Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter nor am I making any money off of this.

Author's note: I was reading another What If? story about Snape being friends with James, and this was my take on it. Very angsty, and very badly written. Anyway. It's all in all, extremely depressing and bad. So, please read anyway?

We finally realized the extent of our mistakes in third year when we found him crying silently over a bubbling cauldron of healing potions. He stirred methodically, cursing under his breath, gradually adding various ingredients somehow obtained despite his nonexistent allowance. Finally, he seemed satisfied. We watched, sure that we could discover some new secret we could use to torture and tease him. Little did we know.

He stood up, stretching. He had always been thin, far too small and underweight for his age, but the huge, ragged smock covered his emaciated chest and hid his body from us.

We'd always thought we were better, because we were Gryffindors; because the teachers always favored us; because Snivellus was obviously being cruel to the muggleborn spitfire beauty Lily Evans, despite her pure hearted devotion to him; because he knew so many spells; because despite our advantage in number, he would still manage to get in some good damage before we won. Of course, Lily always yelled at us and protected him, insulting us with such names as "arrogant toerag" and "biased imbeciles" but she could do no wrong: this was the result of the brainwashing by the evil thirteen year old undersized Slytherin. When I look back, I laugh at myself: he was always so much stronger than us. Despite the constant pressure from all sides: our bullying, his housemates' persuasion, his peers and teachers' resigned expectation, his hateful and abusive father, he never turned evil, to Voldemort.

Anyway. It was in that one moment, when he peeled off his shirt and dropped the glamours he wore as thin protection against the curiosity and pity of the rest of the human race, that the world suddenly shifted into gray. Until now, everything had been black and white to me: Gryffindor and to a certain extent Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff were good, though of course all the great heroes were Gryffindor, and Slytherin was Dark. No question. I believed it, and Sirius did, and neither Peter nor Remus dared tell us the truth that we were prejudiced hypocritical idiots for fear of losing our friendship. We never heard, or more to the point never listened to the facts we just didn't want to know: Slytherin had as many muggleborns and halfbloods as all the other houses and by far the highest proportion of victims of abuse.

His back was covered in yellow and purple fist-shaped bruises. Scars and bloody whip marks littered his pale skin. Some looked old enough to be at least five years old; others were more recent, no more than a month old. And then... some were still bleeding, oozing disgusting yellow pus. The shirt stuck on some of the newly formed scabs, and he gave it a sharp tug and small wince with the air of one far too accustomed to this. Scooping the balm in his cauldron up, he gingerly rubbed it on, grimacing as it disinfected the wounds. I felt like throwing up.

I remember the few times I was corporally punished. I was an only child, my parents adored me, so I rarely got into trouble, though Mum was of the opinion they spoiled me too much. Looking back, I heartily agree. I can't even remember the specific impetus for the spanking, but it was surely something horrible. Dad laid me over his knee, pulled down my trousers and proceeded to give me fifteen firm slaps on the buttocks. By the end, I was reduced to tears, and couldn't sit comfortably for over a week. He hadn't even drawn blood. The bruises on Snape's back mottled it black and blue. I didn't even realize I was crying. Why? I have no idea. Perhaps in the imagined pain such a state would reduce me to, perhaps it was bitter awareness of my childish discrimination, perhaps it was heartfelt compassion for my arch nemesis, or maybe it was a mix of the three. I do not know.

Finally he unbuckled his belt and applied the cream to his backside in the same robotic, uncaring way. He allowed it a few minutes to work, then dressed himself once more. He seemed about to leave when suddenly he collapsed on the floor and lay there spread-eagled before curling up into a tight ball, blazing tears of helpless fury and desperation coursing down his cheeks. I approached carefully, silently under the invisibility cloak and heard his angry whisper, "Damn you Dad." The anger ceded to defeat, as he murmured, "Why am I never good enough for you?" I shivered at his words, imagining my beloved father pummeling me cruelly despite my best efforts. At least I was not delusional: Snape was easily the best in my year in Potions, and was also extremely talented in Defense Against the Dark Arts and Charms. If I brought home such amazing grades, my parents would hug me, delight over my report card and treat me to ice cream. And somehow, despite everything, Snape still loved his father and sought his approval. I crept away, feeling an awful wrenching of nausea in my gut. Once safely far, far away, I ran to the bathroom and threw up violently. Remus and Peter were not too long in following.

