DISCLAIMER: If I was JK Rowling, I'd be writing canon, not fanfiction. Don't sue, please.
SUMMARY: This a Severus Snape-centric AU beginning the summer before his fifth year at Hogwarts. The main focus is on Severus' evolving relationship with the Marauders, once they come to the conclusion that the only way to get through this summer intact is to cooperate. I wrote this fic as a response to a series of what-ifs that kept nagging me, the main one being: What if Severus had come to Dumbledore sooner?
Other main characters include Dumbledore, Snape's father, the Marauders, Nymphadora Tonks, and later her parents. Genres include humor, angst, action/adventure, hurt/comfort, friendship and family. This was begun a good year before HBP; therefore it incorporates some small details but not the majority (a.k.a., what we learned about Snape's family and the Half-Blood Prince.) There are no main or non-canon pairings. At least for a good while... ;)
WARNINGS include DE violence and language, mild spoilers for all books, and a slightly OOC Snape, if we're going by canon. As his upbringing, past, and indeed the entire history of this AU have been rather different than canon, I do consider his personality fair game. However, I have done my best to keep everyone as in-character as possible, including the magical world itself. (Thank you, HP Lexicon!) And, of course, the biggie: NO SLASH OR SEX. Just friendship.
DEDICATION: This prologue is dedicated to JK Rowling, because it's all her fault. Thanks, Jo.
It Falls to the Young Prologue:
(being a brief narration two and three-quarter years prior to our tale)
If a Train Leaves Platform Nine and Three Quarters at Nine o'clock...
Good Merlin, was there noise.
He had been anticipating this day for longer than he could remember. He'd spent half his life calculating exactly how many more minutes remained until he would finally, finally board the famed scarlet steam engine—and now all he could do was stare in mute astonishment at the chaos surrounding him.
He had visited Knockturn Alley, twice; but those crooked streets boasted only the occasional lone pedestrian who passed by quickly with his head down. Never a teeming mob of humanity composed of what seemed to be dozens, if not hundreds of people—an unprecedented multitude that threatened to overwhelm his senses with movement and noise and confusion. It made Severus' head hurt.
The train sounded what might have been a warning whistle. Severus dragged his battered trunk through the crowd, trying to avoid all the people around him—dodging tearful mothers, a pair of arguing wizards, clusters of giggling girls and the boys ogling them. After tripping twice over someone's cat, he found an empty compartment on the far side of the station. Hauling his trunk up the narrow steps was far easier said than done; by the time he'd made it halfway a short yet impatient line had formed. Their muttering alerted a Ravenclaw prefect, who looked up from his book long enough to roll his eyes and hoist Severus' battered trunk into the corridor.
After shoving it into a corner, Severus curled up by the window to observe the sea of people swarming by. They were fascinating to watch, amazing in their variety—though he did wish they'd be a bit quieter. Dominating the little group still waiting to board the train were two black-haired boys, one tall, one short; both radiated confidence and they seemed to have developed an immediate friendship, judging by their loud laughter which was attracting the attention of half the platform. A short, blonde witch walked over and embraced the shorter boy, who protested with rolled eyes and an embarrassed face. Opposite their stack of trunks and owls stood a red-haired girl whose parents looked just as nervous as she did—could they be Muggles? They aren't wearing robes... Severus stared at the maybe-Muggle family, intrigued in spite of himself, until he was distracted by a figure already clad in a sweeping black Hogwarts' uniform, attire accented by a glistening golden badge. Severus knew the Head Boy by name, if not by sight: Lucius Malfoy. One to be wary of.
A hundred more unknown faces later Severus felt the train jump forward with a lurch quickly echoed by his heart.
He was moving on. He hadn't the slightest idea what lay ahead, but it just had to be better than what he was leaving behind. Severus watched as the black-haired boys in the compartment ahead of him leaned out the window, waving and shouting good-byes to those remaining on the platform. His heart lurched again, briefly, until he smothered it with the hopes and dreams that had driven him this far...
What will it be like? What—well, I know I'll be in Slytherin, I have to be—but where will everyone else be sorted? What are their names? What are they like? Maybe I could have friends... Severus bit his lip. To be riding the Hogwarts Express was inconceivable enough; he'd better not expect miracles. Well, those boys looked decent, if overly boisterous. Perhaps they're first years as well...
At Hogwarts. Hogwarts. The name was delicious on his tongue, more delectable than anything he'd ever tasted. Hogwarts was freedom, Hogwarts was hope—a new life, a life that would carry him through the mire until he graduated and could make his escape permanently. He'd spent hours engraving every last detail of this sacred promise upon his imagination; he'd practically memorized Hogwarts, A History, he was as prepared as was possible. The school had already bestowed upon him treasures beyond imagining—books of his very own—secondhand, of course, but who cares?—and robes and a cauldron and most of all a wand... And freedom. I won't see Father until Christmas.
He looked out at the farmlands and birds flying past. Outside a cow was lazily chewing its cud, watching the Hogwarts Express roll past. It was the first living creature to witness Severus Snape smile.
Five hours, forty seven minutes, thirty-two seconds and three hundred sixty five days later Severus Snape leaned his forehead against the window of the Hogwarts Express and stared out, his mind further away than Timbuktu.
