Characters: Severus Snape, Eileen & Tobias Snape, Regulus Black
Beta Reader: J.
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): None.
Note: Thanks to J. for her last-minute beta-reading services! All remaining mistakes are mine.
Summary: Running away from home is never easy, but everything is easier if you're Sirius Black.
It was five days after Christmas and five days before the start of term, and Severus thought his room would probably always smell like frying turkey. His mother had been peeling pieces off the same carcass for almost a week now, ever since it had been dropped off in the box from the church with a few packs of biscuits and what had looked like a lifetime supply of tinned peas. He was regretting his decision to come home for the holidays this year; O.W.L.s were only a few months away and it was almost impossible to study surrounded by the ever-worsening smell of smoking fat. But he hadn't wanted to be the only Slytherin from his year who stayed at school.
He didn't know what he'd been thinking. A dormitory to himself and a library temporarily free of the fifth and seventh years who normally choked it daily would have been paradise.
"It's supper." His mother's voice called up flat and hoarse from the bottom of the dim stairway.
Severus shoved his quill into his history book to mark his place. All he'd managed in the last half hour was doodling runes in the margins, and after dinner he'd be too drowsy to do anything properly. As tired as he was of warmed turkey and roast potatoes and peas upon peas upon peas, he always seemed to stuff himself until he couldn't eat anymore.
His father hauled himself up off the sofa when Severus stepped off the landing. They went to the kitchen without exchanging a word, and Severus kept his eyes pinned to his amorphous reflection in the dull plastic covering over the tablecloth as his father fell into a chair. The man was always moving like he weighed a thousand pounds, even though he had never been anything but skin and bone – too tall, too bony, with a twisted back and a doggedly sullen frown.
"Whatever could it be tonight?" his father asked for the third day in a row, dipping again into his bottomless reserves of sarcasm.
Severus rolled his eyes. It wasn't that his father was wrong, but the damned turkey was at least half his fault, and likely more. Surely there could be nothing more useless than a layabout Muggle.
"No trouble swallowing it last night, was there," his mother muttered, setting the skillet on a thin, scorched trivet in the center of the table. She sat and started slopping peas out of a bowl. "Not when you've got so much in the cupboard to wash it down with."
"Well, when a man can't eat his dinner, he's obliged to drink it."
Severus dragged a piece of turkey to his plate. It seemed to him that someone who had been dining on the same brand of gin for ten years might not object to a little lack of variety at the dinner table, but he kept his mouth shut. He knew too well the automatic, unfeeling rebuke that such a comment would receive; and being chided to show respect to either of his parents was more than he could bear anymore. They deserved none, all the more because they never bothered to take notice of any discourtesy unless it came from him. How could he hold them in any esteem when they toiled meekly under the heaps of scorn that they threw daily upon one another? The grease built up under his mother's fingernails and the empty mugs his father always left tottering on the carpet beside the couch condemned them for what they really were. No one could have guessed that this house had ever seen magic.
Without the interruption of snide remarks or half-hearted scolding, the rake and clatter of knives going through thin meat dominated the meal. That suited Severus fine. When his mother raised her head to ask what he thought he'd be taking for N.E.W.T.s, he didn't bother to answer. He shouldn't have come home. He should leave, except he didn't know where he would go.
He had sometimes wondered, before he had been old enough to go off to school, what would happen if his father went away for good. It wasn't that he had wanted him to – he'd been pretty supremely indifferent – but sometimes his father had disappeared for a few days at a time and returned as though nothing had happened, and it was hard to say just what difference that had made. Those periods had been uneasy, but probably only because there had been nothing seated on the sofa with a mug of gin in its hand. It had been like the ballast shifting in a ship. A little compensation, and you could carry on as easy as anything, as long as you didn't mind feeling a bit slanted.
Severus found the bottom of his plate before he was satisfied, but he dropped his napkin on the table and stood without asking for seconds. No one said anything. He went back to his room.
