done on his O.W.L.s.

“Any political movement worth its salt is constantly trying to refresh itself with new blood, to recruit new members to itself – particularly young ones with unlimited energy and potential. Is it so surprising, then, that I should be on the lookout for promising young wizards and witches, or that I would want to meet some of them personally?”

“I suppose not, sir, but I never expected anything like this. I mean, to have you here in my own home!” In saying this, it suddenly occurred to Snape that he was being rather a shabby host to his illustrious visitor.

“Sir, can I get you something to drink? Something to eat?” he heard himself adding hurriedly, although he hated to think of the very poor options his mother must have on hand in both departments.

“No, thank you, Severus. Your conversation is all I require. Please, tell me a little about yourself. Your family, your studies, what interests you.”

Voldemort’s mention of the word “family” sent a sudden chill down Snape’s spine. Did the Dark Lord know that his father was a Muggle? If Voldemort had access to the confidential test results of Hogwarts students, surely he also knew the ignominious facts of Snape’s parentage, which were, after all, a matter of public record. But if he knew Snape was not a pureblood, why was he here at all, and how could he possibly want to recruit Snape to his cause? He must not know, Snape thought tremblingly; it must have been overlooked somehow. Having come all this way and taken all this trouble, what was Voldemort liable to do if he found out he was barking up the wrong tree? Snape did not like to think. Meanwhile, the Dark Lord was still waiting on his reply.

Trying to buy himself a little more time to think, Snape began hastily, “Well, uh, my greatest interest is the Dark Arts. They’ve fascinated me since I was small. Defence Against the Dark Arts is my favorite subject – of course it’s as close as they’ll let you get at Hogwarts to studying the Dark Arts themselves, you have to come at them indirectly.”

“You are knowledgeable in this area, clearly; your test results show that,” said Voldemort. “I understand you also particularly excel at Potions.”

How in the world did Voldemort know this? “I suppose I have some aptitude for potion-making,” said Snape rather dismissively, “but ultimately I’d like to do something that has to do with the Dark Arts. Potion-making is a little…pedestrian by comparison.”

“On the contrary,” said Voldemort, “I consider potion-making to be a critical wizarding skill. I am always looking for good potions masters.” Snape, embarrassed, was wondering whether he had spoken out of turn, when Voldemort added suddenly, “What do you know about unicorn blood, Severus?”

Snape was surprised by this sudden turn in the conversation, but replied steadily, “Unicorn blood is a very powerful, very dangerous substance. Drinking it is supposed to make the drinker immortal.”

“Why doesn’t everyone drink it, then?” asked Voldemort. His tone was rhetorical; Snape could tell he already knew the answer, and was merely testing to see whether he, Snape, did as well.

“Because the immortality comes at a great cost,” Snape continued. He was confident now; this was ground he knew well. “The life you will have after drinking it will supposedly be a cursed life, a life worse than death to endure.”

“You say ‘supposedly.’ Do you not believe that to be true?”

“I don’t know, sir. I have no direct experience with unicorn blood, other than seeing it on the ground in the Forbidden Forest once.”

“If you had the opportunity to drink it, and the possibility of obtaining immortality thereby, would you take it?”

Snape considered for a moment. “No, I don’t think so,” he answered honestly.

“You would not wish to become immortal?” Voldemort asked. There was an undertone of disbelief in his voice; perhaps Snape had made a blunder in replying thus.

“If my experience of life so far is anything to go by…no.”

“Your experience of life thus far has not been a happy one?”

“Not always, no.”

“I am sorry,” said Voldemort. He paused contemplatively. “Tell me a little about your family.”

Fear rose up in Snape again, more powerfully than before. He was silent as he thought frantically about how best to respond. If he tried to hide the matter of his birth, Voldemort would surely find it out eventually, and Snape hated to think how he might express the displeasure resulting from the discovery. Then again, if he told him now, it might be the last thing he ever did.

“Have I touched on an unpleasant subject?” asked the Dark Lord. His tone could, without exaggeration, have been called “concerned,” and Snape was weirdly touched, even as he feared for his own life.

“Er,” Snape hesitated, “yes, rather. I suppose so. You see, I don’t always get along with them very well. My father in particular.”

“Why is that?”

“He’s…we don’t see eye-to-eye.” He could hear himself beating around the bush; worse, he could hear himself shifting blame for everything that was wrong with the Snapes – the family’s disharmony and its low blood status – to his father. He felt that his father was to blame for these things, and yet it was weakness in him, Severus, to try to escape Voldemort’s wrath by pointing a finger elsewhere; surely this would do no good in the end. There was nothing for it; he would have to come clean.

“Sir, before you go any further…there’s something about me you should know.”

“What is that, Severus?”

He took a deep breath and said, with his heart in his mouth, “I’m a half-blood. My father is a Muggle.”

For several seconds his head pounded with the pulse of his own fear, but the Dark Lord made no move for his wand; indeed, he sat still and silent, as if waiting for more. “And?” said Voldemort eventually.

“Well, isn’t that a problem? For your movement, I mean," said Snape nervously.

“Not at all,” said Voldemort. “There are many superb wizards who are half-bloods. I am one myself, in fact.”

Snape was taken aback. He felt a mixture of pleasure and anxiety at the confiding ease with which the Dark Lord made this disclosure about his own blood status. Surely this was privileged information? It certainly was not known in the wizarding world at large. Snape wondered, in fact, whether Voldemort should have been quite so free with this confession. Couldn’t the information be used against him by his detractors, even perhaps by his own followers?

“It’s only Mudbloods to whom my movement objects,” continued Voldemort. “People with no magical blood cannot, by definition, be wizards, and as such, should not enjoy the rights and privileges that true wizards have within our community. Let them lord it over their fellow Muggles, if they choose, but the wizarding world should have no part of them.”

“I – thank you, sir, I didn’t realise.”

Here Voldemort actually smiled at him. “My dear Severus, did you think I was going to pull out my wand and reduce you to dust merely because you are not a pureblood wizard?”

“I – I wasn’t sure, sir.”

“I am sorry to have caused you anxiety. Nonetheless, I value your frankness and your courage in telling me something you thought would cause me displeasure. This is as it should be. You should feel no need to keep secrets from me.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Snape, a little dumb with relief.

“Your Muggle father does not treat you well, then?” asked Voldemort.

“No,” said Snape. “But he treats my mother worse.”

“I am sorry for your trouble, Severus,” said Voldemort, “though I cannot say I am surprised. This is what comes of marriage between wizards and Muggles, or even wizards and Muggle-borns. And although it may be too late for your mother, at least there are measures that can be taken to discourage future generations from making the same mistake. Penalties against such intermarriage, for example – both legal and social.”

“That sounds like a good idea, sir," said Snape.

The Dark Lord smiled again. “Severus,” he said, “my visit here is somewhat premature, since you are not yet of age. But a young wizard of your talents will be much in demand from all quarters, and I did not want to risk your being lured away by misguided people who will argue attractively for their cause, but who secretly wish for the destruction of our world. I hope that when you turn seventeen you will remember all I’ve said to you today, and consider joining me in my work.”

Snape swallowed. “I will, sir. I’m honoured that you thought of me.”

“The honour was mine, Severus,” said the Dark Lord. “And now I must say goodbye for the moment. Till the next time we meet, I hope all will be well with you.” And before Snape could even reply, Voldemort was gone, leaving only a faint shimmer in the air behind him. There had been no pop of Apparition, no use of his wand, no verbal command; one moment he had been sitting there, and the next Snape was blinking at an empty desk chair. He supposed that the Dark Lord had his own specially advanced methods of moving from place to place.

One week later, Snape was making breakfast for himself and his mother, who was up and about for a change, when an owl flew through the open window of the kitchen bearing a large, square envelope with the Hogwarts insignia on it: his O.W.L. results. Barely breathing, Snape took the envelope and ripped through the seal.

Exactly as Voldemort had said, he had earned all “O”’s except for an “E” in History of Magic. He passed the results over to Eileen. In spite of the warmth of the day, the heat from the stove, and the exclamations of his delighted mother, Snape found himself shivering. He stood staring into space until the smell of fried eggs beginning to burn called him back to himself.
 
* * *

Perhaps Snape’s feeling of foreboding had been premonitory, for the arrival of his O.W.L. results was the last unequivocally good thing to happen that summer. Things went from bad to worse with alarming speed, until mid-August brought with it the greatest crisis of Snape’s young life.

It was clear to Snape almost immediately that during his fifth-year absence, relations between his parents had deteriorated catastrophically, reaching new extremes of hostility on his father’s side and new depths of impotence and misery on his mother’s. It had been a major blow to the family when Tobias had been made redundant at the mill during Snape’s third year at Hogwarts, but he had still been able to get contract work there on a somewhat regular basis. Over the last year, however, those jobs had been harder and harder to come by; the mill had less contract work on offer to begin with, and Tobias was rarely picked for jobs when they did come up. Eileen thought this was due to Tobias’ increasing local reputation for daytime drunkenness, a highly undesirable habit in a machine operator. But while Snape could see for himself that his father’s alcohol consumption was increasingly out of control, he thought it was more likely that Tobias was not even trying to get work anymore.

Whatever the case, the family was now living off the dole, as Eileen was utterly unable to work. The day after he returned home, Snape resumed his position as a summer stock boy at the same market he had shoplifted from as a child, which improved the family’s financial situation a little and enabled them to get groceries at a discount. Snape hated the work, which would have been tedious even with magic and was physically exhausting without it.

But work was a pleasure compared with being at home. The fact of his son’s employment threw Tobias’ own failure to get work into even sharper relief, and he seemed to exist now in a constant state of malicious rage. Fortunately he was not often home, but even in his absence an anticipatory dread hung over the house. For the last year, Tobias had seemed ready and willing to do violence to Eileen; all she had to put between herself and him was a locked bedroom door and a few last gasps of magic. Now she was nearly helpless, both physically and magically, and Snape was terrified that his father would seize the opening to do something irrevocable.

The window that Snape had broken in order to get into the house, and the response his family made to it, threw the new household conditions into terrible clarity.

The first and worst thing the broken window brought to light was the calamitous decline in his mother’s magic: She could not fix the window. Some time after Voldemort’s departure, Snape came downstairs to find that his mother had emerged from her room and was standing among the shards of glass with an expression of frantic concentration on her face. “Severus!” she said, turning as he entered the sitting room. “I’m glad you’re home, but why on earth did you have to come in through the window?” There was a sharp note of panic in her voice.

“I couldn’t get in, Mum,” said Snape, feeling the exasperation of a few hours ago rising in him again. “The doors were locked and nobody answered. I banged away for ages.”

“The front door was locked?” said Eileen in alarm. “I told Tobias to leave it open. I knew you were coming home today, and I can’t always get out of bed very quickly any more… I wanted you to be able to let yourself in.” But there was a look of dawning comprehension on her face.

“You told him I was coming?” said Snape, beginning to understand as well.

“I had to,” said Eileen. “The door is normally locked when I’m here alone. I couldn’t tell him to leave it open without a reason.”

“That’s why he locked it, then,” said Snape grimly, voicing what they were both thinking. “But you can fix it,” he said, looking down at the broken glass. He was suddenly afraid to meet his mother’s eye.

“I can’t, Severus,” said Eileen in a soft, pained voice. “I’ve been trying for the last ten minutes.” Snape looked at her then, and saw in her face just how bad everything had become. He was afraid to say anything else for fear of making her feel even worse, but he gave her a look of full understanding.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Eileen continued. A hint of desperation had entered her voice. “Tobias will be furious when he finds out.”

“It’s his fault!” Snape exclaimed angrily. “It’s his problem, let him deal with it for once.” But he knew it was useless to look at the situation in any terms that involved justice or logic. They simply had to fix the window, and quickly too. “Let me send Pascal off with a letter to the Ministry,” he suggested. “Maybe they’ll give me permission to do just this one bit of magic. We can tell them it’s necessary for the preservation of family harmony.”

“After last year?” said Eileen, her expression darkening further. “No, Severus, I don’t want you to do anything more to aggravate the Ministry. When you’re seventeen you can do as you like, but you’ve got to lie low for a few more months. Don’t give them any excuse to think ill of you now.”

The previous summer, Snape had indeed given the Ministry reason to think ill of him. Not that he cared what they thought in general; they were only a stupid bunch of bureaucrats. But they apparently had the power to remove him from Hogwarts, and for a brief but terrifying period last summer they had seriously threatened to do so. Snape still thought of the whole episode with a lingering sense of panic.
 
* * *

The act of underage magic that had put his future thus in jeopardy had happened half against his will, but very much in line with his true wishes. It had all begun innocently enough, with a seemingly harmless dream.

His parents had been fighting constantly, and one night after a particularly vicious argument between them, Snape had had a wonderful dream, a dream of triumphant revenge over Tobias. In it, his parents stood in the kitchen arguing with voices raised, while Snape looked on impotently – just as happened every evening in reality. Then the thing Snape was most afraid of in life happened in the dream: Tobias struck his mother, hard across the face. He raised his hand to do it again, but before the blow could fall, the dream Snape raised his wand and shouted, “Expecto Patronum!”

From the tip of his wand burst a silvery something that Snape could not even identify – it was a blur of fur, claws and teeth. The thing leapt forward and fastened its paws around Tobias’ throat, knocking him to the ground. Snape and his mother stood gaping as Tobias and the ghostly animal locked themselves together in struggle; finally the creature gained a clear upper hand and withdrew, leaving Tobias lying motionless in a puddle of gleaming silvery liquid. It paused for a moment, looking at the subdued figure as if in satisfaction; Snape still could not have said what animal it was. It looked like a miniature bear, though it was too small even for a bear cub; it might have been a particularly vicious badger, but it did not have the telltale markings.

Whatever it was, it turned, sprang into the air, and vanished out the kitchen window. Eileen clutched her son by the arm and they stared at one another. A look of relief and gratitude was on his mother’s face, and though Snape could not be sure whether Tobias was alive or dead, he somehow knew with certainty that his father would not trouble either of them again.

He woke immediately afterward, feeling happier than he could remember being in a long time, even though the dream offered no way out of his current troubles: conjuring a Patronus at home during the summer would, of course, have been a major violation of underage magical law. And the point was moot in any case, for outside of this dream, Snape had never yet been able to produce a Patronus.

This was by no means for lack of trying: although Patronuses were advanced magic and would not be covered in Defence Against the Dark Arts until seventh year, there was nothing to stop Snape from attempting to conjure one on his own, and in the last month of fourth year he had made repeated efforts to do so. He had thus far been unsuccessful beyond the appearance of a few silvery wisps; perhaps the memories he had been trying to use as inspiration (mostly moments of academic success in Potions or Defence Against the Dark Arts) had not been strong enough. But in his dream, Snape had conjured the mystery animal with almost no effort, and sometimes, he knew, dreams could be premonitions: part of the happiness he felt no doubt stemmed from the seeming hint he had been given that he would, in fact, be able to produce a Patronus one day soon.

The dream, as it turned out, was more painfully predictive of the future than Snape would ever have wished. The next night, Tobias came in drunk, as usual, and as usual his mother asked if there had been work that day. Tobias did not even bother to reply, but just as he had in the dream, struck Eileen straight across the face. Despite his long and fearful anticipation of this moment, Snape was not prepared for the reality of it; he stood paralyzed with shock and horror as Eileen reeled backwards and then tried to flee from the kitchen. But when Tobias advanced with his hand raised again, Snape’s body seemed to spring into action of its own accord. He charged at his father, both fists flying, but he was no match for him: Tobias easily blocked his son’s blows, then seized him by the shoulders and kicked him hard in the stomach.

Snape fell to the floor, gagging and ready to cry, but the tears that had sprung to his eyes came from rage as much as from physical pain. He thought desperately of his Patronus dream: the only thing that might redeem this moment would be the realization of the good things in that dream alongside the bad. At that moment he cared nothing for magical law or his own future; he only wanted his father punished. He drew his wand, closed his eyes and thought hard of the strange animal that had appeared in the dream – its clawing paws, its biting teeth – until he could actually feel its presence in the room with him. He reached out to the feeling of it as to a brother. “Expecto Patronum!” he shouted. His voice was shaky, yet it echoed through the room with surprising volume and force.

And to his joy – though a joy mixed from the beginning with foreboding – it worked. From the tip of his wand burst the same bearlike animal he had conjured in the dream; it leapt straight at Tobias, clutching him by the throat and wrestling him to the ground.

“Severus, what have you done?” cried Eileen. With a greater strength than he had imagined her still capable of, she ran to him and shook him hard. “You’ll be in such terrible trouble!” she said angrily. But then his normally undemonstrative mother startled him by hugging him fiercely. She added in a whisper, “I’ll cover for you, I’ll say it was me.”

The Patronus, meanwhile, continued to behave just as it had in the dream: it subdued Tobias, retreated, and watched him for a long moment, then turned and leapt through the window. But this time there was no silvery blood, or blood of any kind; after a few seconds Tobias sat up, rubbing his head, and pointed ominously at Snape.

“I don’t know what the bloody hell that was, but you’re as good as dead for bringing it here,” said Tobias. “Never mind what I’m going to do to you: they’ll expel you from that school now and no mistake. Won’t that just break your heart! I’m looking forward to it most thoroughly.”

“Don’t mind him, Severus,” whispered his mother, causing Tobias to yell, “Get away from him, you heathen bitch! There’ll be no conspiring between the two of you. He’s broken the law and he’s got to take his punishment.”

