Things get a little bit out of hand on Severus and Lily's first trip on the Hogwarts Express, when Severus and Sirius met up again in the corridors of the train . . .
It was an accident, of course. A terrible misunderstanding that almost led to catastrophe. But even though Lupin seemed to have no problem forgiving him for his jumpiness, Lupin’s friends – especially Sirius Black, who was at least as responsible for the entire debacle as Severus – never truly forgave him for coming so close to seriously injuring their new friend. For the Marauders, the root of the endless antagonism between them and Severus Snape began there, with that fateful encounter in the passageway between compartments.
Severus, though, knows that it really began earlier on in the trip, when he opened the door for the compartment in which Lily Evans had found herself tucked inside, sharing quarters with a certain James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew. Severus only opened the door because he was looking for Lily, so that he could at least try to cheer her up, after the nasty parting scene he’d accidentally on purpose overheard between her and her older sister (that awful, hateful, mean-spirited Muggle), when Petunia had so gleefully called Lily a freak, in an attempt to hurt her for going where she could not (Hogwarts) and doing something that she never could (magic). Petunia was a jealous shrew, of course, but Lily obviously hadn’t been able to see that (suffering as she did from a genuine love for her sister, despite what he’d observed, since first noticing Lily, as a mostly endless stream of alternately casual and carefully pointed cruelty from Petunia, even before magic had become a dividing issue between them), and Severus had desperately wanted to distract and comfort her. He’d been so proud of himself, for finding her and getting her out of that compartment with its crowd of rowdy and rude boys! He should have known better, should have know that the happy moment wouldn’t last. They never did, after all, so why should have thought that the afternoon on the train would be any different? He should never have left the compartment they found for themselves, afterwards! If only he’d thought to use the washroom when he was changing into his school robes, he might have avoided so much trouble and heartache for himself, later! But he didn’t have sense enough to stay where it was safe, to stay where Lily was, and so it was in the aftermath of the very moment in which he had his first victory again the boys who would be the bane of his existence, at Hogwarts, when it seemed as if he’d won Lily, that he also began to truly lose her.
It was after he’d made the fatal mistake of willingly leaving Lily’s presence, when he was on his way back to their shared compartment, that the first thread of the friendship they’d woven between them was pulled, beginning to threaten the unraveling of the whole cloth. He was walking with his head down, thinking about how wonderful it would be if Lily were sorted to the House he was sure he would be sorted in, at Hogwarts, now that those boys, with their casually arrogant assurance that Gryffindors were the best and the only real witches and wizards there were, had made such an awful impression on her, when a voice, quiet but full of barely restrained anger, broke into his reverie, noting, “You really are a piece of work, aren’t you?”
“Excuse me?” Severus had made his second grave mistake then, not only by answering, but by stopping in the middle of the corridor and looking up.
One of the boys from the compartment he’d taken Lily out of – a tall, athletic-looking, carelessly handsome boy with dark grey eyes, shoulder-length blue-black hair, and a mouth so full that it looked almost as if the boy were pouting, even when those lips were held in a hard, thin line of displeasure – sneered down at him from where he was lounging against the lintel of one of the train’s many closed compartment doors. Severus’s surprise seemed to offend the boy in some manner. His sneer slid into an outright scowl, that full mouth turning downward sharply, and he pushed himself up away from his casual slouch, pulling himself upright until he seemed to tower over Severus, even from a distance of three long paces. “You, you slimy snake. I said you’re a real nasty piece of work, and you are. Lying to a Muggle-born like that, telling her that Slytherin is the House for people with brains, when you and I and every other wizarding child in the UK knows that it isn’t, that the House known for the excessive cleverness of its members is Ravenclaw, is a mean and stupid thing to do. It won’t get her sorted into the wrong House – the Sorting Hat looks into your thoughts and reads your heart and then places you in the House that’s most suited for your temperament and soul, you greasy git, not whatever House some lying bastard has told you the nicest-sounding things about. So all you’re doing is setting her up for a disappointment, when she’s put in whatever House she’s actually suited for instead of the one you obviously belong in – a disappointment that’ll end up being false, when she finds out what Slytherin House is really like. And she will find out what Slytherin House is really like, won’t she? A Muggle-born like that? What is it you nasty little worms call Muggle-born? Oh, yes, I remember: Mudbloods. How perfectly charming of you, to want her to want to be in a House that would and will doubtlessly hate and scorn her for something she has no control over, like who and what her parents happen to be!”
