The magpie and the imperative of silence

Severus Snape was very good at hiding. He knew how to move about his house without a bump or a squeak. This was quite an accomplishment; the house where he lived was quite old and was practically falling apart because his father couldn’t be bothered to fix anything. 

Severus crept along the hallway, hugging the wall. The floorboards were less worn down than the middle ones were. He had to duck to avoid the few photos that hung on the wall, but the rhythm of the necessary bobbing was automatic by now.  

His father wasn’t at home, but the imperative of silence was too ingrained in him for him to move in any other manner. Besides, he didn’t want to disturb his mother. If she was asleep, he wouldn’t wake her. 

He rarely saw her asleep. He knew that she slept most of the day; she was saving her energy for the times when her husband was at home. It didn’t pay to be anything less than completely aware when Tobias Snape was on a rampage.  

Severus could wedge his bed against the door of his room. With his head at the wall and the foot of the bed across the door, the door couldn’t be opened more than six inches. The resulting banging noise would awaken Severus in time for him to make it out of the window. But his mother had to share a bedroom with that brute. 

As always, the feeble light that shone in from the hallway lit up his mother’s eyes so that they were the only things visible in the pitch-black room. Her eyes were also what people called black, but Severus knew that they were the darkest blue, just like his own eyes. 

Severus had yet to catch her out, no matter how carefully he opened the door. The few times he’d seen her actually sleeping were when she would lean her head back against the back of the couch for a moment too long and would literally pass out from exhaustion. He remained extra aware on those occasions; he had to watch out for both of them. 

Even though it was obvious that she had seen him, Severus still entered the room as silently as possible. He wouldn’t so much as vibrate the floor. It would kill him to cause her a moment of extra pain. 

“Would you like me to refresh your flannel, mother?” 

“Yes, please. Make it as hot as possible, darling. Don’t worry about the gas bill. The pain is bad today.” 

Severus flinched at the mention of the gas bill, and vowed to work harder on his warming charms. If his father somehow sensed the use of magic, the only one to suffer the consequences would be Severus. Every pence spent on gas meant one fewer pence left for buying groceries. Even if she dared to use her wand, his mother couldn’t conjure food out of thin air. 


Most witches, his mother included, used the bark of the willow. Severus had discovered that the sap actually contained more of the required substance, though it had to be used with caution because of its greater potency. Also, as he wasn’t allowed proper potions tools like the ones his mother had described to him, it was just easier to dilute sap than to extract the required component from bark. 

Muggles had a name for it: salicylic acid. Severus didn’t like the sound of it. Science was clumsy, inefficient. But Severus’s magic allowed him to sense how potions would work. His mother had also been aces at potions, back when she’d gone to Hogwarts.   

Before she met his father. 

Severus deliberately pushed the thoughts of his father back down into the darkness of his mind, where they belonged. Any taint of darkness would disturb the healing qualities of the pain draught he was making for his mother. 

The vervain and peppermint were dried. Stealing decorative plants, which was all that the ignorant Muggles in their fancy houses saw these herbs as, required a lot of walking and some careful planning.  

It had been easier when he was smaller–no one cared if a five-year-old picked some of their plants, even a five-year-old as ugly and unkempt as Severus Snape. But now that he was a rather tall nine-year-old, he was seen as a vandal.  And not just by the rich folk. 

No matter. He’d done the work and had an adequate supply of both herbs. Diluting hardened sap would require fire, and that would draw unwanted attention. He was lucky to have access to this tree; the small, secret hideaway created by its low-hanging branches was just a bonus. 

The important thing, he reminded himself when he felt the first tendrils of relaxation tempting him, was to make the potion for his mother. He didn’t have time to “play;” not that he would call it that, even in the safety of his own mind. His mother needed him. 

The thought of his mother prone in her bed with a damp flannel covering her eyes, was also pushed down into the darkness of his mind. Just as feelings of hate would poison the potion, so would love. Potions required an absolute discipline of the heart as well as the mind. 

He could be as liberal as he wanted with the peppermint. It was a neutral to the other ingredients, and it served to calm the stomach as well as to improve the taste of the potion. He couldn’t stand to see his mother suffer any more than she already did. The bitter pill of her life was hard enough to swallow without his adding foul brews to the mix. 

Severus succeeded at stilling his mind and focusing his will completely on the process of creating the potion. Without his own magic the mixture of herbs and sap would work to relieve his mother’s pain, but it would have a fraction of the power he could force into it if he focused. Someday, his mother assured him, he would have a wand. For now, Severus had discipline.  

The force of his resolve created an excess of magic. Severus knew when the potion was complete–any more power would push it too far and turn it to poison. He wrenched his focus away from the bottle in his hand and turned toward the river.  

He never turned this way when he was crouched in his shelter of made of willow. No one approached from that direction; the danger came from land. Those who drove boats up and down that dark river had better things to do than to investigate the slight movements of the branches, and the muck at the very edge of the river kept most everyone away. Even the most determined explorers, or bullies, had no desire to wet their shoes in that filth. It took days to dry, even in the warm months, and the squelching stink that was left on what was most certainly the boys’ sole pair of shoes would lead to beatings from the biggest bullies of them all: their fathers. Severus knew this from experience. 

As the invisible blast of magic continued to surge out of him, Severus focused on the dirty water before him. His eyes snagged on the brightly colored crisp and sweets wrappers that struggled against the shore, as if they were trying to escape drowning. As he felt himself finally relax, he saw the wrappers rise and spin in the grasp of a whirlwind. They formed a beautiful spiral, flashing out of the grayness that defined Spinner’s End for an instant. 

Severus was suddenly filled with an unfamiliar feeling of joy. 

He laughed as the wrappers sank back down into the murky water, exhausted by their brief flight. 

His father said that all magic was evil, that Severus and his mother were doomed to be dark. Severus knew, with the certainty of his almost-ten-years, that the world would continue to give him only garbage and that he would have to steal everything else. His future was, indeed, doomed to be dark. 

But he would not bear the cruelty of others. Not forever. He would learn to make magic out of the things that he stole from nature and from the things that others threw away. 

He would force the world to see the inherent power and beauty of darkness. They would see him, Severus Snape. Then he would never be powerless again. 

2 thoughts on “The magpie and the imperative of silence

  1. Lupin Lady

    Especially liked the details of the crisp bag swirling (nice counterpoint to the butterfly charm he creates for Lily) and the strategies for collecting materials (so concretely and believably connected to our world).


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