Summary of Chapter 11 – The Prying Potion and Pure-blood Pride
Severus gives Hermione a potion to drink that lowers her mental shields. He hopes that by slipping into her mind undetected and manipulating her thoughts, he can give her better understanding of her own though process. Hermione innocently calls it a date-rape-drug, which, however, doesn’t keep her from drinking it almost the same instant. For reasons she doesn’t fully understand, this rattles Severus and almost makes him cancel the lesson. They finally agree that Severus won’t rummage around in her head, but will only try to find two very specific memories: What Hermione had for dinner and what her last conversation with Harry was about. The first is soon discovered, but in the heat of the following conversation about why pure-bloods feel threatened by Muggle-borns, he has all but forgotten to search for the second. The conversation ends with a surprising admission by the former Death Eater: “I never hated Muggles. I just hated my father.”
Hermione had always suspected that the Potions Professor hadn’t had the most protected childhood – the memories he had given Harry had hinted at that. “Why?” she dared to ask, wondering if he would tell her. To even think it possible that he might disclose such a deeply private thing to her was surreal. But he did, and Hermione felt a wave of warmth and compassion rise within her. There was no better way for him to express that she had come to play a special role in his life.
“My childhood was every bit as miserable as Potters, Miss Granger. So if Dumbledore hoped that I would pity Harry for being made to sleep under the staircase, he failed to remember what my own home-life was like. My father was a violent man with many problems – alcohol abuse being one of them. At least Harry never experienced physical violence, like my mother and I did. And he could find comfort in the knowledge that the people who neglected him weren’t his own parents.”
“That’s horrible...” Hermione said, trying not to let emotions colour the tone of her voice. She strongly suspected that he wouldn’t take kindly to it, being unable to distinguish pity from compassion. “Your mother was a witch... why did she put up with domestic abuse?”
“You think it’s lack of physical power that makes women become victims of domestic violence?” he asked, looking at her with a questioning brow. “It’s lack of resolve, Miss Granger, and often, lack of options. My mother was disowned by her family. By marrying a Muggle, she had defiled her family’s good name. She had no means to return to the wizarding world after that shame, and she had never really learned how to get by in the Muggle one. She wasn’t a strong person. As far as I know, she committed only one act of rebellion in her entire life: When her father, Septimus Prince, tried to force her into marriage with a man twice her age when she was barely out of Hogwarts. She ran away and somehow ended up totally lost and without funds in Muggle Manchester. Three months later, she was married to Tobias Snape. Her family never spoke to her again.”
With a slight hiss, her potion suddenly turned green. Hermione lowered the heat and, with an expression of extreme disgust, crushed two rotten eggs on the rim of the cauldron. The sulphurous smell was horrible and she quickly cast an air cleaning charm before taking her next breath. Picking up the stirring rod again, she thought of what he had said. His mother had run away so as not to be married to a man twice her age? Hermione wondered if that was also part of the reason he found their age difference such an important factor.
“Surely, she didn’t reject her chosen husband solely for his age?” she inquired, hoping that he didn’t consider that a valid reason.
“No, of course not. In the wizarding world, it’s not at all uncommon for young women to marry much older husbands. At that time, women were not supposed to pursue a career and thus needed a husband who was established enough to provide for a family. But the wizard my grandfather had chosen for my mother was a disagreeable man, judging from the little she told me. Even so, her refusal to abide by her father’s wishes cost her everything.”
“But how did your mum, a talented witch from a respectable wizard family, end up with a Muggle who was an abusive drunk?”
“My father wasn’t a miserable drunk when they met. He was a factory worker, and well enough off at least to own the small house we lived in, and in the sixties, the neighbourhood wasn’t quite as poor and run-down as it is nowadays. Allegedly, he used to be charming and funny, and helped her when she had no one to turn to. She said he saved her, though from what exactly, she never told me.”
“So she loved him?”
