Title: The Silver Doe
Fandom: Harry Potter
Canon compatibility: DH, but EWE.
Summary: Snapshots of an arranged marriage, years after the fact. Sometimes love takes a little while in coming.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all associated names and trademarks are property of JK Rowling.
Notes: A strange kind of response to the Marriage Law challenge, this came to me during a funeral. As a rule my countrymen always find something to laugh about no matter what the situation, so everyone at my grandparents' home was laughing and telling lively stories over food and coffee; it was only when you looked at the wife my grandfather left behind that you remembered to be sad. I started thinking about the love that can only exist between spouses.
The Snapes' children's names are taken from the Roman canon: Felicity (the narrator), Agatha, Perpetua and Lucy may be found in the Eucharistic Prayer I and Peter, the prince of saints, is of course always mentioned.
(On the location of Harrods: I did forget that there is an actual location for Diagon Alley, and that it's rather far from Harrods. Thank you to whitehound for the reminder. I did just put Diagon Alley where I wanted and I'll keep it there, for the purposes of this story!)
/ \ / \ / \
My father taught my siblings and myself—for there were five of us, if you include poor Agatha who died a few months after she was born—about Potions. The symmetry of it—the logic behind the interaction of its ingredients, the profound pleasure of having the perfect results: all of this we learned before we even stepped into school. Professor Slughorn always praised us for our technique, though in reality only one of us developed a real talent for it—and that was Perpetua, who came after me. But then again she was always the spitting image of my mother, from looks, through temperament, to her aptitude at Potions and that most obscure of subjects, advanced Arithmancy.
Did he teach us a lot of other things, you ask? If you're implying that he might have taught us Dark Magic, well, you could not be more wrong. It wasn't for lack of our asking, I can tell you that. But my father was always appalled at the thought that we would come in contact with anything from his past. He did teach us Defense against the Dark Arts, however. Oh yes. We had a working knowledge of defense charms by the time we were eleven. He used to have us practice with each other in the green drawing room downstairs, beside my mother's parlor. I can never forget the look on his face when Perpetua and I first disarmed each other simultaneously.
My mother never came down for those sessions. She did teach us Potions sometimes, though when she was pregnant she was forbidden by my father to step near the laboratory. She taught us those things she believed we would have learned had we been in Muggle primary school, and more; she taught us English, and history, and botany. But she demurred when we asked her to practice shielding with us—she wouldn't even step into the green drawing room—and my father never asked.
I am not certain if it was because she could not quite handle the memories that refreshed themselves for her whenever we raised a wand and cast a shielding charm. I know from books and from some of my father's stories that she fought a war—was in fact one of its most important figures—when she was barely eighteen, and that she had been preparing for it since she was twelve. When our father told us, we never asked again.
We were not even allowed to show her our Patronuses. I was amazed when mine finally came, flowing like silver water from the end of my wand; it shaped itself into a large cat, not unlike the Kneazles that my father bought my mother when her old cat and companion, Crookshanks, died. Perpetua's was a fox, lithe and limber and more beautiful than mine; Peter's was a large dog, while Lucy, the youngest of us all, couldn't conjure her owl of a Patronus until she was fifteen. Uncle Harry's was beautiful as well, and I remember it clearly—a stag—though I only saw it once, when he sent a message to my father and his voice rang strong and clear from the mouth of the Patronus.
My father's Patronus was a beautiful silver doe, and we never quite understood why, because it was nothing like him. My father was not a handsome man, and neither was he gentle nor meek; he could not have possibly resembled in any way the silver doe that would appear, silent and glittering, and nuzzle us on the cheek and then turn to him; he would even ignore it and banish it without a word after the demonstration was finished. He forbade us to cast the charm when Mother was present. We asked if she had ever seen this beautiful doe and what she had said about it, but on this account he was silent.
But—yes, I can remember a time when my mother did see the doe, in the end. Lucy was always frightened of the dementors that guarded the island where one of father's old friends, a Mr Lucius Malfoy, was held; she had seen them, moving silently and slowly, in the newspapers and had been terrified ever since. It was most disconcerting when she and Peter opened a cupboard somewhere in the older parts of the house and discovered a boggart, and before we knew it a Dementor was floating in front of us, ghastly and frightening, inhaling all of the joy in the room like a man in the desert would drink water.
We were too paralyzed to move, and Lucy had started crying, and even Perpetua could do nothing but call for Mother and Father. Peter had curled up into a ball, his dark hair obscuring his face. Much as I would like to forget this day, its details are still so vivid, so real in my mind that I cannot.
Mother came running first, her wild hair flying about her, wand drawn; but she stopped in her tracks and watched in horror as the Dementor moved closer to us, and it seemed to me that she could not move and was transfixed by memories that I could not see, that replayed themselves perhaps behind her eyelids. I prayed that my father would come soon, and he did, for he was only a handful of steps behind her. He saw the Dementor, stepped between us and its gray, haunting, silent form, and cast the Patronus charm. I watched, transfixed, as the silver doe came, its familiar figure welcome in the extreme.
