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Post War

Chapter Text

Spinner´s End, Cokeworth, Northern England.

October, 1998.

 

Severus put down the book and puffed heavily. It was the sixth time the bloody doorbell had rung.

Probably the teenage delinquents who were in the inconvenient habit of roaming Spinner´s End on occasion. During the past few years, they had been coming over to that abandoned part of town whenever they felt bored or were being chased by the police. As a matter of fact, with the street´s alarming state of decay, most of its houses deserted, it was rather surprising that the juvenile gangster-hopefuls didn´t come around to "visit" more often.

Spinner´s End was after all a perfect hiding place...Nobody better than Severus knew that...

But the fact was that Spinner´s End was ruined to such a degree that not even those little punks took a more than passing interest in it. Sometimes they entered an abandoned house to smoke, played some loud music (that is, if that godawful cacophony could be called "music" at all), or just wandered around cursing, fighting and generally raising hell, before getting bored and moving on to more interesting acts of vandalism.

After Severus had moved back, the little dunderheads had decided to stick around for longer, thrilled to have a potential new victim to play with. But a couple of simple charms managed to convince the youngsters that Spinner´s End was haunted, much to Severus´ amusement...Soon they had disappeared...And yet, after months of complete peace, there they were at it again.

They would learn their lesson this time....

He yanked the door open, his other hand reaching for the magically locked wooden cabinet where he kept his wand, but instead of a rowdy bunch of brats, all Severus saw was a woman standing at his door.

"Good afternoon..." she let out in a husky voice, a courteous smile on her lips.

"Good afternoon" he answered grudgingly "And before you waste your breath: whatever it is you´re advertising, I´m not interested."

With a flick of his wrist the door moved. But her hand stopped it before it could slam in her face. Taken aback, Severus opened the door again. Her gall had managed to catch his interest. He inspected the woman before him from head to toe, his eyes both focused and disdainful.

Certainly a muggle... about 30-years old, quite tall, probably around 5'8 or 5'9 (she had heeled boots on, though, so he could be wrong), with a sturdy yet willowy build. Her dark brown hair was held back in a tight ponytail that showed off a rather particular face: strong eyebrows, alert golden brown eyes, a Greek nose and a somewhat wide mouth. Her olive complexion showed rosy undertones in the chilly Autumn wind. She wore a brick red blouse, brown scarf and brown skirt, with a beige overcoat that, although elegant, looked a bit too light for the temperature outside. She was good-looking, Severus conceded...But that only made her presence at his doorstep all the more odd... Good-looking, well-dressed people were not an usual occurrence at Spinner´s End...

"I´m sorry to bother you... My name is Evelyn, Evelyn Black." She stretched out her hand, but Severus merely looked at her, motionless and uninterested. She cracked a very uneasy smile. It was obvious she was forcing herself to be polite in spite of his bluntness. Only now Severus noticed his visitor had a slight accent...he couldn´t quite pinpoint where from...Irish, maybe? Definitely not Scottish...Well, it didn´t matter.

"Uh...-she continued-I just moved here and..."

"You just...moved" Severus raised an eyebrow "Here?"

"Well, yes. Just this morning..."

"Why would you do that?" Why would anybody do that?, he thought to himself, but said nothing.

"It´s a long story, actually...."

"It was a rhetorical question..." Severus interrupted her, using a purposely condescending tone, a wry smile dancing on his thin lips. She was visibly annoyed now. Good. Only a matter of moments before she decided to leave him alone.

"Actually...I don´t plan on wasting too much of your time, let alone annoying you with unwelcome stories" She answered in a mellow tone filled with subtle contempt.

Severus rolled his eyes. He had obviously underestimated her.

"I´m just looking for someone..." She took out an old and rugged little notebook from her purse "Eileen Prince. Does she live here?"

Severus blinked and just stared at her for a long moment, completely disarmed.

"Snape..." He let out quietly

"I beg your pardon?"

"Eileen Snape...Prince was her maiden name..."

"Oh, so she does live here."

"Not anymore."

"I see..." Evelyn shifted on her feet "She moved then..."

"She´s dead.... Has been for twenty years actually."

Evelyn bit her lower lip, obviously embarrassed

"I´m sorry to hear that...In that case, I guess I should get going then..."

"Wait a minute, Miss...I´sorry, you said your name was..?"

"Black. Evelyn Black." As she relaxed and her accent came through more clearly... Irish...she was definitely Irish, Severus thought to himself "Mr... Snape, I assume?"

"Severus Snape..." He opened the door all the way and cocked his head back gesturing for her to come in.

Chapter Text

Evelyn just stood there.

Why the heck was she hesitating so much? Wasn´t this what she wanted? To talk to the owner of that house. Eileen Prince...No, Eileen Snape... Who was dead, which probably made the grumpy man standing at the door the current owner. So, Evelyn had to talk to him. That was the whole reason she had decided to come to Spinner´s End wasn´t it?

When she arrived that morning, after spending the night at a hotel in a more lively part of Cokeworth, Evelyn had the vivid impression of walking into a ghost town. "Isn´t this how most horror movies start?" She had thought to herself, as she watched through her car windows how the rows of decrepit houses passed by. From the little she had researched, Evelyn knew the whole neighbourhood had been purpose-built to house the families of the mill workers. The mill itself towered ominously over the dark and filthy streets and alleys bellow, its long chimneys pointing up at a steel-grey autumn sky. It didn´t function since the 80s, and it just stood there like a fossil, a skeleton of a once living monster, now dead and abandoned.

In fact the whole of Spinner´s End felt dead. She knew most inhabitants of that part of town had long left, following the closing of the mill. From the newspapers she had read in the local library, the exodus had started long before that. It seemed the mill offered very poor working conditions and the machines were rather accident prone, with many of the workers sustaining serious injuries...Furthermore, the rejects pilled up on the fields around it and into the river, severely polluting the water. When the competent authorities had finally closed down the mill, about half of the residents of the area were already gone, and the rest was soon to follow. Eileen Prince might not even live there anymore...

In retrospect it coming to Spinner´s End probably had been a quite stupid idea from the start. All that she knew was that her grandfather had a house in Cokeworth, located on a street called Spinner´s End. Nobody knew that until the day her father died leaving behind some old boxes filled with books and papers that he had hidden in the cellar after her grandfather´s death.

It all struck her as incredibly odd...

Evelyn was living in Dublin when her grandfather passed away. She had been thinking of coming back to Doolin, her hometown, and his death only sped up her decision. After the burial, her grandmother had given her father a number of old objects and boxes filled with bizarre stuff that her grandfather kept locked away in a spare room. Evelyn had a hard time convincing her father not to throw it all away. Instead he just locked everything up and never let her (or anyone else for good measure) anywhere near it. And those boxes stayed up there, abandoned in the cellar, collecting dust, for about two years, until her father passed away himself. Only then did Evelyn get to see what was inside...

Among the many bizarre things she found there was the deed of the Spinner´s End house. As far as she knew her grandfather had left England when he was a little over twenty, and lived in Ireland until his death. He had no relatives and no ties left with England...also as, far as she knew, he was from London... That he had a house on the Northen city of Cokeworth was a complete surprise to her and to the rest of the family. Maybe they shouldn´t have been so surprised...There was a lot of about him that nobody knew, not even her grandmother. Still, the house in Spinner´s End had intrigued her.

It had probably been a poorly thought-out move on her part to actually decide to move into her grandfather´s new-found house. But it only struck her as a downright bad idea when she actually saw Spinner´s End for the first time. She had arranged for the many books and objects she had brought with her from Doolin to be delivered on the morning after her arrival at Cokeworth. She had spent the day before researching the history of that part of town, but nothing could have prepared her for the reality of what was Spinner´s End. As she stopped her car in front of her new home, Evelyn had to pull the deed out of her bag and double-check the address, just to make sure it wasn´t a mistake.

The house was almost at the end of the street, there was only one more house separating it from the woods (precisely Eileen Prince´s house). It looked exactly as one would expect from a house that had been empty for decades: offensive graffiti and a thick layer of grime and dust covered the walls, to the extent that it was impossible to make out their actual colour, most windows were broken and the few that remained were so dirty the glass on them was opaque and the ceiling had many missing shingles. The stench coming from the nearby-river was almost unbearable, and the sheer amount of trash everywhere suddenly made her realize that a rat infestation was a very real possibility.

Still, she drew in a deep breath and entered.

Evelyn was surprised to find that the original furniture was still inside...For whatever reason the vandals that ran wild in the neighbouring areas had refrained from causing too much damage inside. A lot of the more delicate objects like mirrors and vases were broken, but the chairs, armchairs, tables, cabinets, paintings, rugs, books.....all were still there, albeit covered in a thick layer of dust and scattered around in complete disorder. But the most disconcerting part of it was not that the objects were still there.. it was the object themselves. Spinner´s End was a poor neighbourhood of mill-workers...And yet, that particular house was filled with very high quality furniture and decorations, mostly in an art-déco style, with lots of XIX-century looking stuff thrown in...It felt almost as if whoever had decorated it was purposely trying to hide all that luxury behind a working-class façade.

She thanked heavens for having had the providence to have the electrical wiring and plumbing checked. Spinner´s End wasn´t completely deserted yet so it had a supply of electricity and water and she imagined that, at the very least, she should make sure to have everything working if she was to move in. The wiring apparently dated from the 20´s which would have made it one of the first houses in the street to have it. The electrician and plumber she had hired for the job were both amazed that everything still worked...

After having her belongings brought inside, she decided to explore. Unlike the sitting room all the other rooms were closed. She had found many keys among her grandfather´s mysterious objects, and was pretty unimpressed by the fact that each one of them seemed to be a match for each of the locks in the house...

Although the house followed the street´s general and rather simplistic pattern of one sitting room, one kitchen, two bedrooms and one bathroom all in minuscule proportions, each of the rooms was as richly decorated as the sitting room. Also, aside from the dust, the other rooms didn´t seem to have been touched in the least. Probably because they had been locked up until now. Everything looked as if the former occupants had just left home for a stroll in the park and never came back, leaving everything behind as it was. There were still clothes and personal objects, all organized and kept in their correct places, as if waiting for their owners to come back and use them. Among the seemingly normal things like shoes, spectacles or books, she could see numerous unidentifiable articles...She couldn´t even begin to phantom the utility of any of them.

But the most unsettling part was by far the alarming lack of rats, cockroaches or any other pest... How could a house abandoned for some seventy-odd years not have one single mouse? She had opened the wardrobes and cabinets, rummaged though the clothes and books, taken out the bedsheets, flipped the mattresses ...and nothing. Not one insect, not one rat, not one sign of termite, clothes-moth or bookworms. Not even a single fly. More startlingly still, she found no traces of mold, no infiltrations, no cracks on the walls, no rips on the wallpapers...

It was all too..bizarre.

Curiosity had always been her most proeminent personality trait. Her father and grandfather often praised her inquiring nature, and gave her free reign to exercise it. They would feed her curiosity with books, movies, fairy-tales, everything that could serve as fuel for her intellect and imagination. She remembered how, growing up, her favorite past time had been investigating the old Celtic and medieval ruins and relics scattered around the valleys surrounding her hometown, always in the company of her big brother Paul. Her mother was less than impressed by their adventurous outings, but her father and grandfather were always openly proud of her intellectual pursuits. It was pretty obvious from an early age that she would follow on her father´s footsteps and become a Historian. Actually she had gone a bit farther than that...while her father was a History teacher in a small catholic school in a little Irish village, she was a professor of history, a successful one if her published books proved anything. Her inquisitive nature had brought her far and she was proud of it.

But this day, as she rummaged through the room of the freakish house her grandfather had left her, she started to think that maybe, for the first time in her life, being curious might not be so great... But her greatest flaw wasn´t curiosity, though...It was stubbornness. Which obviously meant that she was going to finish what she had started. She had moved into her grandfather´s house, now she had to find Eileen Prince.

Eileen Prince´s house was right next door, and all she had to do was come over an knock. It was simple enough. An yet, as she stood in front of that door, she felt quite disheartened... What did she know about Eileen Prince? Only her name and date of birth... What if she wasn´t there...Then what would she do? Go back to her grandfather´s papers and reread them all, look for clues in that indecipherable house...Trying to make sense of it all just seemed like something she couldn´t do alone. Eileen Prince, whomever she was, was probably the only person who could help...What would she do if she wasn´t there? She knocked and, as she feared, nobody answered. She kept knocking... Once, twice, three times, four times, six times. As if it would work...

Just as she turned to leave, cursing the day she had had the brilliant idea of starting this ludicrous investigation, the door opened and her heart actually skipped a bit. It obviously wasn´t Eileen Prince who had answered the door, but a tall, hook-nosed man with black over-long hair and sickly pale skin dressed in black from head to toe. For a moment she wondered if he was dressed for Halloween, even though they were in the first week of October. Relieved to find someone to talk to, she had tried to start a conversation, but he would have none of it. But it didn´t really matter how rude he was, Evelyn had to get the information she wanted. Making her best to remain calm in spite of his snarky replies, she insisted, not even acknowledging his resistance. After all, she hadn´t come all the way here to be have some random blockhead with poor social-skills thwart her plans. After a little verbal tug of war, she finally managed to ask what she wanted to know.

"I´m just looking for someone..." She said, using the gentlest tone she could muster in the midst of her crescent exasperation "Eileen Prince. Does she live here?"

Evelyn had never seen a man´s expression change so quickly. That condescending grimace vanished from his lips, and his dark, aggressive eyes turned to puzzled and then to melancholic in a split second.

"Snape" He said quietly, in a tone that was almost gentle.

"I beg you pardon?"

"Eileen Snape...Prince was her maiden name" His voice was suddenly filled with a unmistakable tone of sadness.

"Oh, so she does live here" Evelyn let out without thinking, just to keep him talking.

"Not anymore" His deep voice just grew graver and graver with each word. Only now the muted tone let her notice his voice was a quite beautiful baritone.

"I see..." Evelyn shifted on her feet, uneasy "She moved then..."

"She´s dead.... Has been for twenty years actually." That last sentence had been barely more than a whisper,.

Evelyn looked at his face. His contemptuous expression had now completely vanished, and his face was merely somber. The dark eyes seemed to look right through her. Having lost her brother at a young age and both her father and grandfather not too long ago, Evelyn could say she knew what thousand yard stare meant. It was obvious this man was very close to Eileen... He was too young to be her husband or brother...A son maybe...Evelyn immediately regretted having pestered him so much.

I´m sorry to hear that...In that case, I guess I should get going then..."

But just as she turned away, his resounding voice reached her hears and there was no more scorn in its tone. Only a very pristine seriousness.

"Wait a minute, Miss...I´sorry, you said your name was..?"

"Black. Evelyn Black." She relaxed and, for the first time, felt like she could have a normal conversation with the man "Mr... Snape, I assume?"

"Severus Snape..." He opened the door all the way and cocked his head back gesturing for her to come in.

Evelyn just stood there.

Wasn´t this what she wanted? Eileen Prince was dead, but this man...Severus Snape...Severus Snape was standing right before her, inviting her in.

She wasn´t sure yet, but Severus Snape might be the one she was looking for...The one who would help her make sense of her grandfather´s secrets.

So, she entered.

Chapter Text

The front door opened into a small sitting room. As Evelyn expected, the room was pretty much like the sitting room of her own house in dimensions and just as dingy. Unlike her oddly well-decorated sitting room though, the dreary atmosphere at the Snapes house was compounded by the rather drab choice of furniture and colours. Everything was brown and sepia, and the scant décor seemed to be right out of a low-budget late 50s early 60s movie, with lots of odd trinkets scattered about. An old armchair in front of the cast iron fireplace fireplace was in dire need of reupholstering, as was the small dark russet leather couch in the middle of the room, and the rug was in even worst condition.

What did strike her, however, was the sheer amount of books. They covered every single wall from top to bottom, leaving almost no space empty. In fact there were so many of them, that it just looked as if they sprouted about like overgrown plants in an unkept garden. The shelves were full to the point of looking ready to collapse at any given moment; there were even  books in the spaces in between the shelves, and other shelves mounted on the back of the doors in what looked like a conscious effort to make as many books as possible fit the tiny space available; those that didn´t fit the shelves piled up on the floor, on top of a couple of wobbly chairs and wherever else they could go. But chaotic organization notwithstanding, they were mostly in excellent condition, particularly the many leather-bound volumes.  

Evelyn had  spent most of her life in libraries, churches, abbeys and other morosely silent locations. It came with the job, really. But as she walked past Severus Snape and into his  sitting room, the sound of her heels onto the floorboards cut through the heavy quietude inside in an almost  otherworldly manner. Mr. Snape´s house had the atmosphere of a monastery, but conspicuously lacking the same feeling of beatific contemplation often found in them. His house just felt...sinister, somehow.

The door closed behind her with a dry  thud. Completely ignoring the usual rituality most civilized people tend to observe when receiving a guest, Severus Snape merely walked around her, almost as if she wasn´t there, or was nothing but a little obstacle on his way, and headed the kitchen.

"Tea?" He asked, not even bothering to look her way.

"Sure, thank you... Uh, do you need any help?"

"No." came the laconic answer from beyond the door.

Evelyn puffed heavily, renouncing to any hope of having some form of normal interaction with him.

Sighing , she hung her coat on a wall hook by the door, noticing there were a couple of coats already there, all pitch black, and laid her purse on the couch. As she waited for her unwilling host to come back with the tea, and against her better judgement, she decided to look around. It was probably not wise to snoop around his house, but those magnificent rows of leather-bound books were too tantalizing to ignore. She quickly looked through some of the titles...Classics of Medieval literature she knew all too well...Chauncer, Dante, Mallory, Thomas Aquinas... Evelyn was overcome with amazement: it looked as if Mr. Snape had an exact replica of her own personal library... But there were lots of others she couldn´t recognize, authors she had never heard of gracing the spines of bizarrely titled books: "A History of Magic" by Bathilda Bangshot, "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them" by Newt Scamander, "A guide to Medieval Sorcery"...It was just too strange...Evelyn had spend most of her academic life writing about European religions and Witchcraft, and yet she didn´t know any of these books... She wondered what Mr. Severus Snape did for a living; judging from these books he could very easily be a fellow historian.

Above the fireplace there were some framed diplomas, so she approached curiously, hoping to get a glimpse at his professional credentials. But instead her eyes were drawn to the picture frames on top of the mantle. There were just three of them. In the first one, a teenage girl with long dark hair, thick eyebrows and a sullen expression posed for what seemed to be an official school photo, faded golden calligraphic letters at the bottom of the photo read "Eileen Prince". So, finally a face for the name. The sharp features, the deep black eyes, the thin lips...If Evelyn had any doubt that Severus Snape was Eileen´s son it would have vanished as soon as she saw that portrait. He was the spit image of his mother. On the picture frame next to it, a very similar school photo, only this time of a boy. Evelyn didn´t have to read the golden letters on the bottom to know it was Severus Snape as a young man.

The third picture frame was slightly set apart from the others, almost as if purposely placed in such a way as to give it more prominence. In it, a scrawny boy, around nine or ten years old (Evelyn assumed it was Snape again) smiled brightly. He was holding hands with a beautiful red-haired little girl who smiled just as cheerfully, glowing in a flowered yellow dress. Resting against the elegant wooden picture frame, there was torn photo, with no frame, missing one half. A young woman with red hair, smiled, the exact same sweet smile of the little girl in the other photo. Only now Evelyn noticed a small glass vase with a solitary white lily in it, sitting right beside the photos of the red-haired child and woman....

Her train of thought was cut short by a loud coughing sound coming from behind her back. Startled, Evelyn yelped and spun around to see Severus Snape standing a mere couple of feet away from her, holding two steaming cups of tea. How the hell had the man just appeared like this? She didn´t hear any footsteps, had the bloody bastard just materialized out of thin air?

"Your tea" he said handing her one cup, an unabashed cavalier expression on his face "I only had Hassam. I hope it´s not to strong for you"

She took the cup, an elegant porcelain piece with a dainty green pattern of leaves around the edge, matching the saucer. Something that most likely had belonged to Eileen. The fragrant scent of good quality camellia sinensis reached her nostrils, soothing her somewhat as she tried to catch her breath.

"Hassam is just fine, thank you" She smiled, feeling herself blush with shame and irritation. Busted like a bloody schoolgirl.

Severus Snape just stood there, looking at her with that alarmingly arcane aplomb that seemed to come so naturally to him. At such a close distance, Evelyn had the chance to give him a good look. He was tall, probably around 6´or 6´1´´, but more than tall he was intimidating. It wasn´t as much as his height, as it was the way the carried himself. He was certainly imposing, and there was something almost stately about him, bordering on pretentious...The man was oddly angular, and made himself all the more so by standing as up-straight as a sentry during the changing of the Queen´s Guard. His movements were brisk and measured, with an unusual touch of elegance. His black trousers and black turtle-neck combined with his almost mechanical way of moving gave him the appearance of a large crow. That raven-like quality he exuded was only intensified by his sharp set of black eyes and very prominent hook nose. His dark, unkempt, shoulder-lenght hair made his sallow skin look dreadfully pale. Quite surprisingly, all these features combined didn´t make him exactly ugly, and although he was far from being good-looking, there was something almost magnetic there. Definitely not one who could be admired for his  beauty, Severus Snape had something about his appearance that simply commanded attention.

After seemingly satisfying himself with how unconfortable he had just made her, he turned quickly on his heels and walked over to the armchair.

"I´m sorry, I was just..." Evelyn trailed off

"Sit down" He cut her mid speech, gesturing the sofa, as he sat on the armchair. Evelyn raised an eyebrow. He was, quite clearly, doing a little power game here; creeping up behind her, ordering her around, refraining from using the most simple formulas of politeness such as "thank you" or "please", sitting down before she did, purposely placing himself in an armchair that dominated the room, almost like a school headmaster in his office or a lord receiving her in his domain...It was quite clear Severus Snape liked to be in control, and wasn´t the kind of man to be easily confronted... So let´s just humour his ego, she thought to herself...

"Thank you" she forced herself to smile as modestly as possible, as she sat in front of him, sipping her tea... He might be an insufferable sourpuss, but truth to be told he did make excellent tea...

"So..." he started, obviously aiming to control the conversation, as he brought his own cup of tea to his lips. "You were looking for my mother... May I ask where would you know her from?"

"I wouldn´t, actually...Just by name. It´s a long story, really"

"Then make it short" He sneered

"Very well..." she continued, unfazed "The house next to yours. It belonged to my grandfather."

"I don´t recall anyone owning that house...or even living there, for that matter..."

"Precisely. I don´t think he ever did live there. After he passed away we found this among his belongings" Evelyn laid her cup down on the coffee-table and reached into her purse. She got a copy of a house deed and handed it to him. Severus unfolded it and read. He looked surprised for a moment.

"Marius Black..." a heavy pause "...your grandfather I suppose" His rich baritone had dropped a few octaves.

"Yes"

Severus sat silent for a while, almost as if contemplating something he didn´t care to share with her.

"Anyway." Evelyn carried on "It seems your house was once connected with my grandfather´s house. There were some documents and letters pertaining to a separation of the houses, probably following an inventory. It appears that my family and your mother´s family were related somehow, and the two houses were once a common property which was latter divided. I wouldn´t know the details of it, since most of my grandfather´s old papers are to old to be readable..."

Severus frowned.

"I think you must have something wrong... I would have known if my mother was related to..." he stopped mid-sentence. "I mean, I know my mother´s family and there´s certainly a mistake here... "

He rested his chin on the  knuckles of his right hand.

"As far as I can remember, Miss Black...Not a soul has ever lived in the house next door. My mother never told me anything about it belonging to any of her relations"

"Maybe she didn´t know of the house´s history...The two properties were severed in the 20s. But still, she should know that her family was related to mine...You see, there´s a family tree amongst my father´s old documents, with your mother´s name on it. She would have known that, no?"

There was a long silence. For a second Evelyn could have sworn Severus looked apprehensive. But as she looked for a further hint of an expression on his face, he put on his default blank stare. Leaning back on his armchair, he drew in a deep breath.

"Once again, Miss Black I would have known that...But even assuming our families are somehow related, which I find highly unlikely...Is not like I can provide you with any information other than what your grandfather´s documents already have... I´m afraid your search has reached a dead end"

She fell silent. It was obvious that, whatever the relationship was between Eileen Snape and her family, Severus Snape knew nothing about it, or wouldn´t tell her about it.

"Where are you from Miss. Black?"

"Ireland. County Clare." She answered, taken aback by the random question.

"You see, my mother´s family didn´t have any relatives in Ireland"

"My grandfather wasn´t Irish. He was from London."

Severus blinked.

"He was?"

"Yes...He moved to Ireland when he was around twenty. Which is what makes the existence of this house all the more odd. It seems he lived all of his life in London. How could he have a house in Cokeworth?"

"Did he ever talk about any of it?"

"He never talked about anything that happened before he went to Ireland"

"Maybe for a good reason..."

"What do you mean?"

"Did you ever consider the very obvious possibility that he never talked about his past precisely because didn´t want anyone to know about it?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"What I´m trying to say is, Miss Black, I can´t help you. My mother is dead, as is your grandfather. What´s the point of digging up old stories?"

"The point?! Isn´t it obvious enough?...It´s my family we´re talking about here..."

"Precisely...Your family... Don´t you fear you might find something that was better left undiscovered?"

Chapter Text

Severus wasn´t really sure why he had let her in. The mention of his mother´s name had certainly disarmed him at first, but come to think of it how could that woman possibly know about Eileen? The true Eileen Snape, the witch, not the long suffering wife of Tobias Snape, the neighbourhood´s drunk. Whatever it was this Evelyn Black had to talk to him about was probably just some trivial muggle matter...Maybe something to do with the numerous debts his mother had contracted trying to make ends meet and clean up after his father´s messes...Over the years he had gotten many of those visits, but his years working in Hogwarts and having very few personal expenses had allowed him the means to sort out the finances of the Snape family after his parents´ deaths.  Luckily Gringotts made currency exchanges with muggle money.

Even so, that someone would look for her to collect a debt after twenty years of her passing was just a bit too bizarre... And that woman...Most definitely didn´t look like some ordinary debt collector. Too well-mannered, to the point of sounding a little posh, too well-dressed, too patrician-looking... And much to his surprise she seemed genuinely upset when he told her Eileen Prince was dead. Stranger still, she had just apologized and turned to leave, as if whatever it was that she had to discuss it could only be with Eileen herself. For a second he thought she might know his mother... But it was an absurd idea...Miss Black was around his own age...definitely too young to have known his mother while she was still "Eileen Prince".

Maybe the months he had spent cloistered in his old childhood home after the end of the war had finally started to take a tool on him. This was probably the first time since July he had had an actual conversation with another human being. Of course he got frequent letters from Minerva. After Voldemort´s defeat and his subsequent stay at St. Mungo Minerva seemed to have become overcome with remorse, in spite of all his reassurance that whatever it was that he had done, it was his choice, and apologies or displays of gratitude were simply out of place. Still he could understand her...Throughout his teaching years Minerva had probably been the closest thing to a friend he had had, and the whole affair of Dumbledore´s death, his apparent betrayal and near-passing, as well as the ensuing revelations about his double-agent activities, had certainly had a huge impact on her. To this day he got weekly letters from her, all filled with an almost apologetic concern about his well-being.

But letters couldn´t substitute a real interaction with another person. As antisocial as he had always been, sitting alone all day long in the decrepit Spinner´s End house for months on end was starting to weight heavily on him. As Evelyn Black stood on his doorstep he had felt something he hadn´t felt for months...Interest. Not interest on her per se, but interest on something... Curiosity, so to speak. Maybe that was why he had let her in. She might give him something to do with his time, even if only for the brief time span of an inconsequential conversation. Something to take him out of his hibernation for a moment.

