Title: The Dark Half
Age-Range Category: One
Characters: Severus Snape, Lily Evans, Eileen Prince, Tobias Prince, and Petunia Evans
Beta Reader(s): iulia_linnea and lenaa1987
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Mild language and mentions of violence.
Summary: "Be careful, Severus. Tonight is Samhain. The dark half of the year has begun, and you know better than to think it's all cheerful fairy tales and bobbing for apples."
31 October 1970
Nose ostensibly buried in a tattered back-issue of Eagle, Severus tried to pretend that he wasn't listening to all the fuss his parents were making as they prepared to leave for the night. But as the clock ticked ever closer to seven, he couldn't help but sneak glances under his lashes at their woefully slow progress.
Come on, come on! he mentally chided, turning the page of the comic book blindly. Just go already!
Next to him, an empty teacup rattled in its chipped saucer and Severus froze, realising only belatedly that he'd been jiggling his leg against the side table.
"Do you ever sit still, boy?" his Da snapped, taking a quick nip from his flask before shoving it back into his battered leather jacket.
"You don't," Eileen retorted as she carefully applied black eyeliner in the hall mirror. "Why should he?"
"Stop making excuses for the lad. He's ten, not two. If you don't stop mollycoddling him, he'll end up being even more of a freak than he already is."
"Ah, yes, because you stand as such a sterling example of manly virtue…"
Toby Snape made a noise halfway between a growl and grunt and returned to pacing, peering out the window at the empty street. From the mirror, his Mum raised a stern brow at him. Understanding the look for the warning it was, Severus sank lower in the chair and tried his best to fade into the background; she could only protect him so many times in one evening.
"They're late," Toby groused irritably, tapping his fingers against the grimy window sill.
Eileen rolled her eyes and reached for a tube of lipstick. "And so are we."
With another glower in her direction Toby snarled, "I don't know why you're going to all that trouble. It's not as if it's going to help. Paint on a pig and all that rot."
His Mum's lips thinned, and she put the lipstick back down with a muted click. "I imagine that I put on makeup for the same reason you like to drink. It makes you think that you look far better than you actually do."
Whatever nasty reply his Da was primed to make was interrupted by the loud bleat of a horn as a white Triumph Herald swung to the kerb.
"Let's go," Toby ordered, striding towards the door.
Eileen pointedly picked up the scarlet tube and pursed her lips.
Toby halted, an equally red flush of temper appearing on his face. "Woman…"
"Go," Eileen drawled coolly. "I'll meet you out there in a minute."
"I don't know why I put up with you, yeh mouthy bint…" Snatching his keys from the ring, Toby stomped out, slamming the door behind him.
Severus kept his eyes glued to the brightly coloured illustrations of the comic book as a hot ball of impotent rage exploded in his belly. One day, he vowed, hands clenching, one day I won't let you speak to her like that! Taking a deep breath in, he forced himself to relax, eyes darting to the thin frame of his mother.
Her shoulders had slumped and her eyes were shut, leaving her nothing but a motionless shadow in the hall.
From the depths of the threadbare armchair, he stirred, wondering if he should go to her. But before he could make up his mind, her fierce black eyes opened again and she stared at him in an assessing manner.
"And just where are you off to tonight?"
Placing the comic carefully on the table next to the cup, Severus stood up, feeling a touch nervous. If she forbade the outing, he would obey, full stop. And there's no point in trying to lie about it…
"To the traveling fair on the other side of town."
Eileen dabbed at her mouth with the corner of her handkerchief. "I suppose you're taking that Evans girl, aren't you?"
Severus nodded, hearing the insistent tick of the clock again; he and Lily only had until nine, and if he didn't leave soon, all their plans would be for naught…
"Have her parents given permission?"
With a final pop of her rouged lips, Eileen replaced the lid to her lipstick and slipped it in her purse. Walking over to the cabinet by the fireplace, she opened the door and pulled out a glass bottle. Swiftly, she poured a shot and downed it; eyeing the rowdy group of men gathered at the car, she hesitated briefly before taking a second. She gave a low, sibilant hiss, and Severus could smell the acidic tang of gin from several steps away.
"That girl's not one of us," she said finally, voice gone rough.
Severus bit his lip. "She's a witch."
"No, she's a Muggle, and a middle class one at that. Mark my words… she's nothing but trouble. Gingers always are." She gave a flat laugh. "Woman generally are, for that matter."
Despite her harsh words, her face softened as she glanced over to her son. High heels clicking on the wooden floor, Eileen walked over and smoothed a tender hand over his messy hair. "Don't get caught. If you do, I won't run interference with your father nor her parents, do you understand?"
Worry flickered through her expression. "Be careful, Severus. Tonight is Samhain. The dark half of the year has begun, and you know better than to think it's all cheerful fairy tales and bobbing for apples."
"Good." With a slight smirk, she dug into her purse. "Open your hand."
Minding quickly, Severus held his palm out and blinked with amazement as a small fortune in coins filled it to the point of nearly overflowing.
"That's almost two pounds! Where'd you get all that?"
"I nicked it from your father, of course. Tell me, what is the first rule?"
"Slytherins don't get caught." He grinned, fist closing over the money swiftly.