It was all over in moments, and the boggart was safely trapped in the cupboard again, but the moment Father's patronus disappeared, my mother had started crying; now there were three of them—Mother, Lucy and Peter—who were sobbing loudly in the small room. My father took Lucy and Peter in his arms, but when he turned to my mother, she could not even look at him; she fled the room. Perpetua and I found her hours later, and we could not comfort her, and we could not ask why she had cried.
/ \ / \ / \
Why would you ask that? Of course I understand that my parents' marriage had been arranged—wasn't everyone's, in those days, because of that archaic law?—but I have never doubted that my mother loved my father. It came out in the small things, such as her punctuality in serving his tea and her firm admonitions that we keep quiet while my father napped in the afternoons when he had stayed up very late the night before. It was never out of fear that she did these things and you do them both an injustice by implying otherwise.
Her affection for him was very apparent. She dressed herself to his satisfaction; on Friday evenings there was always some party or dinner, and as a child I used to sit up in my nightdress and watch as my mother, resplendent with excitement, picked out dresses that would secure my father's approval (dark or jewel tones; modest neck- and hemlines; pinched at the waist). Like a debutante on the night of her first ball, she made her preparations into a great production: a long bath—a half hour spent applying hair potions—the careful selection of a dress and jewelry—the tedious business of makeup and perfume. And all of this for the lingering pleasure of having my father say to her, when she had descended the stairs, that she looked very well that evening. The brilliant red of her blush was always enough to tell me and my sister—for we were always looking at them from behind the railing of the stairs—that our mother thought her effort worthwhile.
And you should have seen them when they were dancing. Adoration isn't a strong enough word for the look in my mother's eyes.
You ask, did my father love my mother? I think so. He was as kind and affectionate to her as he was to all of us—perhaps even more so, because when he was upset or ill-tempered and hid out in his rooms or his laboratory, there was nothing we could do to lighten his mood—we could only tiptoe around the house and make as little noise as possible. My mother, however, would brew tea and creep into his rooms; and ten minutes later she would have coaxed him out, and he would be as good humored as a man of his temperament ever could be.
Cruelty? To his very own children? Now why would you ask that? Oh, you meant the tiptoeing. No. My father was part of a generation of children meant to be seen and not heard, and he would have none of that for us. He always treated us like small adults, and never spanked or shouted; indeed he was more civil to us than he was to some of Mother's contemporaries. But then I've always observed that his most powerful device wasn't the loudness of his voice but the whisper of it, the soft sibilants in his speech when he told us off, or when he asked us why we had done something, and were we not clever enough to know the consequences of our actions?
Certainly we were afraid of him, to some degree, but it was not a fear of some punishment disproportionate to the crime. (Indeed Mother's punishments, which came in the form of chores and unpleasant visits to old Aunt Molly who always told us we were too thin and scrawny, were often unbearable.) We were afraid, rather, of the shame of causing displeasure to our father—of having disappointed him.
Which is not to say that there were not strict rules in the household. The house had come to Father and Mother through an old aunt on Father's side, and we were always to be careful with the furniture, which was old but beautiful. We were also never to enter Father's room—although Mother's, which was across the hall from his, was always open to us—for my father was a private man even when, we were assured, he had nothing to hide. And there were names that were never to be mentioned in this house, and it was Uncle Harry who explained one name to us—Albus Dumbledore.
There was one other forbidden name, but it didn't matter whether we said it out loud. We felt its presence like a ghost, and we never spoke of it, Perpetua and I, although we always knew it was there, between the folds of the curtains, within the keys of the piano and in the leaves of the books.
For there was a name whose whisper was in all of the rooms of that large house, and the name was Lily.
/ \ / \ / \
When my sister Agatha died, my father did not cry. I think my mother cried enough for the both of them, although it was done only in the privacy of her room at night. Lucy and Peter had been too young to understand what had happened and so during the day my mother, having taken a leave from her job as Healer, played with the two younger children while Perpetua and I read sober tomes and kept on looking, askance, at the rest of our family.
Since you ask: Of my father's grief there was no display. I can only recall that Perpetua, who asked him question after question as to why tiny, beautiful Agatha had died, had tried my father's patience until he had sat her down and told her about congenital diseases of the heart. Our father could always tell us things in a way that we could understand them.
At night Perpetua and I crept into Mother's room and slept with her while she cried. My mother was a very cheerful person—still a beautiful young woman when she had us—and her laughter was missed sorely in that large house, in those days. Lying under the covers with her I listened to her heartbeat, its steady comforting rhythm, and wondered what was so different about her heart and Agatha's. For many nights this continued until my father opened the door one evening and shooed us away, and closed the door behind us.