She looked frankly nervous as she came in.

"Tea?" He offered, out of a flatly conventional sense of hospitality he hadn´t exercised in a long time. Having guests was definitely not at the top of the list of his favorite things to do.

"Sure, thank you... Uh, do you need any help?" She asked, offering him some polite proximity he didn´t really care for.

"No." His answer came out harsher than he intended... It didn´t matter much, really.

As he heated the water for the tea, he could hear her footsteps in the sitting room. He looked over his shoulder and saw as she moved around slowly looking at everything, almost as if visiting a museum, arms crossed over her chest, her deep red blouse in a stark contrast with the brownish grey-sepia rows of books that covered the walls. She had her back turned to him but he could see perfectly how upstraight he posture was, which made her look even taller, and how surely she walked around, with an elegant stride not many women managed on such high heels. Her hair ondulated ever so slightly as she looked up and down, obviously reading the titles on the bookspines. Even if he couldn´t see her face, her interest was palpable, he could read it on her body language...Either she was an avid bibliophile or was just trying to get to know something about him by analysing his personal library. Maybe both. As she approached the shelves closest to the fireplace she seemed to do a little double take and bent over as to see more carefully. Severus smirked...That was where he kept his old books from Hogwarts. No wonder she was curious, a  muggle wouldn´t understand any of that. Time to put an end to her fun. He poured the tea not bothering with sugar and returned to the sitting room.

Her curiosity about his books hadn´t bothered him...Actually he was faintly amused by the way she was snooping around as if his sitting room was some public library. But when Severus entered the room she was standing just in front of the fireplace, almost on her tiptoes, staring at the photographs on the mantle with vivid interest. Severus frowned. Somebody obviously had a problem grasping the concept of "private". He walked over with that swift and silent gait he had practised over the years on the stone floors of Hogwats, and stoped just behind her, so close he could smell the faint lavender scent that emanated from her. Still, she was so fixated on the photos that she never noticed his presence. Severus coughed loudly to get her attention. She spun around and let out a small shrill like a startled cat. As she looked up at him, her eyes were wide and her face had turned a lovely shade of crimson red.

There it was, that delightful expression of absolute fear and sheer embarrassment he had so masterfully gotten out of busted students over the course of seventeen odd years as a teacher. It still felt good to see it. For whatever reason getting that out of a full grown woman felt even better.

"Your tea" He handed her the cup "I only had Hassam. I hope it´s not to strong for you"

"Hassam is just fine, thank you"

Severus stood there for a while, enjoying her subtle agitation. But after only a couple of seconds she seemed to have gathered her wits and started to look at him attentively, petulantly even, almost as if studying him. Her eyes were focused and deep. None of his students had ever had the nerve to look at him so shamelessly after being caught red-handed (except maybe the ever-insufferable Potter). Actually most adults didn´t have the nerve to stare at him like that. Severus was well aware that her peevishness was only due to the fact that she didn´t know who he was. Most muggles wouldn´t have had the courage if they knew...But still her gall was quite remarkable.

Time to stop playing little games. Severus turned around and walked over to his chair. From behind him her voice reached his hears, a calculated gentle intonation in the husky timbre.

"I´m sorry, I was just..."

"Sit down" He cut her mid-sentence, gesturing the sofa.

"Thank you" She smiled an obviously fake smile and sat down sipping her tea, apparently not minding that there was no sugar in it.

Miss Evelyn Black had, quite clearly, underestimated his intelligence. Did she really think he couldn´t see through the smiles and the kind little "pleases" and "thank yous"? She wanted something out of him, and was determined to get it, even if it meant playing the part of the "gentle sweet maiden". And "gentle sweet maiden" she was not, that much was clear to him. She was a terrible liar, though...her calculated words and inflexion might be meek and caressing, but the obstinate look in her eyes and the unabashed insistence that punctuated her actions told a different story. Still, he had to respect her determination to play him into doing her bidding. For such a  poor liar, she seemed intelligent enough to know exactly how to play her cards...Certainly she had experience with making other people do what she wanted.

"So...You were looking for my mother... May I ask where would you know her from?"

"I wouldn´t, actually...Just by name. It´s a long story, really" There still playing the soft-spoken girl, Severus noticed, almost annoyed now.

"Then make it short" He sneered, hoping she would just drop the act and speak straightforwardly.

"Very well..." she continued, taking on a harder tone that pleased Severus a whole lot more "The house next to yours. It belonged to my grandfather."

"I don´t recall anyone owning that house...or even living there, for that matter..."

"Precisely. I don´t think he ever did live there. After he passed away we found this among his belongings" She laid her cup down on the coffee-table and reached into her purse. She then produced an old and crumbled piece of paper and handed it to him. Severus got it and ran his eyes through the elaborate calligraphy, doing a double take as he recognised the layout. It was an old muggle document, but with a layout style similar to that found on some wizarding documents, one that could be used on the wizarding legal procedures, while still being accepted by muggles, unaware of its origins. It was frequently used in negociations between muggles and wizards, whenever they took place. This one however looked quite old and had many elements that had fallen in disuse long ago, particularly the ornate borders and baroque-looking calligraphic capitals. Most of it was impossible to read and the stamps were nothing more than smudges, but the name of the owner and his elegant signature were clear enough: Marius Black.

"Marius Black..." That name...it did ring a bell...But where had Severus heard it before?  "...your grandfather I suppose"

"Yes"

"Anyway." Evelyn carried on "It seems your house was once connected with my grandfather´s house. There were some documents and letters pertaining to a separation of the houses, probably following an inventory. It appears that my family and your mother´s family were related somehow, and the two houses were once a common property which was latter divided. I wouldn´t know the details of it, since most of my grandfather´s old papers are to old to be readable..."

Severus frowned. Clearly she had stumbled onto something she shouldn´t have. If that document had anything to do with a transaction between wizards and muggles (a transaction that seemed to have happened many decades ago) and her family had any connection to his mother´s family as she claimed, she should have know something about it. But quite obvious she didn´t. Whatever it was that this document meant, it was not for her to know. Furthermore, her having that paper and Merlin only knew whatever else she had found among her late grandfather´s belongings could mean a high risk of breaking the statute of secrecy.

"I think you must have something wrong... I would have known if my mother was related to..." Related to "muggles" he almost let slip, but bit his tongue. "I mean, I know my mother´s family and there´s certainly a mistake here..."

He rested his chin on the knuckles of his right hand, making an effort to come up with something to throw her off her trail.

"As far as I can remember, Miss Black...Not a soul has ever lived in the house next door. My mother never told me anything about it belonging to any of her relations" Severus almost kicked himself, feeling dumb as a post. Was that the best he could come up with? The months of isolation must have dulled his legendarily sharp mind.

"Maybe she didn´t know of the house´s history...The two properties were severed in the 20s. But still, she should know that her family was related to mine...You see, there´s a family tree amongst my father´s old documents, with your mother´s name on it. She would have known that, no?"

There was a long silence. Severus simply sat there mulling over that story. He couldn´t quite make sense of it. Indeed he had never heard any mention to the house next door belonging to anyone. Neither had him ever heard of anyone on the pure-blood Prince family being related to any muggles. But then again if his mother had married a muggle it wasn´t impossible that other members of the family might have muggle relations. Still without getting the full picture, he had no way of knowing anything, and all he had to go on was that house deed and Evelyn´s story...

But what really got to him was the fact that the woman sitting in front of him was completely unaware of what the house deed could mean. Clearly Evelyn Black had no idea of the connection her house might or might not have to the wizarding world... Her grandfather had clearly decided not to let his family know of that house and, consequently, anything, magical or not, that might be related to it. And yet, decades after the signing of that house deed, his granddaughter was there holding on to that piece of paper that could lead her to uncovering everything. And if the Wizarding world had anything to do with whatever this "everything" was, there would be trouble.

"Once again, Miss Black I would have known that...But even assuming our families are somehow related, which I find highly unlikely...Is not like I can provide you with any information other than what your grandfather´s documents already have. I´m afraid your search has reached a dead end" Indeed he couldn´t provide her with any information, that much was true. But somehow he just felt that excuse wouldn´t be enough to keep her from investigating.

"Where are you from, Miss Black?" He let out, grasping at straws, trying to extract any potentialy useful information out of her.

"Ireland. County Clare." She answered, looking a little taken aback.

"You see, my mother´s family didn´t have any relatives in Ireland" He said just for the sake of saying anything. He knew she was Irish, and the new information she gave him, about County Clare didn´t add much to it, but he had to keep her talking.

"My grandfather wasn´t Irish. He was from London."

"He was?"

"Yes...He moved to Ireland when he was around twenty. Which is what makes the existence of this house all the more odd. It seems he lived all of his life in London. How come would he have a house in Cokeworth?"

"Did he ever talk about any of it?"

"He never talked about anything that happened before he went to Ireland"

"Maybe for a good reason..." Severus said, more to himself than to her.

"What do you mean?"

"Did you ever consider the very obvious possibility that he never talked about his past precisely because didn´t want anyone to know about it?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"What I´m trying to say is, Miss Black, I can´t help you. My mother is dead, as is your grandfather. What´s the point of digging up old stories?"

"The point?! Isn´t it obvious enough?...It´s my family we´re talking about here..."

"Precisely...Your family... Don´t you fear you might find something that was better left undiscovered?"

She looked at him square in the eyes, a look of self-righteous indignation splattered on her face.

"Excuse me? What are you trying to get at?"

Severus almost smiled. Just a few minutes ago she was sitting there, feigning gentleness, trying to manipulate him with sugar-coated words and batting eyelashes, but at the slightest suggestion that her little world might not be as perfect as she imagined it to be, she had just let her emotions flow with laughable ease. Leaning forward, Severus rested his elbows on his knees interlacing his fingers, and tried to give his next words the kindest, most comforting tone he could muster.

"I don´t mean to be offensive, Miss Black, and I apologize if I was. What I wanted to say is... I imagine your late grandfather might have had strong reasons not to share this information with his family. Maybe you should just respect his wishes and not pursue this."

"I appreciate your concern, Mr. Snape, but I really don´t think it´s your place to decide that " Every single word out of her mouth was dripping with contempt.

"Of course not."

"Well, in that case" She grabbed her purse and stood up. Severus stood up almost in time with her "I guess I should get going. It obvious you can´t help me."

"I´m terribly sorry about that"

"Don´t be. I should be the one apologizing for wasting your time" She turned on her heels swiftly and went for her coat on the wall hook. Severus followed her closely, and walked past her as she headed for the door.

"Once again...I´m sorry I couldn´t help you" He opened the door for her. "But, if I may say so, do consider what I just told you"

"I will" Severus just knew she wouldn´t.

"And..." She turned to him, her foot barely out the door "If there´s anything else I can do to help you...Don´t hesitate in asking me"

"That´s kind of you...But I don´t think you´ll be able to do much to help me" She had a suspicious expression on her face...Indeed this woman was anything but stupid...And that only concerned him all the more.

"Still...I´ll see if I can find out anything that might help you. I´ll let you know if I do" He measured every word in order to make it sound gentle but not too sweet or too interested

As he closed the heavy wooden door behind him, Severus Snape smiled to himself.

Finally he had found something interesting to do with his time.

Chapter Text

Severus couldn´t even remember the last time he had slept. Actual sleep, that is. A peaceful night of sound, restoring sleep. His brain shut down at times, when the body couldn´t take being awake anymore, but even then...To sleep...to rest...No more...Not since the late Albus Dumbledore had dropped the weight of the world onto his shoulders without ever wondering if he would be able to carry it.

Dumbledore was not the nice old man for whom so many took him... He was man of action, a man who did what had to be done, no matter what the cost. "For the greater good" was his motto. Severus respected that. He had long given up any ideals of a fair world where good triumphs over evil simply because that´s the way it´s supposed to be...More often than not, the "greater good" demanded sacrifice, blood, tears and less than noble actions...Sometimes things simply got ugly, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Hard facts of life... Severus Snape had made his peace with them long before that night. Which was precisely why, even after all this time, he still couldn´t understand how Dumbledore´s plan had brought him to his knees like that.

Seventeen years before that Severus had given up everything. His life, his peace, his strentgh...He had laid everything at Dumbledore´s feet, had turned himself over to be used like a pawn. He had agreed to it...more than that, he had asked for it. Lily´s death left him no purpose other than continuously repenting for what couldn´t be fixed or forgiven. Following Dumbledore´s plans had become his sole reason to exist. To keep the boy alive...to keep whatever was left of Lily on this Earth alive...Until it came the day when he could finally rest...If the prophecy was right the day would come when Lily´s son would defeat Voldemort...through Lily´s son Severus Snape would finally find redemption... He waited for that day... For seventeen years he waited for that day...He did whatever it was in his power to make sure it would come.

Then everything came crumbling down... The boy had to die...Dumbledore had asked him to protect Lily´s son, just to have him dead at the right moment... "He has her eyes"...He said...That was probably the only thing that had kept Severus alive all these years...Knowing her eyes still saw the world through her child... And then, casually like that, Dumbledore told him those eyes would no longer see the light... Lily´s only child...raised like a pig for slaughter...with his help.

Severus was never quite certain as to whether Dumbledore didn´t realise the enormity of what he asked or if he simply didn´t care...Maybe Dumbledore himself didn´t know....He simply charged forward, doing whatever it took for everything to fall into place...and Severus had to keep up...On the day of Lily´s death, Severus Snape had given up his life, his happiness... Had given up himself, in a way...He had no right to claim his soul back, when he had lost it so long ago...And yet, Dumbledore asked entirely too much of him... To soil his hands with blood...Dumbledore´s own blood no less, and with those same blood-stained hands hold on to the helm, step into Dumbledore´s own shoes and keep Hogwarts safe under the attack of the birds of prey that swiftly descended upon it...and  lead Lily´s child to his ultimate fate, like a priest leads a lamb to the sacrificial altar.

And once everything was said and done, all there was left to him was to hope for forgiveness that would never come...Too much, simply too much...

As he lay bleeding on the filthy floor of the Shrieking Shack, there was a moment of relief.

Over...finally over...to sleep, at last... He had fought it...Once he felt the first bite of Nagini´s teeth sinking into his flesh, he had fought it. But he had been caught entirely off-guard, let go of his wand, and the beast was just too strong, too fast and Severus too weak and broken. Like a wounded animal he  recoiled, moaned, struggled...In foolish desperation he had tried to pry the mighty jaws open with both his hands, only managing to break his fingers... The attack was relentless...In the midst of the pain all he could think of was his incomplete mission...After seventeen years, he had failed...at the last moment he had failed...

Then he simply lay there, all energy drained from his body...warm blood soaking his robes, his consciousness slipping away from him with each drop...He waited for the jaws to come back and finish what had been started... Charity Burbage´s death still lingered in the back his mind, the haunting sounds of her bones breaking as Nagini feasted upon her body still echoed into his ears. He had watched, powerless to prevent it...and now it was his turn. But all he heard was the ruffling of the Dark Lord´s robes and the slithering sound of Nagini following her master, as he was left for dead.

Laying on the floor... bleeding his life out... Knowing with his last shred of consciousness that everything was lost... But even then he felt the most bizarre sense of relief...At least it was over...he could rest... Redemption had been denied to him...but sleep...just sleep...If there was anything like a God in heaven He wouldn´t deny him that...

Right at that moment he had been pulled out of his feverish reverie by a voice... a pair of deep emerald green eyes looking at him, filled with horror,  sorrow... pity? Harry...Lily´s boy...all these years he had tried to see it...to look for her eyes in his, and yet he had never really seen it as clearly as now... His hope had never been in vain...peace would come to him...everything he had been asked to do, he would have accomplished...just as long as he made Harry see it, with his own eyes...Those green eyes...Lily´s eyes...they would see it...they would see everything he had always wanted them to see...

His task was complete...peace at last...sleep...

But even that had been denied to him...When he woke up, weeks later, at St Mungo´s, the light of a new day pouring from the open window, confirming his existence, hurt his soul more than the  unhealed, infected wounds pained his body.

It wasn´t supposed to be like this...

Sleep...it was all he had asked for...

Severus simply lay on his bed, after yet another night of tossing and turning with eventual black-outs filled with nightmares. He had seen from the corner of his eye as the lights of a grey, foggy, autumn morning cut through the black veil of the night. He watched as the white milky glow  entered his room, little by little, flowing lazily, drawing ample patterns on the ceiling... He watched in silence, entirely too incapable of doing anything else other than lay there, motionless. The spectre of light moved in front of his eyes for hours before he mustered the strength to look up at the clock.

09 o´clock...

Severus dragged himself out of bed, his back  aching from being too long on the same position...He closed the windows, rubbing his bloodshot eyes and welcoming the darkness back, then finally decided that, since the days stubbornly refused to stop going by, it was probably better to keep busy in the meantime...somehow...

Caffeine...that was what he needed...tea or coffee...whatever...

He welcomed the cold as he walked into the kitchen. The cool tiles felt like ice under his bare feet, and the breeze that made it´s way into the broken window felt gelid against his skin, barely protected by the worn out grey pajamas. The cold was almost painful, the warmth of the bed covers still lingering all over his body. It didn´t matter much...Lately the only thing that made him feel somewhat alive was pain...The wounds on his neck still hurt most of the time, and his left hand had never quite recovered...Probably shouldn´t be making such liberal use of anaesthetic potions.

Tea...a warm cup of tea would make him feel somewhat human again. After lighting up a cigarette, Severus reached for the tin box on the counter, just to find it empty. But of course...he had used the last bags of Assam left to make tea the day before...When that nosy Miss Black had visited him... He had almost forgotten about her...Lately he just kept forgetting things... And his mind was so blurry from the ill-slept night that the bizarre conversation he had had with his new neighbour the previous day just felt dream-like like it had never happened...

Bloody hell, he really needed caffeine...

"There´s still instant coffee in here somewhere" he muttered to himself as he rummaged through the cabinets, no mustering enough concentration to simply use a summoning spell. As he opened cabinet door after cabinet door, a soft mewling sound made its way into his ears...

At first he thought nothing of it, but soon enough the noise had started to grate into his nerves...Was it his imagination or it was actually getting louder?

He turned to leave the kitchen and look for something heavy to throw at the damned stray cat that was, most likely, messing up the trash cans outside. Then he saw it...a small black silhouette laying in front of his fire place. It turned around and in the dim light of the living room he saw a pair of bright amber eyes staring straight at him.

So that´s why the noise was so close...

"How did it ever..." Severus looked around and the answer became obvious...The broken window on the kitchen... Meanwhile, the cat leisurely approached, mewoing softly to get his attention, and started to rub against his leg. Severely annoyed by now ,Severus picked it up, ready to toss it outside the door when he realized it: this cat was no stray... It was obviously well fed, and its black coat was so shiny it looked blueish under the light...it also had a collar with a shamrock-shaped name tag on it. As the little beast made itself comfortable, purring agains this chest, Severus examined the tag.

"Ciarán...If you find me call,...Evelyn B..." he rolled his eyes "Well, well...Cats...the ultimate staple of the obnoxious, over-thirty spinster...Why doesn´t it surprise me at all?"

Chapter Text

"Well, Ciarán...or whatever you name is... you found your way here, you should have no trouble finding your way back"

Severus fought the urge to simply toss the cat out the window. True to be told it would be rather satisfying to just kick the insolent furball out and watch as it ran  away terrified. But considering his owner was his new neighbor, it would probably be more prudent to just show him the way out. Miss Black was petulant and intrusive enough as it was, mistreating her cat would only bring him more annoyance, and quite frankly he was in no shape to deal with it.

So instead of indulging on his more aggressive urges, Severus merely opened the kitchen to and let the cat out. It sat there on the windowsill for a few moments and left, making him breath a sight of relief...

Where was he, again? Oh, yeah...Cofee...

Alas..no coffee, and no tea...Actually, no nothing...When was the last time he had gone grocery shopping?...Hell, he couldn´t even remember...Might want to take care of that now...Starving to death was not a very noble way to go...Dying of starvation and having his body discovered weeks later once it started to smell wouldn´t look too good on his obituary...Death by snake attack would have been more decent. But the mere thought of washing, changing into presentable clothes and going out to run such a mundane task bore him to death...

Grudgingly he washed, changed and left.

 

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Two hours...Two bloody hours just to walk to the nearest market, pick up a few bare essentials, pay for them and come back home....Damn... He knew muggles had a different way of life, and that not having magic entailed a certain difficulty of getting things done that was unknown to wizards, but that was effin´ridiculous...Nobody need magic to know how to properly queue or change money...

Severus locked the door and kicked off his shoes. Tea and a decent meal...Finally...

"What?..." He almost dropped the grocery bags as he felt something touching his leg. He looked down and saw pair of big amber eyes looking up at him. In the dimness of the living room it was  almost impossible to see clearly, but he didn´t have to see it to know exactly what the diminutive  creature trying to climb up his leg was. "You again?"

Cursing through his teeth, Severus let go of the bags and picked the cat up by the scruff of the neck, nearly tossing it outside the door. Dear Merlin, was Miss Black so intent on getting on his nerves she had trained her cat to annoy him? He slammed the door shut and headed the kitchen as the cat stood outside mewling and scratching the door.

"Damn cat..."

Trying his best to ignore the noise outside, he proceeded heat up a frozen meal. Luckily he was awake enough now to use his wand. For the life of him he would never reach an agreement with that old rusty stove in the kitchen. Opening the metalic container, he reached for a fork inside one of the kitchen cabinets and sat down to eat his undercooked Salisbury steak and bland macaroni and cheese with a side of nicotine.

Then the mewling and scratching finally stopped.

"Peace at last!" Severus mumbled to himself, welcoming the silence. Silence...his constant companion for months...Lately even the sound of his own thoughts had become unbearable to him at times... silence was all he could take...It was the closest to non-existence he could get... The  sounds of his house, book pages turning, the kettle on the stove, the click-clack of glasses and silverware, the ruffling of his bedsheets...That was all he could bear without having a bloody migraine...

Damn it, his wounds hurt more than usual today...Maybe the dressing was too tight...Should check up on that after lunch...For now he´d just have to mind it when swallowing...Couldn´t very well go for another round of anaesthetics right now, had taken those before leaving the house...The cigarette would have to do as far as calming his nerves for now..

Morosely poking his steak with the fork as he watched the tip of his cigarette burn, Severus started to plan the day ahead of him. If anything the little black invader had, at least, helped him become alert enough to catch up on his reading. His teaching left him very little time for any kind of parallel intellectual pursuit...And with the business of having a bloody war to tend to, he couldn´t quite remember the last time he had sat down with a book for the simple pleasure of just reading an interesting story. Last time he had tried he didn't have the chance to reach the third chapter...

Just as he silently agreed with himself that the rest of the day would be better spent in Dostoyevisky´s fine company, Severus felt something touch his bare feet. Something furry... Severus bolted to his feet, just as the lean little silhouette walked from under the table and sat down on its hind legs, looking up at him.

"That´s it!" Severus was fuming.  "I suppose I need to have a word with your owner about responsible pet-owning and common civility!"

Fighting the urge to hex the living lights out of cat, he picked it up and marched to the next house of the street. He banged on the door, probably with enough strength to yank it out of its hinges. Nothing... He tried again and again...nothing. Apparently nobody was home...

"So that´s why you snuck out..." He looked at the cat purring happily on his arm. "All right then..."

Severus had just noticed one of the front windows was partiality open. He carefully placed the cat on the windowsill and nudged him to enter. The animal merely looked up at him, seriously and mewled softly. Severus tried to make him go inside, to no avail. The cat looked inside the house then back at him and simply sat there, almost as if it couldn´t bring itself to enter.

"What the devil?..."

After a couple more futile attempts at making the cat get back inside, Severus simply stood in front of the window, wondering what could ever make the animal so reluctant to get back into his own home. Considering Miss Black had just moved, maybe the cat wasn´t yet used to the new environment, although it was obviously very comfortable at his house. Nevermind, he tought, could just as well just leave the creature there on the windowsill...

As Severus walked away, he could hear the diminutive beast mewling following him. He didn´t really have to look back to know it was right after him. Stubborn little...Reaching his doorstep, Severus looked over his shoulder, and surely enough there was the cat, sitting on the side walk.

Accepting defeat, Severus opened his door and stepped aside, as the cat leisurely strolled in.

 

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It was the tenth time he had to go back and re-read the same page. The damn cat had been prancing about, hoping on the piles of books scattered about the floor, climbing up the shelves and dropping whatever object it could get its little filthy paws on. At the present moment it hd just finished smashing a glass of water on the floor and was proceeding to menacingly make its way towards the antique wooden clock sitting on one of the shelves by the fireplace.

Closing his copy of The Bothers Karamazov, Severus walked up to where the little insolent fur ball was and proceeded to remove him from the shelf. It merely jumped from his arms onto the floor and  walked over to the fireplace, lying lazily in front of it. Severus took a deep breath.

"Ok, so be like this." The cat simply looked at him and yawned.

The cat was tired of wrecking havoc, apparently. Good. Back to his book, then. Hopefully he´d get to finish that page now. But just as he sat down, there it was again...The bloody cat mewling at his feet. Without taking his eyes off the book, Severus pushed it away with a foot, but the unbearable creature would have none of it. It just leaped squarely onto his lap.

"I´m not petting you, damnit!" And back to the floor it went, mewling in dismay. Only this time it made no attempt to climb back. Instead it just sat quietly, as if listening for something.

"What now?"

Seemingly no longer interested on Severus, the cat walked briskly towards the door. Soon enough it was scratching it and mewling anxiously.

"Oh, so now you want to leave...Fine..."

Relieved, Severus opened the door and let the cat out. It sat on the pavement and looked on as a red Volvo approached. The car pulled over right in front of Miss Black´s house, and the cat mewled joyfully as none other than Evelyn Black herself exited the auto. Severus watched as the woman distractedly opened the trunk of her car and started to retrieve a mountain of shopping bags and grocery bags from it. Her high heels made a pleasant and regular little click-clacking rhythm onto the pavement as her dark jeans, red sweater coat and red crochet headband painted dynamic brushstrokes of bright colour onto the dull grey canvas of Spinner´s End.

"Well, there she is, at long last..." Severus crossed his arms over his chest and turned to go back inside. The cat, however, stayed exactly where it was, looking up at him.

"Just go already! She´s back." The cat mewled, still looking up at him.

"You don´t want me to escort you, do you?" Another mew. Scowling, Severus picked up the cat carried him on one arm as carefully as he would carry a stale baguette, slamming his front door behind himself. "Miserable little runt"

He walked up to Miss Black just as she was starting to unlock her door.

"Hey!" He yelled curmudgeonly, making her turn around, startled.

"Yes?"

"Is this yours?" He asked, carelessly holding up the cat.

"Ciarán!" She dropped the bags and almost ran up to him, taking the cat from his hand and gently cradling it on her arms, showering the little pest with caresses. "You were sleeping when I left, how did you get out?"

Severus rolled his eyes. Crazy woman talking to her bloody cat as if it was a baby....

"Thank you so much for finding him" She smiled at Severus, her Irish accent becoming slightly ticker.

"I didn´t find him...he found me."

"Oh, I see...I´m so sorry he bothered you...In any case, thank you for taking care of him while I was out"

You should thank me for not turning him into a stew; Severus thought to himself, but kept his silence and just nodded.

"Why don´t you come in for some tea?" She offered, opening the door.

"No, it´s not necessary"

"I insist..."

"I mean it, it´s really no nece.."

Without as much as letting him finish the sentence, Evelyn put the cat back on the ground, and picked up the grocery backs she had just dropped.

