Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Five years ago the name would've tasted like the finest of sugars of his naiive tongue. An unspoken prayer that had finally been answered, familiar fingers carefully massaging away his stabbing internal aches, a solitary light peeking through a dense cloud of gloom and despair, glistening with the promise of change, the death of the old, and the joyful reincarnation of something far better than that which had preceded it.
But by now, (he was scarcely two weeks into his sixth year at the alleged school of promise) Severus Snape had long since realized how foolhardy his assumptions had been. Hogwarts had turned out to be no more a sanctuary for him than than his own vacuous, empty home. The endless stone corridors struck no chord of affection in his resolute heart, nor did the dank, musty odor of mistrust that pervaded the Slytherin common room. At this point, he was beginning to wonder if the shelter he'd longed for as a boy even existed. It had been nearly a year since he'd started having nightmares. He rarely even recalled what about the horrendous dreams had awoken such dischord within him. Tossing and turning far into the early hours of the morning, he would awake drenched in icy perspiration, screaming words and phrases so incomprehensible that they seldom made sense even to himself. This undoubtedly contributed to his ever-growing unpopularity among his dormitory companions. Usually, these sudden fits ended when Lucius Malfoy stalked malevolently over to Severus's bed and kicked him roughly in the ribs, commanding him to "shut your bleeding mouth or I'll give you something to scream about." The abused would then recoil like a beaten animal and try unsuccessfully to lull himself back to a sleep.
However insufferable his nights frequently became, they were dwarfed by the emotional pain that bombarded him during the day. The scrawny, sickly pale young boy was often seen keeping no other company but himself and his studies. Perhaps it was his sour, resentful disposition that drove the other children away. Or perhaps it was fear. Fear of this scowling, ill-tempered boy who'd known more about the darkest of magic in his first year than many accumulated in a lifetime. Fear that they might be slaugtered in a flash of emerald light dare they insult his cadaverous skin or his greasy black hair.
Truthfully, it had made little difference to him. He was not the type to enjoy keeping company. He was perfectly content to be left alone, left to boil in his own fierce emotions. But that was not enough for some. Some of the students, Severus believed, namely a certain quartet of Gryfindor boys, seemed to exist only to haunt him with visions of what he himself could never have.
Sirius Black, a statuesque, handsome sixth year, seemed to take particular delight in harassing him. He had come from a renowned, yet financially unstable family and had recieved more adoration in his life than he knew what to do with. But the effects of his roguish charm didn't end when he'd left his home, oh no. Sirius Black was one of two Hogwarts pupils who could get whatever he wanted from almost anyone, while all the while putting forth absolutely no effort. Severus reckoned Sirius could get away with murder if he tried hard enough...
He wasnt particularly fond of Severus, either. In fact, Sirius often went well out of his way to arrange cruel pranks on him, address him unpleasently, or otherwise humiliate and infuriate him. All things considered, Severus detested the boy.
However excessively confident Sirius Black was, he was rarely seen without the company of the slight, sweet-faced adolescent known as Remus Lupin. A good natured, remarkably intelligent student, very little was known about Black's cheerfully subdued companion. He had entered Hogwarts in a veil of mystery and, for all that some cared, would leave it in exactly the same manner. Severus had never felt any personal reason to begrudge this meditative boy, aside from the slight twinge of pity that shimmered in his restless eyes when they looked upon Severus. But, being a Slytherin youth, that was quite enough. However, there was one thing that perturbed him about this gentle being. It was diffcult to ignore his routine absences at stratigic times of the month. From what he'd heard, it was quite uncharacteristic of Remus to shrug off school. He found it very disconcerting indeed...
The third, and perhaps least worthy of mention, of these Gryfindor nuisances was a squat, timid child by the name of Peter Pettigrew. Severus marveled at how this figety little piglet of a boy had managed to weasel his way into Gryfindor house. No, he'd have been much better suited to Hufflepuff, Severus supposed, perhaps even Slytherin. After all, he'd spent the larger part of six years simpering in the shadows of his accomplished companions, observing their feats and partaking of the spoils. Severus would've disliked him even if he had been a Slytherin.
And then there was James Potter. James Potter, the flawless charmer who escaped punishment because of his amiable demeanor. James Potter, the athletically peak Quidditch captain. James Potter, with more friends and admirers than the whole of his house put together. James Potter, the very bane of his existence.
In all his six years at Hogwarts, Severus had never actually spoken directly with James. He'd always made sure to turn down the opposite corridor when the Gryfindor icon came even remotely close to him. But mere reputation was enough to justify his hatred. He watched this golden boy as he won match after match, caused a general ruckus with his intolerable friends, and partook in sickenly gratuitous public displays of affection with his girlfriend, Lily Evans, a stunningly beautiful, quick-witted Gryfindor goddess. There was not a single day that went by in which Severus did not wish agonizingly that this child deity would discover what real pain was. Pain so bitter and so traumatizing that its Mark remained for years to come...Pain like the pain that Severus had to endeavor every minute of his dreary, shadowed life. 'That would wipe the smirk of the bastard's face,' he thought, wickedly amused. The very idea brought a rare smile to the corners of his thin mouth. These days, it often seemed he'd forgotten how to smile, how to experience emotion of any sort, for that matter...