He had never been an optimist, save one brief period roughly a year ago. He wondered if it had been a brief period of insanity. Optimists were fools.
To think he had believed Hogwarts an escape! A refuge! He sneered in disgust; the idea was laughable. Behind the innocent façade of classes and Quidditch the same evil lurked; it had permeated through Slytherin house particularly. Half the house knew what his father was; the rest had the rumors and his reputation to decipher. Half the house knew of the Dark Lord's rising influence; the rest had the Daily Prophet to decipher... Hell, half the house's alumni are involved.
Slytherin was no sanctuary, but the other houses were hardly better. To think I once considered James Potter and Sirius Black anything but the most despicable, arrogant scum that ever disgraced the school with their presence. The two had acquired a following in the form of Pettigrew—pudgy, talent-less oaf little better than a squib—and Lupin, a sickly bookworm who would have been almost decent but for his choice of friends. They called themselves the Marauders—Merlin knows why—and their undeclared purpose in life was to make Severus' hell.
It had begun almost innocently: Black had laughed at him in Transfiguration after he'd accidentally transformed his desk into a giant mushroom. Severus retaliated with a scathing remark concerning Black's resemblance to the giant squid; the vain git threw a fit and hexed him—resulting in ten points from Gryffindor, ten from Slytherin and the commencement of a war.
As the year continued the battle escalated. The Gryffindors discovered they could gain fame at the expense of the greasy-haired Slytherin who was the least-popular first year at Hogwarts; Severus discovered that similar antics and the resulting point loss made him as disliked in Slytherin as Gryffindor. So he tried to end it, but the Gryffindors were not so keen on stopping—not now that they had Lupin to watch for teachers, Pettigrew to drool in excitement, and the rest of their year to applaud. Not when they had such advantages.
So it continued. They made fun of his greasy hair, his hooked nose, his pallid skin, his ill-fitting and worn robes. They jinxed him bright pink and tripped him in the corridors. They stole his Transfiguration homework and changed his quills into worms. They forged his signature on insulting notes and love letters to seventh year girls. They locked him in the bathroom all afternoon. They convinced half the school to call him Snivellus. They sent him a box on Christmas stuffed with Dungbombs and roaches. They laughed whenever he fumbled his wandwork; they laughed when he changed his mouse into a puddle of jam, they laughed when he charmed Flitwick to glow iridescently, and they laughed at his complete lack of anything resembling athletic ability.
Flying class had been a living nightmare. He'd never ridden a broom before and had been nervous, whereas Potter and Black were both more than capable flyers and obvious candidates for Gryffindor's Quidditch team. They'd had fun. Afterwards he had vowed to never willingly mount a broom again.
Severus took a deep breath and shuddered. His hands were trembling; he rubbed his arms absent-mindedly and winced. It's all trivial, anyway. I shouldn't distract myself like this. Not with what's ahead. For though the Gryffindors were bad, they weren't evil, and Severus had lived through worse. Far worse—and while Hogwarts was not the sanctuary he had once believed in, it was still a refuge of sorts, one he'd missed desperately as the summer days had come and gone. Midsummer had been unspeakable. Severus could not imagine ever again returning to the place he refused to call home, to the man he refused to call father—but he had nowhere else to go. And who would believe me even if I told them?
Severus hid in the shadows of the second floor corridor until he heard McGonagall announce the password. A half hour slipped by. McGonagall reappeared and strode down the hall, her shoes tapping loudly against the stone floor.
"Acid Pop," he whispered.
The gargoyle leapt aside, granting Severus access to the Headmaster's quarters. He stepped hesitantly onto the ever-spiraling staircase; it carried him upwards to a gleaming oak door. The door swung open before he could knock, revealing a large and pleasant office—a circular room, filled to overflowing with snoozing portraits, ancient books, and twiddling little gadgets that squeaked and whirled at random intervals. Anchoring these fancies was a huge, claw-toed desk that reigned from the center of the office, topped with stacks of parchment and a long, red quill.
"Come in, Severus."
Severus stepped through the doorway. The Headmaster sat not at his desk, but in one of two comfortably ancient armchairs placed by the fireside. Few candles were lit, and midnight's shadows were calm and inviting. The rug was soft and squishy beneath his feet; Severus felt a sudden inexplicable desire to remove his shoes and spend an eternity simply standing there, with warm carpet between his toes and the Headmaster's eyes in his soul.
"Would you like some tea?" Severus shook his head. The Headmaster poured him a cup anyway and he drank it, hands trembling, as the wise blue eyes continued to survey him.
Neither of them spoke for several minutes.
"Please assure me," the Headmaster finally began, eyes twinkling in a smoothing manner, "that you do not also wish to report a food fight between Peeves and the entire student population of your house?" Severus looked up at the Headmaster. He shook his head again, his mouth almost twitched into a smile...
...then he buried his face in his hands, hiding behind his filthy, greasy hair, ignoring the teacup which shattered on the floor and sobbing a tear for every thousand once suppressed.
Kindly review and feed the starving author. How else can I know what you think? -Rattles tin cup-
UPDATED: July 1, 2007 with a much more detailed summary and an utterly unsuccessful attempt to make Quickedit cooperate. Waaah.