A Warning

The bright summer sunlight made dappled patches of black on the thick lawn that grew at the base of the huge chestnut tree. A young boy was resting, lying on his back with one leg dangling over the side of the branch. Tall and skinny, he had long thin gangling arms and legs that looked like he never got enough to eat. Long black hair covered his face and he brushed it absentmindedly from his coal black eyes. Yawning he stretched his legs slightly, careful not to move too much on the overhanging branch. His eyes narrowed as he listened carefully. He could hear them walking towards him. Not yet. He kept telling himself. Wait. Their footsteps grew louder and he heard a giggle. A soft girlish giggle. That was the sound he had been waiting for.

A smirk crossed his face and he let go of the balloon he had been holding in his arms. The balloon weighted by the water inside it fell like a stone on top of the girl walking beneath. Laughing to himself, Severus scrambled further up the tree to view the effects of the water bomb. Down below him stood a young girl a couple of years younger than himself, perhaps about eight or nine.

Soaking wet, she stood there, her hands stretched outwards on the ends of her extended arms as she stared down at her dress. The girl squealed again and then began to cry. Sobbing, she covered her face with her hands. Remorse wiped the smirk from his face, and he clambered down the tree pulling a grubby handkerchief from the pocket of his torn and stained jeans and handed it to her.

She stood there and stared at him, her blue eyes rimmed with tears. Her lips trembled and then she screamed in pure terror. Dropping the puppy she had been carrying, she ran for her life towards the road. Severus’ eyes grew wide in horror as the driver of the car slammed on the brakes, screeching horribly.

He held up his hand as if to push the girl to safety, knowing it was hopeless. And then stared as the girl reappeared on the neatly manicured lawn on the other side of the road. The car finally stopped right where the young girl had been and a woman climbed out shakily. She walked around to the front of the car and wept, staring underneath the bonnet of her car.

“I’ve killed her!” She wailed, clutching her stomach. “Oh my…”

Neighbours came running out of their houses to see what was going on. A young woman grabbing the young girl by the shoulders and holding her close to her skirts. Severus swallowed and stepped back into the shade of the tree. He didn’t want to be seen.

It was too late though. A man came striding towards him angrily. Severus felt his shirt tighten around his throat as the man pulled him forwards. “You!” He hissed angrily. “What have you done?”

“Nothing!” Severus stammered, glancing around uneasily. “I…”

“It’s alright Matthew, she’s unharmed.” The young woman spoke, walking over towards them bringing the girl with her. She placed a hand on the man’s arm and looked at Severus. “I’m sure you didn’t mean any harm with the water balloon. Kate should have looked before she ran across the road. Thankfully Mrs Walker managed to stop in time.” She breathed a sigh of relief and hugged the girl to her once more.

The man called Matthew released Severus and scowled at him once more before turning his attention to his wife and daughter. He glanced back at Severus. “I’ll have words with your father boy. Make no mistake about that.”

“Yes sir.” Severus replied quietly and glanced at the girl once more. He knew he had saved her life, pushed her out of the road of the car. Matthew grabbed hold of his shoulder and marched him towards the house. Severus didn’t try to resist him; he knew it would be futile. He knew he would be punished.

His mother was standing in the doorway, her hand to her mouth in shock as she surveyed the scene. Mrs Snape was also tall and thin with dark hair and a cold angry face. Her thin lips were even thinner than normal and she glared at her son. Grabbing hold of Severus, she pulled him into the house and went to pull the door shut behind them, but the man Matthew stuck his foot in the door.

“Mrs Snape.” He hissed angrily. “Your son almost killed my daughter today. Hiding in trees, throwing water bombs on little girls!”

“He’s just a boy.” His mother began. “He would…” She fell silent though, feeling a hand on her shoulder.

“Inside boy.” Came a low growling voice. Severus swallowed and slipped inside. He didn’t waste any time but walked quickly up the stairs to his bedroom and shut the door. Sitting down on the edge of his bed to await his punishment. He closed his ears against the argument that was continuing down stairs.

All too soon, he heard the front door shutting and the sound of his fathers cane on the stairs. Severus swallowed and rose, wiping his hands on his jeans as his father came into the room. His fathers cold black gaze fell on him and he felt himself shrinking back. Mr Snape was tall and bone thin, resembling a walking skeleton. He had short dark hair spattered with grey and cold evil looking eyes.

Wordlessly, Severus handed him the thin leather strap that hung on a hook behind his bedroom door. Closing his eyes he tried to forget about the pain. Tried to think of anything but what was happening.

