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Fic: Ex Libris

Title: Ex Libris
Characters: Eileen Prince, Severus Snape
Rating: PG
Word count: 1200
Summary: The summer he is sixteen, Eileen Prince says good-bye to her son.
Notes: For bethbethbeth, whose birthday (and birthday extravaganza over at polarbabe09) I missed almost a month ago. Happy belated birthday, Beth!



Forget for a moment what worries you about the boy standing in the front bedroom, packing his trunk for school. He’s humming tunelessly to himself like any other sixteen-year-old, tossing old textbooks, a cauldron, a set of dress robes, and a mysterious greasy brown paper sack into his trunk. If you don’t look too hard, if you squint into the late-summer sunlight streaming through the window, you can see the same boy who couldn’t sleep the night before he first left for Hogwarts, the boy who packed and unpacked his truck all night long, almost vibrating with excitement.

(His father's lanky limbs, the same hooked nose. So similar on the surface. Curious how you were united against the world when his father was still here, how he's slipping away from you now that you're alone.)

Forget the nervous way he's begun to watch for owls, the hours he’s spent locked in his room since June. The nights he slips out of the house without your permission. The evasiveness in his eyes when he lies to you about where he’s been.

Forget that his shoes have bloodstains that you couldn’t quite charm out and he couldn’t quite explain.

Forget that you had Aurors in your parlour not three weeks ago, asking if your son was fond of the Dark Arts, if he’d ever brought political propaganda home, if he'd talked about hurting Muggles. If you knew where he'd been, the Saturday night previous, between midnight and three.

(He was in his bedroom, asleep, as any sixteen-year-old boy should have been at that time of night! Didn’t Magical Law Enforcement have anything better to do with its time, with the Dark Lord wrecking havoc on the wizarding world?)

Remember this: he is your son and you’ve taught him well. To respect the power of magic. To appreciate the harm that it can do, as well as the good. To understand why there is such a divide between the Muggle and the wizarding world, why it is so necessary. To be proud of his place in both worlds.

(If you're completely honest with yourself, you didn't understand that at sixteen; it was only going to university and living among Muggles that taught you. Severus needs to learn this lesson much sooner, before it's too late.)

The cat slips between your legs, purring. You slip the book under your elbow and pick him up, holding tight when he squirms. If only you could do the same with Severus.

It's time, Eileen.

"Severus," you say, entering his room. He jumps in surprise, arms and shoulders jerking spasmodically, slamming down the lid of his trunk. He’s grown so much, even over the past two months since he came home. Sometimes he seems like a marionette, all limbs and loose joints. (And strings.)

"Mum!" he says, reproachful and vaguely guilty. "You shouldn’t sneak up on me like that."

"Well, you shouldn’t wait until the last moment to tell me your travel plans," you say, nodding at his trunk and setting the cat down on the bed. The strong smell of curry unravels the mystery of the brown paper bag and the knot in your stomach. "There’s someone waiting for you downstairs. Evan, I think he said his name was.”

It’s the boy who drove him home the night he came back late, shaken and speechless, with blood on his robes and his shoes. From the eager way he asked after your son, the boy seems to be Severus’ friend. You can’t stand to be in the same room with him.

Severus hefts his broom case over his shoulder. "Off to Manchester. We’ll Floo into London, spend the night at the Leaky, and catch the Express in the morning. I might not be back at the holidays--Evan’s staying, I think he said."

It’s too late to protest that you knew nothing of these plans. What would change, truly change, if you put your foot down, if you insisted that you would Apparate with him to London in the morning, as you always did? He's been ignoring you all summer, disappearing for hours, lying to you, hiding the letters he receives from his friends. In January, he'll come of age. You're terrified you might not see him again.

"Here," you say, without preamble, thrusting the book in his direction. It's not wrapped; you hadn't had time.

"Thanks," he says automatically. "But I already--"

"It’s my text," you say. "Sixth-year potions. My annotations. Top of my class that year. Thought you could use it." You swallow painfully, the words you really want to say clogging your throat. "Especially now."

