Title: Curiosity Kills More Than Cats
Characters: Severus Snape, Tobias Snape, Eileen Prince-Snape
Beta Reader: Mandi
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Allusions to violence and abuse (physical and sexual).
Summary: Curiosity mightn't kill a cat, but as Severus Snape found out, it can kill a spirit. Be careful what you ask for. The answer mightn't be at all what you expect. It certainly was not what an aged nine boy had expected.
The aged nine Severus Silas Snape, breathing heavily in anticipation, took the old, deteriorating red shoebox from his mother and cradled it to his chest as he turned and looked at his father, who was doing his best to ignore his son. "Ca--may I take this to my room to look at it, Father?" Severus asked, sotto voce. If his father made him open the box in front of him and his mother, Severus thought he might cry, have a fit, or something worse. Then where would he be? In his room, without the box, a sore backside to show for it. That's what would happen and that is where he would be, because tempers in the Snape household were reserved for Tobias. His wife and child weren't allowed a temper, and if such were shown, it would be dealt with promptly.
Although Severus had ignored that knowledge in the past--and had paid dearly for doing so--being so brazen as to defy his father couldn't happen this night, therefore Severus did his best to show his father his saddest face. He hoped it would work … though it never had before.
"Do as you wish, child. Your mother and I told you five years ago that on your tenth birthday you could open the box. As we are going to be visiting your grandmother tomorrow, I have agreed to allow you to look at the contents early. Whether you do so here or in the privacy of your bedroom makes me no difference," replied the elder Snape, his brown piercing eyes pinning his trembling son to the spot where he stood. "Do be quick about this, Severus. My evening will not be interrupted with incessant questions, and I know you all too well. You will come in here with all of these grand thoughts and hopes. You will be given one hour to read the contents of the box and ask me any question you might have. I mightn't answer, but you may ask whatever that little curious mind of yours needs to know an answer to. Once the clock strikes six, however, there will be no further questions, understood?"
Severus nodded, not liking the way his father was smirking. It was very unlikely that any answers would be forthcoming, but that was nothing new. Tobias had always teased Severus and led him to think he was approachable. Such tactics had worked for years, but Severus was no longer a little child who had grand illusions of how things worked. He knew how his father worked.
"Off with you then," said Tobias, his right hand making a sweeping motion towards his son's room.
Severus walked to his bedroom and shut the door behind him. He locked it. Even as his father had given him permission to do this in private, Severus didn't quite trust that his father would allow such a thing to happen. Severus's life had never been his own, so why should he be left alone now?
He walked over to his bed and gently set the box at the foot, atop the multi-colored quilt his great-grandmother had given him when he was seven. Next, Severus sat down beside the box, and stared, almost reverently. Such anticipation was almost too much, yet when Severus reached out to open the box, he couldn't. He pulled his hand back and tried to calm his breathing. He could do this.
He had to do this.
His parents' muffled voices resonated through the thin walls, and Severus knew they were discussing him. Normally, such knowledge would upset the boy and cause him to spy on Tobias and Eileen Snape, but not this time. This time he didn't care what they said.
He once again reached out with his right hand and touched the familiar box that had called out to him for almost five years. It would taunt him no more. He would get his answers.
For the week previous, Severus had waited for this moment with giddiness one day, and sadness the next, but now that the moment had arrived, he felt neither happiness nor sadness. His emotions were detached, much as they had been for the past five years. As sad as such a realization made Severus--he'd thought he'd be filled with happiness and excitement--Severus guessed it was only natural that he would have built this moment up in his mind so much so that the actual reality would never match the perceived expectation.
He had done that for as long as he could remember: Imagined a reality only to see his dream shattered into a million pieces. Each time, he said he would never get his hopes up again, but each new grain of hope gave him a renewed sense of wonderment, and the eventual letdown was always harder than the one previous. Still, it was the only way Severus Snape knew how to survive. Without hope for a better future, his current misery would overtake him and leave him without a soul.
Severus would not allow that to happen. He was many things: poor, ugly, unhygienic, messy, moody, and angry, but above all of these, he was an aged nine child who had his entire life in front of him. He knew that one day soon he would leave this hell of a life behind and that one day in the near future he would look back on this time and laugh at how sad and pathetic his life had been, and how fortunate he was to have got past such a time.
But that eventuality was a few years in the future. For now, Severus prepared to open the box and see what memories awaited him … memories that he sometimes wished he knew nothing about, such as when his father was beating him to within an inch of his life.
