The Sugar Quill
Author: Daphne Dunham (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Severus: A Portrait of the Potions Master as a Young Man  Chapter: Chapter 1: The Book of Wikked Wizards
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Severus: A Portrait of the Potions Master as a Young Man

Severus: A Portrait of the Potions Master as a Young Man

By Daphne Dunham


Chapter 1: The Book of Wikked Wizards


* * * * * *


"Have you nearly finished your Latin, Severus?" Circe Snape asked.


Severus looked up from his seat at his father's mahogany desk to find his mother watching him. Her smile was kind but perpetually sad, and she peered over her son’s shoulder and onto the parchment upon which he was feverishly scratching. Severus drew back and let his mother critique his work. His handwriting was tiny and cramped, and Circe had to squint to read it.


“No, sweetheart, you've conjugated that verb wrong – it’s vidi,” she told him gently as she scanned the work she had assigned him.


The boy frowned as Circe placed the parchment back on the desk before him. Much to his dismay, she’d had him studying all afternoon, and despite his aptitude for Latin, he would have preferred to play with his Junior Wizard’s Potions Kit. It had been a gift from Grandma Lestrange for his seventh birthday last week, and he’d used it so much that he was almost out of asphodel already.


Erasi,” Circe murmured, tapping her wand to the parchment. Instantly, Severus’ tiny letters vanished from the parchment, his mistake effaced. “Now, fix it before your father comes home, and then you can go play with your potions kit – I know you’re aching to.”


“Can I?” Severus asked anxiously, seizing his quill and ink bottle with renewed frenzy. He looked up at his mother and grinned appreciatively.


Circe nodded as she smoothed his hair tenderly and traced the outline of his cheek affectionately with her fingertips. “As long as you promise not to test out your new concoctions on Zoe,” she replied. “She’s still recovering from your Shrinking Solution, you know.”


Severus blushed, but Circe only chuckled. Just yesterday, Severus and Jane Swizzle, one of the neighborhood children, had been playing with the potions kit, and Zoe, the Snape house-elf, had dutifully volunteered to be a test subject for their creation. The children hadn’t known that their Shrinking Solution only worked properly on animals and inanimate objects. Severus’s father, Darius, had been furious when he'd come home from work at the Ministry of Magic to find that his house-elf had a head the size of a Quidditch Snitch. He’d threatened to take the kit away, but in the end, Circe had been able to set Zoe’s head right again with an Engorgement Charm, and Darius had forgotten all about it.


“I promise, Mum,” Severus quickly vowed, dipping the quill in the ink bottle anxiously and setting to fix his Latin verb conjugations.


* * *


Darius Snape was in a foul mood when he came home, which was typical. He just hung his cloak by the door and skulked away to his study until suppertime. It was probably just as well that he secluded himself. After all, Severus had to admit he was rather afraid of his father, and as he had noted on several occasions, his mother seemed to share this sentiment. Indeed, there was an intimidating presence about Darius – an air of superiority and command. He was very stern, and barring the cruel way his lips would curl back over his teeth when he was berating Zoe or shouting at Circe, Severus didn’t think he’d ever seen his father smile.


They ate their supper in a weighty silence, a silence that was broken only when Darius, finding his plate not hot enough for his liking, raised his wand menacingly in Zoe’s direction.


“Miserable wretch!” he roared at her from under his sheath of shoulder-length, black hair. “Sorry excuse for a house-elf! I should’ve given you clothes ages ago!”


“Yes, Master Snape,” wept the house-elf as she attempted to recover from Cruciatus-induced convulsions. “Zoe is so sorry, sir. Zoe promises it will never happen again.”


Severus watched, wide-eyed, as a woebegone Zoe left the dining room, whimpering and twitching sporadically from her punishment. He couldn’t say he particularly cared for the elf, but he pitied anyone forced to suffer the wrath of Darius Snape.


“Darius, you know I don’t like you using the Unforgivables in front of Severus,” Circe scolded gently from her seat at the table once Zoe was gone.


Darius swiftly turned his hooked nose towards his wife. “Silence!” he hissed, hurling his goblet across the room so it shattered against the opposite wall.


At that, Circe recoiled with a start and fell suddenly mute.


“I don’t recall asking you for your opinions,” Darius sneered.


There was a pregnant pause, in which Darius glared at his wife with such ferocity that Severus could have sworn he’d seen the fires of Hades burning in his otherwise black eyes. Although silent, Circe held his eye in tacit challenge. She was attempting to be brave, Severus noted as he held his breath anxiously, but her quaking hands revealed it was mere bravado. Only when Darius turned back to his meal with a scowl did the tension between them subside. Nonetheless, an ominous silence once again pervaded the room, and Severus was quite grateful to be excused from the table that night.


