Disclaimer: Profitless fanwork
Notes and warnings: A weird but possibly not unique juxtaposition of domestic fluff and abuse. A stylized style. (already up on AO3)
Cover image adapted from The Damsel of the Sanct Grael by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, as thoughtfully provided by Wiki.
Album of the SangReal
This is the prince, licking a stripe of cookie dough off the side of her wrist. The sweet, sticky batter feels alive under her hands. She cries when her mother vanishes the bowlful of good things into pure air, and the next time she climbs carefully up the stepladder at the sink first, and washes her hands until they're red and smarting.
This is the prince. She is not a princess, because a princess has to be golden-haired and beautiful and probably useless. This is a prince, and she can skip a stone six times before it sinks, and she can make a bad dog whine and come to lick her hand just with her voice, and she can make bread and mix burn cream all by herself from the book, and soon she will have her own wand.
It will be oak and dragon heartstring, and that's just right for a prince who wears the red and gold, just like her mother and her father and her grandfather. Proud though she is, she thinks blue like her aunt and grandmothers and her other grandfather would have set her off better.
This is the prince, and like other princes, she will not marry a prince. The beautiful boys in her class lose to her at darts and gobstones, and sometimes they even flirt with her a little when they want her notes. She has a good time with them, even if she's easily annoyed by how stupid they are, the things they don't think to do (with her). It's the girls and their plucked brows and pretty hair she can't stand, the girls who might challenge her class ranking if they put the same effort into their homework that they do into manicure spells and teasing combs.
But that's all right: a prince doesn't marry the court damsels, either. A prince marries ash-girls, and raises them. A prince graces the women of the earth.
It turns out that a prince had better not marry a man of the earth if she wants to keep her castle.
This is the prince, brewing a cup of tea for her neighbor. The final touch is to weave it a glamour into it: three circles deosil and twice widdershins, three times, with a stirring-rod of dried butterfly-weed and fluxweed, bound tight with the moon's birch bark. Now that her neighbor will see and smell and taste the tea she was expecting, there will be no problem in giving her the potion that will keep her migraines at bay for another three months. People always feel better after a cup of tea with young Ellie Snape, for all her sharp tongue.
This is the prince, making her first sale. This is her husband, shrugging as she adds her small earnings to his wages from the mill, supposing it will fill more of their shelves with those books she misses, that maybe one day there'll be enough for a right pretty dress to wear out dancing.
There won't. Prince Charming may be a prodigal son, but a responsible prince is frugal with the resources of her home.
This is the prince writing to her mother, one hand resting gently on the top of her belly. There is no written reply, but a steady stream of very small used clothes and blankets, and jam jars of potions and small coins (knuts at first, then her mother must have realized and taken them to be changed), begin to arrive in a slow trickle. This is the wall that the prince has punched through at the first owl, being repaired before her husband gets home. This is his bemused look, which never changes, when she washes the dishes with a flick of her wand. Sometimes she thinks it looks a little disturbed, but he knew what he was getting.
This is the prince hastily signing the birth certificate while her husband is out handing 'round cigars to his mill worker friends at the pub. Her grandfather and her father both have terrible names, names that will be a curse to a child in a muggle town, but there's pride and then there's stupidity, and if she wants her family's advantages for her boy, she can't lay the flattery on lightly.
This is her husband raging when he finds out, and the baby screaming at all the fuss. The packages become less furtive, though, and there are stilted, formal cards at the holidays, small presents of money along with little gifts every January, no longer in wax-sealed jam jars. They never call the boy by his full name, unless he's due a scolding. His father and the other muggles call him Seth, and that's just fine, and keeps him out of some trouble at school.
She calls him something else. Other women's children have bored moments, vague moments. Her boy, however he's behaving, even when he's quiet, it's always ferociously intense. Whatever he is, at any moment, he's always Very.
This is the prince carefully folding a tiny hand around a stirring rod, tracing patterns into a cup of water, bringing it gently down on an empty cutting board in rhythm, chopchopchop, swishing and flicking it in the air.
This is the prince alternating bedtime stories with her husband: Cinderella and Beedle the Bard one night, Snow White and Rabbity Babbity another. This is a young boy giving an apple a very suspicious look, and these are his parents laughing. This is a young boy talking to a rabbit, and this is his father asking him if he's a sissy, talking to woodland creatures like some daft Disney princess—of course it couldn't be in disguise! This is his mother explaining both why it isn't likely, and why there is an outside chance. This is a boy who grows up knowing that 'impossible' doesn't mean the same set of things thing to everyone, and neither does 'mustn't.'
This is a family on a walk, taking a shortcut that gets them lost. This is a father, irritably refusing a point-me spell, insisting he can find the way. This is the sun setting, and the air chilling, and a little boy's teeth chattering too loudly for too long, and a deep voice raised in anger. This is a child shrinking away and flushing with shame and fear, and this the flush rising through his body until his mittens catch fire in his parents' hands. This is his father yelling in pain and fear and outrage, and his mother in crowing delight.
These are picture books from his grandparents, a complete set of the Young Wizard's First series: textbooks for the very young. This is a boy with a crayon and solemn eyes that catch the light from the window, carefully and badly copying the diagrams and incantations and pictures of plants and animals on old newspapers charmed blank. This is a boy concentrating very hard, and drawing his hand closer and closer to a hot cauldron until he can touch it without burning himself. This is his smile. This is his mother's.
