Snape awoke later that evening to the sun beginning to sink beyond the hills. The orange cast of dusk seeped through his curtains, the edges slinking across his bed and the twisted white sheets wrapped around his body. He laid there for a moment, before untangling himself and opening the window. Outside, the night insects had already begun their rich song, and the scent of pine and smoke drifted in lazily as the day ended.
Snape walked barefooted to the other end of the room, ripping apart ingredients and spooning them into the cauldron there. He filled it with water, casting a flame from beneath the cast iron and waited for it to simmer.
The cauldron was his mother's, one of the few pieces of equipment he had salvaged from his childhood home. In the years following her death, it saw more activity than it ever did when Snape was a boy. She kept it hidden beneath the floorboards most of the time, out of sight from his father. He used it with the utmost care, certain that the sentimental value it held only served to strengthen the brews made within it.
He watched the bottom of the cauldron heat to a cherry red and the liquid began to boil. His eyes made figures out of the rising steam. When Tobias went to work in the morning, Eileen would softly come up the stairs and rouse a young Snape from his bed. She’d pull away the threadbare covers and stroke his face. Outside, smoke would rise from gray chimneys, women would go on their walks, cats would weave around the maze of houses. She’d lead him to the kitchen, where she had set up the cauldron and pulled some mason jars from the shelves. Eileen Snape feared her husband, and never made complicated brews or potions that required pungent ingredients. They would start early, so the smell would dissipate before he got home. But these were Snape’s favorite moments. She had started this when Snape began showing signs of magical power. Plates or bowls would switch places in the house. Sometimes the soap would float in the bathtub. Tobias was often too drunk to notice, but she did. And together, Snape and Eileen shared this secret.
She would tell him all the uses of herbs, bundles she kept hanging in the kitchen. She told Tobias they were for cooking. But she tore them, sprig by sprig, and tossed them into the smoke. Rosemary, lavender, sage. Purification, cleansing, calm. They all possessed different properties. Snape watched with wonder at the mixture, as it changed colors, the intimate care she put in. It was a sincere form of magic. A result of meticulous planning, measuring and selecting ingredients, combining them so delicately. Snape was captivated by this, the beauty of process. The possibilities of potionmaking were endless, he later learned. There was a use for everything on Earth. A thousand different combinations, countless complex qualities enhanced and cancelled out with every brew. He explored recipes like a maze, altering his own textbooks even, as he found better, more efficient ways to create. This love was sparked by Eileen, as the small, encased ocean bubbled between them.
She told him she loved potion making for its simplicity. It was an ancient and effective form of magic. Their ancestors had been practicing this for centuries. It was accessible to all sorts of sorcerers—the wealthy, the poor, the oppressed. Snape saw in her face, a twinge of pain as she explained this. She mixed the liquid with a wooden spoon, and she did not have to explain to her son why she loved brewing so much. It was the only form of magic she could do around his father. The only thing she could hide well. When Snape saw his mother absorbed in her work, that was when he despised Tobias the most. His mother was a strong woman, smart, and talented. And here she was crushed by Tobias’s whiskey breath and fists. It wasn’t fair. None of it was.
As the potion was finishing, Eileen began to explain magical history, that objects were infused by power, and power came from a witch or wizard’s heart. This was why Snape showed more signs when he felt strong emotions, why plates would crash down when he was angry or why flowers sometimes grew quickly in the gardens. “Before Ollivander created his method of wandmaking, we would use objects of great sentiment to us.” She explained, sprinkling dried rose stems. “My mother had my grandmother’s hair in her wand.”
“Do you have a wand like that, Mum?” Snape asked, steam settling into his black hair.
“No, darling, I have one from Ollivander. Unicorn hair—remember?” She turned the burner off. The cauldron was still hot.
“But if you didn’t have one from him, what would be in your wand?” Snape pressed further, handing her a vial as she taught him.
Eileen smiled softly, the steam obscuring her eyes. Outside, a bird sang, and the sun filtered in so softly, you could hardly believe that night the house would be full of screaming. For now, it was quiet as the witch stirred the pot with her son. Without saying anything, she plucked a hair from Severus’s head and stroked his face. She then threw it in the rolling sea between them.
Now Snape was an old man, laden in scars and pain. He waited for the potion to finish, before plucking his hair and tossing it into the mix where it dissolved. This was the potion his mother had taught him first. It was for pain. She wanted to teach him something practical and simple. Something he could make fairly easily from gardens or even packets of tea. Snape extinguished the flame, and poured the mix into a teacup and sipped. The brew included basic ingredients for pain management, but incorporated the technique his mother spoke of—using ingredients infused with sentiment. This was a personal recipe of hers. It eased pain by filling the drinker with the impression of feeling loved. Snape’s hair and his DNA traced back through his family, and as he sipped, he felt Eileen’s presence in the scent. The throb of his arm eased, and most importantly, the task of leaving his room for the day seemed less difficult.