Beta Reader(s): Her husband.
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): None.
Note: Thanks to my husband for the beta. I finally wrote a story he wasn't too embarrassed to read!
Summary: Severus makes the most of what he finds.
Severus Snape was very good at being quiet. He knew how to move about his house without making a bump or a creak. This was quite an accomplishment; the house where he lived was quite old and was practically falling apart because his father couldn't be bothered to fix anything.
After making it up the stairs, Severus took a deep breath. Hardest bit done. Wouldn't do to get too confident, though. He couldn't afford to relax. He hugged the wall as he crept along the upstairs hallway. The floorboards on the side were less worn down than the ones in the middle, and they were less likely to groan. He had to duck to avoid the few photos that hung on the wall, but the pattern of bobbing was automatic by now.
His father wasn't even at home, but the imperative of silence was too ingrained in him for Severus to move in any other manner. Besides, he didn't want to disturb his mother. If she were asleep, he wouldn't wake her.
Severus opened his mother's bedroom door millimeter by millimeter. When he finally peeped into the room, the feeble light that shone in from the hallway lit up his mother's eyes. They were the only things visible in the pitch-black room. Her eyes were also what people called black, but Severus knew that they were the darkest blue, just like his own eyes. They glittered like negative images of stars in the ribbon of light.
Severus was excited to see that she was awake, but at the same time he was chagrined. He had yet to catch her out, no matter how carefully he approached and opened her door. He rarely saw her sleep. He knew that she slept most of the day; she was saving her energy for the times when her husband was at home. It didn't pay to be anything less than completely awake when Tobias Snape was on a rampage.
At least Severus could wedge his bed against the door of his room whilst he slept. But his mother had to share a bedroom with that brute.
Even though it was obvious that his mother had seen him, Severus still entered the room as silently as possible. He wouldn't so much as vibrate the floor. It would kill him to cause her a moment of extra pain.
"Would you like me to refresh your flannel, mother?"
"Yes, please. Make it very hot, darling. The pain is bad today. Don't worry about the gas bill."
Severus flinched at the mention of the gas bill, and vowed to work harder on his warming charms. If his father somehow sensed the use of magic, the only one to suffer the consequences would be Severus. But every penny spent on gas meant one fewer pence left for buying groceries. Even if she dared to use her wand, his mother couldn't conjure food out of thin air.
Most witches, his mother included, used the bark of the willow. Severus had discovered that the sap actually contained more of the required substance, though it had to be used with caution because of its greater potency. Also, as he wasn't allowed proper potions tools, like the ones he saw in his mother's old schoolbooks, it was easier to dilute sap than it was to extract the required component from bark.
Muggles had a name for the powerful agent found in the willow: salicylic acid. Severus didn't like the sound of it. He'd read the few books on chemistry available at his school library, and had found them interesting. But in general, he didn't have much use for Muggle science. It was clumsy, inefficient. He much preferred potions. Severus's innate magic allowed him to sense how potions would work. His mother had also been aces at potions, back when she'd gone to Hogwarts.
Before she met his father.
Severus deliberately pushed the thoughts of his father back down into the darkness of his mind, where they belonged. Any taint of bitterness would disturb the healing qualities of the pain draught he was making for his mother.
The vervain and peppermint were dried. Stealing decorative plants, which was all that the ignorant Muggles in their fancy houses saw these herbs as, required a lot of walking and some careful planning.
It had been easier when he was smaller; people didn't complain if a little child picked some of their plants, even a child as ugly and unkempt as Severus Snape. But now that he was a rather tall nine-year-old, he was seen as a vandal. And not just by the rich folk.
It had become more and more apparent that he could expect no quarter from anyone in his own neighborhood. He used to be able to linger about storefronts and the better sort of yards, using their respectability to make himself too much of a bother for bullies. Nowadays he was more likely to be tolerated by the bullies than by the respectable folk, to be honest.
Severus had managed to win the grudging respect of Rowan, the leader of the meanest bunch, when the ginger saw him escaping a much larger boy. Severus had never hesitated to fight dirty. He was tall for his age, but the same growth spurt that made him so tall had left his undernourished frame even bonier than it would have been anyway. Going for his opponents' weak spots and then making a quick getaway was his only chance.
Rowan found Severus's refusal to yield funny, and he'd adopted him as a sort of stray. That did nothing to protect Severus when Rowan wasn't around, however. And who knew how long this older boy's fancy would favor him? Severus knew well that powerful people couldn't be trusted. Rowan found him amusing today; tomorrow Rowan might find it amusing to watch his followers beat Severus to a pulp.
No, other peoples' whims were nothing to count on. That sure and hard-won knowledge didn't stop Severus hoping, though. On his last foray up the hill to the posh neighborhood, he'd met another redhead who'd found him amusing. Her hair wasn't shocking orange like Rowan's; it was a lovely dark red, like a maple leaf in autumn. She was lovely.
When he'd first seen her laughing, Severus had assumed she was laughing at him. He hadn't been quite sure what to do. Usually other people's laughter drove him immediately into a rage, and he struck without thinking. But this girl was so beautiful, and she seemed so happy. He was ashamed to find himself willing to be mocked by her. He'd suffer any ignominy to see her flushed with laughter.
