A/N: This story is one of the few I've written with no mention of Minerva in it. I wanted to explore a possible backstory for Severus Snape and his parents, and "Triptych" is the result. It's not a happy story, because there's no canon suggestion that Severus had an even mildly happy childhood. I've done my best to keep within the bounds of known canon. (But don't despair, Snape/McGonagall fans; I've got a new story for them coming in November.)
Thanks for reading.
by Kelly Chambliss
~ / ~ / ~
Chapter 1: Tobias
He hadn't married the girl for love, Tobias was the first to admit it. But then, she hadn't married him for love, neither.
That sort of thing hadn't been so important back then: you looked to marry someone steady, a girl who could keep your house without asking for more than you could earn, who knew how to make a little go a long way. You wanted a sturdy girl who could give you children and then raise them proper, to be respectful and hard-working.
And it weren't like she got nothing in return. You knew what your woman was due: a man steady in his turn, who would support her as best he was able, who wouldn't drink up his pay packet nor raise his hand to her. A man who would look out for his sprogs, would see the boys learnt a useful trade and the gels kept themselves decent so they'd be in the way of finding a steady man of their own.
Then when the kids was older, they could add their own bit to the family till, and a man could start to take life a little easier.
That was how it was supposed to work.
But life never worked the way it was supposed to, not if your name was Tobias Snape, any road.
Still, when he'd first laid eyes on Eileen Prince in the public bar of the Bell and Candle in December of 1957, he hadn't realised how pear-shaped it was all going to go, had he?
But one thing he'd thought he'd knowed straight off: he'd thought she was a good girl. She'd been with Mrs Jenkins, the elderly widow who lived three doors up from the Snapes and who had been such a help during Tobias's mam's final illness. Mrs J had said her niece might visit, her youngest brother's daughter, just a few months out of school. She'd been a scholarship student at a boarding school, or so Tobias understood. A nice girl, Mrs J had said, and she looked it.
She weren't no beauty - - lank dark hair, heavy features - - but she was dressed proper, in a blouse buttoned up decent and a dark skirt and flat shoes. Good bust, too, a man couldn't help noticing a thing like that.
Tobias had stepped over to their table to give a "good evening" to Mrs J, and she had introduced him to the lass. "My niece, Eileen Prince," she said, and Eileen had offered her gloved hand, all polite, like. And she didn't look at all bad when she smiled, just a little shy, which was a good thing, to Tobias's mind.
He'd offered to buy a round and was pleased when Eileen asked only for an orange juice. It wasn't that he was so stuffy as to think that a woman shouldn't have a pint every now and then - - he knew things had changed a lot in the decade since the war; nice women did things now they would have been ashamed to do when he was a lad. But still, if he had his choice, Tobias preferred a girl who was a little more old-fashioned.
It had been a pleasant evening. Eileen had seemed a modest girl, not like them giggling ones what was always talking about themselves. She'd spoken only briefly about the job she'd soon be starting in a chemist's shop. She seemed much more interested in what Tobias did - - hadn't looked down on him for being just a mill labourer; in fact, she'd asked all about his work: what his job was, how he looked after the machines, how he had a reputation even on the other shifts of being a man who was a wizard with repairs.
"Is that really what they call you, then? A wizard?" she'd asked, smiling broadly, and of course at the time, he hadn't known why she'd been so tickled. He'd just thought she was impressed by him, more fool he.
Tobias had seen Eileen and Mrs J at the pub the next night, too, and as they were getting ready to leave, he'd offered to call for them the following evening, if they planned on coming.
"Oh, it's not so easy for these old bones to be going out every night," Mrs J had said. "But don't let me stop you - - you young people have your fun."
So he'd known his courtship had her approval, and Eileen's quiet smile had indicated that she wouldn't say no to walking out with him.
They'd gone to the Bell every night of Eileen's visit fortnight, and Mrs J invited him one day for tea, too. "A home-cooked meal will do you good, Tobias Snape," she'd said. "I know how it is with you men living alone - - I wouldn't be half surprised to find you do all your eating out of tins."
Tobias had laughed and confessed to the sin. The tea had been hefty: a good, thick stew and fresh bread, and lemon tart for afters. Mrs J had been at pains to inform him that the baking was Eileen's work.
On the Friday before Eileen was to leave, Tobias asked her formally if she'd go out for a proper meal with him.
