Chapter 1: The Playground.
In a nearly deserted playground a single, huge chimney dominated the distant skyline. Two girls were swinging backwards and forwards, and a skinny boy was watching them from behind a clump of bushes. His black hair was overlong and his clothes were so mismatched that it looked deliberate: too-short jeans, a shabby, overlarge coat that might have belonged to a grown man, an odd smock-like shirt.
He looked no more than nine or ten years old, sallow, small, stringy. There was undisguised greed in his thin face as he watched the younger of the two girls swinging higher and higher than her sister.
'Lily, don't do it!' shrieked the elder of the two.
But the girl had let go of the swing at the highest point of its arc and flown into the air, quite literally flown, launched herself skywards with a great shout of laughter, and instead of crumpling on the playground asphalt, she soared, like a trapeze artist through the air, staying up far too long, landing far too lightly.
'Mummy told you not to!'
Petunia stopped her swing by dragging the heels of her sandals on the ground, making a crunching grinding sound, then leapt up hands on hips.
'Mummy said you weren't allowed, Lily!'
'But I'm fine,' said Lily, still giggling 'Tuney, look at this. Watch what I can do.'
Petunia glanced around. The playground was deserted apart from themselves, and, though the girls did not know it, Snape. Lily had picked up a fallen flower from the bush behind which Snape lurked.
Petunia advanced, evidently torn between curiosity and disapproval .Lily waited until Petunia was near enough to have a clear view, then held out her palm. The flower sat there, opening and closing its petals like some bizarre many-lipped oyster.
'Stop it!' shrieked Petunia.
'It's not hurting you,' said Lily, but she closed her hand on the blossom and threw it back to the ground.
'It's not right,' said Petunia, but her eyes had followed the flower's path to the ground and lingered upon it 'How do you do it?' she added, and there was definite longing in her voice.
"It's obvious, isn't it? Snape could no longer contain himself, but had jumped out from behind the bushes. Petunia shrieked and ran backwards towards the swings, but Lily, though clearly startled, remained where she was. Snape seemed to regret his appearance. A dull flush of colour mounted the sallow cheeks as he looked at Lily.
'What's obvious?' asked Lily.
Snape had an air of nervous excitement. With a glance at the distant Petunia, now hovering beside the swings, he lowered his voice and said, 'I know what you are'.
'What do you mean?'
'You're...you're a witch,' whispered Snape.
She looked affronted.
'That's not a very nice thing to say to somebody!'
She turned nose in the air, and marched off towards her sister.
'No!' said Snape. He was highly coloured now and one wondered why he did not take off the ridiculously large coat, unless it was because he did not want to reveal the smock beneath it. He flapped after the girls, looking ludicrously bat-like.
The sisters considered him, united in disapproval, both holding on to one of the swing poles, as though it was the safe place in tag.
'You are,' said Snape to Lily 'You' re a witch. I've been watching you for a while. But there's nothing wrong with that. My Mum's one, and I'm a wizard.'
Petunia's laugh was like cold water.
'Wizard!' she shrieked, her courage returned now that she had recovered from the shock of his unexpected appearance. 'I know who you are. You're that Snape boy! They live down Spinner's End by the river,' she told Lily, and it was evident from her tone that she considered the address a poor recommendation, 'Why have you been spying on us?'
'Haven't been spying,' said Snape, hot and uncomfortable and dirty-haired in the bright sunlight. 'Wouldn't spy on you, anyway,' he added spitefully 'you're a muggle.'
Though Petunia evidently did not understand the word, she could hardly mistake the tone.
"Lily, come on. We're leaving!' she said shrilly. Lily obeyed her sister at once, glaring at Snape as she left. He stood watching them as the marched through the playground gate, bitterly disappointed that what he had been planning for this moment for a while had gone all wrong.
The sun was low in the sky and the huge chimney in the distance cast a lengthening shadow across the streets and houses. Two girls were walking down one of the streets - one of them almost running.
'Hurry up, Petunia,' said the younger of the two, glancing back at the other 'It's late, and he may not be there'.
