The Last Resort
Severus did not know what it meant to attend Hogwarts. His experience of education was limited to book study and his father's tutelage. He had only a glimmer of an idea - a vague imagining of bustling hallways filled with boisterous children and happy chatter. But it was enough to make him want to go, and that was all that mattered.
A few weeks after his birthday, Camilla took him to Diagon Alley to purchase the necessary school supplies. She visited Gringotts first. Luthien's accounts had been closed to her after his admittance to St. Mungo's due to a rather archaic wizard law which stated that a wife could only access her husband's funds with expressed permission or in the event of his death, but fortunately, she had her own money. As her father's only heir, she had acquired a rather large inheritance – one which promised to keep her financially secure for the rest of her life.
Once she had made the necessary withdrawal, she took Severus to Ollivander's in search of a wand. His father had given him one once. Camilla decided he should have one that wasn't twisted with dark magic and covered in bad memories. Afterwards, she brought him to the owl emporium, where he purchased a screech owl, then Flourish and Blotts, where he bought his schoolbooks. They stopped for lunch, and then it was off to Madam Malkin's for school robes.
Severus was sitting just outside the dressing room waiting to for his measurements to be taken when a stranger walked into the establishment - a boy, moderately tall, with bright brown eyes and an easy smile. He was an interesting character, exuding waves of jittery energy as he rushed about the store in a hyperactive blur. Severus could sense nervousness and excitement in the boy. He opened his mouth and breathed deep, rolling the emotions over his tongue like a flavor.
Then, Severus realized what he was doing. He blinked in shock, shutting his mouth with an audible click of teeth. He had not sensed or tasted anyone's emotions since that fateful incident with his father. At the time, it had taken a painful amount of concentration for him to do so. This was entirely different. This was...effortless – almost instinctual.
He knew about his lineage. His father had taught him all the lore. As soulless creatures, dementors could not generate their own happiness, and therefore developed the ability to sense and absorb the emotions of others. Severus had inherited this ability, but he had inherited a soul as well and so the power was of little use to him.
What he did not know was why this power would spontaneously activate in the presence of a total stranger. This sudden onslaught of foreign emotion was disconcerting, to say the least. An unwelcome intimacy.
The child's brows drew together in a look of consternation. He turned to Severus, and peered at him questioningly. Severus blinked, realizing that he had been staring. He ducked his head in embarrassment - an emotion he'd never experienced before. The child, seeing this, grinned like a gamine, letting out a burst of slightly mocking laughter.
Suddenly, a voice rang out from the entrance of the store. "Sirius! Don't run off like that - you frightened me half to death." Then, a tall, plump woman grabbed the child by his sleeve and dragged him out the store.
Eventually, Camilla called Severus into the dressing room for his robe fitting. She found him unusually flushed and fidgety, a wild look in his eyes. "Are you alright, love?" she asked.
Severus pulled in a calming breath. His face returned to its usual emotionless mask, and his skin, to its normal muted complexion. His hands stilled their nervous motions. Then ever so slowly, he lifted his eyes to his mother's, and opened his mouth to speak. His words were a near whisper.
"I learned something today."
It was only a matter of weeks before the beginning of the school term. Severus soon found himself standing on platform nine and three quarters waiting to board the Hogwarts Express. A large crowd of students surrounded him. He managed to slip through the tangle of humanity and climb up into the red carriage without too much trouble.
He didn't recognize any of the schoolchildren on the train, but that didn't surprise him. He didn't know a lot of children near his age. His home life had always been very isolated. Uneasy with the idea of introducing himself to strangers, he decided to simply find an empty compartment to in which to situate himself. Eventually he found one near the center of the train. The seats looked comfortable enough, so he rested his head against the back of his seat, closed his eyes, and allowed himself to doze off.
He woke up to find a boy staring down at him. Evander Rosier. He blinked once, then sat up, regarding his visitor warily. Abruptly, Evander thrust out his hand. It took Severus a moment to realize the boy was offering a handshake. Deciding that it would be prudent to accept the introduction, Severus reached forward with his own hand. He clasped palms briefly before pulling back. "Do you need a seat, then?"
"Yeah. Thanks." Evander then took his place across from Severus. "So," he said, "I heard you'd be here."
"It's not every year they let a nine year old attend Hogwarts."
"Oh." Severus took a moment to absorb this information. Eventually, he returned his attention to the boy sitting before him. "Evan, isn't it?"
"Yeah. I didn't think you'd remember. I haven't seen you since..."
Severus raised a skeptical brow. "So you decided to renew our acquaintance?"
"Sure," Evan replied, smiling a bit too brightly.