"It will only take  a minute. If you could just help me with these bags" Not even noticing (or not  minding) his resistance, she handled him the bags and walked over to her car. "We can just put those in the kitchen and I´ll fix us something to eat in a second. I just bought some muffins on this new bakery downtown, people say they are excellent...."

As she continued to babble and pull shopping bags out of the trunk of the car, Severus stood there like a fool holding one shopping bag on each hand, completely at a loss of words...

Chapter Text

If the old popular wisdom that dictated that pets were much like their owners in personality was correct, there was no point arguing with Miss Black, Severus thought to himself. Much in the same way her cat simply did as it pleased, it was quite obvious Miss Black wouldn´t take no for an answer. Just as well, if anything her impromptu hospitality fit would provide him with an excellent opportunity to gather information. Just the day before Evelyn Black had knocked on his door, telling a most bizarre story that apparently involved his mother´s family and could just as well touch the Wizarding World. According to her she had just inherited her house from her late grandfather, who was, if she was to be believed, somehow related to the Prince family. Stranger still, Evelyn Black was in possession of a strange house deed, a document of a type most common in wizarding transactions. Inadvertently her bothersome black cat had provided him with a perfect opportunity to look into that matter.

But carrying shopping bags was not his idea of investigating. Nevermind, a little common courtesy would go a long way in helping his plans.

"Can you put those on the kitchen table, please" She told him, while clumsily taking bag after bag from the trunk. It was quite evident a lot of those were not just groceries and obviously too heavy to for her to carry unaided. He balanced the two relatively small grocery bags she had just given him on his left hand, doing his best to hold on to them with his still fully functioning fingers and walked over to where she stood. Silently, and without as much as looking at her, Severus picked up the heavier bags, balancing them on both hands to the best of his ability and marched into the house. A little startled, Evelyn picked up the other bags and closed the trunk, following him.

"Oh, wait..." she called out, coming after him, her heels briskly click-clacking onto the pavement. "It´s too heavy, you don´t have to carry all of them at the same ti..."

"I can manage" he spat out. If there was one thing Severus couldn´t stand was pity disguised as politeness.

They made their way into the living room just as Ciarán was climbing onto the peach colored damask couch, stretching lazily before settling for a nap. Severus scoffed at him as he walked by. Finally catching up to him, Evelyn walked past both of them and prompted Severus to follow her into the kitchen.

"Could you put those here, please" She told him softly, gesturing a cabinet next to the door. Then she washed her hands and started to move around, busy like a hyperactive bee, sorting groceries and putting them away and filling up a kettle with water. "Have a seat...tea will be ready in a minute...I have green tea and Lady Grey, what do you..."

"I´ll just have whatever you´re having..." He answered distractedly, walking back into the living room. There was a strong smell of cleaning products in the air, and the furniture was moved around and cardboard boxes were scattered about.

"Don´t mind the mess," she told him from the kitchen, her voice dancing over the clatter of porcelain and silverware. "I still haven´t had to time to finish cleaning..."

He didn´t answer and just kept walking around. There was no way Miss Black had brought all these objects with her and had them brought inside in less than twenty-four hours. The living room was fully decorated in a sumptuous Art Déco style, with lots of delicate and ornate pieces and works of art, with a soothing abundance of muted greens and pale pinks. Draperies, upholstering, rugs, everything looked vivid and fresh...as if the house had just been decorated. The sheer amount of stained glass letting the light pour inside, the scattered boxes, apparently filled with books and personal objects, and the smell of lime from the recent, yet unfinished, cleaning only added to the fresh, comfortable feel of a house ready to start a new life.

Severus walked over to the boxes, all already opened, but still unpacked. The personal objects didn´t interest him, and he would feel outright ashamed looking at them, so instead he directed his attention to the books. The absolute majority of the boxes were filled with them, making up for a personal library of rather respectable size. Letting his curiosity get the best of him he opened one and picked up the first book his eyes fell upon. It was a rather new and elegant hard cover edition with a very high quality dark green dust jacket. On it there was a very simple black design of a Celtic cross and a title in a sleek and elegant black lettering "Witch trials in Ireland:  the untold history" He read the index and saw the book was divided on groups of specific trials by dates, spawning all the way from the XIV century to, much to his surprise, 1911. The last pages had an exhaustive compilation of references and bibliography. Looked like a book worth reading, he thought, looking for the name of the author on the cover.

"Author...Evelyn Black?" Severus did a bit of a double take and opened the book again, looking for the flap. There it was. A rather elegant black and white portrait of Evelyn black, looking positively scholarly in a dark blouse, her hair pulled away from her face in a neat braid. The seriousness of her face seemed to belie an inner sunnier disposition that could be seen from the brightness of her eyes, that the dull shades of grey chosen for the photo did nothing to diminish, and the hint of an impending smile that her tightly sealed lips did a poor job of hiding.

Severus looked over his shoulder to where she stood, distractedly setting the table. He followed her swift and agile movements, as her long fingers busied themselves with cups and plates, knives, forks and the most colourful array of breads, cheeses and muffins. She was completely relaxed, her red sweater laying abandoned on the back of a chair and her immaculate white t-shirt reflecting the light in a way rather unusual for the dull and dark Spinner´s End, forming a striking contrast with her dark hair, in such a way that her face looked far softer and more radiant than he remembered it from the previous day. Hard to imagine that sweet tea-and-muffins, happy go lucky model-home-maker prototype busily arranging muffins on a glass tray was a witchcraft expert. But then again, considering their previous conversation, Severus wouldn´t be at all surprised to find a higher than average intelligence in her. More than intelligence, if the whole story about her grandfather and her adamant pursuit of answers was anything to go by, Miss Black didn´t only have brains, but she might just as well have the officiousness to match. Brains and curiosity, the mark of an outstanding scholar. Still, he had to laugh at the notion that a muggle would actually study witchcraft... as if they could do anything other than scratch the surface.

"Tea is ready" she called out softly. He put the book back in the box and went into the kitchen. There he found a simple but nicely arranged table set, cups and plates of refined powder blue porcelain, cold cuts and cheese, some croissants arranged in a little basket and the famous muffins, apparently in variety flavours. He wondered if it was just because she had a guest or if Evelyn Black actually made a ritual out of every meal.

"Sit down, please..." She poured him some tea. "Lady Grey.... I´m sorry I didn't have Assam..."

"It´s ok."

"Once again forgive me about Ciarán..." She took his plate and proceeded to put some slices of cheese on it, without as much as asking him if he wanted it.

"Miss Black, please. Just the tea is quite enough"

"Oh, but you must try this. You know, I walked all over the neighbourhood looking for some place that sold good Irish cheese, but alas there doesn´t seem to be a wide variety of products avaible around here. Such luck I found this Burren Gold. It´s produced in Clare, you must try it..."

"No, really, please, don´t bother..." He was starting to get slightly alarmed as she served him a croissant and a muffin.

"Chocolate or blueberry?"

"I don´t really like swe..." he breathed in trying not to get angry "...blueberry"

"I wish I had something fresher to serve, but I was so busy with the cleaning that baking was out of question. I hope those are good. I heated them up a bit. Would you like some butter?"

"No, thank you. It´s all perfectly fine like this..." Severus studied her jovial expression as she sat down and proceeded to fill her own plate. She was simply "at home", in every sense of the expression. Whomever was to walk in at that exactly moment and saw them having tea and discussing Irish cheese and muffin flavours might actually mistake them for old friends, instead of neighbours that had met just the day before. The familiarity was completely disturbing to him, this little chit chat over afternoon tea was simply too surreal...He felt like he had just walked into one of those obnoxious domestic-bliss-selling margarine commercials. He wondered if the woman sitting across the table was actually this genuinely nice and welcoming or if she was just plain crazy.

"As I was saying...I´m really sorry about Ciarán. He´s not used to being left alone. My last boyfriend worked from home, so Ciarán really misses having someone around...I do think I´ve been babying the little fellow a bit too much lately. I hope he hasn´t disturbed you too much..." Her brogue was more evident than ever now.

"Not too much, no..." He lied. "Your...uhm...decoration is quite interesting."

"It´s not mine, actually. Everything was already here when I arrived. But I´m thinking about keeping it just the way it is. It´s absolutely lovely. But it was the most bizarre thing to find everything untouched like that. Except for all the dust it looks as if it was decorated yesterday, doesn´t it?"

"I´d say so..." he cocked an eyebrow, looking around.

"But the most bizarre thing is not even that..."

"Yes?..." He offered, amazed at how little it took to get her talking.

"There was no sign of bugs anywhere..."

"Indeed? That´s funny...this house has been closed for so long...One would imagine it was crawling with bugs."

"I know, right? And yet not a single one...I´m telling you, it´s the most amazing thing. This house is in such perfect condition is actually scary. I was fully expecting to have to spend some nights at a hotel while arranging everything to move in, and it wasn´t even necessary. Yesterday all I had to do was change the covers and I had a perfect night of sleep in one of the bedrooms upstairs...I do admit it was a little creepy sleeping in this bed that once belonged to God only knows who..."

"Well, if you intend to live in Spinner´s End, 'creepy' is something you might want to get used to..." he smirked

"I guess so..." she laughed softly

"I do imagine that for someone in your line of work, stumbling upon this house must be fascinating..."

"My line of work?..."

"You´re a historian, right? I just happened to see one of your books in the living room."

"Oh, you did..." she smiled and for a second he could have sworn she was a little embarrassed

"Yes...Witch trials in Ireland...Sounds interesting..."

"I did notice the subject seems to interest you...I mean, once again sorry for snooping around but..."

"Don´t worry...I suppose we can call that one even"

"Well, and judging from your library I´d guess we share the same line of work..."

"You´d guess incorrectly.."

"So, not a historian?"

"Teacher"

"What subject?"

"Potions." he let out with a straight face, savouring her utterly puzzled expression.

"Potions?....Oh, you mean chemistry." She laughed quietly.

"Yes." he smirked again.

"Then my guess was only partially incorrect..."

"How so?"

"We´re both teachers...just different subjects"

"Well, yes..."

"Where do you teach?"

"A boarding school in Scotland." he shifted uncomfortably in his chair "I´m currently on leave of absence due to injury, tough."

"I see..." She said in an almost apologetic tone. He followed her eyes as they looked down at the bandages on his neck and his crippled left hand. He removed his hand from the table, resting it on his lap, and shifted again. She immediately noticed his discomfort and looked down at her tea, silent.

"You?" He asked, trying to pull her back into the conversation.

"Oh, here and there....I graduated from Trinity College, got my Ph.D. there as well, then worked there for most of my life. I went back to Doolin after my grandfather passed away. I lived in Ennis for a while before that and worked at the National school, but I preferred to go back to Doolin...My father was teacher in a local school there. An all girl school I attended, so that´s where I was working past few years..."

"How long has it been since he passed away? Your grandfather I mean..."

"Two years...My father followed him just this year..." All the brightness of her voice was gone.
"I´m sorry to hear that"

Suddenly all her chattiness disappeared and the only sound filling the air was that of the tea cups clattering and the chilly wind blowing the leaves outside. For the first time in months Severus felt bothered by the silence he usually welcomed with such joy. He looked down at his partially eaten croissant, sipping his tea and calculating his next words. But before he could open his mouth Evelyn herself broke the tension.

"It was only when father died that I got those papers I was telling you about yesterday....I knew they existed before that, but for whatever reason, dad never let anybody near them. They just spend two years locked up inside this box in the attic..."

"Yes, you mentioned it....As a matter of fact, I probably should apologize for our last conversation, we seem to have started on the wrong foot..." Severus was pleasantly surprised that he didn´t have to bring up the subject himself. In fact Miss Black seemed all too eager to talk about it. He modulated his voice to the gentlest tone he could muster "I was really taken by surprise. You will certainly understand, a person I´ve never seen before standing at my doorstep, telling this convoluted story about an abandoned house..."

"Oh, of course I completely understand...I suppose I was a little too eager, knocking on your door like that and just spilling everything..." Her tone was at once mellow and serious, and Severus wondered if she was genuinely opening up to him, or just trying to charm him into helping her. Either way it suited his purposes. "It´s just that...It´s all so strange, this house, these papers, this whole part of my grandfather´s life we had no idea about..."

"As I said before, I don´t think you´ll discover all that much...You said it yourself, it has been a long time, and with both your father and grandfather dead, I don´t think..."

"You do understand why I have to try, don´t you?" Her eyes bore straight into his to the point of discomfort. It was obvious there was much more to this than a simple curiosity about her family´s history. But whatever her reasons were they were of no interest to him at the moment and he surely wasn´t about to use legilimency on a defenceless muggle to find out.

"I do...Would you mind if I took a look at those papers? Maybe something there might help..."

"Well, of course you can...I´ll go get them..."

She left the kitchen and walked towards a sleek wooden cabinet in the living room. Severus followed her with his eyes, watching attentively as she removed a small wooden correspondence box from it. On the peach-coloured couch, her cat was getting fussy, probably upset at not having their attention for more than half of an hour, and started to mewl softly. After quickly petting the little beast, she came back into the kitchen, pulled a chair and sat down besides him, putting the box on her lap. As she pulled her chair a little too close to him, Severus almost pushed his back, but forced himself to stay where he was and act naturally. Even if she didn´t seem to have much of a clue about what "personal space" was, Severus was thankful that at the very least she had the ability of choosing a decent perfume. There was this very subtle lavender scent about her, certainly not one of those rammish blends of pretentious fragrances that muggle women seemed to fancy and were willing to pay ridiculous amounts of money for, but a very pure, unadulterated fragrance, as if she had just walked through a lavender field on her way back home.

Meanwhile the cat lay at her feet, pretty much demanding her attention. As she put the box on the table and bent down to pet him once again, and Severus took the opportunity to examine the object. But just as he looked at it, it became suddenly obvious to him that this was no common box. It took him a couple of seconds to actually convince himself his eyes weren´t playing a trick on him. He reached over and ran his fingers over the delicately carved crest that adorned the bid of the box.
"Miss Black..." He called her hesitantly "This crest...what do you make of it?..."

"Oh, this crest...don´t even get me started on it...I´ve been looking for it everywhere...I even contacted this colleague who´s a heraldry expert and asked him to try to locate it´s origin, but no luck...And this motto Toujours Pur, 'always pure', doesn´t appear anywhere in the documentation we consulted. We even contacted people in Ireland, North Ireland, Scotland, mind you even France and every specialist we consulted came up empty handed..."

"And the papers?" It took Severus some effort to look unaffected.

"Oh, sure", she opened the box and very carefully retrieved a bunch of yellowing letters tied by a black satin ribbon, so old they looked like they could fall apart just from being handled. "These letters I haven´t had the opportunity to read in detail. I´m even scared to handle them too much, to be honest, and I don´t believe they can actually be read, not without some extensive restoration...but this..." She laid the letter on the lid of the box and retrieved another piece of old yellowing paper, but this time in remarkably better condition and folded up like a map. She stood up and moved away some of the plates from the table, opening the paper on it. "This is the family tree I was telling you about..."

Severus stood up beside her and looked at it, completely at a loss of words. This wasn´t just a simple family tree...

"Here, you see?" She continued to talk, and pointed out one of the names scribbled in a tiny and barely readable calligraphy. "Marius Black... That´s my grandfather...His name is crossed out, like many others but you can still read it clearly... And this family tree connects to many others family trees it seems. That includes the Princes, as you can see here...And here´s what has brought me to you...Eileen Prince... Her name is also crossed out for whatever reason... Do you have any idea as to why this might be?"

"No...no idea..." He lied "I have to agree with you tough...It´s most certainly...remarkable. Do you still have that house deed?"

"Yes, right here..." she handed it to him. Severus re-read the document. Marius Black. There was little doubt in his mind, in fact it was pretty obvious, and Severus was about to kick himself for not realizing it sooner.

"Oh...It´s almost six..." He let out, pretending to be alarmed "I was supposed do meet a friend across town at eight, I have to get going..."

"Ah, of course I don´t want to keep you."

"Would you mind if I borrowed this?" he gestured the family tree "I might find something to compare it with among my mother´s belongings..."

"Oh, sure you can take it...and here..." she took a piece of paper form her purse and folded it along with the family tree "It´s a copy of the house deed, I have to hold on to the original, but you can take this..."

"Thank you, Miss Black...Now, I really should go..."

"Sure, I´ll walk you to the door..."

Resisting the urge to step on Ciarán tail along the way, Severus let himself be guided to front door, his mind still shrouded in contemplation of what had just been shown to him. Evelyn opened the door and he turned to her, putting on a mask of normalcy.

"Thank you for the tea..."

"Don´t mention it...Oh, by the way..." She walked over to one of the book boxes and came back with the book he had been browsing just a while before. "Here. I hope you enjoy it. But feel free to tell me if you don´t."

--------------------------------------------

It was past ten when Minerva MacGonagall finally managed to have a moment of much needed peace in her private office. Being a deputy headmistress for nearly two decades surely hadn´t prepared her for the herculean task of being the headmistress of a post-War Hogwarts. There was still so much to do, so much to fix... They had bravely managed to start the school year, trying to make things run as smoothly as possible considering the circumstances but... Hogwarts was not the same, and she prayed one day it would return to what it once was....Minerva knew, however that the road leading up to that day seemed too long and rocky...So many were missing, teachers, students....And those who remained would forever have to cope with the terrible events they had witnessed and the losses they had suffered... But Hogwarts still stood...and it would remain standing as far as she was concerned.

She sat on her favourite armchair, removing her glasses and closing her eyes, enjoying the cool breeze that entered through the window and listening to the soothing sounds of the night outside, when the abrupt sound of flapping wings caught her attention. She looked up to see a raven  perched on her windowsill, looking at her. Minerva smiled and observed the bird, a fine specimen with lustrous black feathers that reflected the moonlight in dark blueish tones.
"Well, it´s awfully kind of you to keep me company for a while, but it´s far too late for visits...." She stood up to shoo the bird away, when she heard a low raucous sound coming from the animal, almost as if it was chuckling.

She took a step back as the bird graciously flew into the room. In a split second, the sleek black silhouette grew and changed into that of a man, before her startled eyes. He amazement, however, faded away immediately as she recognised an all-too familiar face.

"Severus."

"Minerva"

"As I was saying my friend...it´s a little too late for visits" She smiled warmly "But it´s nice to see you nevertheless..."

"I do apologize for stopping by so late and unannounced...But I have something to discuss with you. Something that can´t wait until tomorrow..."

Chapter Text

October, 3rd

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy, Scotland

Minerva MacGonagall´s office

 

"Your neighbour you say..." Minerva mumbled, deep in thought.

"I know, it sounds preposterous..."

They sat silently facing each other for a few seconds, as the fire gently burned, colouring Minerva´s office in soft shades of gold and orange. Severus sunk down in his chair, enjoying the familiarity of being back at Hogwarts even if momentarily. For good or bad Hogwarts was the closest thing to home he had, maybe even more so than his childhood home in Spinner´s End. Spinner´s End was a retreat, a place filled with memories and ghosts he came back to whenever life was too heavy to bear. Hogwarts, however was the place where his life had actually taken it´s course. Spinner´s End was dream and reverie, Hogwarts was reality, blunt and crude. Coming back was like revisiting what made him into what he was, and as much as he didn´t like what he had become, it was all he had.

"Well, what evidence do you have? " Minerva´s quiet voice brought him back to the earth.

"Just this afternoon...Miss Black invited me for tea..."

"She did?" Minerva chuckled lightly, obviously amused at the notion "And you accepted it?"

"Minerva, it´s serious."

"I´m sorry.." she smiled "Do carry on..."

"Well, the subject of her grandfather came up and I asked to see those papers she was talking about. Minerva, I´m telling you, there´s no doubt in my mind that Evelyn Black is a member of the  proverbial Noble and Most Ancient House of Black"

"Are you sure this isn´t just one big coincidence. Her last name might have given you the impression...."

"That´s what I thought, until she showed me this..." He stood up and walked towards her desk, taking a bunch of folded papers from the pocket of his jacket. Minerva followed and watched closely as Snape unfolded a very large sheet of yellowing paper, revealing a most intricate family tree. Straightening up her glasses, Minerva leaned in and took a close look.

"But this is..." She looked at him completely taken aback by surprise.

"The Black family tree...In fact not just that, but a complete family tree of the Black family which includes the marriages the Blacks contracted with other pure blood families...The Malfoys, the Weasleys, the Crabbes, the Princes..."

"How could a muggle possibly be in possession of such a thing..."

"According to what Miss Black told me herself, this was among her late grandfather´s belongings... Also according to her..." He pointed out one of the names in the main family tree "this is her late grandfather."

"Marius Black?"

"Yes. The very same Marius Black who was disowned and banished from the family for being a squib, in the 1930s. According to her, Marius Black, left her this family tree, and this house." He handed her the copy of the house deed Evelyn had given him.
"But this document...is one of those documents used in wizard-muggle transactions, isn´t it?"

"It seems the house next to mine at Spinner´s End once belonged to the Blacks and the Princes, possibly due to a marriage, and for whatever reason, was passed on to Marius´ name."

"How much do you think she knows about the Black family?"

"Close to nothing...It seems her grandfather left England when he was around twenty, settled in Ireland, got married raised his own family never telling anyone anything about his past. As far as I could tell, all of this is a mystery to her."

"And it should remain as such...Severus, the implications..." She let out, her eyes fixated on the papers he had just shown her.

"I´m well aware of them, Minerva." He walked away from her and poured himself a glass of water from her cabinet. "Keeping this from her might be a bit of a problem though...She really is a Black, there´s no denying it...Even the family resemblance..."

"Indeed?"-Minerva raise an eyebrow.

"Yes." He nodded, swallowing a gulp of water. "Pretty hard to miss, you know the Blacks have this look about them..."

"Well, the Black family is known for producing some rather good-looking members..." she laughed lightly  "But maybe you´re exaggerating a bit? Is not like they all have Black written on their foreheads"...

Severus put his glass down, and fumbled a little with the internal pockets of his jacket. He produced a hard cover book and opened it, handing it to her.

"See for yourself" He pointed at the black and white picture inside. Minerva brought the book near the closest source of light and inspected the photo.

"Oh, dear..."

"Told you..."

"Indeed you´re right, Severus...She´s a lovely lass." She smiled

"I never said she was 'lovely' "He hissed, annoyed.

Minerva looked at him with a hint of amusement in her expression. Shaking her head, she browsed through the book for a while, reading the summary with vivid interest. Then she took a long look at the cover.

"Evelyn Black...A charming name as well...So, she´s a writer..."

"A historian," he added "Graduated in on of the most prestigious muggle Universities, apparently she specifically writes about history of witchcraft, which leads me to think that her grandfather might have told her something about magic...This is no ordinary muggle we´re dealing with here, Minerva..."

"I can see that...It would be disastrous if any muggle we´re to discover the existence of the Wizarding world....But this muggle in particular...We must do something about it, Severus. If Miss Black keeps investigating, she´s bound to find something she shouldn´t."

"That´s precisely the reason I´m here Minerva."

"Before we do anything, you must discover how much she already knows and..."

"Minerva, Minerva..." he shook his head, his voice taking on a slightly aggravated tone "I´ve been playing the spy for seventeen bloody years, I no longer have the patience..."

"Severus, listen to me, please...This woman lives next door to you, and she obviously trusts you, otherwise she wouldn´t have told you all of this"

"She doesn´t trust me..." he smirked, visibly annoyed "She is a parrot, that´s all."

"Oh, Severus..." Minerva chuckled ever so slightly, as if she was witnessing a small temper tantrum from a toddler.

"Don´t laugh Minerva, I´m serious, that woman just  can´t keep her mouth shut. She would talk to whoever happened to be around to listen..."

"Precisely, my friend...You were around to listen...She just left her home and her country... And you happen to live next door. That make you the closest person to her right now...And since she´s such a chatterbox as you just said, I´m sure getting information out of her should be easy enough for one with your experience."

"Minerva, I just told you, I´ve spend too much of my life being a spy under Dumbledore´s orders...You seriously don´t think I will..."

"I´m sure I´m giving you a much easier, not to mention more pleasant, 'task' than those Dumbledore did back then, Severus." She smiled

Chapter Text

October, 4th

Cokeworth

Spinner´s End, 13

 

Severus woke up earlier than usual. Not that he had gotten much sleep anyway.

What Minerva had asked him was nothing but child´s play. All he had to do was set up some smoke and mirrors and throw a gullible muggle off her trail of investigation. It was simple enough, and he was completely aware of the obvious fact that he was the only one who could do it. Minerva was absolutely right,  Miss Black had to be stopped before the Statute of Secrecy was broken,  he was in a privileged position to do so, easily and without raising any flags...

Then why did her request made him so uncomfortable?

Maybe because, as simple as it was, it entailed things he currently had nor the patience nor the  will for... It was evident enough that if he wanted to gather information and protect the Statute of Secrecy from that nosy woman he would have to approach her and  play the part of a nice, concerned neighbour...The mere thought bored him to tears. He had gone back to Spinner´s End precisely looking for peace... Now he would have to socialize with an Irish parrot...

Not that she was unpleasant...quite far from it actually...Evelyn Black was anything but unpleasant...Actually, she was a little too pleasant for his liking.... Still, he was quite thankful that, at the very least she seemed intelligent and had remarkable manners...But still, she was so...common, so mundane with her tea, cleaning and home economics...And just so unnervingly sociable. Well, she was a historian, but...a muggle, writing about witchcraft...The notion almost made him laugh...

After pouring himself a cup of coffee and making some toast and beans, Severus sat down to eat and organise his thoughts. It wasn´t that bad, he told himself...at least he had something to do with his time...Being bored to tears by his chatty neighbour was still better than laying on his bed all day long just waiting patiently for his life to pass him by....Wasn´t it?...

As he sat down, he noticed the book he had left on the kitchen table the night before, after returning home. Evelyn Black´s book. That might be a good place to start. If his intuition was right, Marius Black had to have told her something about the wizarding world, even if only hints of its existence...Otherwise why would she pick precisely that subject for her research? Quickly finishing his meal, he cast a scouring spell on the dish and cup, picked up the book and headed for the living room.

With a flick of his wand he lit up the fireplace, sat on his armchair and made himself comfortable enough to spend the rest of the Sunday reading. Pushing everything else to the back of his mind, he relaxed and opened the book.

'Much has been written and discussed about witch trials all over Europe. Trial procedures have been painstakingly documented, and the proverbial witch hunts are well attested by various sources, be them legal, religious, literary or artistic, not to mention that official documents concerning this facts are, for the most part, well-preserved. In fact, it´s safe to say that historians of most European countries have an enormous wealth of material to work with when researching witchcraft and witch trials. That however has not been the case for Irish historians.'

Severus almost jumped from his seat when he felt something lightly tickle his foot. Looking down he saw a pair of amber eyes staring up at him. Ciarán....Evelyn Black´s bloody pest of a cat. He rolled his eyes and closed the book.

"You again?" Ciarán seemed to have taken his exasperate hiss as a welcome sign, as it promptly jumped onto his lap. Carelessly dropping the book on top of a nearby pile, Severus picked up the animal by the scruff of the neck and put him back on the floor. "I have to remember to fix that bloody window in the kitchen..."

He stood up, walked over to the window,  ignoring the all mewling, and pushed the curtain away. Soon enough Evelyn Black came into his field of vision and the, now familiar, click-clack of her heels reached his ears. Not wearing the gaudy shades of red she seemed to fancy, he noticed  with a smirk. From where he was all he could see was a dark coloured skirt, a beige plaid shawl and high heels....Was the woman born with high heels on? She entered her Volvo and drove away.

