Title: A Whiff of Cordite
Age-Range Category: Two
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Severus Snape, Tobias Snape, Eileen Snape.
Beta Reader(s): Lolly
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Adult language, mild violence, implied domestic violence.
Summary: A child never understands the entire story. Sometimes, neither does the man.
11 June 1979
The stares weren't friendly; a local lad he might be, but Severus Tobias Snape was no more welcome in the corner chippy than the dibbles were at the colliery pub across the way. Deliberately, he let the sound of his boot heels striking the dirty tile floor ring out in the narrow space, a martial counterpoint to the jocular byplay of the Man City match playing on the radio. If they were going to paint him with the brush of a villain, then he'd bloody well play the role to the hilt.
"Ayup," the obese man behind the counter grunted, a poorly hidden belch adding an additional layer of distastefulness to the greeting.
Glaring through the humid air, redolent with the scent of cod and fry oil, Severus let a sneer curl his lip. Filthy, lazy Muggle, he swore mentally. Pity I don't have the time to take you out back and teach you a lesson on manners…
"Fish, chips and peas with pea wet," he ordered smoothly, the lush baritone notes causing several of the lingering patrons to startle in recognition. His voice was well known in the village—or rather, Toby Snape's voice had long called the men to arms for a variety of futile causes—but it had only been in the last year that Severus could likewise command the same sort of attention. And it's the only sodding thing of value I've ever gotten from the old man, he mused bitterly. Still, as he glanced around, he was well pleased with the continued discomfort his presence provoked.
Sliding a fiver across the counter, Severus didn't bother adding that he wanted the fish and chips wrapped for takeaway; with fastidious, contemptuous care, he brushed an invisible spec of dirt from his black woollen overcoat, making sure the that fabric did not come into contact with any of the grimy surfaces around him.
For a long moment, the man made no move to take his money, and Snape wondered if he'd get his rumble after all. Straightening to his full height slowly, he captured the chippy man's watery, blue-eyed gaze with his own. Do it, he silently challenged, feeling the dark currents of his magic eagerly stirring in response to the challenge. Do it, and see how much this Billy-no-mates has grown up…
The bald threat of violence gleaming in Snape's black eyes proved to be enough of a cudgel. The man grudgingly mumbled the order to the cook and money swiftly disappeared into the till. Snape kept his focus on the frying food, ensuring that there were no unwanted additions; the fish wasn't for him, after all, and he was on a mission tonight that needed no other delays.
Five minutes later he was striding from the shop, carrying a news-wrapped bundle of fish and chips. A group of malcontents lingered on the corner, cat-calling anyone unlucky enough to be within shouting distance. Snape thought he recognized several of the doughy faces as the younger brothers of his past tormentors. Naturally his black woollen clothing caught their attention, even transfigured as it was into something suitably Muggle.
"Oi, take a look at those jazzy keks…!" the ringleader mocked from atop a battered bicycle, his minions chuckling along with atavistic glee.
The typical Mancunian retort fell off his tongue before he could supress it. "Get off and milk it, ya pikey bastard." A quick flick of his fingers sent a mild hex spinning towards a low hanging gutter, the movement disguised as a two-fingered salute. With a dull crack the rusting metal broke free, liberally dousing the lads with filthy water.
With a nasty grin he left them sputtering and wet. Swiftly, he slipped into the narrow ginnel that led to Spinner's End, hunching his shoulders against the damp air. Making his way past the first row of run-down terraced houses Severus was greeted only by the snarls of chained dogs and piles of rubbish. Approaching the familiar two-up, two-down of his birth, he pulled the cold shields of his Occlumency down further, seeking a measure of control as gloomy memories seemed to coalesce in the shadows.
God, but I hate this horrid place. Would that I could burn it down and salt the ashes for good measure…
As always, the back door stuck, the wood frame warped by the years of foul weather. With a muttered oath, he kicked at the corner of the door and it popped open. Severus was brought up short by the sight of the frail figure standing at the sink, wiping at a chipped dish.
