i have a prompt for you: what if snape hadn't called lily 'mudblood' that day. what if their friendship had stayed strong, unbreakable. would he have grown to be a better person? would lily have loved him, rather than james? would harry just have another godfather? would james and lily have survived?
Okay you have successfully convinced me to write a Snape thing, which is a possibility I have audibly forsworn many times to my loved ones. But I’m a sucker for concepts like “Harry gets another godfather,” so, here we go.
When Severus was seven, he fell in love with the girl down the street. She had long red hair and dirty knees and she offered him half her candy bar one drizzly afternoon, waiting outside the school for her parents to come pick her up.
His parents weren’t coming— dad working late and mum at the pub recounting old Hogwarts glory stories, talking of years when her life was magical– but he didn’t tell Lily that. He was just waiting for the older bully boys who lurked in the empty lot on his way home to get bored and leave.
He ate the candy slowly in neat little bites while she grinned and told him about her big sister’s feud with the science teacher, like her Tuney was some sort of hero in a political espionage drama. She talked with her hands, narrow little things with freckled backs. He watched her wave from the back window of her mother’s car and then he started the long walk home.
When Severus was fifteen, James Potter dangled him upside down in the quad and laughed. Severus landed on elbows and knees. The bruises would stay for a week. The memories would not die with them— James’s cocky grin, the laughter in the spring air, the long whip of Lily’s red hair.
He felt small, bug-like, his knees pressing into the grass. His mother would come home some nights, kick the threadbare carpet, rattle the battered old pans in the cupboard, curse a Ministry that hated purebloods, that sucked up to halfbreeds and Mudbloods, that left the true wizards to rot in filth. He would curl up, make himself small, bug-like, imagine a chitinous shield growing over his shoulders, his spine, the softness of his kidneys. Some days, his father slept through this. Some days he screamed back.
After Severus met Lily, he would curl up under his covers, small, bug-like, and read through the comics she’d lent him with his hands pressed up over his ears. He wanted Professor X to come take him away. He wanted to be someone special, someone saved. He wanted a giant to burst through his door and frighten his mother and offer him a squashed birthday cake and a way out.
When Severus was fifteen, he slammed to his knees on the green Hogwarts quad. Laughter burrowed into his ears, like curses, like the nights his father screamed back, and when Lily stepped toward him he snapped, “I don’t need help from a Mudblood.”
When Severus slouched up to her door that summer, Lily didn’t invite him in. She leaned on the open frame of the door, arms crossed. He had so rarely seen Lily neither smiling or incandescent with rage, but she watched him with snakeskin eyes and a set mouth, still.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t–”
She twitched a strand of hair over her shoulder, the irritation the closest thing to an emotion he could spot on her. He was watching, desperate– this was Lily, she gave things away. She talked with her hands. He never felt lost, with her. “But why,” said Lily. “Why are you sorry? Because I’m upset, or because what you did was wrong?”
“I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“You did, and it’s not the point. I don’t care if it’s the part you care about, Sev, it’s not the part that matters. That was an awful thing to say– to say to anyone. You were cruel because you were scared and embarrassed, but Sev I could really care less. You were cruel.”
“I’m sorry,” he said again.
“Sorry’s not enough, Sev. Be fucking better.”
He jerked back and tried to turn it into some kind of laugh. “Language, careful, your mum might hear.”
She shrugged, and stepped back through the open door, and shut it in his face.
He spent the summer reading comic books, haunting the local library, then the local park once it’d closed, and then sneaking home when he was hopeful his parents would be asleep. He tried to think about bravery, but sometimes he just thought about Lily’s hair, the way it went more golden in summer. He tried to think about nobility, ethics and grace, but the clouds chased each other, fat and white, across the sky and he wasn’t sure what any of this had to do with him.
His father took him fishing by a dreary brown creek and they sat in silence. Severus could hear every creak of the rods, every lap of the water, every inhale and movement his father made. He thought maybe if he just said nothing, nothing ever, he’d never say anything again that made Lily’s face go so flat and distant. If he said nothing, maybe nothing would hurt.
His father reached back for a beer can in a swift movement and Severus froze himself unflinching. He sat in that silence afterward, slowing his heartbeat, picking apart the sudden rigid shell of his shoulders. His father hummed, cracking the can open like a gunshot.
He sat alone on the Hogwarts Express that year, stuffed in a compartment with a handful of second years who gave him half the seats while they giggled among themselves about the haircut of someone named Gertrude. Every summer’s end, for five years, he and Lily had boarded the train together, pressed their noses to the window glass, and watched the land rush by.
For the first month of school, Severus practiced pausing before he spoke, for seconds, minutes if he needed them. Sometimes he’d add an answer after the conversation had already moved on, bent over his mashed potatoes, weighing words as carefully as he weighed salamander eyes and mandrake root.
