Eileen had always been a deft hand at casting glamours; it was how she'd snared Toby—not that she'd kept up her "looks" once the man had proved himself a right bastard, of course. Where was the sense in wasting magic, after all? In any case, when her "dead" son showed up at her door, all mysterious bloody wound and silently wounded soul, she'd made him a new face and started the great gash in his neck to healing. She'd never been good at healing, but Severus, who could have easily brewed a remedy for his torn throat, couldn't be bothered, it seemed—and a mam didn't like to see her boy in pain.
She drugged the ingrate, after ministering to him, to give herself time to go into town and find a copy of The Daily Prophet. Mary McKirk, Eileen's oldest friend, had birthed a daughter who'd ended a witch; Rose always kept old copies of the paper about, despite the fact that she lived no better than a Squib. Obviously, Eileen had never said a harsh word against Rose's choice because she'd wasted her own potential by spending it on a Muggle, herself; though, truth be told, Rose's man was a good sort—handsome, too, just as Toby had been before drink and his own nature had ruined him.
The Prophet was full of praise for Severus; the Potter boy had declared him a hero, and that was something that Eileen felt would infuriate her son no end, so she didn't bring the paper home.
My boy, a hero, she mused, after Apparating to her doorstep. It explains a great deal more than he ever did to me.
Severus had always been a sensitive, brooding lad, too interested in that Evans girl and the Dark stuff to be much of a son. Eileen paused, her hand on the doorknob.
Don't be unfair. You weren't much of a mam to him, were you?
Truer words . . . . Still, now that the nightmare that had been Severus' life was over, Eileen knew he'd need looking after, and she was determined to see to it that he was.
Boy's not getting any younger. Needs a wife. 'Course, I ain't so strong of magic to keep him englamoured that long, so I'll need to be finding him a girl as can appreciate his finer qualities—once I discover what they are.
Eileen Prince Snape loved her son, but she was, by virtue of disappointment, pragmatic to a fault.
The problem with Tobias, she knew, hadn't been that he was a bad man. No, it was only that, in a religious, Muggle-nonsense sort of way, he'd been all too good. "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," had been his horrified statement upon learning Eileen's secret. She knew the only reason he'd stayed with her after his discovery had been their boy, who'd been two months away from leaving her womb at the time. She'd never held Toby's shock against him, but she'd also never forgiven her man for asking if he'd "whelped a monster" by having lain with her.
Severus, odd child as he'd been, had never been a monster; no child ever was.
Toby had stayed with them, taking to drink to ease his fear and conscience, and had, when sober, done his duty. They'd been poor, but they'd not starved. She and Toby had rowed about everything, though the fight had been, true enough, always about her lie, but Toby had only ever laid hands upon her. The fact was, despite Eileen's fears, that the only beating Severus had ever received had been at her hands when the lad had tried to defend her; she couldn't abide the boy's bravery, not when Toby thought he was unnatural. Severus had been too small, too weak, too precious to her to have that, and what she'd done ate at her still, but it had kept him from falling under his father's belt.
Her man had been right about one thing, she supposed. Severus wasn't natural, never crying over the usual things, always running after that girl as if she were the only warmth he knew . . . .
Pouring the tea, Eileen realised that Lily Evans most likely had been the only joy in her boy's life.
And that's my fault. "I'm sorry, boy," she murmured.
Severus, who'd been quiet for days, blinked up at her from the small, tatter-skirted sofa by the kitchen hearth. "For what?"
"No biscuits for the tea."
"When have there ever been?"
Churlishness—that won't catch him a wife. "There's sugar, honey, too."
"Unadulterated, if you please."
Eileen didn't, not with her boy looking so wan. Ingrate, using his posh words in rudeness, she thought, distracting herself by stirring three spoonfuls of sugar into Severus' cup and handing it to him. "Drink it."
What she'd wanted to say, really, had been too maternal, too stupidly tender, and he wouldn't have accepted her sentiment; there'd been no question of wasting her breath. It was a relief when Severus merely grunted in response before taking a few grudging sips from her offering.
"Soup and stale bread for soaking in it for supper—but you'll need to collect the empty phials from Rose and me other customers before then. That Rose, she always pours my potions into Muggle bottles so as not to alarm her man."
Eileen's home-based apothecary business earned her enough to put meat on the table; the vegetables, she grew, herself. Only Mary knew her secret now, but her customers all swore that "only a witch could brew a better cold remedy." The irony meant nothing to her, not really, and Eileen made perfumes in springtime; it was something to do, and nothing out of the common way—not for a widow with nothing but nieces in Wales and a son who'd gone off and never visited.