The accusation stung, all the more so because Severus had to admit, logically, that the boy had a point. It hurt even more, though, for his fragile dreams of seven years of schooling in a House with Lily to be so casually crushed with that cold rationality, and so it was in a haze of pained anger that he replied, rather than his usual calmness. “That’s not true! How dare you imply such a thing? On Slytherin’s honor, I swear I – ”
A choked bark of rough, disbelieving laughter cut him off before he could finish, though. “/Slytherin’s/ honor? What honor? Your precious Salazar Slytherin abandoned his responsibilities to Hogwarts – slunk off in the middle of the night, like thief, just up and left, with his tail curled between his legs like a whipped cur, and all because he was too much of a bloody bigot to stand to have his so-called sensibilities insulted by the presence of Muggle-borns at the school and was in a snit at having been soundly thumped on the matter of admittance to Muggle-born and half-blood witches and wizards to the school, three to one, by the rest of the founders! /Slytherin’s honor/, indeed!” The boy made a rude noise. “Or no, wait, ha-bloody-ha, I see the joke, now! You swear on his honor because you are like him, and you think it a lark, to fill that poor Muggle-born’s head up with nonsense and get her to want to be in a House that would happily make her the butt of every joke, is that it?” the boy growled.
Severus could only gape in shocked and horrified affront. “I would never hurt Lily – ”
“Then what in Merlin’s name are you doing, trying to get her in House that will hate her? And don’t try to tell me it won’t be like that, because you and I both know it will be!” the boy instantly hissed back, hands fisting on his hips. “Arrogant, greedy, mean-spirited, power-hungry, back-stabbing, manipulative, lying bastards, caring about nothing but themselves and their own creature comforts, the whole damn lot of them! I should know! Lousy and rotten with them, my whole damn family tree is! I’ll be the first in the whole damn ‘noble and most ancient house of Black’ to not be sorted into that vipers’ nest of a House, if it’s the last thing I bloody well do! You’ve no business, no /right/, to go about spreading tales of Slytherin House, as if it were the be-all and end-all of the Houses! It’s /not/. And it’s cruel to present it to a Muggle-born like that, who can’t know any better, as if it were!”
“I wasn’t lying – ”
“Oh, just practicing selective amnesia, then, were you?” the boy only sneered back.
Snarling himself, Severus began to retort, “Just because you are a blood traitor – ”
But the boy cut him off with a harsh bark of grim laughter. “Oh, /blood traitor/, now, is it? Showing your true colors, are you? Next you’ll be calling her a Mudblood yourself, I suppose?”
“I would never call Lily such a foul thing!”
“Then what are you /doing/, trying to get her around people who will?”
The worst thing, that absolute worst thing, was to find himself standing there, breathing heavily, a slow, roiling burn of agony clawing its way up from the pit of his stomach, without a blamed thing to say in response.
Or at least so he had thought, at the time.
He learned, though, quite swiftly and quite soon, that there were still far worse things in the world for him to suffer. For as Severus stood there, rooted to the spot by the other boy’s so painfully irrefutable logic, the shape of another person – taller than him, and heavier, if not by so very great a margin (though that would not sink in until much, much later, when the day came that he finally learned both the truth of the other’s affliction and the depths of his own pettiness, that he could hate so utterly the man responsible for saving his ungrateful life) – fell awkwardly and heavily against his back, striking him in such a manner as to hit almost every single one of the painful welts Severus carried on his back, hidden under the armor of his school robes, as souvenirs of his foul father’s vicious temper and his unreasoning hatred for all things magical. Pain lanced out through him, the whole of his back seeming to burn, blazing with agony, and he cried out before he could stop himself, flinching and twisting gracelessly, in an attempt to get his back away from the painful pressure still rubbing and knocking up against the painful weals. But the person who’d fallen against him only followed him, in a staggering, seemingly drunk daze, long-fingered hands scrabbling at Severus’ robes in a weakly uncoordinated effort to find enough steadiness to regain steady footing. And Severus panicked. Like a fool. He just flat-out panicked.
