If Not For The Rain by afterthree
Title: If Not For The Rain
Summary: "Snape knew more curses when he arrived at school than half the kids in the seventh year..." At nine years old, Severus Snape has a chance encounter with a boy named Lucius Malfoy in the streets of London.
If not for the rain, he might have had a chance.
It was coming down in torrents now; thick curtains of rain he could hardly see through as he ran, his feet sliding in water-swollen shoes as they slapped against the pavement, his clothing soaked through and heavy. Raindrops broke against the street and surrounding homes, blending into a deafening static, and he couldn't hear beyond it, couldn't tell how close they were behind him.
The treads of his shoes failed him and he slid, his ankle twisting painfully to compensate as he stumbled, barely managing to stay on his feet. The sodden book he was carrying slipped from his fingers in the effort, but he caught it before it hit the ground and continued onwards with barely a pause.
Yet the damage was done, and his sprint slowed to a limping jog. His ankle throbbed, but it would be nothing compared to the wrath of the three boys behind him, and with gritted teeth he tried to ignore it, tried not to favor it.
A few paces ahead of him something fell hard into a puddle, splashing water up around his knees as he ran past. He didn't give it much thought until a moment later, when something flew past his shoulder. Then another, grazing his elbow, and he suddenly understood.
Rocks. They were throwing rocks at him.
Fresh panic made him look behind him, just in time to duck a forth stone that would have connected with the back of his head. The fifth hit him hard in the shoulder and he staggered to the side, his balance thrown. Two more missed him -- barely -- and the next hit him square in the small of the back, but he hardly noticed the pain. All that mattered was that he ran faster than they did.
A rock hit the back of his knee and his leg buckled, the ankle screaming as it twisted a second time, and he fell. His knee hit the wet pavement and scraped backward, the book flying from his hand as he tried to break his fall. The shout of triumph behind him was terrifyingly close, and he blundered forward on his knees, trying to stand and reach for his book at the same time. His fingers had just touched the cover when the boot came down on top of him.
His face was pushed into the pavement, gravel scraping his cheek and his chin, dirty rain water seeping into his mouth. He tried to spit it out, cough, but the boy who pinned him merely laughed and pressed him down harder. Rain beat into his eyes, and he blinked fast against the drops, trying to regain some kind of sight. Pounding footsteps and ragged breath -- another set of boots passed into his vision, then a third.
"Nice throw, Fenton!" shouted a voice above him.
One of them -- he didn't know which -- trod on his fingers, and he cried out, instinctively snatching his hand away.
He tried to push himself up and twist away from the hated boot, but another came at him from the side straight into his stomach, stealing his breath.
"Marlow, Eric -- grab him."
Two pairs of hands seized him roughly round the arms and dragged him upright. He couldn't help but cringe as his weight shifted to his twice twisted ankle, and he breathed fast against the sharp whip of pain.
The boy named Fenton -- two years older, and at least a head taller -- squinted down at him.
"Take a look at what I've stepped in. Creeping, crawling, crazy Severus Snape." A cruel grin spread on Fenton's face, and he leaned forward to look Severus directly in the eye. "I'd rather have stepped in dog shit. The smell is easier to get rid of."
Severus pulled hard against the other two, unable to stop a strangled noise of frustration slipping out as it proved futile.
"Let me go!" he cried -- nearly sobbed -- his voice betraying him. "Leave me alone!"
"Let me go! Leave me alone!" Fenton mimicked as the other two laughed. The pincer grips on Severus' arms tightened. "Not 'til I've taught you what happens to people who try and run away from me, since the last times obviously haven't sunk in."
Another blow to the stomach, this time with a fist, and Severus doubled over. Marlow and Eric pushed him forward into the ground, laughing wildly as he gasped for air on his knees. Fenton planted a foot on Severus' shoulder and shoved him backward. Severus landed hard on his backside and his teeth clamped down on the tip of his tongue.
Something gritty and wet hit him in the side of the face, and he looked up in time to see Fenton bend down to grab a second handful of mud from the gutter. The two others howled delightedly, and soon all three of them were pelting him with dirt and debris.
Severus let them, tugging his knees up to his chin and pressing his face against his arms. The mud and gravel stung where it oozed into his scrapes, but it hurt less than their fists and their feet, and that was something.
Seemingly out of ammunition, Fenton leaned over and spat on him. Severus could feel where it hit him, warm where the rain was cool, and he felt his face burn red at this final indignity, but he did not move. Not even when Eric and Marlow leant over him as well. Then, with a final snicker, they seemed to move off.
Severus chanced to lift his head. They were standing slightly away from him as if surveying their handiwork, all cruel grins and dirty hands. Not sure if the torment was over or merely paused, Severus wiped a glob of mud from his chin. His scraped knee stung hotly and his trousers were torn from when he had fallen: there would be trouble for that when he got home. His ankle throbbed, already swelling, and there was a bitter taste of blood where he had bitten down on his tongue.