* * *


After supper, Severus escaped to his favourite hideaway in the Snape residence: the window seat in the corner of the living room. As he was a rather small boy, he was able to sit on the ledge by the window completely hidden with the aid of the drapery. It was one of the few windows of the house that hadn’t been smashed at some point in one of Darius’ rampages, and consequentially, Severus felt safe there: it was a sanctuary, one of the rare crannies that his father hadn’t managed to penetrate with his malice.


He liked to read here – and he did so frequently. In fact, Severus was already quite a proficient reader and, aside from the volumes in Darius’ library, there was little in the house he hadn’t attempted to peruse. Circe hadn’t liked him to explore his father’s collection, but Severus couldn’t help it: when he came across The Book of Wikked Wizards by Geoffrey Jankyn, he simply couldn’t resist. The mere title was intriguing, and he’d seized it, half-expecting to see his father’s name among the series of biographies and stories about the most terrible wizards of all time.


And so, Severus folded his legs and propped the volume of his latest literary excursion in his lap. He’d managed to read up to the entry on a sorcerer called Comus when the drape shielding him from the darkness of the Snape house was suddenly withdrawn. He was startled to find Circe, the only one who knew of his hiding place, standing before him.


“Reading again, Severus?” she observed with a fond maternal smile as she peered around the drapery at him.


As he was a boy of very few words, Severus only nodded. Circe leaned closer, peering over his shoulder to see what book it was that her son found so engrossing. Her eyes widened as she saw the title printed on the binding, and with a frown, she took the volume from his hands to confirm her suspicions. Indeed, Severus had been reading from the catalog of Dark wizards that Darius had made into his book of rules to live by long ago.


“Where did you get this, Severus?” she asked softly but sternly.


“It’s Darius’,” he replied guiltily, although he didn’t know what, exactly, he should be feeling guilty about. After all, Circe was perpetually encouraging his avid interest in reading.


“Kindly stay out of your father’s library, Severus,” she said gently, Banishing the book with a swift wave of her wand.


“Yes, Mummy,” he replied rather sheepishly. It was very rare when Circe scolded him, but whenever she did – however gently it was always done – the effect was far greater than Darius's more harsh reprimands.


“Now,” she said, the soft smile returning to her lips, revealing that her anger with him was short lived, “I do believe it is well past a certain little wizard’s bedtime.”


* * *


“Mummy! Nooooooo!” Severus screeched, thrashing wildly.


He was having a nightmare again: a violent one in which Darius, his face contorted in rage, was torturing his mother with the Cruciatus Curse. Such nightmares were not a rarity for the child, and he frequently found himself awakened in the middle night by his own cries of terror, his nightshirt soaked in sweat and his blankets strangling his arms and legs.


“Severus! Sweetheart, wake up!”


When the boy finally managed to jerk his eyes open, he saw Circe Snape sitting on the edge of his bed, gently shaking his shoulders to force him from his sleep. He choked on another sob as it occurred to him that she was safe, that his father hadn’t hurt her – hadn’t hurt her tonight, anyway – and that the concern in her great, azure eyes was for him alone.


“Oh, Severus,” Circe murmured comfortingly as she scooped him into her arms and enfolded him in her sympathetic embrace. “It was a dream, love,” she assured him as she held him close to her and stroked his back affectionately. “Just a dream.”


Having calmed at last, Severus lay back down and watched his mother as she tenderly tucked the blankets around him once again. It was evident, he thought, that she had once been beautiful. The old photographs that lingered around the house and in albums testified to this fact. Severus had seen the photographs, of course. As a result, he was well aware of how, in the days before she’d married Darius Snape, Circe used to smile in such a way that her eyes twinkled like miniature, cyan stars. He’d noted how her cheekbones were high and elegant and how her golden hair had been soft and shiny. She looked perpetually tired now, her eyes and hair dull, and while her figure remained quite tiny, she was more frail-looking than femininely dainty.


It was rather tragic to juxtapose the two likenesses of Circe Snape, and try as he might, Severus could never reconcile the two. Indeed, he often wondered what made her do it – what made her give in to becoming the bride of the truly Dark wizard who became his father, what compelled her to extinguish the brilliance once imprinted on her glowing skin and charming smile. He wondered, but he knew better than to ask.


