Pairing: Severus Snape/Harry Potter
Beta Reader: H.
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Mention of domestic abuse.
Summary: Someone thinks Severus is worth changing everything for.
When Severus was seven, his father broke his hand.
It was an accident, and if Severus hadn't stepped between his dad and his mum during the fight, it wouldn't have happened.
But it was in that moment, even as his mum healed the bones in an instant (before slipping her wand back into her pocket, fearfully) that Severus vowed to become the most powerful wizard in the world.
That was all that mattered. Nobody could hurt him, or his mum, if he was the most powerful wizard ever.
The day after Severus' eighth birthday, something very strange happened.
Severus was sat there, by the grimy stream, minding his own bloody business, thank you very much.
His thin back was hunched over as he sat, knees hugged up to his chest, wrapped in his dad's battered leather jacket.
The pockets were stuffed with a sticky amalgamation of ciggies and sweets. He knew his mum wouldn't be best pleased when he delivered his haul.
Severus hugged his legs, grouchily. He'd had to sneak the fags out of Mrs Featherstone's handbag – and there'd been, what, ten seconds when Mr Price's back had been turned in the newsagent's for Severus to seize a fistful of sweets in each hand…
Something fell out of the sky in a burst of red feathers and crashed into the stream.
Severus scrambled to his feet in horror. For a moment, he mistook the feathers for blood – but as he slipped and slid down the muddy bank, he saw flecks of gold, like the sunset, amidst the red.
The bird flailed helplessly in the putrid water. Severus lost no time; he waded in.
As he carried it out, picking bits of flotsam and plastic and an empty condom wrapper away from its shuddering little body, he could see its tiny chest heaving.
He wrapped it in his jacket and smuggled it into the house.
For four days, he fed it with bits of stale bread from his secret stash behind the radiator.
The first time the bird burst into flames, it was rather a shock.
Severus was going to pay for the loss of his dad's leather jacket, that was for sure. It was now rather singed.
The bird had been looking dreadful that morning, and Severus had even gone so far as to steal his wand from out of the breadbin (his father's latest hiding place) and try casting a shaky warming charm…
Well, the bird was certainly warm now. It just… caught fire.
Severus felt shamed and responsible, but the bird didn't seem to be in any pain.
It looked… a lot better.
Plus, it came and sat beside Severus, laying its young head consolingly on the boy's thigh and crying a tender healing tear on his bruised hand, when his dad beat him up for ruining his jacket.
Phoenix. Severus wished he dared tell his mum, but his mum never could keep secrets from his dad.
He petted the bird awkwardly.
A real, live phoenix. Severus closed the book excitedly.
That afternoon, Severus sat on the swing in the park, dangling his legs in silence and watching the phoenix as it pecked about. He had his wand again – what a wonderful, rebellious feeling it was to hold it and feel powerful – and a tiny tin pot of potion bubbled good-naturedly away on the grass at his feet.
It was almost peaceful. For once, he wasn't alone, either.
Then he was startled by the sound of footsteps.
There was a gang down the street, who hung out under the underpass, that kept trying to mess with him, laughing at his oversized clothes and lank hair.
Determined not to be pushed out of the park again, he gripped his wand tightly, a dozen curses blossoming on his lips...
"Look! A bird! Get it!"
"No!" Severus shouted, hurling himself off the swing, barking out a hex, and seizing the surprised phoenix. He darted into the bushes, bird clasped gently to his thin chest, heart hammering.
Laying it down cautiously, he crouched still, waiting and listening intently…
Some person had stuck their messy head into the bush.
Severus whirled about.
"Go away! You can't have it!" he sneered, firing off another hex into the dirty ground.
The boy squeaked and leapt back.
"I don't want anything!" he protested.
"Right. Then I'm not allowed to talk," Severus spat, bitterly.
Green eyes blinked myopically at him from behind wonky glasses. Severus turned away, his heart thudding in his mouth.