She gave him a quick buss on the forehead, wiping away the resulting trace of lipstick. "That's my clever son."
The horn sounded again, and his mum huffed with annoyance. "Don't spend it all on the girl. And I want you home by ten. I will know if you disobey. Is that clear?"
Pulling her black woollen overcoat from the back of the settee, she made for the door, a faint billow of fabric following her.
"Mum," he called softly, and she paused, looking over her shoulder. "You do look pretty."
She smiled, hair falling back from her face for a brief moment. "Such a silver-tongued boyo, you are…"
Severus waited ten additional nerve-wracking minutes just in case his parents returned for some forgotten item. Peeking out the front door the instant the grandmother clock ticked over to seven-twelve, he confirmed that the coast was clear and then bolted for the narrow side alley that was the quickest way out of the estate. Deftly leaping over the large puddles of murky water, he made it to the river bridge in record time.
Gods, I can't believe my luck tonight. Two whole pounds to spend on whatever I want! And if Lily can actually manage to get away…
It had been her idea to sneak off to see the traveling fair. Severus didn't understand why she simply didn't ask to go—her parents were ridiculously soft-hearted and would do almost anything to make their daughters happy—but he had to assume that the sneaking part was somehow fun to her. Personally, he could do without the added complications; after all, it felt like he spent half his days sneaking around to escape either his father or the estate thugs.
Galloping over the rickety pedestrian walkway, he tugged at the battered sleeves of his ill-fitting coat before giving it up for a lost cause. Severus didn't need a mirror to tell him that he didn't fit in, but he was a frequent enough sight in the neighbourhood that people had stopped outright glaring at him, at least. Fleetingly, he wondered if he should save some of the money to buy himself a new coat.
No. Da would see it and only start asking questions. Best to spend it on something he can't see or take…
The last time that his Mum had come into an unexpected windfall—she had made a small fortune peddling an 'old family herbal tisane' to the neighbours during a flu outbreak—Toby Snape had accused his wife of prostituting herself. The recollection of the sounds his Mum had made during the resulting beating still woke him up at night. His vanity—indeed, even cold wrists—just weren't worth the risk of catching his father's notice.
Casting a cagey eye about, Severus slipped past the skeletal lilac bushes that separated Lily's garden from her neighbours. Unlike the Snapes, who lived in a narrow grey-bricked terrace house with nary a patch of green in sight, the Evans' spacious home had both a front and back garden. Scooping up several small stones by the birdbath, he tossed them at her second-storey bedroom window and waited for her to appear.
After what seemed like an eternity, the pale yellow curtain fluttered and he saw her face briefly before the sill jerked up. Lily grinned at him and swung a leg over, snagging an old trellis with one hand to use as a ladder. Nimble as a monkey, she was down on the ground in a flash. Cocking her head towards the bridle path that ran next to their back shed, she silently motioned for them to move away as the sour figure of Petunia shut the window with a glower.
Once they were far enough away from the house to not be overheard she whirled to face him, her hair glowing like a banked fire in the last rays of daylight. The sight of her—vibrant and lovely and always so happy to see him—never failed to make his heart race and palms turn sweaty; for about the hundredth time, he wondered why she was friends with the likes of him.
"Well?" he asked, curious as to how she'd engineered her great escape.
Her grin turned smug. "Guess who caught Tunie and Michael Roberts snogging last night by the swings?"
Severus grimaced. "She traded spit with that troll? Gross. He looks like someone's hit him in the face with a shovel."
"I know, that's what I told her. I dunno why she wanted to snog him, of all people…" Lily gave a delicate shudder of disgust. "Anyway, I promised her I wouldn't tell Mum, and that she could read Anne of Avonlea before I did if she covered for me tonight."
"And you think that she will stay silent?" he questioned dubiously.
"Yeah. She'll be in as much trouble as me if I get caught now. Plus, she gets to take her sweet time reading my new book. I've saved up almost a month to buy it, and I swear, that greedy cow is reading each page three times just to torture me!"
He rolled his eyes. "Just steal it back when she's sleeping and read it then."
"I'll wait, I want to enjoy it.… but because I had to buy the book, I don't have much money for tonight." She exhaled, appearing uncomfortable for the first time; Lily knew he never had any allowance.
Not tonight! I can pay my way, and yours… Pulling the gleaming coins from his pocket, Severus flourished them with all of the grandeur of a showman. "No worries, Lily, I've got this."
Lily gawked. "Sev, how did you get all that money? You didn't..?"
Shoving the money back in his pocket quickly, he glared at her. "I didn't steal it. My Mum gave it to me for tonight."
Her emerald eyes went wide. "Does she know?"
"That we're going to the traveling fair? Yeah, I told her." Seeing the dawning horror on Lily's face, he added, "Don't get all bent out of shape. She's not going to stop us, or tell your parents about it. Besides, you know I don't lie to my Mum."
She flushed, kicking at a rock in the path. "It's not like I lie to my Mum all the time…"
Yes, you do, Severus thought, but not without sympathy. She could be reckless with the truth in ways that he couldn't understand, but given the magnitude of her secrets—like not telling her parents she was a witch—he could see how easy it was for a single lie to snowball into dozens more. "Does it matter, Lily?"