It was an unspoken agreement among the Marauders that from that moment on all bullying of Snape would come to a halt. After all, we could no longer lie to ourselves; what we were doing was not harmless pranking but outright picking on the outnumbered.

Snape noticed the change but did not comment on it, but seemed slightly relived. He spent all his time with Lily, but I made no move to stop him despite my insane jealousy.

By the end of fourth year we could consider ourselves somewhat friends. It was a tenuous relationship built from faded enmity, a bit of advice on Potions and how not to make one's cauldron explode, more or less harmless bickering (which we tended to lose; nobody could match Snape's sharp wit and even sharper tongue, and his vocabulary, while somewhat annoying in the way he flaunted it, was nonetheless certainly impressive), and his discovery of Moony's unfortunate illness. He always managed to surprise me. After ruminating and going over the facts thoroughly, researching the specific conditions and hints, he dragged me into an empty classroom and asked, "Is Lupin a werewolf?" I nodded, too surprised to lie and his features rearranged themselves into a triumphant smirk as he exited. I expected of course for the news to spread over the whole school, but he faithfully kept the secret. But still, our friendship was fragile and unconfirmed, so I was surprised when, the summer after the end of my fourth year, while I ate breakfast with my beloved parents, the fireplace turned green and he tumbled out. Mum and Dad seemed surprised at this rare occurrence; we weren't often contacted. Recognizing my friend, I leapt up, screaming for a house elf to get him into bed and get as many healing potions as possible. Bennett immediately obliged, and I raced up to the bedroom.

Snape looked even worse than that fateful day in third year. The final diagnostic scan revealed three broken ribs, a fractured wrist, a broken nose, and too many bruises and whip marks to count. No wonder the fifteen year old was out cold as soon as we laid him down.

It was a long, tiring night, and for a few moments during the healing we were afraid he would die. Finally, as the morning rays of the sun hit him, lighting in gruesome detail the damage to his body, his eyes fluttered opened and he moaned something like, "Mum." Then he gave a heartrending scream accompanied with a pitiful whimper for his mother.

"Please, Snape. Please, eat something. You haven't eaten for two days." My begging was not working. He still stared resolutely at the wall. He had stayed like that since he had awoken, and refused to eat or do anything. "Severus, please." The first name seemed to surprise him slightly but still he ignored my pleas and the enticing aroma of Mum's home baked roast chicken and potatoes. I was about to give up and leave when I heard a hoarse voice say, "My Mum. She died. I'm a halfblood, my mum is a witch, but she gave up her magic for my father. I really wish she hadn't. Father always yelled at me, but she would comfort me, hold me close and show me how to make potions. Until I was eight she was my only protection against my father. He beat her instead. When I turned eight... I didn't want him to hurt Mum again, so I stood up to him. That's when he started doing it to me, too. He hates magic and is scared of it. Wanted to show us that even without magic, he's still stronger than us and can hurt us." Severus laughed bitterly. "It was bearable. Until I started Hogwarts. Then the real whippings started. I begged the Headmaster to allow me to stay at Hogwarts. I swore I'd do anything, but he just twinkled his eyes at me and sent me on my way. But this summer..." He shook his head, silky black hair whipping around his face, eyes haunted by painful memories of a cruel father. "He pretended she had committed suicide to get away from me, but I knew. Even with the rope around her neck, I would recognize those handprints anywhere. Dark and red, circling her throat, pudgy fingers, the smell of alcohol all over her corpse as it dangled from the ceiling." I stared at him, horrified, as I finally understood what he was talking about. My eyes widened and I lurched back from the bed. Severus did not notice or did not care. "He ran out of money for his supply of alcohol, so he decided to sell me. He was going to sell me to the Dark Lord for him to do as he liked with me. I don't even know how a Muggle would know about You-Know-Who, but they both are disgusting, so it's not a surprise. When I found out, he just sneered, "I've heard the man had a penchant for young boys, especially if they scream." He beat me so I would be unconscious and more likely to scream for my new master," he spat the word out bitterly, "But I managed to escape before the Death Eaters arrived, using the Floo that Mum had thought to set up in secret a few years before. As always, saving my life." Suddenly as if realizing he had spilled his whole life to an almost friend, he backed up and curled into a ball, keening in a ragged whisper.

