Title: Distant Relations
Age-Range Category: One
Characters: Severus, Eileen, original house-elves, other
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): None.
Note: 2408 words.
Summary: Severus learns that house-elves never do anything by halves.
Severus staggers and shakes his head as his mam releases him, the dim sound of . . . birds? yes, birds, slowly becoming louder in his ears—as well as does the crumbling sound of footsteps on gravel as his mam steps neatly up the drive.
"Don't go far, Severus. I might need you."
Her words don't really register with Severus as he wanders off, fascinated, towards the heavy gate set into an even heavier-looking stone wall in the distance. Stepping through it, he sees a stream and follows it.
Wonder if it might've been a moat at one point?
It's a stupid thing to think. He's seven and a half, after all, not a child, and even though he's not used to fancy houses like the one his mam's left him outside of, he knows it wasn't ever an actual castle. But the stream, that's real enough, and he thinks he might find interesting plants and animals to observe whilst Mam talks to the people, to the "distant relations," inside.
Severus doesn't believe they have relatives here. Before they'd grasped the old bottle that brought them here, Severus had asked, "Is it about a job, about money?"
"It's always about money, isn't it?" Mam had snapped. "Just you keep to yourself and out of trouble and stay nearby in case—oh!"
Severus flushes to think of his mam having grabbed him up into a fierce hug.
Mam doesn't hug.
But she had, and he'd seen tears threatening to fall from her eyes. The tears and the hugging, they'd made him feel hot and angry and sad, all that over his grumbling stomach. The boiled sweets—and where had she been hiding them?—Mam had offered him then had made his tongue happy, but they hadn't done much for his hunger.
If we had real relatives anywhere, they'd never let us star—cress!
There's cress in the stream, just as he's been hoping for. It's not much good for hunger, not as good as bread or gravy, or even and especially meat, but it will do. He grabs handfuls and crams the slippery stuff into his mouth, heedless of the mess he's making of the old blouse into which his mam has forced him.
"Urrrp!" Severus wipes his mouth, suddenly conscious that even beyond the stone wall, he's still fairly close to the road that approaches the house. "Mustn't be seen. It'd make Mam mad."
"Laffy can help you, Master Prince!"
Severus feels his eyes widen so much they might be house-elf eyes. "You're a . . . a—"
"Yes!" Laffy replies, clapping her—his—its hands. "Laffy is a Prince elf, and you are a Prince!"
"Yeah, but not that kind of Prince," Severus retorts, pointing through the wall in the direction of the big house. "And my name's actually Sna—"
"Does Master Prince need to hide?"
Severus looks around. The road's empty. No one but the house-elf seems to be about.
Rurrgryrurrr, notes his stomach, and suddenly, being a Snape doesn't seem all that important. "Could, could you hide me in the kitchen, Laffy? Make it so no one knows I'm there?"
"The kitchens! Yes, Master Prince!"
"I can hear," whispers Severus, on the other side of elf travel. "And I'm not dizzy! How did you—"
As his eyes begin to take in the glories of the kitchens, Severus falls silent. Laffy has brought them into a room full of pieces of meat, huge pieces of meat just hanging over their heads and close enough to touch—for a tall kid, anyway.
"Is there a stool?"
"Laffy will bring to Master Prince anything he would like!"
Severus isn't used to such generosity, but he's not stupid.
Custard, a pork pie, a piece of chicken, steak, the rest of the chicken, warm cress with onions and gravy from the steak, sweets, carrots and peas—Severus eats so much, so fast, that he makes himself well and truly sick, but there is no time to despair.
"There, there, Laffy is cleaning the mess."
And Laffy does clean the mess. And Laffy cleans up Severus' clothing. And Laffy brings him more food!
I must be dreaming, he thinks, in the wake of swallowing the contents of a small cup the house-elf hands him.
"That is for making angry wizard tummies calm."
"I . . . I feel better." Severus kicks his feet; he's too small for the chair he's sitting in under the hanging meat. "I wasted all that food, Laffy."
"You is wasting nothing, Master Severus. Are you hungry?"
Even with the potion he's just drunk, for of course it has to be a potion, Severus can't bring himself to eat anything else. "Mam, she's got to be looking for me by now."
"You said you wanted to hide."