"She never even noticed you snuck out, did she?" he chuckled, turning to the black cat, that was already comfortably nested on his armchair. "And I guess there´s no point bringing you back..."

Severus shooed the cat away from his seat, and resumed his reading, as the animal settled lazily in the pile of books next to his armchair, purring happily.

"But I´m still not petting you, understood?"

'The country´s relative isolation, the separation between the ruling Protestant minority and the catholic majority as well as the absence of specific written sources about witchcraft are certainly determining factors in the apparent silence regarding the matter. References to such events are scarce and hard to come by, as most records have been destroyed overtime, lost into the tumultuous religious history of Ireland. That when recordings even existed, which was often not the case. The lack of an official  apparatus  as organized as that which could be found in countries where the Catholic Church held the religious and political hegemony, with Spain as a classic example, certainly contributed decisively to Ireland´s uncommon standing in the historiography of witch trials. That isn´t to say that witch trials were unheard of in the Emerald Island...'

-----------------------------

Severus had almost finished the book, without as much as noticing the passing of hours. Insistent mewling brought him back to reality.  The clock on the shelf next to the fireplace has just struck four in the afternoon, making him suddenly aware that he had completely forgotten about lunch. He looked down at the cat. The wee beast had been unusually quiet, simply sleeping quietly, allowing Severus almost an entire afternoon of much needed peace. Maybe it had become accustomed to his house, having thoroughly explored it the day before. But now it was getting slightly restless, looking up at him and mewling incessantly.

"And now I suppose you want me to feed you, don´t you?" The cat simply continued to stare. Severus  stood up and walked towards the kitchen, trying to shake away the soreness of spending hours sitting in the same position.

"Why don´t you simply go outside and kill a bird or something, you little useless runt?" he grumbled, roaming the kitchen looking for something to feed his "guest". After some fumbling he got a hold of a can of kippers, opened it, served some of it onto a small saucer and put it on the floor. The cat approached, sniffed it then looked up at him again.

"I know your owner probably feeds you like a bloody prince, but while you´re here is either that or starve...Your choice, fleabag."

The cat seemingly accepted his meagre offering and proceeded to eat, as Severus lit a cigarette. He watched as the smoke drew fine spirals onto the cool, grey sunlight, while mulling over what he had just read. It was evident that Miss Evelyn Black was an accomplished scholar, with a flair for writing that many would aspire to. Regardless of the theme matter, her writing was engaging and straightforward prose and her meticulous research work and analytical prowess were, quite frankly, impressive. But excellent muggle historians and writers were a common occurrence... Evelyn Black was certainly not just that.

The book wasn´t an overtly argumentative work, but rather a work of reference, and it fancied itself as such. There was nothing quite striking about it in the way of thesis or ideas. It was rather an almost entirely narrative history of witch trials in Ireland. It was a book written to shed light on past events that were, for the most part, forgotten by the general public. At that it was quite successful. But there was something there he couldn´t quite grasp that made it entirely different from all muggle books he had read on the subject so far.

Some of the wizards and witches accused in the trials Evelyn Black had covered in her book were well known in the Wizarding World, but practically unheard of among muggles as far as he could tell. She probably had gone through incredible lengths to have access to documents about such cases. He had eagerly read the bibliographic notes and the introduction where she detailed her process of research, leraning that she had used the original trial proceeding as sources for her texts. Most of those were found in old monasteries, libraries and archives hidden in small Irish villages, or in the forgotten sections of larger libraries in bigger cities. Hardly a wealth of references to work with...and yet, her accounts of the trials were vivid and full of insights.

As expected, these very real witches and wizards shared space in her book with various muggles accused of witchcraft due to the public´s general ignorance about magic....He might as well be going crazy but he had the vivid impression that underlying her text there was a clear difference between those trials and the trials of actual wizards. In the case of falsely accused muggles, Evelyn Black seemed to have compiled some sketchy "alternative theories" explaining how such accusation came to be brought against them...When it came to actual wizards and witches however, there was a notably drier approach to facts. Granted, those were the cases about which she seemed to have the least amount of sources to work with. Certainly a lot of evidence that she could have used was erased by other wizards, working though the years to protect the secrecy of the Wizarding World, but still... Severus could´t quite dismiss the feeling that somehow she knew  which cases involved actual magic, and which didn´t.

He pushed such thoughts away from his mind when he heard the faint sound of a car breaking the thick silence outside. Miss Black´s car certainly. She had spent the whole morning and a good portion of the afternoon out, on a Sunday... For a second Severus wondered if she was up to something he should know. Probably not. But even if she was, he would know soon enough. The noise had caught the cat´s attention as even before it did his own, as it had stopped eating to raise his head, listening attentively. Severus followed the creature with his eyes as it swiftly jumped onto the kitchen counter and went out the broken window.

"Well, you´re welcome..." He let out with a smirk, picking up the abandoned saucer, quickly vanishing the left overs before scourging it. As he put the saucer back on the cabinet, he let his eyes wander out the window, following the little black silhouette of the cat as it strolled on top of the wall that separated the backyard from the woods. The cat quickly vanished from his sight, as it climbed down from the wall, just to reappear moments later, climbing up the windowsill of Miss Black´s kitchen. Severus had completely forgotten his kitchen window practically had a view to the kitchen next door...Maybe because nobody had actually lived next door for as long as he could remember.

The cat just sat on the windowsill for a while, almost as if it didn´t want to get inside...Or couldn´t get inside...Even though the window was wide open. Severus leaned in, puzzled. Either that cat was completely crazy, or something was wrong...Severus raised an eyebrow and watched as Ciarán kept beating on the glass with his paw. Suddenly, Miss Black made her way into the kitchen.

She sat by the kitchen table seemingly unaware that her pet was sitting on the windowsill and wouldn´t , or couldn´t, get inside. It was most odd...She did nothing other than sit there, her elbows on the table, one hand supporting her head, looking morose and tired. Once again Severus wondered what she had been up to...Maybe trying to find out more about her grandfather´s mysterious inheritance...He shook his head...No, it wasn´t that...It was something else...something personal. After a while she finally walked over to the window and pulled the cat out of the windowsill and into her arms. Severus leaned back, deep in thought, as she cradled the insufferable thing in her arms.

He was barely aware of the fact that he had simply stood in front of his window, looking into his  neighbor´s kitchen like a bloody stalker, until she turned in his direction. Her face looked pale and tired, but she smiled at him. A faint, broken smile, quite unlike the frank, open and mildly annoying smiles he had seen from her up until now. She waved before leaving the kitchen with Ciarán still cradled in her arms.

"Something isn´t right over there", Severus mumbled to himself, his fingers drumming slightly onto the counter.

Chapter Text

October, 4th

Cokeworth

Spinner´s End, 12

 

Sunday....The first in her new "home"...Although it certainly didn´t feel like home just yet. That would take sometime...Evelyn hadn´t even had the time to start feeling at home. Two days...cleaning, unpacking, organising, fixing, exploring....That house just puzzled her to no end. She had tried to look for clues, anything that might be related to her grandfather somehow, but no luck...Nothing that indicated that he had ever as much as set foot into that house.

Evelyn let her body fall heavily onto the bed, drawing in a deep sigh. She looked around at the room she currently called her bedroom. There were two bedrooms in the house, the other one had been turned into and office, where she had organised all of her books and papers. The bedroom she occupied most certainly had once belonged to either a female or a couple, judging by the ample four-postered bed and the delicate décor. It didn´t really follow the art-déco style of the first floor, although some elements of it were pretty obvious...Instead it looked more "transitional" with a heavy turn-of the century feel, particularly in the objects, art and those magnificent stained glass windows that made the grey day-light outside change into a myriad of soft colours as it came inside...A rich tone of brownish-pink covered the walls making it all warm and welcoming...the faded pattern of the impeccably conserved wallpaper gave it an undeniable charm, just as the delicate curtains and dark art-nouveau style wooden furniture...But still...it didn´t feel like it was ever "lived in"...It felt more like a film set than a house where someday, someone had lived. All of the house had this slightly disturbing feel of never having been quite "alive". She smiled, feeling a little stupid...According to the neighbour nobody had lived there for forty years, so she shouldn´t be surprised that the house was dead, so to speak...

The neighbour...Severus Snape... Most unusual man he was...One day snarky and surly and the other, suddenly solicit...albeit always insufferably grumpy. Evelyn shook her head, a little ashamed of herself for thinking about him in such terms...Of course he was snappish and ill-tempered, it was rather obvious the man wasn´t going through the most happy period of his life... Recovering from injuries that had kept him away from work, seemingly without any assistance from family or friends...No wonder he wasn´t the cheeriest of men.

"Leave of absence due to injury", she recalled his words, lazily petting Ciarán, who had just climbed the the bed and laid his head onto her belly. Evelyn wondered what those words meant exactly, but didn´t have the nerve to ask...Not after seeing his left hand and the bandages on his neck... She hadn´t noticed when they first met, but when he awkwardly carried her shopping bags, she could see something was not right with his left hand, and those bandages on his neck just looked like they hid a pretty awful injury, if the glimpse of unhealed scars snaking up his jaw were any indication. He was a chemistry teacher, so at first she thought it might be a work related injury, but what she saw were clearly the marks of an act of violence...

Regardless of whatever had happened to cause those injuries, what really puzzled her about him, was his staunch refusal to answer her questions with more than vague negatives. During their first conversation she couldn´t decide if he was simply being curmudgeon or if he was withholding information from her. Thinking about it later, she came to the obvious conclusion that he really didn´t know anything about the house or the relation between their families...And frankly how could he? Her grandfather had lived in Ireland since the 1930s and over the course of the decades had turned into the most Irish of all the men she knew, safe from his own son, born and raised in Doolin, a teacher of both Irish history and Gaelic to boot. Never had Marius Black Sr. set a foot in England again after moving to Doolin...Actually Evelyn could count on the fingers of one hand the times he left Doolin for anything...and even so, the farthest he had ever travelled was Dublin. That Severus Snape, an antisocial man, about her own age, apparently born and raised in Greater Manchester area and employed somewhere in Scotland up until recently would have any knowledge about her grandfather´s past was a downright ludicrous idea.

But after casually meeting her new neighbour and inviting him over for tea, she was forced to forget the notion that he didn´t know anything. Strangely enough he had been so solicit and patient this time around, that one might wonder if he had ulterior motives. But, she had thought to herself then, he could simply have felt bad for treating her so poorly the day before...Maybe he was having a bad day and let it get to him, and was now sincerely sorry... Maybe that polite, yet stubbornly quiet man she had had tea with was the real Severus Snape, and not the snappish and rude tyrant from the first day. She had let herself relax, happy to have at least on neighbour to talk to in that godforsaken street...but once they entered the subject of her grandfather, and she showed him the box of documents...Evelyn couldn´t quite put her finger on it, but he had changed...She could distincvely feel he was tense. The he made up some excuse about having to meet a friend across town and left hurriedly.

She laughed softly. Paranoid, she was positively paranoid. Severus Snape knew just as much as she did, and was, probably, just as puzzled as she was by all of it. She was letting it all get to her... The last three years...breaking up with Richard, then her grandfather´s death, moving back to Doolin and her father passing away as well, and so recently,  before she had even recovered from loosing her grandfather....And now all those mysteries surrounding his past. The last three years had been hectic, to say the least...After the death of her older brother, twenty five years ago, she had been hoisted to the position of "oldest child" with all the privileges and responsibilities it entailed and it has just hit her that maybe all this time she had been trying too hard. And now with all the men of the family gone, her mother and sister Caitlin expected her to take the helm. For months she had taken care of the family´s matters, her father´s assets, assisted her sister and two young nieces, kept her mother company...Caitlin jokingly called her "the man of the house" and it wasn´t far from the truth. She had spent so much time looking after everybody else, that only now, in the silence of that odd house, did it finally sank in...Her father was dead...Marius Black II, the kind, serious scholar loved by all, who had taught her everything she knew about the wondrous land where she was born...was dead...Like his own father, just a mere couple of years before him, a man just as gentle and admirable as his son, the one who had filled her childhood with wonder and fairytales...Within three years, nothing but three years, both gone...

Evelyn swiftly got up, fighting back the tears and started to get changed. She couldn´t just lay there, crying. Never in her life she had allowed herself to indulge in tears and inaction and she wasn´t about to start now...She had to find a way to keep herself busy, find something to do with her time... She slipped into a warm pair of stockings, an unadorned brown blouse and black skirt, put on a pair of the simplest pumps she owned, grabbed her beige plaid shawl and left, still not knowing where to go.

----------------------------------

It was a grey, cold day and the streets mirrored the the dull, cloudy sky. As fitting for a Sunday, not many people were on the street and those who walked around looked like nothing more than dark shadows with their shapeless coats. Cokeworth wasn´t exactly a lively place, but the neighbourhoods surrounding Spinner´s End were particularly morose at any given time, moreso on a Sunday. As she drove forward the only semblance of vibrancy she saw were the bright shades of orange and red crowning the trees. The sight of Autumn leaves had always had a very soothing effect on Evelyn. To her Autumn had the scent of hot cocoa and leaves, of lazy afternoons spent in the backyard with her big brother, of the smoke of her father´s pipe, as he sat on his rocking chair, of her  sister´s baby powder and her mother´s chamomile tea. Her sister was only five when Paul, the eldest, passed away at age eleven, and barely remembered him; but to Evelyn, Paul´s image was all too clear...On afternoons like this, Paul and Evelyn would spend hours outside, picking the prettiest leaves they could find so later, as night fell, they´d show them to Caitlin, using them as puppets to tell her silly stories that made her giggle uncontrollably....Then, the three would use them to make mishapen wreaths and collages that their mother used to decorate the house.

Evelyn had been driving around for so long she had lost track of time. She was somewhat  familiar with the main part of Cokeworth, what people called "the nice part of town" or the "new town" on the other side of the river from Spinner´s End and surroundings, but other than a brief excursion two days before, this side of the river was still unknown to her. The history of the town was quite evident in every brick and crack she passed by... This side of town had once been a prominent part of the Industrial Revolution, and Cokeworth´s textile production was only surpassed by that of neighbouring Oldham. The rows of of brownish-red brick houses built to house the mill workers, the mill itself looming over the town like the dark shadow of a monster king, the narrow streets...all was evidence of a past that still lingered over the rundown neighborhoods this side of the river. Much like Oldham, however, Cokeworth´s textile industry fell into a decline by the mid-XXth century. The once rapidly growing town went into a state of stoppage, and only after new economical alternatives were found, its development had resumed, this time by the other side of the river. The once bustling industrial centre slowly turned into a ghost town.

After much wandering around, Evelyn finally reached the main bridge and made it to the other side, driving away from the "old town" and into the "new" one. It would be nice to get away from the river and its horrid stench... The "old" town was disturbingly quiet, so maybe revisiting the commercial centre would make for a more pleasant pastime. But just as she had made her mind to go into the main commercial area, her attention was caught by the sound of laughter. A little beyond the bridge there was a small park, with overgrown bushes. There were some kids playing there. That was a sight she hadn´t seen yet around here. She had seen plenty children playing in the more residential part of town, but the closer one got to the "old town" the more dificult it got to see kids or families. She quickly found a parking space, got out of the car and walked towards the park.

It was nothing but a little playground with rusty swings, a slide and a teeter-totter. The ground was covered in leaves and sticks surrounded by dry bushes. Still, the half-dozen kids running around didn´t seem to mind it much. There were benches, and she saw a small group of women sitting on one of them, talking,  and eventually calling out to the kids. As run down as the park seemed to be, it was quite obvious that the families of the area still thought of it as a viable source of entertainment for their children. She walked around and tried to not think to much about the possibility of any of those children getting tetanus from the rusty toys, and instead looked on as they played. Evelyn almost laughed at herself...how come at the sight of playing children, tetanus was the first thing in her mind? She was starting to turn into her mother... She could still remember when her and Paul were little, running about, jumping over rusty fences, scaring sheep, running through grass, dirt and mud, climbing trees to get fruit which they would then eat with their dirty little hands, running off to the sea to swim and play at the beach without adult supervision. Evelyn was absolutely sure the two of them had been personally responsible for at least half of their mother´s once golden blonde hair turning prematurely snowy white.

She leaned on the fence and looked around. Away from the park she could see the modern skyline of the new-town Cokeworth, an inverted mirror of the old mill town behind her. A few meters away from where she stood there was a little church, a XIX century Gothic revival building. The park and church seemed to mark the precise spot where old Cokeworth had stopped growing and gave way tp the new one.  Evelyn usually didn´t like revival Gothic...Maybe it was a little snobbish of her, but she was so used to visiting actual Gothic cathedrals, particularly in her many study travels to France, that the revival style just felt like a cheap knock-off of the real thing. But this particular church had something positively charming about it...It was rather small, but it was so well-proportioned and the details were so delicate that instead of a "copy" it felt almost like a miniature. She let go of the fence and walked over to the church, wrapping her shawl tightly around her shoulders to protect herself from the gelid breeze that shook the leaves off the branches of the trees scattered around her.

The church was almost empty and her heels echoed onto the marble pavement. She sat down on one of the benches in the back and observed the few people inside, middle-aged women sitting in duos or trios, talking quietly amongst themselves, probably waiting for the services to begin, and  acolytes walking about preparing the altar. Evelyn took a deep breath, the scent of candles and incense bringing her back to a familiar place.  Her mother was the most devout person she had ever known...To her being a Roman Catholic was as much a part of her identity as being Irish, and she was possibly the most Irish of all Irish mothers...Now that she was an adult, Evelyn could laugh about it, but growing up, having a  Irish Catholic stereotype for a mother wasn´t always fun. But still, as overbearing and conservative as she was, Sophia Black was the sweetest, most devoted mother one could ever wish for...Maybe that was the reason that religion didn´t feel as oppressive to Evelyn as it might have otherwise... Once she started her studies, she had read the lives of saints with great interested and fallen in love with St. Teresa, St Catherine of Sienna, St Augustine and St Thomas Aquina´s writings all of which she read with a purely academic interest, in a subconscious attempt to go against what she saw as a "simplistic" and almost ignorant attitude towards faith of her mother. Over time, once the teenage rebellion wore off and she started to understand her mother better, Evelyn had learned to see things in a more flexible way...But still, she would never be as "good" a catholic as her mother would like her to be.

Actually, Evelyn was the text-book definition of a fallen catholic: she almost never went to mass, she firmly believed a lot of the church´s dogmas and positions to be flat out ridiculous, she had lived with a man for four years without being married to him...and yet, she kept her silver cross on her neck at all times, caught herself praying whenever she felt alone or depressed, and when things looked bleak didn´t have many qualms about looking for the next church for a bit of peaceful reflection...Like now.  Sitting quiet inside that little "toy" version of a Gothic cathedral, watching the preparations for the mass, she felt a sense of amazing peace invade her...She clutched her shawl letting the quiet inside the building ease away the bothersome thoughts...

"Excuse me, miss?" A soft male voice brought her back to earth. She looked up and saw a man dressed in black clergy shirt with a collaret and a clerical collar. He was somewhat stocky, had greying blond hair and looked about sixty-something, but his bright blue eyes and soft expression lent him a certain youthfulness.

"Yes?"

"May I have a seat?"

"Of course.." she smiled, scooting away to give him more space

"Father Thomas..." he smiled

"Evelyn Black." She smiled back, shaking the hand he offered her

"I don´t remember seeing you here before...and I know each  and every one of my parishioners"

"Oh, yes...I just moved..."

"From Ireland, right?"

"Yes...Is it that obvious?" she laughed softly

" Just a little bit..." he laughed heartily "But I would recognise an Irish accent anywhere..."

"Is that so?"

"My grandparents were Irish...Actually most of Cokeworth´s catholic community is of Irish extraction"

"I see..."

"And how is Cokeworth treating you so far, Miss Black?" His voice was quieter and more serious now, his blue eyes filled with concern

"I´ve only been here for three days, actually...So I guess is too early to tell"

"Are you living nearby?"

"Yes...Spinner´s End..."

"Spinner´s End?" his eyes widened slightly

"You seem surprised"

"In a way yes...I used to do lots of charity work there in the past... But ever since the mill closed nobody lives there anymore...Even the Snapes, who stayed there for longer...After Eileen and Tobias died, their boy moved to Wales or Scotland..."

"Scotland."

"Oh, you know Severus?"

"He´s my neighbor..."

"Severus?...Oh, my..never knew he had returned...But then again he was never the most sociable young man out there..." Father Thomas smiled saddly

"Were the Snapes your parishioners?"

"No, not actually...They are not catholic. But I did get the chance to meet them every time I went to Spinner´s End... They were...hard to miss, so to speak...Severus spend a lot of time playing in the park out there as well..."

"Did he?" Evelyn smiled, the thought of her moody neighbour as a young boy playing in the park amusing her greatly

"He did...Severus spend more time wandering on the Streets than home... I lost track of how many times I stumbled upon him..." He chuckled, melancholic "This little scrawny lad, always so quiet... Didn´t have any friends, other than this little girl, about his age...they went together everywhere...What was her name...Linnie, Lilian..Something with an 'L'"

"And Eileen...do you remember her?"

"I never knew her too well...The Snapes kept to themselves, mostly...Tobias had some... issues..Severus moved away to a boarding school and from then on I only saw him on summer breaks and Holidays...I meet him sometimes after his parents died and he moved away, but...is not like we ever socialised....He´s very...guarded."

"Sounds like him all right..." She mumbled.

"But tell me about you...Where in Ireland are you from?"

"Doolin."

"County Clare...Lovely place....My grandparents were from Kerry, just next door from you. I´ve actually been to Doolin a couple of times, to visit the Cliffs...Most lovely sight on summer"

"Oh, indeed...the beach is wonderful..."

"Yes...great for surfing...not I´d know about it...as far as sports go I´m rather hopeless...But do tell, why would anyone leave such a gorgeous place behind? Work?"

"In a way...I´m doing some...historical research, so to speak..."

"Oh, really? That´s interesting...If you need any help, just drop by. We have some very interesting archives in the church"

"I most certainly will."

"Oh, well...I must go...service starts in a few, if you feel like staying..."

"I guess I will, thank you..."

"Good...Well, Miss Black...welcome to Cokeworth."

Evelyn watched as father Thomas walked away, shaking hands and greeting people left and and right on his way to the sacristy. As they sat there talking a quite larger number of parishioners had arrived, mostly middle aged or elderly women and families with children...Many greeted her discreetly, and Evelyn greeted them back. Soon enough she was sharing her bench with a young mother and her fussy toddler and a pair rather chatty elderly ladies. Evelyn allowed herself to stay where she was as the people made their way in and found their places. After hours wandering about town all alone, sharing an hour of her time with other people, even if for something as boring as mass, would do her some good.

-----------------------------------

Unknowingly Fr. Thomas had provided Evelyn with some precious few moments of complete peace of mind. For some time she didn´t think of her father or grandfather, or her mother and sister in Ireland, or even the mysterious papers her grandfather had left behind. Instead she had just basked in the comforting aura of his father-like figure and allowed herself to just be another one of his parishioners. But some of the things he said had made an impression of her.

Severus Snape...There was certainly more to that man than it met the eye. A scrawny kid, wandering about in the streets, possibly dealing with some serious issues at home...Evelyn had noticed he didn´t have family pictures in his living room...Only photos of his mother and a red-haired girl. Sure enough his father wasn´t some "model dad" who would deserve being commemorated by a nice photograph on the mantle. And the red-haired girl...she could only be the one Fr. Thomas had talked about...Linnie or Lilian... Probably the very same young woman from the ripped photograph she had seen there... Maybe the little girl he shared his childhood with had turned out to be his girlfriend or wife...But torn photographs were an usual sign of love gone wrong, Evelyn knew it all too well...

She opened the door and threw her shawl onto the couch, shaking her head. What was she doing, snooping around the life of a man she had just met...It wasn´t like her at all...In fact why the hell was she so interested in this Severus? She had more important matters to be concerned with...Instead of thinking about her neighbour, Evelyn should be foccusing on what she had noved into Cokeworth to do. If only her father was still alive he might...Come to think of it...She wondered if her father knew the contents of her grandfather´s box...Once he had received the box and other objects from his own mother he had simply locked it away in the attic and never talked about it again...Now Evelyn had to ask herself if he had done this simply because he toutght they were old stff of no importance or if he had had any particular reason to do that...Suddenly she remebered what Severus Snape has told her on the day they first met...Maybe there was a reason her grandfather had never shared this with anyone else...maybe she would just end up stumbling onto something that might be better left uncovered...She shook her head as she walked into the kitchen, and sat down for a while...She was tired, her feet hurt and she hadn´t even had lunch yet..Maybe she was just too hungry and too tired for her thoughts to make sense...

Suddenly a little noise got her attention...she looked over to the window and saw Ciarán sitting on the windowsill, staring at her and beating onto the window-glass with his paw...

"I´m not in the mood to play today...Just come in already, window´s open, you silly..." she smiled. But the Cat remained still, looking at her as if he was just as puzzled as she was. "What´s going on?"

She stood up and walked over to the window, carefully picking him up from the windowsill and cradling him into her arms.

"You´re a really silly boy you know that? Silly and spoiled." Ciarán purred hapilly, nestling against her chest "You´ve been feeling lonely lately haven´t you? Where have you..." She looked up and around, only now noticing her kitchen window allowed her to see the kitchen next door. She saw a tall and slender figure standing over there...

Severus Snape.

Wearing the same usual cryptic expression on his face Severus looked at her.Evelyn could almost see a certain tension in the way he stood, some...preocupation...Only now did it hit her that he was always like this...tense, alert, almost as if perpetually prepared for an attack, or anticipating a catastrophe. Before it had looked to her as merely a sour and unpleasant man being his sour and unpleasant self. But after talking to Fr. Thomas she couldn´t help but think it was something else...A little young scrawny kid...taciturn...without friends... She held his gaze for a while wondering why he was looking at her like that, but amazingly she didn´t feel uneasy... More than discomfort there was an incredibly pathetic sadness in all of that...Two people separated by the dirty walls of the run down houses of an old abandoned street...two people willingly buried in that ghost town of a neighbourhood...She knew what she was there for...but what about him?

She smirked bitterly...Did she? Did she really know what she was there for? What was the point of coming here, after all? It wasn´t about some silly house deed and her gradfather´s past was it? How could she be so sure that she wasn´t going on what she knew was nothing but a wild goose chase, just because it provided her with the perfect excuse to run away from...from what? Her father´s death? The breakup with Richard? The fact that maybe, just maybe she wasn´t as strong as her mother and sister expected her to be? If only Paul were here, he´d find a way to laugh it off...But he wasn´t...Nor, Paul, or her father, or her grandfather...they were all gone and she had no idea were she stood anymore...She held Severus´gaze, quietly and attentively as if looking at her own reflection in a mirror, as if seeing into his dark eyes just how many years had passed for her without her ever noticing, watching in his arcane expression just how much of a blank she was inside.

Ciarán purred.

After a second she blinked and smiled at her own silliness...Obviously, Ciarán had been visiting Severus again...and her neighbour was probably looking to see if the cat had made its way back...Evelyn could bet he was just as amazed as she was at Ciarán´s bizarre reluctance to get back inside. Certainly Mr. Snape wasn´t expecting to see a silly woman standing like a fool at her own window, looking back at him like he was a ghost. No wonder he seemed puzzled.

"I see you´ve been bothering our neighbour again...You really like him don´t you?" She murmured looking down at her cat. Ciarán simply continued to purr lazily. She looked up again, a tired smile lingering on her lips and waved, trying to keep some semblance of normalcy. Then, feeling too exhausted to cook anything, she went back to her bedroom... Frankly, she wasn´t even hungry anymore.