The thought, It can’t be him. They’d never let a Muggle on this train! fell away in a rising swirl of panic when those thin fingers stabbed into Severus’ shoulders, inadvertently shaping themselves to the shape that his father’s hands always, /always/, took, whenever the drunkard decided to take offense at Severus for some unreal slight or imagined wrongdoing, grabbing hold of him from behind and snatching him up from his studies (or his experiments or his chores or any other part of his daily routine) to hurry him away, deeper into the house, where any noise he or Severus might make would be more likely to go overlooked by Severus’ mother (not that she ever bothered to try to rescue him, even when Tobias Snape seemed liked to beat Severus to death beneath her very own ugly hooked nose). The thought that it couldn’t possibly be his father melted away in a skirl of anger and shame, suffocating panic that this should happen here, now, in front of those he would be attending classes with for the next seven years, crashing down over him. He did not hear himself as he screamed, an ugly hoarse sound like the cawing of a crow, but he felt it as he struggled wildly to get away, his too-thin body whipping and thrashing in the grip of the other boy like a snake driven made by pain, frenziedly trying to drive the other boy (his father, /his father/!) back off of him. Each frantic movement brought further jolts of pain, as if his father’s meaty fists were slamming into him or bringing the black lash of his belt whistling down upon Severus’ unprotected back and sides, and, when he finally managed to throw the other off, his hand completed the motion of reaching for his wand before his freedom could even register. The curse clawed its way up out of him, blasting out of the end of his wand, and it was only in that instant, as the spell connected, that he saw not his father’s leering face but the too-pale, too-sharp features of a sickly-looking boy with bright blue eyes that looked kind underneath their surprise and vaguely gingery light brown hair.
Horror rooted him to spot as the curse connected and the boy, in his slightly overlarge and somehow dusty-seeming wizarding robes, exploded back away from him in a flurry of violent motion, the spell picking him up bodily and throwing him so that he hurtled back across the corridor, towards the wall at the end of the car, soaring through the air in an oddly graceful arc. Severus knew – he /knew/, with the kind of absolute certainty that he always experienced, when he knew that a spell was going to work or that one of his experiments was going to result in a new and perfect potion – that the boy would hit that far wall with a crash easily hard enough to dent the metal, crashing into it more than hard enough to crush in the back of his skull and either snap his too-thin neck or break his back like dry kindling snapped in a giant’s hand. He knew that he was about to become a murderer, and there was nothing, absolutely nothing, that he could think to do, to stop it from happening. He could not recall the curse and he knew no charms to cast that might cushion the boy’s rough landing. All he could do was stand there, a snarl of pain and rage and fear frozen on his face, wand still pointing towards his helpless victim, and watch, as the inevitable unfolded.
Two hastily but thankfully correctly cast cushioning charms – one from Sirius Black and another from James Potter, who had been accompanying the shaky (recently recovered from a bout with the flu, or so he had explained, when pressed) Remus Lupin, to make sure he made it to and from the toilet safely, without falling down and hurting himself – saved Severus from becoming a murderer at the tender age of eleven, absorbing enough of the force of Remus’ flight that he merely struck the fall wall with a jarringly loud thump instead of a bone-crushing, blood-splattering, sickening /crunch/, but nothing in the world could save him from the sound of Lily’s high-pitched (and plainly terrified) scream of horror or from the sight of her, green eyes wide with fear and concern, as she dashed down the corridor, running not to him but instead pushing past Severus to be the first to rush to the fallen boy’s side, crying openly and half hysterical as she tried to make sure that he was all right. He could feel his soul, curling up inside him and withering away, dying like the worthless weed he was, in the presence of an herbicide, but he made himself ask, voice halting and stumbling as he pushed the words out past numbed lips, “Is he all right? Will he be okay?”
