Go the Distance
AU—This starts at the Easter holidays during Severus' fourth year at Hogwarts and assumes that at some point before he started school Eileen left Tobias and took Severus to live with her parents.
In case there was any doubt, I don't own the Harry Potter series or any recognizable characters.
There was a howl of laughter off to his left, and Severus twisted to see Lupin and Potter pretending to shove Black off the platform and onto the tracks while Pettigrew cheered them on. He spared a moment to hope that at least one of them would lose his grip and send Black tumbling to his death—well, his severe bruising, at least—before returning his attention to his trunk. The Merlin-be-damned thing was heavy, not to mention awkward, and the Ministry's idiotic underage-magic rule meant that he couldn't simply hover it along beside him like any reasonable wizard would. The Hogwarts Express had already left, and he scanned the crowd for his mother. She'd sounded a bit…off…in her last letter, the main reason he was visiting instead of remaining at Hogwarts for the holidays as he was accustomed to doing, but he couldn't believe that anything would keep her from meeting the train.
And then again, maybe something had. He couldn't help a wince at the teeth-grating sound of his grandmother's voice. "I've lived with you for nearly five years, and you still can't remember my name?" Her eyes narrowed as he approached, despite the fact that she couldn't possibly have heard his muttered words, and he smoothed his expression into one of bland compliance. "Grandmother."
"Hurry up; I've better things to do with my time than ferry you about."
Precisely what, Severus wasn't sure…counting the Prince fortune, perhaps? Entertaining guests of dubious virtue? Sniping at his mother? Most probably the last, it certainly seemed to be her primary form of entertainment. He didn't let any of that show on his face, though, as he dragged his trunk along in her wake. She was already all too quick to 'correct' him when she felt his manners didn't uphold the family honor, and she could get frighteningly creative when she so chose. Of course, his very existence didn't precisely uphold the family honor, so…. As soon as they were clear of the crowd, she rested her fingertips lightly on his shoulder, making the minimal contact necessary for Apparition, and took them to the border of the Prince estate. He resumed dragging his trunk—of course she couldn't possibly bother to hover it—across the lawn and up to the door.
Ese, the only house-elf here who actually seemed to like him, took it as soon as he crossed the threshold. "Young Master will wish to be seeing young Mistress now?"
'Young Mistress' being his mother, of course; Ese had been here for at least a few years before she had even been born. "Please, where is Mum?"
"In her rooms, sir."
Severus frowned, but—after making certain that neither of his grandparents was within earshot—took the stairs two and three at a time until he reached the third floor and her suite of rooms. "Mum?"
"In here, Sevvie."
If anyone else had ever called him that he'd have hexed them into next Tuesday, but when she did it almost always made him smile. His smile faded as he pushed through the heavy double-doors and into her bedchamber and realized that she was still in her nightdress, propped up in her bed against a stack of pillows.
"I swear you've grown at least another inch," she said with a smile, forestalling any questions he might have asked. "Come here; let me have a look at you."
He went, sitting carefully on the edge of the bed to give her a hug. "Mum? Is something wrong?"
She sighed and looked away. "I've just been a little tired lately. I'm so glad you were able to come home for the holiday. How has school been? Have those boys been bothering you again?"
He'd mentioned the Moronic Marauders a time or two—it was impossible not to, as tied up as they were in his school life—but she had no idea of the true enmity between them. And he had no intention of enlightening her. "I see them around, a bit."
She didn't look entirely convinced but did let the subject drop. "And your classes?"
"Well enough, I suppose. I'm top of the class in potions." As he had been since he'd started school, in fact he was probably at the level of several of the NEWT students. Unfortunately Hogwarts had a ridiculous policy in which students weren't permitted to take classes beyond their year levels. "Probably Defense too, but I'm not sure. Arithmancy is going well also, although Ancient Runes is still rather dull, and I think I'm going to drop Divination after this year." He'd been tempted to take Muggle Studies as a fourth elective for the sole purpose of irritating his pureblood-fanatic grandparents, but common sense had reasserted itself in time for him to remember that their irritation tended to be hazardous to his health. Not to mention the fact that his housemates would be…less than pleased…as well.