But he did know about the letters and other contents; he had known for five years … five of the longest years of his life. Severus had paid dearly for one moment of curiosity, and as he prepared to open the box, he was hoping that the payoff would be worth all the beatings and other punishments.
Of course, nothing would be worth the unbearable punishments, but Severus had to think otherwise. It was what had kept him going ever since that day when he had received that first punishment … that day in January of 1965 … the day everything for an aged five boy had changed.
As Severus remembered that dreary, blustery day and recalled the moment his life had taken a turn downward, he felt immense regret and overwhelming sadness. How could he have guessed that his curiosity would be the catalyst for every bad thing that had happened since? If he had only listened to his mother, who had begged him to cease asking about the contents of the box.
But he hadn't. He had begged and pleaded and whined to be told what was in the box, and he had eventually got his way. His reward? Five years of hatred and abuse … and self-loathing.
All of this was the price he had paid--would always pay.
Severus once again touched the lid of the box and began to lift it, and a flood of memories washed over him. He was aged five, giddy with anticipation about the gift his parents were about to surprise him with outside.
"Severus, dear, do go wash your face. Your father will be late for work if you continue to dawdle as you are. You have been staring at that box for an hour. You know what I am going to say, so don't even ask!"
"I know, Mum, but five years is a long time from now. Why must I wa--?"
"Severus, do be a good boy and not ask me again what resides within the box. It is a surprise, and your father has said that you will find out what is within when you have your tenth birthday, and not a second sooner. Understood?"
"But Mum, I have five whole years until then. What if you and father are dead by then? You are the only one who knows how to open the box."
"Listen to your mother, Severus. Not another word about it, understood?"
"But I wa--"
"Severus, did you hear your father? He said no--"
"I heard him, Mum. No, I don't understand. Wha--"
"Fecking letters, boy. They is the letters your mam wrote you and the ones she made me write when you was a baby, and every year after. Ruddy useless undertaking and surprise if you ask me. You can't do anything with a blasted box of letters!"
The row that followed had been one for the ages, and the gift that Severus had been so looking forward to only minutes earlier hadn't mattered in the least when he finally saw it. Any happiness he might have had at seeing a genuine Shooting Star flying broom awaiting him disappeared when his father had told his son that he wished he had never had such an ungrateful and stubborn son.
Such words had sliced through the boy of five as if he had been cut by a knife, but the little boy had refused to cry. Tobias Snape abhorred crying, and Severus wouldn't give his father the satisfaction of being able to punish him by calling him a poofter, his choice of words whenever his son disappointed him. Severus hadn't known at the time what the word meant, but he had known enough to know that it couldn't have been anything nice.
Shouting, cursing, hitting, and every other kind of abuse you could imagine had been committed that night. Severus had cried and begged his parents to stop fighting and hurting each other and him, and he had even tried to prevent his father from hitting his mother. A broken nose hadn't been the worst of his punishments for that transgression.
That night, an aged five boy learned what true hatred was, and he'd not been the same since.
All because of a box filled with five years of letters from his parents.
Whatever could be so bad about such a box that it would have been the catalyst for such anger?
Five years onward, as Severus lifted the first parchment from the stack, his hand shook. How could he care what these letters said? How could he stand to read letters from happier times when all he had known for the past five years was abuse? How could he wish to read something that had been the reason for all the unhappiness in his life?
How? That was easy for Severus to answer. No one else would understand, and perhaps he shouldn't understand how he could feel the way he did, but it all came down to the fact that at one time he had been loved. Perhaps not for the previous five years, but for the five years before that day, he had been, and those letters from so long ago were the ones that he needed to see. Severus wanted to read words that let him know that he had been born into a loving family. He longed to know that at one time his mother had looked at him with loving eyes. He craved to read words that proved his father had at one time seen him as a sweet little boy worthy of love instead of a boy good for nothing other than letting his dad do horrible and illegal things to him every other night for the past five years.
The letters all seemed to be in order from the first to last letter written. As he prepared to open the first one, Severus briefly closed his eyes and composed himself. As pensive as he was, he needed to know, and soon he would. His curiosity was again about to test him, and he hoped he'd be able to pass this test.
09 January 1960
Dear little Severus,
I have looked forward to this day for more years than you can imagine. When I found out you were inside of me, I loved you immediately. As you continued to grow, I read to you and sang to you. My mum and dad thought I was barmy for doing such a thing, but I insisted that you could hear my words. Tobias was the only one who never ridiculed me for my actions. In fact, I think he talked to you more than me. I can't tell you how many times I woke up during the night to see him with his head next to my stomach, talking to you. As long as I live, I'll never see a more precious sight than your father telling you the story of how he and I met.