Chapter Text

October, 5th

Cokeworth,

Downtown

 

Muggle bookstores....Severus couldn´t even remember the last time he had stepped into one of them, if ever. There was something just so annoyingly mundane about them that pretty much grated on his nerves. Books were precious and powerful objects, invented to impart knowledge, to put forward ideas and new concepts, to preserve wisdom and history. Entire countries, entire continents, the course of History itself had been changed by them. Leave it to muggles to turn such  objects into just another commercial product, no different from toilet paper or domestic appliances. He walked into the large store and immediately frowned...fluorescent lights, that pretentiously pseudo-post-modern décor, tall and boxy bookshelves filled with decent books mixed together with muggle rubbish, the usual "child friendly" corner with gaudy toys and ridiculous costumed recreators that did nothing to confine the little brats to the space where they were supposed to be, novelty items that had no business being sold among books...

Severus just knew he´d leave that place with a splitting headache.

But there was at least one advantage to the muggles insistence in turning everything into a product...it meant some things were easier to find. After spending the whole Sunday reading Miss Black´s book and most of his Monday taking obsessive notes on it, Severus had come to the easy conclusion that if he wanted to discover more about her, and above all to discover more about what her grandfather had or had not told her about the Wizarding World, then her books would be a perfect start. She was a young scholar, and from what he had read on the back of her book, a very active one, with a number of recently published works, so most certainly the best shot at finding her other books  would be a popular muggle bookstore chain, even if the mere thought irked him.

After some time trying to figure out his way among travelling guides, self-help trash, and popular titles that nobody with half a mind would dare call literature, he was approached by a smiling attendant, a young man barely out of his teens, with ginger hair and a pitiful expression that just screamed "doing whatever it takes to pay his way through college".

"Do you need any help, sir?"

"Yes...I´m looking for any book you have by this author." Severus showed him the book and watched as his eyes widened a bit

"Evelyn Black...Her books are really good, sir..."the young man smiled

"Don´t tell me she´s famous..."

"Well, if you´re a History student or have any interest in Medieval studies, then yes, she sort of is"

"Let me guess..." Severus glanced at the name tag "Andrew...you´re a history student..."

"Yes, sir. At Sanford" Andrew smiled, apparently very pleased to see a costumer willing to have a conversation with him. "Actually when this book  was released she came over to give a lecture. It was really interesting...and it really didn´t hurt that she´s fit..."

"The books, Andrew!" Severus cut him off, mildly annoyed.

"Oh, of course" the young man let out a goofy giggle, making Severus roll his eyes "Follow me, they are right here, in our History section..."

They walked past the shelves all the way to the back of the back of the store, thankfully far away from the children´s section. Severus looked around and noticed that´s were most "serious" books were.

"Why that doesn´t surprise me?"

"Excuse me, sir?"

"Nothing...I think I can take it from here, thank you."

"If you need any help I´ll be right there."

As the young man walked over to greet his next client, Severus started to peruse the bookshelves. He breathed in the smell of new paper as his eyes roamed the rows of neatly arranged volumes fresh out of printing, following the somewhat disarranged supposedly-alphabetical order. Severus shook his head, silently deploring muggles´ disregard for simple things like organisation and knowledge, and took a quick look at the ensemble of works compiled before starting to look for those he had come for.

"Black...Black... Barlow...Barrow...Bauer...Black...Evelyn Black."

He found a total of four volumes authored by Evelyn Black...each and every one with the most interesting titles. "Merlin, beyond the legend" "Nicolas Flamel and the Philosopher´s stone- a historical perspective" "Bestiarum vocabulum – A compendium of medival beasts and heraldic symbols" "Unveiling the beast-The man-eater of Gevaudan" ...other than those , Severus also found the same one he had just read with such vivid interest, "Witch trials in Ireland". A prolific writer Ms. Black seemed to be...One wouldn´t say so just by looking at her...she was what? 30, 35 years old at most...To have that many books to her name she must have started her academic career at a very young age...Severus knew muggles studied much longer than wizards, college, masters degrees, PhDs...The average muggle scholar started his or her career much later than the average wizard scholar...and yet Ms. Black seemed to have already somewhat made a successful career for herself before hitting her forties. More startling still, she seemed to have chosen nothing but magical subjects to write about...He wouldn´t be surprised if he happened to stumble upon books with those exact same titles in the Hogwarts library. But never mind the theme, to become such a prolific academic at her age, in any field of expertise, she had to be very bright ...and that only worried him all the more. A woman with her brains wouldn´t take long to find out something, if not all about, the Wizarding  World... Particularly judging for her origin and professional choices...Actually Severus wouldn´t be too surprised if she already knew something about it...Marius Black could have told her or she could have discovered by herself, or maybe both. Minerva was right to be apprehensive...

Severus picked up all the books and made his way to the counter. As soon as he got back home he´d start studying. He had to make an assessment of what exactly he was dealing with here... who was Professor Evelyn Black and just how much of a threat she posed or could pose to the statute of secrecy.

---------------

Severus walked up Spinner´s End, quietly enjoying the sound of his steps into the cobbled pavement... He had spent so much of the year trapped inside his house, that now he had, surprisingly, found a brand new appreciation for the world outside. Usually he might find a walk around downtown Cokeworth boring at best and hellish at worst...Wandering about among muggles, with their noisy and smelly cars, their ridiculously fast life-pace, their loud music, buses, advertisements plastered onto every single surface....it could be pure torture... But it for whatever reason today it had been almost...entertaining. In any case it was better than being locked inside all day long, or at least it seemed so, now that he actually had something to do with his time. Of course, he´d never really appreciate muggles and their ways...but a dosis of muggle non-sense might just make a dull day a bit more interesting. However, returning to silent and dead Spinner´s End, where he couldn´t hear much other than the wind on the trees and the noises of animals on the woods behind his house, was still much more soothing to his nerves.

Of course his days were bound to become a whole less quiet if that Irish parrot really decided to move next door...with her car and small-talk...As much as Severus could appreciate the diversion that investigating her could bring to his life, he wasn´t really sure he´d take her cheerful and talkative demeanour in stride...

"Speaking of the devil" he rolled his eyes, hearing the familiar sound of Miss Black´s red Volvo coming from behind him. He kept walking as the car passed by and stopped just a few feet ahead, in front of her house. She came out of it, looking positively patrician in a turquoise-green  shirt with a delicate brown pattern and a brown, knee-length skirt, wearing her usual insensible choice of footwear today in the form of brown  leather shoes with impossibly thin heels( Severus had to wonder how they could support her weight without causing excruciating pain),  her hair pulled up in a loose bun. She also had a large leather handbag and some folders. Certainly she was coming from some professional or academical appointment. As soon as she was out of the car she smiled at him.
"Hello!" she beamed, walking towards him  balancing a brown leather coat and the folders on her left arm as she reached for her keys inside her bag.

"Hello, Ms. Black" he let out as he approached her, forcing himself to sound as neutrally polite as possible.

"How are you doing?" She smiled, making Severus roll his eyes...what was this crippling urge of making small conversation this woman had?

"Fine." He answered laconically, still unsure if he should stop and pretend he cared enough to converse with her or just keep walking and hope she´d get the cue and shut up.

"Oh, there´s Noble and Co. around here?" she casually told him, gesturing his bag

"Downtown around the corner from the subway station" he answered flatly, hoping she wouldn´t want to know what books he had just bought. A bagful of her books was an excellent way of coming off as a stalker.

"Thank you. I´ll make sure to drop by when I get the time...Tough it won´t be anytime soon, I´m afraid"

"Still busy with your little research, I see?" He let out, almost acidly.

"Actually no...Looking for a job.." she smirked

"A job?"

"Well, yes. I left my old job at Ennis, and I can´t just sit around getting the royalties from my published works and doing nothing...I´d go crazy in less than I week..."she laughed softly

"So you´re really planning on staying in Cokeworth..."

"I don´t know for sure...It all depends on how things go...As it is finding a teaching position won´t be any easy, with the school year having started already..."

"I thought you were a College Professor"

"I´ve taught High school as well..."She opened the door and turned back to him "Actually I..."

Her sentence got cut off midway by the sound of a telephone ring in her living room. Relieved, Severus seized the opportunity to put an end to the conversation.

"You should get that."

"Well, see you latter then..." she smiled, making her way in, as Severus walked away, feeling somewhat relieved.

---------------

Closing the door behind herself, Evelyn hung her coat, locked the door and carefully set her folders on the coffee table before picking up the phone and letting her body fall lazily onto the couch.

"Well, a whole weekend in England and you already forgot you have a family, Lyn? Why haven´t you called yet?" a cheerful female voice on the other side of the line beamed

Evelyn´s lips curled up in a smile. Who else but her dear sister Caitlin would berate her for not calling even before deeming it necessary to say "hello" like any normal person would.

"And 'Hi' to you too, Kitty-Cat" she let out softly, kicking off her shoes. "How are you doing?"

"Same as always...does my life ever change?"

"Count your blessings. And mam?"

"Well you know Mrs. Black...she´s always perfectly fine, even if the world is falling to pieces around her. She´s been extra annoying lately, with you moving away...Speaking of which, you should be giving me some interesting news. After all you´re the one who moved to another country and all." Evelyn could feel the Caitlin´s gentle laughter dying out to be replaced a more serious tone "So...did your crazy mission bear any fruit?"

"Yes and no... As it turns out grandpa´s house does exist. It´s near an old deactivated mill, in the abandoned part of town..."

"Abandoned part of town? So you´re saying the house is a ruin, is that it?"

"Not at all...the house is standing,very well conserved ...It´s even furnished. I´m living in it, actually"

"You´re kidding me..."

"No!" Evelyn chuckled, enjoying her sister´s amazement "I´m right on the living room couch as we speak...and let me tell you, it´s a gorgeous house! Art nouveau and art deco decorations, books, tapestries...You´d go bonkers if you saw it."

"Really? Wow...and all of that belonged to grandpa Marius?"

"According to the documents, yes. And I checked everything, the documentation is completely legit... It was all his..."

"Jesus, Mary, Joseph and a donkey, Lyn...How come he never told anybody? "

"This is what I´d like to know...I´ve been investigating this whole house in the past few days, and by the way this is why I didn´t call you before, but I digress..."

"And you found anything?"

"No...other than old books and some weird objects, nothing...Well, there were no bugs"

"What?"

"I mean no bugs, no roaches...and no mice either, no nothing...the house has been abandoned for so long and there´s nothing like that."

"Oh, leave it to Miss Clean-freak to notice that..."

"You don´t get it, do you...The house is...pristine. It was never even broken into...I mean everything seems intact" Evelyn heard a long pause on the other side of the line, as Ciarán hoped onto her lap, purring lazily.

"That´s not funny, Lyn...next you´re gonna tell me you hear voices at night"

"Okay, don´t believe me...But I´m telling you this house belonged to somebody and their objects are still here. It´s almost as if the owners just disappeared. And to be honest, I actually don´t think grandpa has ever lived here..."

"Maybe he inherited from someone and never claimed it...So whoever lived there before just left..."

"And left all their belongings behind?"

"Don´t ask me! You´re the one playing detective, Lyn...But, if I remember right, there was a family tree in those old papers dad left us, wasn´t there?"

"Yes. About that...remember that Eileen Prince I told you about...the one I thought could still be alive?"

"Yes, did you find her?"

"Not exactly. As it turns out she lived just next door from this house...You remember I told you the two houses were part of the same property, right?"

"Yeah, yeah...so you talked to her?"

"She passed away away some twenty years ago..."

"Oh..dead end, then..."

"No...Prince was her maiden name, she was married and had a son. He lives right next door."

"Oh!" Evelyn could feel her sister´s interest had pique just by the sound of her voice "And what is he like?"

"Quite a character....His name is Severus Snape and..."

"What the hell kind of name is Severus?"

"Well, for your information 'Severus' happens to be the name of several saints and Roman emperors..." Evelyn rolled her eyes, slightly exasperated "I swear to God is like you take pride in not knowing stuff...Dad was a history teacher for crying out loud"

"And I´m a nurse...I´m under no obligation to know emperors and saints...okay maybe saints... speaking of which is this guy catholic?"

"And why the hell do you want to know that?"

"Well...Just covering some bases...you know mam will be asking"

"Mam won´t be asking anything, because I have nothing whatsoever to do with Mr. Snape! Seriously, is that all you think about? You see, this is how you land losers like Sean fecking Sullivan "

"Oh, Lyn, chill out will you? I´m just kidding..." Caitlin laughed quietly "So tell me more about this neighbour with an imperial and sanctified name"

"Will you stop interrupting me with nonsense?"

"I´ll try."

"Well, no, he is not catholic so let´s keep mam out of this..."

"How do you know?"

"You said you weren´t going to interrupt!"

"Is what you get for trusting me."

"My fault then...Well,the local priest told me he isn´t Catholic, so drop it, okay?"

"Damn it woman, already running a background check on him?! And people always said I was the boy crazy sister"

"I didn´t...Oh, forget it! Anyway I went over to his house last Friday looking for his mother and he welcomed me with the most obnoxious display of passive-aggressiveness I´ve ever had the misfortune to fall victim of...He apologised the next day tough...It seems he´s going through a rough patch in life...""

"How so?"

"He´s a chemistry teacher and had some sort of work related accident, so he had to take a leave it seems..."  

"Oh, the poor man...Is he cute?"

"CAITLIN!"

"It´s a legitimate question!"

"He is...normal I guess. About my age, tall, thin, dark hair, dark eyes, hooked nose...In severe need of some emergency Head & Shoulders, worst case of greasy hair I´ve ever seen...Nothing to write home about, really..."

"Really?"

"Yeah, really. Now can you stop being a annoying and listen?"

"Okay go on...so, did the holly-named greasy chemistry teacher tell you anything about grandpa´s house?"

"Nothing...he came around to visit Saturday...."

"Oh did he?" Evelyn puffed at the sound of poorly disguised giggles coming from the other woman.

"Shut up!"

"Okay, sorry..."

"...so he came over to apologize for being such an unbearable pain in the arse before, and I showed him grandpa´s papers...he seemed to be as confused about it all as I was...So, no luck there either. All I got out of him was a new reader it seems..."

"A new reader?"

"He borrowed one of my books...he likes history, I guess"

"He borrowed one of your books...because he likes history." Caitlin smirked "Seriously Evelyn, that´s the oldest trick in the book!"

"You know, is not because you take pride in being wilfully ignorant that the rest of world can´t enjoy a little culture"

"Oh, dear...I do realise you´re a great writer and a brilliant academic...but trust me...no man, intellectual or not, is going to knock on your door and randomly borrow a book just for your fantastic brains..."

"You obviously haven´t met Severus Snape"

"Oh, of course...He´s a serious teacher who enjoys books,  intellectual conversation and cares only about the affairs of the spirit...and has a saintly Roman imperial name...frankly Lyn...this man is exactly your type!"

"Maybe if he had manners and a sense of humour...And washed his hair!"

"Well if all his flaws boil down to bad manners, being humourless and needing his hair washed, he´s still better boyfriend material than a lot of guys I´ve dated..."

"Well if we´re using the guys you dated as a standard for comparison I might as well date a baboon..."

"Oh get off your high horse...point me to one man who doesn´t have room for improvement"

"Caitlin, just stop, will you?...But tell me, the girls, how are they doing?"

"Great...Alice has been asking about you non-stop...She did this beautiful art project at school she wanted to show you. And Lizzie wants to know when they get to visit you in your new home"

"Are they home now?" Evelyn opened a broad smile. Caitlin´s two daughters just had a way of making her heart melt at the mere mention of their names. Alice and Elizabeth were the family´s pride and joy. Evelyn loved them both like they were her own children, and many a time she had had to be almost a second mother for them, seeing as their father was usually not in the picture and her sister had a lot on her plate between working to support the house and raising them...Actually Sean not being anywhere to be found most of the time was still better than actually having that lousy excuse for a father around the girls. Alice was six and Lizzie just three...both far too young to be exposed to the drunken shenanigans of Cat´s ex-husband.

Alice in particular had a hard time dealing...at her age, she already understood something was off, but was not yet old enough to figure out exactly what. Worse still, she was remarkably mature for her age, she had this insightful mind and deeply thoughtful nature...Caitlin kept joking that she might have given birth to Alice but she was Evelyn´s soul child, as both aunt and niece had a tendency to worry about everything, to overthink everything...Alice even resembled her physically, much more than she did either of her parents. As much as Evelyn adored both girls, she couldn´t deny having a special connection with Alice.

"No, mam just picked them up. I´m going to work in an hour, and she´s baby-sitting for me..."

"Tell them I´ll call tomorrow. Actually why don´t you tell Alice to send me one of her projects? Get Lizzie to send me something too. My living room needs some pretty things for decorating. "

"Oh, you think they aren´t preparing something already?" Caitlin laughed softly, a note of pride in her voice.

"A surprise then? Can´t wait to get it. And tell them that as soon as I has everything organised they can come to visit me."

"They´ll be over the moon. Oh, crap, look at the time. I gotta go now, Lyn. I can´t be late today, I´ve run out of excuses this month"

"Cat?"

"Yeah?"

"Is Sean behaving?" Evelyn asked almost apprehensively,noticing a soft sigh coming from her sister´s lips.

"Don´t worry..."

"Just let me know if...anything..."

"I will. Seriously, Lyn, don´t worry. I´m okay, the girls are okay...And you let me know how things go with you Imperially named greasy neighbour"

"Shut up!"

"Bye."

Evelyn pulled herself from the couch and made her way into the kitchen. After washing her hands she opened the fridge and took out the lambneck she had bought that morning before the job interview. A weekend away from Ireland and she was already home sick enough to go out of her way to buy lambneck to make an Irish stew to eat all by herself. Her mother was right, it didn´t matter how many books she wrote, how many conferences she gave, how many times she travelled abroad and how many world-renowned academics praised her feats...deep down Evelyn would always be a country girl. She laughed softly at the thought of her mother. Sophia would never get tired of trying to get Evelyn to "come back home, settle down and give her some grandchildren before it was too late". Her last birthday had been naught but pure drama, as Mrs Black couldn´t bear the thought of her oldest daughter being 35, unwed and childless...Particularly after living with a boyfriend for four years without ever even considering tying the knot. Shaking her head slightly, she got all the ingredients out and put them on the counter, before going upstairs to get changed.

---------------

Severus closed the door and dropped his bag full of books on the couch. It was certainly odd having a neighbour after all these years, if not uncomfortable. He had yet to get used to these minor and pointless little rituals like asking "how are you?" in a way that it sounded like he meant it...Such a hassle...He tossed his jacket in the general direction of the coat hanging, never bothering to check whether he had missed it or not; and went into the kitchen to fetch himself a glass of water.

"The furry annoyance probably hasn´t come to visit today...." he smirked looking at the broken window Miss Black´s cat had made into his own personal passage to his house. He turned to refill his glass when the sound of flapping wings coming from the living room called his attention. Setting his glass on the table he walked out of the kitchen just in time to see an owl make its way in through the front window, drop a package on his coffee table and fly away. Sitting down on his couch, Severus picked up the package and opened it to find the latest issue of "The Daily Prophet" and an envelope with Hogwarts seal and Minerva´s signature on it.

Dear Severus,

I´m sure you´re wondering the reason for this letter, so soon after the last time we spoke. I´m writing to give you a bit of good news, which I´m sure will please you greatly. I just received word that the Lestranges, Rodolphus and Rabastan, have been captured and are, at the time of my writing you, being escorted to Azkaban.

After months of rebuilding the school and trying to get everything back on track, this comes as a great relief to us all. Our work is simply just starting, but at least we can all be sure we´re going in the right direction. I wish you were here with us, my friend. This school misses its most talented potions master( Professor Slughorn forgive me.)

I hope you are doing well. Don´t hesitate to write me if you feel like you need to talk, or at least to give me some news of your own.

Sincerely, Minerva

PS. Let me know how things are progressing with Ms. black.

Severus sneered as he put the letter back into its envelope and opened the enclosed issue of the prophet, uninterestedly browsing through the full front-page article on the arrest of the Lestranges...Ms. Black...It almost seemed like Minerva thought he was having fun with this whole business of investigating his Irish parrot of a neighbour. He shook his head, dropping the newspaper and turning to the floridly decorated beige plastic bag containing the books he had just bought. Well, if anything investigating Miss Black would, at least, make for some interesting reading material, he mused, taking the books out of the bag and quickly scrolling through the pages...He should remember to show these to Minerva next time they met. She´d surely be as amazed as he was.

"Speaking of which...I still haven´t returned that book Ms. Black lent me...Might as well take the opportunity to pose a few more questions to the 'nice lady' next door, since Headmistress mcgonagall seems so keen on having me find out more about her. I surely would love to enquire as her as to her sources..." He thought to himself, getting up from the couch and reaching for the borrowed book that was sitting on top of a pile by the armchair.

Chapter Text

Severus stood in front of his neighbour´s door, bracing himself to knock. If he knew Ms Black, and after a couple of days he was sure she was easy enough to read, he was about to voluntarily put himself through a lengthy ordeal of infuriating small-talk and pushy kindness. He sighed...It had to be done...Severus could hear music coming from inside...the mellifluous voice of some male singer he could vaguely recognise but wouldn´t be able to identify if he tried...Aznavour? Brel? Montand?...He could never tell these Frenchmen apart...It was just something that sounded nostalgic and sensuous like old French songs tended to sound in general. So this was the kind of music she liked...didn´t exactly come as a surprise. Taking a deep breath he knocked.

The music came to an abrupt end and he heard very soft and quick footsteps coming towards  the door. As it opened, his eyes were immediately drawn downwards...Had Ms Black suddenly shrunk? He didn´t remember her being so much shorter than him. She still looked somewhat tall, but she was surely missing more than a couple inches from the last time he saw her. He looked at her, his eyes scrutinizing her  frame from head to toe. She had one of those muggle exercising garments on, excessively tight black Lycra pants and a sleeveless red top that revealed a hint of beige underwear...Once his eyes reached her feet, Severus almost laughed at the realisation: of course she looked shorter than usual...for once she didn´t have her vertigo-inducing high heels on. Instead her she wore some ridiculous mix of shoes and socks, knitted from soft green wool that would have suited a toddler far better than a grown woman.

"Hello." she let out in a quiet voice, he face wearing an uneasy expression as she pulled on the top in a futile attempt to cover up a bra strap that insisted on showing. Severus wasn´t sure what bothered him more, seeing her standing in front of him wearing such "casual" garments,or the fact that Evelyn herself seemed less than comfortable with it. He could swear she was blushing...

"Hello...I see it´s a bad time..."

"Not at all, come in..."Before he could answer, she opened the door all the way and walked back in, awkwardly reaching for a sweater on a hanger and putting it on.

"Sorry about the mess, I wasn´t expecting any visits..." there was a tangible tension in her voice, as she pulled nervously on the oversized sweater, as if it didn´t fit her body in the way it was supposed to. "Take a seat. Can I get you something, water, coffee..."

"No, please, don´t bother...I just came to return your book." He stretched out the book to her and she took a step forward, getting it from him and smiling, seemingly more relaxed.

"Oh, you´ve already...Oh, sorry, I´ll be right back" she abruptly turned to get into the kitchen. Severus looked over and saw as she tied up her hair and leaned over the stove where it looked like she had something cooking.

"I should get going then..."

"No! Just a minute!"

"I really don´t want to bother..."

"You don´t bother at all."

"But you´re obviously busy..."

"It´s just a stew, once I get this done, it´s going to sit on the heat for a couple hours...there aren´t many ways you can disturb a stew, you know. Just give me a second and I´ll be with you"

Severus crossed his arms over his chest, shrugging inside his jacket. Seriously, this woman...he watched  through the door as Evelyn fussed over a pan, the sound and smell of pieces of meat touching a sizzling hot bed of butter, onions and spices slowly filling the air around him. When was the last time he had smelled home made food as it cooked? Probably back when his mother was still alive...Ms Black certainly cooked well...just struck him as the type, with all the bland domesticity she exuded. He shook his head smirking...Probably shouldn´t have skipped lunch today, he was thinking nonsense.

Much in spite of himself, his eyes followed her. She had her back turned to him, occasionally turning to fetch some ingredient or another, the soft late afternoon glow coming in from the window that overlooked the backyard enveloped her frame and shed a golden light on her swift movements. The back-light allowed him to perfectly make out strong shoulders, a somewhat generous bust, and rather sturdy set of hips and tighs....Those combined would have made any woman of a more delicate frame look frankly plump, but Miss Black was handsomely tall and built in such a way he could carry a few extra pound most women wouldn´t be able to afford. Yet as sensuously solid as she may have looked while resting, once she was in motion her movements were feather-light and fluid. Severus followed her hands as they picked up ingredients,mixed, combined...

There was something quite similar between potion-brewing and cooking, regardless of the obvious difference in the nobility of the two arts. But the simmering pan, so much like a cauldron, the ingredients mixing, loosing their original forms and connecting with each other to form something new, the necessary combination of technique and intuition...He remembered how, as a young boy, he watched his mother cook with much the same awe as he observed her potion making (which was a rare event given his father´s less than positive disposition towards magic). He took a step forward, immediately chastising himself...his curiosity was about to get the best of him...he must have been particularly bored to find something as prosaic as a muggle woman cooking a simple stew anything worthy of attention.

He let his eyes wander around the room, instead. There had been a considerable amount of changes since the last time he had been there. The number of books had, at the very least, tripled, all displayed in a pair of neatly arranged wooden bookcases. Some gaudy objects had vanished, replaced by more delicate and discreet alternatives...a small desk had been brought in, atop of which sat folders, papers and notebooks decorated with dainty flower patterns, the old-fashioned pink couch had new and colourful cushions and the walls had lost the heavy tapestries and gotten a wealth of photos and some of those obnoxious French-style turn of the century posters of cats.

"Crazy cat lady..." he chuckled as her black cat walked into his field of vision, making itself comfortable on a cushion laid out for him by the fireplace.

"I´m sorry about that...." she walked back into the sitting room, still looking very much awkward inside her sweater, her cheeks flushed...he wasn´t quite sure if from embarrassment or the heat of the simmering pan "Actually, if you could give me just one more second...I was about to go upstairs and take a shower, I promise it will be quick..."

"Ms Black, I think I´ve been enough of a nuisance..."

"Not at all! I´ve been looking forward to know what you think of the book, but I´m smelling of garlic and onion soffrito. and this is no way to entertain a guest" She smiled, still visibly uncomfortable "I promise it will take just a second. There´s fresh tea and orange juice in the kitchen  help yourself of anything you want. I´ll be right back."

Severus raised an eyebrow...Was she really going to leave a man she knew for a little over a weekend all alone in her living room while she went upstairs to take a shower? Were all Irish people naïve yokels or was she a special case? The bloody woman had a handful of published academic works, graduated from one of the most prestigious muggle universities, was obviously intelligent enough to carry on complex conversations and yet, she could be this much of a rattlebrain? If this was her usual approach to dealing with people she hardly knew, he hoped for her sake that she had had some sort of security system installed in the house...or at the very least some strong lockers on her bathroom door. Still, her being such a blockhead was quite convenient for him. A few minutes alone in her living room might be precisely what he needed...

"Well, in that case..."

"I promise I won´t take long..." she smiled turning to hurriedly climb up the stairs

"Ms Black?" He called out before she could reach the top

"Yes?"

"Would you mind if I helped myself to your library for a second?"

"Make yourself at home."

Severus waited for her do vanish from his sight and looked around, quickly scanning the room for anything that might be interesting. After a few second taking in the layout of the room and where each object was, he turned to the wall covered in framed photos that dominated the room. Family photos...He approached and started to look at them one by one...

