A LITTLE PRINCE
Tobias always felt his marriage was a good thing. Eileen was a good wife.
I did the right thing,
marrying her, he would often think.
Though she was from just two streets away, everyone said the
Prince family was stuck up. They keep themselves to themselves, them lot,
people would say about the Princes, which meant, in the grimy northern town
with its rows and rows of back-to-back houses, either that the family was
considered ‘private’ or ‘secretive,’ or more often, ‘bloody
stuck-up.’ In the case of Eileen’s
family, it was the latter, he later decided.
She’d been away to some posh school, in Scotland, he heard when he met her.
Both local, they met while working in the mill, the main place of
employment thereabouts. He serviced the
machinery, while she was a weaver, and she seemed to have a real flair for it,
too. He noticed that her woollen cloth was
neater and finer than any other weaver’s, even those who had been at it for
Tobias was a fair bit older than Eileen – being forty to her
twenty-two. He had lived alone since
his Mam died four years earlier and had not felt the lack of a wife or
sweetheart in his life before Mam’s death.
He was not really that fond of lasses, finding most of them silly and
giggling irritations, but he knew he needed a wife and a housekeeper in his
life. Eileen was plainer than bread
pudding, but he was impressed by her weaving skills and her air of self-reliant
seriousness, or rather what he termed seriousness, while everyone else called
it ‘sulks.’ He took no notice of what
they said. She’ll make a capable wife, he thought.
He plucked up his courage and diffidently invited her out
for a drink at the ‘Mucky Duck’ as folk
called the ‘Black Swan’, their local
pub. She had little enough to say for
herself, but accepted with a nod. He
later learned no man had ever paid her much attention. That was probably why she consented to his
courtship, for he himself was no prize, with his big nose, and dark greasy hair
– greasy even by nineteen-fifties standards, when men slicked down their hair
with a range of scented oily preparations.
Tobias had no need of Brylcreem to slick his dark hair into submission.
Her parents showed neither pleasure nor interest in his
courtship of their daughter, and when he eventually proposed marriage to
Eileen, one night, her reaction struck him, even an unimaginative man as he
was, as strange.
“So, will you be my wife, Eileen? I need a woman in that house, you see.” Even he knew this was not the sort of
marriage proposal women really wanted, but he had no idea how to make the sort
of romantic words the situation called for.
She was silent, as usual; then with the air of one picking
up a heavy burden, she seemed to shake herself just slightly. “Yes.
All right. I will.” Silence.
“I will.” She seemed to be saying it to someone else, and not Tobias. “I’ll be a good wife to you, I will.” She sounded almost desperate. He could not fathom who on earth she could be
trying to convince; it was only later, he realised she was arguing with
He then formally presented himself in his Sunday best suit
at her parents’ house and asked for their consent to the marriage. However, they refused, point blank, without a
word of explanation. Mr Prince was
polite, but quite firm. Tobias walked
down the street dejectedly, towards his house, at number eight Spinner’s End, the
last house in the terrace, and then stopped and turned as he heard his name
shouted, and the sound of running footsteps.
Eileen ran towards him, carrying a small bag.
He stopped walking and turned to face her. “So, you will? Even if they don’t like it?”
She nodded, almost desperately. “I want to marry you, Tobias. I do. Will you take me in, until…? I’ve left home.” She spoke pantingly,
and he realised she must have run pell-mell down the streets to catch up with
him; she sounded puffed out. She bowed
her head, and even he, unimaginative as he was, saw the deep despair that moved
her at that point. He wondered what had
brought her to this, but didn’t like to ask.
More to the point, if he asked her, and she told him, he would probably
have no idea what to do or say.
He took her bag in his right hand, and offered her his left arm
(‘Lady must always walk on t’inside of man, that’s
good manners, Tobias,’ the ghost voice of his mother spoke in him), and walked
her sedately to his home. She made no
comment on entry to the house, but nodded as if to herself, and with evident satisfaction. Tobias’s little house was like all the others
in this part of Halifax, shabby, with little but the most basic furnishings;
canvas linoleum on the floor, rather than carpets, and worn chairs and settee
covered with the faded antimacassar set his mother had hand embroidered decades
earlier. Eileen stayed at his house that
night, with him sleeping on the settee for the sake of the proprieties. He never discovered why she’d been so
desperate to get away until much later, when she told him her father had
taunted her for her plainness and told her she’d never be anything but an old
They got married a month later at the local Chapel after the
banns had been read, at lunchtime, with two of her co-weavers as witnesses. It had to be Chapel, because Tobias
insisted. Chapel was the one thing he’d
kept up since his Mam died. Even with
her dead over four years, her dying strictures to him on that subject would not
fade from his mind.
When Eileen fell pregnant after a year of marriage, Tobias
was very pleased. She gave up work and
kept the little house (two up – two down, the same as all the others in the
neighbourhood) clean and tidy. She was
as capable a housekeeper as he had expected. At once handy and neat, she seemed to manage
the house, which, like all in the neighbourhood, was without any new-fangled
conveniences, like electric, and inside running water, as if born to it.