His father grunted as if satisfied and handed him back the strap. “You will stay in your room boy, until I decide on a suitable punishment.”

“Yes sir.” Severus whispered, choking back tears. His jeans felt raw against the skin. He could feel blood dripping down his leg. Sitting down gingerly on the edge of his bed again he stared at the worn spot on the carpet. It was not his fault.  The breeze coming in through the open window changed slightly, he looked up blinking through hot tears. His legs ached as he moved stiffly, pulling the window shut. His mother would be upset if he let rain come inside.

There was a small wooden stool under the window, it only had two of it’s three legs, but he sat down on it gently. It wobbled beneath him, threatening to throw him off onto the floor. Sighing heavily, he placed his head in his crossed arms and stared out the window at the heavy droplets of rain.

His real punishment was yet to come. The strapping was nothing. Closing his eyes, he wished he could go. Somewhere, anywhere. Why hadn’t his letter come? Was he not to be allowed to go to Hogwarts?

A tear dripped from the end of his long hooked nose and he wiped it away with the back of his hand and sniffed. Sticking out from under the end of his bed, he spied the black leather binding of a book. One of his mothers. He reached down and pulled it out, turning the pages gently.

He had been so sure … he was eleven, almost twelve and still his letter hadn’t come. He was a wizard, he could do magic. Why hadn’t his letter from Hogwarts come? The voices of his parents floated up the stairs. They were arguing again. Automatically, his hands closed over them, blocking out the sound of the raised voices. He didn’t want to hear it. Didn’t want to hear the dull thump of his fathers fist as it hit his mothers body.

“I don’t know what he did Tobias.” Mrs Snape said in an exasperating tone, she sounded tired. “I can sense it slightly, but not enough to make out what happened.” Her voice dropped. “If I can sense it, then someone at the Ministry is bound to and …”

“Your ruddy mother is to blame.” Mr Snape hissed as he slammed the end of his cane into the floor and sniffed loudly.

“Don’t start that again Tobias, please.” Eileen pleaded. “It’s been almost sixteen years. I … I’m used to it by now.”

Tobias snorted angrily. “Don’t give me that rubbish Eileen, you would have the spell reversed if you could. Even the boy knows that! I saw you last night, you think I didn’t hear you weeping?”

Severus opened his door slightly, and crept down the stairs, halting just out of sight of the living room. His parents were facing each other angrily. His father stalking the room, tapping the floorboards with the end of his steel cane. His mother looked sad, sunken and defeated. Her shoulders sagged and he could see tears in her dark eyes.

“Tobias.” She said quietly. “Am I wrong to wish things were different? Am I wrong to wish-”

His father stood before her, an angry light in his eyes. “You regret it don’t you? You regret that night in Italy. I know what you’ve given up for me Eileen. You still collect paper cuttings about that Malfoy. Why Eileen? You still have feelings for him?”

His fathers hand was raised to strike her across the face as Severus came racing down the stairs between them. “No!” He shrieked, pushing his father out of the way. “I did it.” He said. “I took it.”

“Severus, please.” His mother said calmly, touching him on the shoulder. “Go back to your room, this has nothing to do with you. Tobias!” She shrieked as her husband lashed out with his cane, striking their son on the shoulder and knocking him over.

She leaned over her son, helping him to his feet and gave her husband a dark look.

“You mollycoddle him Eileen!” Tobias roared, spittle flying from his lips. “I will not have my son turned into some mama’s boy.”

Severus cried in pain as the cane struck him on his behind, he could feel the fresh scars break open and felt blood oozing again. His dark eyes flashed angrily and the curtains on the windows flapped as the lights flickered. “Never do that again.” He hissed through clenched teeth, raising his fists as if he would fight his father.

“You would dare tell your father what to do boy?” Tobias hissed angrily, stomping closer to him. Severus held his ground, lowering his fists, he met his fathers eyes. Tobias snorted angrily but turned away. “He’s got your father in him too I don’t doubt. Go to your room boy.”

Severus blinked for a moment, giving his mother an anxious glance, he walked slowly up the stairs again and shut his bedroom door. He knew they would continue arguing, they always did. Throwing himself on his bed, he pulled the book before him again and read. Putting his hands over his ears to shut out the noises from below. Finally, he heard the back door slam. Closing the book quietly, he rose from his bed, checked to ensure it was tidy before venturing slowly down the stairs again.