On the top row of photos there was a black and white picture of two men and a boy, all dressed in their Sunday best. The picture seemed to have been snapped on somebody´s front porch, the younger man was standing up while the older gentleman was sitting on a rocking chair with a boy of four or five years old on his lap, all smiling at the camera. The older man had a well-groomed greying beard and greying hair and a serene and dignified expression on his face that matched the younger man´s to a t...Actually they looked almost like the same person with the sole differences being the beard and the amount of years separating them. Father and son, surely. And the young boy with hair just as dark as the father´s, cut in a neat bowl-cut must have been the grandson. In another photo the same boy, a few years older now, in his swimming trunks, under a soft orangey glow of sunlight. Next to him there was a a younger girl....a little girl with wavy brown hair and serious brown eyes, wearing a red swimming suit. Both were wet and covered in sand, standing next to a black Irish Wolfhound that had a little blond girl of barely two years old ridding its back as if it was a miniature horse. Severus immediately recognised the brown-haired girl, Evelyn Black still had the very much same facial features from her youth. The boy and girl were probably her siblings...Some other family pictures...a picture of Ms. Black´s graduation...standing next to her was the same young man of the first picture, now much older and uncannilly resembling his father (or the man Severus thought was his father, but he was more than quite sure).Another picture of Ms. Black wearing dreary 80s fashion, striking a silly pose with a younger woman with blondish-brown hair in a ridiculous Madonna-like outfit. Finally some more recent pictures of her and random family members...One of the most recent photos depicted another pair of little girls, dressed for Halloween most likely, a blonde toddler wearing an Alice in Wonderland  costume and a brown-haired girl of about five dressed as Dorothy, from the Wizard of Oz. Severus blinked and looked closely, the older girl was almost identical to Ms.Black...He tried to remember if she had mentioned having any children of her own...

Severus shook his head...Snooping though her happy family memories wouldn´t help him at all. Smiling faces in little perfect petit-bourgeois portraits of cliché family bliss wasn´t going to give him any useful information. He looked around once again and tried to recall where Ms. Black kept the wooden box her grandfather had left her. Last time he had been there it was in a cabinet, but that had been removed...So, where? He quickly located all the pieces of furniture that had drawers on them and proceed to open every single one. He had to find a locked one. She would surely have that box inside a locked drawer, those papers were just too important to her to have them laying around...He just hoped it was in the living room and not in her bedroom.

"The desk! Of course!" He walked up to her desk and pulled on the drawer. It was locked. Severus grinned "Jackpot!"

He pulled his wand from his pocket, silently congratulating himself for having the forethought to bring it with him, and unlocked the drawer. Inside, he found a couple of folders labelled "documents" and "bills to pay", some random papers neatly organised with coloured paper-clips and under everything the wooden box with the Black family crest carved on the lid. Trying to make as little mess as possible he removed the folder and papers, taking care not to disturb their order, and retrieved the box. Inside he found the same papers Ms. Black had shown him, the family tree, the house deeds and some letters....Two bunches of letters, both tied in satin ribbons. Severus quickly went through the letters bound in red ribbon...From the little he could see they were all from "Marius"to "Elizabeth" or from "Elizabeth" to "Marius"...Ms. Black´s grandfather was certainly  "Marius"....maybe her grandmother was "Elizabeth"...Love letters, probably...he set those aside and moved to the bunch of letters tied in a straw-coloured ribbon.

Those looked more promising. They all had the the Black Family crest and seal on them...all of them to Marius from "Violetta Black"... Severus immediately remembered the family-tree he had been obsessively studying...Marius Black, the disowned squib, was the son of Cygnus Black and Violetta Black, née Bullstrode....These letters where from Marius´mother...Ms.Black´s great-grandmother...Violetta Black had been writing her son after he was disowned...For a second Severus contemplated opening one of those letters, but he wouldn´t have the time to re-tie them in the same way as to avoid Ms. Black noticing they had been touched....

Hurriedly, he looked for something else, something he could read...but there was nothing...Severus heard the sound of water coming from upstairs stop. Ms Black had just finished her shower...There was nothing useful in this box...feeling a little disappointed he placed all the contents back and closed it. But as he picked it up to put it back in the drawer his fingers felt something odd in the bottom... He turned it upside down he found a very small latch. He gently tapped the bottom of the box and noticed it was hollow

"A false bottom?"

He carefully opened the latch...it was so small and delicate it seemed like only opening could break it. The bottom of the box immediately popped open to reveal another letter inside. Severus took it out and the surprise almost cut his breath short. He had seen so many letters like those in his life he could even recognised the particular smell of the paper they were written on...Severus himself had waited, hoped and prayed to get one of these....and when it arrived...it had been one of the single most joyful days of his entire existence... This letter, hidden away in a false bottom, had Hogwarts crest and seal....

The envelope was too old for the recipient´s name to be clear...actually it was so worn out even the crest was blurry...it looked like that letter had been handled so many times, folded, unfolded, even crumpled to such an extent the recipient´s name had simply vanished...Severus opened it, but before he could retrieve the letter, the sound of steps upstairs brought him back to reality...He felt the urge of shoving it into his pocket, but Ms. Black might notice...He wasn´t sure if she knew of the false bottom or not, it was too much of a risk...Instead he just put it back. With meticulous care, he put everything back into the drawer in the exact same order he had found before and closed it, listening for any noises coming from upstairs. He moved away from the desk as soon as he heard the faint sound of steps approaching the stairway. Shoving his hands into his pockets, Severus stood in the middle of the room facing away from the stairs, putting on the most natural façade he could muster.

"I´m all yours now." the joyful voice of Ms. Black came from behind him and he turned, pretending to have just noticed her return. She no longer had those dreadful muggle exercising garments on, having changed into a pair of jeans and a burnt orange wool sweater. She had also gotten rid of the ridiculous toddler-like footwear, now replaced by a much more sensible pair of black slippers. She was visibly more at ease, and Severus himself felt more comfortable, he had to admit.

"That´s quite a collection of photos you have here..."he casually pointed to the wall

"Oh, just some family photos..."

"Is that your grandfather?" He pointed to the black and white picture at the top row.

"Yes, that´s grandpa Marius" she smiled "with dad and Paul."

"Your brother?"

"Yes..." Severus looked at her face as she stood besides him, looking at the wall, a subtle shadow on her expression making her golden brown eyes suddenly appear darker. Evelyn shook her head lightly, turned to another picture and continued talking, almost as if she was conversing with herself rather than with him "There we are, Paul, me and Caitlin, our baby sister...She´s ridding Fergus. She loved pretending he was her pony. I tell you, there was never a more patient dog in this world..."

"And the little girls?" Severus pointed at the more recent picture of the two girls in Halloween costumes.

"Ah, Alice and Lizzie. They are Caitlin´s girls."

"The older one could pass for your kid."

"Everybody says that!" she laughed softly "Well, Alice is more like me and Paul, we take after the Black side of the family. Caitlin was always the one that looked more like mam, a Finnegan through and through..."

"Does Paul have any children?"

"No...Paul passed away when he was very young...But you didn´t come here to look at family pictures, right? Please take a seat. I know is extremely pushy to just go asking what people think of my works, but I´ll admit I was curious to know your opinion."Severus followed her as she sat down on the couch, pulling her annoying wee beast of a cat onto her lap. "I know, I know...it feels like an enquiry, doesn´t it? Like I´m giving you a test...I´m just really curious" She smiled as he sat down next to her

"Not at all...actually I´ve been meaning to talk to you about it..." he reached for the book on the coffee table and opened it on the index page. "The trials you refer to...I knew some of them, but there are so many here that I´ve never seen listed into any other work I´ve ever had the opportunity to read before...I took a long look at your bibliography, and I saw you have a great number of primary sources and..what?" he did a bit of a double take as he noticed she was staring at him, her face filled with surprise.

"Are you sure you´re a chemistry teacher?" she smirked

"Last I checked..."

"Is just that you speak like a professional historian..."

"As you know, History is a hobby of mine..."

"You seem to take your hobbies seriously."

"It´s not just because it´s a hobby I shouldn´t take it seriously..."

"Of course...Oh, dear, I can´t keep my mouth shut, can I? Go on..."

"Uh, yes...Your sources...The primary sources you used for this book, the are quite interesting. Maybe I´m just not as well versed in the subject as a professional historian would be, but some of the documents you´ve consulted...I don´t remember ever seeing those mentioned anywhere, which is understandable seen as many of the events you talk about are quite unheard of...I hope you don´t think is a stupid question, but how did you discover these trials? They seem to have gone unnoticed by all other historians I´ve read so far" Severus bore his eyes into hers as he spoke, looking for any sign of tension or anything that might give away any knowledge about the wizarding world she could have. He hated the idea of using legilimency in a muggle, but if it was necessary...She let out a soft sigh, almost as if she was bracing herself for a long lecture.

"Would you believe if I told it all started with one of my grandfather´s books?"

"Your grandfather? I don´t recall you saying he was a historian as well...Is it a family business?"

"It is, in a way...My father was a history teacher, but my grandfather was just a history-buff...much like yourself... He was a fisherman, actually, but he filled any idle time he had with the most eccentric books and oddities..." She stood up and started to look for something in one of her bookcases "I swear to this day I have no idea as to how he found such bizarre things..."

She pulled out a book from one of the shelves, a very old and thick volume, bound in good quality red leather. Severus narrowed his eyes, trying to catch a glimpse of the faded golden letters on the spine, with no success. She walked back and sat closer to him, carefully laying the heavy book on her lap as if it was a relic. Severus could feel the faint smell of old paper and leather mingle with the soft lavender emanating from her and fought back the urge to scoot away from her...But the fresh perfume was still a better option to the appetite -opening scent of the stew that was starting to come from the kitchen...He really shouldn´t have skipped lunch today....

"You see..." she went on "my grandfather was a...how can put it?...A peculiar man. Growing up we used to go to his house almost everyday, some times we slept over...my grandmother made us cakes and cookies and he would tell these crazy stories about wizards and witches...I´m pretty sure he made all of them up, I have no idea how he didn´t become a writer....it was scary how imaginative he was...Anyway, he had this crazy books about witchcraft and history, and I´m pretty sure those were  where he drew inspiration for the stories he told us. This was one of his favorites." She handed him the book and Severus ran his fingers on the cover. There wasn´t a title.

Severus was trying his best not to look too interested, but under his emotionless face, he was shivering with anticipation. So Marius Black had indeed told her about the Wizarding World... In the form of fairy-tales. Quite cunning of him...No doubt, as any Blacks worth the family´s name, he would have made a fine Slytherin. Opening the book, he read the title page and swallowed hard.

"'Great wizards of Britain and Ireland'...this is..." Severus bit his tongue before saying anything. He knew this book. It was a comprehensive list of the most famous wizards and witches  from the XIV to the XVI century. It was a rare book, the most recent edition had come out in the 40s. A book like this in the hands of a muggle History professor could be potentially catastrophic. "How did your grandfather find this book?"

"I have absolutely no idea. I never found one like this, until this one day back in college, when I took a trip to county Gallway and found another copy in an antique book store. The owner seemed so surprised when I told him I had the same book, I think he was under the impression his copy was the only one in existence...Actually it was rather amusing, he seemed genuinely surprised at the fact that I had walked into his shop at all...most odd little man with the most odd little shop...

"Interesting...this bookstore, does it still exist?"

"I don´t think so...I told a colleague of mine about it, even gave him the address, but he never found it. Must have closed. But anyway, I always thought this was some sort of fantasy literature, as  grandpa Marius had many such odd things at home...But when I grew up I started to entertain the notion that maybe this book was the product of a time people believed in witchcraft, maybe an informative guide like the 'Malleus Maleficarum'. My grandfather´s edition doesn´t have any information concerning the year of the first print of even the editor. But it does have a wealth of notes concerning libraries and archives, some of which I had never heard of. So I decided to hunt down the original references, and let me tell you, it led me to the most strange places..."

"Strange...how?"

"Some odd little town archives scattered all over Ireland and Britain. Back then I was working specifically with Irish history, so I went back to Gallway, Kildare, Kerry...And to my surprise I found a wealth of forgotten trial procedures, books and other sources all hidden in tiny villages that I couldn´t even find in a map...almost as if people didn´t want them to be found."

Severus couldn´t believe his ears. Could it be that these archives, these small towns that weren´t in any maps...Maybe they were hidden for a reason...Could they be wizarding communities, wizarding libraries? No! Ms Black was a muggle, she wouldn´t have been able to see a wizarding library, let alone walk into one. Her sources were certainly simple muggle documents, lost to time and lack of care about conserving history...as it was usual with Muggles. But still, he knew now for a fact that her grandfather had told her about magic...she might not know about the wizarding world (and Severus still couldn´t rule the possibility out), but she surely knew where to dig...and if she kept doing that....

"Oh, excuse me....I´ll just check the stew for a second."She stood up,and went to the kitchen.

"All right" He answered absent mindedly, still staring at the book in his hands. Evelyn Black´s grandfather was certainly the same squib Marius Black that had been disowned decades before, Severus was convinced of that. And he had told his granddaughter about the Wizarding world, but in such a way she thought it was all a crazy collection of bedtime stories...Nevertheless his "fairy tales" had somehow encouraged her to pursue a career studying witchcraft. Why would he have encouraged such pursuits? It was far too risky giving away such information to an impressionable child, he must have known this could result in a breach of the Statute of Secrecy...

Suddenly, Severus remembered the letter in the false bottom of her grandfather´s box...A Hogwarts acceptance letter...Severus stood up and walked towards the photo-covered wall, once again studying the pictures one by one. Who was that letter addressed to? Certainly not Evelyn or either of her siblings, Severus would have known if a  Muggle-born Black had entered Hogwarts around the same time he was there... if any of Marius grandchildren they had gone to Hogwarts, he would have met them...Evelyn´s nieces were too young, even if one of them was a witch the letter wouldn´t have been sent just yet. Then who?!...

"You´re staying for dinner, right?" Evelyn asked from the kitchen

"It´s very nice of you Ms. Black, but I think I´ve taken up enough of your time."

She walked back into the living room, crossed her arms over her chest and rested her shoulder against the doorframe.

"Actually you´d be doing me a favour..."

"A favour?"

"You see I have enough food here for at least four people..."

"Do you have guests coming?"

"No...Is a bit ridiculous, really...This is probably the first time I´ve lived alone in my life...Pathetic, right? At age 35...I´m just not used to cooking for one. Today I was just craving some Irish stew and I just went and made enough for a whole family..."

Severus felt like coming up with an excuse, but he just couldn´t leave without getting more information out of her. And judging by how eager to talk Ms. Black seemed, he wouldn´t even have to bother with legilimency. To be quite honest, he was getting hungry and the smell of that stew wasn´t helping his situation much. Oh well...it wouldn´t hurt to be sociable for a little while longer...

"Well, then I don´t see any reason do decline..."

"Great! I hope you like Irish stew." She went back into the kitchen and Severus followed

"It sounds like you and your grandfather were very close..."

"We were...grandpa Marius, Paul and I...our grandma called us the three musketeers..or the three stooges depending on how silly we were being..." she laughed softly

"And your sister?" He asked for the sake of small´talk, taking off his jacket and putting it in the back of a chair.

"Caitlin? Oh, she was much younger than us. She was just five years old when Paul  passed away...can barely remember him..."

"And how old was Paul?" He sat down and watched as her body visibly tensed.

"Eleven..." Her voice was barely a whisper. Severus knew he was better off not going down that road, as much as he wanted to...Eleven years old..no, he shook his head and decided to drop the subject..

"I´m sorry to hear that..."

"It was a long time ago...You drink?"

"Yes."

"Stout or lager?"

"Stout. It´s a weekday"

"There you go" She openeded the fridge and took out two bottles of Guiness, handing him one. Severus smirked. Guinnes and Irish stew...He wouldn´t be at all surprised if she wiped out some soda bread as well. The woman couldn´t be more Irish if she was a leprechaun.

------------------------------------

"It´s okay, you can leave it..."

"Well, I can´t just very well sit here doing nothing as you clean after my mess"  Severus had always hated the idea of being served. Even as a teacher at Hogwarts having the house elves cook and serve his his food had always been mildly annoying to him. He didn´t have Lucius disposition to sit around idly and just let other people do everything for him (which knowing Lucius probably also included the wiping of arse). Inactivity and self-indulgence were two of the things he most abhorred. And he had to begrudgingly admit, he didn´t quite remember having such wondrously cooked food in a long time. This was possibly the first time in about seventeen years he had had seconds. And decent conversation over dinner? Rare event. Helping clear the table and do the dishes just seemed like a fair compensation. He swiftly moved the dishes to the sink, trying to remember how when was the last done the dishes without magic, if ever...Well, he would be damned if he couldn´t figure out something as simple as washing a couple of plates and forks.

"You seriously don´t have to."

"I insist." he let out sternly, rolling up his sleeves and proceeding to the task. But she wasn´t about to give up and walking up from behind him, got a now clean plate from his hand."Ms. Black, please..."

"No, no wa..." the smile suddenly disappeared from her face when she looked down. Severus followed her eyes and immediately regretted having rolled up his sleeves. Evelyn was staring at his left forearm, where the scar-like remains of the Dark Mark were still visible, even if barely. It came as quite a shock to him that she had even noticed at all.Most muggles couldn´t see it, and even some wizards had a hard time doing so. He let go of the plate and looked up at her face, not sure if her shocked expression amused him or not.

It took her a second to snap out of it. Without looking at him in the face she reached for a tea towel and started to dry the plate, avoiding his gaze.

"It´s okay, you can ask..."

"Ask what?"

"About this...on my arm."

"I´m so sorry." she looked up at him, sighing "I didn´t mean to stare. I have no issue with  tatoos or scarifications, I swear, is just that..."

"Mine is different, right?"

"I...yes, it is..."

"Does it unsettle you?" He raised an eyebrow. Her reaction had been a bit too exaggerated for somebody who had simply seen a tattoo,or a scarification (which his Dark Mark resembled much more than a regular tatoo). Particularly considering how much of a cultured woman she was. Something like this shouldn´t shock her. Could it be that the Dark Mark made her uncomfortable? He wouldn´t be too surprised...muggles could have some rudimentary sensitivity to magic, particularly dark magic. It was almost like a sort of defensive instinct that every human being possessed.

"Well,it´s rather...distinctive, but I wouldn´t say unsettling"

"For a moment I thought it had scared you."

"Is just a tatoo" she smirked "Nothing scary about it."

"You think?" He grinned

"Why should it be scary?"she laughed "Don´t tell you got it into a cult initiation or something like this?"

"What if it was?" Severus simply looked at her, serious. Her eyes were wide and he could feel her tension. He shook his head, mildly amused "Don´t worry, I´m not a in cult..."

"Oh, my God. I´m such a ditz, I´m sorry, I didn´t mean to imply..."

"It´s quite all right, Ms. Black..You see..I did a lot of stupid things in my youth...as many a kid my age. I´m sure, as a teacher, you´ve seen this happen more than once. You want to impress your peers, so you start getting involved with the wrong group of people and before you realise...there´s a stupid looking tattoo on your arm...and that will be it, if you´re lucky enough to get out"

"I understand."

"Does that bother you?" he let out acidly

"Not really. You know what? If you insist on doing the dishes then I´ll make some coffee...I didn´t prepare any dessert, but there´s ice cream in the fridge if you like..."

"Just coffee will be fine" He told her, as he finished with the dishes and reached for the tea towel.

"I´ll dry the dishes once I´m done with the coffe. Just leave them there"

"All right.." He was starting to feel a little restless, maybe it was being reminded of the dark mark still marring his arm, but for some reason Severus was just agitated "Do you mind if I smoke?"

"You know smoking can kill you right?" she chided

"I just told you I was once part of a gang and you´re worried about tobacco killing me, Ms.Black?"

"Oh, well...since you´re living on borrowed time, by all means go ahead, Mr. Daredevil"

Severus couldn´t help the soft laughter that escaped his lips. "I´ll step outside for a second...."

"Oh, no...the backyard is a mess"

"You call this a mess?" He told her as he went outside."You´ve obviously never had eleven year old students"

"Well if you count tutoring my sister"

"That hardly counts"

"You´ve obviously never met my sister."

"Touché..." he answered as he sat in one of the rusty iron cast garden chairs he found outside and lit up his cigarette. Severus breathed in the chilly night air, looking up at the dark star-studded cupola of the sky above his head, as the smell of freshly brewed coffee filled the air around him. Soon enough Evelyn stepped outside, bringing him a cup.

"Thank you." He breathed out, noticing she had a bowl of ice-cream floating on coffee on her other hand wich she proceeded eating with gusto even before sitting down.

"Affogato" she smiled. "Do you want some?"

"I couldn´t possibly fit it. Actually I´m wondering how your stomach still has room for it after the massive meal we just had...I guess is true that the Irish have a very hearty appetite"

"Oh, trust me, you haven´t seen anything...You´d be shocked!" She giggled, taking in another  spoonful of ice-cream

"Remind me to never treat you to dinner..."

"Dully noted"

They sat silently for a while. Severus closed his eyes for a moment, enjoying the stark contrast between the cool night air and the warm cup of coffee on his hand, the feeble smoke as it came out of his lips making idle arabesques in the air. Maybe he was a bit too relaxed, or the few beers he had over dinner were kicking in, but he could use a nap right now...How long had he gone without drinking any alcohol if a couple bottles of Guinness were throwing him off his balance? He glanced sideways, catching a glimpse of Evelyn´s figure locked between the golden light coming from inside the kitchen and feeble blue-white light of the stars above them. She she sat on a cast iron bench next to his chair with one leg tucked under the other, completely relaxed, looking up at the sky, distractedly eating her ice cream. Indeed a Black...that patrician profile and sharp serious eyes were virtual proof.

"You know..." she told him casualy "you should stop calling me 'Ms.Black'. We´re about the same age...and you´re my neighbour....You can just call me Evelyn...or Lyn, all my friends call me Lyn..."

"Maybe is a bit too soon to start calling you Lyn. I´ll just try to get used with Evelyn"

"Meanwhile, can I call you Severus?"

He shifted uneasily on his seat, finishing up his coffee. "I think I really should get going..."

"But it´s still early..."

"I took up too much of your time. I don´t want to be inconvenient. Thank you for dinner, it was splendid."

"In that case, let me get your jacket"

"No, please...Just finish your dessert,  I can see myself out" His protests were useless, as Evelyn insisting on getting his jacket and escorting him to the door.

"Well, good night then." she smiled, almost motioning to kiss him on the cheek, but choosing to hold out her hand instead.

"Good night. Once again, thank you for everything." He shook her hand and walked away briskly, hoping he wouldn´t stumble on his legs. Why the hell was he feeling dizzy all of the sudden?

"Severus?"

"Yes?"

"You can drop by whenever you feel like...is no bother at all."

Chapter Text

October, 6th

Cokeworth

Spinner´s End

It had been quite a while since Evelyn had last gone jogging. No matter what weather, temperature or day, she always started her morning with at least an hour exercise. That was under normal circumstances, of course...But the past weeks could hardly be considered "normal circumstances", and with moving in and getting acclimated to her new life in Cokeworth... Going so long without exercising, without going out in the morning to breath some fresh air was starting to get to her. Evelyn had always had a slight tendency towards gaining weight, and in this past few days she had been on an emotional eating spree... actually, since the death of her father she hadn´t been watching her diet or even her health at all...She had let herself go, actually...taking care of his estate, going over his papers, taking care of her mother, explaining everything to her nieces, then moving to another country...Her routine was turned upside down, and she found herself constantly tense and indulging on food to calm her nerves. She really shouldn´t have eaten so much last night...she still felt heavy...

Evelyn smiled quietly as a she made her way to the kitchen and poured herself the usual cup of tea she always had before running. Dinner had been lovely, tough...Maybe she really had misjudged her neighbour, after all...Severus Snape...the man could be a gentleman when, and if, he wanted to be...of course he still came off and stiff and awkward, but there was no question, it was a man one could have a very interesting conversation with. They had talked about everything over dinner, and he had been the textbook definition of attentive...To sit there listening to her ramblings about family, teaching, food...

Evelyn knew very well she talked too much...A common flaw of people born into close knit families. Talking over meals was pretty much a religious ritual to her...That was precisely why eating alone was almost agonising to her. Maybe she shouldn´t impose on her neighbour so much, but she just needed to talk...and he was a good listener...so good in fact that if she was a tad bit more paranoid she´d think he was gathering information on her. She laughed softly... The man was just trying to be a civil neighbour, bless his heart. And they had so many interests in common that Evelyn just lost track of time talking to him...Suddenly Cat´s words floated into her mind...No man would show that much interest just for her brains...

"Dear God, Evelyn, what the devil are you thinking about?" She shook her head and walked out of the kitchen

As she made her way to the front door, Evelyn glanced over at the wall filled with pictures... Pictures of her childhood, of herself, Paul and Caitlin when they were little, pictures of her parents, her uncles and aunts, her nieces...She drew in a deep breath, her eyes coming to stop at the picture of her grandftaher, father and Paul... Three generations of her family´s men, all gone... The boys, as Evelyn and Cat called them... Her lost boys...She lightly touched her brother´s face on the picture...He had been such a lovely child, inside and out...Severus had asked about him last night and even after all these years it still hurt to answer such questions...But if she wanted to know what those documents her grandfather left her meant, she´d be looking into her past a lot more...Might as well get used to it.

"I´m still as silly as ever, right, Paul?" she shook her head, smiling sadly. With one last glance at the picture, she made her way out

 

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This was probably the first morning in months Severus hadn´t lingered in bed for hours on end, looking for the strength to pick himself up and start the day. Instead he woke up early , got dressed and immediately went downstairs to write Minerva a letter in response to her latest one. For once he felt energized after a night of moderately peaceful sleep. The recurrent nightmares were still there, but he managed to get some sleep this time. Understandable enough, the night before he arrived home feeling pleasantly tired and quite satisfied... "Satisfied"...that was good word to define how he felt. Severus wasn´t the hedonistic type to indulge in food and drink, but he had to admit, having a good conversation over good food and good beer was...yes, satisfying.

Evelyn Black was an interesting woman....for a muggle, of course. Superbly educated, well travelled, well-read, mild-mannered, warm, cheerful...a more than just competent cook...Her eagerness to please and the incessant talking could easily grate one´s nerves, of course, but he had to commend anybody who talked so much and managed to spew so little nonsense. The woman had brains, it was undeniable...and looks. It definitely didn´t hurt to look at her as she talked away like a manic parrot. Severus smirked...well, parrots have pretty feathers, don´t they?

Much like he had predicted, she didn´t need a lot of encouragement to talk to him. Just a few questions about her work and family and she went on and on....her parents, her sister, her nieces...The only moment she had shown some reticence to speak was when he asked about her brother...What was his name again? Paul, yes, that was it. Paul. Understandable...the boy passed away at age eleven...Judging from the pictures he had seen, she must have been no older than ten at the time of his passing. Surely a horrible blow for such a young child. But that wasn´t what piqued his interest...

Little Paul Black...dead at age eleven... a crazy idea was making room into Severus mind, or maybe it wasn´t such a crazy idea after all...particularly not in light of that letter...If he was correct in his assessment, that Hogwarts acceptance letter hidden in the false bottom of Marius Black´s box could only mean...Severus´ toughts were suddenly interrupted by the a rasping sound coming from the kitchen. He put down the paper and pen and followed the sound.