Apparently, she took his words as further criticism. "You lie to your father all the time!"
He gave her a flat look. "He's different."
"He's a Muggle, you mean."
"No, I lie because he's a right bastard," he shot back, and Lily gasped at his language.
"Severus, you shouldn't say things like that about your father!"
"And he shouldn't do half the things he does, but that never stops him, does it?"
Lily stepped back, recognizing for the first time that he had become truly angry. "I'm sorry…" she began, but he cut her off.
"Do you want to go to the fair or not?"
With an effort, he curbed the outward signs of his temper. "And are you sure that we aren't going to get caught? Because if we do, I'm the one that's going to take the blame, not you."
"I'm sure. Petunia can't tell, and you know that Mum always watches 'Corrie Street' and then falls asleep during that one boring show about the War. As long as we get home before my father at nine-thirty, we'll be fine."
"Alright. Let's go before it starts raining."
She stopped him with a cautious hand to his arm. "Severus… I wouldn't let you take all the blame."
Her forlorn expression made him feel like a heel. "I know that," he told her with a sigh. "But it no one else would care whose idea it really was, Lily."
"That's not fair," she said, a touch petulantly.
"No, it's not," he agreed quietly, reflecting that he'd learned that painful lesson long ago. "Come on."
They walked in silence together until they crested the ridge above the fair pitch. In the gloom of a late October night, the flashing, multi-coloured lights of the attractions and loud carnival music were especially jarring, and he could see her slow grin appear as the possibilities of the evening unfolded before them.
"Thank you for taking me, Severus."
"I still don't understand why you wanted to come so much," Severus grumbled, but he was inwardly pleased at her reaction. "It's not like it's as big as the spring fair. There aren't even any pony races…"
She turned, slipping her cool hand in his. "Because… next year, it'll be different."
He stared at her blankly.
"We won't have a choice about going to the Halloween fair. We'll be at Hogwarts."
"Yeah," he said slowly, the realisation of just how little time was left in Cokeworth suddenly hitting him, "we will be."
And, oh, did he want to go! No more hiding his spell books. No more wondering if there would be enough food for the week, or what sort of mood his Da would be in. He'd be a wizard and finally learning magic properly. No longer a freak. He'd be a proud son of Slytherin, and with Lily at his side…
But who's going to watch after Mum?
His stomach tightened agonizingly at the thought. It wasn't the first time that particular worry had occurred to him. Her life would certainly be easier—she would only have to protect herself, for one thing—but there would be very little to stop her drinking. No one to make sure that she was eating, or properly taking care of herself…
"Everything's just going to be so different, you know? And we'll be so far away…"
He squeezed Lily's hand, trying to project confidence and ice out his own doubts; it wasn't like he could fix anything anyway. Everything would fall to shit, or it wouldn't. "Don't worry. It'll be better than all this Muggle rubbish. And anyway, things always change, yeah?"
"Not everything," she replied stoutly. "We'll always be friends, won't we?"
"Always," he told her fiercely, and meant it with every scrap of his being.
Her smile when she looked at him was wide and full of pure joy. "Come on, then, you slow poke!"
Tugging at his hand eagerly, she started to leg it for the entrance; all it took was her challenging laugh to turn it into a foot race over the abandoned sheep pasture. For the first twenty steps they ran in sync and then she had to dodge a large rock, which slowed her down considerably. Severus couldn't help but let out a wild whoop of triumph, streaking ahead of Lily.
Feet pounding over the hard-packed earth, Severus inhaled deeply, feeling the weight of his worries drop away. The autumn air flowing over his body was heavy with rain, and cool enough that it almost felt like he was shooting through water like the missiles found in one of his comic books.
Exhilaration pushed him ever forward, and he made it to the ticket counter first. Gasping, he turned and was just in time to catch Lily before she barrelled into him.
"I… always…used… to win," she gasped, leaning her forehead against his shoulder as she tried to catch her breath.
"You used to be taller than me, too," Severus answered smugly, chest heaving with the effort. Pulling half the coins from his pocket, he slid them through the window towards the clerk. "Tokens. Loads and loads of tokens, please."
The woman in the kiosk laughed, passing over a satisfyingly thick stack of red fair chips. "As speedy as you both are, I do believe it'll still take you some time to work through all this."
"Thank you!" Lily chirped, and they made a mad dash for the rides.
"What do you reckon?" Severus asked, anticipation thrumming through his blood as he took in the wonderful multiplicity of their choices.
Lily gave him a saucy grin.
"Dodgems!" they shouted at the same time.
"Bagsies on the green car," Lily yelled, pushing past him.
"Not if I get there first…!"
A little over an hour later they were sitting on a wooden bench next to the sweet kiosk watching the crowds stroll by. Lily was curled up contentedly next to him, feet tucked under her and eating the most luridly pink candyfloss Severus had ever seen; for his part, he was munching on a giant bag of kettle corn, enjoying the alternating crunch of salt and sweet and the warmth of the girl at his side.