"Vera," he said coldly, wondering what the bloody woman was doing in his kitchen. Fuck me, am I too late? Has the old bastard already moved her in?
The woman turned, blonde hair long since faded into a dingy, thinning white; still, there were remnants of her once fabled beauty in the deep creases and valleys of her face. She had been a constant of his life during his early childhood, blowing through their kitchen with all of the passion and dramatics of a summer storm. With her, his Mam had been accepted in the neighbourhood, and there had always been some food to be found, not to mention a bottle or two to keep the mood properly cheerful. Indeed, Vera Pierce and his mam had been thick as thieves until it had come out that she was having it off with his father, and had been doing for any number of years. That particular period had marked the end of his mam's attempts at sobriety. For that fact alone he would always hate the woman, and it took an effort to keep the rage from completely overtaking his expression.
Vera's gaze swept over him, lips pursing. "Well, what have we here? It's surely a blessed day when Jesus himself has come down from the mount to grace us with a visit."
"Why are you here?" Severus asked, lacing the words with as much venom as he could while removing his overcoat.
Unlike the men at the chippy, she didn't so much as blink at the newly matured sound of his voice, placing the dish into the drying rack with insolent care. "What does it look like I'm doing, duck?"
Anger clouded his vision, and the heat of it robbed him of a properly cutting reply. "It looks like you are attempting to get thrown out of this house for a second time."
She laughed, a humourless, grating sound. "And who would do the cooking and the tidying then, hmmm? Not to mention helping your mam to the loo, or cleaning up her sick? Not that good-fer-nothin' Tobias Snape or his oh-so-conveniently absent son, that's for damn sure."
"I brought money," he snapped, relief at hearing that his mam was still kicking loosening one of the knots in his chest. "We don't need you anymore…"
"That's a load of bollocks, and you know it." Abruptly, Vera sighed, shoulders slumping. "Severus, she's dying. On good days, she sits here like a piffy on a rock, and on bad days… well, it won't be long now, not if there is any mercy in this world."
"And you're just gaggin' to slide back into his bed, aren't you?" he snarled viciously, fists balling up at his sides.
In one lightening fast move, Vera slapped him, the impact rocking him back on his boots. Tears glimmered amongst the soft brown of her eyes. "Don't you dare judge me, Severus Tobias Snape. Not when you don't know the half of it, and not when I've paid for my sins time and time again."
His cheek felt like it was on fire, and Severus could feel the dull red stain of it spreading over both sides of his face. For the first time, he realized that he was taller than Vera, and the passing years had transformed her from a fiery force that bullied the neighbourhood along into a battered and old woman. Shame levered open his mouth, but before he could apologize, the heavy tread of boots on the front stairs announced his father's imminent arrival. Vera tipped her head back to look at him, expression gone unfathomable in the dim gloom.
"You're just like your da, you know. Always a whiff of cordite about ya. Always got to be fightin' somethin'." Her delicate hand returned to his face, the cool fingers cupping the flaming cheek as she looked him over. She gave his chin a gentle chuck even as her voice sharpened. "You can inform His Nibs that I'm off to the shop for milk." Without waiting for a response, Vera walked out the kitchen door.
A beat later, Toby came striding in, the brown-wrapped bottle clutched in one large hand indicating what sort of errand he had been on. He stopped, surprise flicking over his features as he took in the sight of his son standing by the door. They glowered at each other for several tense seconds.
"Well someone's seen their arse, 'aven't they"
"Vera's gone to the shop."
His father rolled his eyes. "Aye, I just bet she has." With a huff of annoyance, he removed his flat cap, placing it on the rickety wooden table. The greasy scent of the fish and chips caught his attention, and he unconsciously licked his chapped lips.
"I brought supper for Mam," Severus said, placing a protective hand over the food; he'd be damned if Toby Snape got so much as a chip of it.
"She won't eat it."
"Nevertheless, I'll take it up to her."
Toby sneered, the wreckage of his mouth revealing that he'd lost another tooth. "Fancy words, boy, especially as it took you so long to show up in the first place."