That's how it would have been if he left, too, he was sure – just a little off kilter, but none the worse. If only he'd had a Sickle to his name, he'd have done it. He dragged his desk chair over to the window, sealed up with thin, flimsy plastic to keep in the heat, and looked out to the creaky old playground beyond the next square of flats. When he had felt out of place at home before, he had comforted himself with his grand plan. He was going to join the Death Eaters, of course. There was no other way to do the magic that he longed to do.
But it wasn't like that was going to pay. He ran a fingernail slowly across the window wrapping, laddering it without making a tear. How was he going to get out of here, fully qualified wizard or not, with nothing in his pocket? Nobody he knew at school talked about money; his parents talked about it all the time, but still he knew nothing about it. If he couldn't scrape up enough to get himself to Hogsmeade or London, how was he supposed to get a living after leaving Hogwarts, and still have the time to do the one thing that could make him someone?
He felt the weight of the house and its shabby brown carpeting and scuffed walls and leaking windows more heavily than he ever had before. He was trapped. It would move with him wherever he went, binding him in something worse and stronger than walls.
The deep, high armchairs in the Slytherin common room were the color of the silt at the edge of the lake, their pale brown leather washed grey in the green light from the lanterns. Severus loved them. When the fire leapt in the hearth their true color would show through, a faded fawn, and the shadows cast by their deep wings would lash across the room as though they were alive. Two years ago they had swallowed him whole, leaving his feet dangling above the ancient tasseled carpet, but now he was too big to curl up here. He slouched back, his book resting open on his knees, and Levitated a candle at his side. He made it float around him in slow arcs, even though it made the small text hard to read – just because he could. It was heaven to be able to use his wand again.
Avery and Mulciber were lounging on the sofa by the entrance to the boys' dormitories, and making too much noise, as usual. They had spent the holidays together – in Switzerland, by the sound of it – and kept telling the same story over and over to anyone who happened by. Severus half listened as its details grew more exaggerated, its culmination more heroic, its characters more and more unrecognizable. Any other day he might have turned around to tell them to stop being idiots; they were probably just doing it to rile him, anyway. That was their preferred method of dragging him into conversation when he buried himself in his books.
Tonight, though, he was happy just to hear everyone around him. This was where he was meant to be. He felt at home in this lazy after-dinner chatter, in the brief rush of crowds and greetings and guffaws that came at curfew, when everyone came through the door at once, and in the stillness that followed when the last of his Housemates slipped off to bed. When he was finally alone, he hooked his legs awkwardly up into the chair, settled his book on his chest a few inches from his nose, and devoured chapter after chapter of the second half of his Defense text in the familiar quiet. His candle drifted gradually to the floor and burned away, but he read on, straining his eyes as far as the firelight would let him.
It must have been well past one o'clock in the morning when the gentle crackling in the hearth was joined by an abrupt sniff, a soft scratching sound and quiet footsteps. Severus lifted his eyes from his book, but kept still. Regulus Black stood by the hearth, his back to the room. His body was almost entirely lost in shadow, but one hand reached up to grip the carved stone mantle, his fingers twitching as though he couldn't stop them from shaking. He turned his face to the ceiling, and the fire revealed the tight, troubled line of his mouth. His eyes might have been red, and his skin splotchy, or it might only have been the reflection of the flames.
Severus turned a page as noisily as he could.
Regulus was perfectly still for a moment – and then he turned with a languid stretch of his arms to sit on the hearth, making himself an impenetrable silhouette against the fire. "Wilkes snores like a fucking troll," he said, his voice too harsh and too high. "I don't know how I ever get to sleep around here."
"Mm." Severus turned his attention back to the diagrams in his book, writhing anatomical depictions of the long-term effects of a curse that probably ought to have been unforgivable. It was hard to concentrate. He so rarely had to deal with intruders. Regulus wasn't bad, usually – a thousand times better than his brother – but Severus had only rarely spoken with him. They had some things in common, and would be brothers, of sorts, when they finally made it out of Hogwarts and took the Mark. But there was a gap between them, one that Severus hadn't the first clue how to bridge, and one Regulus wasn't as good at ignoring as Malfoy had been. Or perhaps it was that he just wasn't as good at pretending that it didn't exist.
