The Sugar Quill
Author: DMCourt  Story: Better Than a Father  Chapter: Default
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Better Than a Father "Enough, Livia!"

The boy trembling in the corner winced as his father's hand rose to strike the woman cowering before him. They froze in that position several seconds; slowly, his father's hand lowered and he turned to regard his son.

"Severus, go to your room. Now, or she'll get worse, I promise you."

Even in his short lifetime, Severus Snape had seen enough to know he needed to move, and move fast. Servius Snape always meant what he said and never failed to follow through on his threats. As the boy ran down the hall toward his bedroom, he caught a glimpse of himself in the glass hanging at the end of the passage. Pale face framed by black, greasy hair, a hooked nose that was far too large for his face. He paused, his hand on the doorknob of his room, his face still turned toward the mirror.

I hate how I look, he thought. I hate looking like him. He was careful not to speak. Once he'd whispered, "I hate you, you son of a bitch" to the reflection of his father, who'd been standing too far down the hall to hear him. The mirror had shouted, "Son of a bitch is no way for a son to address his father." He'd got the thrashing of his life that day. Two broken ribs and a fractured cheekbone. Fortunately, his mother's skill at potions meant an unlimited supply of bone knitting brew.

He heard a moan from the living room. Throwing his door open, slamming it shut behind him, he flung himself face down on the bed, grabbed a pillow and jammed it over his head.

Back in the living room, Servius had twisted Livia's arm up and behind her back, slamming her face first against the wall. He leaned forward, whispering in her ear.

"I'll hear no more of it, do you understand?" He gave her arm another wrench, "I said-- do you understand?"

At her nod, he released her and stepped away. His lip curled in a sneer.

"If it weren't for the boy, I'd let you spout nonsense to your heart's content. I never listen to you anyway. But I won't have you corrupting him. He's weak and worthless, but he is my son and heir. I may make something of him yet. He needs toughening up. What he doesn't need is exposure to that buffoon Voldemort or his half-baked ideas."

He paused, watching as his wife turned around, rubbing her arm. She glared and her chin came up, but she didn't speak.

"What-- no 'that's Lord Voldemort'? Lord Voldemort!" he snorted, pacing up and down the length of the living room, black robes billowing behind him. "Lord Cuckoo, more like it. I don't care how powerful a dark wizard he is, he dominates mainly through fear and intimidation. If enough of the old pureblood families would band together, we could manage him. Strength in numbers."

He stopped in front of Livia; she hadn't moved. He sighed, resuming his lecture. "I have no love for Mudbloods and no use for Muggles, but unprovoked aggression towards them is a waste of time and upsets the status quo."

"Unprovoked aggression. That's amusing, coming from you." Livia Snape crossed her arms, smiling coldly.

"Is it? You think you don't provoke me? And the boy? If I'd ever spoken to my father the way he does to me, I'd have had much worse, believe me. My mother was a strong witch. While she didn't abase herself before my father, neither did she flout his authority as you do mine. But it doesn't surprise me in the least. Along comes some upstart with a phony title and a plan for mayhem, and you and your Lestranges, not to mention the Blacks and Malfoys, all abase yourselves and grovel before him for scraps."

"He represents power! He represents the future of Our World!"

"His power. His future. That's all your counterfeit Lord cares about. I won't say this again," Snape advanced on Livia, backing her against the wall, not stopping until his face was inches from hers. "Think what you will, but mention his name in front of my son or bring his supporters here while I am absent and I will have you out of this house and away from Severus permanently. Don't think I won't find out."

Snape stepped back. A careless flick of his wand summoned his cloak, which settled around his shoulders and began to fasten itself. He cocked his head, his lips twisting in a mirthless smirk.

"I'll be back in a few hours, my dear. I hope you won't be too lonely? Perhaps you can dream of your 'Dark Lord' while I'm gone." He sighed, his face settling into a sincerely aggrieved expression. "You know, I think I hate him most of all for this : that a Snape should have to associate with the likes of the Potters and Dumbledores..." Turning abruptly, he strode out of the room and through the front door.

