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The Fairest by academica
Chapter 1: go out there and get it
Looking back on her life, they would say: she was a troubled child.
It was strange how they could only restore her after she had finally perished. They applied blush to her thin cheeks, though it only served to pronounce the pallor of the rest of her now-sallow face. They painted her lips with the bright red hue that had caused her—perhaps untimely was the wrong word—demise. They brushed her hair, spreading it out like a halo around her face, the strands as dark as the night beneath which she was buried. No funeral. No headstone. Just a beauty laid to rest.
She had flattered rich men with her wicked smile, danced until dawn with flutes of champagne, rejected gowns custom made for her tiny waist by exotic designers. But the princess had somehow died a pauper. It was inexplicable, her metamorphosis.
In the end, her only companion was a frost-covered mirror.
This was what she thought as she dug her hands into the cauldron, scraping out the remains of another well-made potion, the heat in the unbearable room lashing her thick ebony locks to her bare shoulders. White skin, sculpted, pale as winter death—but her dark eyes burned with life, staring into the green and brown muck fiercely…
She was saccharine, dulcet. She did not hate her creators for gifting her with a talent for a subject that dripped with slime and stank to high heavens. No, the princess knew this talent would serve her well when she stood with the others and needed to shine. Her every word hung sweet on her blood-red lips, clean like polished iron.
Here, in the laboratory in her family home, she worked like a slave, bending herself to the will of those masters who would decide her fate come the spring term—those who wielded anti-cheating quills, those who offered tempting debutante dresses—
She was the fairest, and thus she must be everything, all at once.
The princess caught a glimpse of herself in the newly polished cauldron and noted a cracked fingernail and a heavy hood over her eyes, the shadows blending to produce an eternal night from which she could seemingly never escape. This curse bound her, making her loathe the early morning lessons and crave unending nights.
She was a dark princess.
She was a mathematician.
The marks were good. They were not perfect. They were good.
Be beautiful. Be smart. Be—
Sweetly, she took the N.E.W.T. report and threw it into the common room fire. It was not good, but she smiled, her red lips spreading out against flawless white skin. Her mother’s voice rang in her ears, busy hands pulling hard at a faded corset as she went on and on about not having a future, never finding a half-decent husband—
Stop. Stop it. She was fixated by the flames, watching her own impending doom. Even the fairest fall. Especially the fairest fall. The shades of crisp autumn were a warning that the snow was coming, and there was nothing left but to freeze.
She passed by too many mirrors today, stopping to check her makeup and empty her stomach of its contents in bathrooms, trying and failing to idly play Gobstones. It all led up to this, and all she saw now were heavy eyes, darkness, too many sleepless nights. Pale pallor, red lips, bitten and broken, hair dark and falling out in threads…
This was why beautiful was not enough. This was why she had to suppress her nerves, to stop daydreaming during the exams, to put down her beloved hairbrush and study. She had meant to. But the others, they were just so interested in her and her glorious future, and she had just spent a little too much time planning her party. They would all come and bow before the princess and her perfect N.E.W.T. marks.
Most said Poor. She saw Troll. She needed an F – Fairest. The fairest.
It was mathematical. Clinical. Just do it. Just do it. Logical.
She stared into her dark mirror and saw it, burning into nothingness. Potions—O.
The princess was idle.
Nothing came of her, and no prince came for her. She dreamed of a land far away in which her sleepless eyes and too-thick smile would be prized by all who saw her. Wasn’t she timeless? Hadn’t she slept her whole life away for this moment?
This was the prison created by her masters, one where she sat high and unchained atop a dry, grassy hill, looking out upon her subjects. They moved along below her, stepping in and out of the shadow of her dark eyes. She bit her lip and drew blood.
Up in her castle, she was isolated, alone. Forgotten. Her chance had passed and now all she had was just to sit and let her heart burn out. A remnant. A victim.
Potions—Overrated. Potions—Out of Reach. Her older brother was an apprentice. Her talents were too specialized, too exclusive, lost on this forsaken world. No one wanted a potioneer who couldn’t perform charms. No one wanted a dark princess.
She was a monster.
She stood up, towering over them. Damn it, she was royalty! Her captors could try to hold her, but she was too much. She had hair as dark as a raven’s wings and lips as plump and red and perfect as a cherry and skin pale like the shock of a fresh corpse. You deserve the world, Eileen Prince, she told herself. Go out there and get it.
That was when he fell.
He tumbled headlong into the mud, dropping his cargo, soaking his clothes with filth. She looked down too late to see that dirt already covered him from head to toe, even before his unhappy accident. She saw only a fool, an opportunity for triumph.
A child died in winter. Ivory snow, chapped lips, hair black like crows and death.
It was mathematical.
Two rose thorns, peppermint, stir clockwise until the smoke—not romantic.
The surface shimmered, the foam white like her perfect skin. The spirals rose gradually, drifting up into the ceiling and infiltrating the world—no, imperfect, for she felt at her cheek and found a blemish there, the first sign of her multiple sins.