"I came as soon as I could," Severus said icily. "Unlike certain people, I actually fulfil my obligations rather than dodge them."
Pulling a crumpled pack of fags from a pocket, the older man gave a rough laugh that turned into a phlegmy cackle. Lighting up the last of the pack, he blew a stream of smoke towards the open window over the sink. "Obligations? And what possible obligations could a nineteen-year-old good-for-nothing school boy have?"
"Even were you capable of understanding what I do, I wouldn't bore you with the details," he drawled, watching as the tips of his father's ears turned as red as his bulbous, veiny nose.
Toby's hand suddenly flew out, smacking the light switch with more force than necessary. The light above the table flickered on, a low buzz emanating from the bare bulb. His furious regard then dropped to the floor, slowly taking in his son's shiny dragonhide boots, fine woollen trousers and the pristine white oxford.
"Still running around with that pack of poncey toffs, ey?"
"Something like that." Deciding that he didn't want to chance his mam hearing the oncoming fight, Severus sent out a non-verbal burst of magic that wrapped the room in a strong silencing charm.
"And 'ow do you like being their bootlickin' dog's body?" Toby flicked a dismissive hand towards his clothing. "Must pay all right, that…"
Snape let a smile stretch over his face, although it contained no warmth. It would be so easy to crush him… "I'm no bootlicker, but yes, my work pays a hell of lot more than any of your daft schemes or dearly held beliefs. How are things going in your worker's paradise, by the way? The neighbourhood looks ever so much improved since the last time I was here. Truly, this is a socialists' wet dream."
"At least I haven't sold my soul to the devil," Toby rasped, anger and infirmity robbing him of his one glory. "Don't think that they'll forget where you came from! Mark my words, boy, they will always 'old it against you, and in the end you'll be left with nothin' but blood and ashes!"
"With a name like Snape, forgetting my parentage is rather unlikely…" Severus began, but his father cut him off with the simple expediency of slamming him backwards into the wooden door. The door gave a high-pitched shriek in protest as it slammed shut. Abruptly, the kitchen was plunged into silence but for the sound of their respective harsh breathing.
In that instant, his father's anger had altered from a wrathful, drunken belligerence to something altogether colder and more considering. Despite Severus' recent growth spurt, Toby was still a good half hand taller than him, and outweighed him by at least three stone. Stinking of cheap alcohol, his breath seemed to burn the sliver of air that remained between them. Severus felt the fine hairs on the back of his neck rise; he had seen this mood far too often to not know what it heralded. Fear, an old and caustic friend, danced up his spine. I am not a boy, he told himself. I am no longer defenceless. I am no longer powerless…
"Your problem," his father said, enunciation turning precise, "…is despite my efforts to discipline you, you've never been properly grateful for what you have. You've always wanted more…"
The words left Severus in a rush, as if they had been summoned. "And just what have you given me other than a last name and a good cuff on the ear? Oh, you may have done your duty towards my mam when you got her up the duff, but you begrudged us every tin of beans and blackened bit of toast there after. You wouldn't let us leave, and you kept us from what should have rightfully been ours!"
"I gave you a hell of lot more than most people would! I never turned her out, did I? And what did she know? Nothing! Couldn't take care of a house, couldn't work, couldn't even order a damn pint until I taught her…" Toby made a move to strike him again, but this time Severus was prepared. Blocking the blow, he shoved back at his father, knocking him towards the table.
"You may not have turned us out, but you wouldn't let us go, either! For a man who blathers on about the evils of private ownership and neo-feudalism, you certainly enjoyed possessing us, didn't you?" Severus taunted, and Toby lunged.
With a deafening roar, his father tackled him, and they hit the floor with a bone-jarring thud. They rolled wildly, hitting the furniture repeatedly, and the table collapsed onto three legs with a splintery crack. Toby got in two meaty hits, but Severus was able to knee him sharply in the stones to gain the advantage.
Deliberately, Severus fought back the power roiling within; he wanted to best his father at his own game, and that meant no magic. He became aware that his nose was bleeding, the bright red blood dripping onto Toby's sweaty face.
