Title: Standing at the Fork in the Road
Characters: Severus Snape, Eileen Snape, Tobias Snape, Lily Evans, OC
Beta Reader: Audrey
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Implications of neglect, family discord, mention of nightmares, implied bullying.
Summary: It didn't matter how many Seers his mother took him to, because Severus' future never looked any brighter.
Once upon a time was how all the best stories started, and in Severus' opinion, his own should start the same. Once upon a time, there was a boy.
Severus frowned, rubbing dirt off his knees. He hadn't gotten much farther than that, but he was sure that one day, he'd have a great story to tell. Maybe once he'd gotten to Hogwarts, like his mum. She could tell great stories about the school, how it was a castle, which was just cool.
The playground was nearly empty. He should have gone home already, as the sun had set perhaps ten minutes before, but his mum and dad were fighting again.
They were always fighting.
About different things, Dad's job, Mum's books, the roast she'd burnt, and why she couldn't use magic to cook. In Severus' opinion, his mum's food would taste a whole lot better if she cooked with magic. Everything was better with magic.
A dog howled somewhere in the distance, and Severus, looking up at the nearly full moon, got spooked and scrambled off the swing he'd been sitting listlessly in. Time to go home.
The playground was between his house and the mill his father worked in. Go left from the benches and he'd be home in three minutes, almost exactly. He'd timed it once. If he took the road straight behind the benches, he'd end up going in a circle through a big nest of houses that all looked very much alike, only different in the people he'd see in the windows. He'd be home in ten minutes, and his mum would probably yell at him.
Severus looked at the benches, looked to the left, and looked back at the benches. He walked straight past them.
Going the long way home was a bit like walking into another world, the houses much nicer than his own and the people all looking clean and happy and alive. Severus looked down at his mismatched, coal-stained second-hand clothes. He'd like to fit into another world, if only he could.
He walked slow, boots two sizes too big hitting the pavement with a solid thump, his feet slipping around inside them. Really, he had to walk slowly, or he'd fall on his face, which he really didn't want to do again. He'd broken his nose the last time, and the spell his mum used to fix it went badly and now his face looked crooked, nose hooked and overall appearing too large for his small stature.
Severus scowled. An old man's nose, some of the other boys had called it. Bloody idiots, though, that's what they were. Lily had told him it didn't look so bad.
Lily's house was just before the last bend in the curve, the one that would circle around and take him home. He saw the house peeking around its neighbors' hedges as he meandered down the street, identical to every other short, squat home. It still stuck out though, somehow much more inviting than the others, much like the girl who lived there.
Severus wished he lived there, too.
Past the house, around the bend in the road, and he was heading home. The sun had long since crept down beneath the horizon, and Severus knew he should have gone home earlier. By the time he stomped up to the sunken down front porch of his home and kicked off his boots, it was pitch black outside, the streetlights that should have illuminated his way flickering weakly.
"He doesn't have to go!" His parents were still fighting. "He's only half of your type. He can stay here!"
"He can't just stay, Tobias." His mother sounded so tired, and Severus couldn't blame her, not when he felt so very tired just listening to them both. "It's not something you can just erase, magic," she said quietly, not sparing a glance when Severus pushed open the screen door and crept in. "He's already shown that he has it. Magic doesn't just go away. It'll come out, whether he or anyone else likes it."
"If you're so dead set on it, then why take him to those—those people? Those—"
"It was a tradition in my family, going to a Seer, and I wanted to do the same for him!"
"Your family got rid of you a long time ago," Tobias said, snorting derisively. "I don't see why you're still holding on to them."
"I'm home," Severus said, standing between the front door and the hallway, slinking toward his bedroom. Neither parent acknowledged him, too busy ripping into each other, and Severus was almost tempted to stay, if only to watch his mother actually fight back.
When he turned and walked to his bedroom, it was as if he'd never been there at all.
No child should be awake at three in the morning, drenched in sweat and staring down at the scuffs and stains in the kitchen table, wondering why he was the way he was. Severus sat for two hours before his mum finally got up and crept into the kitchen to start tea and scrape food together. When she flicked the lights on, Severus stared at her, and she jumped, hand to her chest and eyes bulging for a moment before realizing just who had been sitting there in the dark.
"Severus? You scared me," she breathed, patting his shoulder as she walked to the stove. "What are you doing awake?"
Severus stared at the table. Eileen looked over her shoulder and frowned. "Was it," she hesitated, "the same dream?"
"Did anything change?"
She put the teapot on the burner and shuffled back to the table, taking a seat across from her son and watching him with sad, tired eyes. "Nothing at all?"
"It's just a dream, mum."
"That's muggle talk, Severus," Eileen informed him sharply. "There's no such thing as 'just a dream' when you've had it for as long as you have."
