Author's note: The Shipping Forecast
advises sea weather for the maritime regions around the British
Isles. It is given out approximately four times a day on BBC Radio
4. The story is not about the other sort of “shipping”.
(Being an inspirational tale of revenge, derring-do and Received Pronunciation)
September 1st 1971…
Platform nine and three quarters at Kings Cross Station in London was packed, as always, on the first
day of the Hogwarts school term. Children, ranging in age down from seventeen
to obviously new pupils aged eleven, stood in various groupings on the platform
being farewell-ed by members of their families.
Forming a strangely solitary and still offshoot from the otherwise noisy and
excited mêlée of people on the platform, a very skinny dark-haired boy stood
facing a thin and depressed-looking woman. “I don’t want t’go, mam,” he said.
His dark eyes looked preternaturally large in his thin pale face.
“Now, our Severus,” she said sadly but firmly, looking down at him. “You ‘ave to go. No more mithering about it! On t’train with you!” Eileen Snape spoke firmly, though she
felt sadder than she was letting on to be parting with her son like this. She’d
hated her time at Hogwarts, but she knew better than to tell him that; for his
own sake she had to make a show that she believed he’d enjoy it.
She bent down closer and whispered gently into his ear the comforting reminder:
“Remember, you’re my Half-Blood Prince!” With that, she let him go and
Looking small compared to some of the other boys, in his short trousers, grey
schoolboy knee-socks, and his hand-knitted sleeveless pullover, Severus slowly
climbed onto the train. He had with him a small bag containing his lunch
(egg-and-tomato sandwiches put up by his mam and a packet of liquorice
Pontefract Cakes bought as a special treat for the journey), and his brand-new
Hogwarts school robes. He had also sneaked in his mam’s old spell book, ‘Moste
Evile ande Vicious Hexes.’ when she wasn’t looking. His eleven years had
taught him one thing especially, and that was to always be prepared for the
He stationed himself by the carriage door, and pulled down its window. Then he
leaned out and looked for his mam who was still waiting on the platform and
watching for him. As the train began to pull away from the station, slowly at
first, and then gathering speed, he waved frantically to his mam for as long as
he could still see her. Then he closed the window and set off to find somewhere
to sit. Other children were still thronging the corridors and it was slow
The train was a terrifying place to him. Brought up at home, and tutored by his
mother, against his Muggle father’s protests, he had seen little of his peers
either in or out of the Wizarding World. The only times he had attempted to
join in play with local children of his own age, he had been rudely chased away
the minute he told his name.
‘Severus? What sort of nancyish name is that? Ha ha
ha!’ they’d catcalled at him. Worst of all, he’d
not been able to hex them after his mam got the warning from the Ministry of
Magic. So, scared of the streets around his home, he’d stayed in his own
backyard, and as a result he had hardly any experience of other children.
His mam had always called him her ‘Half-Blood Prince’ and usually that made him
feel better, and special. But right now, he felt very small and new, and not
remotely like a prince.
He made his way down the corridor of the train, which rocked as it gained
speed. Every compartment seemed to be packed to bursting with noisy children,
all of whom looked far more confident than he felt. He was aware of amused eyes
looking at his old-fashioned short trousers – clearly nobody else dressed like
he did. He wished it was time to put on his new robes, but as no-one else had,
yet, he was afraid of marking himself out with some other error.
Finally, here was a compartment that was not full. Four boys sat there who were
looking at him with interest. Severus noted with relief that they were all
about his own age; perhaps they, too, were new?
“Can I sit ‘ere?” he asked. ‘I am the Half-Blood Prince,’ he told
himself silently to bolster his small self-confidence.
A tall good-looking boy seemed to be the natural leader of this quartet. He
nodded almost languidly. “Got any sweets?” he asked in clipped posh tones like
Severus had only heard on the radio. “It’ll be a while before the trolley comes
round, I imagine.”
“Aye,” said Severus, pleased to be able to offer something to break the ice. “That I ‘ave. ‘Ave a Pontefract Cake!” He enthusiastically
dug into his bag for his liquorice favourites, oblivious to the sharply
delighted look on his interlocutor’s face, and the stunned amusement on the
faces of the other three.
“By ‘eck!” said the boy with gusto. “Art from Yorkshire?”