He frowns at you, curious, quirking his left eyebrow in the same way his father used to. He takes the book and thumbs through it, glancing up after a moment with a flash of excitement in his eye. His shoulders jerk, and he takes half a step in your direction. For a moment you think he's about to hug you, the way he used to, as a child. Instead he rolls his eyes.

"How Ravenclaw," he says, gently mocking. "To think that a book would help me survive a war."

"And yet, surprisingly, not very Slytherin," you counter archly. "To pass up the chance to get ahead."

He laughs, a snicker that makes his lip curl and face flush.

"You’ll be amazed what’s in there," you say, excitement growing at the memory of your own sixth year, unlocking your tongue. "It was the year Slughorn came. He took me on as his assistant, showed me how to experiment, how to make magic my own. Magic isn't about following rules, it's about understanding basic principles, particularly potions, which is much less of a rigid art than most wizards assume..."

Severus looks dubious, but you sit down on the edge of the bed, telling him about Slughorn and sixth-year potions, and he follows your lead. After a few moments, you pull an inky quill from your hair, open the book's back cover, and write a single line there, clearly, so that Severus will read it and understand and learn:

This book is the property of the Half-Blood Prince.

He lets out an odd sound--half-snort, half-laugh--at the memory of the old nickname. You're a bit relieved; you thought the word half-blood might elicit derision. You laugh, too, as if it were a joke. Perhaps it is. Whatever it takes to make him understand.

"Cheers, Mum," he says, taking the book from you, opening his trunk, and tossing it inside. "I've got to go, Evan's waiting"

"Take care of yourself, my Prince," you say, shrinking his trunk so that he can carry it downstairs. (Soon enough, he won't need to you do this.) "Think about visiting for a few days over the holidays, for me?"

He gives you a quick kiss on the cheek and mutters something about writing to you occasionally and disappears down the stairs. You can hear Evan's excited chatter and then Severus', and then the front door slams shut, and a Muggle engine sputters to life.

The cat threads between your legs again, purring softly and happily.

"Here, Tobias," you say, picking him up and rubbing his stomach. "It's just us again. Our boy is gone."

The potion has been mixed, with all the attention and expertise you could summon. It remains to be see what will happen now, if you've chosen the right ingredients, if you've improvised wisely.

If, one day, it will save someone's life, or if it will explode.

Comments

( 47 comments — Leave a comment )
aunty_marion
Sep. 5th, 2009 06:37 pm (UTC)
Oh, I like this! The way it's Eileen who writes that sentence into the book - and of course her writing's changed since she was at school, but Hermione was right to say it looked like a woman's handwriting, wasn't she? And the fact that she lied to the Aurors (she did, didn't she?) about where Severus had been. She sort of knows what he's up to, doesn't she, and she's trying to steer him straight...

And I love that she's called the cat 'Tobias'! (Or ... is it that the cat IS Tobias??? *g*)
magnetic_pole
Sep. 6th, 2009 05:12 pm (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed! I felt like the handwriting in the book just couldn't be explain, no matter what--there's just no way that Harry wouldn't recognize Snape's writing, right? After five years of classes with him?--so I had a bit of leeway to go back to Herminone's intuition and not worry too much about the resulting inconsistencies. (Because Sectumsempra really does need to be Snape's himself.)

Anyways, again, glad it worked for you, and thanks for reading! M.
aunty_marion
Sep. 6th, 2009 05:26 pm (UTC)
Well, of course, Snape's handwriting would have changed as well since *he* was sixteen. And we know Harry's a bit thick! He might not notice the difference between two different cramped handwriting styles in margins.
magnetic_pole
Sep. 6th, 2009 05:45 pm (UTC)
Very true! Ah, Harry's thickness--the starting point (and excuse) for a thousand ficcish plot points... *smile* M.
atdelphi
Sep. 5th, 2009 07:02 pm (UTC)
Oh my goodness - I love this. In the right hands, second-person perspective can be amazing, and you nailed that here. The whole thing just rings so emotionally true in an understated way: the once-united front, the distancing, the worry. I've read and enjoyed a lot of stories with Eileen, but this is one of the few in which she seems so unmistakably Severus's mother. And I laughed out loud in startlement and glee when she picked up the cat.
magnetic_pole
Sep. 8th, 2009 02:44 am (UTC)
I'm always a bit embarrassed to post something in second person, because I know how off-putting it can be--thanks for the reassurance on that front. And I'm delighted to hear the line about the cat worked for you! (I never know whether things that amuse me amuse others, too.) Thanks for reading! M.
bethbethbeth
Sep. 5th, 2009 07:40 pm (UTC)
Okay, this...is fantastic. Thank you, my dear.

