A/N: Welcome to Creature Comfort (redux)! I'm hoping to update this weekly on Fridays, but I will be mass-publishing these first five chapters, as they're already live on ao3. I hope you enjoy!
TW for sensitive content including but not limited to implied/referenced child abuse, and thoughts of depression and self-harm. I'll try to include a warning when I remember, but I might not get everything. Just keep in mind there will be sensitive content included.
Sellotape. It was funny, the difference that a missing 'p' could make - the difference between his parents saying nothing at all, and screaming at him. He kept it at the bottom of his trunk, even after unpacking nearly everything else. Including the posters. He smoothed out the tape with his thumbs, and then stood back to admire his handiwork. Three girls in bikinis pouted at him from their positions, bent over motorcycles. James, Remus, and Peter were sitting beneath the big oak tree near the lake, and at the last moment Remus had realised he was taking a photo. A blurred middle finger surfaced at the end of the loop. The first joint he ever rolled was stuck next to it, with extra tape on the end to prevent anything from falling out. Just as he'd been about to take a commemorative puff, James had snatched it out of his hand. "It's a memory," he'd said. "You can't smoke it away." Finally, there was a cut-out from his Muggle Studies textbook - 'it seems muggles and wizards may be closer in species than first thought'. For now, his wall looked rather dismal. He made a promise to himself to collect more things this year. James'd help, no doubt. He had a real boner for memories.
Sirius lounged back on his bed, curling his fingers in the plush covers. The stupid chandelier his mother had insisted looked 'so handsome' swung back and forth, candles flickering. He reached for his wand. It sat on his desk, taunting him. Could he be bothered to get up? That was a definite no. So he sat soaking in the heat and smoke from the candles and the hearth. He shut his eyes and tried to pretend he was in Gryffindor Tower. That was the feel he was going for, with his scarf and beanie dangling off a coatrack, his tie twisted around the doorknob. What was close by was his pack of cigarettes, and he slid one out, lighting it with the funny muggle contraption Dale had slipped him. He took a deep breath, and then exhaled. Another great muggle invention. Sure, wizards had their funny herbs and pipes and shit, but there was something about simple fucking tobacco that got him off. When he'd first heard of it, in second year or so, he'd interrogated Evans. She'd done her nut. "It's a bad habit," she'd hissed, folding her arms across her chest. "You're thirteen. Nobody smokes at thirteen." He'd seen a fair few muggles out and about in London that made it look as though the general smoking age was four and a half, but she hadn't listened. Marlene went halves with him in exchange for a few spare galleons and an agreement. "Promise me you won't have five kids," she'd said. "I get ten sickles for my allowance!" It was an easy promise. Some wizarding families popped out kids like they were shits, but the Blacks weren't one of them.
He blew out a long trail of smoke. The next muggle thing he wanted his hands on was a record player. Marlene's brother had one, and she sent him a photo of it, where the black disk spun slightly as the needle ran over it. Actually, Marlene's owl from the previous day had only had pictures; that photo and one of her (taken by Lily, it said on the back) standing beneath a tree. She'd chopped off her auburn locks so they sat in a curly bob, and wore new yellow flares. She was pretty, Sirius thought. Prettier than he remembered her being in black school robes from chin to ankle. He thumbed Marlene's face in the picture, as it broke into a laugh. Spinner's End, he recalled, was where Lily lived, and where Marlene spent half her time. Upon learning that, he had repeated it to James. "A muggle neighbourhood," he'd repeated. "D'you think her house doesn't have wards, then?" Remus had broken in at that point and said he'd personally report any stalking, but James had turned red and shook his head emphatically. "I mean, like, there's lots of shitty people around these days. Do muggles really not think about getting attacked?" It had unsettled them all, until Peter pointed out that lots of muggles kept guns, or the equivalents of beaters' bats. James and Sirius took Muggle Studies as well as Peter, but Sirius had done it only to give his mother a heart attack and no matter how hard James tried, he always got confused by the stupidest things. At least Sirius had mastered the difference between motorcars and motorcycles.