They had ridden the Dodgems six times in a row until both their heads had been ringing with the repeated impacts and the showman booted them off. After that there had been a ride on the rickety Ferris wheel, and then the giant swings and spinning teacups. Neither had any luck at the coconut shy, and they had no interest in peeking in the sideshow tent. Severus was down to just four tokens, and he wondered if he should try and win Lily a cuddly at the hoopla; she had been eyeing the stuffed bears since they'd arrived.
"This has been the best night ever," Lily murmured happily, beaming up at him.
He felt his lips curl into an answering smirk. "Yeah. It has." This is what Hogwarts is going to be like. Just me and Lily…
"Are there magical funfairs?"
"I dunno. My Mum's never said. I mean, I know that there are harvest festivals and stuff, but I don't know if it's the same thing."
He stared down at the porcelain curve of her cheek, the pale skin blanching red and yellow in the flashing light of the rides. "There's Hogsmeade Village, though. We won't be able to go until third year, but there's all sorts of shops and stuff to explore."
"Do you think that they'll miss us?"
Severus vividly recalled the expression of revulsion on his da's face the first time he had accidently done magic in front of him. "Of course they will."
She snorted, apparently hearing the lie in his words. "Tunie won't."
"Yes, she will. Who else is going to buy her books?"
"Maybe she'll finally learn not to spend all of her pocket money on sweets so she can buy her own books."
"And maybe pigs will learn to fly."
Lily giggled at his dry tone, and he neatly snagged a wisp of her absurd candyfloss.
"Hey!" she protested, twisting swiftly to poke him in the side.
Holding the spun sugar over his lip to create a pink moustache, he raised a brow and favoured her with the same glare his mum gave him when he was being particularly naughty. Lowering his voice, he rounded his accent into the plummy tones his mum had coached him on.
"Miss Evans, that is no way for a young witch to behave."
Fighting to keep a straight face, Lily pursed her lips in vexation, and then made a lightening quick grab for his kettle corn. He kept it out of reach easily, dangling it tauntingly in front of her.
"Well, Mr Snape, stealing is also no way for a gentlemanly wizard to behave!" she teased, flicking his newly acquired facial hair with a giggle.
"It's hardly stealing if I'm the one who bought it," he groused half-heartedly, and let her take a handful from the paper bag. "Nor is it stealing if we're sharing."
Lily shoved the candyfloss at him. "Fine, Mr Moneybags, take a bite."
He shook his head, wrinkling his nose. "Too sweet, and too pink. Anyway, we need to decide what our last ride is going to be. It's got to be close to nine. We should leave soon."
Some of the humour left Lily's face as she rose. "Yeah. I suppose."
"Dodgems?" he asked hopefully.
"I really don't think he'll let us back on. How about the Ferris wheel again?"
"Line's too long." And the way that thing creaks and rattles, too scary…
She made a huff of annoyance, turning slowly to take in what was left of the attractions.
"That," Lily said, pointing to a small tent sitting just outside of the main lights. "Let's do that."
Squinting, he read the plain banner. Madame Cassandra, Seer of the Future and of the Past.
"Muggle fortune telling?" Severus exclaimed scornfully. "That really is a load of rubbish."
"Come on, Sev, it'll be fun."
"No, it won't."
"Haven't you ever wanted to know your future? And what if she's really a witch? She could tell us so much!"
He stood, carefully stowing the bag of kettle corn in his pocket for later. "No, I don't want to know my future, and I promise you, Madame Cassandra, or whatever her name is, isn't a witch. I'm not wasting my money on that foolishness."
"Fine," Lily shot back. "Then I'll pay for it." With an impressive flounce of red hair and temper, she spun and started walking towards the tent.
"Lily…" he said, grabbing her arm in frustration. "It's just some old bird in her bathrobe."
She scowled at him mulishly. "I don't care."
His mother's warning floated back to him—'Tonight is Samhain. The dark half of the year has begun…'—and he felt a wave of goose pimples cover the back of his neck, a nebulous fear seemingly coming from nowhere to wrap around him. No. We shouldn't do this, not on tonight of all nights…
He opened his mouth to speak, but she beat him to it. "Severus, let go. You're hurting me."
Severus dropped her arm as if scorched, suddenly aware that people were watching their fight. "Fine. You want to waste your money, then by all means, do."
Lily didn't respond, stomping off towards the tent. For a half a moment, Severus was tempted to leave her and let her find her own way home. It would serve her right…
But what if something happened?
"Bugger and blast," he hissed, enjoying the forbidden burn of uttering such a phrase. Knifing his way through the crowd, he made it back to Lily's side just before she flipped back the door of the tent.
The reveal of the tent's interior was rather anticlimactic. Severus had been expecting incense and yards of billowy fabrics; instead, there was a blank, white space, devoid of all decoration. A single wooden table stood in the centre of the room, three chairs encircling it.
"Hello?" Lily called, eyes racing over the blankness with surprise.
This isn't good, he thought, as the stink of something—magic and wrongness—drifted over his sallow skin. "Lily…" he whispered, heart racing. "We shouldn't be here. We need to leave, now."
Lily ignored him. "Hello? I'm here to get my fortune read."
"I mean it. Something's not right."
"Hello!? Is anyone here?"
The low voice came from directly behind them, and they both jumped at the utter shock of it. A beat later, Severus whirled, shoving Lily behind him protectively.
