A/N: The end is near! Soon the wonderful Rowling will unleash her new canon on the fandom and render many of our fics AU. I'm just glad I was able to finish this story before that happened.
Thanks to verity and cecelle for making sure this was ready for posting.
Chapter 4: Offers, Opposition and Opportunities
It was a bright spring afternoon, and Eileen and five-year-old Severus were re-potting plants on the back step. The young woman looked out over the tiny patch of grass that passed as a garden behind their house. A set of sheets and some well-worn clothes were drying on the line. Her mind was divided between her small son and the ever-growing list of chores that were waiting for her inside. Once again, the old temptation to take out her wand and have all of her work completed rose up within her. She shook it off, remembering what she had promised Tobias all those years ago. Life had been difficult these last few years, but she didn't regret her decision to abandon her magic.
A few months after Severus had been born, the mill had closed, leaving the skeleton crew that had remained there unemployed. All they'd had left had been the house, the clothes on their backs, and each other. Times had been difficult until Tobias had found a post several hours away in another factory. Now he left well before first light on Monday morning and stayed away all week, returning late on Saturday night. They had hoped to save up enough money to move the family to the new town, but every time they had almost been able to do so, some unexpected disaster had wiped out their meager savings. It was a lonely life for Eileen and her son, but she did her best to make it as pleasant as possible.
Just before his second birthday, Severus had begun to show signs of magic. Eileen thought back over the odd bits of magic her son had managed over the years: objects that had been on the highest shelves ending up on the floor or in his cot... things breaking during his temper tantrums... broken toys suddenly mended... Severus standing on the top of the clothesline post with no obvious indication as to how he had gotten up there... Her son was definitely not a Squib. Surprisingly enough, Tobias seemed to have had prepared himself for the eventuality and had accepted his son's abilities. He never encouraged their son's magic, but he never denied the boy attention or affection.
The one thing that saddened her was Severus being an only child. Tears filled her eyes at the memory of the baby that had arrived three months early and stillborn last spring. Eileen had been told she would be unable to have another child, and so far that had been the case. The problem was likely something that could have been corrected with a potion or a charm, but with their circumstances such as they were, it would have been too much for them to add onto the family. She had made the difficult decision not to burden her husband with the knowledge that magic could possibly enable her to have more children. Brushing at her eyes, she smiled down at her son. It was pointless to dwell on what would never be.
"Is this right, Mam?" Severus asked, patting soil around the roots of the rosemary bush. He looked up at her, seeking confirmation and approval.
She checked his work. "Very well done, Severus. Would you like one of the biscuits we baked yesterday as a reward?"
"Very well. Then we need to get supper ready." Chores could wait; her son was more important. "Do you think you can do the other two by yourself if I take the plants out of the old pots for you?"
He nodded. She loved his willingness to work and appreciated that he was a quick learner. She freed the other plants from their too-small pots and indicated that he should finish the task. "Now, remember not to eat the dirt."
"I'm big now. Only babies eat dirt," he replied, a shadow crossing over his face. He was offended by the reminder.
"That's my bright young man."
Eileen stepped into the tiny, spotless kitchen, took two biscuits from the stoneware jar on the counter, and placed them on a napkin. She decided to give him a glass of milk as well. As she was reaching for a glass, there was a knock at the door. It was only Friday, too early for Tobias to be home, and he never knocked anyway. Maybe it was one of the neighbors coming to visit.
Heading to the front door, Eileen wiped her hands on her apron and smoothed her hair. She opened the door, and her heart stopped at the sight of a tall, thin, black-haired man in a navy blue and silver cloak, standing on the front step. William Prince was one person she had hoped to never see again.
Slam the door in his face! her mind ordered. Before she had time to comply, his hand was on the edge of the door, and his wand was barely visible under the edge of his sleeve.
"My dear sister, aren't you going to invite me into your ... home?" William Prince asked in an overly-pleasant voice. Her brother's black eyes surveyed her critically. Why would he be calling on her? He had made in abundantly clear that he no longer considered her part of the family.
Eileen stepped aside and warily eyed her brother, wishing that she had her wand on her person instead of it being safely tucked away in the deep recesses of her blanket chest. Not that she was any match for him, but it would have been a comfort for her to at least attempt to defend herself. "What do you want, William?"