"I'd thought you might," she said with a smile, and he rolled his eyes.
"You couldn't have mentioned that it was a completely useless course before I enrolled?"
"I expected you'd drop it after last year, actually. Why didn't you?"
"I'd heard a rumor that Professor Appolonia was going to retire. Unfortunately, it appears that that's all it was."
"And what about Transfiguration?"
He made a face. "Well, I suspect I won't have to worry about it after next year." McGonagall wouldn't accept anyone in her NEWT level classes who didn't have at least an E on their OWLs, and at the rate he was going if he managed an A it would be by the skin of his teeth.
"Well, it was never my favorite class either," she said, waving it off. "Now why don't you go and get changed out of your school things and we'll take a walk before dinner?"
It didn't take but a moment before he was back at the door to her rooms, and she appeared a moment later in her usual blouse and skirt. Still a bit pale, to his eyes, but before he could ask she mentioned an article in the latest issue of the Continental Potions Journal that distracted him until they'd made it nearly halfway around the grounds. "Mum? You're shivering."
"It's nothing, Sevvie, just a bit of a chill."
"Shall I run back and fetch you a cardigan?" She wasn't a particularly powerful witch, one of the things that his grandparents continually harped upon, and though he could Accio one easily enough—assuming that bloody underage-magic edict wasn't in effect—it would be more difficult for her.
"No, no, that's not necessary. Why don't we go on back up to the house? Your grandparents will expect us to dress for dinner."
'Dressing for dinner' as far as his grandparents were concerned meant formal dress that did nothing to make him feel more comfortable in this place, but then nothing they did made him comfortable so that was hardly unusual. At least there would be no chance of a hex from across the room striking him in the face and giving him green fur for the rest of the day. Bloody Potter menace.
The rest of the holiday passed quickly, and all-too soon he was standing on the train platform, waiting for the Hogwarts Express. Mother had brought him herself, this time, for which he was greatful, and even better all four of the Brainless Bunch seemed to be late. Maybe they'd miss the train.
"You take care of yourself," his mother was saying, and he turned his attention back to her quickly. "And be sure to owl."
"Mum, I'll be back for the summer in barely three months." Her arms crossed, and he gave in. "I promise I'll write."
"Good." The train pulled up, and she hugged him quickly. "Go on, then."
Severus glared at the ugly little creature on the table in front of him. It was supposed to be a pincushion by now, but so far all he'd succeeded in doing was replacing the hedgehog's relatively harmless quills with sharp metal ones. His failure was compounded by the fact that over to his left a heated argument was in progress over whether or not a Lupin's multi-colored pincushion took more or less talent than Pettigrew's tree-shaped one.
The door to the classroom opened, and he spared a moment to hope that perhaps the Venomous Tentacula had gotten hold of another curious first year and McGonagall would be called in to help, thus saving him from the rest of this lesson. Unfortunately it was only a Ravenclaw prefect, and he appeared to be doing nothing more than delivering a note.
"Mr. Snape?" she called after reading the parchment quickly. "The headmaster would like to see you."
"What did you do now, Snivellus?" Black hissed, shooting a pleased smile in his direction.
Normally Severus would have a snide response prepared, but for once he didn't actually know what he might be being summoned for. It had only been two weeks since the holidays had ended and since the Marauders had seemed to be too busy catching up on the work they hadn't bothered to do to harass him, he'd left them alone as well. Of course, it was possible that they'd simply been lulling him into a false sense of security all the while setting him up…. Well, nothing to be done about it now, although as soon as Dumbledore was finished lecturing him he was going to see to it that they didn't have a moment's peace for the rest of the year.
