The Last Resort
It had been a pleasant day, in late April. Severus' parents had decided to host a social function at the manor. Many of their peers were attending - the Rosiers, the Wilkeses, the Malfoys, and others as well. A number of those invited brought their children. Some were small - only a year or two older than Severus. Most were young adolescents, already jaded by wealth and eager to be sent off to boarding school. A few were teenagers - perfect young ladies and gentlemen who became gossips or schemers or vicious bullies as soon as their parents' backs were turned.
Watching by the entrance as the butler took the coats of arriving guests, Severus briefly found himself on the receiving end of a hard glare from one of the more dangerous teenagers visiting his home. He paid the person little mind, and in a matter of moments he was sent off with the rest of the little boys and girls to play in the flower garden.
He was soon pulled into a game of hide-and-seek by two visiting children - Roland Wilkes and Evander Rosier. "How old are you?" asked Roland.
"I'm six," he said, without inflection.
"Well, we're eight, so you have to do what we say. You're it. Go by that tree over there and count to thirty. When you're done, look for us. If you tag me, then I'm it. If you tag Evan over there, then he's it. Got it?"
Severus nodded solemnly.
Roland scowled. "You've got weird eyes, you know that?" Severus only blinked in response. Roland shook his head. "Well go on, then - start counting. Remember not to look until you're done."
"One," Severus murmured, "Two. Three. Four." A large shadow fell over him. "Five. Six. Sev -" Suddenly, a hand grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around.
Severus looked up with his curious black eyes. He found himself staring into the face of the same person he'd caught eying him earlier. The boy went by the name of Aneirin Benmort. He was a thuggish character, about fourteen years of age, who made his fun in tormenting the small and helpless. A cruel smile twisted his face. "Why, look at this," he smirked. "It's a house elf. Shouldn't you be in the kitchens?"
Severus shook his head in confusion.
"Running out on your duties, are you? Shame on you, elf. You masters will not be pleased." With that, the boy kneed Severus viciously in the stomach.
Severus grunted softly. Angry that he hadn't elicited more of a reaction, Aneirin continued his taunting. "So you're a brave little elf, are you? Not going to cry?"
Again, Severus said nothing. This only served to further infuriate the older boy. His eyes narrowed, and a low growl gurgled in his throat. "Not going to scream for mummy?" he jeered, wrapping a large hand around Severus' throat and shoving him up against the tree until his feet no longer touched the ground.
Something deeper than fear and surer than panic flickered in Severus' inhumanly dark eyes. He began to squirm wildly, clawing at the hand constricting his throat. Small, choked, animal whimpers emerged from his throat. His assailant only laughed and tightened his grip. "Not so brave now, are we?"
Severus began to weaken, his vision blurring from lack of air. His struggles tapered off as his lungs constricted painfully. Aneirin laughed, a look of satisfaction painted across his features. "I could crush you, you know. All I'd have to do is squeeze just a little bit harder. Your windpipe would crack like a pomegranate. And you wouldn't be able to do a thing about it. It's pathetic, really."
At those words, Severus stilled completely. Pleased with this act of submission, Aneirin began to laugh coldly, leaning in close to waft rank breath over his captive's face. The movement inadvertently caused his grip to loosen. Severus took the opportunity to gasp quietly, sucking in precious air through clenched teeth.
Oxygenated blood rushed to his brain. Mindless panic converted to purposeful intent. Something shifted over the small, pointed face, flickered in the coal-black eyes, fluttered along the narrow mouth. Severus smiled, and exhaled in a hiss - "You have no idea what I'm capable of."
The boy stopped laughing. Half-formed fear flitted through his mind. Dim terror skirted the bare edge of his consciousness. He felt an urge to flee. The instinct came too late. Thin arms shot out and grabbed him by the hair. Small fingers clenched and yanked forward. Dark eyes narrowed with malice. And Severus, pressing his lips to Aneirin's, pulled the soul from the boy's body in one long, deep inhalation.
This is what killing is to a dementor. Breath.
Aneirin's hand slid away from Severus' throat. His body swayed and fell, hitting the ground with a quiet thump. Severus slid down the tree and knelt beside the prostrate form. He reached out with trembling fingers to touch the rapidly cooling skin of his victim. Of his victim's corpse.
Awkwardly, he clambered to his feet. He heard twigs snapping behind him, and turned around to find himself face to face with Evander Rosier.
"We got tired of waiting for you," the boy said, his voice whining with accusation. "And Roland had to use the loo. We..." Suddenly, Evan noticed the dark purple bruises around Severus' neck, the slight tremor in his hands, the mute horror in his gaze. "What happened?" He ventured. "Are you alright?"
He reached out to touch the bruises. Severus jerked violently away from the contact, wild panic in his gaze. "Don't touch me," he screamed. "Don't..."
Choking on his own words, Severus simply stared at Evander, a wordless apology shining in his black eyes. The silence stretched on. Severus seemed to grow more agitated. His skin took on a sickly cast. Suddenly, he fell to his hands and knees, retching violently over a nearby rose bed.
Wisps of ectoplasm drifted from the sour mess. They swirled together, forming a ghostly apparition. The diaphanous figure floated briefly over the prone form of Aneirin Benmort, then dissipated in the warm spring air.
Evan blinked. He turned to Severus, eying the boy with something akin to wonder. Severus met his gaze for a brief moment, then pushed himself upright and ran frantically out of the garden.