"Nothing changed," Severus said, lips tugging down into a frown. "It was just the same stupid dream about that snake—"
"A snake eating you alive." Eileen looked ill. "It's such a bad omen," she murmured.
It wasn't so much that the snake ate him alive in his dreams. Severus was always lodged in its mouth, legs restrained down its throat and giant fangs pinned to the backs of his shoulders. The slightest movement would cause the snake to puncture his skin, and in the dream, Severus just knew the snake was poisonous. He would wake up unable to move for several minutes before his mind reoriented itself with reality.
"It's just a dream," Severus muttered, gave the table leg a sharp kick. "I just don't like snakes."
"Slytherins always like snakes, Severus."
"Maybe I'll be a Ravenclaw," Severus said. Eileen gave him a sharp look. "I only said maybe."
"Every person in the Prince family has been in Slytherin."
"But I'm a Snape," Severus said.
"Don't be so headstrong. You sound like your father," Eileen said, and Severus shut right up, tried to sit straighter. He wasn't like his father, not at all, but his mum always said it when he wasn't acting right.
The teapot whistled and Eileen got up to pour a cup for them both, bare feet padding silently across the cold kitchen floor. Severus, bored, watched her go and tried to think of something to say.
Eileen saved him the trouble. Setting the teacups on the table, she said, "We'll be leaving in an hour."
Severus started. "Leaving? Where are we going?" It wasn't even light outside.
"Into town," his mum said. "There's a woman I want you to see."
"Something like that," Eileen said. "Be quiet while you're getting ready. I don't want you to wake your father." Severus' mind translated that to I don't want your father to know where we've gone.
They stepped out of the house just as the sky began bleeding into a light gray, spilling over the horizon and into the streets. Eileen linked Severus's arm in her own and pointedly ignored her son's jerks and scowls.
"I'm not a baby," he grumbled, pulling at his arm.
"You're ten," Eileen said. "You might as well be."
The walk into town took them past the mill, past the bend in the road that would have taken him to Lily, and straight through a street where the shops all had bars on the windows. Normally, Eileen would clutch Severus tight to her side and hold her wand in her pocket as she ushered them quickly down the street, avoiding any wandering eyes. This time, Eileen pulled Severus toward one of the shops and through the doors. Severus brushed his hands against the bars on it as his mother pushed him through the threshold and let the door swing shut behind them.
"I'm here to see the Lady," Eileen said, hands on her son's shoulders.
The man sitting at the counter barely glanced up from the magazine he was reading. "Do you have an appointment?" He turned the page, and Severus caught a glimpse of a woman wearing not much at all. He looked at the ground, face burning.
"Yes. For ten minutes from now."
"Prince," Eileen said, clenching Severus' shoulders tighter. "I called yesterday."
The man grabbed a notebook and flipped through it, looked up at the mother and son standing before him, and then nodded. "Right, there's your name. You can go on back, just through that doorway over there." He gestured at a dark green cloth hanging over a whole in the wall, and Severus frowned because it wasn't really much of a doorway.
"Thank you," Eileen said, voice prim. She guided Severus with a gentle shove and followed after him, grabbing the curtain and pulling it aside.
The waiting room was full of magazines and ashtrays, smelling completely of the latter. Severus sank into a chair next to his mother, the wood creaking with every shifting movement. "What's this place?" he asked in a whisper.
"A muggle Seer," his mother answered.
"She's been mentioned in our world. I wanted to see if she had anything new to say." New, meaning different. Severus had a feeling his mother wouldn't even care if the woman was a fraud, so long as she didn't say the same thing all the others had.
"I bet she won't," Severus said glumly. "I bet it's the same if she's any good."
"Don't be difficult," Eileen said. "She's very expensive."
"Dad's going to be angry."
"Then we just won't tell him, will we?" Eileen returned, and Severus could hear the threat in those words.
"I guess not."
They sat in silence, alone in the waiting room. Every so often, the curtain to the shop beyond would rustle, and Severus would catch a glimpse of the man at the counter and the occasional customer.
"Prince?" a woman's voice called from the door opposite the curtained entrance.
"Here," Eileen said, motioning for Severus to stand.
"I don't want to," Severus said quickly, grabbing his mother's skirt and giving it a tug. "I don't want to hear it again. Can we just go home?"
"Don't be difficult," Eileen said again. "We came all this way, and it would be rude to cancel on such short notice."
So, Severus found himself stumbling into a tiny, multicolored room at his mother's heels, glowering at the bright colors and the glittering crystal ball resting on a velvet pillow in the middle of a circular table, an old woman covered in jewels and swatches of bright purple cloth glowering right back at him over the top of it.
