Severus blinked his eyes against the beam of sunlight struggling through the grime of his tiny bedroom window, his room slowly coming into focus. As he sat up on the mattress which comprised his bed, a vague feeling of uneasiness settled around him. No noise came from elsewhere in the house - no sounds of his father's morning tirade about how late his mother allowed him to sleep, and likewise, no sounds of his mother's busy footsteps in the kitchen directly below his room. He jumped to his feet, pulled on a set of clothes in which he positively swam, and rushed to the hall.
The corridor was silent and still, and he crept soundlessly down the stairs, lest his instinct proved incorrect. Peering around the doorway into the living room, the lack of occupants spurred him forward, and when he found the same emptiness in the kitchen, he began to feel bolder than ever. He did not try to mask the noise he made as he went directly to his parents' bedroom and proceeded to jump on their bed, an act which was expressly forbidden. Going a step further, he retrieved his worn and ratty blanket from his mattress and slid down the stairs gleefully, relishing in the sense of freedom he always felt when his parents left him alone. It seldom happened more than two or three times a year, and there was never any explanation given for their absence. If he dared to inquire, he was told by his father that he should stop concerning himself with their whereabouts, and his mother's answers were always very vague.
When they hadn't returned by lunchtime, Severus' thoughts turned to his father's study. He'd never been permitted to so much as step foot into it, and he was just bursting to satisfy his curiosity while he had the chance. But what if they come home? he thought to himself as he sat in his father's armchair. It'll be at least a week in the basement, probably more. Deciding that he would be able to hear the crack of their Apparations, he pushed open the study door, his mouth dropping open in shocked awe. Bookshelves stretched from floor to ceiling, all of them filled with ancient-looking tomes. Severus looked at the shelf closest to him and read a few of the titles: Hexing your Houseguests, Miyardi's Irreversible Curses, and The Art of Magical Torture were just a few of the hundreds. He stifled a shiver of repulsion and headed towards the large ornate desk in the center of the room, upon which rested a number of odd-looking artifacts. The small boy climbed into his father's chair and studied the shrunken head that graced the desktop, wondering what possible use it could have. From that he moved on to a set of eerie looking glass spheres, picking them up and examining them with interest. They, like the shrunken head, held no clue as to their origins or use, and after a moment, he laid them aside. Severus continued on in this fashion for the remainder of the afternoon, going through the drawers of the desk and rifling through their contents. The rumbling of his stomach reminded him that he had not eaten, and he closed the final drawer, intent on finding something edible in the kitchen.
The sky outside the kitchen window was pitch-black, and for a moment, Severus thought it was going to storm. Upon closer inspection, however, he saw the moon, already high overhead, and realized it was nearly midnight. He frowned, concerned for a moment about his parents' return. They'd never left him for an entire day before, and he was certain they wouldn't start now. Knowing they would return at any moment, his appetite was lost, and he sat at the kitchen table morosely. It was doubtful that his mother would fix a meal upon their return, yet Severus knew if he were caught with any food he would be punished. He finally chose to return to his bedroom, knowing that if he was asleep when they came back he could not be accused of doing something wrong. As he undressed and climbed onto his cot, the shadows began to dance across the ceiling, and he realized that he'd never slept in the house by himself. The prospect was not a happy one, especially when his thoughts turned to the contents of his father's study. He lay in bed with the blanket pulled up to his chin, his eyes darting frantically around the room as sinister shapes began to emerge all around him. In an effort to block them out, he shut his eyes tightly, trying to think of something funny. He fell asleep to the sight of his parents having made an Apparation mistake, their bodies permanently splinched together.
He woke the next morning to the same eerie silence, and his blood coursed through his veins in excitement. They've left for good, he thought to himself with glee. His mood quickly evaporated as he realized exactly what that would mean for him. The Ministry would be sure to notice his father's continued absence, and they'd probably come around to the house to investigate. When they found him there alone, they'd either put him in a Muggle orphanage, or worse, send him to live with his Uncle Sebastian. He was the only living relative Severus had met, though he didn't know him very well. Still, it had to be better than staying here alone, didn't it? Looking out the window at the sunny fall morning, Severus decided to break yet another of his parents' rules: he opened the front door and stepped outside, blinking against the strong, unfamiliar light. Taking a seat on the front steps, he began to ponder his circumstances. After only a few moments, he became consciously aware of the stares he was evoking from passersby. Though he was only five, he knew that he appeared at least a couple of years older. He'd inherited his father's tall, lean frame, along with his lanky jet-black hair and cold black eyes. Seldom allowed to go past the doors of his home, Severus' skin had attained a ghostly white pallor, though the clothes salvaged from his father's childhood things hung loosely on his gaunt frame to conceal the majority of bare flesh. He locked eyes defiantly with a stranger walking briskly by, and from the look that was returned, one would think Severus had been a vampire rather than a lonely child. The stranger passed, and Severus dropped his eyes to his knees, turning his thoughts back to the situation at hand.
