Chapter 1 : Birth of a Prince
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"Mr. Snape!" barked a voice through the various colours of steam wafting about the dungeon. Severus jerked awake, his hand slipping and cutting one of his porcupine quills at an odd angle. He cursed inwardly and looked up to see Professor Slughorn standing over him. The old man had his chubby hands placed firmly on his hips, and a frown that did not quite look angry enough turned down his mouth. Severus grinned guiltily, knowing Slughorn wouldn't punish him - he was too good of a Potions student for that.
"Need I remind you that you only have half an hour left to complete your Elixir to Induce Euphoria?" said the professor, quirking an eyebrow at Severus's half-sliced porcupine quills. Others had now started to turn from their own cauldrons to watch the scene; one Ravenclaw boy near the front looked like he had burned off some of the skin on his nose.
"No, sir," Severus said hastily, and immediately bent his face over the quills once more, his hair curtaining his face to hide the rest of the class from view. Tongue between his teeth, he worked carefully on cutting them into exactly equal pieces, fully concentrated on the task in front of him.
He glanced over at his copy of Advanced Potion-Making, lying open on the table in front of him. Add sliced quills in groups of five at intervals of two seconds, the book read. Severus began sorting his quills into bunches, and then stopped, his hand hovering over the last pile.
Two seconds? That didn't seem like quite enough time - perhaps the book was mistaken. He glanced over at the page again, but it said the same thing as it had before. Severus hesitated again, and then picked up his first group of quills. Surely three seconds would give the quill essence more time to soak into the potion...?
He dropped the bundle of quills into the potion, and waited - one, two, three. He added the next bunch, and then waited again, watching the surface for any warning signs that the potion had gone wrong. Any sorts of odd smells or suspicious bubbles, and he'd have to prepare to duck under the table in a hurry. But the potion remained relatively calm, turning brighter and brighter shades of yellow as he continued to separate porcupine quills.
He picked up the quill and ink lying beside his textbook eagerly and, checking to make sure Professor Slughorn was busy reprimanding the Ravenclaw boy, he scratched out the book's instructions and added his own. He felt a little note of triumph well within him as he surveyed the page, now more black with his ink scribblings than anything.
"Five minutes!" Professor Slughorn's voice echoed through the dungeon; Severus could no longer see him through the vapours. He ran a thin, bony finger down the potion's instructions, double-checking to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything - he never did, of course, but it never hurt to check. His elixir was the exact shade of sunshine yellow that the book described, and, smirking proudly, Severus made to close the book. However, something at the bottom of the page caught his eye. He bent over for a closer look.
WARNING - May have occasional side effects of singing and nose-tweaking.
Severus frowned again, his finger hovering over this last notice. And then, quite suddenly, so that the girl sitting next to him looked up with a startled expression on her face, he rose off his stool and strode the length of the dungeon to the student stores. Inside there was a little glass jar with an old, yellowing label that designated the jar as Peppermint.
Knowing he hadn't much time, Severus hastily plucked a sprig from the jar and all but ran back to his own cauldron. He quickly dropped the peppermint into the mix, and it hissed pleasantly before releasing a light, pleasant-smelling steam. He smirked again in triumph.
"Time's up!" came the call from the front of the room. "Students, please bring me a vial of your brews for examination - ah, no, Featherby, I've seen quite enough of your potion today." The Ravenclaw boy with the burned nose turned bright red and quickly hid behind his book.
One by one, students brought their corked potions to the professor for examination. Severus lingered, adding final personal notes to the potion recipe, before walking up to Professor Slughorn's desk and handing him a small glass vial full of yellow potion.
"Quite marvelous, Mr. Snape, as usual!" the old man cried happily, attracting jealous scowls from the class's few straggling students. Slughorn held the bottle up to the light and tilted it before placing his pudgy hand on the stopper. "May I?" he added, looking inquiringly at Snape.
"Go ahead, sir," Snape said silkily, crossing his arms across his chest in a gesture of indifference. However, this wasn't the case - he was rather eager for the potions master to see the brilliant idea he'd invented.
The scent of peppermint was released into the air as soon as the cork was removed. Slughorn breathed deeply and then looked up at Severus, positively beaming. "Ingenious, Mr. Snape, ingenious!" he chuckled merrily. "An 'Outstanding' for you, as usual!" Still chuckling (Severus wondered if he might have inhaled some of the elixir), he made a mark on a piece of parchment and set the vial aside.
As Severus was cleaning out his cauldron and packing away his ingredients, Professor Slughorn walked up to his table once more, still smiling happily. "You know," he said conversationally, sitting down across the aisle, "your talent for Potions is truly remarkable, Mr. Snape. Rather like your friend, Miss Evans." He nodded toward the table where Lily had been brewing her potion earlier, although she was now long gone with her own friends.
"Thank you, sir," said Severus, glancing politely at his professor and sweeping bits of shrivelfig skin off his desk and onto the floor. He didn't want to think about Lily, or how he had helped her through five years of Potions classes. She hadn't spoken to him since the year before, and it was still a little painful for him to think about it.
"Yes, quite remarkable," Professor Slughorn repeated, still gazing at his student. "Your mother never did have your talent, although she was bright, I will say that. Miss Prince was much more adept at Transfiguration, I daresay." He stroked his walrus moustache almost dreamily, and then frowned, as though trying to remember something. "Do you get your talent from your father, then?"
Snape's lip curled as he paused over his bag. "No, sir," he said coolly, picking up the strap and slinging it over his shoulder. "I'm half-blood, sir. My father is a Muggle." His cheeks grew rather flushed, and he looked down quickly.
"Ah, I see," said the potions master, evidently not seeing Severus's reaction to his question. He shook his head slightly, making his great cheeks wobble. "Well, you've got talent, Mr. Snape, make no mistake." He patted the boy heavily on the shoulder and rose, striding back up to his desk at the front of the room.
Snape stood frozen for a few moments, and then quietly left the dungeon room. Got his talent from his father... He owed his father nothing but his last name - of that he was quite certain. And if he'd had his way, he wouldn't even owe him that. He would much rather be a Prince, for at least then he would be proof of a wizarding legacy. But being half a Prince was almost nothing...
Half a Prince.
Severus stopped suddenly in the corridor, and a passing ghost looked at him curiously. It was only a name - but in the wizarding world, he knew, names meant almost everything. It was a silly little thing, really, but he wanted it to be known - if only to himself.
He sat down right where he was, against the cold, dark stone of the dungeon passage, and rummaged around in his bag for the potions textbook he'd just put away. He turned to the blank black cover and quickly took out his quill and ink, nearly upsetting the bottle in his excitement. He dipped his quill and sucked on the end for a moment, thinking, before beginning to write in slow, determined letters.
It was only ten words, but Severus felt a sense of pride in them all the same. He screwed the lid back on the ink bottle and held the book up higher, so that it caught the flickering light from a nearby torch. A sense of belonging rippled through him as he looked at what he had written.
This Book is the Property of the Half-Blood Prince.
A/N: I made excuses, I struggled, I pondered - I was so sure I wasn't going to enter the Duel. "I'm too new!" I told myself. "I need time!" But then, while writing for a challenge, I had this idea blossom into my head as though it had been laid out in black-and-white, and I could not resist the chance to write about it. So, there we have it! I hope you enjoyed reading "Birth of a Prince" as much as I did writing it.