No sooner had the words escaped him than an owl flew in through the same window from which the Patronus had recently taken its leave. It carried a roll of parchment which it promptly deposited in Snape’s hands. A cold wave of nausea passed through him as he unrolled the message. It read,


Dear Mr. Snape,

The Ministry has received intelligence that at three minutes past seven this evening, you performed the Patronus Charm in a neighbourhood populated by Muggles and in the presence of a Muggle. Being thus in flagrant breach of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery, you are hereby expelled from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Ministry representatives will be calling at your place of residence shortly to destroy your wand.

Furthermore, the Ministry will require your presence at a hearing to take place at eight a.m sharp on 22nd August, at which we will decide whether further disciplinary action is necessary in your case.

Wishing you a lovely evening,

Dolores J. Umbridge

Improper Use of Magic Office
Ministry of Magic



Tobias grinned nastily. “What did I tell you?” he exclaimed. “They have given you the boot, I can see it in your face.” He had gotten up from the floor and was now advancing toward Snape, his hand out toward the parchment. “Give that here, I want to read it for myself.”

“Stay back!” shouted Snape, all the more angry for the terrible blow he had just received. “I can call that Patronus right back here if I choose to.”

Tobias gave a hoot of derisive laughter. “What did you call it?” he said. “You bloody magicians and the airs you give yourselves!” However, he had stopped where he stood and lowered his hand to his side.

His mother, meanwhile, had taken the parchment from him and was reading it. Snape saw her turn pale, but when she spoke her voice was determined. “Severus, don’t panic,” she said. “I swear on the grave of Salazar Slytherin himself, I’ll find a way to get you out of this. And don’t ever, ever give up your wand to any of those people.”

“Know where your wand is at all times” had been one of his mother’s first and most frequently repeated lessons during his childhood; but even without this, the idea of surrendering his wand would have been unthinkable to Snape. Being told that his wand would be destroyed, just after being told he had been expelled from Hogwarts, was like being killed twice over.

Just at that moment there was at knock at the front door. “Christ! Am I never to enjoy a moment of peace again?” exclaimed Tobias. Snape moved toward the door, feeling confrontational and reckless; if he had already lost Hogwarts, what more could anyone do to hurt him? His mother caught him by the arm as he passed, and warned, “See who it is first.” Eileen had a point; Snape knew of at least one past occasion when his parents’ fighting had brought on a visit from the Muggle police, and who knew how many more times it might have happened in the year he had been away?

Snape moved silently to the door and peered through the peephole. There on the doorstep in purple traveling robes, his hands placidly clasped in front of him and his half-moon glasses balanced precariously at the end of his nose, stood Albus Dumbledore. Snape was not sure whether the headmaster’s presence would lessen or increase the awfulness of his current predicament, but the obedient student in him had instinctively moved to open the door before he had time to think better of it.

“Ah, Severus,” said Dumbledore. “I understand you’ve had a bit of trouble here tonight.”

“I’ve been expelled from Hogwarts for conjuring a Patronus,” said Snape. He was surprised to hear how defiant his voice sounded.

“Congratulations,” said Dumbledore pleasantly, then added quickly, “On the Patronus, of course, not the expulsion. Was it your first time conjuring one?” Snape was not sure how to take the headmaster’s oddly conversational tone, and remained silent.

“When one is not used to the process, they can get rather out of hand, Patronuses,” continued Dumbledore. “Might I be right in suspecting there is more to this case than meets the eye?”

“Maybe,” muttered Snape.

“May I come in?” asked Dumbledore, and Snape stood aside mutely, unable to summon any greater degree of hospitality. Eileen, meanwhile, had entered the room and came up to them as quickly as her weakened condition would allow; Tobias could be seen behind her, peering around the doorjamb with evident suspicion.

“Professor Dumbledore,” said Eileen, “Severus is not to blame for what he did. He conjured the Patronus in his own defense, and in mine.”

“That’s a lie,” interjected Tobias, coming forward into the room. “He sicced the thing on me unawares and with malice aforethought, as the lawyers say.”

“Eileen – if I may still call you that,” replied Dumbledore, “I am prepared to hear the boy’s full explanation, along with any competing ones that may be relevant. Severus, what have you to say?”

Snape looked at his mother, whose face wore a tense, pleading expression. He would have to choose his words carefully, but he had no intention of sparing Tobias if he could help it.

“My father came home drunk,” Snape said bluntly, “and started a fight with my mother and me. He kicked me hard in the stomach and I tried to hit him back, but I couldn’t. He’s bigger than me,” Snape added in his own defense, although he had no intention of taking a self-pitying line. “I was afraid he’d get even more violent if nobody stopped him. I didn’t know what to do, so I cast the Patronus charm. I didn’t even know if it would work – I’ve never been able to do it before now. So it was partly self-defense, and partly a sort of accident,” Snape concluded. “Anyway, he deserved far worse.”

“It was no accident,” Tobias objected, and over Eileen’s imploring “Tobias, please,” he continued, “I’m no magician, for which fact I thank the good Lord every day of my life. But I know that what he did—” nodding vehemently toward Snape—“is considered wrong even among you people. He ought to be punished to the full extent of whatever laws you’ve got – assuming you’ve got any. He’ll feel it more, coming from you.”

Dumbledore looked penetratingly at Tobias, then at Eileen, then back at Tobias. “Our world does indeed have laws which govern our behavior and our ethics,” said Dumbledore calmly, “and I can assure you that when his case has been fully considered, your son will receive the punishment that is deemed appropriate to his offense. However" —and here Dumbledore’s tone became somehow sharper without becoming any less even—“I believe your world also has certain laws, laws which prohibit doing violence to one’s own family members, particularly those who are weaker than oneself. You do not seem to me to be acting within the bounds of those laws.”

“I was provoked,” said Tobias darkly.

“All parents are provoked at times,” replied Dumbledore. “It is a parent’s job to rise above provocation.”

“You don’t know the first thing about it, you self-important windbag,” said Tobias, moving in Dumbledore’s direction rather menacingly, “and I’ll thank you to stay out of my business from now on.”

“I would be more than happy to do that,” responded Dumbledore, “if you could compel yourself to stay out of your wife’s way and your son’s way. They are members of my community, and their troubles are my business.” Tobias stopped suddenly in his tracks, exactly as if he had walked straight into an unseen pane of glass. He stepped back, looking slightly dazed.

“Severus,” said Dumbledore, turning back to Snape and Eileen, “I understand that the Ministry has threatened to seize and destroy your wand. Now, the conjuring of a Patronus by a minor outside school grounds hardly seems to me an offense of wand-confiscating magnitude, and I think most reasonable minds would agree. It seems that there may be a few junior staff members at the Ministry who are a little over-assiduous in their desire to discipline underage offenders. However, I have already spoken to several more senior Ministry personnel and convinced them that in your case no such thing will be necessary.”

“Why, you interfering—” began Tobias angrily; but he broke off as another owl entered the room, having apparently arrived via the still-open window in the kitchen. It flew straight to Snape and dropped a letter similar to the earlier one into his hands.

“Ah, yes,” said Dumbledore. “I believe this message may contain better news.”

Desperately nervous and hopeful, Snape opened the letter.


Dear Mr. Snape,

Further to our letter of approximately eighteen minutes ago, the Ministry of Magic has revised its decision to destroy your wand forthwith. You may retain your wand until your disciplinary hearing on 22nd August, at which time an official decision will be taken.

Following discussion with the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the Ministry has agreed that the question of your expulsion will also be decided at that time. You should therefore consider yourself suspended from school pending further inquiries.

With best wishes,
Yours sincerely,

Mafalda Hopkirk

Improper Use of Magic Office
Ministry of Magic



Snape exhaled. “I’m not definitely expelled,” he reported to the others. “They’ll decide at the hearing. And they’re not going to take my wand.”

“Thank God they’ve come round,” exclaimed Eileen. “And we’ll make sure they come all the way round. Won’t we, Professor?”

“I will be present at Severus’ hearing on the twenty-second as a witness for the defense, and you may rest assured that I will do all I can to support him in his case,” said Dumbledore to Eileen. “I have also informed the Ministry that you saw everything that happened tonight, and can appear as a witness yourself.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Eileen gratefully. Snape, for his part, had too many conflicting feelings to allow for speech at all.

“Why don’t you call me as a witness?” demanded Tobias. “My account’s as valid as anyone else’s. More so, as I’m the one who was attacked!”

“You are perfectly free to appear in that capacity,” said Dumbledore calmly, “if you have suddenly become convinced that the wizarding world is capable of the legitimate administration of justice. But I suspect your testimony would be thrown out on the basis of your demonstrable ignorance about our world, and of your clear hostility toward your son.”

At this, Tobias again began struggling to move toward Dumbledore, but he remained blocked by the same unseen barrier.

“Good night, and I hope that you can all three stay away from trouble in the future,” said Dumbledore. He walked quietly to the door and closed it behind him.

“What a colossal nerve,” muttered Tobias, and stalked out of the room. In a few moments Snape heard the door of the upstairs bedroom slam.

“You see, Severus?” said Eileen. “You’re going to be all right. In a case like this, Dumbledore is the most powerful ally you could have.”

Snape was silent. He simultaneously felt deep gratitude toward Dumbledore, and disgust at his own beholdenness to the headmaster.

“Are you angry with me?” he said at last.

“A little,” said Eileen, and looked stern for a moment. But the next moment she smiled – a rare and incongruous expression to see on his mother’s face these days. “But it doesn’t matter. Severus, a Patronus at fifteen! I could never manage one at all, not even at my strongest. Think how much it could have helped me. Think how much it’s going to help you. You’ve no idea how good I feel, knowing that you have one.”

“I don’t even know what it was,” Snape confessed. His mood, however, had already started to lift a little. He did feel proud of himself, in spite of everything.

Eileen smiled again, even more broadly. “Don’t you? That’s almost the best part! It was a wolverine, Severus.”

“A wolverine? What is that?” asked Snape, though he liked the sound of the word. “It looked like some kind of weird shrunken bear.”

“A small, but very fierce, defensive animal," said Eileen. "An excellent thing to have for a Patronus. A wolverine will protect you no matter what.”

“Good,” said Snape. “I might need it.”
 
* * *

A few minutes later, Snape sent Pascal to the Evans’ house with a note.


Lily,

I have good news and bad news. The good news is I conjured a Patronus. The bad news is that the Ministry expelled me from Hogwarts for it.

I know it’s late, but could I come over?

Severus



The reply came back in less than five minutes.


Sev,

I really wish we were old enough to Apparate! Start walking in the direction of the playground, and I’ll meet you halfway.

Lily



Lily was already waiting by the entrance when he arrived at the playground. When he told her what had happened, she was horrified at Tobias’ behavior and fully indignant on Snape’s behalf.

“What were you supposed to have done, let him hit her?” demanded Lily, as they walked past the swings and sat down on a bench. “What would the Ministry have done, I’d like to know? Anyway, when you think about it, it was probably the best thing you could’ve done.”

“Do you think so?” asked Snape, relieved. He knew how much Lily herself wanted to produce a Patronus; they had practiced trying to do it together at Hogwarts late in the last term. Nevertheless, he had been a bit worried about her reaction to the news of his ill-timed success in conjuring one; these days she seemed to disapprove of any defensive spell or hex he was practicing that fell outside their Defence Against the Dark Arts coursework. Snape regarded such extracurricular spells as additional insurance against attack, and simply smart defensive strategy. Lily, however, seemed to think that practicing them when a situation of need was absent constituted aggression, not defense; furthermore, she felt that many of them were gratuitously mean. Snape argued that spells had to be practiced well before a moment of need arose, and if these particular spells happened to require human targets, that was not his fault. As for meanness, did Lily really think kind and gentle spells would be effective in a battle?

“Yes,” replied Lily firmly to his question. “What you did was nonviolent, yet effective. It didn’t hurt Tobias, but it did make him stop.” (Snape had not referred to his father as anything but “Tobias” – or, when addressing him directly, “you”—for several years now, and the habit had rubbed off on Lily.)

“I mean, think of all the things you could have done!” she added. “He’s lucky you didn’t hex him. You are the last wizard in the world I would want to get hexed by.”

If there had been no law against underage hexing or cursing, Snape thought, he would have been more than happy to try either against Tobias; it had only been the resemblance of that real-life situation to his dream, he realized, that had put the Patronus charm into his mind ahead of other means of retaliation. If the truth were told, Snape had not been gratified to see his father get to his feet again uninjured after the Patronus attack; the version of events that had taken place in his dream had been much more satisfying. But the admiring tone in Lily’s voice just now, when she praised his nonviolent tactics, had thrilled him. He was not about to say anything to interfere with her suddenly elevated opinion of him.

“I didn’t even think about hexes,” Snape said, truthfully enough. “I just wanted him to stop what he was doing and never do it again.”

Lily looked grave. “I can’t believe he really did that to your mum.” She touched his arm in a clear gesture of sympathy; he flushed with a combination of embarrassment and pleasure, and turned his eyes to the pavement.

“Anyway, it just seems stupid of them to punish you for this – if anything, they should cite you for merit!” Lily went on. “I mean, it’s a Patronus, for Merlin’s sake! If you’d done it in school, Hobbes would be kissing your arse.”

“I don’t think Hobbes is capable of eating solid food at the moment, let alone kissing my arse,” said Snape. Their fourth-year Defence Against the Dark Arts professor had nearly died in a freak accident during the final Quidditch match of the year, when a rogue Bludger had flown into the stands and struck him in the head, causing him to lose his footing and fall several hundred feet from the stands to the pitch below. He had broken over half the bones in his body – including, most grievously, his skull, which had suffered multiple fractures.

A team of specialists at St. Mungo’s had managed to save his life, but Professor Hobbes was expected to be laid up in hospital for several months while his doctors assessed him for possible brain damage, and he was certainly not expected to return for the fall term. (“Another one bites the dust,” had been Snape’s blasé response when he and Lily read the latter announcement in the Daily Prophet; they had now had four Defence teachers in as many years, and had half expected something like this to happen.) The Department of Magical Law Enforcement was still trying to find out who had placed the curse on the obviously enchanted Bludger.

“Poor Hobbes. You’d think he’d never taught us Shield Charms, for all the good they did him, said Lily, shaking her head. “Anyway, I’m dead jealous of you. I wish I were in a position to get in this kind of trouble.”

“You’re really close, Lily,” said Snape. “You were as close as I was at the end of term. You’ll be able to conjure a Patronus as soon as you get back to Hogwarts, probably.” As soon as he had said this he winced. Would she be back to Hogwarts in a fortnight, without him?

“What did you think of to make it come?” she asked, all in earnest.

Snape told her about his dream, and she listened with fascination. “Well, that clinches it,” said Lily. “It was fate, obviously. Some higher power meant  for you to do this.”

“Somehow I don’t think the Ministry is going to care about higher powers,” said Snape.

“Sev, they’re not going to expel you,” said Lily. “They can’t possibly. Even if they had a case—which they don’t, because Tobias already knows about our world and isn’t about to tell anyone—Dumbledore obviously doesn’t want them to expel you, and he has more influence with the Ministry than anyone.”

“I don’t know,” mumbled Snape. “He said he’d do everything he could…I don’t know.” The feeling of cold queasiness that had engulfed him upon reading the letter came back to him again.



Chapter 3: The Hearing


Ten days later, Snape had taken the Knight Bus to the Ministry of Magic with two supporters at his side – his mother and Lily.

They arrived at the Ministry early, at a little after seven o’clock. Neither Snape nor Lily had been there before, though Snape knew that his mother had had some less than pleasant dealings with the place in the past. There were all sorts of legal complications that arose when a wizard or witch married a Muggle – mostly having to do with the maintenance of secrecy about the wizarding world by the Muggle in question and all of his or her connections. If one only notified the Ministry after one’s marriage had already taken place, as Eileen had, there were fines levied and more onerous paperwork to complete than there would have been otherwise. According to hints his mother had dropped, there was also an attitude to contend with on the part of the Ministry that such unions were second-class and doomed to failure.

Perhaps this was why Eileen, who had confidently maintained for the past few days that by hook or by crook, she would keep her son at Hogwarts, now gave short answers in a grim tone of voice to Snape and Lily’s questions as they made their way across the Atrium and had their wands registered by security.

Or perhaps, thought Snape ruefully, her bad mood was partly due to Lily’s presence. Earlier that summer, Snape had accused his mother outright of not liking Lily any more. Eileen had roundly denied it, but there was no doubt in his mind that his mother’s attitude toward his best friend had cooled over the last few years. When Eileen spoke to Lily these days, she was always polite, but she never went out of her way to make the girl feel welcome, as she once had. It was a far cry from the way Eileen had responded six years ago, when the nine-year-old Snape had come home one afternoon and told her in an excited whisper (Tobias having been home at the time), “Mum, I met a witch, and she’s my age!”

Eileen’s reciprocal excitement on hearing this news was obvious, though she responded cautiously. “Severus, it would be wonderful if you had, but there aren’t any wizarding families around for miles. Are you sure the girl you met is a witch?”

Yes, Mum!” said Snape eagerly. “She can fly!” Seeing his mother’s obvious disbelief, he amended, “Well, not exactly fly, but she jumped out of a swing when it was all the way up in the air, and made it so that she came down to the ground without hurting herself. And she made a flower open and close its petals without touching them.”

“Does she live nearby? Who are her parents?” asked Eileen, clearly gripped by Snape’s report. “Are they new to town?”

“No, they’re Muggles,” said Snape. “She didn’t even know she was a witch until I told her! It’s all right, though,” he added hastily, “she’s really nice.”

He didn’t think it would help his case to mention that the girl had a sister who was not a witch and who was not at all nice; the sister had almost ruined everything by butting into his and Lily’s private conversation about the wizarding world. He had only been able to salvage things by sending Pascal to the Evans’ house with a note of apology addressed to Lily. Included in the note were instructions on how to send him a reply, so that she could let him know if she wanted to meet again and talk more about witches and wizards. Happily, she had written back not long after, saying yes.