I love you, Severus.
Love you always, son,
Eileen Prince Snape
Severus grinned as he set down the letter and retrieved the next.
09 January 1960
All my life I have been told not to expect anything good, that as a poor lad from Dublin, my lot in life was bleak. My childhood was bad. It was worse than anything you can imagine, I assure you. But all those years, when I wanted nothing more than to die, were preparing me for how good things can happen to not so good people. I might not have amounted to anything back then and I still probably don't today, but as you have been presented to me as my son, I have to think that someone thought me good enough for that, and that is about as good as it gets for people like me.
I love you, son.
Love, your father, Tobias Patrick Snape
One year down, five more sets to go. Severus would only read the most recent four or five sets of letters if he felt emotionally strong enough after reading through the sets from his first five years of life. His mother had encouraged him to read them all, and Severus had said he would, but now he wasn't so sure. He saw how much he was hated on a daily basis, and that hurt badly enough. To read hateful words towards him would be a fate worse than death for Severus.
Year two …
09 January 1961
My little boy, Severus,
I wish you could know how special you are to me. Every morning, when I walk into your room to change you into your clothes for the day, you smile at me as if I am your everything. You can't know how that makes me feel. I've never had anything that was truly mine. How is it that I am worthy of you? I am not, but every day I strive to prove to you how loved you are. You took your first step two months ago, and you haven't stopped since. Yesterday evening I found you sleeping on the floor in front of your father's chair. You were holding onto the blanket that he uses to cover his feet and legs when he gets cold. I went to pick you up, but Tobias shook his head and picked you up himself. You woke up, but then he rocked you and hummed until you fell asleep again. He loves you so, child. May you always be your father's little boy, Severus.
Love always, your mother
As Severus set down the letter, he shook his head. He hadn't stayed little, had he? He was no longer his father's little boy. Such a realization had been a fact for a long time, but to know now that his mother had requested he always be his father's little boy made Severus bereft with grief over the loss of something so very special that he had once had.
09 January 1961
You are growing up so very fast. Why does time have to pass so quickly? When I leave in the morning, you are my sweet adoring baby, but when I arrive home, you are almost a day older, and a day wiser. It won't be long until you are running and getting into all kinds of mischief. Be careful, Severus. There are bad people in the world who will use you for their own purposes, and they won't care how much they hurt you or your family in the process.
Severus reread the letter twice more. Who were these people his father was talking about? What had they done to his father? It was obvious they had done something.
Year three …
09 January 1962
My precious Severus. Thank you for being the balance in my life. You are the reason I live, and the reason I love. My mother came to visit last week and said you are the happiest little boy she has ever seen. I agreed with her. No child ever smiles as much as you do, and no child will ever love their parents like you love your father and me. Thank you for being the reason for my every breath, and thank you for being the glue that is keeping your father and me together. You are more special than you will ever know, son.
Love, your mum
Severus swallowed and set the letter down. The letters were becoming a bit less happy, and Severus wasn't so sure he wanted to continue. Would it be too much for him?
Dear Severus -
Whatever happens, don't forget that I love you. There are those who mean to do harm to me. I seem to have bitten off more than I can chew, and I don't know how to get out of this mess I have got myself into. You would do wise to not allow others to influence you.
Severus set the letter down and ran into the sitting room, where his parents were watching the news. "Daddy, are you in trouble?" he asked, not caring that he wouldn't get an answer. He had to ask regardless of what he was told. His father mightn't care about his son, but Severus cared very much for his father and didn't want anything bad to happen to him.
"No. Why do you ask?" said Tobias, his voice a bit shaky as he turned and faced his son. "Why do you ask?"
"There is a difference in your letters after the first few years."
"That is no concern of yours, Severus," was all the response Severus was given. Tobias turned away from his son and asked his wife to turn up the volume.
Severus opened his mouth to make a quick retort, but decided he best not say anything that would push his father. His punishment would not be a beating this night, and Severus's bum was still sore from two nights previous. "Yeah, okay," was Severus's response, then he turned and returned to his room, wishing more than anything he was still the little boy his father had loved.