Sirius – who had thrown himself after the hurt boy only an instant after Lily, shoving past Severus with such violence that he threw the smaller boy across the corridor into the wall hard enough to make Severus’s shoulder strike the paneling with such force that he bounced halfway back to where he’d been standing, in the center of the passageway, when the curse burst out of him – flung himself down on the boy’s other side, gently but firmly pushing Lily’s wildly waving hands away and casting a diagnostic spell over the fallen boy with such calm and practiced ease that, later, Severus would have nightmares about the possible reasons why such a pureblooded and obviously aristocratic boy could possibly need or know so much already of a Healer’s craft. Pale blue sparks (which Severus would not learn, until many years later, denoted damage lesser than that of a concussion) blossomed, momentarily, into existence around the fallen boy’s head, and for a moment the black-haired boy’s shoulders slumped in such abject relief that Severus felt awkward and ashamed, as though he were spying on an intensely private moment. But only a moment later, the boy stiffened, and whipped his head around to level a glare of such unbridled malevolence at Severus that he actually fell back a step, shocked, before he could stop himself. “Remus will be fine, you filthy, murderous snake, and no thanks to you! /What the hell is the matter with you, anyway? You could have killed him, pulling a stunt like that!”/ the boy only bellowed back, in a thunderously powerful, oddly resonant voice that had doors sliding open all up and down the car and startled, curious, and slightly fearful-looking faces peering out around doorway corners at them.
Severus simultaneously tried to shrink back from the almost prurient-seeming gazes of the puerile gawkers and the furnaces of those blazing eyes, rage lightening them to a color so pale that it was like being speared with twin lances of lightning. “I – I – I didn’t mean to hurt – ”
“What, you didn’t mean to hurt him, did you, Snivellus? /Didn’t mean to hurt him! You could’ve bloody well fooled me, you – you – you serpent-loving/ arsehole!”
“Sirius, don’t. I’m alright. I really don’t think he meant any harm – I startled him, and I hurt him, when I fell into him like that. I think I must have hit an old wound – see?” the blue-eyed boy insisted, his voice weak but steady as he raised his right hand up to show the smear of shockingly bright red blood across his palm.
“Sev, are you hurt?”
The look of renewed panic in Lily’s eyes as she pushed herself back up to her feet would stay with Severus for a long time, comforting him in his waking hours but tormenting him in his dreams, but shame made him curl in on himself (she could not know, Lily could never know, what his mother cared too little to stop, though all it would have ever taken was a wave of her wand, instead leaving him to his father’s mercy!), shoulders hunching inward (despite the scream of agony the action caused) and arms crossing protectively around his chest. He shook his head, desperately, denying he was hurt, tearing his gaze away from the deeply concerned green eyes boring into him so that he wouldn’t have to face her as he lied. But he couldn’t quite stop the betraying flinch, as the other boy caught him by shoulders and spun him around. He had an impression of slightness that was a product of athletic wiriness rather than not so benign neglect, bright hazel eyes so sharp that it seemed impossible to ever hide anything from them (at least not without removing those round spectacles, first), and messy black hair that stood up almost enough to make up the difference in height between this boy and the almost lankily tall Sirius Black. But he had to shut his eyes, then, to center himself, to keep from crying out again.
“Don’t be a fool. Come on – Severus, was it? Well, you’re obviously hurt, Severus. You should let us help you. Don’t pay Sirius any mind – he’s appointed himself as Remus’ personal watchdog and is just hacked off at you because he wasn’t quick enough to keep you from firing off a spell at Remus. He’ll get over it, if you just give him a few moments,” the bespectacled boy firmly insisted. “I’m James Potter, by the way. The snappish one is Sirius Black, in case he didn’t remember to introduce himself properly, and the one you flattened is Remus Lupin. Remus has been sick, which is why he fell into you like that. It wasn’t on purpose, if that’s what you’re thinking. He wasn’t trying to hurt you. He’s just not too steady on his feet right now, is all. And neither are you, from the looks of it. Come on. They have to have somebody on the train who can do some medimagic. Let’s get you and Remus on up to the front of the train. The Prefects should be able to point us to the right person to get you both patched up again.”
The thought of being exposed to someone like that (and Severus knows, very well, just how many scars he carries on his undernourished body) brought back the panic, and fear made him both vicious and stupid. “Arrogant Gryffindor whelp! What makes you think I either want or need your help?” he hissed, taking a step back away from the Potter boy and forcing himself to ignore the pain his back and shoulders enough to draw himself up to his full height, crossing his arms again and raising his chin proudly to add to the illusion of height, sneering down his already quite formidable nose at the messy-looking boy, disdain and cold hauteur writ large in every line of his body.