“Good night, love,” Circe said as she leaned over to kiss him on the forehead.


The memory of his nightmare lingered, however, and he grabbed her hand suddenly as she made to leave the room. “Mummy, don’t go,” Severus begged her softly.


She stopped short and turned back to her son with a sweet smile. “All right, Severus,” she consented in a terrible farce of reluctance. “But just until you fall asleep.”


The boy nodded his dark, little head and seemed much relieved as Circe sat beside him on the bed. “I love you, Mummy,” Severus whispered.


Circe grinned earnestly. “And I love you, Severus,” she told him softly. She ran her fingers tenderly over the round of his cheek and took his hand in hers.


She stayed with Severus until the rhythm of his breathing betrayed that he had fallen back asleep. Circe didn’t know, though, that as she stood to leave, her movement caused Severus to stir once more. And she didn’t know that when she stooped to kiss his forehead, he felt the dampness on her cheek and realised that she was crying. What’s more, she didn’t know that when she murmured sadly in his ear, he heard her.


“You’re the only good thing in my life, Severus,” she had whispered before sniffling and leaving the room.


* * *


Sleep did not claim Severus for long. No more than an hour later, he woke to the sound of voices from downstairs. Loud, angry, voices. And crashing sounds – like glass shattering or furniture being thrown. The boy faltered a moment, his heart pounding, before he tiptoed from bed and towards the top of the stairs to discern what was transpiring.


It was his parents. They were yelling. Again.


It wasn’t a surprise to Severus that Circe and Darius were fighting. They were always yelling, it seemed. Circe tried to avoid scenes in front of her young son, but he nearly always heard them – sometimes saw them, too – despite her efforts. He didn’t know exactly what they fought about. Sometimes it was a trivial matter – a row over a broken dish or sarcastic comment. More often than not, however, the exchange was more severe. At such times, the word “politics” tossed around quite a bit, usually interspersed with “Riddle,” “Dark,” and “Mudblood.” Tonight, as Severus quickly discerned from eavesdropping, was a quarrel of the latter variety.


“I’m going to meet him, and you’re not going to stop me!” Darius was shouting. “Tom has great plans for the purification of the wizarding world, Circe! And while you may be a blood-traitor, I most certainly am not!”


“Please don’t go, Darius,” Circe was pleading. “Please! This isn’t politics anymore – this is just violence! Have you even thought about what kind of example you’re setting for our son?!”


Merlin’s beard, they were fighting about him, Severus realised. Instantly curious, the boy crept down the stairs to better hear what was being said.    


“I won’t have Severus growing up exposed to this hatred! He deserves better!” Circe continued.


“My son will be raised in any manner I see fit!” Darius barked.


Having reached the living room, Severus peered inside to watch the scene unfolding within. He saw the overturned ottoman, the smashed vase, the torn draperies. From their portrait over the fireplace, Severus’ grandparents, the late Cadmus and Harmonia Snape, were expressing their extreme displeasure with being disturbed, adding to the commotion. But this was only half the horror. Tears stung Severus’ eyes as he watched Darius grasp Circe by her shoulders and shake her. He was bearing down upon her, screaming in her face, and she balked and stumbled backward, cowering under her husband’s hostile form.


It was then that Circe’s eyes turned on Severus: she saw him, eyes wide and watery, half-hidden by the door frame. Their gazes locked, and her expression instantly changed from one of Darius-induced terror to concern for her son – to a silent plea that he not bear witness to his father’s cruelty. Darius, unfortunately, followed his wife’s glance. A malevolent smile parted his lips as he noted his son’s presence in the room and regarded Circe’s resulting alarm.


“Come here, Severus,” he demanded, his eyes glinting with fury. “Come watch how pathetic your mother is.”


“No, Severus!” Circe protested, struggling against her husband with increased vehemence.


His stare still fixed on his parents, Severus started to back away awkwardly, not knowing what to make of the scene and wishing he had just stayed upstairs and minded his own business.


“You leave this room, boy, and she’ll get it ten times worse,” hissed Darius.


Severus faltered at this, conflicted. He sniffled, wiped the dampness from his cheeks, and felt all the more frustrated. He didn’t know what to do – what to think. He wanted to obey his mother, but if he did, Darius would make her suffer; he would hurt her. Severus couldn’t allow that to happen – not if he could help it. Reluctantly, he inched forward again, trembling with terror.


“Yes,” sneered Darius. “That’s it, Severus… A nice Snape family moment.”


