Chapter 11: Afraid of the Dark
Potter was gone for a long time, it seemed. Certainly longer than usual. Surely it had been longer than a day? Snape began to wonder how badly he really had been injured falling down those stairs. Or maybe he just got bored coming to the shack after a while. Maybe he just gave up on the whole expedition.
Snape just wished he hadn’t gotten hooked on being fed, like some sort of zoo animal. But unfortunately, he had gotten used to it, and his stomach growled in complaint for the lack of Harry’s paper bag lunches. And – dare he admit it? – perhaps he was missing the daily annoyances that come with human companionship.
For lacking of eating or talking, he found himself sleeping a lot. Sleeping and dreaming and remembering. It was dark and silent inside the shack, and sometimes he didn’t know whether he was asleep or awake. Everything sort of drifted together. All he knew was that Lily was still there, still inside, still spritely and alive in his mind.
There were so many memories he had of their first year as friends, when he was just trying to figure out what being a friend meant. They were the simplest, but they lasted the longest, and shone the clearest for him. He had still been very shy back then, and would mostly just listen quietly to her with wide brown eyes as she rambled on. He hung on every word she said, and sometimes, he managed to smile.
“What’s your favorite color?” she asked him one day as they wandered by the stream in the woods, and she skipped a rock.
He looked her in the eyes. “I guess…green. And yours?”
“Oh.” He picked up a rock and skipped it himself. He wasn’t very good at conversation at the age of 9, or as it turned out at any age, but he determined to make an effort. “What’s your favorite…animal?”
“Oh, definitely deer. I feed them during the winter with oats, and hang things on the trees for them. They’re my friends, and they’re always in the old stories and songs, and always really magical.” She smiled. “And what’s your favorite animal?”
“Mmm…cats, I suppose. They’re…interesting to watch.”
“I like them too!” Lily concurred. “I always wanted a cat, but my sister is allergic.” She rolled her eyes. “Anyway, I do feed the barn cats during the winter, down at old man Tucker’s place.”
“You…like to feed things,” he observed, and then felt stupid for voicing such an off-beat commentary.
She just giggled. “So what’s your favorite food?”
Severus looked thoughtful. People had favorite foods? He was always just happy if there was any food around at all. “I guess…whatever I had at your house last. That was…quite good.”
“Yes. That.” Another memory floated back to him from a long time ago, when he was very small, and it was Christmas, and his mother had whipped up ingredients for something special. “And…pancakes, I suppose.”
“Yes, I love pancakes,” Lily concurred, “with lots of butter and syrup.”
“I think my mum made them one time with lemon and sugar.” Or at least…that was how he thought she did it. He could barely remember. How old was he back then? Four? Five?
“I could probably learn how to make them like that,” she stated. “Then I would have you over to test them on.”
He blinked. “You…would?”
“Of course! I’d be making them to share, obviously.”
He smiled a little. “Obviously.”
“So…what do you want to do when you grow up?” she asked him as she skipped a rock in the nearby stream.
“I dunno. I guess…chemistry stuff. I’m pretty good at it, I think.”
“You’d be brilliant at that!”
“Well…what about you? You want to…do anything?”
She rested her hand on her chin as if it were a really, really difficult question to answer. “Maybe a veterinarian on a farm out in the country, away from all the factory smog, where I could see the sky clearly. Or a cook or something…I really like to cook stuff. Or maybe run one of those butterfly habitat garden things, with all the fancy flower bushes. That would be amazing.”
“Well…maybe you could cook a lot and have fancy bushes out on your farm,” Severus suggested, trying to be helpful.
“And maybe you could have a chemistry lab adjoined to the farm, so we could still see each other, regular like.”
He smiled again at that concept. “I’d…like that.”