He crossed the threshold and continued to smile at her. "I was hoping for a warmer greeting. It's been such a long time since we've seen each other. More than five years, not counting father's funeral, I believe."
You should know exactly how long it's been, she thought, reining in her emotions. He had pointedly ignored her at their father's funeral. She had hoped he would continue to do so for the rest of her life.
"I thought you wanted nothing more to do with me," she said, not taking her eyes from his sharp-featured face. "Once more, William, what do you want?"
"On the contrary, I very much want to see you...and my nephew." He looked around the small, orderly sitting room. "Where is the Muggle?"
"My husband is at work," she answered, not wanting him to know that the job was hours away. "And why--after five years--do you want to be bothered with us?"
"I'm here at Mother's request."
Eileen felt her face blanch. If her mother was ill... "Is she well?"
"Reasonably speaking," William reassured her as he looked around the room. "She is, however, very concerned about the welfare of her grandson... as am I."
"Severus is well and healthy. Now leave."
"Not until I have explained the reason for my visit." William's eyes rested on a piece of paper that was on the small table beside the armchair. He picked up a childish pencil drawing of a man, a woman, and a little boy, who were all smiling and hold hands. "I have come to offer to pay for the boy's educational expenses. You obviously didn't marry the Muggle for his money, and my nephew's education shall not be forced to suffer because of it."
"I cannot accept your offer," she answered, almost defiantly. "Severus might not be going to Hogwarts."
"Not go to Hogwarts? That is unthinkable!" William exclaimed. As if a sudden realization had come to him, he backed away in disgust. "So, he is a Squib after all, then?"
"No, Severus is a wizard, and Tobias is fully aware of the fact. We haven't told Severus yet, or decided whether or not to send him to Hogwarts. I gave up magic for the sake of my son and my marriage." The day Tobias had discovered that she was a witch was still fresh in her mind. "I didn't have much choice after Tobias had the truth thrown in his face--"
"I would have taken you in had the Muggle decided to abandon you."
Eileen knew her brother never did anything out of the kindness of his heart; such an action would be contrary to his mercenary nature. "What makes you so certain I would have accepted your offer?"
"You would have had no choice but to accept," he scoffed. "Would you have tried to raise the boy alone in some boarding house in the Alley? Would you have tried to sell yourself to those vile Muggles you obviously crave?"
"Anything would have been better than being in your debt, William. You would never do anything for anyone unless you had something to gain." She indicated the door. "Now get out of my house."
The pleasant mask slipped at her words. "He is the last male Prince, Eileen. He must go to Hogwarts, and I am prepared to make certain that happens."
"He's not your son," Eileen pointed out. "Severus doesn't even know he is a wizard, and I promised his father I would keep it that way unless it was an absolute necessity to tell him. He will go to school here as long as possible. With a little luck and some hard work, perhaps he will be able to go to--"
Eileen stumbled as she was struck with a hex that knocked her to the floor and made the room darken and blur around her. Slowly her vision cleared, and her brother's livid face came into focus. She realized that she had pushed his strained tolerance to its breaking point.
"You are a fool, Eileen!" he shouted, yanking her to her feet and shaking her in fury. "Mother and Father may have been willing to tolerate your foolishness, but I refuse to allow the Prince line vanish because of your stupidity! You will permit me to take Severus as my heir and ward, or an unfortunate i accident /i will ensure that he must be taken in by the family."
He shoved her to her knees and drew his wand. Eileen cowered in fear, her face turned pale at the threat she was positive her brother would carry out. If he wanted to kill her and take Severus, she would be defenseless to do anything to stop him. A flurry of movement in the doorway between the sitting room and the kitchen caught her eye. Severus had slipped into the house, most likely attracted by the shouting.
"Stop! Don't hurt my mam!" cried her son's shrill voice.
William instinctively tracked his wand toward the sound. Eileen, fearing for the child's safety, screamed. Severus ran to the false shelter of the nearest corner. William snarled, "I didn't want it to be like this. I came to you with a polite offer, but you—as always—had to be difficult."
When he took a few steps closer to Severus, the child screamed and huddled in the corner, his pale face streaked with dirt and tears.
"Leave him alone!" Eileen scrambled to her feet and ran to scoop up her son. She dried his tears with the edge of her apron.
William stopped where he was, a fleeting look of regret on his face as he stared at his nephew.
"It's all right, Severus," she said, trying to calm him. "Are—are you all finished with the plants?"