Well, her neighbors thought she had a nephew, too, as that was who she'd said Stephen Prince was after Severus had shown up. As he left, his glamour working well, still, Eileen idly wondered what having grandchildren might be like and then told herself not to be so ridiculously sentimental. It would take a special sort of girl to do for "Stephen," and she'd no idea where to find her.
A week later, Eileen went out to take orders. Rose was happy to see her for a reason other than a remedy.
"Your nephew's a fine figure of a man. How long will he be visiting? My cousin, Anne, well, she'll be coming 'round to stay for a while, and—"
"Boy's already courtin', I'm afraid."
"Oh." The girl looked disappointed. "Such a polite, quiet sort of man—I thought he'd do nicely for Anne."
No Squibs. "Well, it was a kindly thought, right enough, and you'll be wanting a teething salve, then?" Eileen asked, changing the subject.
She was almost to the gate when Mary waylaid her, a crying brat against her hip. "A word?"
"That's two," Eileen replied, turning to go.
"Eileen! I know your Severus isn't courting."
"Belt up, you old cow! You promised not to say—"
"No one's about, and it's past time you explained yourself. You don't truly think you can keep him here, do you? I'm not the only one who'll remember that nieces is all your sister ever gave you. And the boy looks miserable, that's a fact."
Scowling, Eileen told Mary what she knew. It wasn't much, and it was all of it from the Prophet, which, of course, Mary knew about, even though her Rose didn't have much truck with the wizarding world. Mary'd been the only person Eileen had told about her secret when her Hogwarts letter had come. Not that it had mattered—the letter, not Mary's knowing; Mary was trustworthy, and she'd been right kind when Eileen hadn't been allowed to go away to school.
"It don't make much sense, him being a hero and not wanting any reward. Why not teach at that school anymore? Doesn't like it, does he?"
"No friends?" asked Mary, shushing her grandson.
"None as I can tell."
"You'd think he'd miss working his magic."
"The boy's not one to talk about himself, Mary."
Mary grunted, her brow furrowing. "Needs a wife to manage him, seeing as he can't manage himself."
"Agreed, but it ain't so simple."
"You need to tell the right people where he is, Eileen. That Potter boy, he seems keen to see your boy honoured. I s'pose he'd know how to manage Severus out of this bit of black mood. Couldn't you write to him?"
"And say what, exactly? Severus would never forgive me, Mary."
"I could write the Potter boy, then."
"My boy'd think it was me!"
"Prob'ly," Mary agreed, "but it's for his own good, you know. What's for him here, anyway?"
Eileen frowned. Severus didn't much care for her as it was, and she wanted those grandchildren.
Of course, she knew her boy trusted her, or he wouldn't have come back now. She knew he did care something for her, too, or he wouldn't have bothered moving her out of Spinner's End to the relative safety of a heavily warded house on the outskirts of town years back when that Dumbledore'd asked him to work with Voldemort's Death Eaters again. He'd had to explain that circumstance, right enough, because Eileen hadn't wanted to leave until she understood why it was necessary—even then, she'd refused to go to her sister's in Wales; she'd never cared for her nieces, or the endless, irritating cheer of that household.
Spinner's End was being watched, Mary said, by "mysterious folk." Eileen knew that these people had to be Aurors, and it stood to reason that the Ministry would be watching the house, too. It wouldn't do for Muggles to find anything odd in it, and, well, from the papers, it seemed that not everyone believed her boy was dead. Mary thought that the Potter boy could be induced to "discover" Severus at his home, under the right circumstances.
"I'll write the boy and tell him that someone matching your boy's description's been lurking about, and I'll promise to send word when I know he's actually there."
Eileen grunted. "And how'll I persuade Severus to go back there?"
"You won't. You'll slip him a little something and we'll take him there ourselves."
"Rose doesn't keep an owl, Mary. How'll you send word?"
"You know very well how to send word, I think. I'll write the letter, and you'll post it."
"I might as well do the writing," Eileen said, in resignation. He won't forgive me. He'll never come back after he's found.
"Stop fretting, woman. It's the only plan we have—especially seeing as how our Anne's not good enough for him, according to you."
Eileen started. She had forgotten that Mary had overheard her talking with Rose.
"Oh, you've always been intolerant in your own way, woman, I know that, but I suspect you're right. A Squib wouldn't do for your boy. Like needs like, and he's needing to go back to his own. Anne's too sweet to manage Severus."
