Severus was perched alone on one of the wooden benches that lined platform nine and three quarters, his tatty old school trunk at his feet. His long spidery legs poking out from robes that were far too short for him. He held the mystery note in his hand, scrunched up into a ball.
A swirling mass of young witches and wizards were crowding onto the train. He watched them in fascination as if they were exhibits at a zoo, eyeing the smiling groups with families in tow, waving them off and kissing them goodbye. Even now after all these years he envied every single one of them.
His own mother had left him at the entrance of Kings Cross Station, explaining that she had to be back at the shop by 7:00am to take a delivery of fresh Bugbear eyes. She patted his shoulder awkwardly, then warned him to keep out of trouble and to stay away from that James Potter, then she left as fast as they had arrived.
So here he sat an hour early and hungry to boot. If he'd had any close friends he could have wasted the time talking about their holidays together but the type of friends he held would probably have spent the summer torturing insects or attending snobbish pure blood gatherings. Such towering social grades he thought glumly.
"Over forty letters all summer. She's intense is all I can say. It'd make sense if I'd replied to even one of them."
"You read them though?"
"Well I got through the first ten but they all basically mentioned the same things. Her feelings for me growing stronger everyday, how she wished I was with her, the power of her undying love. You know... that sort of thing. It's sweet but... like I said... very intense."
Four boys Severus knew all too well were sitting a mere two benches down the platform from his. James Potter was sat on the back of the bench with his feet on the seat, leaning against the brick wall of the platform. Remus Lupin was rummaging through his trunk whilst sat next to him. Peter Pettigrew was on the floor crossed legged looking up at Sirius Black who was stood in front of all of them with his hands stuffed in his pockets telling them about his summer away from the castle.
"We'd only been going out for a month before school ended. Anna's a nice girl but..." Sirius ran his hand through his long hair letting it fall across his eyes in that carefree way that even Severus was jealous of, his own greasy hair often looked like he'd just been caught outside during a heavy downpour.
"But Sirius wasn't it you who spent half of last year chasing after her?" James smirked and shook his head in dismay.
"Well yeah... that's the fun part ain't it? But now that we're together..."
"Ever the dependable gentlemen." Lupin mused, pulling an old transfiguration book from his bag and flicking through it.
"I am aren't I?" Sirius flashed a smile at his friend.
"Hmm." Lupin replied absentmindedly, he took out a bottle of Fire Whiskey from the bottom of his trunk and stared at it wide eyed. "Where did this come from?"
Sirius sprang to life. "Ah ha." He quickly took the bottle from Lupin's hand and shoved in under his shirt. "Sorry Moony that was me, last year. I sneaked into Slughorn's office over Christmas and... well it was just sitting there. It was nearly finished so I doubt he wanted it."
"It's sealed." Lupin replied crossing his arms and frowning at him.
"Sorry. I needed a place to hide it and no one would suspect such an upstanding student. Our perfect prefect." He sang with a smirk.
"Hey I can cut loose once in a while." Lupin argued looking put out.
"Yeah once every full moon." Sirius laughed.
"Shhh." James cut in casting a look towards Severus.
Severus looked away. He didn't need reminding of what happened last year.
"Snivellus won't say anything." Sirius said rolling his eyes. "Not after you saved him from being torn to pieces."
Severus scoffed loudly causing James to look over with a frown. "What?" He asked.
"Oh nothing." Severus replied finally looking back at them across the empty bench. "I just don't think it counts as saving someone's life if you're the reason they were in danger in the first place."
James didn't reply, he searched for an answer but came up empty, turning his attention towards the crowd of students instead.
"Hey. It was me that put you in danger not James." Sirius pointed out as casually as if he were discussing Quidditch.
"So you claim." Severus glared at all four of them.
"I'd have happily left you to it. You're just lucky James is a better man than me."
"You call yourself a man? Your just a sad little boy." Severus could feel the heat rising to his collar.
"Sirius let's just leave it yeah?" Lupin closed his trunk and stared back at his friend. "Snape has been kind enough not tell anyone about what happened."
"Only because Dumbledore has asked me not to." Severus replied. "I'd happily tell everyone what you are."
"See what I mean?" Sirius glared at Snape, "We should have just let you tear him apart Moony. He's a waste of space."
"Sirius." James' voice was low but held intent. "Moony's right. Leave it." He flashed another glance at Severus.
"How was your summer Potter?" Severus asked dryly. "Go anywhere? Meet anyone? Break any laws?"
James frowned and looked taken back. "What? I haven't..."
"Wouldn't want you getting into any trouble with... the Ministry." Severus enjoyed watching James' reaction. He so rarely had the upper hand and didn't want to pass up the opportunity to have some fun.