A little while later, they had both clambered up into a small tree, after he had decided he was going to teach her how to climb, as he was quite an expert at it. Oh, the things little boys will brag about in front of girls they start to like…
“My dad, he comes from Wales, you know,” Lily informed him, dangling her legs over the sturdy limb. “He came east to work the factories here when he was quite young. Still says a few things in Welsh sometimes. I tried picking it up, but it’s really hard!”
He was quiet for a long time, then muttered, “My mum…she’s Irish. Her father came over from there. He worked the factories, too.” He looked at her hard, realizing that more mockery might be in store now that he had revealed his Irish blood to her. “You won’t go telling about that, will you?”
“Severus, you can tell me anything you want, and it’s just between us,” she promised, laying her hand on her heart. “But anyway, I think that’s amazing. The Irish have the most amazing stories, I’m told.”
“Yeah,” he agreed quietly. “When I was very little, she used to…tell me them sometimes. That was before, well…my dad didn’t like that at all. He didn’t like anything to do with the Irish. Said they all came to take away the jobs. That they were all about…black magic. ”
He looked down from the tree, recalling how his mother Eileen used to sing to him when he was very small, sometimes old songs her own mother taught her, sometimes with bits of Gaelic mixed in. They used to calm him down if he had nightmares, or he had to go to bed hungry because there was nothing for supper. But his father had hit his mother across the mouth when he heard her using the old tongue. And she never used it again.
“Oh, that’s sad,” Lily remarked. “Do you remember any of the stories?”
“Not…well,” he muttered. “Well, I do remember…a little bit of a song. It was a long time ago…probably butchering it in my head…”
“Go on, sing it for me!”
“Eh, I…can’t sing.”
“Well, fake it!”
So he did try very lowly to sing what he remembered. He knew it was a bit off-key, but Lily didn’t seem to mind too much. “Farewell, farewell, to you who would hear, you lonely travelers all. The cold north winds will blow again, the winding road does fall…” He remembered his mother’s arms around him, when she used to hold him years before, and there was a fire burning, and he was able to fall asleep to the softness of her voice. “And will you never cut the cloth, nor drink the light to be? And can you never swear a year to anyone but me?”
“Oh, that’s lovely,” Lily said, “but also very sad.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “It…sticks with you, sort of.” He looked at her thoughtfully, and decided to divulge all the rest. “My mum…she’s Catholic. I mean, it’s not like she practices regular, but…yeah, she sort of is.”
Lily didn’t look too disturbed, just curious. “What about your dad?” she queried.
Severus shrugged. “Not much of anything, I guess. He doesn’t care about any church at all. But he still doesn’t care for Papists much. He wouldn’t let her go off to Mass, even if she wanted to. Certainly wouldn’t let her take me.”
“Would you want to go with her if you could?”
“I dunno. I’m sort of…one of them, I guess. One of their priests did the christening. But that’s it. I barely know anything about it. My mum got more into magic than Masses. She tells me more about that stuff. But she said…one time, she said she missed it, really badly. She said she’d understand if I ever went to a Mass. It’s like once you go, it never lets go of you, and you can’t shake it off.”
“So you do want to go?”
“I…don’t know. But I do wonder what it’s like…” His voice trailed off. “Though I suppose I’m nothing, really, like my dad. I don’t…believe anything, really, or belong anywhere.” He looked into her eyes again. “Do you think less of me for that?”
She reached over and touched his hand, and it felt all tingly. “You’re not ‘nothing’,” she corrected him. “You’re my friend.”
And they were friends. Best friends. Very best friends. Almost every day for two years, they spent time together after school. They did everything together, both magic and muggle. They studied together and played together. He would teach her how to use her magical gifts, and she particularly was fond of the spell which allowed her to transform leaves into butterflies. She invited him to events he would never attend otherwise, and went roving with him long hours in the woods. And the usually quiet Severus learned to speak his heart. They talked a lot, and the talking made him feel all filled up inside, because she really seemed to care about what he had to say. And he loved to hear her talk, hear her laugh, just watch her, just be with her.
