Disclaimer: I am not J K Rowling. I do not own Harry Potter.
The opening scene is by the lake at Hogwarts after the fifth year defence OWL exam in 1976. The following is set in an alternate universe, where instead of retaliating to the initial volley of marauder abuse and spells with an attack on James, Severus puts into operation a plan he's been saving up for if the Marauder attacks became too much for him to continue to put up with. This story goes in a completely different direction from canon.
Severus Snape had had enough. The Marauders had ganged up on him, in broad daylight, in front of witnesses, and that wretched werewolf whom the headmaster had given the office of prefect just stood there and applauded gently as his fellow bullies set to. And then Lily Evans, another prefect, came storming up, but was all bark and no bite. She was supposed to be his friend – ostensibly – and if not that at least a prefect more responsible than Lupin. Did she do anything about her precious Gryffindor housemates? Not beyond empty bluffs that even the Marauders could see were hollow. Did they have blackmail material on her or something? At this point Severus didn't care. The whole Hogwarts institution was clearly rotten to the core. Time to put the plan into operation he'd had brewing ever since last year, when the headmaster had pressured him into silence over Sirius' attempted assassination-by-werewolf 'prank'. He glanced around again, reassuring himself of all the nice, convenient, witnesses. An audience was good in this context, for what he had to do.
Severus spat out soap bubbles and raised his voice.
"So, once again, the great James Potter, rich pure-blood; Sirius Black, rich pure-blood from a dark family; and their boon companions gang up four-on-one on a poverty-stricken little halfblood student, of whose marks they are jealous." he snarled. The Marauders were frowning, but he wasn't raising his wand, and with his deliberately humiliated sounding tone, they were letting him carry on speaking. "The prefects have stood by and with their refusal to act shown that they consider James' Potter's cause Noble, Just, and Right. Well I apologise for filthing this school with my tainted blood, not so pure as theirs, and I cede the field to them. They have won. I quit this school and the wizarding world. I throw the broken pieces of my wand," he snapped it and threw them at Lupin, "at the feet of their domesticated werewolf. Black can find some other student to set him on for fun."
And he turned and stalked away, whilst there was a stunned silence and people were blinking, asking themselves if they had really just seen Severus Snape snap his own wand and throw it away? He would have liked to have stayed and said more – to have thrown in some insults – but he had just broken his wand and wanted to escape whilst everyone was still too shocked to react.
And he had packing to do, to notify his head of house that he would be leaving, to owl his mother, and quite possibly the headmaster to see.
Stunned silence greeted Severus in the Slytherin common-room. He had stopped by Professor Slughorn's office on the way – to leave a note, since the head of Slytherin was not in – and word of what had just passed by the lake had spread ahead of him back to Slytherin quarters.
"Errr, I say, Severus, you were joking, and that was a fake wand, wasn't it?" John Avery approached him.
"No Avery, that was not a fake wand, and I was not joking." Severus snapped back. He made his displeasure clear with his use of the other Slytherin's last name. "And where have you been, so many times, when the Marauders were busy hexing me, hmm?"
Avery recoiled from the glare Severus shot him.
"Does this mean we can count on your support for… for… him?" Avery was uncertain, and clearly worried. He knew that reportedly one certain dark lord was highly interested in talent from Slytherin like Severus'.
"Avery. This is the Slytherin common room." Severus glared at him. "Even if I were of a mind to answer that, I would not do so in front of so many witnesses. If you intend to find such an employer, I suggest you find a little more discretion."
Avery was burning crimson now, with embarrassment. Severus didn't care any more. He headed for the dormitories.
The butterbeer was flowing and there was much back-slapping going on in the Gryffindor common-room, with frequent toasts of 'James Potter and the Marauders'.
"…Next, we shall do our best to give you messieurs Avery and Mulciber…" Sirius Black was busy making a speech as Lily walked in.
Like everyone else she had been stunned by Sev's performance down by the lake, and even more so when Lupin had picked up the pieces Sev had thrown at him and said that that was a real wand – and looked like it had been Severus Snape's.
By the time Lily had recovered and had half a mind to wonder what was going on, Sev was off the scene. He had moved remarkably fast without appearing to hurry. She'd checked the library and some of his other favourite spots around the castle in case, somehow, he was there, but really she'd just been aimlessly wandering and pondering what had just happened?
Some of the words he'd tossed had stung – especially ones about the prefects who sat back and approved by doing nothing.
But that wasn't what really had her concerned. What concerned her was that Severus had looked and acted as if he had at least thought through some of this, in advance, even if in the moment of putting it into operation it was bitter for him to do so.
"Hey, Evans! No need to lecture Snape about the dark arts any more!" Peter Pettigrew called out to her, crowing. "He won't be practising dark arts on anyone any time soon, with no wand."
That was true, Lily thought, and made her squirm inwardly. Had all her lectures on that very topic helped drive him to this?