"Doubt he'll even try to find a wife, even if he does go back," said Eileen.
"Don't you worry. The wives'll all be tryin' to find him, I should think. You did see that Skeeter woman's article, didn't you, 'bout how all the witches've been writing those letters to the war heroes?"
"Idiots. Severus' dead, and still they write, hoping he'll take notice and 'come out of hiding'."
"Exactly. But they can't all be daft. You'll see. This will work."
A few days later, while Severus was out collecting phials, Mary helped Eileen with their letter. Potter wrote back at once. He promised to come as soon as he received further word. He promised to see to it that "Professor Snape" got "his reward."
"Kind lad," was Mary's comment.
Eileen wasn't so sure, no matter what the reports in the Prophet said. Severus hadn't really explained matters between Lily's boy and himself, but she knew they'd never got on. Still, the plan was in effect, and she didn't know what else to do but see it through. Severus needed to go home.
It hurt that that "home" wasn't going to be with her, but a mam had to do what was right for her boy, or so Eileen told herself as Severus slumped forward into his stew later that evening. She wiped his face and fetched Mary, and then she Apparated the two of them with her to Spinner's End, dragging Severus up the stairs behind the bookcase to his old room.
"Been feeding him up, I see," Mary gasped, when he was settled.
"Lard. I've put it in everything—that and the Weight On."
"That the potion you gave Rose's Albert when he wouldn't gain after birth?"
"The very same," Eileen answered, opening a window and summoning the owl she'd arranged to take their second letter to the Potter boy.
Once it left, she removed Severus' glamour, and then she and Mary hid themselves in his wardrobe and waited.
Good boy, Eileen thought of Potter, when the bedroom door opened and he and two others stepped into it not too long after. Prompt.
"Who're his friends?"
"You don't have to whisper, Mary. I've charmed the wardrobe so as they can't hear us speak." She pushed Mary aside and looked through the knot hole. "Don't you recongnise them from the paper?" she asked, budging over to allow Mary to look again.
"Ah, the girl's prettier in person, ain't she? And that's her young man."
Eileen widened the knot hole with a silent spell, and they watched. Granger had pulled her wand and was examining Severus.
"Harry, he's been drugged!"
Potter was just staring; it worried Eileen. "He seems dim, that Potter, just standing there with his mouth hanging open."
"Be charitable, woman. He's surprised, he is. Prob'ly didn't quite believe the letter."
The tall, ginger-haired lad, the Weasley boy, said, "Why'd he drug himself? You don't think he was trying to—"
"Don't be stupid!" Potter and Granger exclaimed as one.
Potter continued, "Snape wouldn't try to kill himself."
"I agree," Granger said. "He must just be exhausted."
"Then why take anything?" asked Weasley.
"Ron," said the girl, "I meant emotionally exhausted. After everything he's been through, it's no wonder the professor has difficulty sleeping."
"Smart girl," murmured Eileen. "It's a shame she's already engaged."
"Too young for him, I think."
"After what she's done?" Eileen asked.
Potter's voice cut off Mary's attempted response.
"I can't believe he's alive."
"Well, what now?" asked Weasley. "Those letters, they weren't from him. I don't think he'll be happy to see us."
"Most likely not," said Granger, "but I expect that this isn't a trap for Harry, after all. I think his mother sent the letters."
"Hermione, we don't even know if she's still alive."
Granger swished her wand and cast a spell. "Yes, we do," she said, turning towards the wardrobe. "Mrs Snape, would you and your friend come out, please?"
The boys pointed their wands at the wardrobe, as well, and Eileen and Mary sighed.
"Nothing for it, then. She's sharp as a tack, that one," Mary told Eileen, as she pushed open the door and stepped out. "You've no cause to be pointing your sticks at an old woman, and that's a fact."
"Uh, hello?" Potter asked more than greeted them.
"Mary McKirk, Muggle woman, and this here is Eileen Snape, the boy's mother. We sent for you. Good of you to come, it was."
Eileen huffed. "She said to put your wands away, didn't she boys?"
Granger had already lowered hers.
Weasley chuckled. "Yeah, you're Mrs Snape, all right. Uh, nice to meet you. Ron Weasley. This is," Ron continued, tucking away his wand and turning to the others, "Hermione Granger and Harry Potter."
No one shook any hands; no one offered any, but Potter did sheath his wand.
"Well," he said. "Why are we here, exactly?"