“You told her about us?” asked Eileen in a tone that suggested a reprimand was just around the corner. “Severus, you’ve got to careful about what you say to strangers!”

“I know, Mum!” Snape said impatiently. “But it was so obvious she was one of us, and when I explained to her about witches and wizards she liked the idea right away. She knew there was something different about her, she just didn’t know what.”

“You’ll have to invite her over someday,” said Eileen. She had every appearance of enthusiasm about the prospect; but when, two days later, Snape did bring Lily over, he was surprised to find his mother flustered by her sudden visit. “I wish you’d told me you were bringing her over today,” she told her son in an undertone. “The house is in such a state!”

Nevertheless, Eileen was initially delighted to meet Lily. She spoke to her kindly, and answered an endless stream of questions from the girl about Muggles and owls and Hogwarts, not just with patience, but with animated enthusiasm. Snape had been a little nervous about what his mother might say to Lily on the subject of Muggles, but Eileen was quite tactful, telling her that talented witches and wizards could be born to any kind of parents, and that the wizarding world was full of successful and respected Muggle-borns. She told both Snape and Lily, too, how glad she was that they had met each other and become friends.

The first pall on Eileen’s approval of Lily had come during the Christmas holidays of the children’s first year at Hogwarts, when Snape had finally communicated to his mother a piece of information he’d been leaving out of his letters all term: his best friend had been sorted into Gryffindor, not Slytherin.

“Gryffindor?” repeated Eileen, a crease appearing in her forehead. “But she’s so clever and sly! And charming, too – the girl could talk anyone into anything. She’s the rare Muggle-born who might have been at home in Slytherin. If she were to end up anywhere else, I’d have figured it to be Ravenclaw. But Gryffindor! That’s very odd.”

Snape, distressed by his mother’s obvious disapproval, protested, “Mum, not all Gryffindors are bad!” This statement contradicted everything he had ever been taught, but for Lily’s sake and his own, he had to believe it was true.

“Perhaps not,” said Eileen; but Snape could tell she was not convinced.

Ever since then, Eileen had seemed a little less pleased to see Lily every time she came home at Christmas or for the summer, to the point at which Lily herself had asked Snape, “Is your mum mad at me? Did I do something to offend her?”

“No, of course not,” said Snape, discomfited.

“She acts like she’s not exactly thrilled to see me,” said Lily. “And she doesn’t talk to me the way she used to.”

Snape could see she had already spotted the truth, and that there was no use trying to deny it.

“I know,” he said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with her. You haven’t done anything.” He decided to share with her a theory he had privately formed about Eileen’s behaviour. “If you ask me, I think she’s jealous of you.”

“Why would she be jealous of me?” asked Lily, astonished.

“Because you’re pretty and she’s not,” said Snape. There was more to it than this – Lily had a personal attractiveness that went beyond looks, a kind of magnetism that Eileen was completely without. But Snape did not know how to put this into words that would make sense to Lily, and anyway, it would have made him very self-conscious to tell her something like that.

“But that would be so silly!” said Lily. “I’m a girl and she’s a grown woman. You can’t even compare us in that way. Anyway, there are a lot of people who’d find what you just said hilarious. Christopher Craven came up to me one day in the library last term, wearing dark glasses for no reason whatsoever. I said, “Why are you wearing those?” and he said that without them the glare from my ghostly white skin would blind him.”

“Christopher Craven is the stupidest person in all of Hufflepuff,” said Snape, “and that’s saying something. Also, he obviously he has a crush on you.”

Lily snorted at this.

“Anyway,” finished Snape, “the problem’s all on my mum’s side. I don’t really know why she’s being stupid. It’s not your fault; you’re as nice to her as you’ve always been.”

And Lily had continued to be so, right up to the present moment. In the lift, she kept saying encouraging things to Eileen about the flimsiness of the Ministry’s case against Snape and the help that Dumbledore’s support would provide. When she praised Snape’s magical abilities in almost the same words that Eileen herself had used – a Patronus at fifteen! – Snape thought he sensed his mother relenting toward her a little.

They took the lift to the second level of the Ministry, where the Department of Magical Law Enforcement was located. They were to report first to the Improper Use of Magic Office for the details of where Snape’s hearing would be held.

The reception area was presided over by a witch in her early thirties with brown wispy hair. She was almost as short and slight as a child – or perhaps she only appeared so, dwarfed as she was by several tottering stacks of files that framed her desk.

Eileen paused and squinted at the wispy-haired witch. “Mafalda?” she asked in an uncertain voice, coming forward. The witch behind the desk looked up, momentarily confused; then recognition appeared in her face.

“Eileen Prince, isn’t it?” said the wispy-haired witch. “My goodness! How have you been?” Her voice quickly assumed a note of heartiness; nevertheless, it seemed to Snape that the witch named Mafalda was not entirely glad to see his mother.

“Actually, it’s been Eileen Snape for a good many years now,” said Eileen.The insincere heartiness was now audible on both sides of the conversation. “In fact, a good fifteen! This is my son Severus,” she added, bringing Snape forward, “and this is his friend Lily. Severus, Lily, this is Mafalda—is it still Hopkirk?” asked Eileen, sounding a little too satisfied at the possibility.

“It is, I’m afraid,” said the latter, who did not look very happy to be reminded of the fact.

Changing tack and tone abruptly, Eileen continued, “Mafalda was Hufflepuff’s best Gobstones player when we were at Hogwarts.” Snape immediately suspected this was an exaggeration, but Mafalda’s eyes lit up at the praise. “You still play, I hope?” asked Eileen, the flattery audible in her voice.

“I do, as a matter of fact!” said the other witch; and here her enthusiasm seemed quite genuine. “There’s an adult league that meets once a week after work at the Department of Magical Games and Sports—“

“How wonderful,” interrupted Eileen. “Mafalda, I wonder if you could help us out a just a bit. Severus is here today for a hearing – could you tell us where it is, and give us a little hint about who the judges are?” She made this announcement about the hearing almost proudly, as if Snape were there to receive an award rather than a punishment.

“Oh, they don’t even tell us who’ll be present for each hearing, apart from the lead judge,” said Mafalda. “That’s all quite secret, you know. But the boy’s hearing will be held in the office of the seniormost judge assigned to his case. They’ll let us know who that is a few minutes before the hearing starts.”

“Oh, but you clearly have access to the files!” said Eileen, gesturing at the teetering stacks that surrounded Mafalda. “Surely you wouldn’t mind checking them to see who’ll be discussing Severus’ case with us?” she hinted.

Discussing? thought Snape with a cringe of discomfort. She was making it sound as if they were there for a pleasant, civilized negotiation involving some minor misunderstanding on the Ministry’s part. Snape assumed Eileen wanted the information about the judges so that she could coach him on how best to ingratiate himself with them; but given the level of success she was presently having in ingratiating herself with such a lowly person as Mafalda Hopkirk, Snape thought he might do better going into the hearing blind and ignorant.

“Oh, you overestimate my power here, Eileen!” exclaimed Mafalda. “They’ll let us know soon enough, I don’t doubt. In the meantime, why don’t you and Severus and his friend have a seat over there?” she added, indicating a row of rather hard-looking wooden chairs against the opposite wall. Eileen, seeming to sense that this particular well had run dry, did as she was asked, and Snape and Lily followed.

They were kept waiting for over half an hour, during which time Snape felt a rising sense of panic. Lily kept up an ongoing stream of whispered conversation on other topics, obviously intended to keep his mind off the coming ordeal, but to little avail. Snape could not sit comfortably, and kept changing his position, but it was as if his chair had had some kind of discomfort hex placed upon it.

Finally he got up, went over to Mafalda Hopkirk’s desk, and said, “Look, my hearing’s at eight o’clock. It’s five minutes to eight, and we still don’t know where to go—”

At that precise moment, a piece of lavender parchment, folded into a shape resembling that of a Muggle paper airplane, whizzed past Snape’s ear and landed in Mafalda Hopkirk’s hands. She opened it, read it and looked up in alarm. “They’ve just told me your hearing is in Courtroom Five!” she said. “This is most irregular, I don’t know why they’ve done it. But you’d better go down as fast as you can, they won’t look kindly on your turning up late!”

“Courtroom Five!” cried Eileen. “Where the hell is Courtroom Five?” exclaimed Snape almost simultaneously.

“Down on Level Ten,” said Mafalda. “But the lift only goes down as far as Level Nine; you’ll need to take the stairs from there. Hurry!”

Snape, Eileen and Lily left the office immediately. They would have broken into a run, but Eileen would not have been able to keep pace with the other two, so they settled for an anxious, frustrated trot.

The ride down to Level Nine felt four times as long as their journey from the Atrium up to Level Two on the way in, though they were only going one floor further in the opposite direction. As they hurried out of the lift and looked around frantically for the stairs, they caught sight of a broadly built witch with short brown hair who turned to the left ahead of them and disappeared; from the echoes of her receding steps, they could tell that she had entered a stairwell.

They followed her down to the next level, where they found that their surroundings suddenly resembled a medieval prison more than a center of administration. The walls were of stone; the doors were of heavy wood and iron, like the drawbridge to a castle; and torches in brackets on the walls provided the only light. Striding quickly forward ahead of them, as if she were in just as much of a hurry as they were, was the short-haired witch. She opened a door halfway down the corridor and vanished, but as they came closer, the witch suddenly re-emerged with a wizard in tow – an older man with a military bearing and an aggravated, impatient expression. Eileen gasped, and Snape and Lily immediately turned to look at her.

“Barty Crouch!” she exclaimed. “He’s the head of the Department of Law Enforcement. He’s not here for you, Severus, surely!”

Snape felt his nervousness intensify at this possibility. He had heard a good deal about Barty Crouch, partly because his son, Barty Jr., was at Hogwarts, two classes below Snape’s. If the rumours circulating among the students were to be believed, Crouch was a harsh disciplinarian and a crusader against anything even faintly tainted with Dark magic. He was not likely to be a lenient judge in a case like Snape’s.

They could hear the witch and wizard speaking to each other now, their voices carried down the corridor by the cavelike acoustics of the place.

“Barty, why has the venue changed?” the witch was asking; she sounded none too pleased. “The memo arrived all of two minutes ago, so naturally I’m late. Is this your idea?”

“It was Dolores’, actually,” said Crouch, “but quite a good one, I think. It can’t hurt to give underage offenders a taste of what real courtrooms and trials are like. Deterrence, you know.”

“Perhaps,” said the witch, though she sounded skeptical. “But who is Dolores?”

“My new assistant,” said Crouch. “Only with me a week, but she’s full of ideas. Anyway, don’t upset yourself, Amelia. The boy we’re trying is late too, so no one’s the wiser.”

The witch turned at the sound of their approaching footsteps. “This may be him now.” Raising her voice, she called out, “Severus Snape?”

“Yes,” said Snape, and his voice cracked so that the word was almost inaudible. “Yes,” he repeated in a stronger, louder tone. “Is that Courtroom Five?’ As they drew even with the door, he saw the answer to his question on the wall: an oval brass plaque engraved with a large numeral “5.”

“Yes,” said the witch. “This is Bartemius Crouch, the Head of the Department of Law Enforcement, and I am Amelia Bones,” she continued, as Crouch protested in an undertone, “He can hear all that when we’re inside, Amelia.”

Amelia Bones continued in formal, even tones, “We will be hearing your case today, along with three other judges. Please come inside.” And she opened the door and motioned for Snape, Eileen and Lily to pass through.

The room beyond the door was a little like a Quidditch pitch: high, curved benches surrounded the circular floor on all sides. But here there was no sunlight, nor were there any spectators, other than the three judges already seated near the center of the opposite bench and the two who were moving to join them – no, that was not quite all, Snape now saw: seated on another bench just to his left, so still and silent as to be almost invisible, was Albus Dumbledore.

Despite the moments of conflict Snape had had with the headmaster during his time at Hogwarts, he felt a rush of relief and gratitude at seeing Dumbledore there, calm and implacable, his hands folded in his lap. The headmaster turned to acknowledge him then, saying, “Good morning, Severus. How are you feeling?”

Snape did not particularly want to reinforce his state of mind by describing it, so he replied, “I don’t know.”

“That is natural,” said Dumbledore. “I will not try to tell you not to be nervous; it will do no good. But screw your courage to the sticking-place, as a great Muggle playwright says, and all may yet turn out well. Good morning, Eileen,” he added to Snape’s mother behind him, who nodded rather tensely in response. “And Lily,” the headmaster continued, as the latter stepped up to stand next to Snape. “I’m glad to see you here.”

“Hello, Professor,” said Lily, smiling at Dumbledore – the two of them had always got on well, rather to Snape’s irritation. Her tone then changed abruptly as she demanded, “They’re not going to expel him, are they?”

“Not if my testimony can be of any use,” said Dumbledore. “We will see.”

At that moment, Barty Crouch spoke in a peeved voice from the high bench opposite, where he now sat with Amelia Bones and the three other judges: “The accused will now take his seat so we can begin.” It was an order, not a request.

Crouch gestured toward a large chair that sat alone in the middle of the floor. Snape noticed that its armrests bore metal chains, and blanched. It reminded him of the electric chairs in which Muggles placed their most hardened criminals for execution – Snape had seen one in a Muggle film once and never forgotten it. He sometimes pointed to such things as evidence of Muggle barbarism, but it now seemed that those devices might have counterparts in the wizarding world.

“Sev, good luck,” said Lily, and without warning she hugged him quickly, then turned to follow Eileen, who had sat down on the bench just in front of Dumbledore’s. Quite disoriented by Lily’s spontaneous display of affection, Snape stumbled toward the chair in the middle of the floor. He sat down nervously and placed his hands very consciously in his lap.

“Put your arms on the armrests, boy,” intoned Crouch. There was no choice but to obey, and when Snape did so the chains jingled themselves alarmingly, as if restless to be put into use. But in the end they did not bind him – not for now, at least.

Snape raised his head. The judges were now above his eye level, seated together in the center of the first bench in front of him. Just below the ledge where they rested their hands and their paperwork, another oval brass plaque engraved with the numeral “5” was hung, as if the room itself was providing a reminder that these five people held his fate and his future in their hands.

“Disciplinary hearing of the twenty-second of August,” Crouch announced, “into offenses committed under the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery by Severus Tiberius Snape, resident at number ninety-four, Spinners End, Lower Bury, Greater Manchester.

“Interrogators: Bartemius Crouch, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement; Amelia Bones, Specialist of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement; Pius Thicknesse, Junior Member of the Department of Law Enforcement; Gawain Robards, Senior Member of the Auror Office; and Herbert Ogden, Head of the Magical Law Enforcement Squad.

“The charges against the accused are as follows: That he did knowingly, deliberately, and in full awareness of the illegality of his actions, produce a Patronus Charm in a Muggle-inhabited area, in the presence of a Muggle, on August the twelfth at three minutes past seven in the evening, which constitutes an offense under paragraph C of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery, 1875, and also under section thirteen of the International Confederation of Wizards’ Statute of Secrecy.

“You are Severus Tiberius Snape, of number ninety-four, Spinner’s End, Lower Bury, Greater Manchester?” asked Barty Crouch.

“Excuse me, Barty,” put in Dumbledore before Snape could even open his mouth, “but before you begin questioning Severus, might I ask the court to recognize the presence of two witnesses for the defense?”

“They will be recognized at such time as they are called to speak, Dumbledore,” said Crouch irritably, “as you well know.”

“I am aware that that is your standard procedure,” replied Dumbledore calmly. “However, I have seen enough hearings of this kind to know that a hearing may be over before the judges see fit to call a witness to speak, and that it is sometimes difficult for witnesses to get a word in edgewise. Therefore, if you have no objection, would you mind recognizing us now?”

Barty Crouch paused, grimacing in obvious displeasure. “Very well,” he finally replied.

“Thank you,” said Dumbledore. “If I may save the judges a bit of time, I will introduce us both.”

“Go on, then,” said Crouch impatiently.

“I, as you know, am Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, present headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry,” said Dumbledore. “I am acquainted with Severus in that capacity and know something of his history and character. Here just in front of me is someone who knows the boy even better – his mother, Eileen Snape, whom I also know from her time as a student at Hogwarts.”

“Your presences are duly noted,” said Pius Thicknesse drily, speaking for the first time. “But who is this girl?” he asked, pointing a finger at Lily.

“Lily Evans, sir,” she said promptly, springing to her feet. “I’m Severus’ friend, and we’re in the same class at Hogwarts. I’m mostly here for moral support, but I’d be happy to serve as a character witness if you need me to. I’ve known him since we were nine.” Snape flushed with gratitude at this display, and tried to catch Lily’s eye, but Thicknesse was already monopolizing her attention.

“I was not addressing you,” he told her superciliously. “If you don’t wish to hurt the boy’s chances, do not speak to this court out of turn.”

“Sorry,” said Lily in a characteristic tone that somehow managed to combine respect and irreverence; she often used it to great effect on her teachers at Hogwarts. She sat down again.

“And now,” announced Barty Crouch with barely contained sarcasm, “if the witnesses feel themselves sufficiently acknowledged, I will resume where I left off when I was interrupted.”

“By all means, Barty,” said Dumbledore cheerfully. “Thank you for your courtesy.”

Crouch turned his eyes from Dumbledore back to Snape. “You are Severus Tiberius Snape, of number ninety-four, Spinner’s End, Lower Bury, Greater Manchester?” he asked again.

“Yes,” Snape said.