He shrugged. How was he to know? Such things were never voiced in his home. “At least, she was grateful and loyal,” he surmised. “Although I wouldn’t call it a happy marriage, my early childhood memories weren’t all bad... My mother was loving, even if my father never really seemed to care much for me. Everything went down the drain when the factory closed and my father was laid off. He was on and off jobs from then on, hardly making enough money to keep us afloat, and it wreaked havoc with his self-esteem. The alcohol was an almost inevitable consequence, and when he was drunk, he often got violent. But he also was apologetic afterwards, and my mother always forgave him. I guess it was her way of making up for the fact that she had betrayed him.”
“Betrayed him? You mean she was unfaithful?”
He shook his head. “She betrayed him about who she was. Apparently, he never knew that my mother was a witch until I was born and started to show signs of magic. My father couldn’t deal with the revelation. Her skills frightened him, so she never used magic when he was around. Not even to fix our clothes when there wasn’t enough money to buy new ones. Eventually, she stopped using it at all.”
“If he had problems with his self-esteem, having a wife who could do magic probably only added to them...” Hermione mused, putting her stirring rod aside and turning off the heat beneath the cauldron. Her potion was done. Now, it only had to cool.
Her professor nodded thoughtfully. “It brought an imbalance to their relationship that neither could deal with. My mother came from a typical paternalistic pure-blood family. Women’s roles were – still are – defined like they were in the Victorian era. They were raised to respect and obey their husbands and their fathers. Although my mother rebelled against her father that one time, this behaviour pattern was deeply ingrained. It’s another explanation for why she didn’t ever leave him. She tried to re-establish the classical roles by giving up what made her superior in terms of power: her magic.
My father was raised in a generation that expected the man to be the care-taker of the family, and failing to be able to do so properly was considered a shame. They struggled for a while to make it work, but ultimately, they both were unable to live with the restrictions they had put on themselves. My father succumbed to alcohol, my mother to depression. The Hogwarts letter was my salvation.”
Hermione started to clean her work-table and pondered gratefully how different her own life had been, with parents who clearly loved and respected each other and both had satisfying jobs that allowed them to live in modest luxury. She had had everything a child could wish for – if only there hadn’t always been the awareness that she was somehow different and didn’t belong in that simple and orderly world.
Spiral fumes rising from her professor’s cauldron indicated that the Stomach Soothing Potion was brought to completion, too. He also set it aside for cooling.
“You father had not minded you going to Hogwarts?” she inquired. She longed to hear more about his childhood and his Hogwarts years – it seemed like important background information to understand the man he had become. Fortunately, he seemed inclined to indulge her.
“My father probably would have minded a great deal if he had still been around. But at that point, he was rarely ever home. Eventually, he didn’t come back at all. We never found out what happened to him – he might have moved away, or fallen drunken into the river... Frankly, I didn’t care very much. It was a relief when he was gone. At least I was free to practise magic at home now whenever I wanted, and eventually learned how to fix my own clothes.”
It seemed so hard to imagine now with his immaculate robes. Given that she had been observing him much closer recently, it hadn’t escaped her notice that he had quite a stack of robes, and not just a single outfit, as rumours had it. The variations were extremely subtle though, like a higher or lower number of buttons on his frock coat, a slightly different collar, a different shade of black, or a slightly thicker or thinner texture to compensate for minor changes in temperature.
“What happened to your mum?” she asked, already suspecting that there hadn’t been a happy end for her.
“She died when I was sixteen.” He didn’t really understand why he told her. He never spoke about his personal affairs with anyone. But he had seen so many of her secrets in her mind, and her willingness to expose herself to him somehow seemed to call for reciprocation. Besides, she might find it a source of comfort to know that no matter how bad a situation was, it could always be worse. Or maybe – and that again was a possibility he didn’t dare to explore further – there was just something about her that brought out a deep-rooted and long denied need for closeness in him, a secret yearning for understanding, for compassion, for feeling as if somebody actually cared.
“How terrible!” She paused and gave him sympathetic glance. “I’m sorry.”
“It was a long time ago, Miss Granger, and I hadn’t really had a mother for many years prior to her death. Her depression had made her unable to really care for anyone but herself.”
“She never used her magic again, even after your father was gone?”