But he never realized how attached he had become to her than when she was 10 years old, and she came down with a bad case of the measles. When school let out, and she was not there to meet up with, he felt totally out of sorts. Somewhere between his unstable home life and the constant bullying at school, she had become his one thing to look forward to, his one candle glimmering in the dark. Without her there, he felt very lost.
So he found himself wandering over to her house, over to her window of their single-story dwelling, and seeing it partially open, managed to clamber up onto the sill.
“Lily,” he called into her softly, seeing her lying in her bed.
She flickered open her eyes. “Sev,” she murmured weakly. “You really shouldn’t be here. This thing I’ve got is contagious!”
“Yeah, but…I had to see how you were doing.”
“Well…it hasn’t killed me yet…”
“Don’t say that,” he blurted. “You’ll…be fine. I’m sure of it.”
She smiled a little. “You better climb inside. It’s too chilly to be straddling the sill all afternoon.”
He didn’t need further persuasion. As he drew near the bed, Lily covered half her face with her blanket. “By the way, I look really ugly right now.”
“Nah, you couldn’t…be like that,” he countered. “Does it hurt a lot though?”
“I’m just really scratchy and sore,” she explained. “And I’ve sort of got a headache.”
“Oh, dear,” he commiserated. “Well…I got you something…” He fuddled in his coat pocket and pulled out a vibrant red chrysanthemum, which he had snatched off the harvest display in front of the Methodist church earlier that day.
Lily’s eyes sparkled seeing the present (Snape had learned she had an absolute weakness for presents), and let her blanket slide down, revealing both the rash on her face, but also the fact that she was sleeping with several stuffed animals, including a pin cat, a sparkly unicorn, and polka dot kangaroo.
Severus was tempted to smile a little at this, but thought that might be rather rude, given her condition, so instead he just sighed and tenderly touched her cheek. “Poor Lily…”
“See? Told you I looked ghastly,” she lamented.
“No, not near as bad as that,” he assured. “It just…looks uncomfortable.”
“It is,” she agreed. “But I so love your flower, Severus!” She leaned back against her pillow and just stared at it gleefully.
“I’m…I’m glad,” he responded awkwardly. His eyes drifted to her bookshelf. “Umm…would you like me to…maybe read you something?”
“Like…anything you want.”
She sat up and thought about it. “I got a book out from the library a little while ago. It’s called James and the Giant Peach. I don’t think I’ll like it though, because there are spiders and skeletons in it, and this little boy’s parents get killed by a giant rhinoceros.”
“Well…I read pretty fast. So if I read it to you, I can skip over the creepy bits, if you want,” he offered.
So he started to read the book to Lily, sitting on the side of her bed. When she complained of the cold though, he moved closer to her, and in the end they both wound up under the covers, her feverish head on his shoulder, and her arms wrapped around his waist for warmth. And as he read, monotone as always, she drifted off to sleep. Seeing her asleep made him notice just how beautiful she was, even with the measles. And then and there in his young mind, he knew he want to hold her like this always. He swallowed nervously, then with great hesitation, he let his lips touch her hot forehead for an instant.
“I love you, Lily,” he whispered very, very softly. “I’ll love you till the day I die…”
Just then the door flew open. “Good heavens! What are you…?” It was Mrs. Evans, and she clearly did not approve of what she saw. “Get out of her bed, boy!”
Lily sat up, rubbing her eyes. “Mum…he was only reading me ‘James and the Giant Peach’…”
“I don’t care a fig! It’s unseemly to be having some boy lollygagging about in bed with you!”
“He’s not ‘some boy’!” Lily protested. “He’s Sev, and I’m the one who asked him under the covers because I was cold!”
“It’s alright,” Severus mumbled, clambering out of bed. “I probably shouldn’t be here anyway.”
“Well-spoken,” her mother snapped.
The boy looked down awkwardly. “Umm…hope you feel better, Lils,” he offered, trying to hide the dejection in his voice, heading for the open window.