“Did you, in fact, conjure a Patronus on the night of the twelfth of August?”

“Yes, but—” began Snape.

“Knowing that you are not permitted to use magic outside school while you are under the age of seventeen?”

“Yes, but—” said Snape again.

“Knowing that you were in an area full of Muggles, and fully aware that you were in close proximity to a Muggle at the time?”

“Yes,” said Snape, becoming angry at these interruptions, “but I only conjured it in self-defense, and the Muggle in question was my father.”

A murmur sprang up between Gawain Robards and Herbert Ogden as Barty Crouch rejoined sharply, “Do you think that what you did is therefore any less against the law? Does the fact that he was your father make him any less a Muggle?”

Before Snape could even reply, Amelia Bones put in, “That fact may indeed have a bearing on this boy’s case. There is a distinction between Muggles who are legally bound to our world by marriage, and have submitted themselves to the Secrecy Charm in return for the privilege, and more distant family relations who cannot be so bound and must be constantly monitored for breaches of secrecy.”

“Rather a hairsplitting distinction, Amelia,” said Crouch in a cross voice. “The fact remains that magic performed by underage wizards or witches outside of Hogwarts is a violation of the two laws I have already named, and carries punishment with it accordingly.”

“In the case of the Underage Sorcery law, yes, that is true,” said Amelia Bones. “But if the Muggle witness was his father, section thirteen of the International Confederation of Wizards’ Statute of Secrecy has not been violated.”

“That has not been proven,” retorted Crouch. “The Secrecy Charm is not infallible. If the union between a Muggle and a witch or wizard weakens, so may the Charm.”

“That is another circumstance which may have a bearing here,” replied Amelia Bones neutrally. “Boy,” she said, turning to Snape, “you conjured the Patronus in self-defense, you say. Can you explain what you mean by that?”

Snape paused and looked at his mother. Eileen looked steadily back at him, tight-lipped and obviously uncomfortable. “I conjured the Patronus to defend myself and my mother against my father,” he said carefully.

“Eileen Snape!” said Crouch loudly, and Snape’s mother jumped in her seat. “What portion of these events involving your son did you witness?”

“All of them, Mr. Crouch,” said Eileen. Her voice sounded weak, as if from disuse.

“So you do not deny that your son committed this breach of underage magical law,” said Thicknesse.

“No, I do not,” said Eileen, her voice sounding a bit stronger now.

“What did your father do to make you feel you needed to defend yourself?” asked Gawain Robards, looking at Snape.

“He was drunk and behaving violently,” said Snape, keeping his wording as vague as possible.

“Violently how?” asked Amelia Bones.

“He kicked me in the stomach,” said Snape, not wanting to bring his mother into this unless he had to.

“Eileen Snape, is this true? Did your husband kick his own son?” asked Barty Crouch.

“Yes, I’m afraid he did,” said Eileen softly. “And quite hard, too.”

Pius Thicknesse actually laughed at this. “I suppose you are both aware that there is a loophole in underage magical law providing for the use of magic in cases where an underage wizard’s life is at stake,” he said. “Are the two of you seriously contending that by kicking this boy in the stomach, his father was putting his life at risk?"

“No,” said Snape, then corrected himself rather defiantly: “I don’t know. He was drunk and out of control. There was no telling what he might’ve done next. I did the only thing I could think of at the time to stop him from hurting us any further.”

Herbert Ogden said, “It seems to me that in trying to conjure a Patronus to defend yourself, you were taking rather a gamble. You’re quite young for that sort of magic; I can’t imagine you’d done it before.”

“No,” Snape confirmed. “I’d tried before, but this was the first time I actually conjured one.”

“So you couldn’t be sure beforehand that it would work,” said Gawain Robards.

“No,” said Snape. “But I figured trying was better than standing there and doing nothing.”

“What happened after you conjured the Patronus?” asked Amelia Bones, who was listening with great interest.

“It sort of…tackled my father,” said Snape. “It leapt on top of him and subdued him, but it didn’t actually injure him. He got right up afterward.”

“Eileen Snape, is this true?” asked Pius Thicknesse.

“Yes, sir,” said Eileen.

“Your husband was attacked by the Patronus, but not seriously injured?” continued Thicknesse skeptically.

“He was knocked down, yes, but I don’t believe he was injured at all,” said Eileen. “As my son says, he got up right away when the Patronus had gone.”

“I can confirm that part of the story as well,” put in Dumbledore. “I visited the Snapes at their home perhaps half an hour after the incident. I saw Tobias Snape up and walking about, and he was feeling well enough to be quite argumentative.”

“Nobody asked you, Dumbledore,” said Thicknesse.

“Nevertheless, I am telling you,” said Dumbledore amiably.

“A Patronus attacking a human being?” said Crouch. “I never heard of such a thing. Patronuses aren’t violent, in my experience – they ward things off just by being there.”

“Boy, are you sure what you saw was a Patronus?” asked Thicknesse, who was eyeing Snape with skepticism and disdain.

“Of course I’m sure!” Snape burst out. “I conjured it by yelling ‘Expecto Patronum’! What else it could be?”

“What did it look like?” asked Amelia Bones.

“It was silvery and transparent,” said Snape impatiently. “It took the shape of a wolverine.”

“Fully corporeal, then,” said Robards, sounding almost pleased.

“That means it took a definite shape,” Ogden put in helpfully for Snape’s benefit. “Rather than looking like a wisp of cloud or something.”

Snape was insulted. “I know what ‘corporeal’ means, and yes, it was a corporeal Patronus,” he said irritably. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Lily grinning. Then Thicknesse turned his head in her direction and the grin instantly vanished.

“This is most interesting,” said Amelia Bones. Robards and Odgen both nodded in agreement.

“I still don’t understand how this Patronus could attack your father,” said Crouch, looking at Snape with obvious mistrust. “Did you order it to do that?”

“No, of course not,” said Snape. “I don’t think Patronuses even take orders, do they?”

“Not verbal ones,” said Crouch. “Yet they do respond to their conjurers’ nonverbal wishes. This suggests that you did in fact wish harm to be done to your father. Did you?”

“But how can you even ask that?” exclaimed Lily suddenly, startling everyone. “The fact that his father wasn’t harmed proves the opposite, doesn’t it?”

“You are not a witness, and no one has asked for your opinion,” said Thicknesse, his voice loud and contemptuous. “Kindly keep quiet until someone does ask!”

Lily said no more, but folded her arms across her chest in a manner that indicated her surrender was only temporary.

“I have a question for the judges,” put in Dumbledore quietly. “Is Severus on trial this morning for what he might have wished to do, or for what he actually did? I venture to suggest that if we were each of us in this room to be tried on the basis of our wishes, none of us would escape imprisonment in Azkaban.”

The room was silent for a moment. Then Barty Crouch said adamantly, “The boy is on trial for his actions in violation of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery. We are here to decide whether those actions, which all the relevant witnesses agree did take place, constitute sufficient grounds for his expulsion from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. At which place, I might add, he has a reputation for unparalleled knowledge of the Dark Arts!”

“How would you know that? What’s it got to do with you?” exclaimed Snape. This insinuation on Crouch’s part seemed to him completely unfair and below-the-belt. Lily seemed to think so too; she had raised her hand in the air and was waving it insistently.

“Indeed, Barty,” said Dumbledore. “How would you know that?”

“My son is a student there,” said Crouch. “Long before this hearing I had heard him mention this boy as the resident Dark Arts expert of Hogwarts.”

“He doesn’t even know me!” exclaimed Snape. “He’s not in my year, we’re not in classes together and we’re definitely not friends.” Snape had always found Barty Crouch, Jr., odd and rather suspicious. He was a Gryffindor who hung round Slytherins, which was strange enough; and those he tried to befriend were almost all much older than himself. Snape thought he must be a suck-up at best, and at worst, perhaps, some sort of informer for his father.

“He doesn’t need to know you,” said Crouch. “Your reputation has preceded you.”

“Are you trying young offenders based on reputation these days, Barty?” asked Dumbledore.

“The people your son hangs around with aren’t so heroic themselves!” Snape burst out. “There are plenty of people familiar with the Dark Arts in his circle, I can tell you that much.” He saw that Lily, frustrated at being ignored, had stood up with her hand still raised, though she remained perfectly silent.

“You will hardly win points for yourself by impugning my son,” said Crouch hotly. “You are on trial here, not he. Lying about him cannot help you.”

“I’m not lying,” said Snape.

It was Robards who finally acknowledged Lily. “Yes, miss?” he asked.

“Conjuring a Patronus is not practicing the Dark Arts, it’s the opposite!” Lily exclaimed. “You conjure a Patronus to defend yourself from Dark things!”

Now that someone had pointed this out, the truth of it seemed self-evident. In the rather embarrassed silence that now fell over the courtroom, Snape tried again to catch Lily’s eye. This time he succeeded, and she gave him a look and a shrug that seemed to say, “What kind of idiots are these people?” For the first time since entering the courtroom, Snape smiled; Lily, having made her point, sat down.

“Lily is correct, of course,” said Dumbledore, “as are you, Barty. Your son’s behavior at Hogwarts, as you say, is not relevant to this inquiry. Nor is Severus’ behavior there relevant. The Ministry has no authority to punish Hogwarts students for offenses committed at school. That is my domain.”

“Of course it is,” said Crouch. “But his behavior at school does have a bearing on his character, and his character has a bearing on this hearing.”

“Professor Dumbledore,” interjected Robards, “as the boy’s headmaster, what is your opinion of his character?”

Dumbledore paused contemplatively; the pause was long enough for Snape to think of the many damning things the headmaster might say when he opened his mouth.

“My personal opinion is of less value than what material evidence and records can show of Severus’ character,” said Dumbledore. “I will not attempt to deny that he has been in trouble a good many times for offences which, though minor in themselves, form what I consider to be a rather worrying pattern. He also appears to have formed some friendships at Hogwarts that appear to me to be unfortunate ones; these may have a negative influence on his life, perhaps a lasting one.

“On the other hand, Severus is both highly intelligent and a diligent student, as his marks and his teachers will attest. His magical abilities are already exceptional. He is only fifteen, and his character is hardly fully formed, nor would I feel comfortable judging him on the basis of some of the people he associates with – who are themselves still capable of change, of course. I might ask you, Barty: who among us would wish to be permanently judged on the basis of the friends we made in our youth?”

Suddenly Eileen stood up. “Don’t expel my son!” she exclaimed. “He was only trying to defend me. His father – my husband -- is a violent man. He’s kept his violent impulses in check for many years, because I was a witch and he knew I had powers greater than his. Now I’m ill and losing my magic. I’ve lost the greater part of it already, and the day will soon come that it’s entirely gone. My husband is getting ready for that day. He knows that soon he’ll be able to attack me and I’ll have no magic to defend myself. Severus was trying to stop that day from coming. He was trying to show his father that even when I do lose my magic, he won’t be able to get away with hurting me. How can you blame my son for that?”

The whole room had fallen silent. Everyone was staring at Eileen except Dumbledore, who had tactfully withdrawn his eyes.

“Severus conjured the Patronus that night because his father hit me,” continued Eileen, and several people in the room gasped. “He tried first to defend me with his bare hands, but he couldn’t. He’s still a boy; his father must weigh four stone more than Severus does. He couldn’t fend his father off that way, so he conjured the Patronus. How dare you judge him for that?” She sat down again abruptly, but continued moving her eyes around the room nervously, as if looking for a safe place to rest them. Finally she turned them toward her lap.

“Eileen, you have no reason to fear,” said Dumbledore, and she raised her head again. “The Ministry does not have the power to expel Hogwarts students.”

What?!” exclaimed Snape. “They don’t?”

“Barty, as I reminded you on the night of the tenth of August,” said Dumbledore, “absent a truly grievous charge, only a vote by the Hogwarts staff, including myself, has the power to expel a student. Nor does the Ministry have the right to confiscate wands until charges have been successfully brought, as I also pointed out to you that night. Your zeal for law enforcement is commendable, but you appear to me to be extending that zeal to laws which are not yours to enforce.”

“Not ours to enforce!” cried Crouch. “I’ll have you know, I had my assistant research the exact wording of the laws in question, and she’s very thorough—” He broke off, opening the file that lay in front of him and frantically rifling through the papers within.

“If they don’t have the right to expel me, then why the hell am I here?” demanded Snape. He was torn between tremulous hope and complete outrage. Eileen and Lily turned to one another in confusion, then to the judges, then back to Dumbledore.

“You are here because the Ministry does have the power to discipline you for performing underage magic, though expulsion is not one of their disciplinary options,” said Dumbledore.

“You could have told me that!” shouted Snape. “I’ve been worried sick!”

“Silence!” ordered Crouch furiously. “We certainly have the right to charge you with contempt of court if you continue making these sorts of outbursts; even Dumbledore will concede that.”

“I will indeed, Barty,” said Dumbledore. “Perhaps, Severus,” the headmaster continued quietly, “it has not been such a bad thing for you to consider the possibility of losing your place at Hogwarts. Although this particular youthful offense does not carry that penalty, there are certainly others that would. I have sometimes feared that if you continue in your current direction in life, the loss of Hogwarts might become more than a philosophical question for you to consider.”

Snape could not speak; he felt as if his head was about to explode. He sat silently in the chair, torn and trembling with conflicting emotions. He kept staring at the oval brass plaque that bore the numeral “5.” Everything important came in fives: Courtroom Five, five judges, year five of his Hogwarts career, five horrible new hexes he would invent to cast upon Dumbledore…

Amelia Bones, who had been consulting her own files and had not spoken for several minutes, suddenly said, “I believe I have heard all I need to cast a vote in this case, unless the witnesses have anything else to add.” She looked around the room. Eileen, like her son, seemed to have been stunned into silence, but she shook her head.

Dumbledore said, “No, Amelia, I have said my piece.”

Amelia Bones looked to Crouch, Robards and Ogden to her right and Thicknesse to her left. “Are the rest of you ready to vote as well?”

Robards, Ogden and Thicknesse nodded immediately. Crouch scowled. “Barty?” the witch asked.

“Yes,” the latter answered finally in a disagreeable tone.

“Those in favor of clearing the accused of the charge against him?” said Madam Bones in official tones, and paused. Snape looked up, his heart hammering in spite of himself.

She raised her own hand; Robards also raised his. Snape saw that unless someone abstained, he was going to be convicted and punished, but he scarcely cared any more. Any punishment would be bearable compared to expulsion from Hogwarts.

“Those in favor of conviction?” asked Amelia Bones, and Crouch, Thicknesse and Ogden all raised their hands.

“Severus Snape, you have been convicted of violating paragraph C of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery, 1875,” said Amelia Bones, who showed no emotion whatever at having been personally voted down. “The punishment for your offense is ten hours of community service and a fine of twenty Galleons. As you are underage, you must wait until you are back at Hogwarts to perform your community service, which may be fulfilled either at the school under supervision of the staff, or in the community of Hogsmeade."

“This inquiry is at an end,” she added, and the judges immediately rose and began to file out. Barty Crouch, in particular, looked as if he could not wait to be gone.

Snape sat completely still, staring at the ‘5’ on the plaque in front of him. He suddenly felt too exhausted even to get to his feet, let alone walk.

It was Eileen and Lily whose joint efforts uprooted him from his seat. Eileen embraced him for the second time in as many weeks, and whispered, “It’s all right, Severus. We’ll pay the fine somehow. The important thing is you’re back at school.”

When Eileen released him, Lily took her turn. Snape came out of his trance then, and flushed with delayed embarrassment. “Thank God it’s over,” Lily said. “I can’t believe Dumbledore knew all that and didn’t tell you!”

At the mention of Dumbledore’s name, Snape raised his head and looked about the courtroom, but the headmaster had already taken his leave.



Chapter 4: The Worst Summer

That hearing the previous summer had made Eileen even more wary and defensive than she had formerly been toward the Ministry of Magic. She felt sure that the whole family was already down in the Ministry's bad books, and that the best they could do was to steer clear of all unnecessary contact with the place and its representatives.

In the end, Snape did not send Pascal off with a letter to the Ministry about mending the window, though this was more in deference to his mother’s wishes than to a desire to stay on the Ministry’s good side. Instead he swept up the shards of glass with a broom, carefully removed the pieces of broken pane that were still in the window frame, and drew the shade down over the open window. Loads of insects would get in, of course, but at least the weather was warm. If all of this had happened during the winter holidays, it would have been a disaster.

Snape thought it was likely, too, that Tobias would not notice the damage for a while. The sitting room, where the broken window was, appeared not to have been used by anyone in the family for months; there was dust on every surface and three of the four bulbs in the overhead light fixture had burnt out. The television that Tobias had formerly watched there in the evenings was gone; according to Eileen, he had removed it to the upstairs master bedroom, where he had slept by himself ever since Eileen’s illness had made stair climbing difficult for her. Eileen, meanwhile, had been using the old mud room as a bedroom for some time past. She had been sleeping on a Muggle army cot until Snape had come home two Christmases ago and Transfigured the cot into a comfortable bed complete with box spring, mattress and a full set of sheets and pillows.

The dusty, unused sitting room, it turned out, was in far better shape than some other parts of the house. It was clear as Snape looked into the other rooms that between Eileen’s inability and Tobias’ unwillingness, little to no housekeeping had been done for months.

The kitchen was by far the worst. As Snape entered, Eileen trailed behind him, saying apologetically, “Severus, I’m sorry…I just can’t keep up with the mess he makes, and he never cleans up after himself.”