The boy, who was in the midst of offering him a hand, recoiled as if Severus had slapped him. The easy open cheerfulness of his face crumbled away into first shock, then pain, and then righteous rage. “Well, fine then! Excuse me for bloody well caring enough to want to help you! Come on, Siri! Let’s get Remus up to the Prefects. Mr. Better-Than-Thou can stay and bleed his idiotic inbred pureblooded snake-loving self to death here all by his lonesome, since that’s what he seems to be so bloody well set on doing!”
Severus made himself hold to his arrogant pose as the Potter boy twitched his shoulders violently (as though settling a pair of extremely ruffled wings) and then stormed off down the hallway, scowling at anyone and everyone with such ferocity that the curious onlookers started withdrawing to their compartments (door slamming shut behind them, as though to ward off a rampaging beast) and even Lily flinched away from him as he strode up to the other two boys. Between Potter’s determination and Sirius’ oddly gentle helping hands, the two of them quickly had Remus Lupin back on his feet, his arms laid across their shoulders and necks so that they were more than halfway supporting him. They paused for a moment, then – Remus Lupin with his eyes shut, as if trying not to be sick; Sirius Black with his grey eyes still burning pale and hot with rage; and James Potter with an odd look of pity lurking at the back of his eyes, behind the open distaste, that made Severus feel at once hot and cold, his skin crawling with shame. The features of his face felt heavy and cold, as though frozen into face, but he made himself return the Potter boy’s look with a black scowl, noting in his lowest, most silkily smooth voice, “Run along now, children. Don’t let me keep you from your pity-inspired mission of mercy, O would-be heroes of Gryffindor.”
Potter’s features screwed themselves up into an almost ludicrously exaggerated scowl, but there was something darkly ominous in his voice when he snarled, “I held out my hand to you in good faith, and you spit on my offer of friendship. I won’t be so foolish as to offer that hand to you again, Severus. I promise you that!”
Severus held himself stiffly upright and out of the way as they swept past him, the two glaring boys all but lifting the third up off of his feet in their haste to be gone from his presence. He felt some small measure of vindication at that, at least until the Black boy snarled at one of the few remaining watchers, “And just what do you think you’re gawping at? Get back inside your compartment /now/!” his voice so loud and so angry that Severus flinched before he could stop himself, even as a ragged chorus of frightened squeaks and slamming doors echoed up and down the hall, leaving Severus and Lily alone again. And Severus was abruptly so tired that he no longer had enough energy to keep himself from slumping, head hanging forward so that his limp black hair fell forward across his palely sallow features, curtaining him from Lily.
All the hair in the world, though, wouldn’t have been enough to keep Lily’s hesitant question from reaching his ears. “Sev? Are you – are you really okay? You’re not hurt?”
“I am injured no worse now than I was when I first woke this morning,” Severus replied, offering her truth without giving her enough context to truly understand, so that she would let the matter drop.
“Alright. Then – then can I ask you something?”
“Sev, that boy – that Sirius Black – he said some things to you about Slytherin House, and I couldn’t help but overhear. You were taking so long to get back that I was afraid you’d gotten turned around and lost track of where the compartment was, so I came out to look for you,” she explained, her voice so grave and small that he abruptly had to shut his eyes tight, to keep from crying. “Sev, you told me, when I asked, not all that long after we first met, that it didn’t make a difference, being Muggle-born. But that boy said that there is one, for the people in Slytherin House. He said that they call people like me Mu – ”
“/Don’t!/ Don’t you dare call yourself that filthy name!” Severus snarled, cutting her off before he could even realize he’d opened his mouth to interrupt her.
“And why shouldn’t I?” she only demanded, stalking down the hallway until she was barely a step away from him, halting to put her fisted hands combatively on her hips. “If that’s what I am, to the people in the House you want to be in, then why – ”
“I can’t help what House I’m going to be in! It runs in families, Lily! My mother was a Slytherin, and her parents were both Slytherins, as were their parents, all! And it doesn’t matter, not to me! It doesn’t matter at all! It’s not even true! It’s the kind of irrational, puerile, foolishly hurtful thing that one infant would say to another, claiming to be better because ‘my parents are better than your parents!’” Severus spat back in a high, whining, exaggeratedly childish voice, this time meaning it completely when he sneered his disdain and contempt. “Some such brainless dolts put great store by their supposedly ‘/pure/’ blood – and never mind that we probably would have died off by now, at least on this small island, if we only ever married amongst ourselves – but Lily, it’s nothing more than /foolishness/, the kind of illogical, immature claptrap that weak and witless minds cling to, in a vain attempt to make themselves seem better than they truly are!”