Not sure what he was supposed to do now -- the three boys seemed to be waiting for him to move -- Severus slowly reached for his book. It lay where it had fallen, now just in front of the three menacing figures above him, and for an instant as his fingers touched the spine he dared to hope that he was being dismissed, that they would let him retreat at this.
Of course not. Fenton's foot came down on the book, and Severus just managed to pull his hand away and avoid having it stepped on a second time.
"Another stupid book," Fenton grunted as he scooped it up. "What d'you want all these things for, they're rubbish without pictures."
"It's mine," Severus said, his voice sounding horribly small. "It's mine, give it back."
"Shut it," said Fenton, kicking up puddle water in Severus' face. "I'll tell you what's yours." He flipped the book over, shaking away the excess water, and read the title.
"Potions and How To Brew Them: A Beginner's Guide."
Fenton's eyes grew wide, and he stared down at Severus.
"What's he reading something like that for?" said Eric, eyeing the boy on the ground warily.
"He really is mental," said Marlow in awe.
"Going to mix up a poison, slimy, stinking Severus?" asked Fenton, his eyes narrowing dangerously. "Make us all sick or worse, so you can skulk around all you like? You creeping little toad."
They were closing in on him slowly, and cold dread wrapped around Severus' chest, his breath constricted and shallow. All amusement had left Fenton's eyes; he was serious now, and angry.
Severus pushed himself back, scrambling away from the three boys as they advanced on him.
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" said Fenton. "All of us chucking up blood and curled up on the floor. Give you a laugh, would it?
"Maybe stir up a love potion for one of the girls down the street after," continued Fenton. "Get yourself a nice girlfriend, have a little fun while we're dying in our beds."
Severus' back hit a brick wall, and he realized with a bolt of alarm that he hadn't a hope of getting away now.
"Well, we can't have that, sneaking, snotty Severus. We'll have to make real sure nothing like that happens," he nodded to the other two, who stepped forward, cracking their knuckles, their rain-streaked faces grim. "Real sure, so you don't forget. But first -- "
Fenton tore the cover of the book from the spine, and threw it to the ground.
Fenton laughed sharply, and pulled at a handful of pages, ripping them out in a crumpled, soggy bunch.
Severus dove toward the bigger boy, his mind only on his mother's book and the pieces of it now falling to the wet ground in torn clumps. Fenton danced backward, snatching the book away as Marlow and Eric grabbed at Severus' wrists, hauling him backward hard against the wall.
"No! Don't!" Severus shouted again, tears stinging his eyes as he struggled to free himself. There was no laughter now, only the sound of pages being torn. "Stop it! STOP!"
Suddenly, the book flew from Fenton's hands, straight up into the air then fell with a wet smack a few feet away. Severus' eyes darted upward, where Fenton stood gaping at his empty hands, and suddenly the three boys were thrown back off their feet, hard, as if pushed by some small explosion.
Severus stood numbly, breathing heavy, as if he hardly realized his arms were now free. Torn pages littered the street, and he couldn't help but stare at them, gulping air as if he had just been drowned.
Fenton, still dazed, was looking around the deserted block, as if searching for an accomplice. His gaze finally rested on the dark haired boy still standing, his eyes wide again. Several feet away on either side, Marlow and Eric were staring at Severus as if he were a ghost.
"What -- "
A deep, rolling growl sounded from the shadows, cutting him off. All of them turned sharply to stare as a large, matted brown dog slunk out of the darkness of the alley.
Eric, who was closest, let out a whimper.
The dog stepped low and surely, its lip pulled back in a snarl. It growled again, fixed on Fenton as it approached, but its eyes seemed unfocused and too wide, as if glazed over.
Severus held his breath, watching. He didn't dare move.
Fenton scrabbled backward on his bottom, fear struck and shaking. Eric and Marlow were already on their feet, backing away. The dog sank low on his haunches, flashing yellow teeth, and barked. The sound was harsh and throaty, half snarled and ripe with intent.
With a scream, Fenton stumbled to his feet and, hastily turning, set off at a run. Marlow and Eric were quick behind, and the dog took chase, howling and barking after them.
Severus stood frozen, but breathing again in deep, slow mouthfuls, listening as the cries of the three boys began to fade into the sound of the rain. Soon, it was only the rain. Then, quite suddenly, as if realizing what he'd done, he spun, looking to see if anyone had seen, if anyone had noticed.
The street was empty and quiet.
He stepped away from the wall, gingerly allowing some of his weight onto his injured ankle. It took it with protest, and Severus slowly limped toward the tattered remains of the potions book.
