***1 September, 1976***
It was five minutes to eleven when Severus came dashing through the barrier of Platform 9¾. The connecting Muggle train from Manchester had barely made it on time. The platform was nearly devoid of students and now consisted of mostly parents and younger siblings waiting to wave their family members goodbye.
Severus had too much time on that train ride to think about his present situation.
Normally, he made his way to London the night before with Lily's family and stayed at her grandparent's home, camping out in a sleeping bag in front of the fireplace on their living-room floor…but this year…things were different.
This past Spring, Severus had done the unthinkable. Out of fear and humiliation, he lashed out at his best friend…his only friend…and the one person he loved above all others. In one unthinking moment, he called Lily Evans a Mudblood. The vilest of epithets he could think of…and no apology…no amount of begging for forgiveness seemed to be enough to redeem Severus in Lily's eyes. He had gone away from the encounter more alone than ever.
It wasn't as if Severus could detach himself from the likes of Mulciber and Avery. They were his dorm-mates, after all. Severus honestly didn't care a whit for them one way or another, but he was forced to live with them nine months out of the year. Dodging the Marauders for the past five years had been a daunting enough task in itself, but Severus didn't think he would survive his Hogwarts years if he alienated or shunned his House mates.
Severus had tried to explain this in letters to Lily all summer. Lily never accepted his Owls. His mother's owl, Mercury, returned twice a week…the letter remained unopened. He was really hoping to see Lily soon.
Severus had managed to make some spending money with the owl-post potion's business that he started over the summer. For the first time, he had managed to arrive to school without looking as if he was consigned to wear jumble-sale rejects. His greasy and stringy hair was still a bane to his existence, but Severus thought his black corduroy trousers looked nice with his fashionably wide-collared white school shirt and wide Slytherin tie. The black dragon hide boots were new too. He had a bit of a growth spurt over the summer and he was approaching six-foot tall. A little investment in Madam Smiley's Tooth Whitener and Halitosis Cure may not have straightened his crooked teeth, but at least his teeth were white for the first time in his living memory.
Severus normally did not care about his appearance. The only person in the world he ever cared to impress was Lily, and Severus' ugliness never seemed to matter to her before. He normally considered such preoccupation with vanity to be the hallmark of superficiality. Of course his Lily was not usually impressed with puffery, but right now, Severus was desperate and would do whatever it took to turn Lily's head. He hoped it would be worth it because frankly, it was too much effort and he couldn't imagine going through such drudgery for anyone but her.
Rowland Avery had written Severus several times over the summer, expounding the glories and virtues of his Dark Lord. The rift between pure-bloods, half-bloods, and Muggle-borns was coming to a breaking point and it seemed as if everyone in the wizarding world would have to choose the side of reaction or reason. Severus was still unsure what path to take. He had to admit, the power and riches the Dark Lord offered to those who chose to follow him was sorely tempting. Especially to one who had nothing of value in the world with the exception of his intellect. Not even Slughorn seemed to find Severus' exceptional talent in potions and high over-all grades enough to warrant an invitation into his coveted Slug Club. Not that Severus had any interest in such political manoeuvring …but it would have been nice to have been asked.
Avery and Alex Mulciber had said that they were going to take their Dark Marks during the Christmas hols and were trying to talk Severus into joining them. Severus really didn't know what to do. Avery and Mulciber already had connections to the Dark Lord. Their fathers were already a part of his famous Inner Circle. Lucius Malfoy had already taken his Mark three years previously. Lucius had told his Dark Lord of Severus' prowess in Potion's and the Dark Arts and the Dark Lord seemed intrigued with the prodigy despite Severus' blood-status. Malfoy had made it abundantly clear to Severus about the great honour he was being offered…an audience to meet the Dark Lord. He…Severus Snape…a boy without money or blood-status, but yet the most powerful wizard to come along since Albus Dumbledore had offered to be Severus' benefactor on Lucius Malfoy's recommendation alone.