"Good morning, Ms. Prince," the old woman said in a smoky voice. "Or should I say, Mrs. Snape. Is there a reason for such secrecy?"
Eileen started, and Severus looked up at his mother's face, reading the shock before it bled away into a passive expression. "I apologize, ma'am," Eileen said. "I'd prefer my husband not know."
The old woman waved a hand at the two chairs opposite her own. "I understand." And probably already knew, Severus thought. "Tell me, what brings you and your son here? And at such an early hour?"
"I'd like you to look at my son's future."
The old woman's eyes flickered to Severus. "Interesting. Anything specific?"
Eileen hesitated, looking down at her son before taking a seat, trusting that he would follow her. "Nothing specific," she said finally. "Just what stands out."
"What stands out," the old woman echoed. "Very well. Give me your hand, boy."
Severus looked at his mother, then scooted forward in his seat and held out his hand. The old woman grabbed it and held it with soft, warm hands, the multiple rings adorning her fingers pinching Severus' skin. "...long lifeline…" The old woman was muttering to herself. "Power, oh…" Eileen was leaning closer to catch the words, but Severus just wanted to jerk his hand back and beg his mother to leave. It wasn't going to change. She'd say the same thing, the very same, and then he'd have to watch his mother cry while they walked home, cry and beg Severus to tell her about his dream one more time.
It wasn't going to be any different.
When the old woman dropped his hand, she had a troubled look about her. Severus closed his eyes and took a deep breath before opening them again.
"You have a very interesting tale spinning on that palm of yours, boy," the old woman said. "And not much of it is good." Eileen inhaled sharply and grabbed her son's wrist, eyes intent on the old woman. "A snake, boy," the old woman continued, "you have a snake in your future. Several of them."
The hand on Severus' wrist tightened painfully.
"I don't want it," Severus said. "I don't like snakes."
"You will," the old woman said. "You'll become one, even."
"Why?" Eileen asked.
"There is a choice to be made soon, isn't there?" the old woman asked. "Something that will take you away on a journey. You must not go."
"Not go? Why?"
"Would you willingly send him to the nest of the serpent?" the old woman asked. "You are not much of a mother if you would. Keep him close, and he will be safe. Allow him to leave…" She looked down her nose at the scrawny boy fidgeting in the chair next to his mother. "Allow him to leave and he will become what he fears the most. It will kill him."
That was new. "Kill me?" Severus asked.
"Self-destruction is not uncommon with your sort, is it?" the old woman asked. Severus didn't understand, but his mother's face was stark white.
"Is that all?" she asked. "Is there nothing else?"
"I'm sorry," the old woman said, and it truly looked as though she was. "Keep him close to you, Mrs. Snape."
Eileen left the money on the old woman's table and led Severus out by the hand on his wrist, the pressure of her grip never weakening until they were clear of the smoky rooms and the shops with barred windows.
"What did she mean?" Severus asked. "What's going to happen?"
"Hogwarts," Eileen said, not looking at her son. "Your letter's to arrive on your eleventh birthday."
"She was warning me," Eileen said. "She thinks you shouldn't go."
"She's just a muggle!" Severus jerked his arm from his mother's hand. "She doesn't know anything! You said muggles are stupid, that they have no clue about our world—"
"I know what I said," Eileen snapped back, raising her voice for the first time in Severus' working memory. "I know what I said," she repeated, quieter. "But she knew—she knew everything, Severus. I don't know what to do."
The road turned toward the mill, toward home, and Severus let his mother take his arm again, watching his feet shuffle against the dirt road. "Me neither," he said.
Lily was going to Hogwarts. It was like a dream come true, seeing her do magic on the playground.
"Do you think it'll be fun?" she asked him. "My parents can hardly believe it—a witch! I never thought such a thing would be real." She sounded dazed, elated, and Severus basked in the glow of her happiness.
"Of course it'll be fun," he said. "It's magic. How could it not be?"
"You'll be there with me, won't you?" she asked.
Severus looked at the grass fisted in hand and swallowed once before saying, "Yeah, I'll be there."
If Lily hadn’t been a witch, if he'd not felt the need to fuse himself to her side, Severus could have done it. He could have stayed in the muggle world and been nothing more than what he was in that moment, but the magic emanated from Lily like waves, temptation irresistible. There would be no turning back.
Maybe there was no such thing as divination. Maybe it was all subjective, just a load of could-bes that one could avoid if only they knew ahead of time. Well, Severus did know. His mother had made certain of it, cried until her eyes were red every morning over it.
Lily waved at him from the benches at the end of the playground before skipping home. Severus waved back and walked in the opposite direction.
His mum would be so happy, Severus thought, when he proved all those Seers wrong. The choice, after all, was entirely his.