(If you crushed firedrake seeds with the flat of your blade, instead of cutting them, they made a more potent potion. The textbooks told you to stir six times counterclockwise to make Sleeping Draught, but he knew–because he had thought, and tried, and tried again–that if you did five counterclockwise and two clockwise the draught would turn that perfect turquoise and the sleep would be dreamless and sweet and deep. He kept notes in his textbook’s margins, because it helped to remember.)
In the second month, he tried to listen. People were starting to think about life after school, a big yawning chasm they were supposed to fill with themselves. People were starting to fall in love, puppyish and petty. People were starting to believe in the war, whispering, dreaming, fearing.
In the common room, one of the kids said something about Mudbloods and Severus’s head snapped up. He tried to imagine a shell growing into his shoulders, over his spine, covering all the soft parts of him. He wanted his covers, he wanted to shrink, he wanted Lily’s boxfuls of comics, but he rose to his feet and snapped back. Sometimes saying nothing hurt people, too. A small Muggleborn in green and silver ducked away to her dorm, clutching quietly at her sleeves.
For the third month, he tried to watch– not for warning sneers or cocky grins, clenched fists and broad shoulders, all the things he’d been watching for since before he could name them– but for the way shoulders might go rigid, the way fists might clench but hide, wishing for something to shield every soft part of them.
Severus was bony and pimply, sixteen years old and graceless in it, but he could be an interruption. He could mock with the best of them, flicking his brows and twisting his nose, and asking pointed questions. He could talk, smart-mouthed and snide, until the focus turned to him, and then he could survive anything they handed out. He could give as good as he got. The pauses were shorter, these days, before he spoke, but they would always be there, an echo offset from the shout, an avalanche that struck late and terrible.
When kids cried in bathrooms or empty classrooms or the library, he didn’t move to comfort them, though he heard them. He didn’t know how. He wrote his own curses, out in the forest where he could scar the trees in experiment, and they all turned out bloody. He loved few things, even Lily, as much as he loved pouring all of himself into his work, until something new and his own grew out of it. He wasn’t sure he’d ever invented something kind.
He didn’t try to find Lily, but he came back from the Forest once and almost tripped over her, half-napping in Hagrid’s pumpkin patch. He stumbled back into a gargantuan gourd while she pushed hair out of her face and peered up at him.
“I’m sorry,” he said, after a pause that rumbled and roiled in his gut, that he clung to with both hands, breathing into it and letting his shoulders go soft. “I’m sorry I said it. I’m sorry I made you feel small because I was feeling– small.”
Lily sat up a bit, in the little semi circle she’d built herself of books and scrolls and gobstones and snacks. She had built fairy circles like that, when they were children, of the flowers he’d transfigured for her.
“I’m sorry anyone has to feel that way, ever,” he said. “They shouldn’t. I’m angry anyone has to feel that way.”
“Me, too,” she said, and, fishing around in the detritus that surrounded her, handed him half a candy bar. “C'mon, you want some tea? Hagrid said he’d put a kettle on for me if I finished my Arithmancy.”
When Severus was in sixth year, Remus Lupin almost killed him on a moonlit night.
Severus had wanted answers, had wanted to get them in trouble, had wanted something a bit like vengeance, and Sirius had told him about the Whomping Willow. Sirius had grinned when he’d done it, small and bitter, and Severus had wondered if he was fighting with James again, wondering why else he’d sell out his friends.
“I didn’t think–” Sirius tried, the morning after, watching Remus across dry toast and cocoa, big juicy bowls of melon.
“You never do,” Remus snapped. (A bare handful of years later, standing in the smoldering ruins of James and Lily’s house, Remus would think about Sirius’s erratic gaze, the sharp edge of his voice, his last name, and wonder if he should have seen it coming. What here was premeditated? What was mischief? Sirius had once almost painted Remus’s own hands with red blood.)
But for now, Remus was sixteen and angry; he was sixteen and guilty of things that might have happened. He didn’t speak to Sirius for a month.
James refused to speak with Sirius, too, but he only lasted a week. Moony was sulking and Peter was busy studying his little heart out, and James got twitchy without proper and regular socialization.
“I’ll punch him in the nose,” said Lily, when Severus told her. She shifted where she sat cross-legged on the library table, like she might go off and hunt him down that second.
“Black doesn’t deserve the attention,” said Severus.
“Getting his ass kicked by a girl? That type of attention?”
“Getting his ass kicked by Lily Evans,” Severus said. “It’d be an honor and you know it.”
Reports of violence outside Hogwarts got worse. People were disappearing. People were whispering, fearing. The papers were ignoring the important things, and feeding off the fearmongering, or so Lily announced in the library while Severus was trying to study.
Alice and Lily had spent years sharing hissed rants in humid greenhouses. Over an undulating bed of luminescent deadly nightshade, Alice bent her head close to Lily’s and asked, “Have you heard of the Order of the Phoenix?”