“No. If a wizard or a witch stops using his magic for an extended period of time and suppresses it, the unused magical energy builds up and leaks into the physical body, causing multiple health problems. You might say that her own rejected magic made her sick and killed her in the end.”
Hermione went to the sink to clean the messy working utensils. “Sirius once said that you knew more curses and hexes as a first-year than most seventh years. How did you learn them, if not from your mother?”
“Sirius lied. I didn’t know that many spells when I arrived at Hogwarts – merely those few my mother had secretly taught me while she still could, in my younger years. But I was a fast learner, and the Marauders made sure that I read every book in the Hogwarts library that taught me how to defend myself quickly.” He smirked and added: “I wasn’t really that good before my second year.”
Hermione had a hard time finding the humour in it, knowing why he had felt the need to become proficient in defending himself. If it hadn’t been for Harry and Ron, she might easily have found herself in a similar position – bullied and shunned for her upbringing and her parents by Slytherins, and left without allies from her own house because of her incapability to fit in.
“I know why I was disliked by my house-mates. I guess I really was an insufferable know-it-all. But why haven’t you found friends in your own house?”
“Because I was an awkward boy with no money or status, barely fitting clothes and little social graces who, to top it all of, was friends with a Muggle-born Gryffindor.”
It was hard to imagine now. His demeanour, his manner of speech, his perfectly tailored, elegant clothes – nothing hinted at his family’s difficult background. “Until we learned that you are the Half-blood Prince, we always assumed that you were a pure-blood. You seem so educated and cultured, a Slytherin to the core...”
“That I have mostly Narcissa to thank for. She was in her fourth year when she took me under her wing and made me her personal pet project. I suppose it was out of disdain for her cousin Sirius.”
Yes, that made sense. Sirius, in many respects, was the exact opposite of Severus: He neither appreciated his family’s wealth, their sophistication or their social standing. He was boisterous, disrespectful of rules and associated with people his family would never have found acceptable, such as a werewolf and a Pure-blood. Narcissa’s resolution to form the boy her cousin was tormenting into the respectable Slytherin Sirius himself should have been, might have been born out of the desire to spite him.
“But has she never defended you or helped you against the Marauders?”
“Her help was subtle, and it took me a while to accept it. I was rather distrustful, as you can imagine. Lucius, who was in his sixth year when I started Hogwarts, found her efforts amusing, but after he had left school and joined the Death Eaters, he kept his eyes on me. I was showing potential, especially in potions, and he was recruiting for the Dark Lord. I was often invited to spend my holidays at Malfoy Manor, where Lucius introduced me introduced into his circle.”
“What about the family of your mother? They were Pure-bloods... were they followers of Voldemort, too?”
“No. Although my uncle supported the ideology. But shortly after I had gained my mastery, the Dark Lord made an attempt to reconcile me with the Princes.”
“You never had contact with them while your mother was alive?” Hermione wondered, drying the utensils she had cleaned and putting them back where they belonged.
“No. By opposing her father, she severed all ties. She was never forgiven for marrying a Muggle. My mother’s brother, Octavius Prince, only became interested in me after I had made myself a name as talented potioneer and was quickly rising within the Dark Lord’s circle. He was desperate for an heir, and the Dark Lord was interested in adding the Prince’s name to the list of his followers. They both thought they could profit from a reconciliation.”
He said it in a derisive tone which suggested this hadn’t turned out favourably. “What happened?” Hermione asked.
“I refused. My uncle had never moved a finger to help me and my mother when we needed him. He was a heartless man, and I didn’t want anything to do with him. He died shortly before the Dark Lord lost his power. His widow was in total opposition to everything her husband stood for politically and resented me for having taken the Mark. She stopped all further attempts to bring me back into the family. Until recently.”
“Until recently?” Hermione prodded.
He didn’t answer right away, and she wasn’t sure if he was just busy bottling the concoctions, or if he was wondering by now why he had told her as much as he already had in the first place. But once again, he surprised her with his unusual openness.
“There have been renewed attempts to re-establish contact,” he said, frowning as if the fact troubled him. “It’s Irma’s doing.”
