In The Ghetto
Dad's angry again.
Severus shrinks into the corner; his corner, the one with the limp cushion and the lightning-shaped crack in the plaster. Maybe – maybe this time Mum will, will calm Dad down, and he'll stop yelling. Severus hopes he won't shake Mum this time, or whack her. It's the worst when that happens.
He won't cry. He's much too big for that now, and besides. Besides, it doesn't – do anything, crying, doesn't make anyone stop yelling or whacking or throwing things, and definitely doesn't make anyone come and hug you to make you feel better or anything.
Not that Severus would want anyone to hug him, that would be really, really babyish, of course, and Severus isn't a baby, at all.
Dad had yelled and called him a baby last week, after he had shoved Severus a bit hard and Severus had fallen into the side of the table – but Severus had only cried a tiny bit, and it had hurt with that big lump on his head. He wasn't a crying baby – he wouldn't be!
Even Mum said he wasn't – she'd come out, after Dad had stomped off to his study with the bottle, and looked after his head with her special wand. She'd hugged him – Mum did hug him, sometimes, when Dad wasn't there to swear at her and say she was coddling the boy – and she had said he was a brave boy.
It wasn't often Severus had someone say something nice like that about him. He had a sort of list in his head, of all the compliments people had paid him, and sometimes when he wanted to cry, he would go over the list in his head.
1. Mum said he was clever, sometimes, when he helped her with things. He liked that, when she looked at him rather proudly and told him to just wait till he was at Hogwarts, if he did his best he'd be at the top of his class.
2. Old Granny Mart up the street always patted him on the shoulder and smiled wrinkledly and called him a sweet child. He wasn't sure why he liked that, because mostly he didn't want people to think he was just a child. But it was all right when Granny Mart did it, somehow.
3. Mrs Branagh next door had told her husband, once, 'That Snape kid looks as though he knows how to get on.' Severus had overheard them talking, from in the bushes where he was spying on their three fluffy baby chicks. He thought it was a compliment. She'd sounded sort of impressed, anyway.
4. The pretty lady at the shop had said he was a right little gentleman after he picked up her fallen handkerchief and gave it back to her. He would have glowed about that for days, but unfortunately Mum had been so pleased that she had told Dad when they got home. Dad had given a big snort of laughter and said it just proved that women had brains full of feathers, which had made Severus shrink inside himself and Mum go tired and limp and get out of Dad's way. So he wasn't sure about that one, but he hoped it was alright to count it anyway.
5. And Dad's compliment, which had been in the middle of an argument with Mum; he'd gestured largely at Severus and said, 'See? The boy's tough enough, anyway.' Severus hadn't been listening to the rest of it but he couldn't help hearing that.
They are his, those nice things that people have said, no-one else's, and he repeats them to himself so he can feel calm and not cry when Dad yells and Mum shrinks all small and can't get away. It makes Severus feel so angry when he sees Mum go like that, because she has that wonderful wand that she uses when Dad's not there, and she shouldn't have to be scared. Not with the wand!
But she still is, and it makes him angryangryangry, but he can't say anything, because that'd just make it worse. Dad shouldn't be allowed to bully her, he was bigger and stronger and Mum didn't use the wand. It wasn't fair.
But life, Severus reminds himself – life isn't fair. It just isn't, and anyone who thinks it is fair is stupid, really, and doesn't know. What really happens is that little people, scared people, have to do what the big yelling ones say, or bad things happen.
One day, though. One day, Severus will go to the amazing magic castle school that Mum sometimes tells him about, Hogwarts. And he'll have his own wand and learn to use magic, and no-one will ever be able to bully him again, because he, Severus, will be big and strong and able to protect himself and Mum.
Severus curls closer into himself and closes his ears to the yelling, dreaming about that wonderful magical castle called Hogwarts, where no-one gets bullied and everyone learns to use magic to protect themselves. He traces the lightning-crack, up and back each fork, over and over again, while the angry voices roll over him in waves.
It will be great.
Oh, people, don't you understand
the child needs a helping hand
or he'll grow to be an angry young man some day
Take a look at you and me,
are we too blind to see,
Do we simply turn our heads
and look the other way?
Well the world turns
and a hungry little boy with a runny nose
plays in the street as the cold wind blows
In the ghetto…
(In The Ghetto, Elvis Presley)