Chapter 4: The Pact
Harry and Snape got fairly used to suspiciously observing one another while they ate lunch together over the next few days. It was a strange situation indeed, but Harry kept showing up at the shack each afternoon with a paper bag containing whatever he had been able scrounge together. The insanity of post-battle Hogwarts meant that the food supply of the school had not been properly restocked, and everyone was forced to make do with meager rations.
But Harry was proving himself willing to share them the cantankerous potions master, as well as supplying him with the pain relief potion that made his waking hours bearable. Typically, they maintained their silence when eating, an uneasy air hanging between them. The past was still very much alive for them, and they were hesitant to reveal their inner thoughts more than was necessary. But sometimes the mealtime “surprises” would generate interesting conversational topics which caused them to discover that talking was not the worst way to pass the time.
One day, Harry brought something wrapped in plastic that officially mystified Snape.
“It looks like a pink fossilized porcupine,” he observed, fairly accurately.
“It’s from Ron, actually,” Harry clarified. “He was kind enough to share it, even though it was in his private reserve.”
“Are you referring to his mineral sample collection?”
Harry sighed. “Remember that carnival benefit the school put on back in my second year?”
“Very…vaguely.” As he recalled, he had disapproved the frivolous notion of having a carnival on school grounds, but had been outvoted by the rest of the faculty staff. Thus, for the duration of the event, he had retreated to his basement laboratory to prepare extra homework assignments for his class to make up for all the purposeless lollygagging around.
“Well, Ron won this at one of the game stalls.” Harry held up the pink entity indicatively.
“Evidently he proceeded to murder the thing.”
“It’s fairy floss, Snape!”
The professor squinted at it. “Are you postulating that substance was at one point fit for consumption?”
“Well, technically it is still is.”
Snape rolled his eyes. “Firstly, that completely lacks nutrients as a meal supplement. Secondly, that type of food is totally contrary to my tastes. Thirdly, someone should really have taught you children more about expiration dates.”
“Look, it’s all we’ve got for lunch at the moment, unless we start bringing food from Aberdeen, which can’t happen until night, anyway. So if you don’t want it, fine, but there’s no point in knocking it! I just thought I’d offer…”
“What the bloody hell is going on out there?” Snape snapped, exasperated. “Hasn’t the ministry thought to send proper supplies by now without having to import food from muggles?”
“I’m afraid not,” Harry exhaled. “It’s slow going. A lot of red tape to cut through. McGonnagall has sent most of the students home. There’s only a skeleton crew remaining to help dig through the rubble.”
“This should not be the job of the students. The ministry must be held to their obligations,” he huffed. “The school faculty must hold together if Hogwarts is to survive, and it cannot do so without proper sustenance and assistance in rebuilding.”
“Professor McGonagall is doing her best to speed up the process,” Harry stated. “Although she’s admittedly rather…overwhelmed.”
“Of course she is,” Snape concurred, and there was a surprising strain of sympathy in his voice. “But all the same, she is an able administrator, and I do not doubt she will achieve the desired results if she keeps at it.”
“I’m surprised you managed to compliment her after she beat you at wands,” Harry remarked.
He turned his eyes down. “She was doing her duty as she saw it, and I was playing my own part in the best way I knew how. It had to seem real…even to her. But all the same, she is a dedicated teacher and a fine wands-woman.”
“Still, you’re not exactly known for accepting defeat graciously,” Harry pointed out, testily.
Snape dead-eyed him, letting him know he had just ventured into dangerous territory. “I have always been quite adept at accepting defeat, providing my opponent is worthy of respect and the odds are fair,” he stated through gritted teeth.
Harry shrugged. “A reference to my father, right?”
The young wizard started at his words, observing the strange haze flitting across the man’s eyes. “Yours?”
Snape showed no indication that he planned to respond, but there was no way Harry was going to let this go.
“Did you…fight with your dad a lot?”
He still held his silence, his eyes seeing into the past.
