Disclaimer: I have used quotes from JK Rowling's work, specifically that from the chapter, The Prince's Tale, none of which I claim to own.
Five times Severus Snape was called coward.
"You have done very well, Severus. How long do you think I have?"
A small boy looks towards the centre of the room, horrified, at the scene unfolding before him. A woman, half sobbing, half yelling, backs away from a man who is advancing angrily towards her.
"I didn't, I swear I didn't, Tobias! You know I would never -" She stopped abruptly as she was struck across the jaw. The force of the blow knocked her to the ground where she lay sobbing whilst the man advanced towards her menacingly.
"Severus," his mother whispers, her eyes willing him to take action, to do something, anything. Her eyes seem to penetrate him to the core; his voice catches in his throat, her hand stretches outwards.
His father traces her motion and he too stares at Severus, glaring. The boy shivers and turns towards the wall, attempting to shield himself, cocooning himself against the wall with his arms. The man takes a few steps forwards and laughs. "You obviously take after her. Coward," he spat as he turned and advanced towards the woman, "just like your mother."
Severus pulls himself closer to the wall, raising his hands to cover his ears. All he can do is attempt to block out the screams.
"I am fortunate, extremely fortunate, that I have you, Severus."
"You must kill me."
"You alone will know whether it will harm your soul to help an old man avoid pain and humiliation."
An older boy sits in at a dining table in the Great Hall, the plate of Sheppard's pie in front of him largely untouched, due to the fact that the boy was immersed in his copy of The Standard Book of Spells, Grade Two.
"Oi, dung-brain!" Severus bowed his head lower over the book. "Hey, I'm talking to you! Oh, I forgot; it's Snivellus, isn't it?" He used all his will-power to focus on the charm he was revising, wishing with all his might he could use it on the boy taunting him. The other boy seemed to recognise what Severus was thinking. "Think you're going to find something to curse me with in that book, eh? Personally I think you would be better off studying up on that tergeo charm, might get some of that grease out of your hair, huh?" A snort of laughter came from James Potter's side.
Severus slammed down his book, red sparks igniting from his wand. Much of the Great Hall was watching now. Severus clambered out of his seat whilst James drew himself up to his full height, as he drew his wand.
"C'mon, Snivellus, show me what you've got!"
Severus pointed his wand toward the other boy, glancing around the hall as he did. A girl watching from the Gryffindor table caught his eye. She looked at him, somewhat disappointedly, and shook her head sadly. Severus jerked his head slightly, quickly gathered his books and swept out of the hall.
"Coward," James remarked smugly, eliciting another bout of laughter from the boy at his side.
A teenage boy stares at the girl in front of him, her expression largely unreadable.
"Sev, please tell me this isn't true." It wasn't a question, more of a pleading.
"Tell you what?"
"You know what I'm talking about." Lily reached forward as she spoke, grabbing his arm, attempting to pull up his robe sleeve to expose what she knew, yet somehow could not believe was there.
Severus shook his arm free of her grasp, wincing slightly as the fabric grazed over the still smarting mark on his arm. "You made your choice, I made mine." He replied, icily.
"Oh, you are not seriously comparing dating James Potter to joining the Death Eaters are you? Look, I know he's a been a bit of a prat to you -" Severus snorted, " – well, a big prat to you but it hasn't been all one way, you know? You haven't been exactly charming to him, either." Her voice softened, "Seriously, why did you do it? You could have, you could be so much more."
"No, I couldn't. What else could I do?" He questioned, somewhat desperately. "You don't understand the pressure put on me by the others! Besides, what else could I have done? I've got no job prospects, no family to lean on, no friends outside the Death Eaters but you and since I've lost you to Potter -"
"You honestly think I would stop being friends with you because of that?" Lily questioned angrily, "You yourself have ensured the end of this friendship, Severus when you joined that group of morons. How could I keep a friendship with someone who supports such goals, who calls people like me, mudblood?" Severus flinches at the word and Lily's face and tone softens. "You still have a chance, Severus. Dumbledore could protect you, I'm sure of it. You do have a choice. Please?"
Severus stares at her, stricken.
She swallowed heavily. "I know you're a good person Sev, but you're just dead set on following the path of a bad person. You can change this. Take a turn; take the right path. Be brave."
A long pause follows this plead.