“Aye, ‘appen,” said Severus, about to say more, until he realised he was
being laughed at. He felt his cheeks burn, and stowed his Pontefract Cakes back
into his bag. Instead, he pulled out his mam’s spell book, and began to read,
head bent well over it, to conceal the contents, and sitting in wounded silence
for the next hour of the journey, as the boy, and his friends proceeded to talk
in their own bad versions of his working-class Yorkshire
After an hour of it, the first boy was clearly bored, and spoke in his natural
tones. “Oh, for goodness sake, Pettigrew, that’s enough of it! You don’t sound Yorkshire in the least. Does he, er…?” He looked at
Severus. “What’s your name, then? I missed it.”
“I never said,” said Severus, mumbling to avoid being made fun of again.
“Well, I’m Sirius Black; this is James Potter…” He indicated one of the other
boys, the one with glasses and black hair that stuck up at the back, and who
had been making fun of the way Severus talked so much that Severus already
loathed him. Sirius Black continued, indicating his friends by a hand gesture.
“This is Remus Lupin, and that’s Peter Pettigrew. So, what’s your name?”
“Severus. Severus Snape.”
James Potter seemed to find this hilarious for some reason. He laughed. “What a
name!” he sniggered. “He must be a relation of yours, Sirius – listen to it:
Sirius and Severus! Perfect!”
Peter Pettigrew laughed sycophantically. Remus Lupin didn’t.
Sirius Black seemed to bristle at the idea of them being related and scowled.
He said in a flat cold voice, “He’s not a relation. Or I’d know him.” And he
shut his mouth with such chill finality, that no one spoke until the end of the
The four other boys seemed to know they were approaching their destination and
they stood up as one and began to reach into their bags for school robes. As if
galvanised, Severus did the same.
Tense silence had obtained for some hours, now. Because he felt uncomfortable,
Sirius, feeling contrite, decided to try and break it. He reached over to
Severus and patted him patronisingly on the shoulder. Possibly if he’d only
said just the one word, ‘Sorry’, the entire course of Wizarding history would
have been hugely different. But, for want of the horseshoe nail of casual
apology, the entire cause of their generation’s inter-house unity was
irrevocably lost when he said: “Buck up, Our Severus. Stop thy bloody
Severus scowled at this horrible boy using the same sort of words as his own
mother, in mockery and not in kindness, and so flinched violently away. In a
flurry of hurt indignation, he gathered his few belongings and left the
carriage to the sound of raucous mocking laughter. In his hot and hurt heart,
he vowed revenge, and cursed himself (verbally) for not cursing Sirius Black
(literally) there and then. He hoped there would be better opportunities later.
He bet he knew one or two tricks they didn’t. He’d been sneaking looks into his
mam’s old spell books ever since he’d learned to read. He’d been too scared of
getting his mam into trouble with the Ministry to try much, but right now, he
was itching to use some of the stuff he knew.
The first day was horrible.
Severus was sorted instantly into Slytherin House by the battered Sorting Hat,
and was pleased to note that the four boys on the train were all sorted into
Gryffindor. Typical – he should have expected it, after all, his mam had told
him about Gryffindors. However, his hopes of fitting in with the people of his
new house and finding a place were quickly dashed at the feast when all around
him at the Slytherin table he could hear posh voices making sounds that he
could barely understand. Recalling the hurtful amusement of Sirius Black, he
decided he’d much rather not suffer himself to be mocked again, and so answered
friendly enquiries as to his family and home in mumbled grunts or
monosyllables, only to be tacitly labelled ‘dull’ or ‘thick’.
He maintained a proud, yet dignified, silence until he found his bed in the
dormitory and then wept, shamefully and silently,
clutching Ramsbottom, the toy snake his mam had made him, and which he had
sneaked into his trunk. He knew it was babyish, but he’d always slept with this
hand-knitted stuffed toy. Ramsbottom, the dour-talking Yorkshire-accented
snake, was the character he loved best in his favourite childhood television
programme, ‘Sooty and Sweep’. It was a sad reminder of home, which, if not
exactly a happy place, was at least free of anyone poking fun at the way he
The first year was every bit as horrible as the first day had been.
Severus barely spoke, except to howl in pain when the broomstick in his first
flying lesson seemed to sense his fear, in the same way a mettlesome horse
might, and bucked him off to crash on the ground. This was met with pretty much
universal derision, from his fellow Slytherins and those hated Gryffindors. But
the particular thing, which galled him the most was when, in ringing and poorly
imitated Yorkshire tones, one voice rose above the others, and he knew
instantly who was speaking: “By eck! Our Snivellus! Don’t tek on so! Tha’s only tekken a tumble,
lad!” It was, needless to say, Sirius Black, and his remark was greeted
by gales of laughter from both sides.