“Irma?” Hermione echoed once again, now really surprised. “Meaning Irma Pince – our librarian? What does she have to do with it?”
“Irma is my cousin,” he simply stated.
Hermione stared at him in disbelief. “The two of you are related?”
“Her real name is Irmgard Prince. My mother’s brother, Octavius, is her father.”
Now that he told her, it was almost obvious. They shared some similarities, the most predominant ones being a hooked nose, dark hair and a constantly irritable look. Like the Potions Master, the librarian was cold and strict, a recluse and not at all popular among students. Still – how come no one knew about it? There were all kinds of rumours flying about, but never that.
He smirked. “You shouldn’t be so surprised. After all, it’s in her name. Irma Pince – if you rearrange the letters, it reads ‘I’m a Prince’. It was Dumbledore’s idea of a joke. I think he thought it funny, especially knowing that I had dubbed myself ‘The Half-Blood Prince’ in my sixth year.”
“Okay, now you have me really confused... Why did Dumbledore change her name?” Hermione watched him ladle the potion into the flasks and wordlessly took the filled ones from him to put the stopper in. She briefly took notice of how seamlessly they worked together, then her mind was back on his latest revelation.
“So as not to slight her father any more than she had done by being born without magic. It allowed him to draw a veil over her existence. The position as Hogwarts librarian and the name change made for a low profile. Dumbledore, with his dotty humour, suggested Irma Pince.”
“Madam Pince is a Squib? But what about the hexes that she placed on the books in the library? Ron once was attacked by one when he was eating chocolate frogs while reading in it.”
“She didn’t place the hexes,” he smirked. “I did – at her request. And I absolutely agree with her that books ought to be treated with respect and care.”
“How come she got the position as a librarian at Hogwarts as a Squib?” she asked, hoping that he would not send her away now that the work was done. He didn’t, but led her back into his office.
“Albus, like you, was always a firm believer that Squibs deserved their place in society, too,” he explained, not protesting when she sat down in own of the chairs near the fireplace. “He gave Argus the job as caretaker, and offered Irma the position as librarian when she showed up on his doorstep, asking for employment. Without magic, she had little value for her father. Squibs are mostly considered a burden, a disgrace. In former times, people even went as far as to swap them with magically gifted children born to Muggle parents after birth. They were called changelings in the Muggle world.”
Hermione looked aghast. “That was really done?”
He took the chair next to hers and tapped the magical teapot on the small table between them with his wand, preparing them a cup of tea. It had somehow become a ritual by now. “Up to about 200 years ago, yes. Mediwitches often worked as midwives for Muggles, too. They knew the spells and could tell if a new-born child was gifted or not. And they had the means to arrange for an exchange. Since then, science, enlightenment and technical means have made it much more difficult.”
“But that’s horrible!”
“What seems cruel to you seemed like the sensible thing to do, back then. It lowered the risks of Muggle-born wizards and witches being burned at the stake, and it gave Squibs a chance of making a successful life for themselves – something they would have been denied in the wizarding world.”
Despite the logic of his statement, Hermione found it difficult to agree. What mother would willingly give up her child – no matter if gifted or not? It was inhuman.
“Many pureblood supremacists advocated the idea of swapping children again. In their eyes, it solved two problems at once – minimising the risk of exposure and bringing fresh blood into the wizarding world that comes without Muggle views and culture. I’m sure my uncle was supportive of these plans.”
“How would you feel if you ever had a child that turned out to be a Squib?” Hermione asked, taking the cup he offered her. He had added just the right amount of milk and sugar.
“I?” He gave her a surprised look over the teacup as if she had asked him how he would feel if he was elected most popular teacher of the year.
“Yes. Or don’t you ever want children?” That would be a downer. She hadn’t really thought about it, but she could well see herself as a mother at some point in her future.
“Isn’t it a bit early for us to be discussing children?” he ironically asked back.
Hermione almost spit out her tea. She knew he meant to be sarcastic, but she very much appreciated the fact that he was referring to the two of them as ‘us’. Did it mean he really saw the potential for a relationship? Deciding to simply ignore the sarcasm and off-handedly answered: “Oh, well, you know how I like making long-term plans...”