For the next several years, life continued in much the same pattern for Severus Snape. His father taught him the Dark Arts. He beat Severus whenever he thought the boy was slackening in his studies or showing any disrespect. His mother allowed him to assist in her potion making, talking to him as she brewed about what she was putting in and why, and the importance of precision in measuring and distilling. She never mentioned Lord Voldemort. His father never brought him up either. Gradually Severus forgot the name. The Snape household had few visitors; neither parent was comfortable with the other's associates.

Severus was thrilled to receive his Hogwarts letter. Here was the chance to get away from his father and embark on his own life. He'd already decided to specialize in potions, but thought he'd prefer pure research rather than making healing potions for St. Mungos like his mother. He didn't even mind going with his father to Diagon Alley to buy school supplies, or their time together a few weeks later, on the platform waiting to board the Hogwarts Express. Years later, he'd look back on that day and note with grim amusement that he could remember everything his father had said. He wasn't hypocrite enough to wish he'd been more gracious to Servius, but he was rather sorry he hadn't thanked him for the advice. He would always wonder if Servius had had a premonition this would be their last time together.

They stood, two specters dressed in black, together but not touching, looking like the original and its smaller scale model, watching the chaos swirl around them as other students laughed and chattered, running for the train, kissing their parents good-bye, promising to see each other again at Christmas Holidays.

"Look at me, Severus."

The boy turned reluctantly and gazed up without flinching and without expression.

"I trust you know you're entering a time of independence? I won't be around to watch everything you do, but I expect you to know how to conduct yourself. I will receive an owl from your Head of House should you fail. Snapes have always been Sorted into Slytherin. Ravenclaw is barely acceptable, anything else a disgrace. Snapes do not associate with Mudbloods if they can help it--" here his father's lips twisted into an ironic grimace--"though occasionally we are forced to deal with those who do, if it is politic.

"In Slytherin, you will be among our kind. Do not assume they have your best interests at heart, or that they would not betray you to further their own concerns. Slytherins will always watch their own backs, first and foremost, but their assistance can be invaluable if they know it's to their advantage to help you. You must be clever: manipulate them to see that their own ends are served by helping yours. Use them; never let them use you." He surprised Severus then, grabbing the boy's chin as if to force him to gaze even harder, black eyes boring into black eyes.

"You may hear tell of a savior, someone who will put the rule of Our World back solely into the hands of purebloods where it belongs. Do not follow any leader blindly; always ask yourself what's in it for them and if it truly benefits you. There are advantages in purebloods working together, there is strength in numbers. But not every leader is good for the whole, and what does not benefit the whole is usually bad for the individual."

He released Severus. "Get on the train, boy. I've given you what I can; the course of your life will be up to you."

"Good-bye, sir." Severus climbed aboard the Hogwarts Express. He didn't look back.

Snape was relieved to be Sorted into Slytherin; he never believed his father would be satisfied with Ravenclaw. The Slytherins were everything his father had said and more. He'd wonder later if his father could have provided more information on Lucius Malfoy, but he made do. He didn't believe even his father could have anticipated the blood-traitors Sirius Black and James Potter, or how they'd attack him constantly and aggressively. He hoped his father would never learn of the times they'd bested him. He was terrified of his homecoming in June if he'd disgraced the Snapes.

Two weeks before school ended, he was called to the office of his Head of House. His father had disappeared, the Professor informed him. Severus nodded; he understood. Could he go back to his dormitory?

At the end of term Severus boarded the Express for the journey home. A body hadn't been found, but with each passing day the hope of finding Servius Snape alive was fading. He still wasn't sure what he was feeling; mainly it was worry about his future. He didn't know how his mother and he were set financially; he wondered if his father might be proud of him for thinking of practicalities.

As night fell outside the speeding train Severus was careful not to look toward the windows. The glimpses of his face he saw reflected there gave him the feeling that his father was sitting next to him. He was glad to board the Knight Bus home from the station, along with a few other students. That ride was far too hectic to let him think.

He didn't expect his mother to be grieving, but he was disconcerted by the smile on her face as she opened the door just as he was reaching up to knock.

