Characters: Severus, OFC
Click to View [Warning(s)]For implied attempted animal abuse and a familial curse.
Word Count: 1711
Summary: Sometimes, it's best not to know where a magical book keeps its brains.
Disclaimer: This work of fan fiction is based on characters and situations created by J. K. Rowling and owned by J. K. Rowling and various publishers, including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books, Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made from (and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended by) the posting of this fan work.
Author's Note: The magical world has always fascinated and horrified me by turns, and this story is inspired by my wondering just what a young magical child might miss even as he closely observes his surroundings. Written for the 2021 run of snapecase. Thank you, Shog, for beta'ing.
"And it's all your fau—"
"Are you ready to read it to me, Severus, dear?"
The ten-year-old looked up from his clay as if he'd been sitting still the entire time that his teacher had been out of the room. "Can't I finish Bertram, Elspeth? His wings aren't—"
"Now, now, you know I told Eileen you'd be home by four."
"Yes, but will I be able to finish him?"
"To 'complete' him?" suggested Elspeth. "'Finish' has an unsavoury connotation."
"I know. Da told Mam he'd finish off Bertie, but Bertie ran off before he could."
Elspeth knelt down next to Severus' work table. "I heard about that, and I'm sorry, but your mother did scry for the kitty, you know."
"I didn't know!"
"Laboratory tones, please, dear."
"I . . . I didn't know, Elspeth. Why didn't she—is Bertie all right?"
"He is. He ran to your neighbors' children, and they've agreed to look after him."
"Don't cry, Severus. I know it's sad that your kitty has to live with other people, but he's alive and well, and yes, you'll be able to complete Bertram's wings before you go home."
"Thank—sniff!—thank you, Elspeth. . . . I guess—"
"You 'suppose', dear."
"—suppose I'm ready, but it was hard."
Severus gently set his dragon figure down and scowled at Elspeth. "Why must everything be a correction?"
"Ah! That was an excellent question and well phrased!"
"Indeed, dear. Now then, are you quite ready to read to me?"
Severus forgot his question and picked up his parchment, so pleased he was by Elspeth's compliment. "Yes, I'm ready."
"Then begin," Elspeth told him.
"The Lesser Slimefrill, now extinct—"
"When did the species go extinct?" interrupted Elspeth.
With a heavy sigh, Severus replied, "The books didn't say, even the talking ones."
"You spoke to a talking book? Did you have permission to do that?"
"Er, well, no, but—"
"Severus," Elspeth said, "it's a serious matter, speaking to a talking book, especially without permission."
"Because I don't know where the book keeps its brain?"
Elspeth laughed. "Yes, that is one good reason to be wary with any magical object, but it's also just plain rude."
"Am I in trouble?"
"No, dear, but consider yourself cautioned. I only gave you the one talking book to consult. Where is the other, the Advanced Primer for Young Learners?"
Blushing, Severus stood up to pick up the book upon which he'd been sitting, and it began to shout.
"What an ill-bred, thieving, useless—"
"That is enough!" Elspeth exclaimed, sending the Primer back to the bookshelf. "Don't be upset. You are the one who consulted the book before you were supposed to. I know very well that it was sitting on my desk. And what have we agreed, we two, about the items sitting on my desk?"
"That I am not to touch them."
"Correct. As far as the book's angry words for you, you are to ignore them. The Primer has no way of knowing your breeding, but you do: you come from a long line of Princes, and therefore, you're of excellent stock."
"But I did thieve," Severus said.
"You "borrowed'," Elspeth asserted. "That's different. That said, dear, had you borrowed a more belligerent book, you might have come to harm, so do be careful in future. Now then, shall we continue?"
"Yes," said Severus, though he remained standing.
Elspeth raised an eyebrow at him.
"It, er, it bit me, Elspeth, when I stood."
In response, Elspeth drew her wand and sent a fizzing, colourful light towards him.
"Is for horses," replied Elspeth. "Now do sit down. Your rear end is in good repair now."
Severus found that quite true as he obeyed. "Should I begin all over again? It's really long, Elspeth, but I want you to hear all of it 'cause—"
"—because I worked hard on it all week!"
"Goodness, you are excited."
"No, no, that's a good thing. Carry on, Severus."
He cleared his throat. "The Lesser Slimefrill, now extinct, weighed between fifty and seventy-five pounds and boasted an 'Elizabethan' collar of colourful scales that would, when the beast was agitated, 'spin out' and rotate while expelling, from glands in the neck, a foul-smelling, caustic secretion that could easily be set alight—and frequently was by the beast in question."
"Goodness, dear, that was long."
Severus repressed a smile. "I'm not done, though."
"Well, do continue. I'm impressed by your clarity."
"It looked like, well, not a pocket dragon but a wheelbarrow-sized one—"
"I'm not sure that your prose need be quite that conversational," interjected Elspeth, "but I can't argue with your use of description. Continue."
"—save that the Lesser Slimefrill preferred sitting on piles of steaming dung rather than shining gold."
"Ew," said Elspeth, much to Severus' delight.
"To put it plainly, the dragon stank, and it was not well tolerated. That said, it was a difficult creature to hunt due to its being, like most dragons, quick to take offense and more likely to explode all over one—unless one found a Lesser Slimefrill in a cesspit."