"I hope he won't be there," said Petunia sulkily "You shouldn't try and talk to him. I've already told you. Listen, Lily-' She caught hold of the younger girl's arm, forcing her to stop and turn around. "I heard Mrs. Green tell Mummy the other day, that folk from Spinners end are – are bad!"
Petunia paused, hoping her words had made an impression, but Lily remained defiant.
'She said respectable people shouldn't have anything to do with them,' she continued, but Lily shook her off impatiently.
'Well, I don't care what Mrs. Green says – she's a pompous, old scarecrow! And anyway, he's the only one who ever looked remotely pleased and excited when I did one of my strange tricks, Tuney. Even you hate it when I do it – you keep calling me weird, remember?'
Lily looked accusingly at her sister, then continued more quietly: 'Even Mum and Dad look worried when it happens, though they don't say anything. So, now I want to know why ... if ... if it is what he said.'
'But Lily, it's getting late. Mum will be ..."
"Tuney, I wanted to go to the playground earlier, but you kept getting excuses. And I don't care if he's from the poorest part of town; I want to speak to him. Now come on!"
She turned to go, this time practically running, so that her sister had no choice but to hurry up after her. They turned a corner, and there, in the distance, surrounded by overgrown bushes and shrubs, was the playground. It was deserted except for a lone boy seated crosswise on a swing. He was slouched over a book, his long dark hair falling over his face. He had his back to them, so did not see them coming through the playground gate.
Lily hesitated for a second, her momentary joy at finding him faltering – they hadn't parted on such good terms yesterday. However, she had been forced to admit, that same evening, that Petunia had been rude first, which had resulted in him calling her names, (though she wasn't quite sure what he had meant).
Then she marched determinedly towards him, leaving Petunia, who seemed to think she had done more than enough by coming, sitting on the roundabout, scowling at them.
Something made the boy look up and turn around. He saw her coming towards him, long red hair ablaze in the setting sun. He stood up, almost holding his breath – she had come to look for him, after all. He had spent all day in or near the playground, hoping she might come back, that she had believed his words… The book dangled forgotten in his hand as he clung to the rusty chain of the swing, waiting for her to speak.
She stopped in front of him, looked him straight in the face, and smiled hesitantly.
'Hello,' she said, 'My name is Lily. Lily Evans"
'Hello, Lily,' he said in a low voice, and a smile lighted up his thin face as he uttered her name for the first time. The red light of sunset, as well as relief at her smiling approach, suffused his pale face with a warm glow, so he did not look as strange and intimidating as when he had first jumped out of the bush at them yesterday.
Seeing this, Lily gathered her courage and asked him what had been tormenting her all last night.
"Yesterday you said… you said I was a witch because you saw me doing those things. Have you seen someone else who can do it too? Can you – does it happen to you too? What did you mean? Is it true?"
She stopped. She thought she was starting to sound incoherent. What if he had just been taunting her yesterday?
But she needn't have worried; he did not laugh at her, but came towards her, holding out the book he was reading.
"Yes, Lily, it's all true. What I said yesterday. Look - this book is about Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. I'm reading about it because that is where I'll be going in a couple of years – to learn about magic,' He paused, looking intently at her, 'That is what you are doing – Magic!'
She looked up into his eyes. They were very dark, like his hair, but she saw that he meant it, and that it was the truth that he was telling her, without the added evidence of the book which she now held in her hands.
The book! Suddenly, as she held it open in her hands, the pages started flipping back and forth wildly, as though blown by a mad wind, though there was hardly a breeze. She looked up at him in alarm, but he was smiling.
"I can do magic, too" he whispered.
Suddenly, she felt a great sense of relief. Finally, someone like her, who understood her, who would not look worried or angry if she did something strange, and who could, perhaps, give her answers.
The book finally flipped to a stop. It had strange, moving photos inside - fascinating views of a large castle with turrets and ramparts that gleamed majestically in the sun. She would have loved to sit on a swing and read it right there and then, but knew that would be rude – she hardly knew this boy after all.
"I'm sorry. This is your book,' She made to hand it back "I don't even know your name,' she grinned.
'Severus Snape,' he answered.