James and Sirius both looked at each other. Clearly they had discussed James meeting Lily.
"Have you been following Lily around again?" James asked sitting up from the bench. "She mentioned she'd seen you creeping around town."
Severus' grin turned and his eyes flickered away from James. "No... I haven't... I..."
"Because if you have Severus then you're even sadder than I thought you were." James smiled at his friends.
"I'm sad? I'm not the one Apparating half way across the country just to see a girl. So desperate." Truth be told Severus would happily Apparate to Jupiter to spend any time at all with Lily Evens but right now all he could see was that damn kiss again. Over and over.
"You little creep. Getting your kicks from watching other people snogging are you Snivellus?" James got to his feet. Lupin looked nervously towards Sirius who was creeping his hand towards his back pocket where his wand sat. Peter slunk further back behind the bench.
"You call that Snogging? You looked like you were kissing your mother goodnight." Severus spat back feeling for his wand on the bench next to him.
"What's the matter Severus, jealous that someone actually wants to kiss me? Scared no one would want to touch you with the handle of a broom?" James gritted his teeth. Lupin stood up and placed a hand on his shoulder. A crowd of other students had started to move towards them, intrigued by the commotion.
"You don't care about anyone but yourself Potter. You just want to go around the school announcing "I've snogged Lily Evans." Just another conquest."
"You told them!"
Severus span around to find Lily standing only yards away. She was glaring at Severus the disgust ripe on her features.
"I didn't Lily... James... he had already..."
"It's bad enough that you go around spying on everyone but you could at least keep it to yourself." She looked furious. Lucy Spencer one of her friends grabbed Lily's hand.
"Forget him Lily. Snape's just a pathetic loner. Don't waste your breath."
Lily turned her face away and marched off down the platform.
"Lily wait. I didn't..." Severus cried but she had already disappeared into the crowd.
James turned and made off after her with Lupin and Peter close behind. Sirius eyed him up and looked on the verge of continuing their confrontation but shrugged his shoulders instead. "Where's the fun if no one's around to see you suffer." He took off after everyone else leaving Severus on the platform, the remaining students all cast him dirty looks but he was too riled up to care and slumped back onto the bench, his hands shaking.
The train let out a large plume of thick white smoke and began to chug into life making its departure for Hogwarts. Severus trudged along the corridor of the train pulling his trunk behind him. It was fairly empty as most other students had already found seats with their friends. He kept walking checking the numbers on the top of the carriage doors. 13... 12... 11... he caught sight of Lily's long red hair, she was sitting with her friend from the platform along with two other Hufflepuffs he didn't know. She caught sight of him as he passed and threw him a poisonous look.
He tried to look apologetic but she was no longer looking his way so he moved on down the train until he came to compartment number 7. The blinds had been pulled down on the windows and the glass panel of the door. Clearly someone wanted some privacy.
He tried the door, it was locked. He turned the lock between his fingers it gave a loud click and then he heard someone rush towards the door holding it shut.
"Open the door Avery."
The door creaked open and Alabaster Avery's pointed features appeared in the gap. His dark green eyes studied Severus. He pushed aside his long blonde hair from his face then looked behind him, mumbling something to someone Severus could not see behind the door.
"You got the note then?" He asked narrowing his gaze.
"Obviously. Al what is this? If you wanted to talk you could have waited till we got to school. We sit next to each other in Defence and eat meals together, we share a dormitory. What's going on?"
"Alright, alright." He grumbled opening the door wider to let him in. "Quickly now."
It was dark in the compartment. The curtains had also been drawn on the outside and the lamp lights had been dimmed to a low hum of yellow light.
It was cramped inside as the space was already occupied by five other people. Alabaster Avery and Ellis Mulciber both Slytherin boys in Severus' year, Hollace Denholm a girl with a wild mass of black curly hair and confrontational posture and Brune Garrick also in his year. Severus was aquatinted with them all in some part except for the remaining occupant. A boy he'd never spoken to in his house was sat nearest the window. He knew his name, Atwater Elwood and that he was in the year below Severus but that was about it. He never spoke to anyone as far as Severus knew and didn't think he'd ever heard his voice before.
He had long silvery grey hair which made him stand out for a boy of only sixteen and sharp blue eyes that sat behind a pair of thin round glasses, he gave off a mature studious appearance. He looked up briefly as Severus entered the compartment, sizing him up briefly before going back to looking out into the passing countryside.
"Sit down Sev and Garrick will explain everything." Hollace offered gruffly.
Severus wedged himself in between Avery and Mulciber.
"Good summer Severus?" Mulciber asked as Avery leaned over in his seat and locked the door again.