He was astonished. He
knew the running of the house, when it had been up to his old Mam, had been
hard going, what with the washing, and the cooking, and the cleaning, and all
that. Eileen seemed to keep it like a
new pin: everything was always clean;
clothes seemed to wash and iron themselves, almost. She cooked on the old range in the kitchen
without effort, and kept it and the open coal fireplace immaculately black-leaded.
Dawn would see her up making the open
fire, before he rose for work. Unlike
his Mam, she seemed to have no problem getting a good blaze going in the
fireplace, so that he could get a bit of a warm before he left for the
Eileen was a grand cook, too. It was almost as if she used magic powers to
keep the house to the standards she did, but he was more pleased than he could
say at what a wonderful housekeeper he had found. She never seemed ruffled about the housework,
either. She baked bread every day. He thought even his old Mam, with her
impossible standards, would have liked Eileen.
Eileen had little enough to say, she remained silent, but as
Tobias was himself not one for chatter, they seemed to do well together. They’d listen to the wireless in the evenings
– Eileen seemed to enjoy the programmes, and sometimes, Tobias would take
himself off to the Mucky Duck for a
Mr and Mrs Prince avoided them like the plague. It was as if Eileen no longer existed. They cut her dead in the street, once, a
month after they were married. She
showed no emotion at it, but then she was one of the most unemotional people
Tobias had ever seen. Well, that suited
him, for he was the same. He was pleased
to have such a sensible wife; he had chosen well. They were two of a kind, he thought. He really cared about her, and hoped she knew
it. He was wrong.
He was surprised, but did not comment when the boy came, and
she wanted to give him that queer name. Severus.
Where on earth had she got that from? But, he went along with it; Severus Snape
sounded a quite imposing name in an odd old fashioned way. It might be 1960 elsewhere, but here in Halifax
it was still largely the early nineteen fifties, and old fashioned, rather
grandiose names were still quite acceptable, if no longer exactly mandatory.
To his surprise, his mother and father-in-law made an
unannounced and perfunctory visit, which was not repeated, though he observed
his dour father-in-law’s apparent satisfaction with Severus’ name. He seemed less satisfied with his plain
little grandson, whom he looked over with a certain air of disdain. Which was still more than Mrs Prince did; she
refused to look at Severus at all.
“I’ll put notice in t’Prophet,” Mr Prince said, cryptically and
Eileen looked about as sour and sullen as Tobias had ever seen her. She gave an imperceptible nod, however, and
shortly afterwards, her parents left.
Tobias saw the closed-in look on his wife’s face and decided not to ask
what it meant. He briefly wondered what newspaper ‘The Prophet’ could be – he’d never
heard of such a paper, but forbore to ask his wife.
He soon realised over the next few years that the boy,
Severus, was his mother’s creature entirely.
It was as if they had shared some bonded existence, into which he was
not allowed. They would always be
whispering together as he came in from work, a whispering that hastily broke
off as Eileen went to lay the table for high tea. He
felt excluded, but did not know how to explain these feelings. He felt strangely jealous of this small
creature who clearly had all of Eileen’s attention. Tobias
did not, and could not know, that she loved the little boy beyond reason, for
he did not know how to articulate such feelings, and certainly, Eileen was not
one to tell him. Least of all could she
tell him that the boy was everything she had secretly hoped that Tobias might have
become to her, but she’d clearly been wishing for the moon, as her husband
showed her little in the way of affection.
So, she felt at last here was someone whom she could love, and who, as far as she could tell, would love her back
in the same measure.
Things went on fairly ordinarily until Severus was
five. Tobias had begun to feel a
creeping dislike for the lad, for he was sullen and secretive around his father,
and sometimes downright rude. It did not
escape his notice that the lad had not made a single friend in the
neighbourhood, and yet there were several children who lived nearby who should have been his playmates, but as
far as Tobias could tell, Severus had no playmates. It was also as if he and his mother were in
some strange country of their own, and in some closed alliance, too, against Tobias. It was
strange to feel that way, because even Tobias could see that Severus was the
dead spit of himself at that age – plain as ‘owt – to put it bluntly, but
despite that he was his mother’s son – through and through.
The truth came out one ordinary night. Tobias had come home from work and they had
sat down to high tea, as usual. Severus
had been pert and cheeky to Tobias at tea, as opposed to his usual sullen and
silent demeanour, and Tobias who had endured a hard day at the mill, with two
of the looms breaking down, decided enough was enough. He got ready to give the boy one or two
deserved strokes with his slipper, but he was astonished to find that each time
he reached for it; it whipped away from him as if bewitched. It was uncanny, and after he had chased the
slipper fruitlessly about the room, for about fifteen minutes, getting angrier,
all the while, he realised the other two were quite motionless. Then he looked up, but not before he saw
Severus make a hand movement that clearly aped the move, which the slipper had not yet made, but then after the boy’s gesture,
it did. And it happened again, and
again, and yet again.
