"—to find work. I might not find it, o' course, but needs must. You mind your mam," Da told him, almost kindly, as if, in the absence of anger, the man might remember what that was.
Severus blinked and swallowed. "Best of luck, Da."
With a grunt, Tobias left them.
"Don't worry, Severus."
"Because, er, he'll be back?" he asked.
Eileen snorted and turned towards the kitchen. "Because it'll take that man weeks before he does come back."
Following his mother, Severus asked, "What's for tea?"
"There's just enough grease for a crust, and I've some nuts—and some eggs I've been hi—saving."
Severus frowned at his mother's sudden reticence to speak her mind. She's actually going to miss him. "Why's Da going off to look for work now? What's so special about now?"
"You're about to go to school. Your da," Eileen explained, as she brought out her hidden pie ingredients, "is under the impression that there are fees to be paid."
"And even though I'm a freak—" Severus began.
Eileen finished: "'No son o' mine is taking charity from posh mage-y types'."
Severus smirked, but turned away so that his mam didn't see his expression.
"He does care, in his way."
"Let me help?" Severus asked, abruptly changing the subject.
Eileen sighed. "I want two cups of flour, but there's only—"
"One and a half, I see," said Severus, pouring it into a mixing bowl, the mixing bowl. "I've got the bacon grease and a little bit of butter."
"And here's the apple cider vinegar."
"You're welcome. Don't overmix."
"Of course not!"
"And don't take tones."
I shouldn't take tones. Da can, but I shouldn't, Severus thought grumpily.
As he began to cut the grease and butter into the flour with two knives, however, his mind began to wander. Hogwarts! It was almost time to go to Hogwarts—with Lily! He'd make such friends, not quite as good as Lily, of course, but such friends as would stick by him forever.
And the things I'll learn! thought Severus, proud of what he'd already learned from his mam and eager to learn more. There are so many books in Hogwarts' library that Mam says—
"I'm not overmixing!"
"And do not take that tone with me, boy!"
Rolling his eyes, Severus said, thick and sweet as treacle, "I love you, dearest Mam. Don't be cross with me."
Daring to look behind him, he saw his mother's mouth twitch before smoothing out into its characteristic flat line.
"Don't overmix," Eileen said, without the weight of any particular tone.
And that was affectionate; Severus smiled a bit and began sprinkling the flour and butter mixture, now so many small peas in the bowl, with the vinegar mixed with a bit of water.
"I am now beginning to mix. I will not 'over'," intoned Severus.
"Stop playing," Eileen told him, playfully swatting in his direction with her tea towel.
"What's that you have there?" asked Severus, gesturing to his mother's left hand, which she was keeping in her apron pocket.
Without warning, she cried, "Ham! It's a bit of ham!"
Severus stopped mixing. "Where did you get ham?"
"It's a secret."
"It was Mrs James, wasn't it?"
"Tabitha does share, doesn't she?"
"And you're sometimes awfully vague, Mam."
"Yes," said Eileen, "sometimes I am. Be grateful for the ham—and don't overmix."
"Why 'on't 'ou 'ell 'e 'ere—"
"Chew, swallow, and then speak," ordered Eileen.
"Why won't you tell me where you got the ham?"
"Because I don't want to."
"I'm not a child!" exclaimed Severus, almost upsetting his tea. "Ow!"
"That's a hot cup. Be careful!"
"As careful as you were when you sto—"
Severus' unspoken "stole it" hung in the air as his throat closed.
"Now that's a 'trick' you don't yet know, isn't it, boy? How dare you accuse me of stealing?"
She was practically hissing, was his mother, and Severus was afraid.
Shaking her head, Eileen ended the spell. "Severus, I—"
Tears rolled down his cheeks, his flushed cheeks, and Severus could only breathe for a moment. For one long moment, he breathed in, and he breathed out, and then he said, placing his hands palm down on the table, "Don't make me hate you, too, Mam. I couldn't bear it."
With that, Severus fled the house.
"Mean! Horrid! Awful!"
"I'm sorry, Lily, I am, but it's true! They're both mean."
"Yes," he agreed.
"And awful," Severus and Lily said, together, before Lily took Severus' hands and drew him back down to the ground.
"You made a pie? You can really bake? I've only ever baked scones before. Mum doesn't like it when we use the kitchen without her help."
"But her 'help' ends up being everything?" Severus asked.
"You're right. She's always doing everything for us, and . . . ."
You should be glad, Severus thought, but did not say. "Lily—"
"Oh, I know you think I'm spoiled."
"No! I wasn't going to say that at all! I was going to say that at Hogwarts, you'll be able to do anything you want. No one will coddle you, or keep you from reading any book at all."
"Really?" asked Lily.
"It's the truth!" Severus said, his enthusiasm overpowering his ire at his parents.
"I hope so, Sev."
Severus flushed to hear Lily use her pet name for him, especially in such an effortlessly earnest and affectionate manner.
"I truly do want to learn to be useful."
"You're already perfect," Severus assured Lily, realising too late how he must sound.
She beamed at him. "You're the best friend a girl could ever have!"
Because everything's going to be all right. I'll be with Lily.
Allowing that good thought to steady him as he turned the knob and went in, Severus found a surprise awaiting him in the kitchen: an entire ham, well, less the bits he and his mam had already eaten. Next to it was a note, which read:
It wasn't quite the bloom of happy heat that had warmed him on the way home, but knowing that his mother appreciated his cookery was close.
I liberate. I do not steal. Eat what you like, but remember it's all the ham you'll see for some time. Your crust was good. I had two pieces of the pie after you left.
It was a peace offering, and one that Severus intended to accept.
"I love you, too, Mam."