This story (which is really a series of vignettes) was written for the Pure-blood Prince Fest on the EPrinceSnape community on livejournal. My prompt was "Leaves".
Many thanks to Bellegeste for previewing this for me. There have been quite a few alterations after she saw it, so any remaining mistakes are my fault!
Merlin, what a waste of time. If knowing the future were as easy as looking at leaves in a teacup... Eileen took the final sip, then held the cup in her left hand and swirled vigorously. Three times, clockwise, the way Professor Mopsus had taught them. She drained the dregs, put the cup back down on the saucer, and critically peered inside.
It looked like...clumps of damp tea leaves.
Well, that wouldn't do for her homework assignment. She squinted a bit, turning the cup from side to side. Those leaves were sort of in a straight line, and the way they lined up around the tip...an arrow, perhaps?
Sighing, she opened the Divination book to the Tasseography: Symbol Interpretation page and ran her finger down the column. Acorn...Ant...Arrow. There it was. She circled the word with her quill. "Bad news in love." Or bad news in general.
Well, wasn't that nice.
After hesitating for a moment, she added a bit of water from the pot, put her hand back over the cup, and swirled again. Maybe she hadn't done it quite right the first time.
The leaves were all bunched together over on one side. It looked sort of like a...cloud. Her finger went down the page to the C's.
"Clouds - Serious trouble." Unless it was surrounded by dots, in which case it meant financial success.
Were there dots? Eileen willed herself to make the last remaining bits of leaves scattered around the bottom look like dots.
Third time's the charm, she told herself.
This time, she put her hand over the cup and shook briskly.
A snake. Which, according to The Seer's Handbook, meant an enemy. Or a general bad omen. The stupid book wasn't exactly specific. Anyway, she was a Slytherin, a snake herself, so that interpretation didn't necessarily apply to her, did it?
Well, maybe it wasn't a snake, maybe it was a wave. Yes, it looked much more like a wave.
"A wave - losses or vexations."
Eileen pushed the cup away determinedly. All right, that was enough. She'd just have to make something up. Or try again tomorrow, with a different kind of tea. Maybe Darjeeling would behave better than Ceylon. Whatever the case, she would drop Divination next year, even if she qualified for it at the N.E.W.T. level, which was doubtful. No great loss either way. It wasn't as if any of Mopsus' mumbo-jumbo ever really meant anything anyway.
They got married in late August. In the church there were only the vicar and Toby's mum and dad. At least they didn't seem to mind the match. Unlike her own father, who, after a terrible row, had told her that she never needed to set foot in his house again as long as she was married to that Muggle scum. Well, she thought defiantly, who wants to set foot in that house anyway.
The man had never put in a solid day's work in his whole life, his pride resting only on the fading laurels of a formerly grand family name. It was that name that he loved, more than anything. The greatest disappointment of his life had been that the short marriage to his sickly, much younger wife had produced only a homely girl instead of the desired heir.
She had put the wedding announcement in the Prophet just to spite him.
No, she wasn't at all ashamed of marrying Toby. He was a diligent, dependable, decent man. Being a foreman in the mill might not be considered the most prestigious of positions, but he was a hard worker and a good worker and his boss was pleased with him. Toby took pride in a job well done, in a steady paycheck, and in the fact that he would be able to provide for his family.
Because there would soon be a family. Eileen had dreaded telling him. As those Muggles always said, it takes two to tango, but it seemed like the woman was always the one who got blamed... But after a moment of stunned silence, he'd merely shrugged his shoulders and pragmatically said that in that case, he supposed they had better be married. The baby would need a father.
She had loved him more right then than she had ever thought possible.
After the baby was born, Tobias had moved them into a small terraced house on the outskirts of town, with a small garden where she raised carrots and cabbages. She went for walks with the other mothers on the street, pushing their prams along while talking about the first Hovercraft crossing the channel and the antics of the crazy old cat lady on the corner.
Later, they sat on benches at the playground, watching their children swing and climb, while they talked about the Beatles' latest LP and the assassination of that nice young president over in America.
She kept house while Toby went to work, and at the weekend they would take walks out in the country, and Toby would get out his electric train set and play with little Severus.
On the day of her wedding, she had packed away her wand, and she had only got it out once since then, to mend a deep cut on Severus' forehead when he had fallen out of his highchair.
She didn't miss the Wizarding world. What was there to miss? Sure, sometimes she got a craving for cauldron cakes, and sometimes she got tired of doing dishes by hand. But what did that really matter? She had her family and a good life, and she was happy.
She never did figure out how her father had found out that Severus, at the age of four, had shown his first hints of magic. She certainly hadn't told him.