It was an odd name, Lily thought, like every thing else about him.
Just then Petunia, who had been swinging herself back and forth on the roundabout, came up to them scowling.
'I want to go home now,' she said flatly to Lily
'Okay, Tuney, I'm coming," she said.
Petunia did not even wait for her, but set off towards the playground gate. Lily hesitated, but Severus Snape anticipated her.
'Will you come again tomorrow?' he asked eagerly 'I'll get more books. There's so much more you need to know…'
'Yes, Okay,' Lily replied. "I'll be here earlier – at midday. Bye!' And she skipped off after her sister, with light-hearted steps, red hair swinging.
'Bye, Lily' whispered Snape, but she had already gone
He stayed there much longer, till the first stars appeared, hardly daring to believe how happy he was. Since he had first seen her weeks ago, and seen her magic, she had been like a promise of joy, and something to look forward to. It even eclipsed his carefully nurtured dreams of one day becoming a student of Hogwarts and never having to come back to that miserable place he called home. He leaned back on the chains of the swing – why, perhaps he might even hope to have something that had eluded him all his life – a friend!
Next day as Lily ran light-heartedly towards the playground she reflected how lucky she was to have met the strange boy – or rather, that he had noticed her. She was alone, Petunia hadn't wanted to come. 'It's too hot' she had said, but Lily suspected she was scared of Severus. When she told her about the book yesterday, she had marched off to her room, saying "I told you he was a freak!" and hadn't wanted to hear more about it.
As she went round the corner, and looked over the bushes at the playground eagerly, she thought for a moment that he hadn't come. Then she saw him sitting in the shade of a small tree near the far end of the playground. A group of boys were playing rowdily on the swings, trying to twist the rusty chains around the topmost pole. Lily ignored them and went up to Severus.
'Hello,' she said.
He looked up at her, shading his eyes from the sun. Lily noticed that a small pile of books had been thrust under the tangled undergrowth behind him. He stood up.
'Hello,' he said.
It was a hot day, and the sun shimmered harshly on the white gravel of the playground. Lily wondered why he was still wearing that overlarge coat. He seemed to read her mind, for he said "Come on Lily, I know a better place than this".
He glanced at the group of boys, who had now managed to tangle two of the swings around each other and across the supporting frame of the swing.
'It's quieter – cool and shady too,' He turned round to gather his books.
Just then, one of the boys, a large, loutish-looking one, with a pudgy face and pudding- bowl haircut, who was looking around for something else to wreck, noticed them.
"Why, look who's 'ere!" he shouted, for the benefit of the whole playground, 'It's that oddball, Snape, king of the weirdos!'
There was a smattering of appreciative sniggering from his cronies.
'Why – and what's this? He got himself a girlfriend!'
They were howling with laughter now.
Lily turned towards them, her eyes flashing, a retort ready on her lips, but what she saw stopped her. Severus whirled around, black eyes narrowed in anger and muttered something under his breath.
Suddenly the large boy, who had been standing on the last, undamaged swing, flew spectacularly to the ground, as, with a loud crack, the wooden seat of the swing broke in two. He landed awkwardly, hitting his face on the foot of the swing pole, so that when he got up, blood was seeping from his nose.
In the ensuing confusion, as his friends gathered in bewilderment around their fallen companion, Severus gathered up his books and turned to Lily.
"C'mon, Lily, let's go!' he took her hand and pulled her towards the gate.
She resisted a moment, then followed him.
They walked past the last few rows of houses and towards the river. Lily glanced tentatively at him as he walked by her side and a little ahead. His eyes were still narrowed, and there was a crease on his brow. What had happened back there in the playground?
He led her past the last house bordering the river, with its broken fence and yellowing, unkempt garden. Adjacent to the last house, they reached a no-man's land of small grassy spaces. They were close to the river now. Finally, they came to a small thicket of trees beyond which the riverbank sloped down towards the sunlit water. There was cool, dappled sunlight under the trees. Severus, who had by now visibly relaxed, threw his books in the shadiest part, and sat down.
"Here will do' he said,
Lily joined him, sitting down on the soft grass.