"Severus, hurry, we have a visitor. He wants to see you alone." She helped him off with his cloak in the hallway, tried vainly to brush his hair away from his face, grimacing at the greasiness on her fingers. She pushed him toward the parlor door.

"We have been singularly honored. Imagine, him calling on us personally to offer his condolences in our time of grief." Livia sounded almost giddy.

Snape wasn't sure if his mother's attitude was due more to their visitor, or the notion that anyone would consider this a time of bereavement for her. He was wary before he stepped in. When he caught sight of their guest, it took all his self control to keep his face blank.

He'd never seen a creature like that which faced him across the room. Tall, gaunt-- what was he? His face was a sunken skull. Snape had thought he himself was pale; this person was bone white. Long, spidery fingers beckoned him forward. What he found most disconcerting were the eyes. They didn't belong in the middle of that dead face: they were large, brown, framed by long lashes. Vibrantly handsome and human. Sympathetic.

"Severus Snape. Your mother's been telling me about you. Sit down, we'll talk."

His voice was high pitched, but not unpleasant. Severus took a seat before the fireplace, watching intently as the wizard sat opposite him.

"I should introduce myself. Lord Voldemort. Your mother's told me your father didn't care to have my name brought up." He smiled gently and shook his head ruefully, as though he didn't wish to speak ill of the dead, but still let Snape know he thought Servius' restriction slightly foolish. "I took the liberty of dropping by to assure you both that you're not alone. We must all work together in these difficult times.

"I feel particularly bad at your father's death, Severus. Yes, death-- we shouldn't delude ourselves; if Servius were alive he'd have come home to you by now. He disagreed with my methods, but we had the same goals. We both believed in pureblood superiority; we both believed Our Kind has a mandate to rule over inferiors. I'm sure, given time, we would have reconciled our differences and joined forces to our mutual advantage.

"I'd like to keep an eye on your family, Severus, help a little, if I may."

Snape had been listening intensely. This Lord Voldemort seemed to be talking sense. He frowned. He wasn't sure about that last statement. It made him uncomfortable, somehow.

"By help I don't mean interfere in your upbringing. You don't need another father, why you're almost a young man!" Voldemort leaned forward; he dropped his voice to just above a whisper. "If I might be honest with you-- I hope I don't offend. Much as I admired your father's views, I did not always agree with how he chose to run his household. We have much in common, you and I. I don't tell many people this. I don't like fathers. I'll be something much better than a father-- a mentor-- a teacher!"

Lord Voldemort stood, holding out his hand to Severus.

"Your mother's told me of the potions lab you set up near hers in a corner of your kitchen . Would you care to show me? I wish I could have laid claim to half your skill when I was your age."

Snape stood up slowly. He still didn't trust this wizard, but his views about fathers seemed sincere. Anyway, it would do no harm to show the man his work. He moved in front to lead him, grateful Voldemort was making no move to touch him. The wizard continued the conversation as they moved down the hall, Voldemort nodding at Livia as they passed her.

"Perhaps the next time I have occasion to visit, I might teach you a few dark curses and hexes? Lucius Malfoy told me how impressed he was by both the quantity and quality of the hexes you know already, but it never hurts to know more, does it?" He bared his teeth as the boy nodded.

"He's also told me of your run-ins with the blood traitors and how well you've conducted yourself. With your help, we'll bring them and the rest of their sorry kind to task some day."

Livia stared after them, listening as the voice gradually faded as its owner moved out of sight into the kitchen.

"I'll take you to Malfoy Manor for a visit this summer. Meet some of the right people. You probably didn't associate with Bella Black at Hogwarts? No? Well, she's a few years older than you. Bella's been a special prodigy of mine. Some day, Severus, you and I could do extraordinary things..."

Notes:Thank you to my beta, Igenlode Wordsmith.

It's unfortunate that Servius sounds so much like servant or servile. I looking through for something suitably Latin, and came across this name with the definition:

Gender: Masculine
Usage: Ancient Roman
Roman praenomen, or given name, meaning "to preserve" from Latin servo

and I thought "to preserve" the old wizarding (and Slytherin) ways seemed very much in character.

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