"Oh, no, not a cesspit!"
Severus giggled before continuing, "In that event, one threw burning logs into the pit and ran like hell."
"That is definitely too 'conversational', Severus."
"Thought as much, but well, I—"
"Have a gift for description. You can revise for tone."
"Oh, very well. I will. Er, the Lesser Slimefrill would spin out its caustic fluid, 'cough' fire at it, and explode in a stinking conflagration that, as this author has mentioned, was better witnessed from afar. One needed only then to fill in the cesspit and dig a new one, taking better care to prevent another Lesser Slimefrill from taking up residence in it."
"Bravo!" Elspeth applauded.
"And Mam didn't help me, not even with 'conflagration'!" Severus exclaimed.
"You used the dictionary?" Elspeth asked.
Severus nodded and said, "And the thesaurus!"
"Well, you did an admirable job of it, dear, and I'm proud of you."
Severus blushed deeply and smiled.
"Yes, a smile sits well on that face, young master. I need to write a letter, so you return to Bertram's wings. When he's done, we'll 'magic' him into his final form."
"I'll paint him, yeah?"
"Oh, er, yes? I'll paint him first? I want him to look his best, Elspeth. For Mam."
"You're not making Bertram for you?"
"Well, she misses Bertie, too, and I thought she might like to have a dragon. I didn't want the figure to be a kitty because, well, because—"
"You're a good boy, Severus. I'm certain that Eileen will love your gift."
"You're not crying, are you?"
"Certainly not. It's only dust in my nose. Do carry on, dear."
Severus settled down to complete Bertram's wings and tried not to think about "finishing" his father. His father was the reason that his mother wasn't allowed to see her sister, and he knew perfectly well that something awful would happen to Mam if Da discovered that he was taking lessons with her while he was down the pub of a Saturday.
"Elspeth?" Severus called quietly.
She didn't look up from the letter she was writing. "Mmm?"
"Do you think we could come here to live? You know, if Mam ever—"
Her gaze caught his. "No. I shan't lie to you. No, it wouldn't be possible under any circumstances. Eileen is no longer a Prince, so the wards won't permit her entry into this house."
"But they permit mine."
"Yes, they do, but only because—"
Elspeth's eyes widened, but then the smile lines around them creased into softness. "Why, aren't you 'full of brains', as Mama would have said. You're very observant, Severus. What made you think that I was dying?"
"Oh, I see. Primer quite naughtily told on me, did it?"
There came an annoyed fluttering from the bookcase.
"You've been correcting me less—"
"Have I? Truly?"
"—well, not that much less, but you've been moving more slowly, and you didn't notice me take the book off your desk, before—and Primer told me it was my fault that you were losing your magic."
"Don't listen to 'Primer', dear. It's not your fault, not any of it. I am succumbing to a familial curse. There is no cure. And whilst I still possess magic, I shall use it as I see fit—and I see fit," Elspeth said, placing her hands on Severus' shoulders, "to spend time with my nephew, Prince wards be damned!"
"But I don't want to hurt you! I don't want you to die!"
"And you're neither hurting me nor the reason that I'm dying, dear," Elspeth told him, pulling him into an embrace.
After a moment, Severus mumbled, "Mam never hugs me."
"Is that so? Well, I do hug. Sometimes." Elspeth rose. "Are you hungry?"
"Then I say we take some tea and cakes and roast beef sandwiches."
"Yes, please! All of those things! Oh, but, but Elspeth, you're still dying!"
"That's quite true, Severus, but not at this particular moment. At this particular moment," Elspeth continued, taking Severus' hand, "I'm leading you to the kitchens where the house-elves cannot wait to spoil you."
"I like the house-elves."
"And they like you, dear."
Severus smiled and, just before following Elseth out the door, turned to issue in the direction of the bookshelf a great, "Pthhhh!"
With a violent shaking, a book "walked" and shook itself off the shelf.
It landed, open, upon the floor. Frozen upon each of the upturned pages were the illustrations of women who bore striking resemblances to both Elspeth and Eileen Prince. They were described, respectively, as being Esme and Eliza Prince, and each bore a caption: "Don't leave!" and "Don't leave her here alone!" in their turn.
"Be right there!" called Elspeth, hurrying into the room.
She gathered up a leather strap from her desk and seized the book from the floor, repositioning the Primer's cover over it before strapping it closed.
The book shuddered.
"I'm sorry, sisters, but it's nothing to do with our nephew. He's a Snape, and he cannot help us."
The Book of Female Princes felt heavier than ever as she shoved it back into place. "Damn Everard Prince and his desire for an all-male line!"
Severus—mercifully only a half Prince—would never know that any Prince witch who took a husband by a certain age was spared a "chapter" of her own. One simply did not burden a child with such information.
Elspeth flicked her wand in Bertram's direction. "Follow me," she told the animated sculpture, the last of the Snapian "Slimefrills," as she made her way back to Severus.
"I don't relish my future, you funny little thing, but I'm glad that I shan't ever bear any little Princes of my own—this curse shall die with me!"
The curse would die with Elspeth, and little Severus would never know about it because his future was free of such things, and bright—as bright, in fact, as dragon's flame.