Then there was a rustling sound as the boy (probably about Severus' age) scrambled enthusiastically through the hedge and tried to peer over Severus' shoulder. He was too short, Severus noted with satisfaction.
"Can I just stay here anyway, even if you don't talk? These boys are after me with a stick," the boy asked, balancing on his tiptoes and fingers.
"Is it the gang that hangs out under the underpass?" Severus asked, before he could stop himself.
"Possibly," the boy replied, simply. "There's one called Brian, I think. He's a knob."
Severus snorted in agreement.
"Can I hide here for a while?" the boy added, hopefully. He paused, then added, as though he thought it would make Severus like him: "I like your coat."
"Thanks," Snape muttered, darkly. "It was my father's, but the sleeve's burnt, look. I've started wearing it when I want to feel like a violent bastard."
"What are you doing?"
"Brewing," Severus said, self-importantly – then he remembered his saucepan. "Rats. I left my cauldron –"
"I'll get it for you!" the other boy beamed, and scrambled out of the bush, even as Severus cried "Wait!"
The boy scurried over to the bubbling pan, and was about to pick it up, when –
"Hello shithead! Get 'im with the stick, Brian!"
Brian's stick was no match for Severus'.
"Thanks," said the green-eyed boy, smiling at Severus – really at him; full on; it was almost obscene– after the boys had limped away. "That stick you got is way better."
"It's not a stick," Severus snorted. "It's a wand. That was magic."
"Is your bird magic too?"
"Yes. He's called Flames."
"What's your name?" the boy asked, suddenly.
Severus told him – figuring he had already gone way over his dad's 'no wand, no magic, no brewing, no talking to strangers' rule.
"I'm Harry," the boy replied, grinning. "Can I hold your stick? Can I do magic too?"
"Probably not, no," Severus said, archly. Magic was just for him; a secret treasure. If just anybody could do it, it would be taking the piss somewhat… Severus imagined if his dad could do magic…
"Why?" Harry asked, frowning. His hand froze, outstretched towards Severus' wand. "What makes you special?"
"I'm going to be really powerful," Severus informed him. "Once I go to school and learn. It will all be different. I have scores to settle."
"Isn't that dangerous?" Harry asked, anxiously. "Can't I try, please – I won't break it –"
"Look, go away, idiot!" Severus snapped – and the light that shone in the other boy's eyes died, instantly. Harry turned away, green eyes lowered in shame.
Severus recoiled in horror. He had made another person feel as bad as his dad made him feel.
It was unbearable.
"Wait!" He plucked at the other boy's jumper. "I'm sorry, I… I…"
Harry peered at him sceptically.
"I'm not very nice," Severus found himself saying, helplessly; pleadingly. He wasn't, he knew – he had no friends; even his own father could barely stand him –
To his surprise, something melted in the boy's stony gaze. Harry looked, inexplicably, sad.
"I think you're nice," Harry whispered. "Worth coming here for, anyway."
Severus wondered if Harry meant coming to the park. Harry must do, yet there was something… deep; strange, in the way he said the words.
Harry met him in the park every afternoon, after school finished. Severus was good at school, although not so much at the artistic subjects, which irked and frustrated him, as potions was creative. He worried that he might not be good at potions when he got to magic school.
At art, however, he was definitely a lost cause. He tended to over-think his artwork and produce pieces that were a strange mixture of darks and lights.
If his art teacher noticed new flashes of green amidst the chaos, she did not think anything of it.
By the time Severus found out that Harry could do magic (Harry himself couldn't have really known - yet the boy oddly, did not seem surprised), he didn't feel resentful at all that Harry shared in his power.
Harry was not like the others.
He never tried to manipulate Severus into doing anything for him; he never lied (or, at least, Severus had not caught him at it); he was always encouraging and understanding when Severus got moody...
Best of all, he never remarked on the bruises on Severus' arms. But he did lay his head gently on Severus' shoulder and sit with him in silent camaraderie whilst Severus ached, mentally as well as physically.
"Don't you ever fight back?" Harry asked. "When he hits you?"