He'd been giving his situation a lot of thought. Mrs J had called him a "young person," but he wasn't. He was 39, almost forty - - twenty years older than Eileen - - and it was high time he settled down. He'd put off marriage, first because of the war, then because of his da's death, and then again because of his mam's, but now he had nothing to wait for: he needed only a suitable, sensible girl, and from what he'd seen of Eileen, she was that.
He took her to a posh place, with white tablecloths and linen napkins, wine glasses, two forks apiece, and real flowers, and he made his offer.
He'd spelt out everything, the good and the bad. It was only fair that the lass knew what she would be signing on for, or so he'd thought then. It never occurred to him that she wouldn't think he deserved the same. But then, stupid pillock that he'd been, it never occurred to him that there would be anything "off" about her that he'd need to know in the first place.
"If it's romance you're after, you won't find it with me," he told her. "But if it's security you want, a home of your own and a home for your babes, you'll have that. I'm in good health, and I've got a bit put by. And I might have a pint or two of an evening, but I'm sober; my wages will come home with me, you need have no fear about that."
He'd expected some shyness on her part, maybe a little blushing or stammering, but she'd surprised him by looking at him with what he now thought had been a calculating eye and nodding briskly. "It's quite a lot to consider, Mr Snape," she had said.
"You don't have to say yea or nay just now," he'd replied. "You think about it. Come look at the house if you like."
She'd liked. "It's nowt fancy," he'd said, as they walked along the river after eating. "Not many mod cons. But it's kept three generations o' Snapes warm and dry, and I wouldn't mind making it four."
He'd watched her face closely as he'd opened the door, and they stepped straight from the street into the sitting room. But she hadn't seemed dismayed; she took it all in matter-of-factly: the tiny lounge, the kitchen with its plain deal table and its ice-box, the small yard with its necessary.
Well, she hadn't said no straight off, so Tobias had taken heart. It wasn't as if he thought he had owt to be ashamed of, anyway. His sort of life, plain and steadfast, was good enough for her auntie; he didn't imagine that Eileen had been brought up much better.
When they'd finished the house tour - - it didn't take long, of course - - Tobias thought of offering tea, but Eileen was already lifting her coat from the back of the settee and slipping her arms into the sleeves.
"Thank you for showing me the house," she said. "It's cosy. I'm sure we'll be happy here."
Tobias wasn't sure he'd heard her aright. "We'll be happy?" he said. "Do you mean - - you're saying 'yes,' then?"
She'd nodded. "I am. I'm honoured by your proposal, Mr - - Tobias, and I accept."
"But don't you want to think it over first, talk to your auntie?" Her parents, he knew, were dead, killed in the Manchester Christmas blitz of 1940, when Eileen was only two years old; she'd been raised by a gran, also now gone. Now that she was giving him the answer he'd thought he wanted, he felt a sudden stirring of doubt. She was young; he didn't want her to make such a decision without advice.
"Aunt Ida thinks it's a fine idea; she says you're a good man. Sober - - most of the time." She grinned at him suddenly, and Tobias had his first inkling that Eileen Prince might not be quite so serious and demure as she had so far appeared. She stood looking at him, as if expecting something, and he felt wrong-footed somehow. It was a feeling he would come to know well over the years.
"Well, then," he said awkwardly. He supposed he should give her a kiss or summat; he hadn't intended to, not before she'd give him his answer - - kisses were for when you was actually betrothed. And Tobias wasn't fond of kissing in any event; he'd avoided it those few times he'd turned to prossies to satisfy his needs.
Still, Eileen was going to be his wife, so he supposed he'd better start getting used to things. A quick buss on the cheek would be enough.
But Eileen forestalled him by holding out her hand. "I'll try to be a good wife to you, Tobias," she'd said.
They'd shaken on it.
~ / ~ / ~
"I'll try to be a good wife," she'd said, and there had been a year or so, at the start, when he'd believed he'd not been unhappy.
They'd married at a registry office a month after his proposal, just four of them present: Tobias, Eileen, Mrs J, and Jem Babson, who'd been Tobias's best mate in grammar school and who still worked side-by-side with him at the mill. He'd agreed to stand up with Tobias, as Tobias had done for him.
Mrs J gave them a nice meal after: roast chicken and potatoes, followed by a pretty cake from a shop, all over sugar roses, and a toast of champagne. Jem had made a funny speech, and they'd all laughed when Eileen had got bubbles up her nose.