"Too bad he outed Moony in the process, but as a parting shot from a defeated man, things could have been much worse." James added, giving Lupin a sympathetic glance.
Gryffindor House didn't care at the moment if Moony was a werewolf or not, anyway. He was part of The-Team-which-had-Vaniquished-Severus-Snape. He could have been announced as the love-child of Lord Voldemort, right now, and they wouldn't have cared.
Lily had played Severus Snape at chess once or twice. She remembered one game where she had been so busy gobbling up his major pieces that she failed to notice a sneaky manoeuvre with a line of advancing pawns and a knight, and it had been checkmate before she knew what was happening.
What had happened a short while ago by the lake reminded her uncomfortably of that game.
And even if there was no secret plan here, but just the plain and simple humiliation and defeat of Severus Snape, she was in no mood to party over what had just happened involving some of her housemates and someone who had once been a close friend.
A sour taste in her mouth, she headed for the Gryffindor girls' dormitories.
"Severus, my lad: I just got your note. I don't understand."
Severus paused in sorting through his possessions and looked over at the bumbling, well-meaning, face of Horace Slughorn, the head of Slytherin house, who was standing in the doorway.
"I quit, sir." Severus said curtly. "I see no point to remaining here at Hogwarts purely as the routine entertainment for the Marauders."
"But such talent…" the head of Slytherin started to boom.
"We both know, sir, that had I been a truly talented student, you would have been feeling me out for your club by now."
"Ahem." the head of Slytherin actually looked embarrassed. They both knew he had been enthusing over and sounding out Lily Evans during potions classes. "Pressure from above."
That was unexpected, and Severus' respect for Slughorn actually went up a notch. He had already assumed as much as that Dumbledore was exerting pressure on Slughorn over who he could give special treatment to, but he hadn't been expecting Slughorn to be able to actually admit it to Severus.
"Then I'm sorry about that, sir." Severus Snape said, affording Slughorn that much sympathy.
"Severus. I understand that with the strain of exams, things must have been a little stressful for you recently, and that perhaps if you were to rest and reflect upon this that in the morning things might…" Slughorn tried again.
"With respect, Sir, the Gryffindor gang and their patrons will still be here in the morning, and that is unlikely to change any time soon."
There was an uneasy silence for a moment or two, then Slughorn spoke again.
"Hmm. Well if you are truly bent upon this, owl me, or better yet owl one of my elves, if you ever need a reference for potions on the quiet."
Slughorn understood, then, at least a very small part of the bigger picture. There were some forms of magic which a wizard could manage perfectly well without a wand. And he was offering to help with a reference – if he could – though preferably in a way which the headmaster might not be watching.
"Thank-you, Sir. I'll keep that in mind."
Dumbledore had not sent for Severus by the time of the evening meal, which either meant he didn't give a damn about what Severus had done, or he was frantically reviewing every memory he could find in his pensieve, Severus considered. A wry smile touched his lips. Or perhaps Dumbledore was just busy with more important stuff, elsewhere. There was a war on, after all.
The Gryffindor table was boisterous, and there was much raising of goblets in the direction of the four Marauders. For the sake of irony, Severus bowed in their direction, when he entered the hall, and 'toasted' them with an imaginary goblet himself. They weren't too sure how to take that.
There was a quiet murmur around the other tables, and Severus heard the word 'werewolf' occasionally crop up, with glances being cast at the Gryffindor table.
During the meal, Severus was aware of glances occasionally being cast in his direction from several diners at the Gryffindor table. Once the main course around the hall was generally done with, one of those glancers got up and crossed the floor to the Slytherin table.
"Do you mind if I sit here for dessert, Sev?"
She sounded worried.
Severus glanced at John Avery and Henry Mulciber, who were flanking him like guards of honour.
"Gentlemen? Would it be a problem?" He was asking them what they thought.
"If it's for just the one sitting, for your pretty friend." Mulciber leered, but shifted, prompting a general motion along the bench, leaving room for the redhead to sit down at Severus' left hand.
"Since my friends and housemates don't object to your company." Severus said pleasantly, indicating the now empty space.
Lily bit her lip, but sat down.
She ate in uneasy silence, for a bit, before risking a joke to try and crack the prevailing frosty atmosphere.
"If these are the 'just desserts' my housemates insist Slytherins should get all the time, I must say, they're pretty good."
"What do you want, Lily?" Severus asked, dispensing with any pretence of light conversation.
"I don't know. To know what you're thinking, planning – if you have got something you're going to do next? You are going to be okay, aren't you?"
"Your housemates have made it quite clear that they do not want me in either this school or the wizarding world, and I have decided to oblige them. Do you think I'm going to be okay?"
"I don't know, Severus. Look, that's why I'm asking."
"I suppose I should either be very concerned about your intellectual capacity, or feel very flattered." In the latter case, Severus was obliquely referring to the possibility that she actually thought that he could cope without either a wand or completing his magical studies. She flushed, but he continued. "I repeat my question, Lily: What do you want? Or let me be more specific. Do you want me? In this circumstance a 'I don't know', given that your time and opportunities are rapidly diminishing, may as well be a 'no'."