Sirius missed Marlene. He missed Remus and James and Peter more. He wasn't allowed back at the Potters' after everything last summer, and whenever he tried to escape to Diagon Alley, his parents would find stupid chore he needed to help his father with. Or his brother. More often than not he was given glorified babysitting duties, despite the fact there wasn't even two years between him and Regulus. He'd sit in his brother's room on the edge of the bed, watching him read and providing helpful commentary. "Did you know, my dearest brother," he'd begun, leaning over, "that I've actually read about Bathilda Bagshot."
"Really?" Regulus had asked, voice flat. "She's very obscure, Sirius. I can't fathom how you might've come across her." He lowered his book and looked him dead in the eye. Sirius exhaled quickly.
"Me neither," he said. "The bounds of my knowledge never cease to amaze me, darling Reg. Anyhow, I'll bet I know something about the author of the esteemed book -" Sirius tilted his head, trying to read the cover. "- The Deal - Decline of Page - Pagan Magic, that you don't." Regulus gave him a look.
"Your reading abilities are outstanding," he said. "I can see that Gryffindors obviously get a superior education."
"You see," he continued, "she's actually an animagus. And she can transform into a…" he leaned closer, so close that he could feel Regulus' steady breath on his nose. Sirius stayed perfectly still. His eyebrows were raised as high as they could go. His eyes were as wide as possible. He was frozen. For a moment. Then he launched. "BAH!" He grabbed his brother's shoulders and pushed him down to the bed. The corners of his lips were twitching furiously as he tried to keep his teeth bared. And then he gave up, laughing, smacking Regulus' chest.
"Sirius," Regulus said, not laughing at all. He wriggled between Sirius' legs. Sirius rolled his eyes and rolled off.
"I thought I was meant to be the brave one!" Sirius said. "Your face was stone fucking cold!"
"Because it wasn't funny. You don't scare me," Regulus said, sitting up. He reached for his book, which had slipped out of his hand in the commotion. He lifted it up, pointing to one corner. "The page is torn."
"Sorry, Reg. Didn't mean it."
"You should've been more careful," Regulus had replied, voice cold as ice, like their mother's when she was giving one of her lectures. Sirius blinked.
"It was a joke."
"It's new, and you tore the page."
That particular incident had been a week ago, and Regulus was still being chilly. Not for the first time, nor for the last, Sirius was glad he was in Gryffindor. He and his mates would shout at each other until the cows came home if they pissed each other off, but none of them could hold a grudge against the other for a week. Nothing was ever serious enough for that. Definitely not a ripped page.
There was a gap in every three heart beats where they were supposed to be. James and Remus and Peter. They'd spend nine months of the year together and then were expected to go home and go back to normal. It was hard for Grimmauld Place to feel like home when he was only there for a season. Especially when the halls echoed with the din of his parents shouting at him or Kreacher, with various socialites and businessmen ducking into the parlor or the drawing room or some other room his parents had created while he was at school. And again because the footsteps and the voices never belonged to his friends. It wasn't as though there was a blanket rule against friends; Regulus had had Gibbon around five or six times, and Narcissa never visited without a girlfriend in tow, or even occasionally Malfoy. James had visited twice between second and third year, and Peter once between third and fourth. Remus had never been allowed. Sirius had never even asked, actually. Remus' mother was a muggle. Peter had a muggle grandfather and mixed blood all round, but both his parents had gone to Hogwarts, and that was enough for Sirius' mother to allow one, one-night sleepover, carefully monitored and strictly banned from half the rooms in the house, in case Peter touched something and the twenty-something percent of him that was muggle destroyed it and every Black in existence's magic forever.
Sirius sucked angrily on his cigarette, and blew smoke out the window. The summer sun warmed his face. How many more months of this did he have to stand?