"You know what I never understood?" Severus panted, forearm pressed against his father's throat. "In the pub you always preached about the brotherhood of workers, about how no one person had the right to subjugate their fellow man. But in here? In here, it was always 'might makes right'. It was all about control, and you so loved to punish us when we disobeyed your stupid little rules…"
Toby had turned a mottled red, heels kicking uselessly at the floor. In a last, desperate heave, the man clawed at Severus and got lucky. A blow connected with his other forearm, and Severus' world exploded into a miasma of red fire.
He screamed shrilly, the pain nearly enough to make him wet himself. It overrode every sense, shattering his Occlumentic shields and becoming the centre of his existence. Even the most basic of magic was beyond him. He could taste it, a copper, metallic and foul thing on his tongue; suddenly the air smelt of burnt flesh and sacrifice, and oh, the throbbing horror of it…
Make it stop, oh god make it stop…!
Slowly, his awareness expanded outward, and the agony ebbed into something approaching tolerable. Severus found himself curled up on the tile next to the hob, clutching at his arm while snot ran down his sweaty, tear-streaked face. His father lay on the floor several feet away, staring up at the sooty ceiling and panting.
Pushing himself up on his one useable arm, Severus surveyed the damage. The table and one chair were utterly ruined unless Toby let him fix it with magic. And that's about as fucking likely as a sunny day in January! he thought woozily, trying to cobble together enough of his thoughts to plan what he should do next.
His old man gave a final wheeze and rolled to one side, fathomless black eyes fixed on him. Like a snake, he lashed out, ripping Severus' sleeve open with one violent yank. What had been a pale, thin arm was now a freshly bloodied and blistered limb, the tattoo of an intertwined skull and snake clearly visible.
Severus Snape was Marked.
"How long?" Toby demanded, unable to tear his gaze away from the blackness carved into his son's flesh.
Defiantly, Severus pulled his arm away; habit compelled him to answer. "Three days."
Something perilously close to betrayal crossed his father's face. "By god, boy, I never thought that you'd be foolish enough to go and do it…"
"And what," Severus spat, "…were my other options? Come back here and live in filth and darkness? How else was I going to get an apprenticeship? How else was I supposed to make anything of myself or get money for Mam? They were the only ones who wanted me!"
"Better to live in poverty than live as a fascist thug!"
"You know nothing about my world…"
Toby sneered as he dragged himself up. He towered above Severus like a god of old, blood running down his face and under his jumper in thin rivulets. "I've read every single letter you sent home, boy. I understand enough. All that talk about pureblood superiority? It's nothing but a load of tosh. Inbreeding and nonsense! The only thing that makes blood pure is sacrifice…" With a vicious jab, he poked at the oozing tattoo on Severus' arm. "But now you know a little something about sacrifice, don't you?"
Grabbing Severus by the shirt collar, he hauled him to his feet; Severus wobbled like a newborn colt from the renewed pain radiating off his forearm. It was all he could do to not collapse back onto the floor into a whimpering mess.
Toby continued his verbal assault. "But if you don't believe your old man, go ask your Mam. Ask her why she left. See what she has to say about being a pureblood. She knew it was nothing but smoke and mirrors. You think that she stayed here because I made her? That I forced her to? No, she stayed because she wanted to! Because that bottle of whiskey was a better friend than any of the freaks she grew up with. Bloody well listen to her for once, boy- she sure as shit wasn't staying for my pretty face."
"The only thing that matters is power," Severus intoned shakily. It was a struggle to keep the sentence from cracking. "And now I've got it…"
The retort earned him a derisive snort. "Power? You think that spilling some blood and waving a stick around makes you powerful? All that's done is make you a foolish sycophant. Give your 'ead a wobble before they take it off!"
Unexpectedly, the door banged open and Vera stormed back in carrying a bottle of milk. His father's regard swivelled in her direction. "Step out," he ordered, voice gone harsh.
"Toby…" the other woman began, eyes travelling over the mess of men and kitchen. She made a move to step between father and son, but faltered at Toby's baleful glare.