Severus hurled himself through the manor doors. He raced through the foyer and down the main hallway, cutting though the dining room and into the sitting area where his stepmother entertained her socialite friends. Camilla watched with stunned surprise as her strange, quiet son wrapped his arms around her knees, buried his face in her skirts, and broke into silent, wracking sobs.
She knelt down on the floor, sitting back on her haunches so she was nearly eye-level with her son. She cupped his small sharp face between her hands, soothing away his tears with the pads of her thumbs. "Severus, darling," she cried, "what is wrong?" every maternal instinct she possessed screaming in anguish. This was all very wrong. Severus did not cry. Severus did not shake with fear. Severus was a living stone.
"What's wrong, darling? Please, tell me."
But Severus was six years old. He knew not how to explain games of tag or the cruelty of young men. No words could describe the hungry swallowing of a life, the choking upheaval of bile, the cloying scent of flowers and fresh death. The realities of guilt and regret were beyond his ability to comprehend.
He knew only that something had changed. His other nature had always shielded him from the tide of human emotion that churned within him. It had protected him from joy, from anguish, from terror. But things were different now. A boy had been killed, and Severus had learned to fear. He had learned to fear his own power, his very nature, even. No dark heritage could protect Severus from himself.
Camilla could not get her son to speak. When her questions garnered no response from him, she decided to go to the place where he had been playing to discover the source of his trauma. She handed Severus over to his nanny, then fisted her skirts and ran hastily down hallways and through back-doors towards the garden gate.
Within a minute, Camilla arrived at her destination. She went cold with shock at the sight that greeted her. There, in the grass, lay the dead boy. His eyes were open, but sightless. His nostrils were flared and his lips were parted as if he had frozen in mid-pant. The image burned into her mind, obliterating rational thought. "Oh," she whispered, brokenly, her hand flying to her mouth in distress.
She stood and stared for what seemed an eternity. Then, an urgent mewl cut through her horror-induced catatonia. Camilla looked down too find Lord Rosier' son Evander tugging urgently at her skirts, his small fingers knotting around the outer seam of the garment. Just beyond him stood Roland looking up at her with a terrified gaze. She squatted before the two children, the indignity of the position hidden by her skirts, and rested her palms on Evander's shoulders. "Do you know what happened?" she said softly.
The boy nodded.
"Well, then - I need you to tell me a story..."
The proper authorities were alerted, and men were sent to investigate. They determined that Aneirin had attacked Severus from the evidence of bruises around the child's throat and the stuttering testament of Evander Rosier. It was assumed that Aneirin's assault had triggered a defense mechanism - a reflexive burst of magic powerful enough to kill. Luthien suspected that only an executioner at Azkaban would have been able to recognize the true cause of death.
The incident was written off as an accident. The body was carried away. The funeral was brief.
And no member of the Benmort family set foot on the Snape estate ever again.
Luthien saw what had happened as a breakthrough of sorts. Finally, he had discovered the key to unlocking Severus' humanity. Ironically, that key lay in Severus' dementor nature. It was the boy's expression of dark magic that had finally managed to evoke an emotional response in him.
Luthien concluded from this revelation that the only way to help Severus be fully human was to thoroughly explore his inhuman side. He chose to make it his duty as a father to embrace this aspect of Severus - to nurture it. Camilla, of course, was less than supportive of this decision. If Severus had learned to feel anything from his experience in the garden, it was fear or guilt or grief. "Let it be," she urged her husband. "Some things are best forgotten."
But Luthien would not - instead, he drew his wife into his arms and placed a chaste kiss on her forehead and said, "It is for the best, my love. I promise you, it is for the best."
After that, he immersed himself in monster lore and the dark arts. He stowed away in the dungeons of the manor, researching noxious potions and vicious hexes. He told Severus the truth of his parentage, and forced the child to tap into the evil that was part of his genetic makeup, part of his very soul. He taught his son curses and invocations no child should know. He pushed the boy to the limits of human endurance.
He went too far.
One of the most obvious of dementors' abilities was that which allowed them to sense emotions, twist them, and devour them. Luthien believed that Severus had this power, although he had never seen any demonstration. He decided to train his son in wielding it. He forced Severus to practice on house elves, despite vehement protestations. When nothing came of the boy's efforts, he rained down punishments until...until...
Camilla found him lying insensate on the stone floor of the dungeon. She discovered Severus crouched in the corner, weeping in fear. Or guilt. Or grief. The child had stolen every last happy moment from his father's fragile, human mind. "I tried," he sobbed. "I tried to give them back." But the memories were spoilt, desiccated. They would not pour neatly back into their original receptacle, but instead only sloughed off like dead skin.
Aurors came to investigate. They judged Luthien's condition to be the result of a hex gone horribly wrong - a fitting end for anyone foolish enough to meddle in the dark arts. Luthien was carted of to St. Mungo's, where he lived out his days in a ward for the incurably insane.
Camilla was shunned by her peers when the news of her husband broke out. Gossip followed her everywhere. At home, she had only Severus to look upon, and her own guilt to look forward to. She had failed to save Luthien. She had failed to protect Severus.
She thought of Evelyn, and of broken promises.
She thought of her son. He was to turn nine within a month. She wanted to give him a gift that could not be lost or stolen, like innocence - something his true mother would have wanted for him. Atonement.
She called in a favor from an old friend. On the eve of Severus' birthday, she tucked him into bed and placed a kiss on his forehead and a slip of parchment in his hand.
~Dear Mr. Snape,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry...~
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