Coming of Age

This year was different. As the chill of winter set in, Snape would usually feel a sense of bitter vindication, a twisted sort of "I told you so" attitude as though the freezing rain and violent winds proved that the world was a hostile and unpleasant place. By the time the torture of Christmas and New Year, often spent with the most irritating students, had passed and the castle had once again been filled with cacophony and trodden-in sleet, this foul mood would have solidified into abject hatred of everything and everybody. It was in this frame of mind that Snape would greet his birthday.

Even as a child, he had rarely felt there was anything to celebrate in becoming a year older. The only exception was his eleventh birthday. His mother had contrived to sneak him out of the house and the forbidding glower of his father, to a strange little cafe in the town and then by Floo powder all the way down to London. It was the first time that young Severus had seen the extent of his mother's world. Tobias Snape had not been able to touch the money deep in the goblin bank vault, had not been able to turn it into alcohol and thus into abusive words and bruises. These few carefully hoarded coins were his future, the boy was told. A lot of them went towards the wand which he bore to this day. In the dusty depths of Ollivander's shop, watching the silvery light pour from that wand, from him, Severus actually felt that he had a future beyond the dark oppression of his parents' house. For the first time in years, there was life in Eileen's pale face as she watched her son.

She paid for it later, of course. Severus was very careful to hide his wand or his father would have destroyed it, but he could not hide his mother. As the shouting and sobs echoed through the house, the boy swore that he would do everything in his power to end this as soon as he could. It was not a happy ending to his birthday, but it gave him a sense of purpose which he had never felt before. Late that night, once Tobias had passed out, Eileen brought her son a collection of books. Some were texts from her years at school, but others were more personal. Not a word was spoken, but a blazing message was passed from one set of dark eyes to another. This is ours, not his.

Eight long months passed before he could leave home. By then, although Severus had been very careful not to perform any spell that could draw unwelcome attention to his mother, most of the books were committed to memory. The thought of attending a school where he could spread his wings lifted the boy's heart.

By his twelfth birthday, Severus was utterly miserable. The harsh weather echoed his dark thoughts. How had he ever imagined that things could be different for him? Had he really been stupid enough to think that he might have friends? Be happy? No, school was only good for one thing, and that was the pursuit and development of his magical abilities. The other students could lounge around in their stupid cliques and poke fun at his second-hand clothes. He would be the most powerful wizard in the world, and then he would show them all.

By his fourteenth birthday, he was aware that there was, in the world, a wizard more powerful than he could ever be. At that point, Severus was unsure of his feelings toward Voldemort's dark strength. While other students would declare boldly that they would stand against the darkness, Severus felt that there was a lot to be learned there. After all, how could you fight that which you did not understand?

By his sixteenth birthday, he had stopped fooling himself that it was all about understanding the enemy.

By his seventeenth birthday, he had found friends, of a sort.

There had never been a point, Snape thought, to which he could point and say, "There. That is where my life took the path that it did. That is where things changed." It felt sometimes as though he had been heading this way since his birth, since before even that. Where did any of these things begin? His life never became any simpler. He had thought to find a purpose with one side or the other but the serving of two masters had only made things more dangerous. So through years as an unhappy, introspective schoolboy into years as a brooding, bitter man. Each birthday merely marked another year passing, a milestone in ice and snow, dark and cold.

This year was different. Of all of the things that he had done, last summer's events would be seen by many as the most vile of Severus Snape's crimes. Now, with winter's chill once again penetrating his bones, Snape was facing what may very well be his last birthday.

In all those years alone, it was the first time that he had felt lonely.

Author's Note: This is actually one of the few things I've written that could still be considered canon-compliant. Most of the time, my clever ideas have been made a mockery as soon as the next book came out. This story was written as a gift for a friend on LiveJournal.

For anyone who feels I should put in a disclaimer - it's not mine, blah blah.