He nodded, his black eyes staring warily at the tall man, who moments ago had been shouting at his mother. "Who is he, Mam?"
"He's your Uncle William, my brother." She turned to stare down her brother, her words firm in spite of the fact that she was trembling inside. "He's not going to hurt us, and there will be no more shouting."
"I give you my word as a gentleman," William answered. He knelt on the floor; his cloak and robe settled around him. He extended his hand to the quivering boy and forced a smile. "I haven't seen you since you were a baby, young man. I'm pleased to make your acquaintance."
The little boy's eyes flicked in his mother's direction, awaiting her approval. Eileen nodded. Severus timidly shook the large, smooth hand. She watched as William took in every detail of the boy's face. Eileen knew he was thinking how much the child took after the Prince side of the family. The only characteristics he seemed to have inherited from Tobias were his thin, wiry build, a deep loyalty to loved ones, and a strict sense of honor. .
"Severus, I would like you to go upstairs, wash up, and go to your room until I call you," Eileen ordered her son, in the same tone that she used when she and Tobias needed to discuss a matter they would rather not have him overhear. The little boy looked reluctant to comply. "I will be fine. I promise. Now, please, go and do as you have been told."
With a wary glance at his uncle, Severus headed towards the staircase and slowly made his way to the upper floor.
William's expression became grave as soon as the child was out of earshot. "Consider my offer, Eileen. There is more at stake here than you will ever know. Severus needs to learn how to control his abilities in order to avoid any accidents. A Muggle wouldn't stand a chance if Severus were to inadvertently use his powers in fear or anger."
A memory of a window shattering during one of the boy's temper tantrums, when he had been furious about having to take a nap, came to mind. After that, she had informed her husband of the risks of raising a magical child. "I will speak with his father about the matter."
"His aunt and I would like to have him spend part of the summer holidays with us, in order to get to know him better, and also to better acquaint him with wizarding culture." He stopped her before she could protest. "Eileen, I will not have a Prince go to Hogwarts knowing little more than the average Mud—Muggle-born. He needs to learn about his heritage; it would be unfair of you not to have him prepared."
Eileen squeezed her eyes shut. If William wanted to take him away from her, it would be so easy to do it during one of the visits. He had probably made changes to the wards since their father had died. A Fidelius Charm would ensure that she could never find her son. The words slipped from her mouth before she could stop them. "I don't trust you."
"Eileen, I give you my word that I will not take him from you as long as you cooperate. Her brother hesitated. "I would be willing to make an Unbreakable Vow to convince you."
William was willing to risk his life to reassure her? Surely he had come here with an idea of what she would make him promise? Eileen pointed out the obvious. "We have no one to act as a Bonder."
"Severus could do it."
"He's just a child!" Eileen protested angrily.
"Don't be ridiculous! All he needs to do is hold the damn wand; there are no incantations to speak."
"We can't use either of our wands. The Bonder must be a third party, or the spell won't work," she reminded him.
William looked at her steadily. "I brought Father's old wand. He wanted his grandson to have it, at least until he was eleven and ready to have one of his own."
Eileen was trapped. She either had to allow her son to witness an act of magic that would require a lot of explanation, or take William at his word—such as it was. As always, he had come into the situation and exacted complete control. He had taken a gamble that she wouldn't permit the boy to see a sliver of the world that awaited him. Tempted as she was to call his bluff, she didn't dare do it. What if something went wrong during the spell? What if William decided to take the opportunity to snatch Severus away from her? She couldn't risk it.
Clearing her throat, she whispered, "I will take you on your word as a gentleman, William. The Vow will be unnecessary."
"A very prudent choice, Eileen." Her brother took a small striped bag from his pocket. "May I give this to Severus? It's only some sweets, so there is nothing to worry about. Oh, very well." William opened the bag, took out one of the sweets and popped it into his mouth. "Satisfied? I wouldn't harm the boy, Eileen."
The more she thought about it, the less plausible the idea of him harming Severus became. No, she was certain William would gain nothing from eliminating the last male heir in the Prince family. He would do him no ill, if for no other reason than that their mother would be furious with him.
"Would you care to stay and eat with us, William? It's nothing elaborate, but it would give you a chance to spend some time with Severus." Eileen stood quietly, not caring if he took her offer or not. If he stayed, perhaps she could gain some insight as to what he really wanted. If he declined... well, she actually would find that preferable.