He seemed slightly unnerved. Obviously, he was unsure whether she was serious or not. He probably regretted having offered her the tea by now.
“I don’t know,” he finally answered reluctantly. “I have never given it much thought. There was no reason to assume that it would ever become an issue, especially not in the last years.” He had never even imagined himself in a marriage or even in a steady relationship. Even as a boy and a teenager, he had been a solitary person and had come to accept that as a status quo that would most likely never change. He hadn’t ever expected to survive the war, much less to have the freedom of choice and options to choose from. And he certainly hadn’t been able to imagine that he could one day become the object of a young witch’s affection.
“And now? I mean – you’re only thirty-eight. That’s still young enough to consider having a family, especially for a wizard.”
“Can you picture me as a father?” Again, the question carried an ironical undertone, but he still seemed anxious for her answer.
“As a matter of fact, yes, I can.”
Sceptically, he raised his eyes at her and gave her a pointed look as if to say ‘really, Miss Granger?’
“You needn’t look so surprised,” Hermione told him firmly. “Like I said – you do have a lot of qualities that I think make a good parent: you are very protective and caring, and you have a strong sense of duty. You also know how to set boundaries and establish reliable rules. While you’re undisputably lacking patience when dealing with ‘dunderheads’, I know that you can be very patient if you choose to be. Given that I strongly doubt that you’ll ever father dunderheads, that shouldn’t be a problem. You only have to work on yourself in the encouragement and motivation department. But then, you’ll have a wife who will outbalance your shortcomings, just as you will outbalance hers. So with your own children... yes, I do believe that you’d make a good father.”
A/N: Sorry, I had to cut the chapter again – it was getting out of hand, lengthwise, and I still have a couple of annotations for you:
About Eileen Snape: We know little about her from canon. We only know that at roughly age 16, in her sixth year, she possessed a potions book that must have been published between 1943 and 1949. I believe it might have been a hand-down from her older brother (not canon), who purchased it new in 1949.
Coming from a traditional society (possibly even from a pure-blood family) that was more backwards than Muggle society, it is unlikely that Eileen pursued a career. So I figured that she was to be married off soon after her graduation. If she ran away from a forced marriage before 1960 (Snape’s birth) at a relatively young age, that puts her graduation to approximately 1957, and her birthday to ~ 1940.
This leaves open the question if Tobias Snape was really Severus’ father. I never understood how a witch could end up with a man like him. So whatever happened to Eileen in the Muggle world (was she raped or seduced by someone?), it made her marry a factory worker from Manchester, who turned out not to be a nice man (did he ‘save’ her by marrying her?)
Of course, it’s entirely possible that the Princes were not a rich or respectable wizard family, but I doubt that. Ms. Rowlings was always very meticulous about the names she gave to her characters. And Prince does not sound like a disrespectful name at all.
There’s nothing about Irma Pince in canon proving that she’s related to Snape, but there are a couple of hints. The most obvious one is her name – Irma Pince is an anagram of “I’m a Prince’ – but her manner and appearance also hint at a family resemblance. I think a cousin is more likely than her being Severus’ mother in disguise, as portrayed in some fanfiction works. If that were the case, I’m sure Ms. Rowlings would have left us a few more cues, such as her age or glimpses into her relationship with Severus. In the movies, there was actually a slight resemblance between her and the Potions Master, and she was depicted as about the same age as him.
For the longest time, I really thought it likely that Irma is a Squib. After all, she “cleaned the dust on the shelves of the library manually, with a feather duster she brandished at students whenever they looked suspicious”. But then I found that in ‘Order of the Phoenix’, she raised her wand and sent items after Harry when he was eating chocolate in the library. So no, she can’t be a Squib. But it fit my story nicely, and I wanted to include a discussion about Squibs and their difficulties in the wizarding world. So I decided to leave it as it is. Maybe she bought a charmed wand that does nothing more than send items flying. Sounds like something Fred and George might sell in their joke shop. :)