"What happened back there in the playground?" she said "For a moment I thought ... It seemed, as if you made that horrible boy fall..."
"Well, I meant to throw him off, but the swing broke instead. Not very accurate without a wand, I'm afraid.'
She was silent. He stole a quick look at her and was surprised to see a fleeting expression of fear in her face. Alarmed, he told her that he hadn't meant to hurt him.
'I – I can't really control magic without a wand. And anyway, he had it coming. Didn't you hear what - ?' He stopped, suddenly awkward.
Lily still seemed unconvinced.
'Listen Lily, didn't you ever make something strange happen when you were angry?"
Lily bit her lip. He was right. She had to admit to herself that on many occasions when she and Petunia quarreled, her sister, though older, was usually the one to come off worse. Like the time Petunia's tea set had shattered mysteriously to bits, when she had been angry with her (Petunia had broken her new doll in a jealous fit); and the time when a boy at school had called her carrot-head – his hair had turned pink! She smiled slowly, remembering. Then she looked at Severus, her green eyes twinkling.
'Yeah, I guess he did deserve it a bit - he was being very rude,'
A few minutes before she had felt almost afraid of this strange boy sitting beside her. She had followed him much further away from where her mother usually allowed her to go, and it had been rather alarming to know what he had done. But now she felt she understood him better.
In fact, it even felt as though she had known him for a long time.
He had relaxed at her words. For a moment he was afraid that he had ruined everything again. But when her green eyes looked at him, kind and alive with laughter, he knew they were friends, together against all the bullying muggles that had ever tormented him.
'So, tell me about wands, then. Why can't you do magic without them?'
"Well, you can, but you can't control well what you do. You just saw – ' he shrugged, 'With a wand, your magic is focused through it at the object you wish to enchant, and it is stronger, more powerful and precise."
"Why don't you have one?"
"You only get a wand when you enter Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. That's when you start learning magic.'
'This school – the book you showed me yesterday – that's the one, isn't it?'
'Yes. There's only one school in Britain. Everyone goes there. Witches and wizards, that is - not muggles"
She made a wry face. 'That's what you called my sister the other day. What did you mean by it?'
'Muggles – non-magic people.'
This set her thinking. One question had been burning inside her all yesterday.
'How come I never saw anyone else do magic. Is it just us? Are there more – you know, like me and you?'
'Of course. I already told you, my mother is a witch. But there are more muggles than witches and wizards, and, many years ago, - centuries, in fact, - they waged war on us. Even you, in your muggle school, must've heard about the witch hunts. They wanted to steal our magic, to use it for their own purposes, yet they were scared of it, too, hence the persecutions. Of course, no stupid muggles could easily hurt a witch or wizard – magic wands are far superior weapons than anything muggles can dream up. But the panic among muggles was so widespread, that the Wizengamot decided that it was overall much better to go into hiding – to put it about that magic did not exist, as neither did wizards, or witches.' Severus looked as if he didn't quite agree, but he continued:
'Anyway, in 1692 the Statute of Secrecy was signed by the representatives of all magical beings, and slowly, over the years, our world became, and remained, part of muggle folklore and stories for children. Muggles! Ha!' he snorted, 'Little do they know how everything is really under our control!'
He stopped, looked nervously at her, and changed track, 'So you see, you haven't seen any magic because it is a crime to break the Statute of Secrecy. Muggles must never know, or see, magic."
He paused and looked at her, but she was listening intently, hanging on to his every word. He gained confidence.
'Sometimes, families of witches and wizards live close together in small villages, with muggle neighbours being none the wiser. But we are so few…'
He looked at her again.
'In this town," he whispered, 'I thought I was by myself. I thought there was no one else apart from my mother and me. Then I saw you...'
He was gazing at her intently, his voice hushed and excited. Lily understood why he had been so excited the other day. She herself had always felt increasingly different, but for him, knowing that his difference was a certain and insurmountable barrier, must have felt infinitely harder and lonelier.
'Did you ever go to school at Hogwarts?' she asked.
'No. You have to be eleven before you can start there. Till now I was educated at home. My mother did not want to send me to a muggle school'
'It's not so bad,' she said, slightly affronted 'You get to learn things, and you have friends to play with.'