"I…" she stopped and caught herself. "That's a hard question to spring on me out of nowhere."
"It's the only question left of this part of my life that I have which matters to me." Severus calmly said, as if he were lecturing her on the properties of a sopophorous bean. "Don't answer 'yes' out of a sense of guilt or pity – or even of responsibility. Answer 'yes', if you do, because you want to make a difference. This isn't a game Lily. Not for me, any more."
There was a long silence in his vicinity.
"Yes." Lily said at last. "Merlin and Morgana help me, yes."
"Gentlemen." Severus glanced at Avery and Mulciber. "You heard the lady. If you wish to remain my friends, keep it in mind, please, even once I am gone from your company."
Lily headed back to Gryffindor tower, after dinner, in something of a daze, wondering just why she'd said 'yes' in response to Severus' question? She felt almost as if she must have been confunded, but she hadn't noticed anyone raise a wand on her. The pressure of the situation with the sense of deadly earnestness she'd gotten off Sev had definitely been a contributing factor to her moment of madness, she decided. That and a sense she'd gotten from Sev that he'd been trying to push her away, so perversely she'd wanted to push back in the opposite direction to that which he'd been trying to shove her in. And what had that been about 'make a difference'? Was that some code for 'I want you to be a Death Eater with me'? God, she hoped not.
It had been his eyes, she supposed. There had been an empty darkness in them, which scared her. She wanted to step in, and fill that void, in case something else wicked came by and made its home there, to the undoing of them all.
She bumped into Remus in the Gryffindor common room, trying but failing to evade his new celebrity status. She drew him into a corner, said 'prefects' business' to the crowd by way of explanation, and put up a privacy charm.
"Remus. Could you check I haven't been confunded or anything like that?" Lily requested of her fellow prefect. "I had the weirdest conversation with Sev over dessert."
Remus pulled his wand out, murmured a quick spell, and studied her. At length he shook his head.
"If anyone's tampered with what's in your head, Lily, they haven't used any magic I can find traces of. What did he want?"
"Oh, just to say goodbye, and things. He's really not very happy with the way he's been treated." She embroidered the truth somewhat, keeping it away from the core of the conversation she'd had with him.
"I feel pity for him." Remus said. "Pity he ended up in the wrong house, and pity he kept so stubbornly trying to fight four other students at the same time. Against those sort of odds, he was always going to be in trouble. I ask myself questions about some of the things we have done, but clearly, if the teachers had thought we were overstepping any boundaries, they would have corrected us years ago. I do not know that we hoped to push him to this, but perhaps it is the best result for all concerned."
Remus looked troubled though, as if he doubted the truth of the words he'd just spoken…
The teachers, Lily thought to herself. She'd assumed, like Remus, that the staff would have stopped things if they'd been going too far, but now a nagging suspicion was gnawing away at the back of her mind, of what if the teachers weren't perfect?
Author Notes: (revised, March 2013)
So what exactly is Severus playing at? In this alternate universe he has considered that his position (attempting to study at Hogwarts) is no longer worth the effort of trying to maintain, and he decides to get out of it, on his own terms, effectively making a strategic withdrawal. He's figured he can't beat the Marauders and Dumbledore when they control the rules of this game, and he's sick to death of being targeted by them, so the only winning move he can make is to simply stop playing their game. If he's no longer a student at Hogwarts, Dumbledore ceases to have the power to blackmail and control him as a headmaster. If he snaps his wand, Dumbledore can't threaten to have it broken, and if he can snap it to support his short-term goals of causing as much chaos for Dumbledore and the Marauders as possible as he leaves, that's just a bonus. He doesn't need a wand to brew potions anyway, and being young and arrogant Severus figures that he'll be able to master wandless magic, if he needs it, with relative ease. And he has plans. The plans of someone who's been pushed much too far, and doesn't give a fake knut about magical society in general.
At the time of writing, I do not have any information on canon first names for Avery or Mulciber. For the purposes of this story I have assigned them the names John and Henry, respectively, on the basis that those have both been names used by English kings, so could be considered halfway respectable by the Wizarding world.
Regarding Lily, she's been shocked by what happened by the lake, and might take actions which could be considered out of character, by canon standards, as a consequence. In the great hall at dinner, Severus put her under pressure for a yes/no answer, and in the end she made a snap decision, based on whatever her instincts were saying at that moment. And at the end of the chapter, she's trying to work out where that instinct might have been coming from, trying to rationalise her decision. And to some extent there was a certain amount of narrative convenience to her saying 'yes' since if any further instalments of this story are forthcoming, it was something which Severus had definitely not counted on. The Severus of this universe was certain from the way he'd seen their friendship deteriorating all year that she was just about ready to cut loose from him, and that he could execute his plans without a qualm. A potential long-term muggle-born girlfriend is something he hasn't factored into his plans at all.