There were dirty dishes everywhere -- in the sink, stacked as deep as it would hold, and overflowing onto the counter and the kitchen table. It seemed, in fact, as if every dish the family owned had been dirtied and left out to sit. The dishes in the sink had at least been soaked, and looked as if they could be cleaned without too much difficulty, but most of the rest were crusted with dried food remnants that might have been hardening for weeks or months. There was mold visible on some dishes, in fact. Snape considered that Voldemort might have looked in on this scene on his way to Snape’s room, and flushed hot with shame. Hopefully, the Dark Lord had Apparated straight into the bedroom and avoided seeing the rest of the house.

Resentment rose up fiercely in Snape’s gut. “He’s disgusting!” he exclaimed. “How can he stand to live like this, even to spite you?”

“I don’t think he’s got much to live for these days,” said Eileen quietly.

“That’s his own fault,” retorted Snape. His mother made no reply.

Snape feared what he might find in the bathrooms, but the one downstairs was merely dirty, rather than noxious.

“I’ve got just enough magic left to make Mrs. Scower’s work,” explained Eileen. “I’m not strong enough to scrub, and I can’t bend down easily, but I can pour a few drops in the toilet bowl, and the stuff does quite a bit of cleaning on its own.” She added, “I can’t get to the upstairs bathroom, though. I won’t speak for what it’s like up there.” That was the bathroom closest to Snape’s own bedroom, so he would find out soon enough.

When Snape opened the door to Eileen’s room, a distressing smell of stale air and illness greeted him. It must have been a long time since the room was aired or the bedding washed, but Snape did not ask questions. He thought it would only upset his mother, and he was not sure he wanted to know the answers in any case.

It was clear that doing the laundry was a very pressing need, but cleaning the kitchen was even more so.

“What time does he usually get in?” asked Snape.

“Rarely before dark,” said Eileen. They seemed to have come to an instinctive agreement that whatever cleaning was to be done, it should be completed before Tobias’ arrival: to be caught in the act of mutinying against Tobias’ campaign of calculated filth would not do.

Snape looked around for a dishrag and soap; to his considerable relief, he found both. He ran a full basin of hot water and began doing dishes. His mother sat down at the kitchen table and talked to him quietly while he washed.

“It will be hard on you to be back, Severus,” said Eileen, “and for that I’m sorry. For myself, though, I’m glad.”

“How on earth have you been managing?” asked Snape. “What have you been eating?”

“I don’t need much, myself,” said Eileen. “I eat simple things that don’t need preparation. Bread and butter, you know, or tinned stuff. Tobias fends for himself. He eats out of his own wages, when he gets them. I don’t know what he does the rest of the time. Borrows money, maybe. I don’t ask. He doesn’t seem to be starving.”

“Obviously not,” said Snape, taking in the roomful of food-stained dishes with a glance.

“What about shopping? Are you well enough to do that?” asked Snape.

“Not very often, I’m afraid,” said Eileen. “I’m usually all right sitting, like now, but I can’t stand for more than a few minutes.”

“Don’t tell me Tobias is getting the groceries?” said Snape.

“No,” said Eileen. “The Holts next door have a ten-year-old son. I pay him a little to shop for me once a week. It’s more than I can afford, but food’s got to be got somehow. If you can get back in at Rankin’s” – this was the local market where Snape had worked the previous two summers – it would be an immense help.”

“I’ll see them tomorrow about it,” said Snape. He had hated the job and the manager there last summer, but clearly such antipathy was a luxury he could no longer afford.

Eileen’s energy gave out, and she retired to her room, well before Snape was finished doing the dishes some two hours later. He mopped his brow and leaned against the counter for a minute, surveying the still-dirty floor and tabletop.

Never before in his life had he needed magic as much as he was going to need it this summer, and at sixteen, a year away from independent adulthood, he was more helpless and restricted at home than he had been at eleven. These dishes could have been done in twenty minutes with magic, the kitchen cleaned with Mrs. Scower’s in half that time. It would be this way for the next two months; whatever housework got done here this summer would all be done by hand and by him.

He heard his own stomach rumbling and realized how hungry he was; his last meal had been the leaving breakfast at Hogwarts. Rummaging through the kitchen, he found bread and several tins of meat and made himself a sandwich. The meat tasted of chemicals, but it was the best thing on offer, and if he did not take it for himself, no doubt Tobias would.

Snape finished cleaning the kitchen and moved on to the downstairs loo. He had decided to save the laundry for the morning, as he did not want to disturb Eileen’s rest. Besides, he was exhausted.

He went upstairs and back into his room, again hoping fervently that this was the only part of the house Voldemort had seen. It was dusty in here too, but no one appeared to have disturbed the room since Snape had shut it up when he left for Hogwarts the previous September, and it was in fairly presentable shape.

He left the room and walked down the hall toward the upstairs bathroom with considerable trepidation. He was afraid he might be able to smell the place from quite a distance away, but thankfully that was not the case.

He put his head in cautiously at the open door, turned on the light, and blinked: the bathroom was clean. Not spotless: there was a stray curl of black hair in the sink, and water stains dotted the faucets. But really, it was in quite a civilized condition; he would not have been embarrassed, for instance, to have Lily see it. The contrast between this room and the kitchen was startling.

Putting that unbidden thought of Lily out of his mind, Snape went a little further down the hall and opened the door of the master bedroom. It, too, was reasonably neat. The television sat on the night table, right next to the nearer edge of the bed – presumably so that Tobias would not have to get up to change channels – but there were none of the beer bottles or lager cans that Snape might have expected to find. Curious, Snape entered the room and went round to the other side of the bed, where a rubbish bin stood underneath the other night table. He bent down: here they all were. The bin was full nearly to the rim with empty bottles and cans.

So this was how it was, thought Snape. The mess downstairs was a conscious act of aggression against Eileen; it ceased as soon as the space belonged to Tobias alone. The alcohol habit was clearly advanced, but still under enough control that Tobias could hide the physical evidence of it from himself as well as others.

Snape returned the bathroom to get ready for bed. He was no longer angry; rather, his new sense of the cold calculation of Tobias’ ongoing grudge match against his mother had changed his attitude to one of grim resolve. He went back to his room and locked the door. Almost calm now with the understanding of what he was up against, and worn out from the trials of the day, he fell asleep immediately.

He woke early the following morning, a plan for the day already formed in his mind. He would wait until Tobias left the house – according to Eileen, he was still trying to present the appearance of someone looking for work – then collect the laundry, take it out to the laundrette, bring the clean bedding back to Eileen, and leave for Rankin’s to see if they would take him on again for the summer.

Snape lingered in bed for a while, listening for the sound of Tobias moving about in his room or coming out of it, but the hall was unnaturally quiet. Eventually his bladder demanded that he get up, so with quiet, stealthy movements he slipped from his bed and out into the hall. All was still.

In the bathroom, the sink and countertop were dry. It appeared that Tobias was either still in bed or had not returned to the house the previous night at all.

Snape dressed, went downstairs and knocked softly on his mother’s door. He heard stirring within, and perhaps half a minute later she opened the door.

“Mum, you didn’t even ask who it was!” said Snape, a little worried by his mother’s incautious behaviour.

“Oh, I knew it was you, Severus,” she said calmly. “Tobias always bangs. Anyway, he didn’t come back last night. I always hear him when he comes in.”

“Does that happen often, him staying out all night?” asked Snape.

“Pretty often,” said his mother. “I don’t know where he goes.”

Snape came in, stripped the bed, and with his mother’s direction gathered the rest of the laundry that needed to be done. He tied it all up in one of the bedsheets and walked out with it. The closest laundrette was nearly half an hour away by foot, but with no car and no money to hire one, there was no other way to get there.

He set foot on the front doorstep again at a little before ten o’clock, sweating profusely. The sun was already high and bright in the sky, but even hotter was the bundle of freshly machine-dried laundry that he had shifted awkwardly from hand to hand as he walked. He had not wanted the sweat off his back to seep through his shirt to dirty the clean laundry again, but the awkwardness of every other possible carrying position had slowed his walk home significantly. He was feeling quite cross as he opened the front door, but at least this important chore had been done. He was planning to take the laundry to the now-clean kitchen table and fold it there, then have a late breakfast and set off for Rankin’s.

He was still holding the bundle of laundry in front of himself as he entered the kitchen, so he was not aware that the room was already occupied until a voice intoned mockingly, “Taken charge now you’re home, have you?”

Snape could not help jumping a little. Sitting there at the kitchen table was his father, with a plate of eggs and an open bottle of beer in front of him. Tobias snickered.

Snape recovered quickly, however. “Somebody had to,” he replied pointedly.

Tobias looked awful – paunchy and chronically ill-rested. There were several prominent new streaks of gray in his dark hair, which was as disheveled as if he had just risen from bed. Yet his expression was alert and malevolent.

“Young magician on the move, are you? Man about town and your home is your castle? Found the present state of the housekeeping intolerable for a young man of your stature, did you?”

“The present state of the housekeeping was intolerable even for a man of your stature,” said Snape. “Or should have been.”

“Blame your mother for that,” said Tobias. “She just can’t be bothered these days.”

Such a remark did not deserve the courtesy of a reply, and Snape merely fixed his father with a hard stare.

Snape knew that, for his mother’s sake, he should not goad Tobias, but the sight of his father’s face, the foul sound of his speech, were enough to make Snape dizzy with contempt. He bit his lip and said nothing as he set the bundle of laundry down by the door and moved toward the icebox. He would get something to eat and take his breakfast upstairs with the laundry.

“What’s this, then? Too good to talk to me these days, are you?” said Tobias to Snape’s back.

“Pretty much,” said Snape, without turning round. There was nothing in the icebox but beer and a few condiments.

“Why don’t you change me into a toad, then? Or is that still beyond your skill level?”

“I’d like to; you’d be much better company,” said Snape. “Unfortunately there are laws.”

“Oh, yes, laws!” exclaimed his father. “You didn’t seem to mind the law quite so much last time you were here, did you? Your little magician’s council didn’t much approve of that ridiculous transparent beaver you tried to do me in with, did they?”

“You’ve never seen a real beaver, clearly, if you think that was one,” Snape observed.

“‘Community service’!” continued Tobias with a snort. “Attempted murder with an invisible animal, and they give you community service. What’d you do, scrub out the school toilets with pixie dust? Serve soup to homeless faeries?”

“Something like that,” said Snape. In fact, he had helped plan the menu for St. Mungo’s annual charity Christmas dinner, and had also done a good deal of actual cooking on Christmas Day. He’d given up Saturdays for a month as well as Christmas Eve and Christmas itself, and grumbled about it a lot to Mulciber and Avery, but there had been moments at which he secretly enjoyed it. He had felt bad for leaving Eileen alone at Christmas, but she assured him that his time would be better spent away from home, and he couldn’t help but agree with her.

As for the twenty-Galleon fine, there was no way on earth Eileen could have paid it, so Snape had found a creative solution to the problem. They had a year to settle up with the Ministry, so he had begun brewing a batch of Felix Felicis – his first attempt – in the Room of Requirement as soon as he arrived in September, with the idea of selling it off to fellow students.

He had let the stuff stew in the Room for the better part of fifth year, bottled it in the spring, and sold small doses of it (advertised as “liquid luck”) in the Slytherin common room in the days before the final Quidditch and Gobstones matches of the year. Although he warned that it was untested, several wealthy housemates with enviable pocket money allowances had snapped up all six doses in about ten minutes, at seven Galleons a shot. (Snape did not see why he should not make an additional profit on the stuff if he could; Eileen could certainly use the extra money). One of the buyers had been the Slytherin Seeker, and Slytherin had won the final match and the Quidditch cup that year. Whether the two occurrences had any connection, however, Snape really could not say.

“Look out you don’t become a homeless faerie yourself,” Tobias said suddenly.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Snape, though he had a pretty good idea.

“Just what it sounds like,” said Tobias. “I still own this house, you know. You stay here at my discretion. I can pitch you out any time I see fit.”

Snape turned and stared intently at his father.“You co-own this house,” he corrected. He had once asked Eileen about this very matter.

“That’s only a technicality,” said Tobias. “Your mother is so incapacitated that it wouldn’t be difficult to have her legally declared such.”

“By the Muggle state, maybe,” said Snape. “But our Ministry would have something to say about it if you tried.”

This seemed to silence his father for a few moments; perhaps he was remembering the Shield Charm that Dumbledore had casually put up against him during the headmaster’s visit to the house the previous summer, and imagining an entire governing body full of people with similar powers.

But Tobias was not finished. “I see you don’t contradict the other part of what I said,” he added in a significant tone.

“I choose not to respond to it,” said Snape, who knew exactly what he was referring to, and had been prepared for this line of questioning.

“Hit the nail on the head, then, did I?” said Tobias.

“I don’t know why you’d think you know anything about it,” said Snape. “You know less about that sort of thing than anyone I’ve ever met in my life.” Far from being disturbed by the aspersions Tobias had cast on his sexual tastes, he took them as rather a compliment: if Tobias had fault to find with his son’s relations with the opposite sex, it probably meant Snape was doing something right.

“I know what I observe,” said Tobias. “And I observe that your only friend in this world is a girl. Boys whose friends are girls are generally faeries, everyone knows that.”

“None of my other friends live around here,” said Snape. “They can’t exactly drop by for tea. And even if they could,” he added pointedly, “this isn’t the kind of house I would bring a friend to.”

He spoke as coolly as he could, but in fact he was deeply disturbed: Tobias apparently knew a good deal more about Lily than Snape had thought and hoped he did.

From the beginning of his friendship with Lily, Snape’s instincts had told him to keep her away from Tobias. He had never formally introduced them to one another, and he always tried to discourage Lily from coming over at times when he knew Tobias would be home. He had not been able to prevent their occasionally glimpsing one another from a distance, but he could not recall their ever having spoken to each other. Increasingly, as things had got worse within the family, he had discouraged Lily from coming over at all; in the last few years, they had generally met at the Evanses’ house or elsewhere in the neighborhood. How Tobias had gleaned from this limited contact that Lily was his closest friend was a mystery, and also a cause for worry: had Eileen perhaps told him something?

“They don’t live around here, naturally,” said Tobias. “Convenient, that. They might or might not exist, these friends, but the red-haired girl is definitely real. And the red-haired girl says something very suspicious about you, Severus.”

Though he knew he must not use it, Snape could not help reaching for his wand at this last remark. Tobias so rarely addressed him by his name that his doing so now constituted a clear act of aggression; more importantly, his father needed to be forcibly shut up before he said another word about Lily. He had no call to be talking about her at all, let alone jumping to conclusions about her.

“Let me tell you,” Tobias continued insidiously, “if I were a sixteen-year-old boy and I knew a girl who looked like that, you can be sure I wouldn’t settle for just being friends with her. There are better uses for a girl like that.”

Shut up!” said Snape savagely. All pretence of composure had now become impossible. His mind flooded with hatred, and without even realizing he was doing it, he pulled his wand out of the pocket of his trousers and came forward several paces toward Tobias.

His father burst out laughing. “Look at you, with your little stick raised and all! It seems I’ve touched a nerve. Going to bring that beaver back for another round, are you?”

“There’s a lot worse than that I could do to you,” said Snape in a low, threatening tone. “Watch your mouth if you don’t want to find out what it is.”

“I do believe I’ve upset you, Severus,” said his father mockingly. “I was only paying your redheaded friend a compliment – she’s quite attractive, you know. Or hadn’t you noticed? But then I suppose you wouldn’t, would you, given your leanings.”

“Shut up!” Snape exclaimed again. “As if she’d even look at a nonentity like you – a wretched little fuck who hits his wife and can’t get a job to save his life.”

Tobias rose from the table abruptly, seizing and capping the bottle of beer as he did so. “Rather I hit you then, would you?” he asked menacingly. “Run your mouth off like that again, and I’ll be happy to.” He walked around the table toward Snape, holding up the half-full bottle as if ready to brandish it as a weapon.

“Stop right there!” shouted Snape, holding up his wand. His head pulsed with urgent, contradictory messages and emotions: he wanted to curse his father so badly he could taste it, but he also remembered standing in this very room a year ago, holding the letter expelling him from Hogwarts and feeling ready to keel over with nauseous horror.

Tobias came toward him. The thought flashed through Snape’s mind that he, Snape, was two inches taller than he had been last summer, and probably stronger as well.

He reached out for the beer bottle, imagining himself wrenching it away from Tobias and hitting him over the head with it. But Tobias’ grip was pincer-like, and he planted his free hand in the middle of Snape’s chest and shoved him away. Then he walked past Snape and over to the bundle of laundry that was sitting by the door. He uncapped the bottle, turned it upside-down and emptied it on the bundle, soaking it with beer.

Snaped lunged forward, but Tobias swung the empty bottle hard at his son’s face. Snape ducked, but the bottle connected with the side of his head, and he went down hard on the floor. As he dropped to his knees, pain ringing in his head, Tobias walked back to the table, retrieved his plate of half-eaten eggs, tossed it carelessly into the sink, and came back toward Snape. “Don’t look now,” said Tobias, “but there’s some more dirty laundry that needs doing.” He walked out of the room.
 
* * *

Snape left the house shortly after, having forgotten all thought of breakfast. He went down Spinner's End into town, but had to walk round in circles for an hour before his rage was tamped down enough by fatigue and hunger for him to think of going into Rankin’s to see about the job.

He found Shankley, the manager, in the stockroom at the back of the market, in the middle of haranguing a boy – clearly a new recruit, one of this summer’s victims – over the way he had shelved a shipment of boxes.

“The way you’ve got them now, we’ll have to take them down and shelve them all over again before we can take inventory,” said Shankley in his characteristic peevish tones. “Labels must face out and right-side-up, Morris, always.”