A woman stood at the tent flaps, clad in a gown of snowy, unblemished white. For all that her long, curly hair matched the colour of her robes, it was impossible to tell how old she was; her smooth, bland face was completely unlined by age. But her eyes…
Her eyes were a milky, fathomless white.
He heard Lily gasp as he took in the pupil-less gaze, her hand clenching the back of his coat.
"What can I do for you?" the woman asked, and the rich, cultured tones sent chills down Severus' spine. She wasn't a Muggle. What she was… well, he didn't know. Didn't want to, frankly.
"I… I'm here to get my fortune read," Lily answered, dredging up the last of her stubborn confidence, and Severus wanted to smack her for the sheer stupidity of it.
"But of course, child." the woman made a sweeping gesture towards the waiting table and chairs. "Can you pay the price?"
"I have money."
That seemed to amuse the woman. "Then by all means, sit, and I shall peer into your future."
Severus didn't budge, frantically wondering if it was too late to simply walk out. But Lily didn't give him a chance to decide; with a yank, she jerked him backwards, and he was forced to move aside or fall straight on his arse. As if somehow seeing the byplay, the woman moved past them sedately, settling in the farthest chair. Lily took her seat, shooting him a repressive frown.
"And shall it be cards, or the palm?"
"Palm, if you please."
"As you wish. Place your hand on the table."
Lily swiftly complied, but Severus saw that her hand was shaking just the tiniest bit. Good, he thought, with a flare of self-righteous anger. Serves her right for not listening to me! She should be afraid… Severus thumped down in the final chair, uncaring of how it groaned under his weight.
"You too, lad." There was a thread of command in the woman's tone, and Severus decided that it would be a very poor idea to disobey; a clever person never infuriated those who held more power, and until he could figure out how much trouble they were in, he would play it cool. Reluctantly, he placed his hand next to Lily's, only belatedly noting how much dirtier his hand was.
The woman ran a delicate, narrow finger over Lily's palm, tracing the lines and grooves thoughtfully. She didn't linger, however, and in a matter of moments was repeating the sweeping motion on his. He fought back the urge to shiver, to pull his hand back and grab Lily. To run, and make for the comparative safety of their homes.
As if reading his mutinous thoughts, the woman gave a slight, secretive smile.
"There is much that binds you together. But much that divides you, as well." Her unvarnished nail slowly travelled over the long curve that bisected his palm. "I see much in your future, princeling. You will be crowned by the dark, and yet serve as a saviour of the light. All will be possible when nothing remains."
His mouth dried out abruptly, something sour coming over his tongue as the woman's words washed over him. But still, he did not move, an odd sort of paralysis coming over him.
"But what about my future?" Lily interjected, voice gone childish and plaintive. Severus turned to stare at her, a sick sort of horror filling him. No, no, no! he inwardly cried. You don't want to hear. You don't want her to look at you!
Then the woman really did smile, but there was nothing of warmth or happiness in the flash of pointy teeth. For the first time, Severus smelled something other than kettle corn and engine grease on the night air; something darker—copper and earth—overwhelmed his senses and he shuddered reflexively.
"Tell me, girl, on this most traditional of future-seeking nights, shall I spin you tales of your husband? A loyal, dark-haired man he will be, and he'll give you a bonnie bairn."
Severus felt a jolt of… something at the woman's pronouncement. A loyal, dark-haired man. Could that be me? Or is she playing us for fools?
A similar though must have occurred to Lily, because a light flush streaked over her cheeks, and she narrowed her green eyes. "No. I don't want to know about my husband. I want to know about my future… what I'll do. Where I'll go…"
A nasty cackle rolled through the tent, and with it, a whiff of power. "Aren't you an impertinent little thing?"
"Lily…" he warned, keeping his voice scrupulously flat. Don't ask any more questions!
But she didn't listen to him and was completely oblivious to the danger sitting across from her. "Well?" she demanded crossly, eyes flashing.
Like a striking viper, the woman's hand flew out and caught Lily's hand, encasing it with an implacable grip. Leaning in, the woman wrenched Lily halfway across the table until they were nearly nose-to-nose. Too late, Lily tried to pull away, but it was as if she was glued to the wooden surface for all the purchase she got.
"Don't forget, little one, that you asked for this…"
Numbly, Severus finally realised why the new scent floating through the tent was so familiar. Carrion… it was the same scent that lingered by the bloody back door of the butcher's and over the murky pits of the tanners. Death…
When the woman spoke again, her whisper was barely audible over the cheerful fair tunes blaring outside. "I see no future for you, daughter of flowers."
"Let go of me," Lily cried out, eyes brimming with tears as she futilely lurched back.
"Heed my warning: You will not bloom long. The darkness will come for you on Samhain. Not tonight. Oh, no, not this Samhain, but soon enough. Soon enough, indeed."
Abruptly, her milky, blind stare settled onto Severus' skinny frame, and she delivered a final admonition. "Love binds you together, my children, and when darkness takes all, love will be the only thing to remain in the ashes. Remember that."