"Why? I'm sure with all the scandal in my family your parents have forbidden you to speak to me."
Evan grinned mischievously at this statement. "Indeed they have. But they're not here, are they?"
Severus' incredulous look once more returned to passivity. When he spoke, however, his tone was frigid. "If the only reason you're talking with me is to spite your parents, then you can leave."
To Severus' surprise, Evan's smile grew even wider. "And if it's not the only reason?"
"Then I must assume you have some ulterior motive you aren't telling me about. Either way, I'd prefer if you relieved me of your company."
Evan laughed. "I've never heard a nine year old talk like you." Severus did not share his amusement. After a few seconds of tense silence, Evan sighed. "I'm offering you friendship, here."
"Should I be grateful?" Severus asked sarcastically.
Evan frowned and stood up from his seat. "Fine," He said. "I'll leave if you're going to be that paranoid. You know – most people don't question good fortune."
That said, he began to make his way toward the compartment exit. He paused briefly to throw a few last words over his shoulder – "The offer still stands." And with that, he disappeared entirely.
The remainder of the trip was fairly uneventful. Severus ate a meal. He then and curled up against his seat and returned to his nap, lulled by the merry babble of voices in the neighboring cars.
Eventually, the train arrived at its destination. A professor found Severus sleeping. He looked pale and small and delicate in his scrunched position against the compartment seat. The woman moved to nudge him awake, but by either coincidence or preternatural awareness he managed to rouse himself before she came close to touching him. The illusion of fragility was dissolved the instant Severus opened his eyes. The sudden uncovering of those black, bottomless orbs was enough to elicit a flinch from the attending faculty member.
Once everyone had disembarked from the Hogwarts Express, the school groundskeeper arrived to lead the children across the lawn to the castle lake. Boats were waiting to ferry the students across in groups. As luck would have it, Severus ended up in the same boat as the boy he'd seen in Madam Malkin's. With him were two friends. One was average looking, with messy black hair; the other was small and slight, with bright, light brown eyes. There was something strange about the second boy, something feral, though Severus couldn't quite figure out what. Severus decided he would ponder this peculiarity another time, and returned his attention to the boy from the clothing store.
As Severus shifted his focus to the original object of his attention, his tongue was again struck with the flavor of the child's emotions. Belatedly, he noticed that the boy's feelings were not the only ones in the boat that he could detect, although they were the ones he could sense the strongest. Severus suspected that his dementor ability was growing more powerful. He wondered if this person were somehow acting as a catalyst for his development.
And he was staring again.
"Hullo," the boy said. "I'm Sirius Black. Have we met before?"
Severus sat up to address the question. "I saw -" felt, smelt, tasted... "- you in Diagon Alley."
"Oh, right. I remember. What's your name?"
The black-haired boy spoke up. "Hey - I've heard about you. Didn't your dad lose his marbles?"
Sirius frowned. "James, shut it."
"What did I do?" The boy protested.
The two started to bicker lightheartedly. The third joined in. The arguing eventually turned to teasing, and soon the three were carrying on a friendly conversation. Severus, once more the spectator, looked on in silence, feeling a sliver of jealousy at the easy rapport he was witnessing. He wondered why Sirius, whoever he was, always seemed to be able to evoke these sentiments. He wondered if, perhaps, it would be in his best interests to avoid Sirius.
But he didn't stop staring.
Soon the boat ride was over and Severus, along with the rest of the children, headed toward the Great Hall. Then came the Sorting Ceremony. Severus wasn't sure what to expect. He knew from listening in on nearby conversations that he would be put into a certain category and devote his loyalty to a certain group of people, but beyond that he was uncertain of what bearing the different houses would have on his life.
Sirius and James were both sorted into Gryffindor. The third child from the boat, who turned out to be named Remus, was sorted there as well. Something told Severus that he didn't belong with them. Certainly he would not call himself a coward, but Gryffindor seemed to him to be a place for the heroic. Severus couldn't think of any description more inappropriate for himself. Severus' courage wasn't the sort that helped others. It was self-serving - an extension of his own survival instinct.
He considered the other houses as he was called to be sorted. He couldn't possibly fit in Hufflepuff, for though he wasn't lazy, he did not exactly relish the idea of hard work, and he could hardly be called loyal. Ravenclaw was a possibility. So was Slytherin. The Sorting Hat seemed to think he'd fit more appropriately in the latter. Though he was certainly smart and studious enough for Ravenclaw, his intelligence would serve him better as cunning. For him, knowledge would always be a means to an end, rather than the end itself.