"That doesn't mean Mam won't be looking for me," Severus replies, watching Laffy wring her—his—its hands. "What is it? Will you get in trouble about the food?"
"No, no, Master Prince, but Laffy is knowing that Mistress Eileen isn't looking for you."
The elf's sad, scared eyes upset Severus, and he pushes himself off the chair. "What's happened? What did they do to her?"
"Mistress Eileen is safe!" insists Laffy. "Mistress Eileen is asleep. Laffy didn't mean to do it, but Laffy couldn't figure out how to keep you hidden if everyone was going to be coming in and out of the kitchens, so Laffy made a spell, a big, huge, gigantic spell, and now everyone is sleeping all over the house, even house-elves!"
The breath Severus takes to hear this news is fast and deep. His fear gives way to anger and then to worry, but chasing away all the other feelings is . . . interest.
Pulling Laffy's hands apart, he insists, "Stop twisting up your fingers. You'll hurt yourself! All the house-elves are asleep? You checked? Everywhere in the house?"
"Laffy has checked the whole house."
"What about the outbuildings?" demands Severus. "The garden sheds? The stables?"
Severus has never seen outbuildings before, but he knows about stables and hot houses and the like. He's not stupid.
"No, Laffy hasn't loo—"
Linking arms with Laffy, Severus orders, "Take me to the stables!"
It isn't until they make their way to the hot house—an amazing, beautiful building that Severus wishes he could explore—that he and Laffy come across a conscious house-elf. She—for some reason, Severus is sure that she's a she—isn't at all pleased to see Laffy.
"Laffy is a bad house-elf to make magic against witches and sisters!"
"And brothers!" Laffy protests.
"You is the only brother at home, Laffy, you bad—"
"Don't you call Laffy bad! He's my friend!"
"Master Prince! What are you—you is so skinny! Are you hungry?"
Severus is almost always hungry, and Laffy's potion has done its work. "Yes," he tells the female house-elf, "but that's not important. We have to help Laffy fix everything. Mam is talking to the, er, house people, about a job, and . . . and . . . ."
As worried as Severus is, he can't help being distracted by the flowers, or the insects flying from pot to pot of the glowing things.
"What are these?"
"Those are being the very special cultivars of Mrs Prince, young master."
"They do, indeed. They're a cross between Wolfsbane and—"
Severus shakes his head as if to clear it. "But what about Laffy's spell? What about Mam?"
"What about Master Prince's lunch?" asks Laffy, of the older, female house-elf.
"Sissy knows you're not being so bad if you know the young master is hungry, Laffy."
Laffy smiles and claps his hands.
"Just hatched and half-trained," mutters Sissy, gesturing for Severus and Laffy to approach. "We is going to the library. You can't be getting into any trouble there."
"But Master Prince—"
"Shall be having his lunch, Laffy," Sissy tells him.
Elf travel with Sissy is mildly upsetting, Severus thinks, closing his nose and blowing lightly to clear his ears.
"You two is staying here."
"She's very old, isn't she?" Severus asks.
"And eating lunch," directs Sissy, before popping away again.
The tray is huge and silvery and shining, but most importantly, it's full of food and drink. Severus' stomach growls again.
"Sissy is being the best of house-elves!" insists Laffy.
Severus can't disagree; his mouth is already too full—but not quite as full as his eyes. The Prince library is two storeys high with sliding ladders and reading nooks and not a trace of a speck of dust.
As if Laffy can feel how impressed Severus is, he says, "It is being completely clean in here. Laffy cleans in here! This is Laffy's place to work."
"Oo 'oo ah 'ood 'ob," Severus tells him.
"Master Prince is kind. Does Master Prince like adventure tales? Laffy is knowing where all the best books are!"
"This has to be a dream."
"No! This has to be the book to read," Laffy exclaims.
Severus is torn; he wants to eat, he wants to read, he wants to find his mam—and suddenly, he wants to know how Sissy distracted him from his mam's predicament.
"Does Sissy use elf magic on wizards on purpose?" he demands, seizing Laffy's hands when he begins wringing them. "Stop that! It's just a question."
"Yes, Master Prince. You is looking at the book before. Laffy can be reading it to you!"
"Laffy can be telling me, right now, about house-elf magic."