In the evening, Tobias had walked his new wife to her new home. He'd moved her things in earlier. She hadn't come with much - - just a few baskets of clothing, a small hope chest of linens, and what looked like the remains of her childhood: a box of odd, swirly-glass marbles and a half-dozen battered books. Plus there were the things had belonged to her gran, that Mrs J had been saving while Eileen had been at school: some hand-painted china plates, a set of silver teaspoons, photo albums.
Mrs J's gift was a silver cake-stand what had been give to her by her late husband on their silver wedding. It was handsome of her, Tobias thought. He'd always regretted that Mrs J had died so soon after. He hadn't even known she'd been sick.
But he hadn't been thinking on death then, not the night he'd brought his bride home. What man would, on his wedding night?
Tobias had been Eileen's first - - her only - - man, and he'd not been sorry to find her rather charmingly nervous after she'd put on her hope chest night-dress and climbed into the big old bed with him. He'd been gentle with her, patient. Even she admitted that.
Throughout those first months of their marriage, he'd been careful never to be importunate. That had been his da's word, "importunate." His da hadn't been much of a man for talking, but he'd learnt Tobias that much.
"When it comes to. . .physical relations, lad," he'd said, the one time he'd discussed such things with his son, "a woman's never going to want to have you as often as you want to have her. That's just the natural way of things. So you got to meet her half-way. Don't be importunate. If you ask only half as often as you want it, and she gives in to you twice as much as she wants to, you'll get along fine."
And that's what Tobias had done. Once a week, every Saturday night, he'd lifted the hem of Eileen's night-dress and put himself slowly inside her, resting his weight on his arms so he wouldn't be too much of a burden to her. She'd clutch his shoulders and rock with him, making soft little sounds that drove him on faster. He tried not to hurt her, tried not to take too long, tried to remember always to kiss her when he finished.
He'd done his best by her. And she'd not complained. If she'd been unhappy, how was he to know? She'd been a quiet one right from the very start, and if she'd got quieter as time passed - - sullen, even - -well, that had seemed a normal thing to him. His own da had never been one for conversation. He thought he remembered his mam being chattier, specially when he'd been a wee lad, but by the time he'd been old enough to pay attention to such things, his mam had become almost as quiet as his da, speaking only when there was need, and it hadn't done none of them any harm.
He hadn't known of any problems with Eileen. She had kept the house all right, had his meals ready when his shift was done. In the beginning she'd often gone to the pub with him, but a lot of his time had been took up with darts, and she hadn't got on too well with the other wives, so she'd started staying home. She didn't seem to mind, and Tobias had been relieved; it saved a bit, and he didn't have to worry about her when he'd go off with his mates.
No, Tobias had done his best by Eileen. If maybe he didn't pay her as much mind as she would have liked, at least he'd never lied to her, not like she done to him. And if he'd come to do the things he'd swore to her he'd never do - - drink up his pay, raise his hand to her - - she had only to look to herself for the reasons.
~ / ~ / ~
They'd been married over a year before he found out the first ugly truth about her - - that she had strange and fearsome powers, the sort of thing what got people put to fiery deaths back in the old days.
He'd only found out because of the children - - or more to the point, the fact that there hadn't been no children.
It weren't for lack of trying - - Saturday nights had been regular as clockwork, and in the first two or three months, well, he'd done the deed a little more often; she hadn't seemed to mind. But it hadn't made for no baby.
Eileen had finally said she was going to see a doctor. Tobias didn't put much stock in doctors, but he hadn't said no. He didn't even fuss when she said she weren't going to the free local GP.
So she'd gone, and when she'd come back, that's when she finally decided that maybe he deserved to know what sort of a. . .a thing he'd married.
"I've found out what we can do about the baby," she'd said. "But there's something you should know first."
And then she'd told him - - told him that she was a witch, that she had magical powers. She'd taken out that. . .that wand and showed him. At first he'd thought her mad, but gradually, he'd come to believe her. What choice did he have?
It was a good thing, Tobias thought then and now, that he had never been a religious man, never been one to believe in holy ghosties and eternal hellfires, because if he had been, the sight of Eileen with that wand, the sound of her muttering spells in foreign tongues - - he'd have been convinced it was the devil's work, right enough.
It had taken him the better part of a week to settle in his mind that she were telling the truth. He'd talked more than he had in years, asking her question after question. And most of the time, he hadn't liked the answers.