"No," Severus said, curtly. "I never have my wand – he knows I'd be more than a match for him with it. And I'm small. He's not. He's got big hands." He shuddered.
"I like your hands," Harry said, suddenly – then reddened. Unlike Severus, who went all blotchy when he blushed, Harry's cheeks blushed up in a beautiful rosy hue.
"Teach me a spell," Harry whispered, one evening, as they were sat on the top of the climbing frame, watching the stars. "Please."
"Dad's got my wand again," Severus growled. "He snaps it, if he finds I've used it. I'm not supposed to have it at all, it's illegal – it's mum's old one, from when she was at school. She repaired it so I could practice, get a head start. It's not registered any more, so the Ministry of Magic won't know. But dad found out. He hates magic."
Harry was silent. He never said much about his own home life – Severus knew he didn't have parents, and that his uncle hated magic just as much as Severus' dad did, but that was all. Their home lives seemed… rather similar.
"Didn't he know your mum was a witch, when they married?" Harry asked, softly.
"Can't have done. Stupid bugger."
"You don't like him."
"No," Severus snorts. "I wish he'd die."
Severus wiped his nose with the hem of his sleeve. The ragged jumper swamped his tiny frame.
Harry and Flames sat beside him. Flames was crying silently. Severus felt like he had cried out his insides; he felt wrung out and cold.
"I'm so angry at him," he said, suddenly.
"Your poor mum," Harry started to say. "Surely you ought to be with her now?"
"How dare he die? How dare he bloody choke on his own bloody sick cos he was so drunk, how dare he bloody effing…" Severus sniffed. "I never got my chance to be the adult. I was gonna grow up and get my own back, and be all cleverer than him and show him up for the bully he was –"
"Severus," Harry said, gently laying his hand on Severus' arm. "It's alright to be sad. I know you loved him really."
"Didn't like him much though," Severus growled.
"I think the two can go together ok," Harry offered, softly.
"He used to frighten the heart out of me," his mum had said.
Severus remembered her words with an exact precision. This was why he descended the stairs, silently, at one in the morning, clinging to the rail.
Peeking into the sitting room, he spied his mother, passed out on the sofa, fag in hand.
Burnt out, both her and the cigarette.
Severus took it, and the ash tray. He silently tugged his wand out of his baggy shirt pocket – he always slept in one of his dad's shirts now.
"Come on mum," he whispered. "Things were supposed to get better without dad. They were supposed to get better."
Harry was laughing again. He did that a lot, Severus noticed. He was ten now, and was starting to notice a lot about Harry – his sparkling eyes; his tousled hair; his full, smiling mouth…
Severus wondered whether it was ok to think that boys were pretty.
Severus kicked the swing, sending it jangling away, and sat down huffily on one end of the see-saw. Harry, who was sat on the other end, rocketed up into the air and cried out, clinging on for dear life.
"What's up?" Harry asked, hugging the handle tightly in case Severus decided to stand.
"Got bloody told off again," Severus snarled. "Was only late, wasn't I, 'cos mum was sick on herself again. She's like a shadow. I thought she'd be happy dad's gone, but she isn't."
"She loved him," Harry said, cautiously.
"Don't see how. I couldn't love somebody who kicked me in the head," Severus snapped.
"He's dead now," Harry said, awkwardly, "can't you try to remember the good bits –"
"People don't become different when they're dead, Harry – he was an arse, and I –"
"You swear a lot," Harry sighed.
Severus closed his mouth, self-consciously.
"I guess I do. Are you going to stop being friends with me?" he asked, suddenly anxious.
If Harry should walk away from him, he hardly knew what he would do.
Even the small park, once his refuge, had no colour when Harry wasn't there.
"No!" Harry exclaimed. "I'm sorry. I know you're sad 'cos you thought your dad was the problem and now it turns out your mum has problems of her own too."
"I wish I didn't have to go home," he whispered. "I can't wait to go to school. For us to go to school."