"I can't," he final says, voice strangled and conflicted.
"Coward," she whispers. Lily turns and walks away, a single tear escaping her eye as she knows this could very well be the last time she sees Severus Snape.
"Help me protect Lily's son."
"I have your word you will do all in your power to protect the students of Hogwarts?"
"To give Voldemort what appears to be valuable information while withholding the essentials is a job I would entrust only to you…"
A young man sinks into a low bow before a person seated in a throne like chair. The person looks at the man with a surprised approval.
"Severus, you have proved more valuable to me than perhaps even I could have envisaged. You shall be honoured above all others."
"My Lord, my duty to you is my highest honour -"
"Am I sensing a 'but' on the end of that sentence, Severus? You place your logic and opinion above mine?"
Severus recoiled, "Never, never my Lord. I only wonder… I only… You think the prophecy means the Potter boy? Are you quite sure it is not referring to the Longbottom son?"
"Why, Severus you surprise me. Is it not correct that you despise James Potter? What better way it is than to ensure the removal of him and his family?"
"You - you seek to kill them all?"
"Surely you do not feel you have to spare this man after all he has done?" A look of comprehension dawned on his face. "Or perhaps he is not the Potter you seek to protect."
Severus flung himself on the ground at his master's feet. "My Lord, please spare her. She poses no threat. I beg of you -"
He was kicked backwards as Voldemort pushed his grovelling hands away.
"Do not beg, Severus. Begging is inherently connected to cowardice. Then again," he continued as he surveyed the man at his feet, who was shaking and murmuring pleas of protection, "you do on closer inspection appear to be nothing more than a coward; too afraid to give himself over to his Master completely yet too afraid to live a life the good and just life of a hero."
"No! Never, my Lord, never. This is all I would ever ask. I am yours completely." Severus bowed his head, long hair curtaining his distressed face from view.
Voldemort spits at him. "You disgust me. And yet, you have my pity. Let lust and desire not be your downfall, Severus." Severus shook his head quickly. "We shall see what your Lord will provide."
Lord Voldemort entered the Potter residence with no intention of murdering Lily Potter. However, his patience wasn't one to be tested. He briefly gazed down at the young woman lying on the ground, her beauty slightly clarifying Severus's wish to protect her. "I regret it," he states, thinking of Severus, before turning toward the crying baby in its crib.
"I am not such a coward."
"You know, I sometimes think we Sort too soon…"
A man slips down a set of stairs, hand clamped on a teenager's shoulder. He fires several stunning spells over his shoulder, caring neither if they make contact nor who they make contact with.
He guides the Malfoy boy down a corridor, leading the rest of the party. His heart beats painfully in his chest. This was the moment he had been building up to for the past year. It was not a surprise but a foregone conclusion. Yet, the shock of casting the spell; the shock of casting the spell on Albus Dumbledore, will not leave him. Perhaps it never will.
It was something he had never considered, certainly something he had never considered nor wanted to become. Was he a murderer? Did the fact that the death was arranged and agreed upon negate the fact that Severus had killed? He knew what Dumbledore would say, Severus on the other hand knew not what to think, only knowing the path he had embarked upon all those years ago was no longer clear.
How simple life had been back then. His priorities in life had shifted seamlessly from her, to the Dark Lord, to her son, each priority setting Severus a clear path of action. Now his next action was unsure, hazy. He knew neither if he was a good person on the bad side, or a bad person on the good side. It must be like that Muggle saying, you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. However, if Dumbledore had taught him anything, it was that the line between good and evil wasn't so cut and dry with the majority of people straddling the divide between the two.
Severus remembers what she said to him, years ago.
"…you're a good person, Sev…take the right path."
It was difficult, but his actions tonight had ensured he had firmly embarked on the right path.
His thoughts were interrupted as a spell shot past his head. Potter had caught up. Severus blocked his attempted curses easily, enraged when the boy attempted to use one of his own against him. He advances toward the boy, wand sparking angrily at his side.
"Kill me then," the boy pants, glaring upward at him. "Kill me like you killed him, you coward -"
"Just like your mother."
"You do have a choice."
"Do not beg, Severus."
"DON'T CALL ME COWARD!"
"Albus Severus, you were named for two headmasters of Hogwarts. One of them was a Slytherin and he was probably the bravest man I knew."