“We do have a door,” Mrs. Evans huffed in annoyance.
“See you real soon, Sev,” Lily called after him, hoping to ease the tension as he was ushered out of her room.
Once outside, her mother eyed him suspiciously.
“So…you think you care about her, don’t you?”
Snape’s eyes flitted awkwardly, but he ultimately nodded.
“Well, caring for someone is doing the best for that person, even at cost to yourself.”
Severus didn’t know what to say to that.
She continued, “Lily is a very sweet, and sometimes naïve girl. She’ll forget all about herself to help others she thinks are in need of helping. But friendship has got to go two ways. Not with one side just giving and giving and giving, and the other side just taking it all and giving nothing back.”
Snape blinked, shocked. “I…I just came…to give her a flower…”
“You came because you don’t know what to do with yourself without her around,” Mrs. Evans corrected him. “You use her like a crutch.”
A crutch? The young Snape didn’t know what she meant. He liked being around her more than anything in the world, but…it wasn’t like he was using her…or at least not in a bad way…was he?
“Did it ever occur to you she might be better off spending her time with other friends, maybe some girls her own age, instead of always out with you?”
He shrugged, awkwardly. What was he supposed to say to that, exactly?
“What do you think it does to her when you always go running to her to patch you up? When she comes and cries herself to sleep over you, with your blood staining her dress? She’s too young for such things. I don’t mind her helping out, but you’re causing her nothing but hurt, and sooner or later it’ll just get worse…”
Severus stepped back, and blurted out, “I’d NEVER hurt Lily!” His whole thought process felt crumbled up like a ball of paper, and he ran out the door, confused and hurt and suddenly feeling very, very alone.
The next time Severus saw Lily was several weeks later, on Halloween. She had invited him to go with her to the cinema, which was running some sort of budget monster movie marathon in the evening. But when he arrived at her house to meet her, he overheard her parents talking together in the kitchen.
“Jeanie, you’re overreacting,” he heard her father say. “They’re just kids, and she wouldn’t be hanging about with him if he were truly bad to the core.”
“I just don’t see what Lily sees in the boy,” her mother countered. “She’s a lively enough young girl; he’s a strange boy, quiet as the dead most of the time, and I don’t like the way he stares. I’ve heard stories about youngin’s like him, growing up on the bad end of town; they never turn out well, and everyone always says they should have listened to gut instinct.”
“Maybe he just doesn’t trust adults,” Mr. Evans suggested. “He has it hard enough at home, after all. And I’ve seen nothing in his eyes unseemly when he looks at our girl. Only a lot of heart, that he probably doesn’t get to show much.”
“Still…what about when he grows up? What if his looks start…changing toward her?”
“You’re thinking too far ahead, dear!” he sighed. “Friends come and go in this life. These days, she spends her every free hour with the boy. But believe me, time has a way of changing things. She’ll be off and he’ll be off in different direction, sure enough.”
Severus had felt his heart thump hard in his chest. But Lily had said they would be friends…always…
He spun around and saw Lily standing on the porch, dressed in…what he gathered was a homemade fairy costume. Or a butterfly, or something. She was wearing wire wings and some sort of cardboard headband.
“Well, are we going to the cinema or aren’t we?” she queried, resting her hand on her hip.
“Umm…yeah,” Snape agreed. “That’s a nice…thing you’re wearing.”
She smiled coyly, grabbed his hand and pulled him out the door.
At the run-down old cinema building, not much more than a refurnished barn, Lily figured out how to slip Severus in free of charge by sneaking up to the loft where the projector machine was located. That way, they could enjoy the view and simultaneously avoid the crowd and the toll booth. But Lily did go to the snack stand and purchase a giant bag of popcorn for them to share, which Severus recalled had three different flavors—regular, cheddar, and caramel. She also bought a smaller bag of honey roasted peanuts which she promptly dumped into the popcorn “for flavor”. It was a Lily thing. But…it was fun.