It did seem too good to be true and Severus prided himself on his caution. He still wasn't certain. But he saw no other way out of poverty. It was a vicious cycle. If he had any hope of supporting himself someday, and maybe even his own family he had to do whatever he could to escape his current situation.
Thanks to his emotionally stunted mum and dad, Severus' confidence in his own ability was sorely lacking. Severus hadn't had any love or encouragement from home since his grandmother died when he was six. It was Lily who had always pushed him to reach beyond his very limited comfort zone. Now…without her…he was adrift in a cruel and unfeeling world…and it seemed as if the Dark Lord was the only one offering Severus a life preserver. Taking the Dark Mark seemed like a more viable option every day.
As Severus grabbed on to railing of the Hogwarts Express, he turned to get a better grip on his battered trunk to haul it in. He hadn't reached the platform in time to check in his baggage. As he turned, Severus' heart sank at a familiar sight. Half-way down the platform he spotted two adults who stood out conspicuously from almost all the other wizards and witches in their modern Muggle attire.
Mr Evans, a tall man by any right, with flaming red hair, looked even taller next to his blond, petite wife. It was only due to the fact that they were waving frantically at a particular window, that Severus was able to spot a familiar slender hand amongst the sea of appendages reaching out the windows like blooming coral.
His heart sank.
Severus managed to board the train just as he felt the wheels begin to lurch under his feet. The uneven movement had caused Severus to nearly lose his footing and sent his trunk to sliding across the aisle. He heaved a sigh of relief as a pair of hands steadied him. It was only after he calmed that he realised the help came from one of Marauders.
"Get your hands off me, Lupin," Severus scowled as he slapped away Lupin's hands and righted himself. Lupin may have seemed the least offensive of all the Marauders, but there was something not right about him, and Lupin's touch made his skin crawl. He was more prone to illness and changes in temperament than any other person Severus could think of. Severus had his suspicions as to what was going on with Lupin. He always took ill every month around the time of the full-moon. There were only a handful of illnesses that followed a lunar cycle. Severus was pretty certain which one Lupin was afflicted with, but he had no proof. Severus had had voiced his concerns to Lily, but she had dismissed his concerns.
With his mustered dignity Severus spat, "I see you're too good to take a compartment like everyone else, Lupin…Why don't you…" Severus' words became stuck in his throat before he could finish his sentence.
Lupin wasn't the only one out of his compartment. James Potter and the rest of his band of cohorts were also in the aisle, further back in the carriage. Potter had his arm braced on the side panel and jauntily rapped on the compartment window that Severus knew had to belong to Lily. He felt as if he might die when he heard the door slide open and familiar tinkling laughter fill the train car.
Severus' heartbreak was interrupted when Lupin said, his voiced tinged with his own embarrassment, "I'm a Prefect, Snape. I supposed to be monitoring the corridors. Why didn't you check-in your trunk?"
Severus scowled as he tossed his head back and flicked stray hair from his face with his thin fingers.
"Apparently we can add blindness to your list of infirmities," Severus groused. "I didn't have time to check-in, you toss-pot. I almost missed the train. And while you're at it, why don't put a leash on your own pack."
Severus tried to push his way past Lupin in order to find a compartment close to Lily's. No doubt she would be sharing a compartment with that harpy, Mary Macdonald. True…Severus should have never taught Mulciber how to use that Toe-Nail Growing Hex…but Dark Magic? What a load of waffle. That was innocent compared to the time that Sirius Black attempted to slip Amortentia-laced chocolates to the buxom Ravenclaw prefect, Glenda Lockhart. Knowing Black, if it had worked, he would have tried to shag the poor, unsuspecting witch.
But karma was a bitch. It was comical as hell when Glenda claimed she was allergic to chocolate and gave the sweets to her nancy twin brother instead. Oh, what sweet chaos! The girl should have been a Snake. The best part was Black's horror when he realised that Gilderoy continued to send flowers even after Madam Pomfrey had doused the foppish Ravenclaw with the antidote. The final game between Ravenclaw and Gryffindor had been especially amusing when the Ravenclaw Seeker spent more time seeking the Gryffindor Beater than the Snitch.
