It was morning and sunlight streamed across the dreary, untidy room of a ten-year-old boy who lie awake in bed, staring miserably at the desk which stood against the opposite wall. He was very thin and pale, with long, greasy black hair, a hooked nose, and dark, sullen eyes. And even though his mother continued to rap on his door in her sharp, brisk way, he pretended to be asleep, continuing to lie in bed on his stomach.
"Severus! Severus! I know you're awake -- !"
"Alright, Mum!" Severus cried at last and rolled out of bed.
He slouched to the door and no sooner had he opened it than a tall, thin woman swept into the room, nearly bowling him over, turned as if she'd missed him, and, seizing his arm, dragged him into the chaos of his bedroom.
"We have to hurry before your father comes back," muttered Mrs. Snape as she searched frantically through Severus's cloths. She pulled out a dark red sweater and pulled it down quickly over her son's head.
"But -- Mum -- I hate red! What are we doing!" complained the boy as the sweater was forced over his long nose and greasy hair.
"I wanted to celebrate your birthday before you go off to school," answered his mother, forcing him into a chair, ripping down his tatty slacks, yanking on a nicer pair, and standing back to admire the effect.
Severus pinched his own clothing, repulsed.
"Mum, my birthday's not until -- "
"I know! I know! But you'll be at Hogwarts and we won't get to celebrate. Your father will know if I send a package -- and you know how your father is about birthdays."
"I know," Severus said glumly. "But, Mum . . . Dad isn't coming back this time."
"Don't be silly," snapped his mother, turning away to hide the shimmer of rising tears in her eyes. She waved her wand and began to tidy up the room, but Severus pressed on.
"I heard everything, Mum."
"Severus," warned his mother, sounding as if she had a cold.
"He's knows you're a witch and that I'm a wizard --"
"Severus, please . . ."
"He hates us!"
Mrs. Snape whipped around, her black eyes glittering unpleasantly, and green sparks erupted from her wand. She advanced on her son, spit flying from her mouth.
"I will not have this conversation! Now stop this! Do you understand!"
Severus gave her a hard stare and said nothing. She breathed heavily and slouched onto his bed. There was a moment's silence and then she burst into tears. Severus hesitanted, feeling guilty, then went to his mother and touched her shoulder.
"I -- I don't understand," gasped Eileen Snape. "He said he loved me . . ."
Severus's eyes hardened again as he thought of his father; he hated to see his mother cry. He was patting her shoulder as she shuddered with sobs when the front door banged open and shut so hard that several books and pencils rolled from Severus's desk and thumped on the carpet.
Mrs. Snape gave a small hiccough and leapt to her feet.
"He's back early," she hissed, twisting her fingers. Panicking, she glanced at her wand and then hid it under Severus's pillow. "Change out of those cloths quickly," she ordered her son. "And not a word about -- about last night."
Severus didn't need telling twice. He heard his mother enter the front room downstairs as he pulled the repulsive sweater over his head and threw it on the floor. There was a long creak and Severus knew his father was easing into his favorite chair. Why had he come back? Why couldn't he just go away and let them be?
"Still here, are you? Haven't run off yet?" Observed Tobias Snape when Severus entered the front room. He laughed derisively. "I suppose you're too young for that yet. How old is the boy now, twelve?"
"Ten," answered Mrs. Snape, her teeth set. "And his name is Severus."
"It's okay, Mum. It's easy to forget about things that aren't -- important -- to you," Severus said coldly and passed into the kitchen.
Tobias Snape gawked after him, outraged, his hooked nose almost quivering. "Who do you think you're talking to, boy? You think cause you're a little freak you can talk to me any way you please?"
"Don't call my son a freak!" fired Eileen.
"Your son!" laughed Tobias Snape, his blackeyes glittering. "Damn right he's your son -- bet he isn't even my son!"
Eileen had been rolling up her sleeves to wash the dishes but whirled around, eyes ablaze. "What did I ever see in you?" she cried. "Why did you come back!"
"Because this is my house, and that boy better rudy-well get used to it," answered Tobias nastily. "Strutting around here as if he's master of the house just because his abnormalty blew up the China last Christmas!"
"He wouldn't have blown it up if you weren't such a -- such a --"
"Such a what?" Tobias asked with a mocking smile. He rose from his chair, crossed into the kitchen, and towered over Eileen. "Say it," he dared, fists clenched.
"I hate you!" Eileen burst, and gasped at her own boldness, at the white flush on her husband's stunned face.
Tobias grabbed her arms roughly and the dishes crashed to the floor where they smashed in a white heap. He shook Eileen hard, his eyes menacing, his teeth flashing.
"What did you say to me?" he demanded furiously.
Eileen was sobbing, but she cried again defiantly, "I hate you!" and Severus winced in the corner as the blow his father gave her cut the air like a whip. Eileen slouched to the floor, sobbing still, her face red from the strike.
Tobias whirled on Severus, who was glaring heatedly at his father.
"What are you gonna do?" dared Tobias nastily.
Severus stared at his father and said nothing, hatred in his eyes. There was nothing he could do. The truth was he was ten-years-old, skinny, and weak while his father was much older, much bigger, and much stronger.
"That's right," Tobias sneered. "Nothing." He whirled on Eileen again, "Clean up this mess!" and he stomped from the kitchen and up the stairs.
Severus watched his mother scoup the broken fragments of dishes toward her knees, her body wracking with sobs, before he crawled to her and touched her arms to stop her.
"Oh, Severus," she whispered, "I'm so sorry you had to see that. One day we'll leave him, Sweetheart. One day it will be over, okay?" She stared reassuringly into her son's eyes, and if it had not been for her tears, Severus might have believed her.
Instead, he crawled into his mother's arms and buried his face in her neck. Closing his eyes, he dreamed of another life in a world far away from the one he knew.