Eileen is so wonderfully believable here. She loves her son so much, but shows it most in the way she keeps her emotions in check because a mother's love can be, well...not while your school friends are in the house, please (he's such a perfect teenage boy here).

And yes, I wept when Eileen wrote "...property of the Half-Blood Prince" in the potions book. It made *so* much sense, both that she wrote it and that this nickname was something she and her son shared, maybe the last thing they'd share.

In conclusion: LOVE!

magnetic_pole
Sep. 8th, 2009 02:38 am (UTC)
As I was telling therealsnape below, I've always been puzzled by "half-blood prince" as a title that Snape took some pride in--why, when half-blood status was clearly second-rate in this society? It began to make sense when I thought of it as a relic of past, a name that had private meanings earlier in his life--as you put it, something she and her son shared, maybe the last thing.

In any case, glad you enjoyed, Beth! And happy belated birthday! *hugs* M.
therealsnape
Sep. 5th, 2009 08:24 pm (UTC)
How utterly brilliant!
Loved:
He was in his bedroom, asleep, as any sixteen-year-old boy should have been at that time of night! She would say that, yet her anxiety shines through.
Sometimes he seems like a marionette, all limbs and loose joints. (And strings.)
And too many pulling them.
And yet, surprisingly, not very Slytherin," you counter archly. "To pass up the chance to get ahead." And that perfect explanation of the halfblood prince line.
The potion has been mixed, with all the attention and expertise you could summon brilliant image.
Thanks!
magnetic_pole
Sep. 8th, 2009 02:34 am (UTC)
So glad you enjoyed! I've been mulling over the half-blood prince moniker for years, since I just can't understand how in a culture that valued pure blood, his half-blood status (and membership in a group that had middling status in his eyes) would be something to brag about or advertise. And this solution caught my fancy...

Thanks for reading! M.
(Deleted comment)
magnetic_pole
Sep. 8th, 2009 02:30 am (UTC)
Maggie's MO these days: rewrite the minor women characters, demonstrating how the main characters (disproportionately men) derived much of their awesomeness from them. *g* Thanks for reading! M.
kellychambliss
Sep. 6th, 2009 03:23 am (UTC)
Just excellent. I'm a fan of well-done second-person, and this so is. Of course she needs to be detached, from him and from herself: the things she's facing are too frightening to engage directly. She's walking such a tightrope here, so fearful for her loved son, yet trying to hit just the right note of non-intrusion with a 16-year-old. Their Ravenclaw/Slytherin exchange is perfect, and Tobias -- oh, my.

I'm also a huge fan of background scenes that explain canon details (like the origin of the "Property of. . ." line.)

I also love Eileen's explanation of how potions work, the idea that it's not an exact science, that there is art involved. Their moment of bonding over something intellectual -- such a nice touch.

Great job; this one's a keeper.

One typo: spasmotically

You want "spasmodically"
magnetic_pole
Sep. 8th, 2009 02:28 am (UTC)
I'm also a huge fan of background scenes that explain canon details (like the origin of the "Property of. . ." line.)

Me, too. And it's so satisfying to rewrite bits of canon to grant the minor (suffering) women a bit more agency and some history of their own.

Their moment of bonding over something intellectual

Ah, what a good way of putting it. I kept coming back to the idea that Snape had a strong relationship with his mother but parted ways with her during his late teens and early twenties--so that the nickname had some emotional weight for him, when he uses it later on in life.