“Not upside-down labels!,” exclaimed Snape in a horrified voice, as he came up behind Shankley. “This is an error you won’t soon recover from, Morris. For,” he added, quoting one of Shankley’s favorite aphorisms,“‘a man who doesn’t respect details doesn’t respect himself,’ didn’t you know that?”

“Oh, hello,” said Shankley unenthusiastically, turning round. “Back for more, are you, Snape?”

“So it would seem,” said Snape. “Have you got summer places open?”

“This is your lucky day,” said Shankley with a benefactorial air. “I hadn’t till this morning, but one of Morris’ compatriots – Nachton Kincaid, you remember him – was caught stealing. Naturally I had to let him go.”

“Naturally,” said Snape. “What did he steal, a paper clip? A penny candy?” Shankley had been trying to catch Nachton out for stealing all the previous summer, for no reason that Snape could see. He had disliked Nachton himself, but knowing Shankley’s paranoid possessiveness toward Rankin’s stock, the charges against him had probably been trumped-up or nonexistent.

“A ballpoint pen,” said Shankley, in a deeply affronted voice.

“Shankley, you were far too kind to him,” chided another all-too-familiar voice. “You could’ve brought the police and the local news in. Think how entertaining that would’ve been.” The voice’s owner had just entered the stockroom, loaded down with a stack of oversized boxes that obscured his face, but Snape well remembered him from last summer: Marcus Tench, who was universally unpleasant to everybody. The good side of this was that “everybody” included Shankley.

Mister Shankley,” corrected the manager automatically. He had done this all last summer too, to no avail – the entire crew of stockboys had constantly addressed him as “Crankley,” “Spankley,” or, most commonly, “Wankley.” Shankley had actually done rather well just now, in that Tench had used his real name. He ought not to look a gift horse in the mouth, Snape thought.

Tench set the boxes down.“Hello there, Severus,” he said with satirical emphasis; Tench had gotten no end of enjoyment out of Snape’s name last year as well. “Thought you said you’d die before you’d ever work here again.”

“I did,” said Snape. “Believe me, I’m here against my will.”

“I really don’t think Nachton meant to take that pen, Mr. Shankley,” said Morris suddenly, as if his conscience was still bothering him about the incident. “He just put it behind his ear and forgot it was there. I’ve done the same thing loads of times.”

“Morris, that’s kind of you, but very naïve,” said Shankley. “I know Kincaid better than you do. Little things have gone missing ever since he started here two years ago, but I’ve never been able to catch him at it until today. Good riddance to bad rubbish, is what I say.”

“Can I start now?” asked Snape impatiently. He needed all the hours he could get, and the sooner he began the sooner he would get paid. Shankley consulted his watch and looked disapproving.

“You know what time the day starts around here, Snape,” said Shankley. “It’s certainly not at a quarter to noon. Normally I’d send you home with a reprimand, but because we’re down a man, I will allow you to start halfway through the workday.”

“Thank you,” said Snape in a less than gracious tone.

“You can start by working with Morris here on the shelves,” said Shankley. “I want everything done over again, in alphabetical order by product name, labels out on every box and right-side up.”
 
* * *

Snape returned home at half-past eight that night and promptly went out again with the beer-stained laundry, finally finishing his day at about eleven o’clock. Fortunately Tobias was out all evening again and their paths did not cross. He must have come back during the night, however, for the next day Snape entered the bathroom to get ready for work and found a morning greeting awaiting him: a toilet bowl full of shit.

Snape was sure this had not been an accident, but he merely cursed his father in absentia, flushed the toilet, and tried to put it out of his mind. It was his first full day of work, and he had plenty of other things to worry about, such as the fact that they were practically out of food. If there was to be any dinner tonight for himself and Eileen, he would either have to ask for an advance on his first paycheck, which Shankley was not likely to give; beg a loan from Tench or Morris, a thought at which his pride revolted; or swipe something off Rankin’s shelves, and risk following in Nachton’s footsteps. He was leaning toward the final option.

Thus began Snape’s summer. He worked six days a week – sometimes seven if he could get the extra hours – and then came home and cooked dinner for himself and his mother. With increasing frequency, Tobias began to come home earlier in the evenings too, lured by the chance at a free and decent meal. Sometimes, in fact, he would actually be there sitting pointedly at the table waiting when Snape came in.

On these occasions Snape would cook in contemptuous silence as his father sat there; when the food was ready he would prepare three plates, taking one to Eileen in her room and keeping one for himself. He would leave the third plate behind for Tobias with no further acknowledgement of his presence, and retire to his own room to eat his dinner, then read until bedtime.

The evenings, when he could at least read about magic, were the time he most often thought about Lily, so close by but so inaccessible. He wondered nearly every day what she was doing and thinking, how she was passing her summer. The two of them were the only magical children he knew of in the immediate neighborhood, but the Evanses had money to travel; perhaps Lily had been able to visit other friends who provided reminders of Hogwarts. For himself, she had been a lifeline in so many ways, and he felt her absence continually.

There was no one he could talk to about his problems except his mother, and he hardly thought it fair to add to Eileen’s burdens by complaining about his own, which were by any measurement less heavy. He imagined Mulciber and Avery, who lived within walking distance of each other and did not need to work for money, passing a leisurely summer together, amusing themselves in London without him. He prickled with envy and resentment when he thought of the contrast between their lives and his, but he also wished he could see them. He wrote each of them a letter full of entertainingly sarcastic remarks about his awful Muggle job and his arsehole Muggle father, but left out any description of Eileen’s condition or the mood of tension and foreboding that hung over the house. He looked every day for a reply, for proof that somewhere in the world, young wizards were living better lives than he was.

A few days later, happily, one came. The handwriting on the outside of the parchment was Avery’s, but there were messages inside from both of them.


Severus,

Sounds like your summer’s been a crashing bore so far. Can’t you chuck your job and come down to London for a few days at least? Come on, do. Roger and I have discovered some fascinating new forms of entertainment in the city, most of them involving Muggle girls. We’ve been getting in so much trouble I don’t even miss magic! (Well, almost.)

Seriously, let us know when you can get away. We’ll show you a few things that’ll blow your mind!

Orson



Farther down the page, Mulciber had added a postscript:


Severus,

Orson is NOT kidding. I once thought Muggle women were a waste of oxygen – no more. And London is a FAR better place for recreational use of the Imperius Curse than Hogwarts. The Ministry can detect it, sure, but it’s dead easy to get away before they get there, and there are millions of Muggles around to distract them and slow them up.

You need to get your arse down here right quick.

Roger



Snape’s feelings on reading these messages were very mixed indeed. He was irritated by Avery’s implication that he was only working by choice, perhaps for a little extra pocket money, and could throw it over any time he felt like it. The casual suggestion that he come down to London “for a few days”– did either of them have any idea what a train ticket to London cost, or what might happen to Eileen if he left town even for a day?

Then again, Snape reminded himself, they couldn’t have any idea of the consequences of his cutting work and skipping town: he had never told them how things stood between his father and mother, or how badly off his mother was these days. The only one of his friends whom he had ever told about Tobias’ violence toward Eileen was Lily, Snape recalled with a wince, and now he could expect no help or consolation from that quarter either. This summer, he was on his own.

Nor were Mulciber and Avery aware of how dire his family’s money problems were; they knew, in a general sense, that Snape wasn’t wealthy the way they were, but they would have been astonished and horrified to hear that Snape’s own meager income was, at this moment, almost the only thing that stood between his family and destitution.

Even more conflicted were Snape’s feelings about this new “entertainment” his friends had discovered involving Muggle girls and, apparently, the use of the Imperius Curse. Part of him was alarmed; though he could not guess the exact details of what they were doing, it sounded rash, gratuitously risky, and altogether ill-advised. It was also hypocritical: as Mulciber had implied, both he and Avery (and, indeed, Snape as well) had previously scorned all Muggle females as being entirely beneath them and unworthy of any kind of attention. Snape thought this sudden reversal on both their parts lacked principle, to say the least.

But if he was honest about it, Snape was also envious. Whether he envied the specific things his friends were doing, he could not say without knowing what they were; but it worried him that the other two were having experiences he had not had and would probably, given the constricted life he was leading, continue not to have. He already felt well behind his peers when it came to anything related to girls or sex, and now his own friends had begun doing things that would no doubt put him even further behind.

Snape thought again, with a rush of anger and shame, of Tobias’ leering remarks about Lily. The most horrifying thing about them, he now realized, was the thought that his own feelings toward Lily might not only be mistaken for the sort of sentiments that his father had expressed, but that they might really be the same. His father could not possibly have thought of Lily in that way – could he? And he, Snape, could not possibly have even the most trivial taste or attitude in common with Tobias – could he? Sitting there on his bed, he shook his head involuntarily and shuddered.

To distract himself from such thoughts, Snape read the messages again, dwelling this time on what Mulciber had said about the Imperius Curse and the difficulty of tracing its perpetrators in London. It was ironic that Mulciber and Avery were doing whatever they were doing without him, for Snape had been the one who had started them all off on their shared flirtation with the Unforgivable Curses by telling the other two, toward the end of fifth year, that the Ministry could not trace the Unforgivables when they were cast at Hogwarts. They could detect the fact of curses themselves, of course, but with three hundred magical children (and, indeed, a dozen faculty members) in such close proximity, there was no way to isolate the source of a given curse.

Snape knew all this from Eileen. She had told him a couple of years previous, in the strictest confidence, that she had once had to cast the Cruciatus Curse on a fellow student while at school. She stressed the words “had to”; she made it clear that the boy in question had done, or at least tried to do, something so utterly horrible to her that no other course was possible. When Snape had pressed her for details, she had refused to give them to him, saying only that he would have to take her word that it was something very, very awful. “All you need to know, Severus,” she had said, “is that he stopped doing it immediately.”

As Eileen told it, the Ministry’s response to the casting of the curse had been immediate: two Aurors had arrived at the Great Hall during dinner a few minutes later and made an announcement that someone had performed an Unforgivable Curse on school grounds. They did a great deal of threatening and fulminating, and a few students were questioned – mostly Slytherins with bad reputations, but Eileen herself was not among them. Eventually, however, the Aurors had left with nothing, and the investigation had petered out.

When Snape told Avery and Mulciber all this, they became very excited. If there were no way to get caught, why not practice the Unforgivable Curses on one another? Not Avada Kedavra, of course, but the two that were reversible. They all wanted to be able to cast the Imperius and Cruciatus Curses if they had to – they were growing up in an era of war, after all. And they were all curious, too, about what the curses felt like. What was it like to be magically compelled to do someone else’s bidding? Wouldn’t it be safer to be compelled this way by your friend, under controlled conditions, than by your enemy? Snape knew from Eileen that it was possible, with practice, to learn to resist the Imperius Curse; they all wanted to learn how to do this. As for the Cruciatus Curse, they couldn’t help but wonder just how painful it really was. Again, wouldn’t it be far better to have a friend cast it on you than an enemy, so that your experience of it could be carefully limited? If the Cruciatus really was unbearable, a friend would stop casting it when you told them to.

Snape had further assisted their quest by suggesting that they practice casting the Unforgivable Curses in the Room of Requirement – that way they would be certain not to get caught. Mulciber and Avery had congratulated Snape on this stroke of genius, and they had put their plan into action that same afternoon.

They had begun with the Imperius Curse, as it was clearly the most benign of the three. Snape, who had in fact cast the curse twice already at Hogwarts, under circumstances he preferred to keep private, had some experience to guide him, though he ascribed his knowledge to his mother’s teachings. He emphasized that you really had to want to cast these curses in order to make it happen; simply concentrating for a moment and waving your wand would not suffice.

“Believe me, I do want to,” said Mulciber.

“No more than I do, Roger,” said Avery, sounding slightly insulted.

After a little practice working up the proper motivation, they were each able to cast the Imperius Curse successfully and make each other do various silly or rude things against each other’s will. Mulciber made Snape write a letter of sexual proposition to their Potions professor, Horace Slughorn; when Mulciber lifted the curse and Snape read the letter, he immediately burned the evidence to a crisp with his wand as the others laughed uproariously. Snape then made Avery confess to the greatest sexual infatuation he had at Hogwarts; to the hilarity of the other two, this turned out to be Eleanor Greenbaum, a pink-cheeked, pixieish girl from Hufflepuff. (Much later, Avery would insist that he had actually been resisting the curse at the time he told them this, and that the true answer remained buried deep in his psyche.)

Perhaps a little miffed by his friends’ response to the confession they had forced from him, Avery revenged himself when his turn came to cast the curse, by ordering Mulciber to kiss Snape on the lips. Snape tried to flee the Room before this could happen, but for some reason the Room would not let him out, and the Imperiused Mulciber was persistent. Snape then tried casting the Knockback Jinx to protect himself, but Mulciber kept coming; perhaps it was the nature of Unforgivable Curses to override lesser forms of magic. As Avery hooted and catcalled, Mulciber finally grabbed Snape by the ears and did the deed. Avery enjoyed this performance thoroughly, but its participants were less enthusiastic: Snape’s response was to Stupefy Mulciber – which did work, now that Mulciber’s order had been carried out. Mulciber’s response, once the curse was lifted, was to punch Avery in the stomach.

Nor was Mulciber quite finished. He immediately suggested they move on to the Cruciatus Curse, and chose Avery as his first target. Snape immediately put up a Shield Charm between them, saying that was a very bad idea.

“Bollocks, it’s a great idea!” insisted Mulciber, kicking at the invisible barrier that blocked him from Avery. “You said we have to mean it for these curses to work. And just now I particularly mean it,” he said, glaring at Avery.

“That’s in battles, Roger,” said Snape. “For purposes of practicing, you mean it a little too much for my taste just now.”

To give Mulciber time to cool down, Snape volunteered to be the first victim, though he was not about to place himself in the sights of his vengeful friend. “You do it, Orson,” he suggested. “I don’t trust you yet, Roger, you’re still too mad.” At Snape’s insistence, they set strict rules for their Cruciatus exercise: the curse could be cast for five seconds maximum, and if the victim cried for mercy before then, the perpetrator had to lift the curse immediately.

Snape took on his role with more than a little bravado: his goal was to last the full five seconds without crying uncle. As Avery raised his wand, he was more curious than fearful; he might even have been looking forward to the experience a little.

But when Avery cried “Crucio!,” all that was immediately forgotten. A jet of red light hit Snape in the chest like a javelin, and the pain that followed was searing, screaming, unprecedented, unimaginable. Snape was unable to count off the seconds as they passed; he was barely able to master his wits enough to scream “Stop!”

He lay on the floor where he had fallen for what felt like a long time afterward, shaking. Avery came and bent over him, saying, “Merlin’s pants, mate, I’m sorry. Are you all right?”

A few seconds passed before Snape was able to reply in the affirmative. Eventually he sat up and glared at Avery accusingly. “Clearly you were still mad too, Orson, even if it wasn’t at me,” he said.

“Well, I’m not anymore,” said Avery, who looked sincerely repentant. “That was scary just to watch.”

“What is it like?” asked Mulciber in an awed voice.

“You don’t want to know,” said Snape. “In fact, I don’t think we should do this anymore.”

“I want to know what it’s like,” insisted Mulciber. “Let’s just bring the maximum time down a bit.”

This reminded Snape of his foolish resolution to tough out the curse for the full five seconds. “How long did I last?” he wanted to know. It had felt like five minutes.

“Three seconds, maybe,” said Avery. “I dunno, I think it would be better if we brought the time down to two seconds. Severus looked like he had more than what was good for him.”

“Of course I did,” retorted Snape. “This curse isn’t cast on you for your health.”

“Two seconds, then,” said Mulciber. “Orson, are you game?”

Avery did not look terribly happy about the prospect, but he made a brave effort. “I guess so,” he muttered. “But get it over with.” He held up a hand toward Mulciber. “Half a sec – I’m going to sit down first.”

“Good idea,” said Snape. “If you don’t, you’ll fall down anyway.”

Avery took a seat in a nearby armchair and braced himself. “OK, Roger,” he said. “Do it quick.”

Mulciber gave Avery a rather odd look, raised his wand, and said in a loud but strangely calm voice, “Crucio!”

When the jet of red light hit him, Avery began screaming immediately – first a brief, wordless howl of anguish, then a clear “Stop, stop!” Mulciber turned to look at his still-raised wand, much too slowly—

“Stop, Roger!” bellowed Snape, and Mulciber snapped out of his momentary trance. “Finite!” he cried.

“What the fuck is wrong with you, Roger?” exclaimed Snape, and knelt down in front of the moaning Avery, grasping him by the shoulders in an attempt to stop him shaking. “You’re all right, Orson, you’re all right. It’s over,” he said.

“Merlin’s arse,” groaned Avery.

Snape turned back to Mulciber. “You shouldn’t have done that, Roger. You were obviously still in a rage.”

“I wasn’t,” protested Mulciber. “I just – I don’t know, my brain got stuck and I couldn’t speak for a second.”

“This is not a joke!” shouted Snape. “Take the worst pain you’ve ever been in, and multiply it by about ten thousand. That’s what it feels like.”

“It’s like,” said Avery, still panting, “it’s like having your skin ripped off, then being thrown into fire.”

Mulciber stared, then laughed. “You’ve never had your skin ripped off or been thrown into fire. So how would you know?”

“He knows,” said Snape, and Avery insisted, “That’s what it feels like.”

“Do it to me,” said Mulciber defiantly. “No, not you,” he said, as Avery rose from the chair in response. “You,” he said, pointing at Snape.

Snape paused. “All right, I will,” he said. “You need to know what this curse is, so you can stop making stupid ignorant remarks about what it is and isn’t like.” He reached into his robes for his wand. “Sit down.”

Mulciber took Avery’s place in the armchair. “All right, I’m sitting,” he said. “Let me have it.”