With a disdainful flick, the woman let Lily go, and she fell to the floor with a thud. The impact seemed to rattle his bones, and he was on his feet in a second, pulling his friend off the floor and wrapping a long arm around her waist. Weeping, Lily blundered for the tent entrance. From the corner of his eye, he saw the woman's expression turn crafty and sly, and he froze. Something's not right… oh, gods, we've forgotten something…
Recalling the woman's opening words, Severus hastily reached into his own pocket, feeling the cold jingle of coins.
"No, princeling, this is one debt you can't cover." The woman leaned back in her chair, smirking.
"Pay her, Lily," he demanded, feeling as though they were standing in the jaws of a quivering trap.
Lily turned back, looking gobsmacked. "No, I won't. Not after she said all those ghastly things to me!"
Breaking free from his hold, Lily batted her way out of the tent. Chasing her, he tripped on a lump of canvas, the cold air hitting him like a clout. From the inside the tent, he could hear the woman cackling. Fear and frustration finally boiling over, Severus grabbed Lily's arm.
She whimpered, and he ignored the helpless noise, looming over her.
"Do as I tell you. Go and place your money on the table so we can leave!"
For the second time that evening, Lily shrank back from him. He didn't release her, however, until he was confident that she would obey him. Tremors running the length of her body, Lily dashed back and threw her change at the table, the metallic sound peculiarly loud.
"Let's go," he ordered harshly, and seized her hand once more. She followed dully in his wake, stumbling as they made their way past the Ferris wheel and coconut shy.
As they started up the hill, Severus peered behind them, wondering if he would see the woman pursuing them. Would she ride a broom, like the stories of old, or come after them in a manner more mundane? But the darkness was still. He saw only the usual rides and attractions; of the white tent, he could see nothing.
It was like it had never been there.
He jerked them into a run.
Despite the oppressive gloom of the bridle path, Severus could clearly see the bruises on Lily's pale arm, and a wave of shame nearly choked him.
I hurt her… oh, gods, I am just like him! It's all my fault!
"I'm sorry," he said, voice cracking painfully. "I'm so sorry, Lily. I didn't mean to hurt you… it won't happen again, I promise!"
She stared blankly up at him, round face tear-stained. With a final shudder, she collapsed into his arms, burying her face into his shoulder. Shock ran through him; he did not understand why she was letting him touch her, not after the harm he had done.
"I won't let it happen again," he whispered into her hair, taking cleansing breaths of the sweet-smelling strands and stroking her back, seeking comfort even as he tried to grant it. "I'll never hurt you again…"
The crunch of tyres on gravel finally broke the spell, and Lily pulled back in order to make sure that the car wasn't her father's.
"What was that thing?" she asked hoarsely.
Severus didn't know what to say. Should I lie and try to make her feel better? Or tell her the truth? But I don't have a clue what that thing was… I don't even know if we paid our debt correctly! What if it comes back for us?
"Something bad," he told her, shrugging tensely.
"Was she… magical?"
"I don't know," Severus bluffed, reduced to uselessness by his lack of knowledge and praying that she didn't see it. Not for the first time, he vowed to learn everything he could about magic once he got to Hogwarts; only knowledge would give him the power and control he longed for. "That's why I need you to listen to me. I have a lot more experience with this kind of stuff than you do."
A hint of hysteria re-emerged. "Did she curse me? Am I going to die?"
"No," he answered swiftly, deciding it was time to bugger the truth lest she go all teary again; his priority needed to be getting her back into her room before they got caught. He would sort out the details later. "You're not going to die, Lily. But, I dunno, maybe she was a Muggle… like I said, she was some crazy old bird in her bathrobe who gets her jollies off by scaring children."
"Do you really believe that?"
"Yes." Not a chance in hell….
Lily stared at him sceptically. "But… but she called me a flower girl like she knew my name! How would she know that if she wasn't a witch?"
That question gave him pause until a bit of cool logic granted him an answer. "She called you 'daughter of flowers', actually," he answered pedantically, recalling how personal 'princeling' had felt. "And I bet that's because you're wearing a dress with flowers on it, not 'cause she knows your name."
"Oh." Lily blinked, nibbling on her lip. "That… makes sense."
He nodded. "Of course it does. Now, come on. We need to get you back in your room."
She gave him a tremulous smile. "I'm so glad you're my friend, Severus."
He tried to smile back. "Me, too."
Mind spinning in useless, terrified circles, Severus sat upright in his bed with his back to the wall until his parents arrived back home at quarter past three. His Da was terribly drunk; it sounded like his Mum had to practically drag him into bed, and the man started snoring almost immediately, the staccato reverberation grating even through the wall.
Several minutes later, his door cracked open and Eileen stuck her head in. Seeing him still awake, she slipped into his room and shut the door. She looked completely done in, and the smell of stale fags and cheap booze drifted around her like twin spectres.
Her expression went tight as she observed his sorry state. "Did you get caught, then?"
Shaking his head, he stared down at the blanket knotted in his hands.
"She wanted her fortune read," he told her softly, feeling a wave of relief at finally being able to tell the tale and get some answers. "And then there was this… woman. I dunno what she was, but it was horrible!"
Eileen raised a beetle black brow. "And let me guess, she gave you a fortune most dire and deadly?"
"How did you know?"