It was Mary who herded everyone down to the lounge and prepared tea. No one said anything until they all had cups in their hands.
"Thank you for the tea, Mrs McKirk," Potter said quickly. "So. What's this about?"
Eileen cleared her throat. "It's about my boy showing up wounded a few weeks back and not telling me about his being a . . . hero. I kept him under glamour and healed him, but all he'd do was mope about not speaking much. He can't stay here. He belongs with you. I want you to take him . . . home and . . . ."
She wrung her hands, angry with herself as she felt her eyes burn, and starting when a pair of soft hands covered her own. The girl.
"Mrs Snape, it's all right. I think I understand."
"Do you, now?"
"Yes ma'am, Mrs McKirk," Granger replied. "You think that Professor Snape needs looking after, don't you? Do be quiet, Ron!"
The Weasley boy, who'd begun to snigger, fell silent. Mary and Eileen looked on Granger with approval.
"Sharp as a tack," said Mary, as Eileen thought, Knows how to manage her man, that one.
Potter said, "So you drugged him, then?" to Eileen.
Noticing suddenly how very like his mam the boy looked, particularly about the eyes, she replied, "It was the only way."
Potter nodded. "How long will he sleep?"
"He'll be up in an hour or so, I expect."
"Right. I think . . . I'd like to talk to Snape, Professor Snape, ma'am, alone, when he wakes up. I can't, I mean, you have to understand, we can't force him to come back with us if he doesn't want to."
"Harry's right," Granger said.
Eileen frowned. "As you think best, I suppose."
"He won't like it, your having drug—"
"Ron," Granger interrupted.
"Boy's right," Mary said, "but it was for his own good."
Eileen looked around and saw that Potter had left without her noticing. "I . . . I suppose we'd better be off, then. Would you tell him, Potter, that . . . I'd like to know how my boy goes on?"
Granger and Weasley shared a glance before the girl nodded. "Of course. I'm sure, that is, if the professor agrees to go back to Hogwarts with Harry, he'd be happy to let you know. Where are you staying?"
Eileen gave the girl her direction and allowed Mary to take her home, where she sat mute in her kitchen for hours, finally giving into tears once her friend had left.
Sometime near dawn, she couldn't stand the not knowing any longer and made her way back to Spinner's End. It was dark. She let herself into the house and listened; the heavy murmur of masculine voices could be heard emanating from the kitchen.
Stupid boy. Why are they still here? she wondered, creeping nearer to the closed kitchen door.
Opening it a fraction, she peered in before stepping back in surprise at what she'd seen. It wasn't, it seemed, a wife her boy needed.
But the boy looks happy, Eileen thought, all . . . wrapped around his boy like that. Who'd have thought?
It was enough, she decided, to make up for the sad lack of grandchildren she could expect.
As she hurried home, however, Eileen's mind turned to some old books she knew were still in the attics of Spinner's End. The potions were complicated, but she knew enough of the lore to brew them.
If Potter's willing, I might just get my grandbabes, yet.
Eileen smiled. Potter'd had the look of a willing lad, right enough, and Mary'd been right as rain: it'd been a good plan. She hummed all the way home, a silly song she'd loved as a girl when loving anything hadn't been silly at all.
She was humming, still, when, not too many days later, her boys showed up at her door as she'd hoped they would. She was ready for them, too, having baked biscuits for their tea.
That Severus thanked her when she passed him the plate was, of everything that had happened since he first showed up at her door, the most surprise she'd had in years—until he smiled.
And that was happy ending enough for anyone, especially Eileen, who ten months hence became a grandmother. Her baking, or so Mary persisted in telling her, never saw any improvement for its repetition, but Eileen couldn't give a toss, not when her Severus, all healed and not so sullen as he'd been, ate them with such relish while watching his Harry hold their son.
Cedric. It was a good name.
Eileen only hoped he wouldn't end a hero.
The boy could end a Squib, and that'd be enough for me.
Of course, he didn't, much to Eileen's secret relief, but that is another story, one not painful in any way, for her eldest grandson grew into a handsome lad, one who, mercifully, had his Papa Harry's manners, looks, and the good sense to propose to Mrs Hermione Weasley's youngest daughter—and she was the sort of girl who could manage everything, even Severus, who doted upon her and his own grandchildren in spite of himself.
It was something about which Eileen had no problem feeling a bit of maternal tenderness, her boy ending so well, and, when she slipped beyond the Veil not long after the wedding, it was with the knowledge that her family were well in the hands of a capable witch, which was just as it should be.