"Sissy is a good elf. Sissy wants only—"
"She did," Severus interrupts. "She did distract me, and I didn't even notice!"
Severus is very angry that he didn't notice house-elf magic. He's not surprised he didn't; he's never experienced any until this day, and Mam's never leant him books about it to read. Still, he doesn't like it.
Turning to Laffy, he demands, "Is Sissy helping Mam wake up?"
"Yes, and we is staying put and out of trouble, Master Pri—"
"He. Is not. A Prince."
The clipped, cold tones of a woman startle Severus. He turns to find a rather severe-looking woman with a very familiar nose glaring down at him.
"He is of admixed blood. He is a half-blood."
Severus blinks. "What's so bad about that?" he demands. "And where's Mam? What did you—"
"How dare you speak to me," the horrible old woman practically spits.
Severus feels a warm hand grab his thumb.
"Shall Laffy be taking Master Pri—Snape back out—"
"Back to wherever. You. Found. Him. Yes."
The hiss of "yes" echoes in Severus' ears as he and Laffy appear by the stream. Severus once again stops Laffy from wringing his hands.
"I'm sorry I got you in trouble."
"You is very good, Master Sna—Prince, yes, Prince!" declares Laffy. "But, but, but Laffy must be going now. Laffy is . . . Laffy is sorry, too!"
In the sudden absence of house-elf, Severus feels cold, lonely, and hungry. His stomach growls.
In the wake of the faintest of popping sounds, a basket appears, and the disembodied voice of Laffy tells him, "Here is food and drink and a book of adventure, Master Prince! Please be leaving the basket. Sissy will be missing it if you don't."
"Thank you, Laffy! I will leave the basket!"
The apple is juicy and sweet. The cheese, savoury and soft and easily spread on the bread. But the book—The Case of the Crumpled Cauldron—the book is the most magical thing Severus has ever seen in all his life. Because, and he just knows this to be true, it is his book, and his alone—as long as no one catches him with it. He greedily reads every last word twice and is almost a third of a way through it again when his mother's voice interrupts him.
The waveriness of her tone snaps him at once back to reality.
"Mam?" he calls, stuffing the book down the back of his trousers and kicking the basket closer to the wall. "Mam! I'm here!" he calls, running off to find her.
His Mam's back is stiff and turned to the house. It's as if she is bracing herself against some sort of attack.
"The air behind you is shimmering, Mam!"
"Yes, Severus," she says, thrusting a hand out. "To me, quickly."
This time, they don't touch an old bottle. This time, his mother and he are there one moment . . .
. . . and Severus is there, on the ground, vomiting perfectly good apple and cheese and bread the next.
His mother's hands are in his hair as she tells him, "The shimmering was a Shielding Charm. Our mode of travel was Side-Along Apparition."
"I didn't like it, Mam."
She pulls him into another hug, but after everything that's happened this day, Severus can't honestly say he's surprised.
"I didn't get the, er, job," she whispers.
Severus bites his lip.
"But I see you were given a book—no," his Mam says, as he's about to protest. "I won't take it. It's yours now."
"How'd you know I didn't steal it?" Severus wants to know.
"Because I didn't raise you to be a thief, boy, and the library wouldn't have allowed itself to be stolen from."
"An awful lady with our nose said I was only half a Prince, Mam."
"Well, you're more than a half-blood as far as the library's concerned—and I'm not so very disowned, it seems, for I was given a little present, myself."
"Laffy? Oh, a hatchling?"
"That's what Sissy said," Severus replies.
"And it was she who gave me my present," Mam says, pulling something silvery and shining from her robes.
"That's a . . . a . . . ." Severus falls silent. He isn't stupid, but he's never before seen an object like the one his mam is holding.
She shakes it. "It's a rattle, for babies. This one was mine when I was a baby, and Sissy thought I should have it."
Severus' eyes widen. "Are you sure Laffy and Sissy didn't steal for us?"
Mam's mouth twists into a smirk.
"I don't care if they did, Severus."
He giggles, pleased to see a sign of naughtiness from his mam.
"Now come," says Mam, taking his hand. "Let's go turn this silver into gold!"
"And find you something to eat."
Clutching his book against his chest, Severus allows his mother to lead on. "Don't worry, Mam. I won't tell him."
"Tell your da? about money? Of course you won't. You're not stupid."