She snorted derisively. "Because they always do. If it's not utter pie in the sky tosh, it's all doom and gloom." Seeing the doubtful look, she continued. "No seer worth his or her salt would be caught dead at some rural Muggle traveling fair. I'm sure that it was just some sick berk looking for a spot of fun."
"No…" Severus began, shocked that she didn't believe him. "No, she was some sort of witch, I know it. She smelled like death, and had these pointy teeth. And her eyes…"
"Oh, Severus, what am I going to do with you?" his Mum interrupted tiredly, sitting down on the thin mattress with a badly concealed sigh. From the way she swayed, he could tell that she had been drinking heavily as well. "Your imagination would give Lewis Carroll a run for his money."
"She was magical, I know it! You said it yourself, 'Be careful, Severus. Tonight is Samhain. The dark half of the year has begun, and you know better than to think it's all cheerful fairy tales and bobbing for apples'."
Her bloodshot eyes narrowed. "You would have the cheek throw my own words back at me, wouldn't you? Believe it or not, that wasn't the danger I was warning you against." At his uncomprehending expression, she continued, "I was more worried that you would end up drinking with the older louts and get yourself into trouble with that girl."
"Why would I do that? That's stupid."
"And thank the gods for small mercies that you still think that."
In a final, desperate attempt to make her understand, Severus revealed the worst of it. "Mum, we have to do something. The white lady told us that the darkness would come for Lily on Samhain, and she would die…"
Abruptly, his Mum's patience expired. "Severus Tobias Snape, you listen to me, and you listen well: that was just some barmy, rotten Muggle, not anyone magical. She probably saw that you and that foolish girl were there alone and decided to have a laugh at your expense. Nothing is going to happen to either of you. Enough with this nonsense!"
Stung by her betrayal—she wouldn't even hear him out!—Severus nodded stiffly and tried not to glare back. It's because she hates Lily. She always has, and doesn't care if something happens to her!
His sullen silence did not improve his mother's temper one whit. "Now, go to sleep. And in the morning, you best take care to be quiet. You do not want to pay the price of waking your father, is that understood?"
In lieu of answering, he flopped down mulishly, folding himself into a tight ball of resentment and determinedly staring at the wall rather than his mother. He could feel the heat of her anger through the blanket and braced himself for an explosion.
Instead, he heard only a hiss of annoyance, and then she rose precipitously from the mattress. In a matter of moments she had made it to the door; opening it, Eileen hesitated, as if wanting to say something further. Gritting his teeth, Severus resolutely continued to stare at the blank wall. He wasn't going to give in.
Eventually, the door clicked shut.
Severus opened bleary and sand-filled eyes a little past eight. The previous evening's escapades were still burning hotly in his gut, and he immediately started plotting the day's course.
In a way, he mused bitterly, I'm lucky they're both rat-arsed. As long as I am quiet and don't bother them, I'll be able to get away with most anything.
First things first, I need to get into Mum's trunks and take a look in her books. Maybe there will be something that can give us a clue about what happened last night, and how much danger Lily is really in. If it takes months, I'll figure it out, and I won't let myself be caught unawares ever again. Forewarned is forearmed and all that rot…
Creeping down to the damp, mouldering cellar, Severus pawed through the trunk of books hastily; if he were to be caught down here by either of his parents, he'd be in a world of hurt.
His fingers itched to properly page through the books. Eileen had allowed him a limited number of glorious afternoons with some of them, but there were at least ten he'd never even heard of. Finding three likely tomes—an introductory text on divination, a book on magical creatures, and one simply titled 'Moste Dark Portents'—Severus slipped them into his rucksack, tidied the trunk, and sneaked out the back door.
Reaching the playfield, he saw that the swings were empty, and he wiped the rain off one before sitting down and desultorily kicking it into motion. Briefly, he wondered if any of the Hogwarts professors would listen to him if he told them about the thing in the white tent, or if they would think that he was making it up, too.
Come on, Lily, where are you?
From the corner of his eye, he saw Michael Roberts lumber onto the playfield carrying several fishing poles. The shovel-faced boy seemed to be making his way towards the swings, and Severus glared at him until he shuffled away towards the pond.
Finally hearing the reassuring sound of Lily's laughter, he straightened, holding the bag protectively in front of him. Petunia was with her, and it pushed his mood even further into foul.
"Hiya!" Lily cried brightly, and seemingly without a care in the world.
"Hello." From over Lily's shoulder, Petunia scowled at him before turning off to go to the pond.
Waiting until Petunia was out of earshot, he gestured Lily closer and opened up his bag. "I've brought some of my Mum's books so we can do some research."
"Whatever for?" she asked looking confused.
"To figure out what that thing was last night. I don't actually think she was a witch—more likely a hag, or something like that."
Lily made a face. "You said last night you thought she was a Muggle."
"Yeah, well, I lied."
"Lily!" Petunia unexpectedly bellowed, emerging from the bushes. "Come on, Michael's waiting for us."
"Just a minute," she yelled back, and Severus winced at the volume. Glancing back to him, she gave him an odd look. "Listen, Sev about last night…"
"You were there!" he erupted, seeing only her dismissal. "How can you just stand there and pretend that nothing happened?"