"What's that?" Harry asked, squashing up next to Severus on the bench. It was cold now; the leaves were laced with frost.
"Dad's wedding ring. Found it in the loo cupboard," Severus said, stiffly. Harry squirmed against him. Severus' body felt hot, all of a sudden.
"What you gonna do with it?" Harry grinned. "You gonna give it to a girl?"
"What, and get married?" Severus sneered. "I'm never getting married, thanks. Married people are weird."
"You could give it to a girl friend what you like, then," Harry said, shrugging. "Do you know any –"
Severus held the ring out to him.
Awkwardly, face turned away; as though his hand acted of its own accord and without his knowledge…
Severus turned, and saw his hesitation. He turned beet red.
"I, ah," he stammered. "N-never mind. I was just… It doesn't matter, I –" He jammed his fist into his mouth and said nothing more, his teeth denting the skin of his knuckles.
Harry took the ring and slipped it on his index finger, eyes soft with some emotion Severus had never seen before and so couldn't identify.
The ring was too large; it rolled over and nearly dropped off Harry's small finger. Severus pulled out his wand, embarrassed.
"I can shrink it, erm, so it fits," he mumbled.
Harry held out his hand, beaming; green eyes sparkling.
"It's like… one of those rings what knights have," he whispered, sounding awed. "You know, with their seal on or something. Thank you."
Harry's smile stayed with Severus all that night.
"When I get to school, I'll have friends. I'll be one of a group; I'll bloody fit in, just once, I'll fit in, and if someone is shit to me then they'll have the whole of my group to deal with as well as me –" Severus raged, his ruined school books clasped tightly against his thin chest.
Harry picked up one that had fallen, and stroked the spine gently.
As though Harry had stroked him as well, Severus calmed.
Harry always had that effect, Severus never knew why.
"They're ok. We'll wipe the mud off – it's just the covers," Harry said. "And you have to tell your teacher that those boy are picking on you. It isn't fair."
Severus sank onto the grass and was silent.
"We could… we could make our own group," Harry ventured, quietly.
Severus sat up. He could think of nothing better.
"What would we stand for?" Severus asked. "Groups always have, like, a motto or purpose or something. We should make a group like that."
"Depends. What do you want to stand for?" Harry asked. He was staring at Severus with a strange, anxious intensity in his green eyes.
A thousand ideas jostled in Severus' head. Power. Prestige. Domination.
He whet his lips in anticipation.
To never be poor again. Revenge –
But then he looked down at Harry's lovely, soft, earnest face…
And he couldn't say any of those things. Just the thought of the look of disappointment in Harry's eyes…
He couldn't do it.
More than power, wealth, respect – more than all those things, he wanted Harry to be pleased; to be proud of him. To smile his secret, lovely smile at him.
What would make Harry proud?
"I… how about… standing up for those who can't help themselves?" he ventured. "Or justice? We could -"
Harry launched himself at Severus in delight.
Several minutes later, when it became evident that Harry wasn't going anywhere, Severus allowed his skinny arms to wrap around Harry's equally skinny waist and back, and hold him there.
"What shall we call ourselves?" Harry sniffled, into Severus' hair, and Severus realised the other boy was crying silently. He didn't understand, but then he never was very good at reading others' emotions.
On the grass, some way off, Flames lifted his feathery head and regarded them curiously. It was almost… as though he were listening.
"I think… I dunno, the Knights of the Phoenix, of something. It doesn't really matter, if we're together."
Harry stiffened in his arms.
"I like that name," Harry whispered. "It's perfect."
It was dark by the time Harry let him go.
The final part of the Morsmordre ceremony requires the killing of a Muggle. There is blood, and screaming; a sea of white, masked faces; the flash of cold steel; the acrid sizzle of burning magic...
Instead, with Harry, the little ceremony that they invented between them was… strangely beautiful.
Severus made a white potion that smoked, and Harry (Severus marvelled at this) called a ring of grass snakes to surround them, with tiny tongues flicking out eagerly. Flames soared into the sky and showered them in golden feathers.