But one day in late summer, he showed up at her door while Toby was at work, and demanded that she come home.
"I've cleared out your old bedroom. You and Severus can live in there."
Eileen laughed. "You think I'm going to leave my husband and move back in with you?"
The idea was a joke. She had hated living there. Spinner's End had been one of the reasons she had wanted to leave home in the first place, the reason she had gone to Muggle bars to escape, at least for a few hours.
They had moved to the dreary, tiny place when she was eight, when Vespasian Prince had had to sell their house to cover his gambling debts. The only thing he had been able to afford – and still have enough money left over from the sale to keep him in firewhisky and cheap cigars for at least a few years – had been the hole in Spinner's End. He had taken all his books, and a few pieces of shabby furniture, and not much else. Not much else would have fit.
"Mummy, who's that man?" She heard the questioning voice of her son behind her.
Her father put on a smile, but his eyes stayed hard. "I'm your grandfather, boy. Your mummy's daddy."
"Go back to your room, Severus," Eileen said over her shoulder. "I'll talk to you in a little bit, okay?"
"Yes, go and pack your things. You're coming to stay with me for a while." He turned his face towards his daughter while still looking at his grandson. "Scrawny little thing, isn't he? No matter, he's a boy, he's a wizard, and he's a Prince. Beggars can't be choosers."
Severus giggled. "I'm not a prince!"
"Oh yes, you are." With a gesture of dismissal, he turned back to Eileen. "Now pack your bags. We're leaving."
She looked at him in disbelief. "Father, you're out of your mind if you think..."
"I said, we are leaving!" Suddenly, there was a wand in his hand, and Eileen fell to the floor with a cry of pain.
"Mummy? What's wrong?" Severus' voice had turned to a whimper.
"Go to your room," Eileen hissed at him, the back of her hand to her cheek, her eyes watering. The boy, saucer-eyed, a tear running down his face, backed up into the corner of the room.
Vespasian moved a step closer to his daughter, looming over her threateningly. "You have a choice. You can either come with me, or you can, in the next few days, hear about a horrible accident at the mill. Or maybe he'll have a heart attack. Or maybe he'll get drunk, fall into the river, and drown. But I'm not having my grandson raised by a Muggle."
Eileen dully got up. She remembered only too well what a wand could do.
He made her retrieve her own from the box at the back of the closet, and then he made her break it. With his wand tip still pointed at her, she packed her bag and Severus' bag, and took her son's hand in hers, and so it was that Eileen Snape moved back into the small bedroom upstairs at Spinner's end.
The next day she went back. She knew that Tobias would never have stopped looking for her if she had simply left without an explanation. And it really wasn't safe to have him come looking for her. Her father, hidden under a Disillusionment Charm, watched them from the corner.
Toby had given her a look of incomprehension.
She nodded miserably. That part was true. She had only found out a few days before and had waited for the perfect moment to tell him. "The baby isn't yours." That part was a lie, of course. She looked at him bleakly. "I'm sorry, Toby."
Until her last breath, she would never forget how hurt he had looked then. With an effort, he had nodded. "All right, then."
"I'm moving back into my father's place..." Her voice trailed off.
"My son. I still want to see my son." His voice had a hard edge to it now.
"I..." She looked at him helplessly.
Suddenly, there was an ugly twist to his mouth. "He is my son, isn't he?"
Eileen couldn't really blame him. There was nothing of Toby's sturdy frame and broad face in the boy. Severus had taken entirely after his mother's side of the family. Still, it hurt.
"Well? Is he?" he asked sharply.
She looked down at her shoes, tears running down her cheeks. "I...I'm not sure," she whispered.
He had nodded again, squaring his shoulders, crossing his arms over his chest, his jaw muscles clenching tightly. "I think you had better go now, Eileen."
She had left. Four weeks later, she had miscarried the baby. The divorce had become final twelve months after that. Within a year, Tobias had married Susan Bowen.
Sometimes, Eileen would go to the mill in the late afternoon and hide in a doorway, waiting for the siren to sound and announce the end of the day, and watch. Susan would stand outside the front gate, holding a curly-haired toddler by each hand. Toby would come out and kiss his new wife, and they would walk home holding hands, looking happy.
Those were the moments when she told herself she had made the right choice.
At times she had fleeting thoughts of running away, of taking Severus and making a new life for them somewhere else. But those thoughts would get stuck in the miserable bog of bleak reality. Where would they go? What would they do? She had no qualifications that would land her a good job in the Muggle world. And in the wizarding world, her father or one of his friends would find them, sooner or later…
Vespasian had made it clear that while she was free to go, Severus, his only grandson, was staying. And that bad things awaited her if she so much as thought of taking the last Prince away from his home and his heritage.