“Well, I guess a lot of fathers and sons have at it…”
“He was a muggle,” Snape spat. “My mother was a fool to marry him.”
“But that kind of…nullifies your existence, doesn’t it?”
“If the whole thing were an accidental happening from square one, then I don’t suppose…” Snape paused, thinking better on what he was divulging, and to whom he was divulging it. No…he wasn’t going to tell him about a late night in a raucous tavern, and a charming factory worker, and a foolish little witch, and how they had slept off the drink together outside under the stars, in each other’s embrace…
No, no, no, never would he tell him that! Why had he opened up so much already? It wasn’t like him at all…but somehow he was overcome by an urge to have someone…even this boy…understand…something…
He stared at Harry. “Ever and anon, when you misbehaved particularly badly in class, I applied the use of the switch to your…hind quarters. Even you would have to admit that I resorted to corporal punishment only when other disciplinary measures had been tried and failed. But all the same, my question to you is…did it hurt, Potter?”
“You bloody well know it did!” Harry exclaimed. “One thing’s for sure, you never went soft!”
“But imagine if I had been in an alcoholic rage,” Snape hypothesized, “and I lost control of myself, and used my full strength against you when you were a boy. What if I had struck you all over your body, including your face, until I drew blood, then I threw you against a wall?”
Harry looked sick. “You’d have been locked up if you ever did that to a kid!” Suddenly Harry understood what Snape was trying to break to him. “Your dad…”
“Deserved to be cursed by the wand,” Snape finished. “But my mother, witch though she was, would never allow it. No, not even when she was being beaten.”
Snape remembered how he had once tried to defend her with his wand as a boy, but she had stopped him long enough for his father to disarm him and proceed to beat the living daylights out of him. He never bothered to come to her defense again, not when she had willfully put him at such a horrible disadvantage.
“I’m…sorry …” Harry attempted.
“That’s NOT why I told you about this,” Snape exhaled in annoyance. “I told you…to demonstrate my point. I don’t mind being beat, as long as I have a fighting chance at winning. Do you understand now?”
“Yeah,” the boy admitted. “That makes sense.” He looked back at him. “Did my mum know about this? I mean, your getting beat up and all?”
Snape nodded slowly. “She…she was kind to me.”
He remembered well the first day she had seen him in such a state. It was not long after they had first met, but before they were really friends. Snape, always stern and aloof, had only been meeting with her to help her master her magic. He dared not expect anything more to come of their association. But when she saw his face, bruised and bleeding, and his shirt torn, she immediately reached out to help.
“No, don’t touch me,” he had choked. He had been hurting all over and didn’t want pity.
But Lily hadn’t listened.
“Severus, please, I’m your friend…”
“I don’t have any friends, I…I don’t want any friends!”
“Yes, you do.” She had moved her arm around his back and nuzzled her head into his shoulder.
His pride had wanted to yank away, but it felt good being touched in a way that didn’t cause pain. And soon some protective part of him just gave way, melting his anger into tears, and he found himself crying in her arms, his small fists clenched tight.
She had proceeded to wipe the blood off his lip and temple with her handkerchief, then offered it to him to blow his nose. He recalled that it was very pretty, and he hadn’t wanted to use it. He was used to just using his sleeve.
“Severus, that’s what it’s for! Go on, you’ll feel better.”
He finally did so, and she dried the tears away for him. Then they had just lain quietly together, under their special tree, as the sun sank beneath the horizon.
“How long…do you think we’ll be friends?” he had inquired tentatively.
“But that’s…that’s forever. What if one of us dies or something?” He had been thinking of himself, thinking of his father bashing in his brains one day.
“We’re not going to die for a long, long time,” she had assured. “But regardless, it would still be…always. Just like in the old songs. It’s our pact together.”
She had squeezed his hand then, and he had allowed himself to smile, just a little bit. Even a severe young boy might know of moment of happiness.
“Did you know my grandparents?” Harry now asked.
Drawn back to the present, Snape swallowed. “Her parents were not…bad people.”