"Riveting." Severus replied eyeing Atwater suspiciously who had yet to look anywhere but out the window.
"So." Garrick started hunching forward in his seat, his deep set black eyes looked over the group. He ran a hand roughly over his blonde buzz cut and continued, "You're probably wondering why I called you all here?" He shifted his gaze from student to student.
Avery nodded eagerly, Mulciber sat up straighter, Hollace cracked her knuckles and Atwater remained focused on the scenery
"Well it might interest you all to know that over the summer my father happened to take the company of someone who I'm sure you are all very familiar with."
There was a silence in the carriage, Avery was on the edge of his seat now, Mulciber frowned casting a questioning look at Hollace who shrugged.
"Lord Voldemort." He said in a hushed whisper.
Severus didn't think it possible but the words seemed to chill the air around them. For the first time Atwater Elwood turned his eyes away from the skyline and looked at Garrick, his eyes narrowed, intrigued.
"Flipping heck." Avery exclaimed in excitement, gripping the chair with his hands.
"Indeed. The Dark Lord asked him to perform a task. He wouldn't tell me what only that it was important."
"Did you read in the Prophet last week about old Felicity Banister getting killed? Rumour is the Dark Lord's the one who done it." Mulciber said in a low tone.
"Yeah. I heard he ambushed her at her house in Dover, a full body bind curse and then off the cliff she went."
"Didn't he also take out that..."
"Anyway." Garrick interjected loudly. "So my father happened to mention that Voldemort was looking to recruit more people into his ranks and that he was looking to Hogwarts for potential candidates."
"Students?" Hollace asked looking surprised. "Really?"
"Why not?" Garrick replied casually. "It's the youth that are going to be entering the Ministry with fresh ideas so why not get in early and make sure it isn't full of Muggle loving sympathisers."
Avery nodded emphatically. "And do you think we'd be able to join. I mean I doubt he lets just anyone."
"Well obviously not but I thought I'd come to you lot first. You see..." he paused for greater effect, "He also met with me." These last words caught everyone off guard, Avery nearly fell off his seat. "He's asked me to hand pick a select few who I think are decent prospects and hopefully we can go from there. Spread the word, get people interested."
"Wow." Mulciber looked honoured and then shifted his eyes to Atwater who looked back, unblinking. "What about... I mean you picked him?" He asked looking sceptical.
Atwater frowned and kept his eyes on Mulciber remaining silent.
"Well..." Garrick glanced sideways at him. "The truth is Elwood caught me talking about it to Hollace on the platform."
"Not so secret then." Avery whispered to Severus out the corner of his mouth.
"And he asked to come along." Garrick shrugged.
"Hang on." Said Avery, a malicious grin appearing on his face. "Aren't you the one who hexed that Mudblood Burty Pickering in Ravenclaw?" He leaned forward again looking eagerly into Atwater's face.
Atwater surveyed him for a while, he looked guarded but then nodded slowly.
"Ha! He wasn't able to see for nearly a month with that conjunctivitis hex you put on him. Well done. That'll show the Muggle loving twerp." Avery said triumphantly.
Hollace widened his eyes at him and then smiled approvingly.
"That's why I let him come. A bit of an unknown quantity but clearly knows his stuff." Garrick sniffed and leaned back in his seat, putting a leg on his knee. "Avery I knew you'd be up for this of course, you're the biggest Muggle hater I know."
Avery beamed proudly.
"And Mulciber you've jinx more Muggleborns than the rest of us put together."
Mulciber crossed his arms and nodded, clearly pleased with this statement.
Garrick's eyes moved on to Severus who felt his skin itch as everybody else looked at him. He didn't like being the focus of such attention.
"And you Severus. Spend a lot of time on your own don't you? Bit of a loner."
"Not by choice." Piped up Avery. "It's those damn Gryffindors, James and his lot. They're awful..."
"Avery quiet." Severus interjected but he went unheard.
"Nobody will go too near old Sev here just in case they get the brunt of their attention too."
"Potter? He hangs out with that traitor Sirius Black doesn't he?" Garrick snarled.
"Yes. That's him." Hollace said though Severus detected a hint of colour bloom on her cheeks.
"They're nothing I can't handle." Severus mumbled looking down at his knees.
"Well regardless I've heard a lot about you Severus." Garrick went on turning his attention back towards him. "Know your way around a decent hex or two I've heard, even made some of your own. That vomiting curse that Hollace used on Bertram Aubrey was yours wasn't it?"
Snape flushed red but nodded in confirmation.
"Really Sev?" Avery asked looking impressed. "Making your own spells is fairly advanced work."
"Exactly." Agreed Garrick. "And you're the best Potions student in old Sluggy's class as well. The best student he's ever had I heard."