So she stayed. No matter how miserable her existence at Spinner's end was, she couldn't leave her son – he was all she had left.
She stopped in the doorway to Severus' room for a moment before going to bed. He was asleep, one long arm and leg dangling over the side of the bed, his head tilted back, mouth open, snoring gently. The sight made her smile.
It felt good to smile again. When her father had died two years after Severus had started at Hogwarts, the first thing she had done was to take the most valuable of the old volumes from the library, sell them to Flourish and Blotts, and buy herself a new wand. As soon as she stepped out of Ollivanders, she had shot a volley of sparks up in the air, just to see if she still could, and she had laughed for joy. It had felt like emerging from a cocoon, from an eight year fog of apathy, desperation, and misery.
She had understood why when she found the bottle of Dejecting Draught hidden behind the coffee tin. Her father had always insisted on making the coffee.
It hadn't been easy to start living again, but she had made do. After looking for a job for several weeks, she had taken a position working three days a week at the Elixir Emporium – it wasn't much and money was always tight, but it was all she could find. It paid the bills, even if barely. And it was something she was good at.
Still smiling, she walked over to her sleeping son and pulled the blanket up over his chest. She had with pride read the enthusiastic remarks Professor Slughorn had scribbled at the bottom of his homework essays. He was even better at Potions than she had been, if Slughorn's remarks were anything to go by. It was a family tradition – with a few exceptions, all the Princes had excelled at potion brewing. Many of the books that covered the walls of the living room were related to that topic. The rest...
Her face clouded over. Her father, of course, had coached Severus in his own favorite subject – the Dark Arts. He had let the boy use his wand, and by the time Severus had gone off to school, he had been well versed in a variety of hexes, jinxes, and curses.
Eileen brushed a stray strand of lank hair away from her son's face, careful not to wake him up. The boy had changed over the years, from the happy toddler to a twitchy, nervous, withdrawn child. It had only got worse when he had started Hogwarts. He didn't seem to have a lot of friends. It couldn't have helped that he was a half-blood sorted into Slytherin…but then, what would she know.
It was her secret grief that during the few weeks he was home, Severus never wanted to talk. Not about his father, not about school, not about anything at all, really. He spent most of his time in his room with his books.
With a sigh, she turned and walked into her own bedroom. Only another two weeks until the start of next term, and her vault at Gringotts was empty, with no hope of filling up soon.
She took Severus' book list off her desk and looked it over carefully. Unlocking her battered old trunk in the corner, she lifted the lid. There might be something among her old school books that would still be usable.
Ah, yes. The Standard Book of Spells Grade 5. That was still on the list. The Defense text had been replaced, so that wouldn't do any good. Advanced Potion-Making – it was a N.E.W.T. level book, but she thought Severus would like to have it. He liked studying ahead.
She was lifting out a stack of books to see what was at the bottom of the pile – her copy of Advanced Transfiguration had to be around here somewhere – when the top volume slipped off and fell to the floor.
With a 'tsk' of annoyance Eileen set down her books and picked it up. It had opened to a page in the middle. Lists of words, some of them circled…
She sat back on her heels, her eyes clouding over. She remembered that day. Tea leaves. Bad omens.
Slowly, she ran her finger down the page. "Bad news in love" – that one had certainly come true. "Losses" and "Serious Trouble" – her eyes teared up. She had lost Toby, she had lost the baby, she had lost a life she had loved. Maybe she had even lost Severus... she hadn't been much of a mother to him over the last few years. He certainly wanted little enough to do with her these days.
"An enemy" – Eileen looked at the word uneasily. There was this Dark wizard in the news more and more often. There had been killings of Muggle-borns; people had disappeared... She now seriously regretted ever having put the wedding announcement in the Prophet.
Eileen closed the book with a sharp snap. She wouldn't think of that now. What was done was done. It wasn't as if she could change the fact that she had once been the wife of Tobias Snape, Muggle. Even if she would have wanted to.
She firmly put the book aside and bent back over the trunk. That copy of Advanced Transfiguration had to be around here somewhere.
When there was a sharp knock at the door shortly before midnight, she started anxiously from her reading. She approached the door with alarm – no one could blame her for being worried, not with the Dark Mark in the night sky more and more often.
She certainly wasn't expecting anyone. It was quiet around the house these days, with Severus gone so much. Apparently, he had found himself some friends at last. He was prone to simply disappearing for days, sometimes weeks on end...