Fenton had ripped out at least a third of the pages, and Severus wiped his eyes with his sleeve, sniffing, swallowing tears back into his throat. He clutched the book to his chest, looking around at the torn paper.
Wincing as his ankle throbbed, he walked over to the pile of pages and set himself down, pushing his dripping, mud-streaked hair from his face as he reached for some of them. Carefully, he began pulling them apart, his heart sinking as he saw the ink was starting to bleed, some of the words already unreadable.
"You shouldn't allow them to bully you like that, you know."
Severus tensed, and his head turned.
From the shadows of an alley -- the same alley the dog had come from -- appeared a boy. Tall and thin, his blond hair was pulled back from a pale, pointed face, and he was older than Severus, probably fourteen or fifteen. He was dry, and walked through the rain as if it weren't there, as if a thin layer of something was stopping it from touching him.
He seemed to be studying Severus carefully, measuring him up. Severus' eyes were drawn down to the boy's right hand, where he held a thin wooden wand loosely.
"Not their kind," the boy continued, and he glanced down the street where the other three had fled, his lip curling as if disgusted. "Filthy, unworthy beasts. At least house elves make themselves useful, but Muggles..."
"You…" Severus said slowly, cautiously, remembering the dog's blank stare. "You set the dog on them?"
The blond boy looked back down at him. An amused smile played about his lips. "I did."
"Oh." Severus turned back to his book and picked up the torn cover. "Okay."
The boy arched a brow. "Aren't you going to thank me?"
Severus paused, eyeing the wand in the boy's hand enviously, then stood. "They'll just find me again tomorrow." He shrugged.
The boy eyed him thoughtfully. "What is your name?"
The boy snorted. "Your surname."
Severus' eyes fell to the ground. "Snape," he answered quietly.
"Snape… I don't know that name," said the boy. "Who is your father?"
"No one," Severus answered, turning his face. "He's no one."
"Hmm." The boy pursed his lips thinly, unsatisfied. "Your mother, then."
"Prince," Severus answered sullenly.
"Them I have heard of," the boy said. He seemed to consider, then held out his hand. "Give me your book."
Severus clutched the book tighter to his chest, suspicious. But then, what difference would it make? It was ruined anyway.
He held it out.
The pale boy took it, wrinkling his nose at the condition of it as he did so. He raised his wand and, giving the book a strong tap, said: "Reparo!"
"I don't think I've ever seen anyone make such a fuss over potions before," the blond boy drawled, examining the mended book a moment before he handed it back.
Severus took it, and tucked it into his jacket pocket where it would stay -- comparatively -- dry. "Thanks," he mumbled.
The boy spun his wand between his fingers, his head set to one side as he looked down on Severus. "I was watching, you know," he said finally, coldly. "I didn't think you were one of us at first -- well, just look at you…"
Severus felt his face redden, acutely aware of his appearance: his face was scraped and scratched, trousers torn, every bit of him dripping with mud and water. The rain was letting up now, just when it might have been useful to wash the muck from his hair and his clothes. Instead, the drizzling rain merely thinned it all, so it oozed down his forehead and dripped onto his nose.
"But then you pushed them away -- oh yes, that was you," the boy said matter-of-fact at Severus' look. "And so I turned that wretched animal on them. Mother is always telling me how important it is to appear… charitable. But I wonder," he finished, eyes narrowing. "Are you worth it?"
Severus said nothing, looking away. This boy's words were worse than the other boy's beating. This… Severus couldn't shake the feeling that he somehow deserved this.
"Snape…" said the boy, eye turned upward as he seemed to search his memory. He sneered. "Sounds Muggleish to me."
The boy glared down at Severus, who was staring intently at his feet.
"Interesting contradiction," the boy continued, crossing his arms over his chest and pursing his lips thoughtfully. "And not just your breeding. Disgraceful, a wizard running and cowering from mere Muggles like that."
He paused, as if allowing the humiliation of it to soak in. Then: "But… that was an impressive bit of magic for someone without training, and no wand. Perhaps there is more pure-blood than mudblood in you after all."
Severus looked up at this unexpected praise, surprised.
In between the rain there came the muffled sound of voices, then footsteps. Once more, the shadows of the alley broke, this time for a man, tall and white haired, leaning heavily on a black cane.
"Lucius!" he commanded.
The blond boy's chin lifted. "Yes father?"
His father's summons drew Lucius back toward the alley, but as he retreated, he flashed Severus a grin. "Forget potions," Lucius called out to him. "You're in need of something a bit more practical."
Advice given, Lucius turned his back, and stepped up to meet his father, pocketing his wand. The white haired man nodded to where Severus stood, and through chatter of rain, Severus heard him say: "Who is that?"
Lucius turned his head over his shoulder.
"No one," he answered pointedly. "He's no one."
Then, they turned back down the alley and disappeared.
