Characters: Eileen Prince, Severus Snape
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.