The name Snivellus duly followed Severus in either cat-calls or whispers
wherever he went. He hated it. Reminding himself that
he was the Half-Blood Prince didn’t help at all.
He didn’t know what to do. He discovered he could usually think of something to
say in response to taunts - eventually and in his head - and in time, got good
at it, but the knowledge that his mode of speech would be mercilessly teased
locked his tongue - so all his cutting retorts remained unspoken. He was a
clever boy but also a proud and sensitive one, and had no terms of reference
from experience that enabled him to realise that had he merely laughed off
their puerile mockery of his less than dulcet tones, the offensive snobbery of
Black and his toadies would have been exposed for what it was.
He thirsted for revenge, but it eluded him – though he did manage to throw the
odd hex their way when he thought no one was looking; however, someone
invariably was, and that didn’t exactly endear him to his peers, either. Thus,
shunned, he spent his first year at Hogwarts in a proud Trappist silence.
As that school year drew to a close, he devised a desperate strategy. He would
learn to speak like as they did. He would use his radio, at home and listen
to the news announcers. He would repeat what they said, until he sounded like
one of them. He just bet there were books you could get on the subject, too.
He’d study at the Muggle library in Halifax.
Then, when he came back next year, he’d sound just like them!
Then let them poke fun!
He had just the germ of another idea, too.
The summer holidays saw him study with the concentration of a university
finalist faced with a week to go before exams. He spent long hours in the
Halifax Municipal Library, poring over what became his personal bible, ‘How
to Talk Proper Posh’ – writing copious notes on English usage in a cheap
notebook with a much chewed biro. To ensure no one else could use the book, he
would carefully conceal it in a void between two book stacks at the end of each
Every opportunity he got he would listen to BBC Radio 4, usually by means of
the small portable transistor radio he’d bought with his meagre pocket money,
pressed against his ear. He mostly listened at night - under the sound baffle
of his bedding - so that neither his mam nor dad would find out what he was up
to. The broadcasters Alvar Liddell and Jack de Manio, together with the
modulated tones of the voice that gave out the Shipping Forecast, became his
triple godhead as he soundlessly shaped their accents with his own tongue and
This is the BBC Shipping Forecast…
Even years later, he would sometimes, albeit entirely unawares, murmur in his
sleep the comforting litany of the sea lanes:
…Forties, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne,
Dogger: south or southeast six to gale eight, perhaps severe gale nine later
then veering west four or five. Occasional rain.
Moderate or poor becoming good…
…Fisher, German Bight: northwest four or five backing south six. Showers, then rain. Moderate or good…”
While Severus felt it most unlikely that he would ever be able to use the names
of the sea areas in any conversation, he found the vowels and tone of the
announcer perfect for his imitative purposes, and as a result of his fanatical
and intensive study, as the summer holidays drew to their close, he sounded
well-nigh capable of securing a newsreader’s position at the BBC, had he only
troubled himself to apply. Very good.
This is the BBC Shipping Forecast…
He still spoke in his usual Yorkshire accent
at home, whilst carefully repeating himself in his new voice, in his head,
immediately after he said anything aloud. This added a strangely stilted
quality to any conversational discourse in the Snape household, which was
already not exactly a haven of cheerful chit-chat at the best of times, because
the one time he had spoken in the way he now wished always to speak, in
response to some comment of his father’s, Tobias Snape had told him - “Less of
thy bloody lip, tha’ cheeky little beggar!” - instantly
following this up with a threat to fetch Severus a clip across the ear. So
consequently, Severus had opted to become bilingual – speaking Yorkshire aloud;
silently intoning Received Pronunciation in his head, immediately afterwards,
whilst at home.
Despite his punishing schedule of elocution study, he did not neglect his
magical studies, either. He appropriated a number of his mother’s old spell
books when she wasn’t looking, and began some interesting experiments. He
carefully noted down his findings in the margins of one or other of the books,
not daring to leave his notes lying about.
He found himself looking forward to the first of September - though he thought
that he would miss his radio. He decided he would not be taking Ramsbottom along
this term. Ramsbottom was just too Yorkshire,
and Severus wasn’t, not any longer.
The last night at home he lay comfortably under starched sheets, covered by
rough blankets, intoning silently: ”This is the BBC
Shipping Forecast…” before falling into a warm sleep, into which, for once,
catcalls of ‘Snivellus!’ did not intrude.