"What are you doing?" The voice coming from his side startled him, and he looked over in surprise. Directly beside him stood a girl nearly a foot shorter than himself, her piercing green eyes studying his own with interest. She wore her fiery red hair pulled back into a ponytail, though it still flowed to her waist.
"Nothing," he replied, a bit more sharply than he'd intended, "just sitting here."
"You've been sitting there an awfully long time," she pointed out.
"So? Aren't I allowed to sit on my own steps?" he asked irritably. Couldn't this girl see he was preoccupied?
"I didn't think your mum and dad let you go outside," she said bluntly.
"Well, they're not here, are they?" he snapped, wishing she'd go away but at the same time grateful that she seemed interested in what he did.
"Really? Where are they at?" He shrugged indifferently.
"I don't know, but they've been gone since yesterday morning."
"Aren't you scared to be all alone in that yucky house?"
"No," he lied, thinking of the collections of dark magic in his father's study.
"I would be," she stated, staring at the house with her eyes wide.
"Well, you're a girl," he said matter-of-factly. She put her hands on her hips and glared at him.
"So? I think you are scared, and won't admit it."
"Lily?" The girl spun around as a woman called from the next house over.
"Coming, Mum!" she shouted back. "I've got to go. My name's Lily, by the way. What's yours?"
"Severus," he muttered as she ran over to her mother. Severus watched the two of them for a moment, then watched in astonishment as Lily's mother began walking towards him. Unlike her daughter, she had short brown hair, and bright blue eyes, and she walked with the confidence of someone who knew exactly what they wanted out of life.
"Hello, dear. Severus, is it?" He nodded as he looked up at her. Her eyes shone with emotions he'd never seen in his own parents' eyes - kindness, and concern. "Lily tells me that your parents aren't at home?"
"Do you have any idea where they could be?" He shook his head, part of him wanting to scream out that he didn't care where they were, as long as they stayed there. "How old are you, dear?"
"Five? What on Earth were those fools thinking?" Her brows had come together in a scowl as her eyes snapped with anger. "Right. You'll just come and stay with us until they come back, all right?" Severus' heart pounded in his chest. If his parents did come back to find him not at home, they'd be furious.
"No, thank you," he declined, "I'd rather stay here if you don't mind. They'll want me to wait for them."
"I think you'd best come with me," she said, a bit more forcefully."Your parents will understand." She held out her hand to him. "I'm Lily's mum, Rose Evans." He took her hand tentatively, and she smiled down at him. "We'll get you a bit of lunch, and then we'll see about finding them for you, all right?" Severus wanted to tell her not to worry, that he wouldn't mind if they were never found, but he somehow felt she would simply brush aside his protests. So, he stood and forced a smile, reluctantly following Lily and Rose from the overgrown weed patch that was his yard.
It felt as though he stepped into another world as they crossed the property line between the two homes. As they made their way across the front of the Evanses' neatly manicured lawn, he glanced back at his own house. The sight of it surprised him, though he quickly realized his father had probably enchanted it to keep nosy Muggles from approaching. A far cry from the pristine houses which lined the street, Severus' own house reeked of abandonment. The paint of the siding was gray and peeling, and the roof looked to be caving in over what was Severus' bedroom. Boards were placed over broken panes of glass, and the front porch was sagging, nearly touching the ground. He shook his head in disgust. No wonder he wasn't ever allowed outside: his father didn't want anyone to know they existed.
His mind continued making comparisons as he was ushered into the Evans' home. Light streamed through the light window coverings, and the fresh fall air circulated throughout the house, giving it an inviting air. Rose led them into the kitchen, where a surly looking girl of seven or eight sat at the table, eating her lunch. Looking nothing like her mother or sister, she was Severus' height, with a thin, pencil-like neck, and shoulder-length ratty brown hair. Her blue eyes held none of the warmth or humor that could be found in her mother's eyes, and the scowl on her face appeared to have been permanently fixed with a sticking charm. She gazed at Severus with unconcealed disgust as the trio walked into the room.
"Petunia, go and fetch your father, won't you?" Rose asked as she began fixing plates for the remainder of the group. Petunia stood soundlessly, breezing past Severus as she left the room. His attention was turned again to Rose as she handed him a plate heaped with roast beef, then turned and made his way to the table. Lily joined him a moment later, followed soon after by the appearance of her father.