She shrugged. "Because I was there. And yeah, that lady was utterly mad, but everything's scarier on Halloween, isn't it? Besides, my Mum always says that too much sugar and too much excitement can make anyone go a little crazy. I think that's what happened last night."
Stunned, he could only stare at her.
She rolled her eyes, hands going to her hips. "Why don't you come with Tunie and me? She convinced Michael to bring his new fishing poles, and we're going to see if we can catch anything."
Severus felt himself go thin lipped. "It's November. The only thing that you're going to catch is someone's manky old boot and rubbish."
"Do you always have to be so negative?"
Frustration forced him to his feet, and Severus threw the strap of the bag over his shoulder. "Are you going to come look at these books or not?"
"How about later?" Lily pleaded. "It's such a pretty day. Come have fun with us…"
Why doesn't anyone believe me?
"No," he said flatly. "If you don't care enough, then I need to get back before my Mum figures out that I took them."
"Yes, or no?"
Lily shot him a dirty look. "No."
As if on cue, they both turned and walked away.
Severus trudged the long way back. He knew better than to come home in a strop. His temper had got the best of him the previous evening, both in his dealings with Lily and his Mum; he wasn't going to compound the mistake further by waking his parents during their badly needed lie-in. I need to be smarter about this, he reckoned. If I am going to solve the mystery of that white tent, I need to be a Slytherin about it and plot everything through to the finish.
I need a reason to be down in the cellar so that I can properly go through all of Mum's old books. That'll take more than just an hour or two, but at least today is the perfect day to take advantage of the two of them being hung over…
One of his Mum's oft-quoted phrases echoed in his ears.
A clever Slytherin hides in plain sight, and always has at least two reasons for doing something.
Sure enough, they were still abed when he returned, and Severus snagged a piece of toast and went down to the cellar. Flipping through a worn potions textbook, he grimly started to chop as he read his Mum's scribbled marginalia.
Severus was just decanting the results when Eileen came down the wooden stairs, none too pleased to find him mucking about with her things.
"What are you doing down here?" she inquired icily, countenance making clear that she was not only cross with him, but had a ferocious headache.
"Making this," he answered shortly, pointing to the page that read 'Sober-Up Potion'.
She seemed to deflate. "Oh."
"Here," he said, thrusting a phial at her. "You'll need to cast a cooling charm."
Doing so perfunctorily, she took a careful sip of the thick liquid, the crease between her brow fading a bit as the brew worked its magic.
"You went heavy on the mint."
Slowly decanting a second dose, he shrugged. "We were low on clover, and I figured the extra wouldn't hurt."
"It is well done. Thank you."
Severus didn't acknowledge the rare compliment, choosing instead to feed the roiling resentment that had taken up residence in his stomach. Just go already, he thought spitefully. Go so that I can read and find out what I need to know to save Lily.
He cut her off, in no mood to listen. "Here. I made enough for two."
Eileen closed her eyes briefly, face turning emotionless before taking it and turning for the stairs again.
"We are out of pain potion and Pepper-Up," he said to her back. "May I stay down here for the rest of the afternoon and brew some?"
"Yes." She stopped, opening the door at the top of the stairs. Tone dry but for a faintest edge of bitterness, she added, "Stay out of the books with blood wards. You may look at anything else."
The light from the kitchen illuminated her careworn face, making the harsh lines bracketing her mouth seem deeper. A niggle of guilt broke free from Severus' anger. She had given him exactly what he had wanted without having to lie about it. Honestly, his mum had probably seen through the ruse from the start—after all, she had been the one to teach him what it meant to be a Slytherin. Had he simply asked, she probably would have granted him permission; his manipulative actions of the morning had only served to make her feel worse.
"Mum…" he began, at a loss for words.
"Will you miss me?" The unexpected question fell out of his mouth like a stone, and he felt a flush of embarrassment creep over his face at the childish sound of it.
Eileen turned fully, a sentiment he couldn't decipher strong in her expression. "Every moment."
"What will you do?"
Black humour coloured her voice. "Many things. And nothing of importance."
A loud, curse-filled thump abruptly announced his father's return to consciousness, startling the both of them.
"Get to work," she said, not unkindly. "I'll come down and check on you in an hour. If you can master the remainder of the first year potions over the next few days, I'll let you see some of the books with blood wards. It's time you start learning more than just foolish wand waving."
The offer was as good as forgiveness. "Yes, Mum," he replied, anticipation filling him as he flipped to the index to see all the potions listed for first years. With a slight smirk, Eileen closed the door quietly, and Severus made his way over to the potions cabinet, mind filling with possibilities.
Truly, he had been handed the best of all outcomes. His mum wasn't all that mad at him, and between her books and help, he was positive that he could figure out what the white woman had been. As soon as he had answers, he could go to Lily; she wouldn't be cross with him once she really understood the danger that they had been in. It would be alright.
And in the meantime, I get to brew all I want! If I make the bases of the Sober-Up and pain potion at the same time, there will be a large enough gap that I can start reading the divination book, and while I'm stirring, I can look through the index of 'Moste Dark Portents'…
Beginning to hum softly to himself, Severus got to work.