For starters, the school she'd gone to had not been girls' boarding school at all, but a school for magic. Most of her family had been magical, although her aunt had been something called a "squib." There was an entire magical world, with a government and laws and a PM. She'd shown him spells and books and moving photographs.
Finally, he had believed.
And then the anger had come: anger that she hadn't told him sooner, before he'd taken an oath with her, before he had taken her into his house and bed for all to see. It wasn't as if he could leave her - - the Snapes didn't hold with divorce, there had never been such a thing in the family. Not that everyone had chosen a partner well, of course not, but that was why you waited. That was why you didn't choose a bride for a pretty face, or let your willy make the choice for you. He'd done what he was supposed to: he'd picked a girl what had seemed level-headed and frugal and healthy.
And she'd turned out to be a liar, or as good as. And a freak and a pervert. And she didn't even seem at all ashamed of herself.
"I didn't tell you because I knew you'd act like this," she'd said, flicking her hand at him. "And it's not something that really matters. I told you, I've given up the wizarding world, it's betrayed me. Haven't I been living like a muggle all these months? If it wasn't that you need to be part of the baby spell, take a few potions and follow a few rituals, you would never have had to know. Nothing is going to change, don't you see? Everything is just like it was."
"Nothing is like it was!" he'd shouted. "And now you want me to do some magic mumbo-jumbo to make a baby with you? Will it have these mad powers, too?"
"There's nothing mad about it. Magic can be used for good or ill, just like anything. The baby might be magical, it might not. There's no telling until later."
He'd stormed out of the house then, intending to go to the pub, but he hadn't wanted to face his mates. So he'd walked in the rain until he'd come to a different pub far from his local.
And there he sat with pint and pipe to think about what to do.
~ / ~ / ~
In the end, Tobias had gone back to the life he'd made with Eileen. He couldn't forget that they'd got their start built on a lie, but the more he thought about it, the more he considered that perhaps this "magic" wouldn't be such a bad thing. She'd already said she wanted to keep it from the neighbors, so there'd be nothing to mark the Snapes as different from everyone else. It weren't like they'd have freaks hanging about their house. As Eileen said, she wanted nothing to do with them magical folks.
As for the magic itself - - well, it was bound to be dead useful, weren't it? It would be like winning the Sweeps, Tobias had told himself. They wouldn't want for nothing: he imagined Eileen getting them food and money and clothes by magic. She could tide them over the lean times - - and maybe they wouldn't even have to have no lean times. Tobias wasn't a greedy man; he didn't want riches or to get above himself. All he asked was a little security, maybe a few extras now and again - - take a caravan at Blackpool for a whole week, maybe.
It was in picturing himself buying his little lad or gel a donkey ride at the seaside that Tobias realised he'd already made his decision: he was going to give it a go with Eileen, see if they could make that baby, magic or no magic. They'd be a family, and the magic wouldn't be a problem, just be there for them to use it when they needed it, and otherwise they'd be normal.
Just the word made Tobias's gut twist, and he ordered himself another lager. Third? Fourth? Like it mattered.
No, there was nothing normal about Eileen Prince, and magic weren't the half of it. Not by a long chalk.
Not that he'd had much to do with magic, in the end. He should have known better than to think Eileen would use it to help them. Stingy, she turned out to be - - mean and close, with magic and truth and just about everything else. He'd never got a bloody thing out of her powers. "You can't get food with magic," she'd say. "You can't get money with magic. You can't do this, you can't do that. . ."
"Well, what blasted good is it, then?" Tobias had finally shouted. She'd tried to explain, but he'd never understood. All her talk of Statutes of Secrecy and Gramp's Laws and Second Theorems of Transfigure-whatsis never made no sense to him. Just excuses, that's all they was. Excuses. So that she could cut Tobias out of her life, make him a stranger in his own home. A stranger to his own lad.
Oh, aye, the lad. Yes, they'd had their baby all right, him and Eileen. Peaked, dark little thing, just like his mam. He'd been a difficult infant, cried fit to bust all the time. Then when he'd been a little older, he'd got quiet - - too quiet. Always watching Tobias with them black eyes. Uncanny, it were.
Still, Tobias had had hopes for his boy. Of course he had. And they'd had some good times. He'd take little Severus out with him sometimes, to darts at the pub. Eileen would never go - - things was over between her and Tobias by then - - but the local women would take charge of Sev, fuss over him, spoil him with too many crisps. Tobias let them call the lad "Sev" because Eileen hated it so. Well, to hell with her, he'd thought. She was the one what give the boy that blamed stupid name in the first place.