After the last zipper-laden Japanese monster had raided Tokyo for the ump-hundredth time and the marathon finally ended, Lily and Severus started to walk home together in the dark, aided by her handy-dandy glow-in-the-dark wand prop. Soon she started complaining about the weight of her wings, and he offered to carry them for her. So he helped her get them off, and felt very proud of himself for proving her mother wrong about him being incapable of being a useful component in a friendship.
But when they reached the outskirts of Snape’s house, the children could hear his parents shouting the house down and the sound of things being tossed around.
“I’ve got to go…” Severus stated, handing Lily back her wings.
“No, Sev…he might…”
“I have to, Lily, I have to…” He had a feeling they were fighting about him staying out so late, and even then, even after he had sworn to himself never to bother sticking up for his mother again after she had disarmed him, he still couldn’t let her get beaten for something he had done. Maybe if he were there, Tobias Snape would at least break up the intensity of his wrath between the two of them.
Sure enough, as soon as Severus entered the door, his father snatched him by the collar and held him up against a wall. “Where’ve you been, night crawler? Out with your prissy little uptown girlfriend again, huh?”
“Don’t you say anything about Lily,” Severus growled. “Don’t you dare…”
Tobias laughed. “That washed out little redhead will sell you up river soon as something better comes along.”
“Yeah, sure she is.” He let go of the collar with the chortle. “You think her fine folk have forgotten what you are? Son of a factory bloke and a sour-faced Irish washerwoman.”
Severus noticed his mother wince at the insult, and it him hurt him to see her hurt.
“Your precious little wench will be gone with the first respectable spark that comes along. And you, do you think your book learning or hocus-pocus will save you from being what you are? Nah…you’re dirt, and you’ll always be that way. It’s on your face, in your mouth with the roughness of your speech. You live with it, and knock out of your head any false notions!”
The next day, Tobias ordered him to go to the factory, work on the chemical bottles like the other boys his age from the rough end of town. His mother tried to intervene, for once. She didn’t want the boy’s lungs poisoned, or become a casualty of one of many factory accidents. She had wanted him to go to school that day, but his father would hear none of it.
“What, trying to make a sissy of the boy? Nothing but a whelp of a scholar, what? Make it so he can’t do anything without them magic sticks, huh? I’ll teach him a thing or two…”
And he’d seized him by the scruff of the neck and shoved him out the door.
He still remembered how thick the fumes were in the factory, how he had coughed into the collar of his ragged coat. He’d heard his father cough like that, and the other factory men who hung about the taverns with him, and it had always frightened him. They were just drinking down the knowledge that their work would be the end of them.
And now he was doing it. No, no…he wanted to live! He didn’t want to die in the filth of Spinner’s End! He wanted to get out, go on, find his fame and fortune, and fresh air, and a blue sky not clogged with chemicals drifting across it and tainting it a yellowish gray…and live.
And it’s go, boys, go! They’ll time your every breath…
He remembered how fast he had to work that one day, snatching up the chemical bottles as they moved along for processing. Then one fell down. He had grabbed for that broken bottle, and the shard of glass tore through his hand.
And every day you’re in this place, you’re two days nearer death…
He tried to hide the injury, tried to sop up the blood and staunch it with a piece of wax paper used for the packaging. But they saw it and dragged him out by the collar, having it out with him in the cursed Potteries dialect.
“We’re not having ya workin’ half-handed, hear ya?! Canna fang owt it, aye? Get out, kidda, back to yer lazy-arse fadder!”
And every bob made on the job you’ll pay with flesh and blood…
Life isn’t fair. Life just…isn’t fair.
He knew going home without having been paid would earn him a flaying, so he took the longest route back to the house, just stalling the inevitable. For the first time of many times to come, he stuffed his hand, now throbbing with shards of glass still inside, deep in his coat. It would become his automatic response through years of unscreamed pain and unshed tears, the thing that he did when his throbbing heart was struck dumb.