"I said step out, woman!"
Vera's face went completely blank, but she looked at Severus for a tense moment. An echo of her earlier words seemed to whisper across the space. "Always a whiff a cordite about ya…"
Mouth pursing into a thin line, Vera left. I'm not like him, Severus thought weakly. I'm not anything like that black-hearted bastard! I'm clever, and I'm actually going to do something with my life!
For all that Toby's next sentence was said quietly, there was no mistaking the menace in his tone. "You show that mark to her, and wizard or no, I'll take you out back and do more than merely tan your hide. If she sees that abomination…" He trailed off, the disgust clear. "…if she sees that, it'll break her heart, and that's all she's got left. Do you understand me, boy?"
Severus could find no cutting retort; all his confidence had drained away like water through a leaky tap. "I understand."
"And after she's gone," Toby said flatly, "…don't you dare step one foot in my house. I don't even want to see you in the neighbourhood."
"When she's gone, there won't be anything left for me in this fucking rubbish heap!" Severus exclaimed in one last burst of anger, and flinched as the other man's balled fist came up.
"Take that food up to your Mam before it goes cold." Cautiously, Severus picked up the fish and chips from where it had fallen on the floor, wondering if he was going to get away with challenging his father that easily.
"Get!" his father ordered, pointing up the stairs.
Years of conditioning had him trotting up the staircase like he was a snot-nosed sprog; when Severus reached the top, he paused, only realizing belatedly that he was shaking like a leaf. He's wrong. He's wrong about all of it. He's just a fucking stupid Muggle who doesn't know any better! Determinately, he pushed his father's words away. They meant nothing; the man had long been jealous and afraid, first trying to keep Severus from his Grandfather's books, and Hogwarts once he'd reached the age of eleven. He knows nothing!
A series of deep breaths helped to pull his mental shields back into place. With mechanical precision, Severus began to fix the damage to his clothes and person, placing a glamour on the Dark Mark and mending the sleeve on his arm. Running a long-fingered hand through his hair, he winced; despite the fact that he had just showered, it was already going oily at the roots.
The narrow, gloomy hallway smelled strange, a sickly, almost sweet aroma lingering cloyingly in the air; it was then that Severus realized that the space between the two bedrooms didn't smell like cheap liquor, but rather a harbinger of something else entirely.
It smells like… oh, god… she really is dying.
The mass of Muggle pounds and Galleons suddenly weighed heavy in his pocket; shame and uncertainty wiggled through his shields. He knew that his visions of taking his Mam to St. Mungo's for treatment, of getting her out of this shitehole once and for all were for naught. She would never leave. And if she knew what he had done to secure the money…
His arm flared with pain again, and he sucked in a quiet breath.
She doesn't need to know. And it isn't like you'd make any other choice. This is the only way you can prove your worth. The Dark Lord has promised power and wealth, and look at all he has already given you… You had nothing before. No vengeance. No future. Not even Lily… this is the only way.
Severus heard his Mam cough, a low, wet sound that spoke eloquently of her on-going misery. Straightening his spine, he rapped on the doorframe. There is no room for doubts. Not any more!
"Mam?" he called out, keeping his voice firm and confident.
"Severus?" she responded weakly. "Is that you?"
"Ay mam, it's me. I've brought supper. Your favourite from the chippy…" He opened door cautiously, holding the food aloft like an offering.
The woman perched on upon the anaemic pile of pillows was a pale, bloated ghost of her old self. Gone was the magpie bright gaze and the lean frame that seemed to vibrate with tense energy; she had been reduced to dark, sunken eyes and no movement other than a steady wheeze.
"None of that ay nonsense," she told him, a shadow of her former sharpness bleeding through. "I've taught you to speak properly, and speak properly you will."
"Forgive me," he said, and wondered if she would. She made her choices, he told himself, a lump settling in his stomach. And I've made mine. She's paying her price, and I'll pay mine.
"I come with good news," he informed her smoothly as he stepped in and shut the door. "I've been accepted as an apprentice…"