Darius laughed then, that wickedly amused cackle that never failed to make Severus cringe. From where he huddled, wide-eyed and weeping in the protective shadows of the corner of the room, Severus trembled with a mixture of fury and fear. He hated his father – hated him with every fiber of his seven-year-old being.


“Please, Darius,” Circe whispered desperately. “Don’t do this… He’s just a child!”


But Darius wouldn’t listen to his wife’s pleas. He just kept yelling incoherently and shaking her violently.


“Don’t make him watch this, you sick bastard!” she yelled at her husband.


It was then that Darius swung his arm back. There was the sound of hard fist against soft flesh as he struck Circe across the face. She gasped at the blow, stumbled back from the force of his attack, and fell to the floor with a shriek. Darius towered over her ominously, his wand pointed threateningly in her direction. Circe held a quaking hand to her cheek where he’d hit her and stared back up at him, stunned into sudden silence.


“Watch yourself, witch,” Darius hissed, wagging a patronizing finger at her, “or I will make sure you never see your son again.”


A sharp and dramatic popping sound pierced the air then, and Darius Disapparated from the room, leaving nothing behind but his broken wife and distraught child. A mighty sob escaped Circe’s lips, and she buried her face in her hands, crying so hard her tiny figure shook violently. An apprehensive Severus wiped his tears on the backs of his hands and made his way towards her.


“Mummy?” he whispered, placing his small hand her on the shoulder in a fashion he hoped was comforting.


Circe looked up at him, her eyes puffy and red and a bruise forming on her face where Darius had struck her. Despite her tears, she forced an affectionate smile on her face and reached her arms out for him.


“It’s all right, Severus,” she cooed, although her voice was wavering slightly with her own emotions. “Darius is gone. He can’t hurt us.”


A greatly relieved Severus sidled up beside her on the floor, snuggling comfortably against her warm body. He felt safer with Circe’s arms protectively around him, and the memory of his father’s latest act of cruelty began to fade at once. Circe kissed the top of her son’s head and caressed his cheek adoringly.


“Where’s Darius going?” he asked softly.


“He has a meeting to go to, love,” she replied, smoothing back his short, soft, black hair affectionately.


“What kind of a meeting?”


Circe was quiet a moment. “A political meeting,” she said at last. “With a friend… a friend he hasn’t seen in a while.”


Severus wasn’t quite sure exactly what politics were, but he did understand the pain in his mother’s voice when she spoke, and he deduced that these politics – whatever they were – were not good. Circe cleared her throat uncomfortably before Severus had the chance to ask another question.


“Severus,” she said in a barely audible tone, “how would you like to go away on holiday – just you and me?”


The boy was silent, pondering his mother’s question. He was old enough and certainly smart enough to know that Circe didn’t really mean that they were going on holiday; she meant they were leaving and never coming back, and he wished she’d be honest with him about it.


“We can go anywhere you want,” Circe added, this time more cheerfully. “Perhaps to Grandma and Grandpa Lestrange’s – I know how fond you are of Giverny. Or we can go to the sea, to the moors, to another country, if you wish, Severus. Any place you fancy. Would you like that?”


Severus looked up at his mother’s hopeful face. He saw the bruise forming on her cheek where Darius had hit her; he saw the years of enduring Darius’ malice echoed in the perpetual pain in her eyes. He remembered how cruel Darius had been to her, had been to Zoe, and had been to him. Suddenly, leaving Darius seemed like a remarkably good idea.


And without hesitation, Severus nodded his consent.


* * *


The mood pervading the rooms of the Snape residence was quite grave. Consequentially, Severus knew to keep quiet as Circe somberly packed a carpetbag or two with some clothing and a limited amount of personal effects.


He didn’t protest when she performed a Memory Charm on Zoe to prevent her from telling Darius of their sudden departure. Nor did Severus say anything as his mother guided him out into the darkened street ten minutes later and hailed the rickety Knight Bus.


Silently, Circe paid for their passage to Diagon Alley. They took a room in the Leaky Cauldron that night, although Severus was so exhausted from the events of the evening that he scarcely remembered having done so. In the morning, Circe took him to Gringotts Bank, where she proceeded to empty a vault of its gold and convert it to Muggle money. She sighed as they walked away from Diagon Alley and through the busy streets of London.


“It’s time now, Severus,” she said softly as she slipped her hand reassuringly into his. “It’s time to go.”


And so they went, and they didn’t stop until they reached a place called Tuscany.


* * * * * *


A/N: Special thanks to Ozma for yet more amazing beta-ing!

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