Severus smirked softly when he entered the kitchen. He knew this would happen. Just the day before the had finally fixed that broken window so Ms. Black´s cat wouldn´t sneak in again, and yet there he was. Ciarán was sitting on his windowsill, scrapping the glass, looking utterly puzzled to find his usual entrance closed. Severus shook his head, still laughing quietly, and walked over to the window. The cat looked up at him, pressing both his front paws against the glass. Severus watched,  mildly amused.

"Stupid furball...I was in your house just yesterday night and you miss me already? Or you just miss using my wallpaper as scrapping post?" He taunted, reaching for the pack of cigarettes in his back pocket. "Where is it? I could swear I had one on me...oh, forget it"

Ciarán just mewled softly, looking at him with his big amber eyes, as Severus looked for a new pack of smokes in one of the drawers in his cabinet, trying to ignore the cat to the best of his ability. But Ciarán just wouldn´t stop mewling and staring. Severus fumbled around the kitchen until he finally found the cabinet where he had stashed the extra packs he had bought last time he´d gonne grocery shopping

"Oh, fine.If I don´t let you in you´re just going to bother me the whole day..." he opened the window and the cat jumped in, immediately rubbing against his legs. "You are just like your mistress, aren´t you? Pushy and inconvenient just like her...She´s not home right now, is she?"

The cat walked away from him and went to the living room, hoping onto a pile of books and curling up into a ball. Severus sighed and returned to his writing, tossing the pack of smokes  on his desk without bothering to take any. He didn´t feel much like smoking anymore...

"At least you´ll be quiet today...lazy little bastard"

Indeed it seemed like today Ciarán would give him some peace. Instead of running amok and knocking fragile objects from their places, he had been silent as the grave...Come to think of it, he was a bit too quiet...Finishing his letter, Severus sealed the envelope and turned to the spot where the cat had been...Just to find out he was nowhere to be found. The former potions master rolled his eyes...

"I´m not in the mood for hide and seek, you little hairy nuisance!"

He looked around for a couple minutes. Surely the cat must have gotten bored and left somehow... Better like this. Severus, picked up the letter from his desk and started to adress it, when he heard soft mewling outside. Puffing, he walked over to the front door, yanking it open

"You stupid animal, I swear, I´ll skin you alive and make a hat out of you one of these days..." Severus looked down to see a silver-grey tabby cat sitting at his feet, looking up quizzically. "..wait... you´re not..."

The cat walked briskly into his living room, swiftly changing form, the small silver animal turning into a bespectacled older woman wearing a tartan dress and a visibly outraged expression

"Well, Severus, never in my life have I..."

"I apologize, Minerva...I didn´t meant to be rude to you."He closed the door, sighing "I merely tought it was...another cat..."

"Another cat?"

"Yes..."

"Have you been entertaining many feline guests lately?"

"Actually just one" Severus smirked "And there he is..."

Minerva turned around to see a black cat sitting on the bottom step of the stairs.

"Oh...Don´t tell me you have a cat now?" She smiled "It´s an excellent idea to have a pet. It´s a good distraction, and will help you relax a little"

"I beg to differ...And no, this fleabag is not mine...It´s Ms. Black´s cat...Ciarán"

"You´re taking care of her cat? How neighbourly of you" Minerva laughed softly and went to pet the wee beast.

"I´m not.."he clenched his teeth, swallowing a curse "anyhow...I´m glad to have you here, I was just finishing a letter in response to yours. And before I forget..." he turned to his desk and took a small rectangular brown leather covered box from one of the drawers, awkwardly handing it to Minerva "Happy belated birthday."

"Severus, you shouldn´t..."

"Like I´d forget"

"With everything that happened this year, even I forgot."

"Just don´t mind it too much, you know I´m a terrible gift-giver." Severus sat on his armchair, gesturing the couch to her. Minerva sat down, Ciarán immediately jumping on the couch to lay next to her. She pet him again and opened the box. Inside there was an elegant fountain pen, decorated in a delicate green tartan print, with a fine golden tip. Minerva smiled, touched by the thoughtfulness in such a simple gift.

"Thank you, Severus. It´s a most lovely gift."

"I imagined it would go well with your new office, Headmistress Macgonagall..."

"I´ll be the envy of the entire faculty, having such a gorgeous muggle pen"

"As well you should, muggle writing devices can be much more practical than quills...much less of a mess as well...and I assume you already have too much of a mess to deal with on a daily basis"

"Severus, if you only knew..." she let out a tired, almost pained, sigh. "There´s just so much to do...sometimes I don´t even know where to start..."

"I´m sure nobody would do a better job of it than you, Minerva. But where is this coming from now? In your last letter you said things were starting to look up..."

Minerva´s face grew immediately sombre.

"Yes, that´s precisely the reason I had to come talk to you in person, Severus."

"What happened, Minerva?"  Severus asked gravelly knowing full well what that subtle shift on his old friend´s tone of voice. Ever since his student days, Severus had learned to read the small changes in Minerva´s voice and expression. She had been his teacher, his co-worker, often times a sort of second mother to him...he just knew when something ailed her even before she said a single word.

"The Lestrange brothers...have escaped"

"What? How?!"

"I don´t know the details. I got a message from Harry saying they managed to escape while being transported to Azkaban...it seems they had help, two of the aurors escorting them were killed and one is gravely injured..."

"Well, no wonder..."Severus sneered "the ministry is just letting anyone become an auror these days"

"Severus, please..."

"I knew it...Harry Potter and the other fools in the ministry really thought everything from now on would be child´s play just because the Dark Lord is dead...frankly..."

"The ministry has been investigating Death Eater activities everywhere in Britain and abroad..."

"That´s only the tip of the iceberg, Minerva...the Dark Lord and his associates had sympathisers all over Europe...countless groups of blood supremacists will jump at the first opportunity to aid rogue Death Eaters..." he shook his head, nervously intertwining his nimble fingers.

"And it´s precisely the reason I had to talk to you..." Her voice was filled with urgency "You may be in great danger..."

"Yes...The Death Eaters know I´m the a traitor to their 'cause'...I wonder if there´s a reward for my head..." he chuckled bitterly

"Severus, don´t even joke about such a thing..."

"Calm down, Minerva...Nobody will be coming after me for a while..."

"How can you be so sure?"

"They are scattered, on the run, trying to regroup...they have more pressing matters to tend to then seeking revenge. It would be suicide to try any direct attack on me with the ministry on their trail...Besides, they know I might be more useful alive..."

"You scare me talking like this..."

They sat for a while, in complete silence. Severus could feel Minerva´s clear eyes studying him from behind her glasses. She was certainly trying to assess his state of mind, worried about his well-being...maybe even his sanity. He puffed lazy circles of smoke and smiled, an exhausted and pale smile.

"Actually, there was something else I wanted to talk to you about, Minerva..."

"Yes..?"

"Evelyn Black."

"What about her?" Minerva´s lips formed a subtle smile that made Severus roll his eyes.

"It seems my suspicions were correct after all...There´s no longer any doubt in my mind. She is on of them...the Blacks"

"And how you came to this conclusion?"

"I went to her house yesterday. She invited me over for dinner..."

"You had dinner?" Minerva looked like she was about to burst out laughing

"Yes, we did." he tried to make his voice sound as neutral as possible"After we talked about her, I decided to do some investigation of my own. I´ve read one of her books."

"Did you gather anything interesting from it?"

"The woman has a very telling fascination with everything that has to do with magic..."  he reached over to the table next to him to get his new volume of 'Witchtrials in Ireland' "here, you must read this to know what I´m talking about. And make sure to take your time with it. This is no ordinary muggle writing about wizards..."

"You seem impressed..." she raised a mischievous eyebrow

"I am...But not for the reasons you seem to imagine. Ms. Black really does seem to be on to something. Her writings are very unlike any muggle texts about magic I´ve ever read..."

"You believe her grandfather has told her anything about...us?"

"I don´t know... but is a possibility. A very likely one...Yesterday, after I bought this book and a couple others, I went to her house to return the volume she lend me..."

"And she invited you for dinner" Minerva´s voice danced in the air, filled with glee.

"Yes, as I told you" he ran an uneasy hand through his greasy-looking hair "...anyway..."

"What did you have for dinner?"

"What?"

"What did you have for dinner?" Minerva repeated slowly, relishing in each paused word.

"How is that of a any importance?" he blurted out

"Humour me..."

"Irish stew..."

"Oh, that´s lovely..."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was..."

"I take that she´s a good cook."

"An excellent one..."

"'Excellent' you say...beauty, brains and culinary skills...It seems you´ve found a keeper, my friend."

"Minerva, this is not amusing..."

"Oh, is very much amusing actually..."

He simply stared at her, his face showing an indignant hue of crimson. She just laughed it off

"I remember the time you could take a joke, Severus... Relax, I don´t mean anything by it...we´re both in need of a laugh, aren´t we?"

"Actually what I´m in need of right now is some coffee...you want anything?"

"Tea, please...whichever one you have"

Minerva smiled as Severus stood up and walked into the kitchen, his movements brisk to the point of looking nervous. She had known him since he was a child. But he had spent most of his life hiding things from people around him, hiding far too many things and doing it so well, even Minerva herself had been fooled. She felt sharp pains of regret at the thought...her dear friend could masquerade so well he had managed to make her come to the unthinkable point of hating him....Hate like she felt very few times in her life, if ever... Minerva could still remember the blind rage, the deep agonising disappointment, the utter sense of failure she felt when she discovered he had murdered Professor Dumbledore.... One of her brightest, most talented students, a misguided, troubled youth, an accomplished potioneer she had the honour of calling her colleague and friend for so many years...a traitor, a murderer....Severus had hidden his true self so well, he had made everybody think of him as loathsome, calous criminal...He had set himself up to be hated, despised by all. All that while silently working to help all of those who turned their backs on him...Minerva included. That wound was all too fresh in her soul...

And yet, as much a good actor as he was, Severus couldn´t hide the slight nervousness that overcame him whenever she quipped about Evelyn Black. Severus had never had a way with women...actually he never had much interest in being around women...or people in general. Minerva couldn´t remember him showing interest in anybody, except...yes, Lily Evans...It was clear enough, clear as day for anyone to see, from their very first year in Hogwarts...But that never went anywhere, or rather it did go somewhere...a sad and ugly place...A sad and ugly place Severus was still living in, even now. Which was precisely why she believed Severus had never found it in himself to love again, or even to look at any other woman. He just immersed himself in his work and (as she latter found out) that insane, if ultimately successful, espionage plan he and Dumbledore had concocted together. That was his whole life...nothing beyond that...It was understandable that Evelyn Black would have him nervous...Severus was just not used to being social, he didn´t much care for it. And now this woman appeared out of the blue and just invited him for dinner...Severus of all people. It was almost amusing actually...

Her thoughts were interrupted by Ciarán suddenly running away of her and jumping on the windowsill. She stood up to get him.

"There, boy...what are you looking at?" she looked out to see none other than Evelyn Black, walking down the street in a pressed pace, wearing trousers that were a bit too tight to look comfortable (or dare she say even decent) and a long-sleeved jacket. She was dishevelled, blushing, looking down at her watch for some reason.

"I swear I´ll never understand the clothes muggles wear these days...what on earth is this lass wearing?"

"Exercising clothes." Minerva almost jumped when Severus´voice came from behind her "And you shouldn´t spy on my neighbours"

"Yes, spying on her is your job, pardon my meddling" Minerva said, fighting the urge to laugh. "Oh, well...exercising you say...don´t you think those pants are a bit too..."

"I wouldn´t know"  Severus merely cocked an eyebrow, his eyes quickly glancing outside

"I do have to admit....Even in that crazy outfit she´s a very pretty woman. Maybe is the Black family blood in her, you think?" She sat down to take the cup Severus silently offered her.

"Again, Minerva. I wouldn´t know" He sipped his coffee and reached for his half smoked cigarette on a nearby ashtray

"Well, you were saying..."

 

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Evelyn made her way in, taking off her track jacket and hanging by the door. God, she needed this. Exercise, air, the nice feeling of her muscles warmed by blood flow, her cheeks flushed...energy spreading through her entire body. She missed that so much. It helped clear her mind, feel like the day ahead would be productive.

She had to admit tough, those woods where Spinner´s  End street ended were a a bit of an odd place for running...dark woods, completely silent if not for the sound of birds and other small animals...nothing but an unkempt dirt path that just looked a bit too shady to be walked on with a rested mind.. But then again, where in Cokeworth could she manage to find a decent stretch of land to jog? It seemed like half the town was dead and the other half did little more than work and sleep in Cokeworth, spending all of their free time in Manchester or Oldham...The only park in Cokeworth was populated with vagrants and less than trust-worthy characters... Not a whole lot of places to go if you wanted to exercise or just do anything at all. And the biggest animals roaming the woods were, apparently, foxes...all too uninterested in humans at that...Not that any human seemed to ever go there. Oh, well...it was close enough to home and the irregular terrain provided extra exercise. As for it being dangerous... Downtown Cokeworth probably posed more of a threat...

Water, God she needed water...She felt like she was about to melt, regardless of the chill outside. As she passed by the answering machine on the way to the kitchen Evelyn noticed she had messages. She pushed the button and went for the much needed glass of water in the kitchen.

"You have four messages" the mechanical voice filled the air around her.

"Oh, great. I decide to go out for one hour and the entire world decides to call..." she smirked, pouring some cold water on a glass as the first message played

"Hello, Ms Black. I´m calling from Richmond-Hill secondary school. We just took a look at the resumé you send, and we would like to know if you´d be available for an interview tomorrow morning. Please let us know. Good day"

"Second interview this week...not too shabby."

"Hey, love! Fin, here. Cat told me you just moved to Manchester? What are you doing in Manchester, woman? And how come your sister is the one who tells me? I was in Italy, they have phones there you know...Leaving for work now. Call me tonight? Love ya!"

As soon as she heard that voice, Evelyn walked back into the living room with a smile on her lips. Emmet...He insisted on being called Fin, short for Finnerty, his last name. His mother was the only one besides Evelyn who still called him Emmet. God, how long had it been since she last saw him? He was still going out with that Scotish bloke then...five months? She couldn´t even be sure...He was always working somewhere, and being a photojournalist meant he had to, quite literally, be where the news were. He was her best friend and yet they would spend months on end without seeing each other, only talking by phone... She missed those days they shared a little cramped apartment in Dublin, cramming for tests while drinking unholy amounts of coffee and whiskey. Evelyn could use having him around right now. She should at least leave him a quick message...

"Evelyn, this is your mother. You were supposed to call me last night. What happened? Do I really have to hear from you only through your sister? Call me."

"Oh, feck!" She cursed under her breath, kicking off her trainers and sitting on the couch. She was supposed to call her mother last night...Talking to Severus had her so distracted she completely forgot. Great, now she would have to call and spend at least an hour hearing nothing but incessant nagging about how much of an ungrateful and inconsiderate daughter she supposedly was... Never mind the fact that she had been living with her mother for the entire past year and doing everything for her...Irish Catholic mothers just never rested for as long as they could find something to nag their children till they made them tiptoe the brink of madness. Evelyn could bet Sophia was eager to let her know how much of a bad idea moving to England was, that it would have make her forget her family and get saddled with some good for nothing Englishman who wouldn´t marry her or worst would make her forget she was Irish... or any other impending "disaster" her mother´s melodramatic mind could imagine.

"Hi, Lyn. Richard speaking. Lewis told me you moved to England?Anyways...uh...just wondering if everything is ok. I´ll be in London next month, editor meeting, you know how that goes...Maybe we can catch up...Just...let me know how you´re doing, ok? Bye."

Evelyn took a deep breath. Richard...since their break-up he had called her very few times. They just drifted apart without much of a fuss...Even their split was bloody pathetic..they could at least a have had few arguments, like a normal couple...was it too much to ask? But no...Richard was too bloody civil even for that. A quiet break up and a few calls on Christmas and birthdays, that was Richard´s way of doing things...It was better like this, actually...Lat thing she needed right now was a clingy ex...Then what business did he have asking Lewis about her? No, it wasn´t that...It was Lewis who had run his mouth. It was just like him to do that.

Oh, well...she couldn´t be mad at Lewis, of all people... the man had been her editor for nearly a decade, a good friend,who cared about her almost as much as a father would...The first one to tell her her academic books could have a broader audience, the first one to trust she could write best-selling books that were also serious academic works. And she was the one who introduced him to Richard and convinced him to take a look at his first historical novel...Lewis had been there when Evelyn and Richard started dating, and he had been there when they broke up. Evelyn knew he cared deeply for both her and Richard. Maybe he imagined giving Richard some news of her whereabouts was no big deal...

Still, what could Richard possibly want with her now?As if her moving to England was some sort of big news he needed to call her about. He hadn´t even called when her father died, why now?

She reached for the phone and dialed her mother´s number absent-mindedly. The line was busy.

"Oh, typical Mrs. Black...calls me demanding I call her and when I do...she´s probably gossiping with some of her church-lady friends..." She sneered, dialling Emmet´s home number "Hey, Fin! Just got your message. Yeah, I´m living in Cokeworth. Just twenty minutes from Manchester. You´re gonna come see me some time, right? I´ll call you tonight and explain everything, ok?  Love you"

Evelyn took a deep breath, wondering if she should call Richard...But what was the point? They didn´t have anything to say to each other two and a half years ago, why should they bother to talk now? No, definitely better not to call. If he had anything important to say he´d call again. As soon as Evelyn hang up and moved to go upstairs for a much needed shower, the phone rang again.

"Hello..Oh, hi, mam...Mam, I JUST called you! I did!" Evelyn took a deep breath "Mam, I was about to take a shower, can you make it quick, please? No I´m not avoiding you..Mam...mam, listen..."

Evelyn shook her head, mentally rehearsing the perfect protest that would make her mother cut the conversation short and let her get in the shower. Oh, sod it, she would just tell her she had a job interview...fine it was just on the next day, but she didn´t have to know that. Half truths...they always work....particularly for overbearing parents.

 

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Minerva put her cup on the coffee table and took a deep breath. Severus had just given her a rather detailed report of the night before, including all the information he had gathered on Ms Black´s family and she was very much inclined to agree with him. Her grandfather had to be the very same Marius Black that had been disowned from the Black family in 1929 and never heard of again. A man called Marius Black, born in London, who left home at age 14...that box with the Black family coat of arms on it, Violetta Black´s letters addressed to him...There was no other explanation possible.

"So you believe her grandfather told her about the wizarding world...in the form of fairy tales?"

"Yes...rather cunning of him if I may say so..."

"But to what purpose?"

"That´s precisely what I was wondering...but I think I may have an explanation for that..."

"You do?"

"While I was there, Ms. Black decided to leave me alone for a second...to take a shower or something"

"With you there?"

"Well is not like I was in the bathroom with her, for Merlin´s sake...."

"Of course not. That´s not what I meant..." Minerva laughed softly

"Well, yeah... for somebody so smart she can be dreadfully trusting. She seems to have a bit of an obsession with cleanliness as well and couldn´t bear smelling of onions...silly woman..."

"Oh, you men just don´t get it do you?"

"Get what, Minerva?"

"Never mind, go on"

"Well, as I was alone in her living room I..." Severus was interrupted by soft knocks on the door.

 

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"Where on Earth is this silly cat? Always disappearing on me..." Evelyn munched on her sandwich, newspaper in one hand, glass of orange juice on the other, precariously toddling around on her pair or high heeled green pumps, straps still unbuckled, because she apparently had waken up with a death wish today.

She had a full day ahead of her, if she wanted to make room for that job interview in the next morning. Still had to drop her resumé on a couple more places, buy some more stuff the house still needed,take care of paperwork, look for some pots and seeds for the garden, find somewhere she could have the garden furniture restored, pick up a package Cat sent her since, for whatever reason the mail wasn´t delivered in Spinner´s End, which reminded here she still had to rent a post office box and she had to be back home by 4pm to get the new bookcase she had bough for the office upstairs, which she had yet to start organising...Her mother had kept her on the phone for more than half an hour, so she had to take the quickest shower she remembered taking since the days she used to wake up early and hangover for morning classes at college and have her breakfast while getting dressed...And Ciarán just up and disappeared.

"Of course... he´s gotta be in the backyard..." She walked out, swallowing a last sip of juice, completely forgetting to let go of the newspaper, and almost tripping on her shoe straps. She looked around, but as far as she could see there was nothing in the backyard except for the old rusty furniture and desolate dry bushes. She sat down on the bench to buckle her shoes before she fell flat on her face, cursing softly under her breath. Only then did she notice there was a pack of cigarettes laying there abandoned on the bench.

"How did...Oh, Severus. He must have left this here yesterday. Speaking of which...Maybe Ciarán is over there again. Well, it won´t hurt to ask..."

 

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"You better get that, Severus. It could be your neighbour..."

"You think?" He let out sardonically, walking towards the door

Minerva smirked, before returning to her animagus form, which caused Ciarán to jump from the couch and run to the other side of the room

"Great...surrounded with cats and all of them are out to torment me...I´m pretty sure I had a nightmare like this once"

"Hello!" He opened the door to find none other than Evelyn Black, as predicted. Smiling that broad and solar smile of hers, wearing a white and green paisley dress under a heavy jacket, back to wearing ridiculously high heels, and holding a newspaper in her hand . He didn´t know much about the Irish, but did they have any kind of tradition that forbid repeating an outfit or was it just her?

"Hello, Ms. Black. Can I help you?"

"You could stop calling me 'Ms. Black' for starters...as I asked you yesterday"

"I told you, I´d try" he forced a half smile

"Not trying hard enough are we?"

"I assume you´re looking for your cat?"

"Yes. He seems to like spending time with you..."

"Yeah, possibly...he´s right th..." before he could tell her where the cat was she walked in, not bothering to wait for an invitation,

"There you are you little..." Before she got to the corner of the room where a still suspicious Ciarán stood, the silver taby on the couch caught her attention "You never told me you had a cat!"

"What? Oh...no, that is...not my cat"

"Then...are you running a cat shelter or something like that?" she laughed

"She just...appeared..."

"Aw, is a she?" Evelyn walked over to the silver tabby, gently petting her head, causing Ciarán to jump around her a little, as if trying to get his owner´s attention "Shh, Ciarán, behave! She´s gorgeous...Poor thing must be lost, look at this fur, she´s well taken care of...What are you gonna do with her?"

"Don´t worry, she´ll...find her way..." Severus rolled his eyes, mildly annoyed. Bloody hell... was Minerva purring? The  Hogwarts´headmistress had made it her mission for the day to drive him bonkers, apparently.

"You´re taking her to a shelter?"

"I guess..."

Evelyn picked Ciarán up and walked back to the door, which Severus was still holding open, in a vain hope that it would make her leave more quickly. How foolish of him to trust her common sense.

"If only I didn´t have my hands full with this boy here, I might take her with me...She´s so lovely."

"Oh trust me...you don´t want her around you all day...you´d loose your mind in no time... " Minerva hissed softly, causing him to smirk "See?"

"Oh, well...Let me know what happens to her...and you left this in my backyard last night." She handed him the pack of cigarettes.

"So that´s where I left them. I knew I couldn´t be having a premature onset of Alzeimers just yet. Thank you."

"You´re welcome...Uh...I gotta get going...Oh, by the way..."

"Yes?..."

"I don´t know if it may interest you but..." she stood awkwardly, shifting on her feet "I noticed you have a small Salvador Dali poster over there...."

"Yes...it´s from...my student days" Severus let out quietly. It was a little replica of Dali´s "Persistence of memory" that he and Lily had gotten in a local book store when they went there to buy some comic books...he had just forgotten it was still on that silly looking picture frame on the shelf next to his history books. He and Lily would always go this old book store and snoop around the art books, making silly comments on pieces of modern art.

They had discovered Salvador Dali together and he quickly became their favorite. His works just had that fantastical, nonsensical quality about it, that appealed to a pair of young wizards growing up in the 70s, heads filled with magic and psychedelic fantasies. That day they had bought two little posters of "Persistence of memory", one for himself another for Lily...then they went back to Lily´s home, stole a couple of old clocks her mother didn't want anymore  and spend the rest of the afternoon trying to use magic to melt them so they´d look just like the picture.

"I see...Uh...I was reading the newspaper this morning and...there´s a Dali exhibition opening in Manchester this week. I thought it might interest you..." she handed him the newspaper

"Oh, I see...I...appreciate the thought, Ms. Black"

"I.. I gotta go now. Sorry for the inconvenience again. Bye!"

Severus closed the door and turned to the silver tabby cat leisurely sitting on his couch.

"You can stop now, Minerva" The Headmistress shifted back to human form, as he returned to his armchair

"Are you going?"

"Where?"

"This art exhibition..."

"Why should I?"

"Because you were just invited..."

"No, I wasn´t..."

"Don´t be silly, Severus...she just invited you..."

"Minerva, please..."

"All right. Be like this..."

"As I was saying...yesterday, as I was alone in her living room I found Marius Black´s box as you know...with the letters."

"Yes..."

"Minerva...I need to ask you a favour...I need you to check if Hogwarts ever sent an acceptance letter to the city of Doolin, in Ireland...adressed to a boy by the name of Paul Black...probably born in the late 50s or early 60s"

"Paul Black? Who is Paul Black..." Minerva´s clear eyes widened suddenly "..don´t tell me..."

"Evelyn Black´s older brother..."

Chapter Text

October, 6th

Blackrock, Dublin, Ireland

Emmet Finnerty´s apartment

 

It was Doug´s turn to cook tonight. Emmet didn´t know what had posessed him to agree to this " shared cooking " arrangement. Douglas was a  wonderful man of many qualities, but gastronomic talent wasn´t among them ; still Emmet couldn´t really bring himself to tell him that his cooking was just plain horrible. Not that Emmet was a regular chef de cuisine, but at least he could fry an egg without exploding anything...In any case  nobody could accuse him of being a man of little faith : he truly hoped that one day, with enough practice, Doug would learn. Evelyn´s mother even sent him some beginner cooking books and he had been studying them religiously. Emmet just hoped their kitchen would endure Doug´s practice without burning to the ground.

Emmet tried to focus on selecting the photos he was going to bring to the newsroom of the Irish Times the following day. Some silly segment on a new avant garde artist doing some run of the mill Irish-nationalism themed exhibition. He was as proudly Irish as anybody else, but if he saw one more artistic reference to the Potato famine or the Bloody sunday massacre of 1972, he was going to scream. Spreading the photos on his work table and ignoring the racket coming from the kitchen, Emmet tried to forget the phone that insisted on not ringing. Evelyn had left him a message this morning saying she would call in the evening. It was almost 9pm and nothing.... It wasn´t like him to treat her like a little girl who couldn´t take care of herself, but then again it wasn´t like her to just move out of the country without telling anybody.

The noise in the kitchen stopped for a second and he heard the door of the office open slowly behind him. He turned to see Doug standing there, wearing that silly t-shirt that read " warning : objects under kilt may be larger than they appear " which he insisted on wearing all the time, regardless of wether or not he was wearing a kilt. Doug looked at him seriously, lightly scratching his stubbly beard as he used to do whenever he was worried.

"Ready to order a pizza ? " Emmet smiled

" Very funny, Fin...Got a shepperds pie in the oven. Give it a chance, ye man of little faith. " Douglas smirked, his scottish accent coming out mockingly thick

" Please, don´t tell me you´re using Sophia´s recipe. It´s culinary suicide trying to duplicate her shepperds pie, unless your name is Evelyn or Caitlin....Must be a genetic thing...Ambition shall be your undoing. "

" Fin, love..Ambitin is my middle name. How do you think I made it as network producer? A simple shepperds pie shouldn´t be a problem for yours truly here "

" My God, you even suck at bragging... " Emmet laughed with gusto.