This is a fire at the mill, and this is a pink slip, and those were severance wages. Now they're a pint of bitter or two. Or a few. Who's counting?
This is a man who can't provide for his family. This is a man whose wife's weird herbal deals with the neighbors bring in money he himself can only get on the dole, bring in food and old clothes. This is a boy who picks the herbs for her and watches with his mouth open and his eyes wide as she does the only work that brings in the bread and he watches and watches her, and follows her movements with his little hands. This is a boy who turns his back on his father, who isn't doing anything interesting, to learn his mother's work.
This is a pub. It's a friendly place to be. The men in it know the same things he knows, and can do what he can do. It has beer, and darts he can throw. This is a man who wants to throw something at his life, but the dartboard will do until the beer has softened his edges and he can safely go home.
This is a cheque. It was written by a very rich man who no longer lives in but hasn't forgotten his hometown. It means the mill can be rebuilt, and its workers can earn something by helping the construction workers on a daily basis. This is a pub, which is the natural place to go with your mates after a hard day's manual labor. This is the prince, kissing her husband's cheek with a smile, glad to see him with his pride back. This is a boy asking excitedly why Da doesn't take Mam next time; she can probably build the mill back in five minutes with a spell. This is the prince laughing and telling him why that wouldn't work—muggle expectations, the complexity of the project, a woman's help not being really welcome there—not noticing her husband stiffening. This is his son, noticing.
This is a building project that goes more quickly and more smoothly than anyone had expected, and this is the serene face of a prince and the darkened brows of a man who does not tell her that he believes she thinks his hard work is an unnecessary game, that she is humoring him. This is his son with quick black mirrors for eyes, who couldn't find the words to explain it if asked, but doesn't need to be told. This is the space at his hip where a Nottingham wand-maker's work will hang before so very long: this is its kneazle-whisker core.
This is an old school scarf, delivered the day before a boy's first long journey to London for the express train to school. The train will pass his home hours into the trip. The scarf lies gathering dust at the foot of his bed. The warm colors give life to his sallow coloring, but he knows by then that he won't want it. Doesn't want it. Won't accept it, even if he has to set some damn hat on fire.
This is his mother, months later, finally turning away from the wait for the owls that won't be coming anymore.
This is a boy on a dusty summer morning, going to work with his father, as boys do sometimes. This is his interested face as all the machinery is explained to him, and these are the men grinning as he makes sketches of all these machines, which aren't bad for his age, and puzzles over how they fit together. This is his father settling down to work, and this is a boy trying his hand at the repetitive tasks, and this is a boy getting bored. These are the men who find him later in a corner with a serious frown crinkling his heavy brows, curled up around a Latin primer their sons certainly didn't come home from school with.
This is a boy catching hell from those sons in the street the next day for being the swot he is and showing them up in front of their fathers. This is a stringy, scrawny, shrimpy boy getting a reputation as a bite-sized wildcat you do not wish to throw stones at, all at one go. These are boys whose bruises look like they come from blunt instruments rather than fists, and like burn marks, and like frostbite, and (more explicably) like teeth. This is a child who is praised for holding his own in a fight (but not for biting) both by his father and by, perhaps less usually, his red-gold mother.
This is a boy frowning very hard at a pair of leaves, for the fifty-seventh time that day alone (he keeps count). This is his well-earned grin of triumph when one rimes with frost at the same time that the other is consumed by flames. This is the prince beside herself with pride, telling him never to forget what he can do on his own and in silence once he gets a wand and learns the words to make it easy. This is a father who is beyond freaked out, try though he does not to show it. This is a boy learning that, by his very nature, he can't please everyone.
This is a boy preferring to help his mother in her workroom than to go be bored at the mill—one too many times. Two too many. Ten. The pub is a friendly place to be, and this is a thirsty man.
This is the prince, rescuing her beloved from the smelly, belching, earthy place. This is his embarrassment at having his lesser control (what a recurring theme) polished and shown publicly. It's very loud; it sounds like anger.
This is a scene repeating itself.
This is a prince losing patience. This is the tongue she is well known for. These are the lips around it, bleeding for the first time. These are two pairs of shocked black eyes, staring into each other at a level. These are apologies, and these are promises, and these are healing spells of magic and of the flesh. This is a pair of shaken lovers, holding each other through the night, planning in dead earnest to fix everything, to keep each other sure and safe.
This is a scene repeating itself.
This is a scene repeating itself.
This is... and so on.
This is a repeated scene witnessed. These are a man's socks catching fire, and the seat of his pants. This is a boy cowering in a corner. These are veins bulging in a long, reddened face. These are black bruises on thin arms and ribs.
This is a prince who will not back down, and will not accept apologies or promises that won't be kept. This is a red-gold prince who won't be too stubborn to do what her parents want when it's the right thing to do; this is a mother who will take her baby home.
This is a father who knows he is no longer a Da, a husband who no longer holds his wife. Who knows that by morning, everyone on the filthy, reeking river with their fierce-scrubbed doorstops and whitewashed walls and threadbare, dingy washing lines, everyone he shares a pint with, everyone who shares his outdoor pump and privy, all those people who share his fate and haven't pitied him yet, have judged him no worse than any other bloke in the hard times and pigsty they all live in if you can call it living - they'll all know it, too.
These are blackened black eyes peeling open. This is the blood matting black hair. This is a room coming into focus. These are broken shards of oak and dragon heartstring, smouldering on a fire.
This is the silence where a scream should be. This is the heart of a witch.