I really wasn't sure what the hell I was supposed to do after a friend had just told me that their father had murdered his mother, beat him and then tried to sell him for money. That was just despicable! Sitting down on the comfortable mattress, I swung my arm around his shuddering chest. We sat there silently, each trying to soak up the comfort of the other's presence. I guess it was then that we truly became friends, bound together by shivering, rattling words, a bitter testimony and minutes of the memory of silence.

We never spoke again of that night. And if Tobias Tom Snape was arrested by Aurors headed by my father for the murder of a witch thought to have committed suicide and for severe child abuse, well, that was just a strange coincidence, right?

We spent that summer together, and, well, the next summer too, and the one after that, since I managed to convince my parents to adopt him. Not that that was a very difficult argument. Besides, with one parent dead and another in jail, it was my family or the orphanage.

Sometimes Severus would have flashbacks, and would curl up in a ball, whimpering. We avoided as much as possible triggering such panic attacks, but it wasn't too easy. For months just seeing a rope would make him pale drastically and flee. My parents sent him to a psychiatrist, and I practically ordered my friends to be as gentle as possible with him. I didn't explain the circumstances of his arrival in the Potter family, but they seemed to understand. Besides, even if they hadn't asked, the ghastly trial was all over the Daily Prophet. The Ministry couldn't keep a secret from the press to save a soul.

Severus only had one complaint about being adopted into the Potter family. Well, of course, when he was teasing me he would whine about having me as an older brother until I threatened to hex him. Seeing him laugh so openly, so freely, was definitely worth the taunting. No, his real complaint was that Severus Potter just didn't sound good. Not that he would ever keep his old last name, but still. I personally found his annoyance ridiculous.

"I solemnly swear I am up to no good," Severus drawled, wand touching the parchment. Ink flowed from the tip, spreading, seeping, tracing elegant script over the paper. "Messrs Moony, Slick, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs present the Marauders Map." We all giggled in delight at seeing the map of the castle unfold and reveal itself. It was our fifth year, and we'd finally managed to become Animagi, and become an extremely solidly knit group. Moony was (duh) Remus, the werewolf. Severus had transformed into a small black extremely poisonous snake who we called Slick ("You really are a Slytherin!" Sirius had exclaimed, and Sev had smacked him, blushed and retorted that snakes were amazing and that if Sirius disagreed he would poison him the next day.) Wormtail the Rat was Pete, Padfoot was our resident idiot mutt, and I, of course, was the greatest of them all, a magnificent stag nicknamed Prongs (though Sev smacked me every time I said magnificent. I believe he was merely jealous.)

We never knew how much Sev sometimes suffered, back in the dorms, because he had refused the Dark Lord, was adopted by a renowned Light family, was friends with us and a 'mudblood'. But he never turned his back on us, never joined the Death Eaters. At the time, we didn't know how much he had to go through to stay free of their grasp.

After befriending Severus and becoming his brother, I'd finally grown up and laid off a bit on the whole 'ask Lily Evans out every single time you see her' thing. I still loved her, but was willing for my brother's sake not to steal her away from him. He deserved to be happy, after all the suffering he had gone through. So it surprised me greatly when he pulled me aside to demand when I would ask her out again, because she also wanted to date me. Flabbergasted, I gaped at him. He made a scathing comment about my uncanny resemblance to a fish, before explaining that he loved Lily but not that way. She was his best friend, for a long time his only friend, and the person he considered a sister. Plus, he added slyly, they truly would be siblings if we married. Two days later, I plucked up my Gryffindor courage and politely wondered if she would accompany me to Hogsmeade the next day. She smiled brightly and accepted, and thus began our rocky relationship.

The years until graduation passed in much the same fashion. Amazingly enough, Lily and I were still together at the end of school, and going strong. I vowed to myself that if we could survive two years after Hogwarts together without spending more than two months broken up, I would ask her to marry me.

Sev had become quieter, more pensive, a silent powerful guardian and protector. He was more than happy to get away from the castle and the constant Death Eater entourage. I'd tried to get him hooked up with a few nice girls I knew, but after the first couple of attempts he admitted that he didn't swing that way and that honestly, none of the blokes he knew were that interesting. Sometimes he talked about this dream he had about a boy with dark messy hair and sparkling green eyes who looked at him with longing, but even then he felt, somehow, that he knew this boy and that he did not want a romantic relationship with him. My friend truly was confusing, but in hindsight, I wonder if he was some sort of seer.

I kept my word and two years later, proposed to the love of my life, Lily Evans. In response, she merely grinned widely, looking like the most beautiful sunrise I had ever seen. I took it as a yes, and at the tender age of nineteen wedded her in a small white chapel with only our closest friends in attendance. I'd never seen Sev look so proud or so happy.