It took Severus a long time to walk home, and by the time he arrived the storm was all but over. His clothes still dripped, but his face and hands had dried, the water leeching away to leave a thin layer of dust and dirt that cracked unpleasantly on his cheek. His ankle had swollen, and his feet were cold.
Yet for all his misery, there was no relief in his arrival, and he climbed the stone steps despondently. The tall town house leaned over him, disapproving lamp light flickering sternly in the sitting room window, which could only mean his grandmother was entertaining. He spared a brief regret for his unfortunate timing, then pushed open the door and went inside.
Soft, indistinct conversation drifted out into the entry way, and Severus closed the door behind him with the quietest of clicks, holding his breath.
Not quiet enough.
A moment and she was standing in the hallway, her footsteps having made no sound on the parquet floors. Someday, Severus reflected, he would know the secret of how she managed to move about the house so silently and so quickly. He could never hear her coming, but when he looked up -- inevitably, unnervingly -- she would already be there.
She looked down on him, somehow without lowering her chin, so that her eyes were narrow slits with piercing black holes. He could feel them on him, taking in his scraped face, his wet and muddied hair, his blood-stained and torn trousers with critical contempt.
When she finally spoke to him, her scratching voice was pitched low so that her guests would not hear.
"You will go upstairs and get rid of your ruined clothes and wash up," she ordered, coldly. "Then you will take your mother her dinner, and return to your room. You will do so quietly, and without being seen in this embarrassing state. We will talk about this," the word was hissed between clenched teeth, "later."
With a final cutting look, his grandmother turned away.
It was a relief to remove his wet clothes, and he unceremoniously dumped them in the rubbish bin after drawing the potion book from the pocket and setting it near the small heating stove where it would dry out more quickly. He allowed himself five minutes of unbearably hot water in the shower, closing his eyes and letting it burn away the residue of the afternoon while he tried not to remember the feeling of being spat on, or the reproachful look of Lucius muttering about Muggleish names.
He dressed, then soundlessly went down to the kitchen. There was a tray waiting for him with two plates, fresh and still steaming warm. He could hear the small pat-a-pat of elf feet in the dining room, and he guessed Tins was busy setting the dining table with a more formal supper for his grandmother's company. Severus considered it more pardon than punishment that he had been told not to attend, and he took the tray, stealing back up the stairs. Leaving the tray in his room, he took one plate and pocketed one of the napkin-rolled packets of cutlery, then continued on up to the third floor landing and the closed door in the corner of it.
He pushed open the door tentatively, peering through the slice of space between it and the jam, checking to see what kind of day it had been.
She was sleeping in the chair in the corner of the room, surrounded by flakes of shredded paper and clutching a framed photo to her chest, like a child clinging to a teddy bear. Books lay pressed open at her feet and a quill lay forgotten on the floor where it had dripped a small pool of black ink.
Severus side-stepped into the room, closing the door softly behind him. He navigated a path round stacks of books and piles of abandoned parchment covered in his mother's thick, circular handwriting to the night table, where he set the plate down. Unrolling the cutlery, he put them aside and dutifully covered the food with the napkin to keep the warmth a little longer, even as he doubted she would ever get around to eating any of it.
Something strong smelling and sour caught his attention, and he looked down to see his mother's collection of prize gobstones had been knocked from the shelf with enough force that they had spilled from the bag and rapped against each other, leaving a pool of foul liquid on the hardwood. He bent down to shepherd them back into the bag without really knowing why, reaching with searching fingers under the bed to find the stragglers, and was surprised when his hand found something slim and wooden instead.
His mother's wand.
The handle was coated in the same sour fluid that soaked the floor, which he wiped away with the sleeve of his shirt. He cast a curious look over his shoulder at the woman slumped in the chair, then back down at the wand.
Standing, he picked his way across the room to her chair, then reached to lay the wand on the small table next to her where she would surely find it once she woke up. A book title caught his eye, red print against a black leather cover, and he bent down to read it.
Curses and Counter Curses, by Vindictus Veridian.
Severus paused, his hand with the wand floating inches above the table. A drawling voice echoed the words 'something a bit more practical' snidely in his ear.
His heart drummed unexpectedly in his chest, and he swallowed. Cautiously, he looked over at his mother, her face covered by her thick, unkept hair. A harshness crept through him as his eyes were drawn to the framed portrait she clenched so dearly; an unmoving portrait of a black haired man with an ill-tempered smile.
Looking back to the book, he decided in a moment.
He pocketed the wand, pulling his shirt over to hid the handle, and plucked the book from the table. Somehow, he knew the absence of either would not soon be missed. She had thrown it away, after all, and he certainly had more use for it now than she did.
Without another look, he swiftly left the room, closing the door on her. As he padded down the stairs back to his room, the memory of a boy screaming in terror while a dog growled made him smile.