“I’ll stop after two seconds or when you tell me to stop, whichever comes first,” said Snape. “Are you ready?”

“Ready,” said Mulciber.

Snape had never cast this curse before, but he did not think he would have any difficulty calling up the necessary anger or desire. He closed his eyes and imagined Tobias’ face before him. He dwelt on the image long enough for hate to well up in his gut, then – “Crucio!” he shouted.

For a long moment, Mulciber did not even cry out; he simply sat suspended, wide-eyed, in the jet of red light that erupted from Snape’s wand. It was eerie, disturbing, but it only lasted for a second. Then he too screamed, “Stop!”

“Finite!” cried Snape, almost before Mulciber had finished speaking. He turned away, as if to give Mulciber a moment of privacy to recover – and to repent. Eventually he turned back to look at him. He was deathly white in the face and breathing very hard.

“You’re right, Severus,” he said quietly. “Let’s not do this anymore. Once is enough.”

“Are you all right?” said Snape. In answer, Mulciber rose from the chair and got unsteadily to his feet.

“I’m hungry,” said Avery suddenly. “What time is it?”

They all looked up, and, this being the Room of Requirement, they found that there was a clock on the wall directly in front of them. It was dinnertime; the Great Hall downstairs must be filling up.

“Let’s stop this and go eat,” said Avery. The other two immediately nodded their acquiescence. The relief that filled the air was almost palpable.

As they left the Room of Requirement, Mulciber turned his head to look back, as if he had left something there. “What are you looking for?” asked Avery.

“I don’t know,” said Mulciber, and quickly turned to face forward again. They went down to dinner straight away, and did not do any more practice with the Unforgivable Curses for the rest of term.
 
* * *

Snape sent a letter back to Avery, saying he would not be able to come down to London that summer unless some unknown relative died and left him a million Galleons, so Avery and Mulciber would have to keep writing him about their adventures. Vicarious fun was the only kind he seemed likely to have for the next two months.

His job at Rankin’s, actually, had turned out to be closer to that description than any of his other obligations. Not that it wasn’t still miles away from real fun – it was a combination of hard physical work and mindless boredom – but things had improved since last year. Things had come to a pretty pass, Snape thought, if the hours he spent every day with Muggles had turned out to be the highlight of his days, but he was forced to admit that it was the truth.

First, Nachton Kincaid had been fired, which had made a notable difference in the quality of Snape’s working life. Kincaid had been a constant irritant to Snape the previous summer with his observations on Snape’s hair, clothes, large vocabulary, and lack of knowledge about popular music (“a hippie uni professor,” Kincaid had first termed him; then, upon learning that Snape did not know who an apparently significant Muggle by the name of Jim Morrison was, he had revised this to “a hippie uni professor with a lobotomy”). With Kincaid departed, the only remaining irritant among the stockboys was Marcus Tench; unfortunately, Tench was as irritating as four or five regular Muggles put together.

Tench, in fact, had aired his theory that Snape was a faerie a full year before Tobias had (basing his conclusion on Snape’s hair, clothes, large vocabulary, difficulty lifting the heavier boxes of canned goods that they stocked, and effete first name). He still rode Snape frequently about his name, but the latter’s physical strength had improved considerably over the last year, and Tench seemed also to have gradually come to a greater appreciation of Snape’s vocabulary, as it proved useful in coming up with creative insults for Shankley.

Morris, the other member of the stockboy work force, had turned out to be surprisingly tolerable for a Muggle. Only fourteen, he was already taller than the others but did not bother giving them a hard time about it; like Snape, he had long hair, but he was definitely no hippie. He confounded Tench’s unified theory of adolescent stereotypes by passionately liking a new type of Muggle music he referred to as “punk rock,” which, from Morris’ description, was loud, crude and extremely obnoxious. He wanted to know if Tench and Snape had heard of a new band called the Sex Pistols, whom he had seen perform in Manchester with his older brother a couple of months previous.

“Snape doesn’t listen to popular music, it’s pointless and worthless,” Marcus Tench had replied, parroting Snape’s own words of the previous summer following the Jim Morrison incident. (Snape had nearly called it “Muggle music,” but had caught himself just in time.)

“I don’t listen to popular music, it’s pointless and worthless,” Snape reaffirmed. “Anyway, that is the stupidest name for a band I’ve ever heard in my life.”

“That’s exactly why they chose it!” exclaimed Morris triumphantly. “They’re called the Sex Pistols because it was the most obnoxious thing they could think of. Being obnoxious is half the point of punk.”

“What’s the other half?” asked Snape indifferently.

“Getting laid,” replied Tench.

“No, it isn’t!” cried Morris indignantly. “That’s a corrupt sixties idea. Punk bands are against cheap sex, and groupies and that.”

“I’m sorry, Morris, no rock band is against cheap sex and groupies,” opined Tench.

“The Sex Pistols definitely don’t care about getting laid,” insisted Morris. “If you saw them you’d understand that. They want to destroy everything stupid and conformist. That’s the other half of the point of punk. Freedom from all the stupid crap in life. You’ve got to see them when they play here again. You too, Severus,” he added. “Even if you don’t like popular music. Because neither do they! They’d be right up your street.”

“Not bloody likely,” said Snape. Still, on the whole he found Morris quite acceptable. He had seemed a bit of a prat at first, what with calling their manager “Mr. Shankley” and treating him with respect, but after a week Morris caught on to what Shankley was like, and joined in the collective mocking of their supervisor, though he remained a bit gentler than the rest of them.

Midway through July, however, the stockboys received a rude shock. They came in one morning to find Shankley waiting for them in the stockroom, a strange man standing next to him. The stranger was tall, burly, and had strawberry blonde hair which he wore in a long but carefully combed style, making him look somehow Biblical. He was dressed in a white shirt, a gray tie, black trousers, and heavy black shoes. Looking at him, Snape felt a weird sense of foreboding.

As soon as they were all assembled, the stranger began speaking without preamble. “My name is Thomas Vogt,” he said, “and I am the new owner of this store, along with several others I have recently acquired in this region. I am here to tell you that starting today, things will be run in a very different manner from what you have apparently been used to.”

Vogt went on to relate what he had been told by Shankley of the disgraceful way the store had operated under the previous owner: the slackness, the lateness, the lack of oversight and accountability, the utter disrespect of the stockboys for their hardworking, upright, meticulous manager, Mr. Herman Shankley. But all that was about to change.

From now on, continued Vogt, they would be required to clock in and out every day upon arrival, upon departure and at lunch. Lunch privileges had been frequently abused, so the prescribed lunch period would be reduced from forty-five minutes to half an hour. Lunches would be taken on the premises and eaten in the break room unless permission was given for them to leave the store. Days off would be requested a week in advance; sick days would be reported at least an hour before the start of the business day. Inventory would be logged bi-weekly, not bi-monthly. And their manager would be treated with the utmost respect at all times, and always referred to as “Mr. Shankley.” Because lack of attention and respect for small matters was reflective of an employee’s lack of respect for the overall enterprise of the store (Shankley positively beamed at these words), any and all of these seemingly minor offenses would be grounds for firing.

Thomas Vogt then took his leave, concluding, “I am the boss here; if you don’t like it, you can leave. And don’t think that because I own many stores, I’ll be an absent supervisor. I visit each of my markets at least three times a week, and I don’t announce the days of my visits in advance.”

“Mr. Vogt, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to come and outline these excellent new policies for us,” said Shankley obsequiously. “I’m delighted to be finally working for someone who takes such matters as seriously as I do.”

“No trouble at all, Herman,” said Vogt, clapping Shankley on the back. “I’m glad to find a manager in place who already thinks along my lines. It’s so much trouble re-training people with lax ideas that I usually end by firing them.”

“May I see you out, sir?” asked Shankley, and for a moment Snape thought the manager was actually going to offer Vogt his arm.

“Certainly, Herman,” said Vogt, and he left the room with Shankley following doglike at his heels. The three stockboys looked at one another in mutual dismay.

“How bad do you think this is going to be?” asked Morris in a worried voice.

“Unbearable,” replied Tench grimly. “Did you see that shit-eating grin on Shankley’s face when Vogt was talking about attention to detail? He’s got a sponsor for his insanity now. Shankley absolutely loves this arsehole – he’s going to validate every stupid thing he does and says. It must have been hard for him not to get down on his knees and suck Vogt’s prick right in front of us.”

Morris grimaced at the revolting mental picture this description conjured up, but said only, “They do seem awfully pally, don’t they?”

“They can’t be that pally,” said Snape. “Shankley’s first name is Norman, not Herman.”

Tench gave a snort of laughter. “Details, details!” he said, waving his hand dismissively.

Morris grinned. “But a man who doesn’t respect details doesn’t respect himself!” he said.

“When a man’s in love, he’ll let the little things slide,” said Tench sardonically.

But it soon became clear that this little matter of his first name would henceforth be the only detail Shankley was willing to let slide. A new era had begun at Rankin’s, and Shankley was its agent and apostle. He had always been insufferable, but under the old owner he had had limited ability to impose his pettier ideas on people and make them stick. Now, with Vogt as his backer, he became a tyrant. While they were at lunch that day – the strict new thirty-minute lunch – Shankley had a punch clock installed in the stockroom; by the evening, their working hours were being monitored by the machine.

When Morris clocked in three minutes late the following morning, Shankley told him his pay would be docked by a full hour that week.

“But it isn’t my fault I was late!” exclaimed Morris. “This stupid driver sideswiped my bike and knocked me into the gutter. Look!”

He pointed to his jeans, which were freshly torn and streaked down one leg with mud.

“Were you hurt?” asked Shankley.

“No, not really,” said Morris.

“Was your bicycle damaged?”

“A little,” said Morris.

“But you rode it the rest of the way here,” said Shankley.

“Yeah,” said Morris.

“Then why were you late?” asked Shankley ominously.

“I don’t know, I was…shaken up,” said Morris. “And I had to stop and look at my bike to see if anything was bent out of shape…I mean, come on, it was only three extra minutes, Mr. Shankley!”

Shankley did not reply, but walked into his office and made a phone call. They heard him describing what had happened to the party on the other end, then adding, “His appearance really isn’t presentable either, Mr. Vogt. He’s got mud all over him.” There was a pause as Vogt said something, and then Shankley responded, “Very good, sir. I’ll tell him, Mr. Vogt.” He hung up the phone and came back into the stockroom.

“Morris, go back home and change your clothes,” said Shankley. “And come back quickly. You will not be paid for the time you’re gone.”

“But—” said Morris.

“Don’t bother arguing,” said Shankley. “You heard me on the phone with Mr. Vogt just now. This is his decision. If you don’t like it, you can always turn in your notice.”

Morris looked furious enough to do exactly that. He hesitated, but then seemed to grow fatalistic. He shook his head, turned and walked out the stockroom door; a few seconds later they heard the metallic spring of a kickstand being returned to its place, then a crunch of gravel.

Snape and Tench looked at each other, in clear agreement about something for perhaps the first time in two years: Shankley and Vogt were both certifiable.
 
* * *

The following week, Snape received another letter. This one was from Mulciber and described one of his recent adventures – one he had had alone, without Avery -- in rather more graphic detail than Snape was prepared for. The letter filled him with yearning, shame, and an intense anger than he did not entirely understand.

The following evening, for no reason, he took a detour on the way home from Rankin’s. He found himself walking toward the playground where he and Lily had met and talked the previous year after he had cast the Patronus and been expelled from Hogwarts. He stopped in front of the bench where they had sat, staring at it, thinking hard. Then he walked in the direction of Lily’s house.

He was not sure what he expected to find when he got there. It was still light outside, which meant that he had to be careful about being seen loitering.

He reached the house from the back and crept into the side yard, with a vague plan of looking into the kitchen window; perhaps he might catch a glimpse of Lily eating dinner with her parents. But the kitchen light was out, as was every other light on that side of the house.

Then Snape heard a car approaching, getting quite near. The car stopped in front of the Evans’ house; Snape could hear its engine idling out front. Could it possibly have arrived to drop off Lily, or pick her up? He ran toward the front yard to see, keeping close to the side of the house.

He heard the front door close, then the sound of a woman’s high heels clicking on the pavement of the front walk. Snape wondered at this; Lily had never gone in for that sort of dress, but perhaps she was dressing differently in deference to her Muggle surroundings…Then the owner of the heels came into view. Though Snape could see her only from the back, there was no mistaking the blonde hair and abnormally long neck of Petunia Evans. He had entirely forgotten that he might see her here as easily as Lily.

Though Petunia could not possibly have seen him, some instinct of self-protection made Snape drop to the ground, where he crouched behind a shrubbery at the corner of the house, peering out through the spaces between its leaves. He saw Petunia get into the passenger side of the car and close the door. On the other side of her was a young man; Snape glimpsed him only for an instant before the car moved away, but it was long enough to see that he had brown hair and a mustache that looked more mature than the rest of his face.

Disappointment washed over him, and with it an intense mortification: here he was, skulking about on his knees in the yard of a girl who was not around and who would not have spoken to him if she was. His only reward for his troubles had been a glimpse of her repellent older sister, who was apparently – could it be? – going out on a date. When Snape considered that even Petunia Evans seemed to be finding her way more firmly in the world of adult romance than he was, he felt utterly depressed, thwarted and humiliated. He had to get out of here immediately. He got to his feet; still bent double, he made a break for the street, then took off running.

As if his mood was not already low enough, he found Tobias in the kitchen waiting for him at home. Without saying a word, Snape walked past his father, put butter on to heat, took down some bottles of spices from the cabinets and began chopping ingredients for a curry.

Tobias was silent for a few minutes as Snape began cooking. He was starting to think he might not have to parry his father’s hostile conversational thrusts at all that evening, when Tobias suddenly spoke.

“What’s happened to your redheaded friend?” he asked. “I never see her around any more.”

Snape tensed. How on earth had Tobias been able to notice or sense a change in Snape’s relations with Lily? Even Eileen had not asked Snape about her since he had returned home; perhaps Lily was a sore subject for her, or perhaps she was preoccupied with her own problems.

And why had Tobias asked about Lily today, of all days? Did he somehow know that Snape had been over to her house this evening, eager for some fragmentary proof of her presence? It was uncanny, this ability of Tobias’ to pinpoint the subjects and the moments that caused Snape to feel most vulnerable. It was as if he had the selective ability to read Snape’s mind.

“She’s away for the summer,” said Snape after the briefest of pauses. For all he knew, it might have been true.

“Sure she didn’t get wise to you and cut you out of her life?”

Internally Snape gave a yelp of protest. How was it possible for Tobias to keep guessing right? In an attempt to stay calm, he took a moment to plan out the next steps in making the curry. Soon he would add tomatoes to the cooking chickpeas; then, after waiting about two minutes, he would add spinach.

“What do you mean, get wise to me?” he then asked, both to buy time and to find out exactly what his father knew.

“I mean that you fancy her,” said Tobias, and Snape cursed silently. But there was an obvious reply to this.

“Thought you’d decided I was a faerie,” he said.

“I’ve changed my mind,” said Tobias. “It was obvious from the way you reacted during our previous conversation that my innocent expression of interest in your friend made you jealous. Hence, you must fancy her.”

“Jealous of you?” said Snape, laughing incredulously. “I don’t have anything to say to that.” He added the spinach leaves to the curry; in only a few minutes, thankfully, it would be finished.

“Of course you don’t, because I’m right,” said Tobias calmly. “And yes, of course you’re jealous. I have a way with women that you don’t have and never will.”

Snape turned around to face his father, still laughing. “And look at all you have to show for it!” he exclaimed, opening his arms wide to take in the kitchen, the house, the family. “If that’s what a way with women gets you, I’ll be more than happy to do without it.”

Tobias, however, did not seem fazed. “Tell your redheaded friend to look out for me,” he said. “That is, if she’s still talking to you.”

Snape stared at his father in disbelief. “You’re off your head,” he said. “She knows all about you, and she can’t stand you.”

“That’s what they all say,” replied Tobias evenly. “It’s called playing hard to get. They all do it, don’t they?”

“You’re beyond belief,” said Snape in disgust. Thankfully, the curry was now ready, and he began spooning out portions of it over rice for himself and his mother.

“Don’t forget what I’ve said,” said Tobias as Snape left the room with bowls of curry in hand.
 
* * *

One evening in early August, Snape was reading in his room when there came a loud and insistent knocking at the front door downstairs.

Snape sat perfectly still on the bed, as if by doing so he could convince the knocker that no one was home. But after a brief silence, the knocking resumed, louder than before.

Afraid his mother would feel compelled to get up and answer the door, Snape left his room and ran down the stairs. A look through the peephole revealed a middle-aged Muggle man whom Snape had never seen before. He did not look happy.

“Who is it?” called Snape through the door.

“Wallace Burroughs, barman at the Cross Keys Inn,” came the gruff reply.

Snape immediately thought of Tobias. Had he been in a bar brawl? Was he injured, perhaps even dead? Against all reason, Snape’s hopes rose.

“What’re you here for?” yelled Snape.

“Open up and I’ll tell you,” replied Burroughs sourly.

Cautiously, Snape opened the door.

“Is this the residence of Tobias Snape?” asked Burroughs.

“Sometimes,” said Snape.

“How about now?” asked Burroughs impatiently.

“No, he’s not here now,” said Snape. “Why, what’s he done?”

“Reached and breached his credit limit at my place, is what he’s done,” said Burroughs. “Tobias Snape now owes me one hundred and two pounds and change. Which I’ve come to collect, on the highly unlikely chance that he or someone else here has got it—”

“No one here can pay it,” said Snape immediately, but Burroughs continued as if he hadn’t spoken.