When she'd looked straight at him with a welcoming smile and pointed up in the air, his head had snapped up before he'd thought. He hadn't thought twice about baring his throat to her, he realized later. Then, he'd been entranced by what he'd seen above him. Two butterflies, one scarlet and one black, had fluttered wildly around one another; their contrasting colors flashing like a beacon.
Severus had slunk away while she was still looking up and laughing, wanting to remember her long, white throat and waterfall of crimson hair rather than the scornful look that would surely result when she took a better look at just who she was laughing with.
He was half-afraid to go back up the hill again. The urge to seek her out, to make her laugh, already burned inside of him. Best to smother such a flame before it became bright enough to burn him.
No matter. The important thing, he reminded himself was to make the potion for his mother. He didn't have time to think about other children. His mother needed him.
The thought of his mother, lying in her bed with a warm flannel over her eyes, was also pushed down into the darkness of his mind. Just as hate would poison the potion, so would love. Potions required an absolute discipline of the heart as well as the mind.
As he always did, Severus had done what was necessary. His mind was clear. He had an adequate supply of dried herbs. And he was lucky enough to have found this willow tree; the small, secret hideaway formed by its low-hanging branches was just a bonus.
No one ever bothered him when he was crouched in the shelter of the willow. Those who drove boats up and down that dark river had better things to do than to investigate shadows behind its branches, even if they had noticed them. And the muck at the very edge of the river kept everyone who might approach from land away. Even the most determined explorers, or bullies, had no desire to slog through that filth. Severus knew this from experience it took days to dry, even in the warm months. He'd had enough beatings from the biggest bully of them all, his father, for the squelching stink that the mud left on his sole pair of shoes.
He knew that he was not alone in that department. Hardly a night went by without shouting from somewhere in the neighborhood, and sharp smacks or the smash of broken crockery usually followed. It meant that Severus never had to explain the bruises he sported, but it also made his father feel like his despotism was perfectly normal.
Severus was disgusted by the cruelty that the monsters around him showed to their own flesh and blood. He never stopped being grateful that none of them had magic. The mere thought of what someone like his father would do with magic made him shudder.
Severus was having trouble stilling his mind and focusing completely on the process of creating the potion. He put down the herbs and the pewter bowl he had nicked from his elderly neighbor. He felt no guilt about the theft; the old lady had been using it to feed the dozens of stay cats that she drew to their block. Muggles had absolutely no understanding of the usefulness of the things around them.
He sat down on the makeshift bench he had cobbled together and leaned back against the trunk of the willow. He rested his hands on his thighs, leaned his head back, and thought of nothing. Nothing was black, and it was so cold that it would burn you until you accepted it. Severus barely felt the sting anymore when he slipped into the darkness; it had become his ally.
Once he was alone in his mind, he opened his eyes. All that was left in the world was him and the things he needed to make potions.
He could use as much peppermint as he wanted. It was a neutral to the other ingredients, and it served to calm the stomach as well as to improve the taste of the potion. The bitter pill of his mother's life was hard enough to swallow without the addition of foul-tasting brews to the mix.
The vervain served as a relaxant and gave protection against evil. Even though his father called Severus and his mother evil, Severus knew better. He knew what evil was, and it wasn't magic.
The willow sap was the most powerful, and the most dangerous ingredient. If he used too much, the potion would eventually burn a hole in his mother's stomach, peppermint or no. His hand was perfectly stable as he added the right number of drops.
Now came the hard part. Without his magic the mixture of herbs and willow sap would work to relieve his mother's pain, but it would have a fraction of the power he could force into it. Someday, his mother promised him, he would have a wand. For now, Severus had discipline and will.
It had gotten so much easier than it was when mother had first taught him to make the headache powder four years ago. Back then it really was just a dry mix of herbs and bark, nothing like a potion. Over the years he had experimented with ingredients and proportions, methods of mixing and different levels of heat. The most important change that had come with age, however, was his ability to sense the potential of things and his willingness to do whatever it took to realize that potential.
His focus was so strong today that the force of his resolve created an excess of magic. Severus knew when the potion was complete; any more power would push it too far and turn it to poison. He wrenched his focus away from the bowl in his hand and turned toward the river.
As the invisible blast of magic continued to surge out of him, Severus focused on the dirty water before him. His eyes snagged on the brightly colored crisp and sweets wrappers that clung to the shore, as if they were trying to escape drowning. The contrast of their bright colors with the filth which clung to them reminded him of the girl from up the hill and the butterflies flashing scarlet and black.
He smiled as the wrappers rose and began to spin. They formed a beautiful spiral, flashing for an instant in the darkness that defined Spinner's End and Severus's life.
Severus laughed as his magic ebbed, and the wrappers sank back down into the murky water, exhausted by their brief flight.
Severus's father said that all magic was evil, and he said that Severus and his mother were inherently evil.
Severus knew, with the certainty of his almost ten years, that he would always be seen as a dark stain on the beauty of others. The world would continue to give him only garbage, and he would have to steal everything else. His future assuredly would be dark.
But he would not bend under the cruelty of the world. He would continue to learn how to make magic out of the things that other people ignored or threw away.
He would force the world to face the darkness they hated so fiercely. He would force them to see him, Severus Snape.
And they would never forget him.