"Unfortunately I need to return to work. I will allow you to inform the Muggle of my proposed arrangement. No doubt you will be able to convince him to comply." He handed her the small bag and said in a stiff tone, "I will send an owl Sunday evening to fetch your response to my offer. Believe me when I say I am doing this with the boy's best interests at heart."
"What if Tobias does not wish it?"
William fingered the wand in his hand, the significance of the gesture was not lost on Eileen. "I will trust you to find a way to persuade him. I would hate for my intervention to be required. Enjoy your afternoon, Eileen."
With a muffled pop, William left his sister standing awkwardly in the middle of the room. She covered her face with her hands. There would be no choice on their part, after all. Eileen had to convince Tobias that this was the best thing for Severus, or risk something terrible happening to him. Would she be forced to use magic against her husband to keep him safe? Eileen straightened up. There was nothing to do but make Tobias see that this was a wonderful opportunity for their son. If he could reconcile what she was with his beliefs and forgive her omissions five years ago, then this was within the realm of possible as well.
Eileen crept up the stairs and watched Severus from the doorway to his room. The boy was stretched out on his bed, lying on his stomach, paging through a storybook. She listened to his voice as he read the familiar words and painstakingly tried to sound out some of the longer ones.
She closed her eyes, deep in thought. He was a bright child, but in the Muggle world his options were limited. Here, he was the son of a factory worker and would be expected to follow in his father's footsteps. With their current status, affording Severus the chance to complete secondary school would be difficult, and having him attend a university was nearly out of the question. But in the wizarding world, with the backing of her family, he could complete school and then work for Gringotts, become a Healer at St. Mungo's, or even work for the Ministry. The possibilities were much broader. More opportunities— that was something Tobias could understand; that was something that they both wanted for their son.
"What's that in your hand, Mam?" Severus asked, bringing her back to the here and now.
She glanced down at the striped bag. "Uncle William wanted to give this to you. It's some sweets. Would you like one?"
"Before supper?" There was a delighted look of astonishment on his narrow face.
"Consider it a treat for being such an excellent helper for the day." She smiled and took a piece first. "We both have earned a treat."
Even though she had tested it personally, Eileen still held her breath when Severus took a piece of candy from the bag and sucked on it in obvious delight. After he finished it, he asked, "Uncle went home?"
"Yes, he did," his mother answered distractedly.
"What do you mean, Severus?"
"Well, I was watching from the window, and I didn't see him leave." The little boy wrinkled his forehead. "And why was he wearing a long dress?"
The child's remark caught her off guard, and she couldn't suppress a nervous laugh at his innocent observation. "Severus, I promise to explain everything to you, but I need to talk about it with your father first."
He gave her a sulky stare, but knew better than to push her further. Eileen rubbed her temples. This was going to be far more difficult that she had ever thought it would be. She switched to her favorite tactic: change the subject. "We still need to take down the wash and put it away. Then we need to make you something to eat."
Severus closed his book and slid off of his bed, mumbling, "Yes, Mam."
I'm so sorry, Severus, she thought, watching him walk away with his shoulders slumped, but this is how it needs to be for now.
The next night, after she and Tobias had tucked Severus in for the night, and they were readying themselves for an early turn-in. Tobias was standing beside the bed in his nightshirt, and she was sitting on her side of the bed, brushing her hair, when Eileen reluctantly brought up the dreaded subject. There were other things she wanted to do on his first night home, but she had decided to get this issue resolved as quickly as possible. Taking a deep breath, she spoke in an overly-casual tone. "Tobias, I wanted to wait until we could talk privately. My brother was here Friday afternoon; he wants to help send Severus to school. A wizarding school."
"William was here?" Tobias asked, clearly perturbed by the news. "I thought you had agreed to give up that other life."
"I have been true to my word, but you agreed, after we discovered that Severus had developed a magical ability, it would be in his best interests for him to learn how to use it properly. My brother is offering us the opportunity to do so—without my having to break my promise to you. Hogwarts is the only school close to us," Eileen said, putting her hairbrush on the table, before sliding under the blankets.
"But what about our plans to send him to university?" Tobias asked in a loud whisper, turning off the light and joining her in the bed. "I have no intention of ever giving up on that."