But, even more than all the praise he recieved, more than his arrogance, more than his status as a veritable prince, there was one thing about James Potter that Severus held even greater hatred for--the sympathetic twinkle in his tawny eyes every time they fell upon Severus. Sympathy. The word tasted like gall on his lips. If there was one thing his atrocious childhood had taught him, it was not to accept sympathy from anyone. Especially not from the Gryfindor boy-god, James Potter. Just because his life was so fucking perfect. Severus would rather twist and writh under the strongest Cruciatus curse than ever welcome any feeling of pity from James Potter. Severus chuckled cynically to himself. Hell, the Cruciatus sounded almost inviting compared to torment he'd already experienced in his brief lifetime. An Unforgivable in itself...
So here he was, drowning in self-hatred under the scrutiny of sightless eyes. He was physically struggling to merely to stay awake in Arithmancy class this particular day, the droning voice of the ancient little witch who taught it lulling him into long forgotten sleep. But not for long. Soon, his slumber was plagued with the all too familiar images of destructive flames, ripping apart everything that dared step into their path. And the eyes...the enormous, intense eyes of bleeding crimson set deep into a face that could've been dead itself. The hollow face laughed at his pain, a shrill, icy cackle that froze his very blood. It reached out a withered, bony hand to him, beckoning...drawing ever closer...until...CRASH!
Severus jolted from his nap, disoriented, darting his dazed eyes around the classroom in search of the source of the noise.
"Oh, did I wake you Snake-I mean, Snape?" The razor-sharp voice of none other than Sirius Black met his ears. He was standing directly in front of Severus, holding the remains of a large pile of textbooks, many of which now laid disheveled on Severus's desk. "So sorry. How could I have been so clumsy?" He leered at the still exhausted Slytherin boy, enjoying the exasperated expression gracing his misshapen features as he began to put two and two together.
"I haven't the faintest idea, Black," he spat the name as if it were poison on his lips, "Now, if you be so kind, uncharacteristic of you as it is, to tell me what is that you want."
Sirius studied him thoughtfully for a moment, then sighed, choosing to keep his mask of false cheer.
"Oh come on, Sevvy"- Severus cringed at hearing himself addressed so- "why must do you always assume that I want something? Isn't enough to just talk to my dear friend?" He rumpled Severus's hair playfully, mock dancing exuberantly in his azure eyes.
"Fuck off, Black," he retorted tartly, swatting Sirius's hand away from his hair. Sirius's eyes widened in false shock.
"Such language," he exclaimed, clicking his tongue reprovingly. "Now, you wouldn't say that if you knew what I was about to tell you."
"Nothing you could possibly have to say could lift my spirits, Black. Now, if you please, leave me alone, I'm going to be late for Transfiguration." Severus stood up and headed for the door, only to find Sirius blocking his path. The false congeniality had disapeared from his eyes; in its place, a menacing gleam.
"Oh, I strongly doubt that, Snape." Severus glared at the boy, frustration giving way to silent fury.
"Get out of my way," he hissed, stepping aside. But Sirius followed his still, staring intently.
"If you value your life," he breathed, "I suggest you remove yourself from my path."
"I couldnt help but notice how fascinated you are with my friend Remus's little...er, disapearances."
Severus's expression shifted. He had not expected that to be the topic of their confrontation. It was true, Remus was absent that day, and Severus couldn't help but take notice...
"Wouldn't you like to know why he disapears? Why he feels he must leave the sanctity of the castle once every month?"
Severus sneered, his black eyes flashing. "I had attributed to female problems."
It was as if someone had snipped the invisible cord holding Sirius dormant. He lifted the lighter boy by the collar and shoved his spindly form against the wall.
"Don't you EVER talk shit about Remus!" he screamed, his hands trembling. "Especially in my presence!" He slammed Severus against the brick harder this time, knocking the wind out of him. Severus figured he must of hit a buried nerve...
"Sirius, leave him alone," spoke a voice Severus was less than thrilled to hear. James Potter placed a firm hand on his friends shoulder, loosening the enraged boy's grip on his prey. "It's gone far enough," he pleaded. Sirius shrugged him off, glaring at him.
"Easy for you to say," he retorted quietly, not wanting to be overheard. He let go of Severus's collar and the victim recoiled, slightly confused by Potter's choice of words. But he had little time to ponder it as Black turned back to him, his composure regained.
"As I was saying...doesn't it interest you in the least? Don't lie to me...I know these things."
"Yes," Severus admitted finally, not wishing to feel the icy brick against his skull once more. "For a Gryfindor, you're very observant. It does interest me. But why are you willing to tell me this? What's in it for you?"
"I'm glad you asked that. You see, I just happen to have a particularly nasty Potions essay due tommorrow, and you're so much better than me in Potions, you know."
Severus fought back an amused grin. Sirius Black admitting someone else to be better than him? It had to be a historic event. He wanted to record the humbled look on the Gryfindor's face for all posterity to see.
"Alright, I accept."
Sirius grinned, a smile Severus should've known looked awfully suspicious..."You know the Whomping Willow, right? The huge tree at the edge of the--"
"Only a dunce wouldn't, Black, get to the point."
"Like I said, you know the Whomping--"
"Perhaps I should leave you to your Potions essay, it looks like you have a lot of--"
"There's a knot on its trunk," Sirius hurried, "If you press it, the tree's movement will be suspended. All you have to do is find a long stick, prod the knot, and it'll stop moving long enough for you to get halfway down the tunnel."
"The one leading to Remus!" he exclaimed this as if it were blatantly obvious.