He fell silent. He knew he would never fit in. It had always been so whenever he met anyone his age. His mother had attempted to send him to the local Primary school at his father's insistence, but it had been an undeniable disaster, and she been forced to take him out again.
Other children never could understand him, somehow.
'Well, we'll go to Hogwarts, you and I,' he said brightly, after a while.
'What?' Lily was taken aback.
She was going to St Alden's Girls School, where Petunia was due to start attending. She told him so.
But he shook his head 'No. You'll have to come to Hogwarts – especially since you're from a muggle family. As you grow older, your magic powers will grow too – you will have to learn how to control it or... or bad things can happen to you .You have no choice.'
He seemed happy about this, but for Lily things were going a bit faster than she had anticipated, and this was a lot to take in. She shook her head.
'Mum and Dad won't agree. They've already arranged for Petunia to go to St Alden's Girls' School. I'll be following her there.'
But she sounded doubtful now. A school where you learnt magic! Never in her wildest dreams had she imagined something like this possible. Another thought crossed her mind.
'Mum and Dad - they don't know anything. How- What shall I tell them? They won't believe me!"
Severus didn't seem to think this important. 'When we're eleven, we'll receive a letter from Hogwarts, to attend there - you can show them that. It will be wonderful, Lily. I can't wait to start. There's so much to learn. So many things you can do with magic, and it's all there – at Hogwarts. I wish we didn't have to wait another year" he added ruefully, snapping the twig he was holding in two.
Lily had been looking through the book he had shown her yesterday. His enthusiasm was infectious, and suddenly the prospect of attending Hogwarts seemed more real. He showed her the other books he had brought along, and Lily was amazed to see their contents – Basic Charms and Spells for the Beginner; Elementary Transfiguration (what was that?).
'These are old books. They belonged to my Mum. Wait till you see Hogwarts Library, Lily – Its enormous!' He fell silent, lost in thought. Once in Hogwarts, far away from the squalor of Spinners End, he would finally be able to show everyone what he was worth.
'Is your Mum allowed to do magic?'
Lily's question brought him down to earth with a bump. For a moment he thought she knew, then he realised it had been an innocent question. He frowned, not wanting to admit how things were at home.
'Yes, of course,' he said eventually 'She's a fully trained witch, and was a very good one too. You're allowed to do magic if you're over seventeen, as long as you don't do it in front of muggles.'
She noticed the past tense and his closed, guarded expression, but she really wanted to see some magic, so she ploughed on.
'Hey, Severus, do you think perhaps, your Mum could show me ...?"
'No, she can't!' he cut across her, almost angrily, 'She doesn't use magic much nowadays. At least, not in front of my father. He- he's a muggle and he ... they...' he swallowed, took a deep breath, and continued more quietly, "… they're always fighting and arguing. I stay out of the way and out of the house as much as I can."
His head was bent, his hair covering his face and his voice was so low that Lily had to lean forward to hear what he was saying. He had now broken the twig in a hundred pieces.
'It's been like that ever since I can remember...'
Why was he telling her all this? He had never told a soul about his wretched home life. What if she looked down on him now?
He finally looked up to find her gazing at him with an expression of sympathy.
"I'm sorry to hear that, Severus,' she said 'It must be terrible to hear your parent's row all the time. I don't blame you for staying out of the house – I guess I would've done the same.'
He tore his gaze away from her with difficulty, looking down at his hands, and fiddling with the broken twigs. Then he glanced up sideways at her through the curtains of dark hair falling across his face, and gave a small smile. Lily didn't press him further about his mother, but asked to see his books again, so they lay down side by side on the warm grass, with the shabby books before them, Severus leafing through them , pointing out things he .thought she might like, and she listened eagerly as he unfolded a new world before her eyes.
The sun was starting to set when Lily realised how late it was. She had hardly noticed the time flying. They promised to meet again the following Monday, since Lily had to go out with her family over the weekend, and decided upon the shady glen by the riverside as the best spot. As they got up reluctantly to leave, they both knew they could hardly wait for Monday to come.