"Is that true?" For the first time Atwater's voice punctuated the air, it was a soft, calm voice that gave little away in terms of emotion. He had taken his eyes off the window and was looking directly at Severus, his eyes ripe with interest.
Severus flushed again and tried to ignore his piercing stare. "Well he did say I was far above NEWT level standards but..."
"But that must have been last year right?" Atwater asked looking confused. "That's really far ahead."
Severus shrugged and didn't answer. He had always been fairly confident in his potion brewing abilities but when questioned he tended to veer towards uncertainty.
"Interesting." Atwater mumbled to himself, returning his gaze to the passing trees outside the carriage.
The rest of the compartment shared puzzled looks then Garrick shrugged and continued. "Sev. I can call you Sev right?" He asked but didn't wait for an answer. "Voldemort would find a wizard like you most valuable. He appreciates raw talent and knows how to nurture it. People like James Potter... he may be popular now while he's at Hogwarts but out there in the real world he's nothing. If we stand with a man like Voldemort we could all be on top of the pile whilst traitors and Muggle borns are left to grovel."
Severus shifted uncomfortably in his seat but he couldn't erase images of James living as a destitute, covered in dirt and ragged robes. A crooked smile appeared on his lips.
"Of course you'll have to prove your worth. The Dark Lord won't welcome people into the fold on just intentions alone. He needs to see action, perform admirably and I'm sure I can put in a good word for each and every one of you." He surveyed them all smugly.
"Oh yeah?" Said Mulciber with a sceptical frown. "What can you do? Why would your word matter to the Dark Lord hey?"
Garrick didn't get angry, he just smiled devilishly and tapped his forearm. "I think you'll find that my opinion would carry great weight." He cast a nervous glance towards the compartment door to make sure they we're still concealed and slowly began to roll up the sleeve of his robe.
Underneath he presented them with a black image of a skull on his forearm, it had a snake coming out of its mouth. It looked raw and freshly etched. Avery gasped, Mulciber swallowed hard, Hollace gripped her knees tight and Atwater stared hard, his eyes wide.
"Is t-that?" Avery stuttered shifting his glance between the mark and Garrick's face.
"This... is the Dark Mark." Garrick presented proudly moving his arm around so that everyone could get a look.
Severus was fascinated by it. It seemed to throb, giving the illusion that the snake was moving. He blinked and kept his eyes on it."
"M-my father told me about those." Mulciber muttered looking slightly fearful.
"This is how you know you've truly been accepted into the ranks of the Death Eaters. Once you have this the Dark Lord can call you to his side at anytime." He rolled his sleeve back down and sat back. "So you believe me now Mulciber?"
The boy didn't reply, just nodded silently.
"Lets see how you all do this year. Impress me and maybe, just maybe I'll consider mentioning your name the next time my family holds Lord Voldemort's council. The things he can teach you, the depths of knowledge are incalculable. The Dark Arts are just the beginning."
The words swam around Severus' head like sweet nectar. The power and opportunities a man like Voldemort presented could not be ignored.
"So." Garrick said with finality in his voice. "I assume you're all interested I take it."
Everyone nodded in unison.
"Then I'll be in contact later on about how things will proceed." He added.
"What do you mean? "You'll be in contact." We all eat at the same dining table everyday, can't you just see us at breakfast or something?" asked Avery.
Garrick rolled his eyes and let out a huge sigh. "I'm not about to start discussing the Dark Lord's business over toast and crumpets am I?"
"Yeah. Right, of course." Avery nodded, Mulciber looked at Severus and shook his head in dismay.
"Right, lets all scram then. Don't want people getting too suspicious do we?" Garrick stood up and squeezed over to the door. He opened it slightly to check the coast was clear and ushered Mulciber out.
Hollace nodded curtly and followed suit then Avery. Severus turned to Atwater who was stood up but hadn't made for the open door. He looked as if she was waiting around for something.
"Are you staying?" Severus asked waiting to let him go first.
He looked at him for a moment, shook his head then quickly got up and left past Garrick without saying a word.
Garrick looked at Severus and grimaced. "Well isn't he a bundle of fun?"
Severus shrugged and made for the open door. Garrick sat back into his seat by the window. "Sev." He called out just as Severus was about to leave. "Let me know if Potter gives you any hassle this year. Ok?" He crossed his arms in front of his chest and smirked. "That's part and parcel of being a Death Eater. You look out for me and I look out for you."
Severus nodded back. "Thanks but I can handle him... them." Then he turned and let the door close behind him making to find a compartment to himself so he could mull over the idea of Death Eaters and the prospect of learning magic so dark he'd never need to fret over James Potter ever again.