Quietly, Lily asked, “So you don’t believe this?”
“Of course I don’t!” Severus all but shouted back. And he wasn’t lying to her . . . not precisely, anyway. He didn’t really like Muggles all that much and he tended to believe that they were dangerous to witches and wizards, but his father had insisted he have a “normal” education at least until the freaks claimed him), and he’d been a precocious learner. He truly loved making potions, so he was interested in plants and animals, and therefore happily learned as much as he could about biology and science, including enough to know that an excessive zeal for pure blood was probably at least as (if not more) dangerous, in the long-term, to the survival of wizards and witches than Muggles alone. He didn’t support blood purity. He just didn’t support any kind of integration between wizarding-kind and the Muggles, either.
“Then why didn’t you tell me that some people in the wizarding world /do /believe such rubbish?” Lily snapped, growing angry again.
“I – I thought I – I wanted to spare you this. If I could. For as long as I could.”
“Sev . . . ” Lily sighed heavily, her shoulders slumping in defeat, all the anger running out of her. Tiredly, she told him, “Sev, you can’t protect me by lying to me. You can’t/. I know you’re only trying to help and you think you’re keeping me safe, but I really need to know these kinds of things more than I need to have my feelings protected from being hurt by some prejudiced idiot. Okay? /Please/. Trust me on this one, alright? I know you mean well and I know you don’t mean to hurt anybody, but someone always seems to get hurt, anyway, and I can’t help but think it’s because you don’t trust anyone enough to help /you/. You have /got to work on trusting people more than you do, Sev. Okay?”
“Yes. I will, Lily. I promise I will. Just – ” don’t leave me all alone again “ – give me a chance to try, to show you what I can do.”
“Alright, then. Well.” Lily paused for a moment, awkwardly, before giving him a smile that lit up her face and made her beautiful green eyes glow. “My mum packed enough food to feel an army, an usual. Come on back to the compartment and help me make sure it doesn’t go to waste, okay?”
“Chocolate cake?” he shyly asked, referring to a private joke that had sprung up between them after the first picnic lunch Mrs. Evans had packed for them, with a basket stuffed practically to bursting with food, including an enormous, sinfully deliciously double-chocolate-fudge cake.
“Oh, Sev, you wouldn’t believe how much chocolate cake!” Lily laughed, looping an arm casually through his and pulling him along with her, back towards their compartment.
That laugh would stay with him for years, cherished close to his heart. And on the days when Severus hurt so much that he wanted to tear at his skin until he bled, just to see if he could claw the darkness out of him if he dug into himself deeply enough, it would be the memory of sparkling bright emerald eyes and the ghost of gloriously decadent double-chocolate-fudge cake lingering at the back of his tongue that kept him from doing damage to himself.
The summer before Lily’s child by that Potter boy is due to come to Hogwarts, he has many such days. And every time they come, Serverus focuses intently on the warmth of Lily’s eyes, and tries to ignore the phantom pain that so often dogs the memory of those eyes, another, far less pleasant memory of the dark desolation in those same bright eyes, when the Sorting Hat declared him for Slytherin House, and the bitterness that always clogs and chokes the back of his throat with the taste of bitter ashes, at the knowledge that it was entirely his fault, for telling the Sorting Hat that it was insane and he certainly did not deserve to be in Gryffindor House with her, not when he was every bit as selfish and thoughtless as that horrible Sirius Black had accused him of being.
On those days, Severus tries desperately not to think of how different things could have been, if only he hadn’t clung so stubbornly to his foolish pride and allowed the Sorting Hat to place him in Gryffindor.
Sometimes, he succeeds.
But more often Severus ends up sitting in front of his fireplace, clinging to a tumbler of firewhiskey and determinedly not picking up the knife that beckons so seductively from the table before him, only a promise made in the memory of the woman he so desperately and hopelessly loved keeping him from digging that blade into his flesh until not even the Dark Lord will ever have the power to touch him again.