His long, crooked fingers brushed over the edge of the cauldron. He could still hear his mother's groans in the adjacent room. Tobias Snape, of course, was nowhere to be found. The muggle left as soon as he could justify it, for another round at the pub. What could you expect for someone of that type? Fucking and fighting and drinking was all that mattered, only punctuated by hours in the sun, spinning signs in a high-visibility vest. Severus clenched his jaw. A few strands of long, greasy dark hair skimmed his cheekbones. His stomach growled. It was one of the things he missed about Hogwarts; at home, he was never really full. And his blood - his muggle blood, it lurked in all the bad corners of the house, often stinking like shitty beer. The rats were friendlier, even when they turned the size of cats and bared their teeth. They never went for his mother, at least. He didn't think his mother could take a rat bite. She had enough teeth marks on her already.
His eyes stung. Half the time - more than half the time - as he brewed this same old healing potion, he desperately wished he could brew something different. On rainy days like these all sorts of books were passed around the Slytherin common room, some of which slipped into his hands. In thick dark ink, it told him how to poison, torture, turn insane. It made him tremble. In the late hours of the evening he imagined Tobias Snape's face contorting in pain as he chugged the "Another fucking beer!" he ordered from his wife or son. Imagined him gagging. Swaying. Falling to the ground. Choking on bubbles of blood, face turning purple, eyes bulging. His mother would cry, of course, out of shock more than anything. But still, he put rosemary in instead of lavender and stirred it counter-clockwise. A healing potion, not a harming potion.
Sometimes, when he caught sight of himself in a mirror, in the toilets at the park or at school or when he went to Lily's, he saw the large nose and dark hair that marked himself as a Snape, as his father's spawn through and through and through. Even now he could see his wrists and the veins held within them, pulsing blue and purple. A constant reminder of muggle, of the brute that sired him. Half-blood, that's what he was, half horrid and half perfect, half magic and half muggle. He locked his elbow, stirring, stirring, stirring. If he could've stirred the muggle out of him, he would've been pure-blooded by the time he was six. His earliest memories were over the hearth, watching a pot boil.
"Nearly finished, Mother!" he called, still squatting. Slowly, bubbles rose to the surface, popping and snapping. A tiny bit leaked over the side, dribbling down to the gritty orange carpet that covered the ancient floorboards. It wasn't unusual for his dinghy room. Purple and green splatters by far outnumbered the threads of crusted sunset. White wallpaper from the fifties was beginning to curl off the walls, recoiling from the holes smashed through the plaster. The little room scarcely contained enough room for a single bed and a tiny desk, and Severus had commandeered the tiny square of floor between them, back against the door. He was beginning to get a hunch. He could only imagine what Potter would say. Maybe Severus would show him what his father could do.
Gently, he opened the sole desk drawer that hadn't yet rotted away and pulled it. Inside was his wand, a handful of school books and a couple of pictures. His long, skinny fingers rummaged through, one locking around his wand and two others pinching at a photograph. The hornbeam wand rolled into his lap and the photo crumpled slightly. He drew a quick breath and quickly smoothed it out with his thumb, momentarily abandoning the potion. It was a picture of Lily, unsurprisingly; nearly three-quarters of the photos he kept were. A small, foreign smile flickered across his face. It was from the summer before, and she was outstretched on the grass, red hair flapping gracefully in the wind. She turned to him, laughing, white teeth catching in the slits of sunlight that fell across the scape of a late afternoon. He could almost hear her, if he concentrated. "Sev! Gosh, you're making me feel like a model, the amount of photos you're taking. Can't I have one of you?!" And after the flash ended she launched upwards, throwing her arms around his waist, pushing him against the tree. His heart had hammered in his chest and she wrenched the camera off him, grinning and waving it above her head before taking off down the hill.