Just as Severus attempted to shoulder past Lupin, the sandy-haired prat brought down his arm, blocking Severus' path. Severus really wasn't in the mood to deal with Marauders today. Fifth Year had been an unmitigated disaster and it looked as though Sixth Year was going to head down that same slippery-slope. Severus looked up and was about to lay a few choice words on Lupin when he noticed the usually timid prefect nailed him with an almost feral glare. Severus hastily shut his mouth and made a conscious effort to maintain control of his bodily functions. It was a Freudian slip. Perhaps the 'Pack' remark went a bit too far.
"Compartments are full down this way," Lupin growled under his breath. "I suggest you take a look down that way." Severus looked back in the direction Lupin jutted his chin. He was indicating the next passenger car.
Severus took one last longing glance over Lupin's arm and was at least heartened to see that Lily had sent Potter and his side-kicks packing. Though Severus couldn't help but notice Potter's smug looks and the congratulatory slaps on the back from Black and Pettigrew as they entered the compartment next to Lily's.
Feeling his heart deflate once again, and wondering if all of his efforts were for naught, Severus sulked into the neighbouring car with his cumbersome trunk bumping along in tow.
He stood there in the corridor with his worn-out trunk, feeling like a complete Billy-no-mate. There were eight compartments he had to lug his trunk past and the train car suddenly seemed longer than a Quidditch pitch. Avery would be on his own patrol as prefect and Severus supposed he should set out to find Mulciber and Regulus before students began to pour out of the compartments and flood the cars with a mass of humanity. Severus didn't think he would survive that mortification.
He was about ready to set off down the corridor when the door to the cabin directly to his left suddenly slid open. It occurred to him that the occupant must have cast a Notice-Me-Not charm, because it hadn't even occurred to Severus that the cabin was there, much less that anyone was inside.
Severus stood and blinked, he hadn't had a chance to focus in on the occupant when a soft feminine voice said with a definite American drawl, "You just gonna stand there like a toad on his stool or you gonna come in and sit down?"
Actually, Severus stood there stunned for a moment. All he could see of the girl was her honey blonde fringe sticking up over a well-read copy of Bathilda Bagshot's third edition of History of Magic. Her nose was so close to the pages that Severus wondered how she managed to get any oxygen. The faceless girl wore her hair in a double-braided barnet. Her legs were up on the seat and her bent knees supported her book. Her knees held her wand in place, apparently from where she just used it. There were a pair of white canvas plimsolls on the floor in front of her and bare-toes stuck out from beneath bell-bottomed jeans. She was wearing a tie-died green and white tee-shirt. Severus ruefully thought she was at least wearing the right colours.
A set of student robes were hanging on a hook on the wall by the window. Slytherin robes. Whoever this girl was, she was obviously a transfer. Severus would have recognised any of his House mates. This girl wasn't just strange…she was a stranger….And when did she manage to get sorted?
Curiosity and the fact that students were beginning to pile into the corridor propelled Severus into the compartment. He drew his trunk in hastily as the compartment doors began to slide shut. He turned in time to see the girl put her wand behind her back. She hadn't uttered a word and Severus could only surmise that she'd performed silent magic.
She closed her book and looked up at Severus. She wasn't as pretty as Lily, but he hated to admit it, the girl had startling turquoise eyes. There was something familiar about the way she silently regarded Severus.
"Well?" she scoffed with a slight hint of good-nature.
"Well what?" Severus replied, striving to keep his venomous tongue under control. The girl, after all, had been kind enough to let him sit with her, even if he had no hope of impressing her once she was introduced to the pecking order that was Hogwarts.
"Well, you can stand there and we'll stare each other down for the next eight hours, or you can sit and make yourself comfortable."
Severus could feel his face warm from embarrassment because he realised how silly he must look, standing there like a wally and staring at this new girl, trying to figure her out.