Thanks for noting the typo! M.
cordelia_v
Sep. 6th, 2009 12:01 pm (UTC)
This story is perfect. I've read it through five times, and I admire it more each time. The POV is expertly done, to the point that I can't imagine the story told any other way. And characterization for them both is low-key but utterly persuasive. Wonderful, wonderful art, Maggie!
magnetic_pole
Sep. 8th, 2009 02:22 am (UTC)
So glad you enjoyed, Cordelia! But I do remember your advice, a published writer gets it done by Tuesday. *is sheepish* Thanks for reading! I do adore stories about this woman, for some reason. M.
westwardlee
Sep. 6th, 2009 02:44 pm (UTC)
What a lovely story - it's very hard to see your children growing up and not needing you any more. I really feel for Eileen, that's a tough moment when they are leaving and you hope, just hope, that they will come back, even for a short visit. That they will send you a little miracle of a note once in a while. That they will be all right when they've spread their wings.

Great piece. You brought tears to my eyes.
magnetic_pole
Sep. 8th, 2009 02:20 am (UTC)
The more I thought about Eileen, the more horrible it seemed--clearly she raised a child who eventually could decide what was important to him and stick to it at all costs, but his late-teens early 20s had to be a mother's worst nightmare, you know?

Thanks for reading! M.
secretsolitaire
Sep. 7th, 2009 01:40 am (UTC)
Oh, this is fabulous. I love the whole idea, and especially the last line.
magnetic_pole
Sep. 8th, 2009 02:17 am (UTC)
Thanks so much, S! M.
amorettea
Sep. 7th, 2009 04:52 am (UTC)
Normally, I don't care for second person but it works so well here. Eileen was a wise women but the whole world was against her. LOVE this!
magnetic_pole
Sep. 8th, 2009 02:17 am (UTC)
I know, I know, I don't usually care much for second person either! Glad it wasn't too off-putting here. Thanks for reading! M.
semielliptical
Sep. 8th, 2009 01:39 am (UTC)
Oh, wonderful! I love that we understand Eileen's anxiety but also see her strategy to give Severus one more piece of herself. The last few lines are just perfect.
magnetic_pole
Sep. 8th, 2009 02:16 am (UTC)
her strategy to give Severus one more piece of herself.

Ah, very nicely put! Thanks for reading! M.
paulamcg
Sep. 9th, 2009 05:27 pm (UTC)
Oh, I just have to admire both you and Eileen. I can’t help paying too much attention to the second-person at the beginning, but well before the end it’s become transparent. Her writing in the book was an excellent idea from both of you. In general you’ve depicted this loving mother’s thoughts and acts believably, and she thinks and acts like a good, wise woman. She even found a perfect way to get rid of a man without abandoning him!
magnetic_pole
Sep. 12th, 2009 01:41 am (UTC)
You know, that's one of my big objections to second person, too, that it really calls attention to itself at the beginning. *nods* I think if I were to do this one over, I'd work on that a bit.

Glad she came across believably here! She's such a tease in the book--just a hint of a character, overshadowed by her son.

She even found a perfect way to get rid of a man without abandoning him! *smile* Thanks so much for reading! M.
woldy
Sep. 11th, 2009 03:42 am (UTC)
Oh gosh, I missed this through being away & it's fantastic! I love Eileen's contribution to the book, and Tobias the cat, and how Snape does follow the path his mother carefully lays out after all. Great work!
magnetic_pole
Sep. 12th, 2009 01:43 am (UTC)
Oh, thanks for giving this one a try! I do love the unsung women of HP--I'm always happy to remember others do, too. M.
islandsmoke
Sep. 11th, 2009 02:13 pm (UTC)
Oooh, marvelous! How hard to be a parent "mixing the potion," wondering if it will explode one day. And I love this explanation of the writing in the book, it makes so much (more) sense. ;)
magnetic_pole
Sep. 12th, 2009 01:43 am (UTC)
It had to be a nightmare watching Snape in his late teens and early twenties, don't you think? Thanks for reading! M.
miss_morland
Sep. 12th, 2009 07:46 am (UTC)
Oh, lovely -- a stellar example of 2nd person done well, without being gimmick-y. Thank you for this. :-)
magnetic_pole
Sep. 12th, 2009 07:30 pm (UTC)
Glad the second person wasn't grating! Thanks for reading, miss morland. M.
nevermindirah
Oct. 1st, 2009 08:37 pm (UTC)
Oof. Ouchy in that thoughtful way.