Steam rose from the small green bubbles scraping across the top of the potion. Severus' attention quickly returned to the task at hand. Small droplets ran up the side of the cauldron in a perverse twist on the muggle reality. Deftly, he grabbed a small vial and held it upside-down, letting the thick liquid rise into the glass. His dark eyes locked on the small, white crack that marked the fill point. A cork waited between his forefinger and thumb. More dripped upwards. Finally, he capped it, and very, very gently, put a lid on the cauldron.
Out of habit, his footsteps were light. Toe-walking. Holed socks wrapped around his feet, breaking the intensity of skin against wood. The clutched the vial very, very tightly in his hand, and edged towards the other bedroom. Eileen Snape - Prince, he reminded himself, for the name 'Snape' held no great attraction for mother nor child - lay in bed, a torn white sheet covering her naked legs. Blood was pooling from a scratch on her calf. He withdrew the wand he'd hidden in his pocket, and muttered a cleaning spell, more often used by housewives than teenage boys. Severus was always the exception. The colour drained from the bedspread, and he crept closer to the ailing woman. Beads of sweat illuminated her long, pale face.
"Sev," she whispered, stretching out her long fingers. He shut his eyes tightly, and passed the potion into her hands. She was shaking. He tugged at the blanket, as if an inch's adjustment would keep her warm.
"It should help," he whispered back. Even when He was not in the house, they whispered. They couldn't risk Him hearing. It was just how things had to be.
At least he wasn't a vampire. Then, he figured, he wouldn't be able to see himself in the mirror, or go out in sunlight. It was the little things that he had to be grateful for, his mother said. It made sense. Her name was 'Hope', after all. Of course she tried to be optimistic. Remus Lupin stared at his reflection, hands on either side of the sink, trying not to tremble. It wasn't life-threatening. Things would get better for her. The Healers said there was a chance. If they had more galleons, maybe they could get her better treatment. Best to see if they could find some. He wanted to scream. To smash his hands into the glass. To apologise. If not for him, they'd have the money. His mother would be well. He followed the deep creases of his forehead in the mirror. She hated to see them. Sirius and James and Peter always joked about him being an old man in disguise, but he did feel like one, sometimes. Like today. People's mother's didn't start dying until they were old and grey themselves. Mothers didn't die if they still had a teenager. They just didn't. She couldn't. But she was. He wanted to puke. Maybe he would puke. He was puking.
His guts emptied themselves into his hands, down the sink, and his fingers turned red as he twisted the water on, gripping the tap so hard his knuckles wanted to break. Words haunted him and settled beneath his eyes, churning until they became dark bags that refused to let him sleep. "My mother is sick," he had told them, so gamely, the perfect excuse though they lived miles from Hogsmeade, miles from anybody at all. And now it wasn't a lie at all, maybe he should've taken Divination. He tried to picture himself in swirling coloured robes in that attic in the tower, telling fresh-faced third years about how he'd predicted his mother's death. How maybe speaking it made it come true. His knuckles popped.
And it was his fault. If she died, it would be his fault. Without doubt. They had gone to such lengths to stop him from murdering anyone that he was going to end up murdering her. Part of his spirit walked out of the room, freeing itself from his body, striding to his father and begging he be withdrawn from Hogwarts. Not a single knut would go towards robes or books or school supplies, instead going into the funds they needed to save his mother. That was the Gryffindor in him. The other part, the weakest part, continued to look into the mirror, frozen to the spot.