Looking through the peephole at her unexpected company, her eyebrows rose in alarm. "Oh my," she muttered. It was Severus. But he hadn't come alone. She cast a desperate look and a quick dusting spell around the dreary living room before putting on a slightly forced smile and lifting the ward on the door.
"Eileen. How very good to see you again." The headmaster of Hogwarts took her hand in both of his and shook it heartily.
"Sir." What was someone like Albus Dumbledore doing here, in Spinner's End? Head of the Wizengamot, Supreme Mugwump of the International Wizarding Federation, the man who had defeated Grindelwald...it was almost like having the Queen drop in for a visit.
"Hello, Mother." Severus' voice was quiet, subdued. She stared uneasily at her son. Something was wrong.
After a moment, she remembered her manners. "Please, have a seat. Can I get you something to drink?"
"I'm afraid we haven't the time." The white-haired wizard looked at her apologetically. "There is a rather urgent matter to attend to." He nodded at her son. "Severus?"
The young man took one step forward, and, after hesitating a moment, pulled up the left sleeve of his robe.
Eileen's hand flew up to her mouth. "No. Oh no, Severus." She had seen that Mark before, many times, in the photos that accompanied the frightening stories in the Prophet – the skull-and-snake floating ominously in the night sky over the houses where Death had visited.
"A bad choice, but he has made amends." The headmaster spoke in a quiet, serious voice. "The fact is, Eileen, that you are in grave danger. Severus came to me because he believes I can help you. He is right. But we have to act quickly. Pack your things, and in an hour, I will send some of my people to take you to a place where you will be safe." He smiled. "I promise we'll take good care of you. We have ways and means of making you disappear so that even Voldemort can't find you."
She saw Severus flinch at the use of the name. She flinched, too.
The smile dropped off Dumbledore's face, and he looked at her gravely. "I know it's a lot to take in, but please know, Eileen, that in spite of what you just saw you have every reason to be proud of your son today." He gave Severus another nod. "I will leave the two of you alone now. There is much to talk about, I'm sure. Eileen, I will see you later."
After he left, she stood helplessly in front of the young wizard. What does one say at a time like this? So many questions, but nothing was coming out of her mouth.
"I'm sorry," Severus said awkwardly. "It's just that... I believed that He..." He broke off. "It's too long a story for right now."
"All right." She nodded. If Dumbledore thought him trustworthy, in spite of the evidence burned onto his forearm, then she would trust him, too.
After all, he was here. He had gone to Dumbledore on her behalf… She looked at her son in sudden fear for him. It was said that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named knew everything, that he could see straight into people's minds. "Severus, what if He finds out – what will become of you?"
"Don't worry about me." He smiled a sharp, bitter, mirthless smile. "I am...quite accustomed to taking care of myself."
They stood for a moment, silently looking at each other, both of them at a loss for words. Then Eileen suddenly reached up and pulled him into a fierce hug, this tall, thin son whom she barely knew at all. "Thank you..." Thank you for caring enough about me to risk this much. Thank you for letting me know that I matter to you. That I matter to someone.
He stood stiffly for a moment before allowing himself to relax, to return the embrace. "You…you're my mother," he murmured. "I couldn't let them do that to you."
She held him tightly. "Will I ever see you again, after today?"
He pulled back, holding her by her upper arms, and his lips quirked up in a quick, fleeting smile. "You know, Mum, I believe you just might."
She looked around the cheerless, book-filled room and the shabby furniture for what might be the last time. After today, this would belong to Severus. She had given him the keys when he had left. Her bags were packed – there wasn't much that she needed – and in twenty minutes, Dumbledore's men would arrive to take her away.
She walked into the kitchen. A last cup of tea, something to steady her nerves…
The knock at the door came earlier than expected, and she got up and let in three wizards with somber faces.
"Ready, Mrs. Snape?"
"Almost." She hurried back into the kitchen and took the teapot and her cup over to the sink to quickly rinse them off. Just before she turned on the tap, she looked inside the cup. The leaves were clumped together, forming the picture of a graceful arch... On a whim, she walked back into the living room and took her old Divination book from where she had stuck it on the bookshelf. This would only take a minute.
Her finger followed down the column of words.
"A bridge – A favorable journey."
She closed the book with a half smile. Today was a bridge, a crossing over from one life into another. It wasn't a journey she had chosen to take. And she didn't know where it would lead. But right at that moment, she let herself hope that everything would turn out all right after all.
She put the book back on the shelf and looked up at the three wizards with determination. "I am ready."
A/N: One fun theory, of course, is that Eileen went on to become the librarian at Hogwarts, taking the name of "Pince", so that she did see him again quite often… :-)