Five months later, the joyous news came: my beloved wife was pregnant! I beamed at the messenger as Severus and I flooed to the maternity ward of St Mungos. The mood swings and odd cravings were a bit hard to deal with (and nauseating, for the latter) but we made it through more or less intact. The only blight on that happy time was Albus' announcement that our precious baby would defeat You-Know-Who. As if. A mere child should not have such a burdensome prophecy set solely on his back. We told no one of this prediction except Sev; but Voldemort always had his ways of knowing.

Sev adored Harry. There was no other way to say it. He always seemed to know exactly what Harry wanted. More to the point, he knew what Harry wanted, should have and needed, and always managed to find a balance between the three. He was the ideal babysitter and caretaker; he alone could make his nephew stop crying with a mere word; he alone could command Harry's full and absolute attention.

Love begets love, and their relationship was the shining example of it. Harry adored Severus. The tiny baby would toddle after him as soon as he learned to crawl, waving his hands happily, his green eyes shining brilliantly with love and devotion. And Sev would turn around, pretend to scold him for a few minutes before picking him up and hugging him tight. His first word, before even Mama or Dada was "Uncah Sev!" And Sev grinned so brightly, so carefreely, unburdened by painful memories, that any jealousy over the fact that my own son seemed to love my brother more than myself was forgotten. Not even Lily or I could make Sev smile so openly as he did at Harry.

It was inevitable, I suppose. Of course, Voldemort somehow heard the prophecy, or at least the first few lines of it. He probably had some spy at the door for Trelawney's job interview, or something of the sort. Anyway, at Albus' insistence we went into hiding, taking as our Secret Keeper at the last moment Wormtail. Why I do not know. We were thinking of having Sirius be it, or perhaps Sev, but Pads convinced us that Pete would be the least likely target. My little family stayed in seclusion for four months with no word from the outside world. Finally, Sev, who often came over, sighed in frustration and told us to have a night out and that he was more than able to protect Harry. Harry seemed to agree, or at least clung to Severus' robe hem without letting go, making a shooing gesture with his other chubby fist. He was fifteen months old at the time.

Perhaps Pettigrew had waited for us to leave to tell his master. Perhaps he thought Sev could be bought over. No chance. Not when it came to Harry. Lily and I were peacefully eating our dinner at a fabulous Italian restaurant when a silvery doe galloped up to us and spoke in Sev's voice, "Wormtail betrayed. Voldemort attacked." Without even paying for the bill, we disapparated, simultaneously calling for backup from the Aurors.

Our beloved home in Godric's Hollow was unblemished but for one room. My heart caught in my throat as I realized the nursery had been destroyed. I jumped up the steps two at a time. The gay colors of our son's bedroom had melted away into a lurid orange blue. The crib had splintered, and a blanket lay on the floor, discarded. An ominous pile of ash swept over the floor, staining the golden wood black. And, there, near the crib, were the two people I was looking for. Sev, my friend, my brother, my protector, was turned on his back, fierce eyes open and glassy in death, so that the small child tightly gripped in his arms was exposed. The blood pounded in my ears, and I unsteadily lurched towards the pair. Suddenly a whimper rang across the room. I recovered and ran to their side. My beloved son's face was red and pinched, his stomach growling as he uselessly waved his feeble arms. Harry was alive! I carefully tore him from his uncle's grasp and held him close, overwhelmed with grief and relief. A few moments later, I pulled him back and looked at him, noticing for the first time the angry red lightning bolt crashing on his forehead. It was then that I remembered my reason for coming: Voldemort had been here. But where was he now? A picture swam in my head and I recognized with a jolt of surprise, puzzlement, and joy. Voldemort was gone, reduced to mere ash! I kissed my son soundly on his scar.

And finally it hit home. I sobbed dryly, body wracked with sorrow, as the knowledge that Severus was dead, sacrificing himself for my son, knowledge that I had been denying for those brief moments, finally hit home. My wife entered a few moments later, surveyed the wreckage and silently took her son and held him close, before she too, collapsed inside and gave a cry for her best friend and brother. And that was how the Aurors found us five minutes after, a small family mourning the passing of their bother, uncle, friend and guardian angel. The family of the Boy-Who-Lived, Harry Potter, the baby who had defeated Lord Voldemort.