So Eileen went and turned her abusive husband into a cat, huh? And gave her son her potions textbook as a last-ditch effort to keep him out of the Death Eaters? I really dig this take on her: I respect her for acting out against her tragedy. This fills in the gaps beautifully. The second-person adds to the creepy inevitability of the thing, too. Well done.
magnetic_pole
Oct. 4th, 2009 06:43 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad to hear you enjoyed it! I adore Eileen (Snape's fabulous, but what could be better than Snape mother?) but always feel there's a fine line to walk with the apparent tragedy of her life--it's too easy to pity. Linking Snape back to her via the textbook humanized them both a bit for me. Thanks so much for reading! M.
valis2
Oct. 2nd, 2009 05:09 pm (UTC)
Oh, great fic! Very intriguing and a little heartbreaking. Loved it.
magnetic_pole
Oct. 4th, 2009 06:41 pm (UTC)
So glad you enjoyed! *heart warms* Thank you. M.
chiralove
Jun. 3rd, 2010 02:20 am (UTC)
Oooh, this is lovely ... I like seeing Eileen like this, resourceful and smart! I feel so bad for her, the way Severus has pulled away from her ... woe. :(
magnetic_pole
Jun. 5th, 2010 05:34 pm (UTC)
I adore Eileen as an implied character--what must that combination of principle and ambition and calculated manipulation have been like? Because you know Severus got it from somewhere. Thanks so much for reading! M.
kyuuketsukirui
Dec. 21st, 2010 04:08 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed this. :)
magnetic_pole
Dec. 26th, 2010 10:13 pm (UTC)
Thanks, T! M.
phiso_kun
Dec. 27th, 2010 10:00 am (UTC)
I'm don't usually seek out stories about Snape, but I must say, if there are more written like this, I can see what I'm missing out on. This was absolutely beautiful, twisting at the heart and making me wish things had turned out better for Eileen's lonely son. This was wonderful, and I'm really glad I read it.

Fantastic job. <3
magnetic_pole
Dec. 30th, 2010 10:11 pm (UTC)
Aw, thanks! Do I recognize your name from small gifts? I don't write too much Snape, but he fascinates me as a character, and I wish we knew more about his contemporaries, the way we do about Remus and Sirius. Even a hint of Snape's mum fascinates me! M.
phiso_kun
Dec. 31st, 2010 12:04 am (UTC)
Ah, I didn't submit anything to small gifts this year, but I do comment like a madman, so maybe that's how you saw me. :) That or rs_games, where I did submit something.

I agree that Snape family is fascinating, and your story has me eager to try my own hand at it. I just hope it turns out as good as yours! :]
magnetic_pole
Dec. 31st, 2010 12:28 am (UTC)
Oh, thank you for the comments, then! (And perhaps we'll see you next year?)

I'll curious to read you Snape!fic. Often the R/S and Snape crowds don't mix very much, so I always feel a bit out-of-place when I write him. (Plus I don't really ship him with anyone, which makes it harder.) I'd love to see more continuity between the characters/stories/subfandoms.

Oddly enough, I just saw that the woman whose photo inspired the Rosie the Riveter poster died this week. (The icon's actually from a UFW fundraising campaign sticker I got in the mail a couple years ago.)

Good luck writing! M.
phiso_kun
Dec. 31st, 2010 12:04 am (UTC)
Also, love your icon. <3
jazzypom
Dec. 30th, 2010 03:14 pm (UTC)
Normally, I have no truck with second person
Too staid, too self conscious, just too - but this really worked for me. Really, really worked for me. Cheers.
magnetic_pole
Dec. 30th, 2010 10:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Normally, I have no truck with second person
Thanks so much! I know what you mean about second person (even first person can seem cloying, sometimes, with these types of characters). Glad it worked for you! M.
( 47 comments — Leave a comment )