He raised one hand. It didn't matter what he did, exactly, just that it reduced the burden. What kind of son would let his mother die? What kind of son would do nothing? A wolf, he thought. A wolf would do nothing and run to the woods. He could feel that second heartbeat pulsing, quickening in his ears. He glanced to the window. A dense green thicket came nearly to their fence, almost encroaching on their cottage life in that same way the wolf was always there, waiting, snarling in the back of his head. But the thicket was warded. For the safety of the rest of the world. His head was not. And now his hand dove into the cupboards, searching, searching, until he came up with a dull razor. He swallowed. Are you a son or a wolf? He took a breath. He needed to clear his mind. He needed to jump into the Black Lake, to submerge himself in the ice water. He ran his finger along the edge. The blade was cold. Clear. New, actually. When had he gotten a new razor? But it was -
A knock sounded on the slightly-rotted bathroom door, and Remus dropped the blade with a clang. Lyall Lupin now stood in the frame, tall and lanky, his head near scraping the roof. He wore wizard's robes, patched at the elbows, and a sour look. The man looked from his son to the sink, and back again, dark eyes impenetrable.
"Right." He pressed his lips together. They both knew he had not been shaving. "Dinner is nearly ready. I expect you in ten." He disappeared as quickly as he had appeared, though left the door open. Remus' gaze fell to the sink. I'd best pack, he thought. There were only seven days until September, and he was hardly going to do a Sirius and beg for socks on the train (for the attempt last year had resulted in Peter giving him two pairs, James gagging him with a sock, Remus admonishing him for not packing his own, Lily Evans offering her spare pair of bright pink stockings, and Alice Rhysfield suggesting he learn to knit, and advising him that she would be holding classes).
Remus walked softly down the hall, as he and his father had taken to doing for fear of waking his mother at an inopportune time. She never raised a word of complaint, and had even let him have James and Peter over earlier in the holidays, but the waves of migraines that came in the days after were punishment enough. He left his door ajar, for his father's sake more than anything, and knelt. He started by collecting the books strewn across his floor, organising them by subject. Then came a hunt for spare inkpots. He would order ink by owl, later, but pots were harder to obtain. He had found a red one, reading on the bottom ' J. Potter', and thrust it into his trunk when his father called him for dinner.
His mother had come down for dinner, and sat in an armchair dragged over to the table. She was deathly pale and gaunt, with dark shadows beneath her eyes and a loose, threadbare blanket thrown over her. She smiled broadly though. "Remus," she breathed, voice hardly above a whisper. "We received an owl." Her hands shook, and she held her arms out, open, shifting the blanket to one side. Remus' throat burned, but he went to her and hugged her anyway. She patted his cheek and kissed him, tears bubbling in the corners of her eyes.
"Yes, son," his father confirmed. Remus was released from the hug, and he turned to see a letter offered to him. It was his Hogwarts letter, with the booklists and whatever other notes needed to be signed. Excitement brewed in the pit of his stomach, but rationality got the better of him. No. You're friends with James and Sirius, you mastermind half their pranks and even do your own. Dumbledore isn't stupid.
Or maybe he was, because it said, in bright green ink, 'prefect', and his mother's eyes were brimming with tears of pride, and a small, red badge slipped out into his hand, seven letters etched into the metal. His heart raced. He was already painfully aware of the unlikelihood of him getting a job, or any sort of life (and did his best not to hate his father for it). A prefect role had always been out of the question. Until now. It was reserved to those promised some semblance of success somewhere in the future, of which he had none. No chances. Why waste it on him? What had Dumbledore seen in him? He wasn't even there once a month. Who would cover the days he missed? But when he really thought about it, though, he guessed that there hadn't been much choice - that must've been the reason. Yes. Had there been someone better, real competition, they never would've given it to someone like him. The only one with a record as short as his was Peter, and - well, the teachers had a habit of underestimating Peter. Remus had been sure for a long while that one day he'd crack and end up better than the rest of them.
"Don't overthink it," his father said, voice hard. "Just know that we're proud of you."
"So proud, my baby boy," his mother added, voice trembling. "Despite everything else, prefect really says something. Doesn't it, Lyall? Tell him. Everything will be okay. Tell him, Lyall."
Remus ran his finger over the letters. Prefect. He heard his father take a breath, and his back was thumped thrice, in some attempt at good-natured, easy-going father-son bonding. Prefect. Prefect. He clutched it tightly. Maybe there was some hope.