I do recall that my father became more protective of his family in the months and years that followed. He was not a sentimental man—and here he differed very much from my mother—but after Agatha's death there was something in his manner, an intensity in his gaze when he watched us and my mother, that made me very sure that he loved us. He worked himself up into an agitated state over the smallest of trifles—a sneeze from Lucy, a cut and bruised knee from Peter—and we never went anywhere out of the house if we were not to be accompanied by him.
And my mother? Yes, of course, to my mother he was very attentive. After the night that we were banished from my mother's rooms, we (Perpetua and I) attempted to return the next night, and the nights after that; but we always found our mother's rooms locked and warded, and thought it safe to assume that my father had taken our place there. It was perhaps just as well, for my father could always make Mother smile in ways that were beyond us; her affection for him was so open, so much laid bare and so intense, that it must have been easy for him to ease her grief a fraction, although his own grief might have been very great.
And of course there was that incident in February 20-… oh, you will not have heard of that, perhaps. Uncle Harry did very well in keeping it out of the papers, being so powerful; being Deputy Minister will do that for you, or so my mother was very fond of saying afterwards. In any case, it was perhaps a year or so after Agatha's death that my mother was resolved on taking a trip into Muggle London.
Lucy and I protested, for Father had asked us not to wander out of the house without informing him, but it was so long since we had been out of the grounds and Grandmother Granger's birthday was in two weeks and we had no presents for her. Mother left Lucy and Peter with one of the House-elves, and bundled up Perpetua and myself in our warmest clothes before we set out for London.
A Floo into Diagon Alley and five brisk minutes of a walk later, we found ourselves in front of Harrods. My sister and I loved that place—we loved to look at all of the accoutrements of a Muggle life, from their strange clothes to the mass-manufactured toys and nonmagical sweets that were so different from ours.
Mother let us loose there and was easily bored, and asked us to stay inside the shop, for she would only be outside for two minutes; her eyes had been caught by the window display and she wanted to look at it from the outside, and by then Perpetua and I were old enough to wander on our own. I remember pausing in my perusal of a rack of clothes, to look out at my mother as she stood outside the window, peering in; she was wearing a coat of the most brilliant red, a shade I know my father claimed to detest but secretly liked when she wore it. It was the shock of my life when I saw my mother, her tiny serene figure, knocked over by an unseen force from outside.
I still cannot understand how she could have been so unfortunate. Perpetua was quicker than I in getting to the door, wrenching it open, and wading into the small crowd that surrounded my mother as she lay unconscious, a small pool of blood beneath her. An automobile, I saw, had veered off from the road, but I had not the leisure to find out what had caused it to hit my mother, nor where the driver was at the moment. Someone was calling an ambulance; Perpetua, for the first time since she was little, was crying. I told Perpetua to stay where she was, and it was the hardest thing I had ever had to do, to run to a small alley, fish out my wand from a pocket in my dress, and summon my happiest memory to conjure a Patronus message for my father.
"Mother is hurt," I told my silver cat to say. "There is an ambulance coming. We are in London, in front of Harrods. Please come."
/ \ / \ / \
Twenty or so minutes later found us in a hospital somewhere; I cannot now remember its name or location, only that the ceilings were yellow and the air smelled faintly of peppermint and antiseptic. Perpetua was still crying, even when the doctor told us that mother had not suffered any injuries to the head or somewhere important—she had only gashed her arm against something sharp as she fell and though the wounds were deep, they were not serious or life-threatening.
At the continuing sound of Perpetua's tears my mother awoke, and it was the most welcome sight that I ever did see in my entire life. I cannot explain the fear that had gripped me from that moment inside the shop, and the joy and relief that accompanied the first fluttering of my mother's eyes. I could not even pay attention to the strange sights and sounds that accompanied my first visit to a Muggle hospital; I could not say a word, and indeed had said none since I conjured my Patronus. My throat tight, I allowed my mother to gather me and my sister to her breast, hidden away from the rest of the beds in the emergency room by a thin curtain and a softly whispered silencing charm from Perpetua.
But I was talking about my father. He did not come until a short while later. We were surprised, however, by the sight of a small figure—a beautiful silver otter—insinuating itself underneath the curtains around Mother's hospital bed. It flew in the air around us, and while I had never seen it before, it seemed oddly familiar—perhaps something in the eyes…
It came to a stop at my mother's feet, perched at the end of her toes. My mother watched it warily; and then the otter opened its mouth, and a voice, deep and unmistakeable as my father's, rang bright and clear from within.
I do not know now what it said, for the moment the Patronus began to speak—from the moment, perhaps, that my mother realized that it was my father's—she began to cry. Perpetua and I could not subdue her, and it was clear to us that her tears had nothing to do with the recent injury of her arm. It was not clear, however, whether her tears were of bitterest misery, or joy, or both.
And when my father came, five minutes later, she was still crying; but she allowed herself to be held by him and kissed his hand, even while Perpetua asked where the silver doe was to be found.