He cleared his throat uncomfortably as he silently charmed his trunk to the overhead compartment. He was gratified to show the girl that he was her equal, at least in magical ability. He was still manoeuvring his trunk into place when he finally spoke. The words came out easier with his back to the new girl.
"Sorry about disturbing your reading," he said, thankful that his voice no longer cracked and happy with the change. Maybe Lily would find his more mature voice impressive too.
"That's okay," the girl said. "It's pretty much utter nonsense, anyway. About seventy-five percent of the book is speculative and most of the primary sources are suspect. I've heard stories about this Bagshot woman, and I wouldn't trust her findings any farther than I can throw her. How can she possibly know what Salazar Slytherin said or did strictly through the writings of Godric Gryffindor? A bit biased, don't you think?"
Actually, Severus never gave a second thought to it. But he supposed the girl had a point. The girl was seemingly more frustrated with Bathilda Bagshot's writing than Severus interrupting her reading. Frankly, Severus couldn't understand why anyone gave a rat's arse about anything Bagshot had to say. He did wonder if the girl would be as outspoken in History of Magic. Her lambasting Binns with her contrary opinions might make the class more interesting.
Severus really hoped this girl wouldn't rant on about history for the next five hours. He would rather just sit and read quietly, much the way the girl had been doing before he entered the cabin. Then again, if someone walked by and saw Severus chatting with a girl…and not a bad looking one at that…maybe word would get to Lily. Maybe she would be jealous and beg to get back into Severus' good graces.
The train lurched again as it began to pick up speed and Severus' trunk moved abruptly and nearly fell out of the rack. He had righted it, but not before the girl jumped up and tried to stop the luggage's fall with her own outstretched hand. It then occurred to him how petite she was. If she wore platform shoes, she might make it above five-foot, but her budding figure and mezzo voice indicated she was on the right-side of puberty. She was no taller than a third year, but obviously far more mature. Severus was at least head and shoulders taller than the girl.
He sat back down in his seat as the girl stood on her toes and reached for her rucksack on her shelf. Severus couldn't help but ask suspiciously, "What year are you in?"
"Sixth, I think," she grunted as she jerked her bag down from the shelf. Severus was about to jump up and help, but she appeared to have everything well in-hand.
"Whatever year NEWTS begin," she said as she rooted around in her bag.
Severus' eyes narrowed as he said, "You don't look sixteen."
"Well, I'm not," she admitted as she tossed a book on her seat. "I'm fifteen. Had we stayed home, I'd already be attending university. It's a long story. What's your favourite subject?"
Severus had to blink a second as he was caught off-guard by her sudden change of subject, "uh…Potions or DADA…Home? You're not British." Severus cringed because the obvious statement came out like a question.
"And you are," she said snidely. She turned and held up two books. "Well, which will it be, Potions or Defence?"
"Defence, I've read the Potion's text at least twenty times" he said absently. His head was beginning to swim as the girl easily carried on two conversations with him at once. "You don't have to be so cheeky. I meant to ask where you're from."
"Ooh…Daddy's gonna like you," she said mysteriously.
What the hell was she talking about? Why would he meet her father? He was riding in a train car with her, not proposing marriage for Merlin's sake!
"Charleston, South Carolina," she said suddenly as she tossed Severus her worn Defence book. He noticed that her 'r' was so soft she almost dropped it. That's why her accent was hard for him to place. It was an American Southern accent. It almost resembled that of an English aristocrat, but it was slower and more lilting.
"My great-grandmother died earlier this year. Mama is setting up practice above Pawpaw's pub so she can help him out part-time and Daddy was offered a job at the school. You know…we never did introduce ourselves."
Her father worked at the school. Now his interest was piqued. He held out his hand and offered it to her in greeting.
"I apologise. I didn't mean to be rude," he said hesitantly, "I'm Severus Snape. You said your father works at Hogwarts. What does he do?"
The girl took his hand and shook it. Her small hand had a surprisingly firm grip. She flashed a bright smile and said, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Severus. I'm Lucy O'Conner. My daddy's the new Potion's Master.