All the more surprising, then, when Regulus spoke to him again. "How were your holidays?" He sounded more himself now, gentle but cool.
"Fine," Severus replied, immediately suspicious. Regulus was probably just trying to cover – he hadn't come down here to get away from Wilkes' snoring – but it was a strange question anyway. "Just stayed home." He hesitated; he wasn't sure he wanted to hear about Christmas in the Black household.
The silence stretched on. Severus shifted in his chair. This was part of the reason he didn't talk to Regulus; it felt important not to be rude to him, but Severus never knew what he was supposed to say, and Regulus was as bad at supporting a conversation as he was at caring about it. "Yours?" Severus finally asked, trusting to the awkwardness to spare him from any very involved family anecdotes.
"Good," Regulus said. After a moment he straightened a little, throwing a taller shadow on the carpet; the roughness came back into his voice. "Great. We got rid of Sirius."
Severus stared at him over the top of his book. "I saw him at the feast." It sounded more accusatory than he'd meant it to, but it was a cruel lie to tell.
"Well – yes. But he's left home, I mean. And it's about time."
Something like nausea began working its way up from the very pit of Severus' stomach. "He ran away." It was hatred, hatred like bile, and – envy. What right –
"He didn't have to run," Regulus scoffed, twisting his fists into the fabric of his pyjama pants. "Mother just watched him walk out. He said he'd had enough, but it's – it's been years since I had enough of him, so it's about time, really. I wish he'd gone years ago."
Hope stirred in Severus' chest. "Where did he go?" Sirius Black's family had cut him off, no doubt. Severus hid his smile behind his book as it threatened to twist out over his face like Devil's Snare. He'll be nothing, now. He'll be trapped. See how he likes it, see if he has anything to smirk about, the great arrogant blockhead.
Regulus gave a stiff shrug. "He stayed with Potter. I guess he'll go home with him for the summer, too. They're always hanging around together anyway, it's not like it changes anything."
The hatred surged up again, drowning his smile and stifling his beginnings of joy. Severus sucked the inside of his lip between his teeth, dropping his eyes to the page and fixing them on one wrinkled corner. Regulus' stupid stilted voice made him want to kick something. It's not like it changes anything.
It changed nothing at all. Sirius Black had a family and a name and a vault so deep in Gringotts it was only a step away from hell, and he could throw it all away without suffering more than a change of address. He could get fed up and decide he'd had enough and walk out the door, because someone who had everything had every place to run to. And even when he'd turned up his nose at everything that anyone with a brain would kill for – he'd still have people asking him back again, some silly little brother doing a pathetic job of pretending not to sniffle.
Severus turned another page, picking up only scattered words and numbers as his eyes darted uselessly from side to side. For the space of a few seconds, the Slytherin common room was a cramped, bare bedroom with a leaky window and a lock on the door that no magic would ever open, and he had never hated Sirius Black more than he did just then.
Slowly, with great effort, he made himself return to reading. Regulus was a black spot lingering on the edge of his vision, wavering on the hearth, as unsteady as the glowing log behind him that was slowly thinning into fragile golden embers. Severus hated him, too, for being such an idiot and for being so bad at hiding it.
"Well," Regulus said after a while, clutching his hands between his knees. "It'll make dinners less of a –"
"I'm going to bed." Severus shot to his feet, sending the candle stump skittering away into a corner. "Goodnight." He tucked his book under his arm and left the common room without looking at Regulus again. He didn't want to hear about it anymore, and couldn't see why Regulus wanted to talk about it at all.
He stormed into the long, low room where his classmates slept, ignoring the muffed protests that came when he slammed his book down on top of his trunk. He leapt onto his bed and pulled its hangings shut. Here in the heavy, muted darkness, where all the castle and even some of the lake stood between him and the sky – here was the first place he had ever felt a little free. His first night at Hogwarts, his first night with a wand, he had been so sure that he had left everything else behind. He had known that he was moving on and up and forward. He had never thought that he might not be able to move at all.
He snorted quietly, kicked off his shoes, and reached out to seize his book again. This was the only way he was going to get anywhere at all, if he ever did.