And his father, drunk as usual, had been the first to yank him in the door and demand the money. When it was obvious he didn’t have it, and reason for this was that he dropped a bottle and hurt his hand, all hell broke loose. He had been thrown against the wall and cuffed until he was dizzy, with the blood running down his fingers.
“Good for nothing son of a bitch! Yer no son of mine! Yer witch of a mother cuckolded ya! Damn yer eyes, yer no son of mine!”
“Tobias, stop, stop, he is your son…” His mother had protested feebly, wringing her hands, but doing nothing more to stop the beating.
Finally, the cornered boy exploded. “I hate you! I hate you!!” he screamed. “I’ll come back and kill you someday! I will! I swear I will!!”
His father sneered at the threat. “Oh, you will, will you?”
Then all Severus remembered was a glass being thrown in his face, and everything feeling tingly and then numb before he blacked out.
The next day, bruised and cut up, he had tried going back to school. It was a horrible idea, as his hand was so bad off he could hardly hold a pen, and the other children snickered over his swollen face. He knew his father would try and make him go back to the factories sooner or later. He couldn’t bear the thought. He wanted to get away, but felt too bad off to do so. He just wanted to snap himself out of the fogginess he felt eating away at his mind…either that or give in to it, and let it swallow up his troubles.
So at lunch break he bolted out of the school and staggered out to the edge of the woods. He didn’t half know what he was doing at first, but he knew one thing: he had something in his pocket from his father’s room. It was a razor. And it was sharp. That was all he knew. He couldn’t even remember taking it, but he knew he must have, for it was with him now.
And taking it out of his pocket with trembling hands, he had tested the edge with his finger. Yes, it was sharp. He felt the sting and the little trickle of blood. It felt strangely good to him, like something finally was stronger than the haze. He inhaled and let the blade cut a little deeper. More pain. Was it becoming an addiction? He let the razor slip slowly down his palm, toward his wrist…
He jerked back. Of course, it was Lily.
“What are you doing?! Put that down!”
“It’s none of your business!” he spat out, all the anger inside going in a direction he did not want it to. “Just stay away from me! Go back with your…friends…”
“I’m not your friend, I’m bad, I’m very bad…now go on, go away!” He was clutching the blade now and blood was running down his freshly injured hand.
“Severus, no!” She pounced on top of him and they wrestled together on the ground as she struggled to yank the razor away from him. Then she yelped in pain as the blade slipped and ran along her thumb. Severus froze and finally released his hold on it, letting it fall to the ground.
“I…I’m sorry…I…I didn’t mean to…” His lower lip started to tremble seeing the blood dripping down her thumb. “Please…please…I didn’t mean to, honest…”
“Severus,” she choked, seeing the terror throttling him. “Oh, what have they done to you?”
He was shivering, and closed his eyes tight. “I just…want to end it…I don’t want…to hurt…” He stuffed his wounded hand into the pocket of his trousers, his nerves fraying. “Don’t want…to hurt…you…or anyone…” He shuddered. “I…I…dream about it…sometimes…”
“About what, Sevy? Tell me…”
He opened his eyes, but looked past her instead of meeting her gaze. “I’m just…bad, Lily. And I can’t…shake it…and it hurts…everyone…” He bit his lip. “We shouldn’t be friends…no, no, we mustn’t be…”
“But we are, Sev,” she whispered, tears sparkling in her eyes. “We’re best friends.”
“You can have any friends you want,” he countered. “You don’t need me to…do the things we do together…even the magic stuff, you can go off and learn about it on your own…and…and even your mum said…” He shut his eyes again, and this time his own tears spilled over and ran down his cheeks. “I’m…dirty, Lily. And it’s dark. And I can’t see through, I can’t…”
“Severus,” she pleaded. “Look at me!” She clutched at his collar. “Look at me!”
Slowly, dark eyes met emerald green ones. They felt like aloe vera on open wounds, cooling, healing.