Mr. Evans was quite the opposite of his petite wife - not an inch under six and a half feet, he looked as though he could push on a tree to cause it to fall. His bald head and round, jovial face set off his kind eyes, a shade darker than his youngest daughter's. Sitting in Mr. Evans' presence, Severus had the unfamiliar feeling that nothing bad could happen to him. For the first time in his life, he felt safe.
"Hallo there," Mr. Evans boomed, his voice deep and resonating off the walls as he sat down, "Who have we here?"
"This is Severus, dear, from next door," his wife stated before Severus had a chance to speak. "Albert, he woke up yesterday to find his parents gone."
"What do you mean, gone?" Albert raged, looking at Severus incredulously. "They didn't tell you where they were headed? Didn't so much as leave a note?" Severus shook his head and began to eat hurriedly in an attempt to avoid further questioning. "That's absolutely atrocious!" Albert declared, his round face growing red with indignation. "And they haven't returned yet?"
"Wait a minute, you said he's from next door, Rose?"
"That's right, dear," Rose answered, her anger somewhat diminished in the presence of her husband's. Albert looked at Severus thoughtfully, then spoke as he stuck his fork into his food.
"Isn't your mother expecting, Severus?" The boy looked at him blankly.
"Expecting what, sir?"
"A baby, lad." Severus felt his cheeks flush with embarrassment as he nodded. Of course! That's where his parents had gone - to St. Mungo's to have the baby!
"Well, I think the mystery of where they're at is solved," Albert said brightly.
"Yes, but that doesn't excuse the fact that they left Severus alone. For a day and a half now, Albert." Albert frowned as he thought of his wife's words. They continued their meal in silence, Severus looking at them anxiously to try and gauge what they were thinking. As Lily and Petunia began to clear the table, Severus automatically jumped up to help.
"No, dear. You're our guest, you don't need to clean up." This house was definitely very different than his own home, and Severus wondered how they managed to not fight with each other. Rose and Albert began talking in hushed tones, glancing over at him every now and again, as though they were making sure he was still there. Finally, Albert straightened up in his chair and beamed at the boy.
"It's settled, then," he said cheerfully, "you'll stay with us until your parents come back."
"Really?" Severus sputtered, not believing what he'd heard. "You aren't going to send me home?'
"By yourself? I should think not!" Rose said indignantly. "We'll just pop over and get a change of clothes and all that, and you can sleep in Lily's room. She can bunk with Petunia, and when your parents come back, I'm going to give them a piece of my mind!"
"Now Rose, they may have been in a bit of a rush -"
"I don't care how rushed they were to get there. His father might have at least come back for him, instead of leaving him alone and scared."
"I wasn't scared," Severus insisted. Petunia scoffed as Rose smiled down at him.
"No need to pretend, Severus. Everyone's scared at one point or another." He felt anger welling up inside him - why was this woman claiming to know his innermost thoughts? Then he thought back to the previous night, when the shadows had frightened him into going up to his own room. He didn't say anything more, but felt hope rising in his chest as the entire Evans family walked him back over to his house. He was uncomfortably aware of the curious looks some of the items in his father's collection were drawing.
"Why don't you girls wait back at the house?" Albert suggested as he took in the various artifacts scattered throughout the living room. The three of them quickly acquiesced, and they left to make up Lily's room for their guest as Severus led Albert to his room. It occurred to him that his parents would definitely not be happy that he was letting a group of strangers inside their home, but as they weren't here, there was little chance of them finding out. He threw a change of clothes into a bag, and turned to leave, only to find Albert looking around his room in disgust. Apart from the cot in the corner and a tattered dresser next to it, there was no furniture. A tiny window was set on the far wall, but it was completely blocked by the dust and grime that filled the room. A single candle illuminated the small space, casting an eerie glow on the grimy walls.
"Is this where you sleep, Severus?"
"Don't you have a lamp or something?" Severus looked up at Albert in bewilderment. Lamp? Then it dawned on him - the reason the Evans were so different was because they were Muggles. As the realization hit him, so did the fact that his father would be even more angry that he'd let non-magic people into their home. He was suddenly torn between fear of his parents and the warmth and safety he felt at the Evans. "Severus?" Albert prompted, "Are you all right?"
"Let's stop with all this 'sir' business. Call me Albert." Severus wasn't quite sure what to make of that. He'd never met an adult who requested he call them by their first name. This act alone made his decision for him.
"Okay, Albert. I'm ready."
He stared at the ceiling in the strange bedroom, trying not to focus on the fact that everything around him was colored various shades of pink. The sheets he was using were frilly and lacy, and there were stuffed unicorns staring at him from a shelf above the window. It was so - girly. He was beginning to have his doubts about sleeping in this room - though it was definitely preferable to the dark solitude next door. Just as he was beginning to give up hope of getting any sleep, the door creaked open, and a shock of red hair peeked around the edge.