Tobias whipped round and saw his wife was round-eyed and
silent. Then he looked at Severus, and
also recognised a smugness and superiority in his gaze that was at once
childish and yet strangely adult. When
Severus saw his father studying him like that, he hastily composed his features
into neutrality. Such apparent
calculation seemed unpleasantly adult behaviour to Tobias and it repelled him. Then it registered on him that Eileen knew
exactly what was going on.
“What’s all this, Eileen?” Tobias shouted, louder than he
had meant to, because he was starting to feel scared.
She cast her eyes down with a look of naked guilt. “I’ve no idea,” she whispered. She lied badly and he knew she was lying. She
avoided looking at him. “I don’t know,”
she whispered once again.
Except that she did know, and he knew it, and the boy knew
Badly frightened now, Tobias swiftly moved over to stand in
front of her, where she was sitting on the settee. “Tell me what is going on here!” he roared,
and she cringed away from him.
Severus had lost that look of superiority now, and was huge
eyed. He pressed a fist to his mouth.
Tobias was never a cheerful man, or a friendly one, but Severus had never seen
his father as angry as this.
“Tell me!” he thundered at Eileen, again.
And she told him.
He would not believe at first, until she reached into the
pocket of the floral wrap-around pinny she habitually
wore and produced a stick of wood – he’d never seen it before and had no idea
what it could be or mean. It was a thin
but clearly carved stick of wood of about a about a foot long. She held it upright and softly spoke the
word, “Lumos!” A glowing white light
appeared at the tip.
wand-magic wand !‘ his
incredulous mind sang out repeatedly.
“I’m a witch,” she said with an odd sort of air of defeat. “I didn’t know how to tell you. That’s why Mam and Dad didn’t want me to
“And your Mam and Dad, are they the same?” Tobias demanded.
“Yes,” she said in a tiny voice. “All my family have been witches or wizards.”
“I see.” There was a
long silence. Unbidden, into Tobias’s
head, came the words of a forgotten scripture from his childhood, at the
Chapel. Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live…
“And he’s one, isn’t he?” He jerked his head towards the boy
who was watchful and scared looking.
“Yes,” she said in a tiny voice.
“Why did you not tell me, Eileen?” he said sharply. “Did you think I’d never find out, is that
it? Well, it’s clear I have. That’s how you keep this place so neat, isn’t
it? And there was me, thinking what a
clever little housekeeper you were – and it’s all fake, it’s all tricks!”
“I thought you’d be angry…My dad said you’d never accept
it. I thought I could keep it a
secret. But then, when I found that Severus
could do magic, I tried to teach him, to make him know how to keep it a secret.
I never…” Her voice tailed off. There was a tear running down her cheek.
Tobias’s combined terror and fury burst its banks. “I’m not having such bloody nonsense in my
house!” he bellowed, towering over her, and she seemed to shrink away from him. “There’ll be none of it! Do you understand? My bloody son! Mine!”
Eileen cowered, and began to sob heartbrokenly, and the boy began to
cry, too, either in fright or in sympathy for his mother.
Tobias rounded on him.
“And you! There’ll be none of
this bloody nonsense – foolish waving of wands, here – or I’ll take my belt to
you, see? It’s bloody unnatural, and
evil, too! Mark my words - I’ll not have such goings on in this house!” He turned back to his wife. In a quieter and clearly wounded voice, he
said, “You lied to me. I shouldn’t have married
you.” She covered her face with her
He turned around and left the house with a self-righteous slam
After a few moments, Severus ran to his mother and climbed
up on the faded and sprung settee beside her.
He tentatively touched her cheek and she stopped crying. She reached out and drew him into her arms
and made soothing crooning noises. He quickly stopped crying, and looked up at
“I hate him,” he whispered.
“He’s nothing but a common Muggle, like you told me. And one day, I’ll know so much magic, he’ll
never dare shout at you, Mam,” he said.
She hugged him fiercely.
“Shall I be a great wizard, like you promised?” he
She hugged him tightly.
“Yes, son. You’re one of us – a true
“A pure-blood wizard, like all your family?” he asked.
She gave a sad and watery smile. “No, son, not with a Muggle dad,“ she said
with regret; she had always half-hoped that someday, she’d be able to be honest
with Tobias and that he’d accept her for what she was. In her mind, she recalled her father’s harsh words
to her as she left home: ‘They’ll never accept you. You’ll always be different, as will any
children you have.’ How right he had
been, and she’d been too blind to see it. She thought for a moment; then an
idea came to her. “But you’ll be a
Half-blood Prince. There, doesn’t that
sound just grand?”
He gave a smirk that looked odd on such a young child’s face
and for a moment did not look like a child at all. A shiver ran through her. She didn’t know why.