She could not obsess over it, not yet. She must finish the task at hand.
She stirred by hand, having put away her wand one day on an impulse, and lazily flipped the pages of her aged potions textbook. She had at least tried all of them before, had given her samples to stray animals and run out of pages in the end.
The most powerful love potion in the world. It was a kind of poison in its own way.
She imagined it creeping into his unsuspecting heart and smiled sweetly.
White as snow, red as blood, black as ebony wood.
He was delighted by her. She was fierce and vibrant, alive behind her lifeless features. She knew how to bite her lip and dance and kick up her skirts sweetly.
She cooked dinner for him every night.
Tobias was a simple man, but she preferred him that way. He had no expectations of her, except that she be what she was, a beautiful princess who awaited him at home. She had little money to buy new skirts, but she had so many, though they tore and grew filthy when she wore them in the village streets. The children stared, pointed.
She was the talk of the village, standing out in the fine garments of her past life.
A mistake in her calculations, and he once went thirty-five hours without taking any of it. Nerves, fits of worry, standing over the simmering skillet with bitten nails. She forgot she had put it in his soup when he entered with a smile and a miniscule ring.
She felt guilty for being so happy, eating with him afterwards, such a cheap stone—
Where was her wand? Oh, in the cabinet. He would never find it.
Her painted lips curled whenever she thought of it. He was just that simple.
It was cold in her dark heart. It was cold in their home. The floorboards were splintered and the curtains were ragged and she missed her castle, her family—
Skin pale, lips bitten, hair tangled. Who was the fairest?
She resented him for being the victim of brews that she could master. Just once, she wished he would drink her potions as readily as the pints he bought while in town. Still, at least it was useful information. It fit into the formula. Mathematical.
What would his love potion smell like? Spirits, poverty, disappointment.
How had she been charmed?
Broken glass, ruined pages torn from the books she carried with her into this house. They were ripped by hands that feared them, tossed aside and taken by the wind. One drifted by, crinkling in the frozen, crisp air, flattening against the wall. Poisons.
A wand lay shattered on the creaking floor, her own doing.
He had destroyed her chemistry set and now she knew that she hated him.
Every so often now, she vaguely wondered if she could have concocted a solution to stop the rattling in her chest, the dull, hollow sound that came forth in spurts. She sat alone in her bare kitchen most mornings, trying to recall what would suffice. Is this one of the twelve uses of dragon’s blood? What did I write for that on my exam?
A particularly hoarse wheeze as she inhaled. She’d lose her breath altogether soon.
A small cough. Blood, tumbling shockingly from her chapped lips. Red on white.
Once, all it took was one contaminating drop to sully the whole batch.
She was starving and never full, and she wondered if the pain in her stomach—no, it couldn’t be. This was the only blood she’d seen in weeks, but that was just hunger—
Was this living?
She saw a beautiful woman in the village today, hair light, eyes bright. The fairest.
Blood on snow.
A defensive maneuver. A queen was dying, fading to shades of white, black, red.
Beautiful was not enough.
She was not smart enough. She was not sweet enough, not anymore.
Her child—he should have been her crown—was not perfect enough, not even close.
She brushed her hair and stared into the frozen lake not far from her empty home. Two hours were left until he would return and demand a hot meal from her. The ice covered the mirror, but she could see that she was no longer the fairest. Looking at her thin hair, pursed lips, dead skin, black eyes—had she ever been?
She had faded with the leaves. She sensed she would not make it to spring.
Icy, cold, frozen in time and yet all the beauty was gone.
You deserved the world, Eileen Snape.
A sharp gust of wind—the world swallowed her, and she was nothing at all.
Thank you so much for stopping by to read my strange little experiment!
Credit must go where it is due. This entire one-shot was inspired very loosely by the original fairy tale Little Snow-White (NOT the Disney version). Eileen’s physical characteristics, the mirror, the blood in the snow, and the archetypes of the princess and the queen from that fairy tale do not belong to me, but to the story’s original authors, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. The tale comes from Children’s and Household Tales, which was first published in Berlin in 1812. The phrase “white as snow, red as blood, black as ebony wood” is taken directly from the 1857 version of the same story, also by the Grimm brothers.
The Snape family and all things potions-, Gobstone-, and exam-related are taken directly from canon and belong to J.K. Rowling, as does anything Harry Potter-related that you recognize. The phrase “chemistry set” is taken from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, produced by Warner Bros. (2004). The phrase “the most powerful love potion in the world” is from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (pub. in 2005).
Finally, this story was inspired by a couple of authors I’d like to mention. The stream-of-consciousness style was inspired by Sunflower, whose prose I eternally covet. The ship was inspired by WeasleyTwins, who could quite possibly write Eileen and Tobias better than JKR herself. Hope you both like it!
If you’ve made it this far, you are a true friend. Please pause to leave a review!