"Severus? Are you awake?"
"Yeah," he replied, sitting up in the bed and hugging his knees to his chest. She climbed up onto the foot of the bed and regarded him intently.
"Why is your house so dark and scary? Don't your parents pay their electric bill?" she asked seriously, her eyes not leaving his face. Severus found himself at a loss for words. He was almost positive that he wasn't supposed to tell Muggles about the existence of magic, but he couldn't think of anything plausible to tell her.
"I don't think we have an electric bill," he answered truthfully.
"How come you didn't have any lights on, then?"
"Um -" she suddenly leaned in closer.
"Have you ever made anything happen without knowing why?" The complete change of subject took him by surprise, but he shook his head.
"I know why they happen."
"Why?" He looked around the room, as if the gesture would reveal any eavesdroppers, then put his hand up to his mouth.
"It's magic," he whispered. She let out a squeal of delight.
"I knew it! Petunia keeps saying I'm nutters, but I knew there was a reason." She beamed at him, "How do you know for sure?"
"I'm a wizard, I've known about magic my whole life."
"Really? So do you know lots of spells?" she asked eagerly.
"Some," he shrugged, "but I'm not allowed to do any yet."
"Because underage wizards aren't allowed to do magic outside of school."
"There's a school to learn magic?" He nodded, relishing the fact that for the first time in his life someone was interested in something he had to say.
"But you can't tell anyone," he said sternly. She held out her pinky, though Severus wasn't sure why.
"I pinky swear," she explained. Grinning, he linked his pinky with her own, sealing the pact.
Severus woke with a sharp pain in his arm, and when he opened his eyes, he saw why. His father was looming over him, the vein in his neck throbbing menacingly. Severus rubbed his arm, aware that his father had most likely pinched him. Silias Snape was quite the opposite of Mr. Evans in every way: although nearly as tall, he was slim and lean, with a head of black hair that fell past his shoulders. His cold black eyes had none of the warmth or kindness of the Evans', and he wore a permanent sneer of disapproval whenever he looked at his son.
"Idiot boy," he hissed as he grabbed Severus by the arm and lifted him from the bed, "your mother's been out of her mind with worry!" Severus' eyes went from his father to the doorway, where the Evans family stood, looking enraged.
"It occurs to me that she has no right to worry where he's at if she chooses to leave him alone for two days," Rose said forcefully, pulling Severus back from his father's grip.
"Please," he whispered up to her, his eyes pleading, "you'll only make it worse." Rose either didn't hear him or disregarded it, for she continued to rant.
"What do you mean by leaving a five-year-old by himself? Did you stop to think of how frightened he would be when he realized you were gone?" Albert put a hand on his wife's shoulder as he saw Silias reach into his coat pocket. Severus knew he was reaching for his wand, and he broke free of Rose's grasp to stand obediently next to his father, his head held down.
"It is none of your concern where we go or how we raise our son," Silias said coldly, his hand still around his wand. Severus could tell that his father had been drinking - he could smell the familiar odor of Ogden's Fire Whiskey on his breath.
"See here, Snape," Albert began, standing directly in front of the other man, "Why didn't you take him with you? Or at least tell the lad where you'd gone?" Silias ignored the question as he pushed past Albert and grabbed his son's collar, pushing him towards the door. Albert and Rose followed him, trying to get an answer out of the angry man as he propelled his son outside. Silias pulled Severus inside their own house, and slammed the door in his neighbors' faces, turning immediately upon his son. "How many times have you been told not to leave this house alone?" he demanded, his face inches from the child's. Severus quailed with fear at the wild look on his father's face.
"T-they invited me, Sir," he stammered, bracing himself for the inevitable punishment.
"Severus, there you are!" his mother exclaimed as she walked into the room, holding a bundle. Rebekah Snape had once been a beautiful witch, but ten years of neglect and abuse had hardened her, both physically and emotionally. Her once brilliant blue eyes had long ago lost their innocent shine, and her silky golden hair had likewise dulled, and was now reminiscent of dirty straw. "You should know better than to go running around the neighborhood like that!" she scolded, her eyes flicking nervously to her husband. She leaned down and drew back the blanket that covered the bundle, and Severus glanced down at the face of his baby brother. "Meet Steven," she said softly, "isn't he beautiful?" Severus could see nothing beautiful about the child - he already looked as though he would be nearly identical to both his father and brother, but he nodded anyway in the effort to please her. Silias tightened his grip on the boy's shoulder, causing Severus to wince with pain. Despite the pleas from his mother to let him be, his father steered Severus towards the basement door.
"Let's see how cheeky you are after a few days by yourself," he sneered maliciously. Severus shut his eyes tightly, trying not to think of the horrible stench and bitter cold that awaited him.