Severus made his way towards the proper table. Evan Rosier, who had been placed in Slytherin as well, welcomed him with a triumphant grin. Severus realized that considering the house he'd been placed in, he had little choice for companionship – it was Evan or no one. He bowed his head in defeat, and took his seat next to the boy who now seemed to regard him with an almost predatory grin.
That was when he heard it - a conversation from across the room.
"...some sort of prodigy or something...heard he killed someone when he was six. His father's off at St. Mungo's...dark magic and...wonder how his mum's paying for this. The bint must be selling her favor's out on the street to pay for -"
Severus flowed across the room in smooth, fast strides. He moved like water - ready to drown. He reached the Gryffindor table and stood before the boy who had spoken, a dark, crackling anger in his eyes. "Don't talk about my mother," he hissed. "Ever."
The boy stood up from his chair. He was taller than Severus. Everyone was taller than Severus. Apparently this child thought that Severus' diminutive height was an excuse to pick on him. "And why not?" The boy smirked.
*...squeeze just a little bit harder. Your windpipe would...*
"It's not like you can do anything about it."
*It's pathetic, really*
Severus did not want this to go any further. He'd caused enough of a scene. He closed his mouth, and prepared to walk away. Before he could move, however, the boy shoved him to the ground, snickering. He moved to get up. The boy slowly and deliberately pushed him back down with a foot.
He heard a titter of laughter from someone nearby. Then another.
Severus needed leave. He needed to leave right away. He didn't care how. Desperately, he groped for his wand and pointed the thing at his aggressor. A curse slipped from his lips before he realized he'd opened his mouth. The boy began to twitch.
Severus managed to scramble a few feet away. He watched in horrified amazement as the twitching grew more pronounced. Suddenly, the boy began to scream. "What did you do to..." He started scratching madly at his skin, his nails leaving bright red marks against his skin. Within a half a minute or so, he was writhing on the floor.
Severus didn't know what to think. His wand clattered to the floor. He pushed awkwardly to his feet. A female teacher descended on the scene, quickly breaking the spell that had been cast. She took Severus by the wrist, then, and dragged him to the headmaster's office.
Little boys shouldn't know spells like that...
Severus waited for a long time while the teacher who had brought him spoke in hushed tones with the headmaster. Eventually, the two of the just spread their hands, not knowing what to do. They took away house points and assigned detention and reprimanded him for his behavior. They demanded his assurance that such an incident would never occur again.
They never asked him where he learned the spell. Severus supposed they already knew. It must have been all around the school by now - *His father's off at St. Mungo's...*
He was led to the Slytherin common room. He'd missed the school song, apparently. The walk was long and sad. Nothing, it seemed, could erase from his mind the image of Sirius looking at him with a...*betrayed* expression on his face. He'd spared a glance to the boy before the professor had arrived to take him away. He'd seen the disbelief in those eyes slowly turn to horrified acceptance, then disgust, then hatred. He didn't know how he'd been able to stand under that ocular impalement. The moment he'd felt that gaze he'd wanted nothing more than to...than to...
*crack like a pomegranate*
More than depression, his walk toward the Slytherin dorms was weighed down with a sense of foreboding. *...heard he killed someone when he was six...dark magic...* He had no idea what would happen when he entered the common room.
Certainly the last thing he expected was to be approached by a fourth year. There, near the entrance, stood none other than Lucius Malfoy. He was one of the more popular boys in his year. Severus couldn't figure out why the tall blond would want to speak with him.
"Hullo. I'm Malfoy, your prefect." the boy introduced himself. "Snape, is it?"
Severus only nodded.
"That was quite a demonstration you put on. Where'd you learn a spell like that?"
Severus clenched his hands into fists, and said nothing.
"Not much of a talker, then? That's alright. Welcome to Slytherin House. You should meet some of my friends. How about it? You can eat breakfast with us tomorrow."
"Why would you want to have meals with me?"
"As I said before - welcome to Slytherin House. Here we value greatness above all else. The first lesson you learn here is that if you want to be great, you've got to go where the power is. I've seen some of what you can do. I'm betting I'd be even more impressed by what I haven't seen."
"That explains what you want with me. What could I want with you?"
"Look, Snape - you've just been given a personal invitation to my inner circle. I'd take it, if I were you."
Severus thought for a moment. Then, he nodded curtly. "As long as Evan can come," he said. He glanced about the room, looking for the boy in question. He was standing next to Wilkes. "Oh," Severus added as an afterthought - "and Roland too."
Lucius acceded to these conditions with a short tip of head. He then grabbed Severus' bags and led him to his room, the other first years having been settled in earlier in the evening. Severus quickly set out his things and made his bed. Although it was yet early, he felt exhausted, and so he slipped under his sheets and went to sleep.
He did not dream.
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