2nd September 1972
So far, so good, though he had not yet dared speak, and he was now headed
towards his first class of his second year: Charms. It was the day after his return
He felt a rush of chill air at his back, displaced by some boisterous hurrier
coming up behind him, and as usual, braced himself for
“By ‘eck!” proclaimed a voice joyously. “It’s our Snivellus!” Sirius Black, of
course. This insult was punctuated by a glancing swipe of a flat palm at the
top of his head, not the sort to hurt, just enough to dishevel his hair and
humiliate. Black’s stock-in-trade.
Severus drew in breath; it was now or never.
He turned round. “What the devil are you talking about, Black?” he asked in a
smooth tone that Alvar Liddell himself might have been envied, had he been
there to hear.
There was a shocked silence. As well there might have been, since few of the
school had ever heard Severus speak, only the sounds of Black and his friends
“Oh, Merlin!” said Black amused. “Our Snivellus had elocution lessons!” And he
broke into delighted laughter, to Severus’ mortified fury.
That did it. Without a further word, Severus whipped out his wand, and using a
brand-new wordless spell of his own invention, cast Levicorpus on his
tormentor. Black was instantly upended in mid-air. There was a roar of laughter
all around, as Black’s friends tried to pull him down, in vain.
Severus began to walk away and silently released the spell, not waiting to see
Black fall to the ground. The crash and satisfying yell his enemy let out was
After all, anyone could talk… Action was another matter. He was so glad he’d
studied some extra-special magic in the holidays, after all. He was aware of a
number of his fellow Slytherins slipping into place beside him – Rosier, Wilkes
and Avery – they’d never spoken to him before, but Rosier patted him on the
shoulder and said, “Bloody good show, old chap.” It was a start.
Regally, the Half-Blood Prince raised his head, squared his shoulders and
continued on his way to Charms class.
1. Rather a lot, but then I’ve featured a disgraceful amount of British
in-jokes that only oldies might get.
2. Pontefract Cakes are a Yorkshire delicacy;
they are small “cake-shaped” liquorice sweets.
3. Short trousers. Poor Severus is by no means unique in his suffering. Many
British schoolboys, until these more enlightened times, were subjected to this
hideous sartorial humiliation.
4. Mithering. Same as dithering, in this context, only
Yorkshire-speak. It is pronounced: My-thering.
5. Sooty and Sweep. It’s been revived and modernised, but the vintage programme
was broadcast in the 1960s – 1970s with that peerless children’s entertainer,
Harry Corbett, at the helm. Sooty was a silent, but anarchic, teddy bear that
could do conjuring tricks, Sweep, a squeaky dog. There was also Soo - a rather
bossy girl panda. And the divine Ramsbottom, Harry Corbett’s own sly dig at his
Yorkshire roots, who was a large snake with a strong Yorkshire accent. They were all glove puppets. Should
Severus cart his best soft toy to Hogwarts? Is he being a bit of a wimp? Cut
the kid a break, won’t you?
6. BBC Speak. Lord Reith, the founder of the BBC, insisted that there should be
no regional variation among his announcers (so that their voices would be
understandable to all) and therefore no one spoke with an accent. However, they
did not speak with truly upper class accents, which are also imperfect and
contain usage faults. Instead what you got were the sort of precise and
cut-glass tones that make the Queen sound rather common. Most of the famous
announcers (I’ve specifically referenced Alvar Liddell – who was originally of
Swedish extraction, and Jack de Manio – because he, too, was on the radio when
I was growing up some five years ahead of Severus) were middle class and
elocuted. In the early days of the BBC, Reith insisted they wore evening suits,
or evening gowns, if female. This sort of speaking is now called “Received
Pronunciation” and this is where Severus, as an ambitious auto-didact, who was
ashamed of his plebeian origins, would have gone for tuition. The book “How to
Talk Proper Posh” is my invention. The error in the title's usage is deliberate
7. The Shipping Forecast. This British radio institution has been around for as
long as I can remember. Essentially, it details the wind and weather conditions
in a series of sea regions, all with the evocative sort of names listed in
Severus’ memory above. I’m by no means the only person to find a strange and
haunting poetry in the names and the sort of cryptics that make the sentence:
‘Forties, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger: south or southeast 6 to gale 8. Occasional
rain. Moderate or poor becoming good…’ have a beauty of its own. People
have written books about the Shipping Forecast language and names. The regions
are all of the seas which surround our island and that of the Irish Republic,
and the nearest parts of Continental Europe. The Shipping Forecast is read
several times daily, on Radio Four and in my youth was in exactly the sort of
perfect British accent that Severus wished to have. The quoted forecast is the
early morning of the 30th December 2005, edited slightly. It’s real.