"Severus, come in," Dumbledore said, his face uncharacteristically serious. "Please, take a seat."
That didn't sound like the start of a telling-off, and Severus sank into the chair cautiously.
"I'm afraid we just received a message from St. Mungos." He hesitated a moment before handing over a folded note. "I'm sorry."
Severus stared at him for a moment and then opened the parchment. "We regret to inform you…rapid onset…no cure…." His voice trailed off as he read the name of the patient. Eileen Prince. "I…but…."
"You can Floo home from here. Take as much time as you need."
"No. I just saw her—she was fine." Too pale, and more tired than her activities could account for, but…. "She was fine." He pulled away automatically as something touched his shoulder. "We're going to finish the Gobstones tournament over the summer. We were going to finish the last morning I was home, but I had to finish my Herbology essay." He'd been willing to put it off, hurry through it on the train, but she was a mum and therefore insisted that schoolwork had to come first.
"No!" He didn't have to sit here and listen to this nonsense.
"Here's the Floo powder. I'm sure your—grandparents?—will be waiting for you at home."
Severus stood abruptly, knocking the chair over. "I'm going to St. Mungo's. She's fine; I'll show you!"
He didn't actually remember the Floo trip, or, for that matter, finding the room his mother was in. "M-Mum?" It was private, at least. That was good, she always preferred the quiet.
She didn't move.
"Mum, it's Sevvie." He approached the bed slowly. "Mum?" Her eyes were closed, and he told himself firmly that she was just asleep. She'd been tired lately, maybe he should just let her rest. Except…no, of course she'd want to see him, even if it had been just a few weeks since they'd said goodbye. She was the one who owled once a week whether or not there was any news to tell him, just to ask how he was feeling. His jaw tightened. Whoever sent that letter that said she was dead was going to get a nasty Howler as soon as she found out. "Mum, wake up." He touched her cheek lightly and had a moment to register a chill before everything went black.
He awoke to the sound of fussing above his head, and it took several minutes for him to recognize that he was in St. Mungo's. And then several more to remember why, and he pushed himself upright quickly.
"Easy," the mediwitch said, pressing on his shoulders lightly. "I'm afraid you took a nasty knock to the head when you fainted."
"I need to see my mother."
"Your mother was Eileen Prince?"
"My mother is Eileen Prince," he corrected with a snarl.
The woman gave him a sympathetic look and patted his arm. "I know, dear, it's a shock. Your grandparents will be coming to pick up the body shortly; you'll be able to go home with them. You'll feel better when you're with family."
Severus stared at her for a moment and then lay back down on the bed. This wasn't real. It was all some sort of sick, twisted nightmare and he was going to wake up and there was going to be an owl sitting on his bedpost with a letter and a box of treats from Mum. She'd said in her last letter that she'd found a new recipe for gingers nuts and would send a few along if they turned out well.
Part of him continued to believe that as he accompanied Grandfather home, helped prepare the house for a reception, stood for a eulogy that flowed over him without a single word actually registering…. He was still numb when Grandfather practically threw him through the Floo and into the headmaster's study at Hogwarts.
"Severus?" Dumbledore asked, looking up from a stack of parchments. "I didn't expect to see you back for at least another week. Are you sure you don't want to spend more time with your family? With your grandparents?"
What an idiotic question; he never wanted to spend time with his grandparents. But he'd realized in his first year that calling the headmaster an idiot—even when he was behaving like one—wasn't particularly wise, so he simply shook his head and pushed himself to his feet.
"All right, then, if you're sure. Why don't you go down to the dungeons and get yourself settled back in? Tomorrow is soon enough to restart your classes. All your professors have been notified and will help you get caught up on anything you missed."
"Yes, sir." Although Severus wondered just how much he could possibly have missed in two days.
"I…if there's anything you need, be sure to let someone know. Myself, one of the other professors…."
"Yes, sir," Severus repeated, escaping before Dumbledore could say anything else.