"Tobias," she said, turning toward him. "I know how hard you are trying to get this family back on its feet after all of our struggles, but even if we did manage to scrape together enough money to send him on to university, there is no guarantee that he would be able to find employment." She slid her hand into his. "I just don't think that it will be possible for us to ever afford it."
"I don't like the idea of my son traveling around in a wagon, reading palms for a living," he answered.
Eileen caught herself just before a giggle escaped her lips. "Oh, Tobias, it wouldn't be anything like that! There are legitimate occupations in the wizarding world. Severus could go into banking or medicine or government. He could take up magical animal husbandry, or he could become a skilled craftsman. There are plenty of opportunities for him."
Tobias was silent, slowly absorbing what he had just heard. Eileen studied his face. There was the same look of despairing resignation that had been there the first time he had seen his son do a bit of precocious magic. He seemed to know he was facing the inevitable. His son was a wizard, and there was nothing he could do to change it. "Do I have time to think about this?"
"William needs to know by Sunday evening if we plan on accepting his assistance. He's going to send an owl to fetch our reply."
"Why so soon?" Tobias asked, sitting up suddenly. "You've told me the school doesn't take kids until the September after they turn eleven."
This was the part of the bargain she half-wished didn't exist. Eileen forced herself into an exaggerated state of calm as she delivered the next bit of news. "My family would like Severus to visit them so that he can be exposed to wizarding life."
"Surely you don't trust your brother that much? They're more like strangers than family."
" It's a part of my brother's conditions. Don't worry, I would go with him and make sure he was safe." She let a soft sigh escape her lips. "It's the only way I'll agree to it."
"Bastard," Tobias said, putting hatred into the single word. "He's one of the few people I hope to see rotting in Hell. I suppose we don't really have a choice in the matter, do we?" Eileen held her tongue as he clenched his hand into a fist. "He avoids you all this time only to force himself into our lives when it suits him. Why can't he just leave us the hell alone?"
"Tobias!" Eileen was horrified by his reaction. She didn't expect him to be excited about the offer, but she hadn't been prepared for him to become unhinged like this.
He snapped, "Do you have any idea how damn helpless I feel? I do my best to raise Severus to be a good person, and your brother is seeking to undo it."
"You are not helpless. You have always influenced Severus for the better. He has a strong sense of loyalty and good self-control because of you. It makes all the difference for his future." Eileen reached up to touch her husband's face and discovered frustrated tears leaking from the corners of his eyes. "The headmaster and the government don't promote the use of anything evil. Severus will learn how to defend himself against things like that."
"I love you and Severus, but there are times I wonder if it would have been better if I had left you to your family." The words were spoken so quietly that Eileen wondered if he had meant only think them.
She threw her arms around him. "Tobias, don't ever say things like that!"
He pulled her closer and continued as if he hadn't heard her at all. "Sometimes I have nightmares of what will happen to him once he learns of your world. I have dreams about him kneeling before the red-eyed Devil himself. Sometimes, in these dreams, Severus is so full of hatred and violence, I don't even recognize him. The thought of him going to a school that will teach him how to do these things—"
Eileen felt a sudden surge of exasperation at his comment. She was tired of him not fully getting it through his head that magic in and of itself was not evil. "Just because he learns what it is doesn't mean it's promoted by the school," she countered. "The Church teaches what idol worship, adultery, and taking the Lord's name in vain are, but they certainly don't encourage it. It's no different from him learning what a vice is during a catechism lesson."
"But we both know that once you know what a sin is, you tend to commit them more often."
"Which is all the more reason for you to be part of his life." She soothingly ran her hand over his chest. "Whatever we must face; I want us to face it together. I don't like the thought of him doing harm, which is why I want him to learn how to properly use his abilities. Severus is the last Prince heir; it could simply be that my brother doesn't want to see the family line end with his daughters."
Tobias kissed her. "What are you going to tell Severus?"
"The truth. He should know at least what he is and why he can do the things he can do." She returned the kiss, lingering slightly on her husband's lips. "I want us to tell him together."
In the darkness Tobias and Eileen held each other, determined to face an uncertain future together. It was just another storm to weather, and they would surely do so.
A/N: I wanted at least one of my stories to be completed before the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. This is the prequel to my other story, Meant to Be... Enemies, which I will also be updating after the new canon comes out. Then again, if I don't like the new canon, I'll just keep it Book 6 compliant only.