But then had come that never-to-be-forgotten championship darts night.
Tobias had taken five-year-old Severus with him; he'd thought it would do the boy good to see his da proclaimed the winner, watch people shake Tobias's hand, slap his back, ply him with pints.
All that had happened, right enough. Jem Babson had hoisted little Severus high so's he could see the final winning throw, and the lad had lifted his arm in a cheer.
And then he'd made coloured sparks shoot into the smoky air. The lad had raised up his hand and made bits of fire fall on people's heads.
The women had screamed, and the men had beat out the sparks on each other's shoulders, and the host had taken Tobias aside to tear strips off him for letting a child light fireworks in a crowded pub.
Not until later was Tobias able to find comfort in the fact that everyone assumed a logical explanation for the coloured sparks. At the time, he'd felt only horror: his lad was magic.
It was after that night that Eileen began to turn the boy against his own father. She'd gathered him to her, told him he was magic and special and that his da weren't. He'd come home one day to find her showing the lad her wand and them funny swirly marbles of hers; seemed they were from some magic game Eileen claimed once to have been good at. When Severus had touched the wand, a few sparks had come out of it, and Eileen had looked at Tobias with what he'd been sure was a smirk of triumph.
Somehow the years had passed, and now his boy was going off to that bloody magic school. It's all he'd talked about since the day he were old enough to know what it was - - his mother filled his head full of tales, o' course: fairy tales, like as not. But the boy was set on going. When that ruddy owl had brought his letter of acceptance yesterday, Severus had grinned like a person possessed, he were that chuffed. It was the first time Tobias had seen a smile on his boy's face in months, for the lad had turned out sullen like his mam. Never happy, except at the thought of leaving his home.
His son was a stranger to him, yet another thing Eileen was to blame for.
Many times she goaded Tobias into shouting at her so that he'd look bad to the lad. And then when the boy was old enough for school, she wouldn't use her magic to fix his too-large, cast-off clothes - - she wanted him to think his da couldn't provide for him, even though the mill-layoffs weren't none of Tobias's fault. Yes, maybe he drank up a little too much of the housekeeping, but who could blame him? No work and a freak of a wife who now disgusted him too much to even touch, except in the anger she drove him to.
Tobias finished the third - - fourth? - - lager and swiped his sleeve across his mouth. He didn't care how nasty his coat got; Eileen could just do the wash. She couldn't be a proper wife to him any more; she could at least continue make herself useful in the house.
A proper wife - - no, she weren't. She was a freak, and not just because of the magic. To think that he'd once slept in a bed next to her, been intimate with her. . .
He needed another drink.
No, Tobias had not had marital relations with Eileen for twelve years, not since just before Severus was born. Those last few months of the pregnancy, she'd been too uncomfortable. Then after the birth, she'd been too sore, though he'd expected that, of course. He'd been willing to wait.
What he hadn't expected was to come home from his shift, looking forward to seeing his four-month-old son, only to find his whore of a wife in bed with someone else.
With a woman.
With a frizzy-haired witch of a woman who'd gazed unblinking at Tobias through big spectacles, staring at him bold as brass with her hands all over his woman.
And today, more than ten years later, when Tobias had been on his way home from the pub, he'd thought he'd seen the bitch leaving his house again. He couldn't swear to it, he'd just had a brief glimpse, but that wild hair had looked all too familiar. . .
If it had been her, there was nothing he could do about it, though, and the thought made Tobias punch the bar in anger. The landlord, ringing up a drink at the till, looked over at him but didn't say anything; he was a man knew how to mind his own business, Gil was. Well, he wouldn't be much of a licencee if he wasn't used to seeing men in a temper.
Not that the temper was going to do anything for Tobias but give him a sour stomach. He wouldn't even get the satisfaction of a good row with Eileen. If he mentioned the frizzy-haired woman, asked if she'd been in the house, Eileen would just lie about it. Deny it up one side and down the other. Of course she would, she was a liar and a freak. And a pervert.
So he was going to have another drink. And then another, if he wanted it. Why shouldn't he? He didn't have no pleasure in his home or his family, the very places a man ought to feel most comfortable.
What kind of a piss-poor life was it, when beer was all he had left?