“So not bad for muggles, you mean?”
“They were…a rarity.”
He remembered Lily introducing him to her family that same night, insisting that he have supper with them since there was hardly any food at his house, and it simply wasn’t safe to go back until his father calmed down. Everyone knew about dirt poor Tobias Snape and how much time he had been spending in the tavern, leaving his wife and son in a sorry state.
So when young Severus came in, they had all given him one of those scanning looks, observing his shabby attire and cut up face. He had taken a step behind Lily, wanting to melt away, especially when Petunia turned her nose up and started whining at their entry. Lily promptly stuck out her tongue at her sister, and their mother had to break up the squabbling. She was a soft-spoken, practical woman, and was very much in command of her home.
“Now, young man,” Mrs. Evans had said, looking into Snape’s serious eyes. “Come wash up before we eat.”
And so he did with a towel and a basin of water, rather fastidiously, like a cat. He suddenly felt rather desperate to make a good impression. At the table, he was awkward with the utensils, and he knew he ate faster than he should have…but he was hungry. Not the kind of hunger regular children had between meals, but the kind when there is no food in the house, and you start to wonder if the next meal is ever coming.
Finishing the last bit on his plate before anyone else, he had sat there quietly, not quite sure what to do next, except fumble with his napkin in an effort to prove he wasn’t quite the barbarian Petunia was convinced he was. But Lily’s mother read his mind well, and nonchalantly she slipped him another piece of shepherd’s pie and refilled his glass of milk. She made no fuss about it, nor did he, but he hoped the quick glance they had shared indicated his gratitude.
Afterwards, Mr. Evans, a rough-hewn yet kindly man, had offered to take Severus home. The boy had naturally rejected the offer, scared to death of the humiliation he would face if his father came staggering to the door. Besides, he had a feeling that the man was seriously considering notifying the police if anything looked further amiss.
“Lad,” he had addressed him, laying a hand on his shoulder. “You don’t have to be taking this all onto yourself. If it gets bad, come to us. We’ll give you what help we can.” He had glanced at his daughter and back at the boy. “She likes you well, lad. And she’s never been wrong in her judgment before. Don’t let them hooters bother ya none, alright?”
Oh, yes…Snape remembered them…the ones who took one look at him, and said he was destined for the bottle…
Aloud, he told Harry, “Your father of blessed memory predicted I would die a drunk.” Snape’s voice sounded like a razor to the young wizard, cutting both ways out of nowhere. “He and his Gryffindor thugs would take great pains to smuggle bottles among my belongings and then expose them in front of the professors. Once they even…tried to force the stuff down my throat, so the scent would be on me before an exam. But I spit it out in their faces.”
Harry grimaced at the perverse pride mixed with pain in his voice. He knew that a drunk would never be allowed to excel at potions in the school, and that his father and his friends must have been trying to destroy any chance of him having a career in that field. He knew…he knew…it was nothing less than cruel.
“But I would never give them…their pleasure,” Snape hissed. “I would never…give them…my mind, my skill, my success! They couldn’t…have it…” He shut his eyes tight.
Silence reigned for a long while. Then Harry spoke up. “We don’t have to be everything our fathers were. We just have to sort out the good from the bad, and then be ourselves. Or at least…try to find ourselves.”
Snape snickered. “Words of wisdom?”
Harry shrugged. “Just reality. You’re proof of it. You may have a crumby personality and dark past, but at least you’re not a drunk. And…it’s not like you’ve gone about hitting people without some reason for it. And as for me, I…”
The professor stared at him for a long moment. “You are what you are, hmm?”
“I’d like to think so.”
“You think you can cheat the past, don’t you?” His voice was edgy.
“No,” Harry denied, and he refused to back down from Snape’s fierce gaze. “It’s just about…moving on, that’s all.”
Snape turned away. “Easier for some, Potter.” He spied a spider in the corner of the room dangling from a thread, and saw the thread snap, and the insect fall. “Easier for some.”
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.