“When you hurt an awful lot, and you’re scared of the dark,” she murmured, “just look me in the eyes. They’ll always be there for you.” She flung her arms around his neck. “Hug me, Sevy.”
“I…I’m afraid…” He feared the act of touch as a gateway to pain.
“Oh, don’t be…please don’t be…” She pressed her face into his shoulder, and very slowly, very gingerly, he wrapped his arms around her back, linking his trembling hands to make them stop shaking. She was warm and soft…it felt good to feel something that did not make him shrink away.
She pulled him up and added, “Don’t you still believe in Hogwarts?”
“Yes…of course,” he confirmed. “You’ll get your letter to go there in a year’s time…you’ll see.”
“Well, then we won’t be freaks anymore,” she giggled. “We can be together as much as we want, with no complaints from anyone. No parents, no Petunia, no school bullies who can’t understand magic. Nothing will get between us there. We’ll be…the Cokeworth Coalition!”
Now Severus smiled, just a little. “I’ll…make you proud of me, Lily.”
“Right now just make me proud by eating something,” she insisted, pulling out a paper bag. “You look terrible.”
Somehow Lily seemed to think a peanut butter and jelly sandwich would cure all ills. But in some strange way, he rather felt like, temporarily, it did just that. Somehow food never tastes so good as when you almost just killed yourself. Then she started busying herself wrapping up his bloody hand with her handkerchief. And then somehow or other he found himself resting his head on her shoulder while she sang an old Welsh song about working into the night upon the loom…and he drifted off to sleep.
Later in February, on Snape’s birthday, his mother had feebly tried to wish him a happy day, and even presented him a bit of bread and butter she’d been saving, which surprised him, as they usually went without breakfast. She even knelt down next to him for a moment, and just let her hand rest on his shoulder. He had awkwardly moved his own hand to her arm, not sure exactly what to expect. He still resented her for not standing up to his father more forcefully for him, and yet…he was suddenly feeling the rather primal urge to hug her, even if he was too old for it…
Then the door opened, and Eileen Snape quickly stood up and backed away from her son. Tobias was back, and he wasn’t happy.
“What are you feeding the brat extra for? What did he do to earn it, huh?” With that, he thrust the plate of bread off the table, and it fell butter side down on the floor.
“Tobias…can’t you leave him be, for one blessed day?” Eileen pleaded
“What? ‘Cause it’s his birthday?” he challenged his wife. Then he glared at his son. “Only snotty-faced little girls celebrate birthdays, ya runt! Get out of here, before I give it to ya!”
After a hard day at school, Severus went off to meet Lily as usual, and she invited him over to her house. He had not wanted to go, realizing that her mother had become increasingly disapproving of their friendship. But she told him that her parents were off at one of Petunia’s ballet recitals, and today was open house day. So he finally relented and went along with her.
When they went into her kitchen, he found himself surprised by the site of a chocolate cake set up on the table. She stood next to it proudly, smiling from ear to ear. “Happy birthday, Severus!”
Young Snape blinked. “You…you made that…for me?”
She nodded enthusiastically. “It’s a little bit lopsided, I know, but that’s all Petunia’s fault. She was practicing her ballet, and jumping about, and it sort of jostled it in the oven. But I hope it tastes better than it looks.”
She ushered him into one of the kitchen chairs and promptly tucked a napkin into his collar. Then set up two paper plates for them and started cutting two large slabs of cake. “It’s got raspberry filling,” she added, obviously pleased with herself. “Oh, I forgot to get the candles! Oh, dear…”
“No, it’s alright,” he assured her, still utterly astonished. “It’s…it’s…perfect.”
He remembered that he had eaten that piece of cake rapidly, as if he was afraid it might be taken away from him, and she had clicked her tongue like a fretting older sister. “You’ve got frosting all over…here!” She rubbed it off his face with his napkin, giggling as she did so. “There, that’s better, isn’t it?”