His mother was seated on a wooden chair by the old rickety kitchen table, her hands holding her face as she wept. Swallowing the lump that rose in his throat, Severus picked up the old white porcelain tea pot and filled it with water before placing the kettle on the stove to boil.

Mrs Snape looked up at him sadly, her deep blue eyes red-rimmed and filled with tears. Already the bruising was starting to appear. “Severus.” She said quietly. “Your … your father means well. He …” A soft sigh escaped her trembling lips and she rose, patting Severus on the shoulder as she took over making the pot of tea. Busying herself with the packet of tea leaves and cutting two thin slices of cake.

“He is concerned.” She said at last. “We all are, you must be careful. You don’t seem to realise that.”

“I am careful.” He replied quietly, staring out the window. “I knew what I was doing.”

“Did you?” Mrs Snape hissed, turning to face him and seizing him by the shoulders, shaking him slightly. “You know the law Severus. No magic – ever. No excuses. You may not be in Hogwarts- ”

“I know.” Severus spat angrily. “I must behave as if I already am. No magic. But if I hadn’t done something, that girl – ”

“You think the Ministry will let you off with that excuse?” Mrs Snape hissed at him. “You know what happens to those who perform magic in front of Muggles, you know the consequences!”

Her son’s pale face paled even more and he hung his head staring down at his scuffed shoes. “Azkaban.”

Mrs Snape sighed and touched his shoulder again, forcing him to look up at her. “You think I want you to end up the same way Severus? I don’t want you, and neither does your father, to make the same mistake I did. I thought I was doing the right thing, the honourable thing. But there is a difference between right and honour, remember that.”

Severus nodded to himself and slipped away quietly up to his room, pulling the crooked two legged chair over to the window, he climbed up to sit on the ledge and pulled himself out along the branches of the tree, gazing down into the yard next door. He could see a boy about his own age playing with a long piece of wood that was strangely carved, he was standing at one end of the yard, behind him a narrow stick had been dug into the ground and stuck up just above knee height. The girl, he could barely see was standing at the other side of the yard, bouncing a small yellowish ball.

“Come on Katie, bowl it!” The boy called, tapping the ground with the end of the wooden thing. The girl did a half run, half skip for a few steps before flinging the ball at her brother, who raised the wooden thing striking the ball firmly in mid-flight and sending it flying over the fence.

“Good one Connor!” Katie exclaimed, placing both hands on her hips. “Now what are we going to do?”

“You threw it, you go get it.” Connor shouted back, scratching his nose.

Katie gasped in indignation. “You hit it over the fence!” she exclaimed. “You’re out, you can go get it!”

“Ha ha, shows how much you know about cricket!” Connor retorted, sticking his tongue out at her. “Over the fence is six runs, so there! Now go get the ball.”

“I’m not going in there!” Katie gasped, backing away from her brother.

Severus slid down the trunk of the tree and picked up the ball, staring at it. Cricket? What on earth was cricket? Checking that his father wasn’t in view, he slipped around the side of the house and out through the gate. Walking down the footpath, he could still hear Connor and Katie arguing. “This yours?” He asked, holding it up in the air.

Katie looked up at him, her dark brown eyes flashing and squealed, running inside the house and slamming the back door. Connor grinned and took it from him. “Thanks, sorry bout that. Katie’s a right pain. Typical sisters.” He shook his head and spat on the ground.

“I don’t have a sister.” Severus said quietly, still staring at the back door where Katie had disappeared.

“Lucky you then.” Connor grinned, spitting at the ground again. “We just moved in yesterday, I’m Connor, and that was Katie, what’s your name?”

“Severus.” He said quietly, turning back to look at him.

“Severus!” Connor snorted derisively. “What sort of weird name is that! You foreign or something?”

The lips on Severus’ mouth twitched slightly. Foreign? He shrugged his shoulders though. “Does it matter?”

Connor laughed softly, tossing the ball into the air and catching it again. “You want to play?”

“Sure.” Severus’ lips twitched. Such strange words. Play. A warm glow filled him as he walked to where he had seen Katie standing. Connor tapped the wooden thing on the ground once…twice and looked at him. Racing forwards as he had seen Katie doing, the ball flew from his fingers aimed directly at Connor who ducked out of the road.

“What the ruddy hell was that?” Connor yelled. “Don’t you know how to bowl?”

Severus stood there looking at him, feeling the hot spikes at the back of his eyes. “It slipped.” He said softly, feeling his face heat.

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