When they spoke the spell together, hands joined, gazing into each other's eyes, Severus knew he was in love.
He knew he was also young, but this had to be love. Harry looked… radiant, in his eyes.
A soft glow descended upon them, like mist. Harry slid his arms about Severus' neck, and Severus had the overwhelming urge to kiss him.
Except that he had never kissed anybody before, and didn't know how.
He settled, as Harry untwined his arms from Severus' neck and the glow faded, for catching one of Harry's hands – and pressing his mouth to it, hard. Just once.
Harry's skin was soft, like milk.
He looked down.
On that same arm, was a mark; a thin outline in glittering gold.
Severus had never been as happy as when he saw the same outline on his own arm.
They were joined now, forever.
Harry, eyes dark and misty with emotion, fumbled with Severus' hair and sleeve, and kissed him.
Severus lay by himself that night and wished he had Harry to sit up with him.
But when his mum fell over in the kitchen, bringing the drawers crashing down over her head, Severus collected up the spilt cutlery and felt strangely… calm. It was though he was being held up; supported, somehow.
It was as though Harry was beside him, all through the night he spent in A and E with his mum. Just remembering their clumsy kiss made Severus feel like he was floating.
The arrival of Severus' Hogwarts letter saw Severus running into the park, the parchment clasped in his clammy hand.
This was the day Severus had been looking forward to all his life… but where was Harry?
He and Harry had continued to meet there, every evening, and the outlines on their arms grew stronger and more defined by the day. They held hands, now, from the moment they met until the moment they parted. Occasionally, all blushes and soft smiles, Harry would allow Severus to press their mouths together again. Severus lived for those moments.
Severus sat in the park until night fell. Then, damp and miserable, he went home.
The next morning, Flames fluttered down beside him, a letter clutched in its beak. Severus snatched it up eagerly.
As he read the letter, his heart shrivelled in his chest.
I have to go, I'm so sorry. I have to go back. I only had a short time, but if I could have stayed with you, I would. I promise.
We will meet again, it is certain. I'll always be with you. I'm sorry.
"I found him," Harry says, twenty four again, sinking into a chair. Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley exchange glances.
"You're sure?" Hermione asks, nervously. "Harry, you're sure he's good – I know you saw those memories, but we can't really be sure -"
Harry shakes his head.
"We can. Anyway, he saved Fawkes. He looked after me. He's good. Even at ten. He deserves to live, and I had to do something."
He pulls up his sleeve.
Ron and Hermione gasp at the sight of the golden phoenix.
"What is that?" Ron hisses.
"I thought… I'd planned to, you know, get there first. Put my mark there before Voldemort. But then I met him again and… I just wanted to be bonded to him," Harry admitted, softly.
"Harry," Hermione chokes out. "You… you've changed everything. If Snape's not a Death Eater –"
"I know," Harry whispers. "But, this way, he doesn't die. I don't know how our lives will change, but I had to. He needs to live. I love him."
The fold neatens itself out, after Harry goes. There, in the desolate park one morning, in Harry's place, is a pretty red-headed girl.
Severus has a friend, again. He is not alone, and he loves her for it.
But the mark remains.
Even had it not, Harry has marked not only his arm, but his heart.
When Severus tries to join the Death Eaters at eighteen, he rolls up his sleeve in the privacy of his room, imagining what the Dark Mark will feel like – and finds the outline Harry left still there, bold against his pale skin.
There is no room for the Dark Lord to mark.
Severus knows he could have the pale phoenix removed, if he really wanted to.
But that would mean choosing the Dark Lord over… over Harry.
And there is no way, no way.
Severus never performs the Mordmordre ceremony.
Severus has always wanted power. But, right now, he wants nothing more than to keep the one thing he has that ties Harry to him, wherever Harry may be.
Something in him will always be seeking that smile, those eyes, and the partner who he bonded himself to at ten. But he knows he will see Harry again, one day.
He just knows it.
Note: Flames is, of course, Fawkes.