He looked at her, smiling at him, the light in her green eyes dancing like the sunlight through the window. It made her hair shine like a cardinal’s wing, and his dark brown eyes softened and then unexpectedly filled with tears.
He couldn’t help himself, and flung his arms around her neck in an impulsive embrace. He couldn’t remember the need to cry ever coming upon him so suddenly, but it was as if his heart had overflowed and was running down his cheeks. And caught in the clutches of past pains and present joys, he found himself letting the suppressed sobs escape him, which he was usually so good at burying inside.
“Shhh…there, there,” she soothed him, her arm around his back, and his head against her shoulder. “Lily’s here…Lily’s right here…”
“No one…ever made me…a cake before,” he murmured. “I guess…I don’t deserve it, but…”
“Oh…oh, dear Sev…” She pulled him tighter against her. “You deserve lots of cakes. You’re clever and understanding and kind…” She sniffled, her own eyes starting to water. “Please don’t cry…please…it’s your birthday…you’re not supposed to cry…” She swallowed back hard. “If you cry, I’ll cry too…see?”
He leaned up a little. “I…I don’t want you to cry, Lils. It’s just…” He squeezed her once more. “I thought…I wanted to die…and now…this…this is the best birthday ever…”
A humming sound was in his ears now, his adult ears, radiating through his memories, breaking them, waking him up. A wand’s song. No, no…he didn’t want to wake up…he wanted to go back to when he was happy…when he had cried out of sheer, unbounded joy for still being alive, and loved…
Snape opened his eyes, but something felt strange. It had been dark the last time he closed them, he knew, but now the darkness felt denser. And his eyes…they burned in the sockets, like hot coals…
“Potter?” he queried to the night.
“Yeah, it’s me,” confirmed the voice near the buzzing wand. “Sorry it took so long to get back here. I didn’t realize they were going to confine me to hospital, and then drug me up so I could sleep off the dizziness…”
“Is your wand on?”
“Your wand…is it lit?”
“Of course, can’t you…?” Harry paused, his words lodging in his throat. He stretched out a hand in front of the man’s face, and moved it back and forth in front of his eyes.
Snape sensed what was being done, and snatched Harry’s wrist. “That was stupid,” he hissed. “That was very stupid, Potter.” Then he thrust his arm away from him.
“It is what it is, no pity needed,” he blurted. “I knew it was coming. The first time I woke up after being bitten, I knew…I knew what the venom would do. It was only a matter of time.”
Harry felt a sick, sick feeling grip hold of his stomach. He didn’t know how to begin to say when he was feeling. How can one shrug off the worth of sight, and all the gifts it brings? Losing it is like losing life…especially for one so dedicated to the written word…
“But…your books…” the boy started.
“What? Have the books gone blind too?” Snape chortled dryly. “Or have you? No. They can still read the souls of men, and you can still read them. They are for your eyes now. Mine are burnt out. One does not read such things in hell anyway…”
But they were his books…his…books…
Being unable to read them was the beginning of hell itself.
And though he would never say it, though he would fight never to let it show, the realization that the shield had been thrown up between himself his own blessed, faraway world of paper and ink gave him a foretaste of the eternal ending of all good that was coming, and coming fast.
And he was afraid.
Yes. Afraid of the dark…
Avellina Balestri (aka Rosaria Marie) is one of the founding members and the Editor-in-Chief of The Fellowship of the King, a literary magazine with a strong Tolkienite influence (which, by the way, is open to submissions). She reads and writes extensively, and eagerly seeks out the deeper spiritual significance of popular fandoms such as The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Trek, Star Wars, and The Hunger Games. And yes, she does have a soft spot in her heart for classic Disney movies, The Princess Bride, and Merlin 😉 She is also a recording artist, singing traditional folk songs and her own compositions as well as playing the penny whistle and bodhran drum. She draws her inspiration from the Ultimate Love and Source of Creativity, and hopes to share that love and creativity with others.