“—and if not, to notify him that he’s banned until such time as he can do so. In the meantime, I’ll be taking legal measures to ensure that my losses are recouped.”

“What do you mean? What sort of measures?” said Snape. “Do you mean locking him up until he pays?” Here, perhaps was a glimmer of hope: Tobias in jail, housed and fed by the Muggle state until such time as he could pay up – a time that might never come…

“I mean whatever measures can get me my hundred pounds in the quickest possible manner,” said Burroughs. “Do tell him that if you see him, won’t you?” And with a satirical tip of his hat, Burroughs turned round and began walking back up Spinners End.

Snape found out the next day what sort of measures Burroughs had in mind. He was in the middle of stickering a shipment of sponges when Shankley came up to him and seized him by the shoulder.

“A word with you in my office, Snape, if you please,” said Shankley. Snape sighed and rose, wondering what imaginary offense he had committed against Shankley’s dignity.

In Shankley’s office, ominously, Thomas Vogt was waiting. With him was a stranger, a young man with slicked-back black hair and a black pinstriped suit. “Snape, this is Mr. Laughton Grimm,” said Shankley, indicating the young man in black. “He is a lawyer in private practice in Manchester.”

“What a surprise,” said Snape. With a name like that, what else could he possibly have been?

Shankley, who apparently detected no impudence in Snape’s remark, continued solemnly, “Mr. Grimm has been hired by a man called Wallace Burroughs, barman and owner of the Cross Arms pub just down the street from here, to collect one hundred and two pounds that your father owes him.”

Snape froze. “That’s nothing to do with me,” he said firmly.

“I’m afraid that’s not so, Snape,” said Shankley. “Mr. Grimm, will you explain the situation?”

“Certainly,” said Grimm. “Tobias Snape -- who is your father, is he not?”

Snape said nothing, only stared back at Grimm.

“Tobias Snape was arrested this morning as he returned to his residence, which I believe you share with him,” Grimm went on.

“Does my mother know that? Where is he now?” Snape ventured, feeling cautiously optimistic at the news of his father’s arrest.

“He’s being held in Lower Bury jail overnight or until someone pays fifty pounds to release him,” said Grimm.

“What about my mother?” asked Snape.

“Is Eileen Snape your mother?” asked Grimm, and Snape nodded. “She is aware of your father’s arrest.”

“We can’t pay to release him,” said Snape, “and we wouldn’t if we could.”

“That is what your mother said, more or less,” said Grimm. “That is as you wish. However, the hundred and two pounds that your father owes is another matter. If your father cannot pay it, it can be recouped from anyone in his immediate family who can.”

“None of us can,” said Snape immediately.

“Mr. Snape, I’m afraid that’s not the case,” put in Thomas Vogt; it was the first time he had spoken. “You can.”
 
* * *

There was nothing Snape could do: Vogt had control over his wages, and Vogt was in full sympathy with Burroughs and, more particularly, with Grimm. Debts must be paid, the books must be squared, and Shankley announced to Snape that his wages would be garnished for the rest of the summer until the hundred-and-two-pound fine was paid.

“You can’t do that!” shouted Snape. “It’s not my fault!” Instinctively he reached into the side pocket of his stockboy’s vest for his wand, though he knew he could do nothing but hold it. Still, its familiar shape and feel held a comforting promise of justice and revenge, however slow they might be in coming.

“I’m afraid that’s not the point, Snape,” said Shankley, who beneath a thin veneer of concern seemed barely able to suppress his satisfaction. “The sins of the fathers come back to visit the sons, don’t they? My own father left my mother with three young children and a mountain of debt. It was a trial at the time, but it made me the man I am today – disciplined, law-abiding, fully aware of the value of money. These are lessons I wish I could impose on every young layabout and ingrate I’ve had the misfortune of employing. You’ll be better for it in the end.”

Layabout?!” sputtered Snape. “Did you just call me a layabout? Do you have any idea how hard I work?” His head was throbbing with rage, with fantasies of hexing or cursing Shankley into humiliated submission.

“You work long hours, yes, that’s true,” said Shankley. “But your attitude has never been what I consider properly grateful or respectful. Perhaps this little setback will help you to adjust it.” He turned to the lawyer, and said, “Thank you very much, Mr. Grimm. May I walk you out?”

“Certainly, Sheckley, thank you,” said Grimm, and they turned and left the office along with Vogt, leaving Snape alone with his wrath.

When Snape came home that evening, he went immediately to Eileen’s room and knocked on her door. Normally he tried to leave her alone to rest until he came to bring her her dinner, but today had not been a normal day. Ill as she was, she needed to know what had happened and what they were now up against.Her reaction to the news surprised him: rather than despairing or resigned, she was angry.

“What he’s done to me over the years is one thing,” she told her son grimly. “That’s my affair. But for him to do this to you – that’s another matter entirely. This debt will be worked off by his efforts, not by yours, and when he gets home I plan to tell him so. We’re not powerless, Severus. In less than six months your magic will be out of the Ministry’s control, and in the meantime I feel almost certain I still have a few defensive spells left in me, if I’m determined and the situation demands them. When he’s released tomorrow I’ll tell him how things stand.”

“No, Mum,” said Snape, alarmed by the thought of his mother facing his father alone. “Wait until the evening when I’m home. We’ll talk to him together.”
 
* * *

But they did not have to wait that long. Snape was eating breakfast the next morning with Eileen, who in the safety promised by Tobias’ imprisonment had ventured out of her room to sit with her son, when they heard a vehicle pull up in the street outside.

Mother and son quickly turned to look at each other. “Have they released him already?” Eileen wondered nervously. They had their answer when they heard Tobias’ key turn in the front door lock. Eileen got to her feet, a hard look on her face.

“Not yet, Mum – save your strength. He’ll come to us,” whispered Snape. And in less than half a minute, Tobias appeared in the kitchen doorway.

His face was dark with unshaven beard, but clearly also with fatigue. His hair stood up wildly from his head in places, while elsewhere hanks of it fell into his eyes. His shirt was untucked, and Snape saw more clearly than before the paunch that Tobias had developed from drinking; but there was also a rip down one of his sleeves that exposed the still-powerful muscles underneath. Snape had never seen his father look quite so desperate, or so dangerous. He stood up from the table.

“You two let me rot in that place overnight!” shouted Tobias. His voice was the voice of someone who had not slept in more nights than one – hoarse and rusty, and also unmoored from sense or judgment.

Snape opened his mouth, but Eileen, who had remained standing, put a restraining hand on his arm. “Tobias, you know perfectly well we’ve not got the money to bail you out of jail,” she said.

“You have!” said Tobias accusingly, and pointed a finger at Snape. “He has!”

“Your son’s wages go to feed this family, as you very well know,” said Eileen evenly. “You also know, if you’ve given it five seconds’ thought, that neither Severus nor I, nor the two of us combined, have had fifty pounds at one time for any number of years past. Furthermore, his wages are being threatened with garnishment because of your hundred-pound debt.”

“As well they should be!” exclaimed Tobias. “My wages have been garnished for sixteen years because of his existence, haven’t they? I never wanted a child, magical or normal. But I paid for his food and keep for all that time even so, didn’t I? Let him take his turn supporting me a little, and see what it feels like to pay someone else’s way unwillingly!”

“If I had my way, Severus’ wages would be entirely his own,” said Eileen. “But as things stand, if those wages are garnished, we will not eat. However, Severus’ wages will not be garnished. You will find work to pay off your debt, and you’ll do it today. I don’t care what work you find, and I don’t care if you think it beneath you. I still have some magic to command if the situation demands it, as you’ll find if you choose to ignore what I’ve said.”

“If you still have magic and you’re not putting it to use for the family good, you’re far worse than I am,” said Tobias. “I’ve always suspected you were holding it back to spite me, and now you tell me it’s true. Severus, look to your mother when you’re doling out blame, not to me. She’s the one who failed you first.”

At these words Snape almost trembled with anger. “You bastard, how dare you say that?” he shouted. “Her magic failed because of you! Wizards and witches aren’t that different from Muggles – they get worn down when they do nothing but suffer all the time, they can’t muster the energy or the will to do things anymore. Magic takes will! You think it’s just a stupid flick of the wand, but it takes discipline and work and will! She’s been so miserable for so long that she can barely do it any more, and that’s down to you. You made her what she is, by being such a tragedy of a husband and a father and a human being. How dare you try to blame her for the fact that you are a failure in every way?”

“You ungrateful fucking brat!” yelled Tobias, his voice taking on a deranged edge. “You two ruined my life, and you have the nerve to blame me for my failures? You both need to have some sense pounded into you. You don’t even know what pain is, and by God you need to learn in a way you don’t ever forget.” He strode forward, straight toward his son.

Snape came out from behind the table, blind with rage. “Going to kill me then at last, are you?” he shouted. “Go on and do it then. Just take care I don’t kill you first!” And he rushed headlong at his father, pouncing on him with his full weight.

“Severus, no, no, don’t do it, he’s mad, he’s not in his right mind!” shouted Eileen, waving her hands frantically. “He’ll hurt you, he’ll kill you!”

“I don’t care,” screamed Snape. And his own madness was paying off: for the first time in his life he had physically overpowered Tobias. He had knocked him to the ground, and now he sat up and straddled his father’s chest, restraining him at the wrists. His two months of hauling crates and boxes at Rankin’s had been worth something after all.

“What’s this, then?” cried Tobias. “Couldn’t get your little beaver to come back and knock me over this time? Had to do it yourself? What’s the matter, do you lack the will?”

“I’ll show you will, you fucking arse!” hollered Snape, and reached into his trouser pocket for his wand.

“Severus, don’t!” screamed his mother.

It was, in retrospect, his fatal mistake, the point at which everything unraveled. To reach his wand, he had to release one of his father’s hands. That hand instantly raised itself in a fist, knocking the wand right back out of Snape’s hand just before it connected with his face.

Immediately his mouth filled with blood; more blood gushed from his nose to join it. His vision was blurred with tears. Snape blinked and tried to spit the blood out, aiming for Tobias’s face but unable to see clearly. In that split-second of blindness, Tobias’s fist met Snape’s face again. He reeled toward the floor, gagging on blood. He saw something small and red clatter across the floor and realized it was his own tooth. His father threw him off and, almost before Tobias could get to his feet, he was kicking Snape in the stomach.

Reducto!” shouted a high, shrill, half-crazed voice. It was his mother.

Tobias was flung off his feet and into the kitchen table, which crashed in turn into the cabinets and tipped over, sending several chairs flying. One of them, propelled straight upward by the impact of the collision, hit Tobias in the head as it crashed back down to the floor.

“Keep your hands off my son!” screamed Eileen, panting.

Snape would have cheered, if he had not still been choking. His mother did still have some magic, and she had made it count.

He coughed frantically to clear the blood from his throat and looked around. Where was his own wand?

And Tobias was getting to his feet again, like some kind of brute, unstoppable mountain troll. He was moving toward Eileen. Snape flailed his arms in sheer panic. Where in the name of Merlin was his wand?

Finally he spotted it: it had rolled all the way to the opposite wall. As he lunged toward it, Eileen shouted again, “Reducto!”

Snape raised his head eagerly, but this time, to his horror, nothing happened: Tobias kept coming. Eileen, now terrified, backed into a corner.

“Shut up! Shut up!” cried Tobias maniacally. He pulled Eileen toward him by the arm, raised his hand to the back of her head and shoved her face into the wall next to him.

Snape heard her strangled scream and the crunch of bones breaking. “You’ll not do that ever again!” shouted Tobias. He seized the wrist of her right hand, and the wand in it fell to the floor. With the full weight of his body, he crushed that wrist into the wall; again Snape heard the sound of something breaking.

Eileen screamed in agony, and Snape reached frantically for his wand, which rolled and rolled maddeningly where it was pinned against the wall; his shaking fingers could not grasp it. He heard the sickening crack of yet another bone breaking, and looked up to see Tobias smashing Eileen’s other hand into the wall. “That’s for good measure, you fucking bitch!” he cried.

Snape grasped his wand at last. Swinging away from the wall, he pointed it straight at his father. “Crucio!” he screamed.

“Severus, no!” moaned Eileen.

A jet of red light hit Tobias straight in the chest, sending off other arrows of red which wrapped around his body. He sank to his knees, held aloft in the red light and seemingly unable to fall further. Then he began screaming.

Snape trembled in furious satisfaction as he held his father suspended in the blood-red beam. A second passed, then two, as Tobias twitched and danced and cried out in agony. Finally, finally, here was his father’s just reward: pain he could neither mock, nor overcome, nor ignore. Eileen was screaming too, but Snape heard only Tobias, finally, undeniably, unforgettably suffering as he had caused them to suffer for the last sixteen years.

Then the sound of his screams changed quality, became inhuman and insane, like those of an animal being slaughtered. Snape suddenly became aware of himself not as a formless rage, but as a person. The jolt of realization caused the wand to drop from his shaking hand; the beam of red light instantly vanished.

Finite,” Snape muttered redundantly. He was trembling all over. Tobias keeled over on his side and lay there on the floor, shaking and groaning feebly. Snape could still hear someone wailing in agony, but he soon realized it was his mother.

Before he had time to think any further on what he had just done, there was a loud pop, as loud as a Muggle gunshot. The next moment, a man and a woman simultaneously Apparated into the room, one on either side of him. Neither spoke, but tight silver cuffs suddenly materialized on both of his wrists. Some unseen force then propelled his arms to meet behind his back; there was a click, and Snape could feel that his wrists were now linked by some sort of chain.

Two more pops were now heard in the room, and Snape looked up and around. Another man and woman had appeared to join the first couple; these two were now standing in front and in back of him. All four of them wore gray robes and grim faces. They were Aurors.

“Severus Snape,” intoned the first male Auror, “you are hereby arrested for performing the Cruciatus Curse approximately thirty seconds ago.”

“We are here to remove you to Azkaban, where you will be held while you await trial,” continued the first female Auror.

The second female Auror to arrive added, “Needless to say, you are also expelled from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”

“The charge is false!” cried Eileen hoarsely. Snape looked at his mother then: she was slumped against the wall, her nose bloody and broken, her maimed wrists held limply in her lap. He could not bear the sight, and quickly turned away. “I performed the Cruciatus Curse, I did!” he heard her cry.

“Eileen Snape,” said the second male Auror, “your wand has been individually monitored by the Ministry ever since you stated at your son’s hearing last year that your magic was nearly gone. When a witch or wizard’s magic dies, there are, of course, records to be closed out, administrative loose ends to tie up. Unsurprisingly, we are rarely notified when someone’s magic dies, so we must do what we can to keep track in other ways.”

“It does appear, however,” put in the first female Auror, “that your statement of last year was false, or at the very least premature. We recorded your wand performing the Reductor Curse four minutes ago, and that is hardly a minor spell.”

“You see, I’m a liar, I still have magic!” cried Eileen desperately. “Enough to perform Cruciatus, too. I’m the one who did it.”

“Pardon me for saying so, ma’am,” said the first male Auror not unkindly, “but I have some medical training, and I can plainly see that both your wrists were broken about three minutes ago. Clearly you are in no shape to have performed the Cruciatus Curse just now.”

Snape, who had been in a kind of trance for the last several minutes, finally roused himself to speak. “Why haven’t you called St. Mungo’s?” he demanded. “Can’t you see my mother’s hurt?” His voice came out as a harsh bark; had he not known that he was speaking, he would not have recognized it as his own.

“They have already been called,” said the second female Auror. “In fact, I don’t know why they’re not—“

At that very moment, three more people Apparated into the room with quick successive pops. “So sorry!” panted one of them, a woman in lime green nursing robes who drew her wand and gave it a complicated series of flicks and twirls, causing a stretcher to materialize and then hover in the air. “Would you believe, we collided with another emergency medical team over Sheffield, and Derek here Splinched himself up with a member of the other crew! It’s lucky we’re professionals and could put that right immediately, isn’t it? Anyway, we got here as fast as we could.”

With great care, the mediwizard called Derek levitated Eileen’s body and let her down gently onto the stretcher; the other medic had already produced a bottle of candy-pink liquid that Snape recognized as Bone-Mending Potion, which he began applying topically to Eileen’s nose and wrists.

Derek, meanwhile, had begun wiping the blood gently from Eileen’s face with a cloth dipped in a silvery liquid – some kind of wound-cleaning solution, Snape thought.

“Give her a Calming Draft too, Damian, won’t you?” said Derek to the other man, who promptly pulled a bottle of pale, creamy-looking stuff from his robes, unscrewed the cap, and raised it to Eileen’s lips.

“No!” she cried. “Don’t drug me up, don’t put me under! Let me go with my son! Please!”

“When you’ve recovered from your injuries,” said the second male Auror, “you may see your son. Till then, St. Mungo’s will take care of you. We must be on our way.” And with that, he put his arm through Snape’s. The first female Auror did the same, and the next moment Snape felt a suffocating pressure beginning.

Snape knew, from Eileen’s descriptions of what Apparition felt like, that this must be what was happening to him. After the events of the last few minutes, however, it was impossible to believe that the Aurors were merely trying to transport him somewhere else; rather, he felt that they were trying to crush out what little life remained in him. It was too much; he went numb as his body gave way.
 

 


TO BE CONTINUED!…


Special Note:
Due to the unusual length and complexity of this fic, it will be posted in multiple parts. Subsequent chapters will be posted as they become ready, and will appear as new posts in your friends lists, so that readers who want to continue following the fic as it progresses will be automatically alerted to the appearance of new installments. In the meantime, here is a visual preview (a trailer, if you will!) of chapters to come, courtesy of the lovely and talented niccc:



 
 
 

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