Year four …
You make me so proud. I knew you would show yourself sooner rather than later. You are going to be a powerful wizard one day--I have no doubt about that. In eight years, you will go to Hogwarts and be with others like you. I do want you to be with others who will understand you. I am sorry your father isn't one of those people. He dislikes magic. I wish I knew why. He says that nothing good can come from waving a wand. I disagree, but not to his face. He is wrong, my baby. You are good and could never use your magic for bad. I wish your father could understand that. Regardless of his lack of understanding, he does love you, Severus. Just last night I went to kiss you goodnight, and your father was standing in the doorway, smiling as he watched you sleep. So much in your father's life is stressful, but when I see him look at you, I see the young man I fell in love with all those many years ago.
Happy Birthday, dear Severus
Severus immediately set down the letter and retrieved the next. He didn't wish to think about his father's hatred of his ability to do magic. It was a hurt that Severus would never heal from.
Let me begin this by saying that I love you. You are my son. How could I not love you? But I fear for you now that I know what you are. I'll never be able to make you understand, but you are going to be in danger because of what you are, and it is all because of me. I did a very bad thing, Severus. I sold my soul. Please forgive me. You don't deserve what I have done to you, and what I will do to you. I don't know how to do what they tell me I must. How does one break someone they love? No matter what my fate, or yours, I have always loved you and always will. Please understand that were it in my power, things would be different.
Love, your father
Severus dropped the letter, got off the bed, and made his way to the door, shaking his head. Tears cascaded down his face as he opened the door and entered the hall that led to the sitting room. His father was in trouble. When he entered the room he had only departed a few minutes earlier, only his mother was there. "Where did father go?"
"He left," was his mother's sad reply as she looked at him with tears in her eyes.
"But he'll be back?" Severus asked, knowing the answer. He would never see his father again. This had been planned. A son had pushed his father's hand and this was the result. Severus had made it easy for his father to carry out whatever he had been told to do all those many years ago. Severus wasn't sure how he knew all of this, but he did. It was all beginning to make sense now.
"I do hope your father will return, Severus, but I have my doubts."
"What did he do, Mum?" asked Severus, feeling a chill come over his body. What he wouldn't give to go back a few hours so he could change this. So this would not be happening.
But he knew better than to think such a thing. This day had been in motion for years and there hadn't been a thing Severus could have done to change it.
"I wish I knew, love. All I know is that he promised some other people that you would do something bad for them. He has punished himself and you ever since. I knew five years ago that he would leave when you opened the box on your tenth birthday. Don't ask me how, but it was as if I could see what he was thinking."
Severus understood, because sometimes he could feel what his mother was thinking. He thought it must be his magic, but he couldn't be sure. "I don't want to do anything bad, Mum. I know how much Father hated that he had such a bad time and that he did so many bad things when he was younger. I don't want to let him down. I want to be good." Severus felt his chin beginning to quiver, and he forced himself to not cry.
"You are good, Severus. Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise. We all have times when we make ill-advised decisions, but it is what we do when it counts that matters. Never forget that, son."
Severus nodded. Her words were hollow to his ears, but he appreciated her words that were meant to soothe. He very much wanted to hug her and tell her how much he loved her, but if he did so, it would be his undoing, and he couldn't afford to lose his composure … yet. Later, when he was in his bed, pretending to be asleep, he knew the tears would flow freely, but for now he would buck up and be the big boy his father had always wanted him to be. Thus, he turned around, walked to the back door, opened it, stepped outside, and walked down the short pavement, crossed the overgrown growth that separated his house from the play park, then ran for what seemed like hours until he reached Lily's house. He raised his hand to knock on the door, but then stopped. He could see through the blinds, and he could see Lily, Petunia, and their parents seated around the dinner table. They looked as happy as they could be, and Severus knew they were. How could he take that happiness away from Lily?
Lily was everything good, and he, Severus Snape, was everything bad … or he would be in time. He wasn't sure what had been done to him other than his spirit being broken into a million pieces, but he knew that his future had been changed, and not for the better. His father had done something so vile that he had left his wife and son because of it.
If Severus was now going to pay a price for his father's sin, he couldn't allow Lily Evans to be a part of his life. He wished more than anything to be her dearest friend, perhaps her future husband, but that was not to be. Any such dream was now gone … a whisper in the wind that had teased him and left him, just as his father had.
According to the letters, Severus knew that this day would have always happened as it had, but another fact that was hard to ignore was that if a young aged five boy hadn't pushed his father and mother, the young and innocent boy might have had five more years of the same. But he had pushed and he had got what he'd asked for.
And the price?
Not at all worth it.
Nothing else--no matter how good it might be--in Severus's life would ever be worth the price he had already paid ... would continue to pay. He had no choice but to push away the very people he loved and cared for.
Why had he been so very curious?