" Made you laugh at least...As for the recipe, don´t worry... Evelyn simplified that one for me last time she was here,remember ? "

"You know Evelyn´s idea of 'simple cooking' is way into Darina Allen territory, right ? "

" Douglas 'ambitious' Leigh, baby " he smirked " Speaking of the devil...has she called yet ? " Douglas walked over and took a seat next to him.

" No...not yet. I´m telling you, this is not like her at all... "

" What did her sister tell you, anyway ? "

" Some convoluted story about a family inheritance ...a house in England nobody knew about till now" Emmet pinched the bridge of his nose " The truth is...since her father died, Lyn has been a bit all over the place...Actually, scratch that, since her grandfather died...She broke up with Richard, then old Marius died, she went back to Doolin, then Marius Jr. Died, and there´s her sister´s ex-husband being a nuisance all the time...I swear, is like she hasn´t had a second of peace in these last two years. Now going to England because of some house inherited...Yeah, like I believe it... "

" You´re overreacting...Evelyn has more sense than you and I combined. So what she went to England ? Maybe Ireland wasn´t giving her what she needed...This will be a fresh new start for her, you´ll see. " Douglas gave his hand a gentle pat.

" I hope you´re right, but... " Emmet was interrupted mid-sentence by the sound of the telephone.

" Must be her. See ? Told you not to worry "Douglas smiled broadly and walked out as Fin hurriedly picked up the phone.

"Hello ? "

" Hi, Fin ! "

" About time, woman ! "

" Oh, no...not you too. I get enough crap from my mother about not calling her "

" I´m NOT your mother...which is precisely why I expect you to call me more often. "

" Ok, ok...point taken. But if it´s any consolation, you´re not the only one I haven´t been calling. Things have bee crazy "

" Yeah, it happens when you move out of the fecking country. How did THAT happen ? "

"Cat hasn´t told you ? "

" She told me something about a house your grandfather owned in England. How come nobody knew about that?And did you have to go an move into it ? "

" Are you sitting down ? If not, go ahead and take a seat, ´cause it will be a long story "

" Go for it... " Emmet let out, as a stream of Scottish curses came from the kitchen " I have the slightly feeling Doug will have to re-start dinner from scratch "

" Oh, so Doug is still living there ? "

" Oh, shut up. The way you say it, it makes me look like a manwhore. "

" Well, dear friend...There was a time... "

" Evelyn, what happened in the 80s stays in the 80s. Now about this mysterious house...I hope to God there´s at least one ghost there or something...Please make the story interesting "

---------------------

Doolin, Ireland

Sophia Black´s house

" I know, mam! " Caitlin let out an exasperated sigh. She has lost track of how many times her mother had corrected  her cooking. No matter how uncomplicated a mere Colcannon was, Sophia had to treat it like it was some sacred ritual. Even Evelyn who was a  better cook than Caitlin couldn´t escape the eternal bbossiness of their mother. Come to think of it, Evelyn probably was the reason her mother was so much more annoying tonight than she usually was. Since Sophia had called Lyn this morning she had been cranky...Caitlin had to wonder what they talked about. She turned off the stove and reached for the marinated salmon fillets, looking over her shoulder to check on her daughters.

Alice, age six, and Lizzie, age three had been sitting quietly on the kitchen table, working on some pictures to send to their aunt in England. If there was a winning combination for keeping the two girls quiet it was crayons, colored glue, glitter and the mention of Evelyn´s name. Ever since they had learned their aunt was going to live in another country, the two girls didn´t talk about anything else...They kept asking about England, about Manchester, about great-grandpa Marius´mysterious house and asking when was auntie Lyn going to invite them over to visit her there. Drawing a few pictures to send Evelyn so she could use them to decorate her new house was a sureproof way of getting them to sit down and focus while she cooked dinner. It was as if knowing those colorful drawings would be in Lyn´s house was almost as good as visiting her in person.

" How are auntie Lyn´s new pictures coming out ?"

" Look, mama ! " Lizzie beamed, raising her drawing above her head " I drew grandma´s house ! And this is me, and Alice, you, grandma and grandpa ! "

" Great ! " Cat let out faintly, looking at her mother´s pained expression. Lizzie knew her grandpa had gone to heaven, but at three years of age she couldn´t really see the problem in drawing him in a family picture. In her young mind, drawing him with a pair of wings hoovering over the house´s ceilling was enough of an adjustment.

" And you, Alice ? "

" Drawing the play we had at school... "she let out distractedly, her big brown eyes focused on the paper  " Auntie Lyn wasn´t there to see it. "

"Oh, that´s a very toughtful idea...Auntie Lyn will love both of them" Caitlin smiled, starting to prepare the salmon. She was all too aware of her mother hovering over her shoulder and walking around the kitchen like a restless spirit. " Is everything ok, mam ? "

Sophia looked deeply into her daughter´s hazel eyes with her crystalline blue ones in that same way she did when Cat was a child...That deep serious look that wrecked any attempt of lying or hiding anything. " The eye of Sauron " as she and Evelyn jokingly called it

"Have you talked to your sister ? "

" Yes, yesterday. You called her today, didn´t you ? "

" Yes "

" Then, what´s the matter ? "

" Nothing...But don´t you think is all too strange ? That house over there... "

" Yeah, it IS strange. Isn´t that precisely the reason Lyn is there ? To see what is up with that house and all ? "

" Then why do I get this uneasy feeling about the whole thing ? "

" Mam, please...Is not like Lyn has never lived away from home. Remeber the ten years or so she lived in Dublin ? "

" Dublin is not England. It´s another country, she doesn´t know anybody there...and their food is horrible...and this Cokeworth seems to be a hellhole, I heard they even have a serious gang problem there, is no place for a woman living on her own "

" Of course " Cat smirked " Poor Lyn is among barbaric Englishfolk... "

" Well, excuse me for worrying about my daughter. But yes, now that you mention, I´m not well at ease with any child of mine living in England, there I said it. "

" Sheesh, mam...England is just fine, she said Cokeworth is a perfectly livable place, she cooks her own food and there´s a neighbour right next door who seems like a perfectly good man...relax"

" A perfectly good man ? Then how come I haven´t heard of this perfectly good man through your sister ? "

" Oh, crap. "

" Mama, you said a bad word ! You need to put a coin in the jar ! " Alice told her seriously

" It´s ok, love. Mama has alread put a 20 pound note in there this morning, I got credit " she dismissed the child´s worries with a flick of wrist and turned back to her mother " Mam, you´re not gonna overreact about this, are you ? "

" Should I ? " Sophia raised a sharp eyebrow " Cat, who is this person and why hasn´t Evelyn told me about him ? "

"Maybe because you think English people are all godless barbarians who worship the devil and eat little kids? Besides he´s just a neighbour, what is there to tell ?"

" The English eat little kids, mam? " Lizzie turned to her with her green eyes wide as saucers, strawberry blonde waves bouncing about her face.

" No, stupid " Alice corrected her sister, tucking a lock of brown hair behind her ear and rolling her eyes "  these are ogres. The English are the ones who have funny hats and a queen instead of a president"

" Alice, don´t call your sister stupid, is not nice. And Lizzie, your sister is right : the ogres are the ones who eat little kids, not the English. Unless it´s an English ogre. Now will you let mam and gran talk, please?" Cat turned back to her mother, indignant " See what you make me do? Now my kid thinks the English are cannibals! "

" And who is this man anyways? " Sophia blurted out, taking over the frying pan and pushing Cat aside.

" Her neighbour! The person who lives next door to her. Should I draw a picture? " Cat let out, frustatedly, crossing her arms over her chest  " I think he´s the son of the woman she was looking for...Eileen something "

" ...and ? "

" What do you mean 'and'? Jesus, mom, he´s her neighbour and the son of the woman who owned the house next to grandpa´s house, what else do you want? "

" A name? Is he married, does he work...for all we know he could be a criminal "

"  I can´t believe you want to run a background check on the bloke who lives next door to Lyn " Caitlin rolled her eyes and tried to ignore her mother´s nagging " Ok, girls, enough drawing for now. Put everything away and help mommy with the plates, will you ? "

" Aunt Lyn has a boyfriend? " Lizzie let out, as Cat helped her with the papers and crayons

" I sure hope not " Sophia sneered from her corner of the kitchen, making Cat give her a nasty look

" Well, mam. I happen to think Lyn could use a new boyfriend. Time enough since the KeenanGate... and you are the one trying to run a background check on the very first man she runs into in Cokeworth, so who´s jumping the gun ? "

" So, auntie Lyn has an English boyfriend ? " Alice asked, seemingly amused by the concept, if only because it annoyed her grandmoter so much

" Is he an ogre? " Lizzie almost screamed, her face full of surprise

" Ok, now...NOBODY has a new boyfriend, English or not...unfortunately.  And mam, relax. I´m sure he´s not a criminal or a cannibal. In fact he seems like a perfectly fine gentleman and in the name of everything that is holy and sanctified : being English is not a character flaw ! Now please, can we try to act like a normal family and have dinner ?"

-------------------------------------------------

October, 7th

Dublin, Ireland

Ireland Times building, Tara St.

Emmet ran into the lift before the doors closed. He had just left the photos of the exibit with the editor of the culture section of the Ireland Times and now he had to meet with this woman who was about to launch a fashion event, and somebody had given her his number...Way across town in some fancy restaurant...might have to pick up something to eat on the way there if he didn´t want to starve. As the floor numbers passed by his eyes, Emmet´s mind drifted back to that bizarre conversation he had with Evelyn the night before.

Evelyn´s grandfather was English, everybody in Doolin knew that. Even though he was pretty much like everybody else and sometimes even acted more like a born and bred Irishman than many, everybody knew he was English. He had never completely lost his accent and the older people in town still remebered when he arrived in Doolin, a lonely and pale teenager with fathomless grey eyes, bringing nothing but a trunk and the clothes on his body...All people knew about his life before coming to Ireland was that he was from London and his family had been rich, or at the very least well off....He was too polished, too well-mannered. His way of carrying himself, his way of speaking, the things he knew about the world, the books he read, the music he listened to, the importance he gave to appropriate behaviour and manners...Not to mention he had obviously received an excellent education, he could do any sort of accounting with the same ease he discussed  politics and he even spoke French and some Latin...Nobody could understand how such a man would find himself in the Irish countryside, making a living as a fisherman, that is untill he got married to a local girl and took over his father-in-law´s grocery store.

There were people who swore he came from a noble family and had been disowned for reasons that ranged from falling in love with somebody he shouldn´t, to some sort of heinous crime, but none of such assertions was ever taken seriously by anybody who met old Marius in person. Emmet remembered going to school with Paul, Evelyn´s older brother, and visiting old Marius after classes to hear his amazing stories of wizards and witches. He had some strange books about magic too. As a child, Emmet was convinced old Marius was some sort of wizard or even a witchhunter.Growing up he saw he was an eccentric man, with unusual intellectual interests that only made him all the more interesting to converse with. Evelyn was a lot like him, actually...That same intellectual prowess, kindness and patrician aplomb. Maybe because old Marius was nothing short of the most decent and respectable man Emmet had ever met, his mysterious English past was never a question for him. Actually it was never a question for anybody. The Blacks were jokingly called 'The Royal family' by many of their friends, a number that included Emmet´s own family, and it wasn´t out of spite, but pure and simple respect : old Marius was nothing short of a perfect gentleman, as was his son Marius Jr, Evelyn´s father. Emmet couldn´t imagine Marius Black doing anything wrong or malicious, therefore he never wondered what had made him leave his country and come to Ireland. To him he was just Paul and Evelyn´s grandfather, who was elegant, polite, told fun stories and let them eat cakes with jasmine tea before dinner.

Maybe that was the reason that whole story about a house in Cokeworth, mysterious letters and a family tree with a coat of arms on it just sounded entirely too crazy. Emmet, just as everybody else, had become used to the idea that old Marius Black was a fixture of Doolin, as much as O´Connor´s pub or the Cliffs of Moher...Everybody knew he was English and yet nobody could imagine him being anything other that the proud Doolin citizen he had always been. Nobody wondered about his previous life.And yet, he had a previous life that not even his family knew anything about. Emmet couldn´t fault Evelyn for trying to discover more. He would do exactly the same thing if he were in her shoes. And he couldn´t shake the feeling that something was very wrong in all that. Maybe he´d have to do some investigating of his own. He was actually mildly offended that Evelyn hadn´t asked for his help. She probably wanted to go about it her own way...Oh, well. Emmet was a photojournalist...barging in uninvited was one of his greatest talents.

He looked down at his watch and realised he had plenty of time to stop for coffee. Walking out of the building, he slowed down his step when he heard a familiar voice calling his name. Emmet looked around and saw a tall, lean man with sandy blond hair and glasses, wearing a boring grey suit with an even more boring light blue shirt. He stopped, mildly annoyed. Richard Keenan. Evelyn´s embarrassment of an ex-boyfriend. Emmet thought he´d never see him again after he had voluntarily checked out of Evelyn´s life even as a friend. Alas, no such luck.

"Hey, Fin " Richard blurted out, walking up to him" Can I talk to you for a minute ? "

" Walk and talk, Keenan " Emmet rushed his step, forcing Richard to follow him

" Can we stop for coffee at least ? "

" I gotta run. "

" Five minutes. "

" Well, you´re just gonna follow me around till I say yes, aren´t you? Ok, fine. Coffee is on you and make it quick "

Emmet leisurely strolled towards the nearest coffee place and chose a table, never bothering to see wether Richard was following him or not. A waiter approached them as they sat down and handed them two menus. Emmet quickly glanced over the list of coffee based beverages and pointed out the most expensive on the list, without much caring what it was...something with amarula, chocolate and whipped cream with some pseudo-French name that cost ludicrous 15 pounds.

" Actually, make it two...Handsome here is paying " he smirked " And please make it to go. This won´t take long "

"Can you please, stop the shenanigans?"

"Oh, please, Keenan. You pretty much stalked me all the way to work, and you dare call shenanigans on me? Least you can do is get me a lousy cup of coffee for my troubles..."

" I didn´t stalk you. We used to be friends. Remember? I know where you usually work and I had to talk to you. Enough with the scene "

" Well said, we USED TO BE friends.  And yet, here you are, for reasons you and I both know well. Now just go ahead say what you came here to say, because I know you´re not here on account my lovely eyes and charming personality"

Richard took a deep breath and rested his elbows on the table, nervously entwining his fingers over the tabletop. " Lewis told me Lyn moved to England. "

" Then Lewis has a big mouth...so what ?  Were you expecting to be invited to the open house party?"

" I called her yesterday....she never answered. I´m worried. I just wanted to know if she´s doing ok over there "

"Worried ?...So, suddenly you care? Interesting it only took you two years to develop that ability. Quite remarkable if you ask me..."

"Ok, fine. " Richard´s grey eyes narrowed, his voice taking on a venomous tone " I got your point, I´m a jerk. Spare me the outraged gay friend routine."

" Well, first : yes you´re a jerk, glad to know we can agree on something. " Emmet lowered his voice almost to a hiss as the waiter came back with their drinks " Second : I´m not gonna give you the 'outraged gay friend routine' as you call it because I´m in the middle of a work day and quite frankly, it´s not worth the trouble. So what are we doing here anyway, other than wasting time? "

" Finnerty, I don´t want to argue about wether or not my behaviour with Lyn was appropriate...we´ve been over that... " Richard took his glasses off, his eyes boring into Emmet´s " But damnit, I care about her. I just want to know if she´s ok!"

"Why wouldn´t she be? Just because she moved? What does that ever have to do with you? You didn´t even call her when her father died, remember ? Now that she moved to England you´re suddenly concerned?"

" She moved out of the country without giving anybody an explanation. Don´t tell me you weren´t worried as well ! "

" Correction : she moved without giving YOU an explanation. As well she shouldn´t. The world doesn´t fecking revolve around you, Keenan !Now, please stop this, for you own sake, just stop. Do you even realize how that makes you look, asking ME about Lyn? What are we ? In High School ? Do yourself a favour and get over it. Thanks for the coffee, by the way" Emmet grabbed the disposable cup, closed it with the lid and stood up to leave when Richard reached for his arm.

" I know what you think about me, but believe it or not I care about her. "

Emmet roughed removed his arm from his grip and walked away, without even bothering with an answer. Silly Richard really had fooled himself into thinking he cared about anyone other himself, the poor man.

-----------------------------------------

Lewis Murray´s office, St Stephen´s Green

Lewis Murray leaned over the papers that lined his work desk, pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, and ran his fingers through his white mane of hair. New author´s letters, novel chapters, editorial correspondence, notes, books...he could barely figure out how he kept track of it all... And yet,  the massive mess of papers piling up in his office always managed somehow, to find some type of organisation, almost as if by magic. Method in chaos. But today he knew he wasn´t going to find what he wanted there: The latest chapter of Richard Keenan´s new novel, the first one after he and Evelyn had broken up. Lewis didn´t really want to think Richard´s slow process had anything to do with it...After all, two years had passed by since they had separated, he should be over it by now.

Richard was the kind of author Lewis had the most trouble dealing with. Not that Lewis couldn´t handle the eventual moody intellectual...in fact, he lived for this kind of challenge...It was not that. Richard was actually a method writer, the kind of author who would always have at least ten pages to show for any given meeting. But he was insecure...too insecure for his own good. He still remembered when Evelyn had asked him to read one of Richard´s novels, and give him an honest opinion. Lewis read it and his honest opinion was : Richard Keenan is a man of genuine literary talent. Lewis decided to edit his books because he truly believed they had solid quality writing. But somehow, Richard himself, never seemed to believe it.

Lewis couldn´t fault him for feeling a little bit insecure, at least on what concerned their professional relationship. Lewis and Evelyn had a long history working toegether. He had read her first book " Witchtrial in Ireland " almost a decade ago and had fallen in love with her work. A historian with legitimate professional credentials who could write a deep historic research that read as pleasantly as novel.She was Lewis´ Holy Grail. For years he had pursued the dream of making academic works more appealing to a broader audience without having to dumb them down and Evelyn Teresa Black was exactly what the doctor prescribed : a young and compentent historian, who was pretty and charismatic enough to make readers want to buy her books even if they had no interest whatsoever in history.  Lewis had hunted her down and badgered until he got her to be one of his authors. Actually she became his 'pet author ', the apple of his eye... a best selling academic writer....Over time she also became a dear friend. Evelyn had a way with people, particularly her elders and figures of authority...maybe because she was so close to her father and grandfather, and growing up with an older brother, she just had this way of making people do her bidding without even noticing, that innefable and dangerous charm some women have that makes men think they are in charge, when in reality they are just being bossed around, and happily...A talent typical of daddy girls like her.

She was the one that introduced Richard to Lewis. She was the one who helped him get a a deal with a major publishing house. She was the one who helped him with the research of his most successful books, she even booked his meeting and events... Richard just couldn´t deal well with the fact that Evelyn was the one helping his career. His girlfriend acting as his manager proved a bit too much for somebody with his insecurity issues. He couldn´t see her as a partner, who loved him and wanted to make his talent aknowledged. Instead he started to feel emasculated by her. And that blinded him to the fact that Evelyn genuinely tought he was a good writer and wanted him to be sucessful, even if she had a little bit of an overbearing way to go about it.She couldn´t help it, Evelyn suffered from what Lewis liked to call "super-mummy syndrome ", she just felt like she had to always take care of everybody she loved. But Richard didn´t see things this way. At some point he started to see her a competition...She had more charisma than he did, more contacts than he did, her books sold more than his occasionally... mostly because her books were targeted to a very specific audience, while he was competing in a much larger niche. She was a medieval historian, he was a novel writer...there was no comparison, but he failed to understand that, and eventually  pushed her out of his life, both emotionally and professionally.

And that´s what worried Lewis. After the break up, Richard had become erratic...Evelyn helped him focus. He was a bit of an airhead intellectual, having her around to help with the most practical aspects of his professional life had been a blessing to him, but now he even had trouble meeting his deadlines, something that never happened before. Lewis didn´t know if it was because he still loved her and wasn´t over the clumsy break-up, or if he needed Evelyn around to manage his professional life. But regardless, he better shape up and do something about it.

The phone rang and Lewis distractedly hit the speakerphone .

" Mr. Keenan is here. "

" Let him in, thank you "

Lewis looked up from the mountain of papers to see a slightly dishevelled and more than slightly tense Richard make his way in, his long limbs looking even ganglier than usual as he walked   up to his desk briskly.

" Well, you don´t look too good... "

" I´m fine, Lewis. "

" Anything I can do for you, son ? "

" Yes " Richard sat down " I know I already asked you to postpone my deadline... "

" Richard, please...When was the last time you actually met a deadline ? Is there anything you want to tell me ? "

" No, is just... "

" I knew I shouldn´t have told you about Evelyn moving... "

" This has nothing to do with Evelyn "

" Richard, don´t even. I know you well enough... "

" It´s not. At least not in the way you think. "

" Oh, do enlighten me...What is the 'way I think' ? "

" I know you think I somehow need Evelyn to hold my hand through the whole process... "

" I don´t think that...But I´m starting to think you do "

" Lewis... " Richard sighed, and his voice became a whisper " ...I miss her.I really do and it has nothing to do with 'the process' "

" It´s been two years, Richard. I tought you were seeing someone else "

" I was...but... I don´t know what´s happening to me, I just keep thinking about her lately..."

" You know what your problem is ? " Lewis told him in a soft, almost paternal, tone " You need to trust yourself a little more. Evelyn always trusted you, and that was exactly the reason she was always on your case about being confident, going out there and making things happen. And since you don´t have her around to tell you this, you feel like you need her back. But is time you stop relying on other people to convince yourself you have genuine talent. You´re a big boy for Christ´s sake "

" Is not just that. That´s not the only reason I´ve been thinking about her....You know I...I screwed up everything with her. I know I did. I can´t help but think that, I should make things right somehow. I wanted us to be friends and I know I haven´t exactly been a good friend to her...with everything she´s been going through "

" Great. Then call her, look for her if you want...Say you´re sorry about everything, say you want to be there for her as a friend, talk this out...but, please move on. Trust me, whatever it is that happened between the two of you, she´s over it...it´s time you are too "

Chapter Text

October, 7th

Cokeworth, England

The newspaper Ms. Black had brought him laid on the couch, exactly where he had left it the day before. Severus picked it up, sipping his coffee distractedly. Salvador Dali....This brought back memories. He could still remember the scent of new books in that bookstore downtown where he and Lily would spend hours on end at least once a week. It was a small shop that also sold comic books, posters and art prints, a local landmark that had closed just like so many small businesses in Cokeworth did when the mill was closed. In the 80s Cokeworth became a ghost town. Without the mill there was nothing left for more than half the townspeople who depended on it directly or indirectly. The ones who were better off and had jobs in Manchester or Oldham fared better, but it took the city as a whole almost a decade to start getting back on its feet. And even now, Cokeworth was still nothing to be praised. Still a half-dead filthy town living on the shadow of Manchester.

But when he and Lily were children things weren´t as bad. They weren´t good either, but one could live. They´d play in the park near the church, under the watchful eye of Father Thomas. Lily´s family was anglican and moderately practicing while the Snapes had never bothered with religion at all, seen as his parents were more often than not too busy arguing and assaulting each other to care about something as superfluous as spirituality. But even tough neither of the children was a part of his congregation Father Thomas had always been kind to them. As he was to all the kids who played in that park. And concerned...Good grief, the poor man was always worried...Always asking them if their parents knew where they were(as if Severus´  parents would even care), and warning them not to stay out too late...sometimes he´d invite them to events at the church. Nothing religious, just little parties and get togethers...Severus´ mother had gotten most of his toys from Father Thomas´ toy drives...Used toys other children didn´t want anymore, but Eileen always commented on how Father  Thomas made sure they were clean and in perfect state. But back then Severus didn´t care much about his kindness...he didn´t care much about anybody that wasn´t Lily, really. Even as an young man, whenever he ran into the priest, the two barely exchanged two words, if that much...Severus wondered if  he was still in that church. It had been so long since he last saw him, maybe some ten years...He probably was...When Severus was a child, Father Thomas was barely in his forties, a blond and stocky dynamo with bright blue eyes.

Whenever Severus and Lily weren´t busy running amok the park driving the good Father to the brink of insanity or exploring the woods near Spinner´s End, they´d be in that little bookshop. They hardly ever bought anything, except the occasional cheap comic book or postcard,  but the people who worked there saw nothing wrong with letting two moderately well behaved children sit around and snoop around the books. Thinking back that might have contibuted to their running out of business...those people were too bloody nice to non paying-costumers. Their art section was Severus and Lily´s little private paradise. The books were big and printed in nice paper, with gorgeous hardcovers. They never bothered with the text but the pictures...oh, the pictures...They ate them all up. Their favorite pasttime was ignoring the titles and trying to make alternative stories for the pictures. Goya´s "Saturn eating his children" became a horrible ogre plaguing a medieval village, until it was defeated by Anthony Van Dyck´s "Equestrial portrait of Charles I"; Van Gogh´s "Starry night over the Rhone" became a nightly party of fairies celebrating the wedding of their queen and Renoir´s "Luncheon at the boating party" was an ever changing collection of short stories that developed into a true novel with so many twists and turns Severus could barely remember them all. He couldn´t supress a small laugh at the thought of the dreadfully silly stories the nude paintings inspired, and how uncomfortable he was when puberty approached and they started to get to him...Maybe Severus should have tried to  access his father´s dirty mags more often... The Spaniards proved to be the best providers of wild storytelling inspirations,tough... Dali and Goya in particular...both of them had been the source of the most flamboyant fantasy and horror stories Severus and Lily could think up.

Severus lost track of how many hours he and Lily had spend looking at those art books...then they´d come home and scribble the stories they had made up in loose sheets of paper, complete with drawings. Sometimes they bought little postcard-sized reproductions and cut them up to make collages. For some reason he had never cut up his little reproduction of Dali´s "Persistence of memory". Sometimes they´d even roleplay the stories in Lily´s backyard. They´d create worlds together...and Severus was sure they´d spend the rest of their lives creating worlds...creating their own world, just for the two of them...a world filled with adventure, joy and...love. Even as a child he dared imagine it... Alas, it was not to be. That old bookstore had disappeared almost at the same time as  his dreams and hopes of love. 1980. Lily had married James Potter...Severus came back to Spinner´s End on the eve of their marriage in a masochistic quest to walk the places of their childhood. The bookshop had a « closed » sign on it...Through the filthy glass windows he could see the empty bookcases inside, filled with nothing but dust...Their kings, princesses, monsters and knights gone...never to return.

He looked down at add for the Dali Exhibition. It had opened the day before. "Dali and his time".....what a very mundane and cliché approach for such an unique artist. But these types of chronologically linear exhibitions often provided the viewer with a very informative and relaxing experience. Which might be precisely what Severus needed right now.

---------------------------------

Manchester

Being a wizard living among muggles certainly had many advantages. No need for cars or public transpotation for starters. Severus had quickly changed into a more presentable outfit and apparated to an alley, just a block away from the museum. No more than five minutes. Of course that wouldn´t save him from having to walk among a nerve-wrecking crowd of  muggles on his way from that little dark alley to the museum. Severus looked around, measuring the people around him from head to toe...He should have predictited the wave of young and loud muggleswearing washed jeans, oversized sneakers and abhorrently coloured, ill fitting t-shirts...And the children...Oh dear Merlin, the children. Of course a simplistic "artist and his time" exhibition would actract families desperate to forcefeed their rebelious brats some culture and youngsters desperate to look smarter than they really were.Should have known better. Severus observed the handful of children running amok in the lawn just ouside the museum. What wouldn´t he and Lily have given to be brought to the Museum more often when they were that age. Alas, Lily´s father had almost no free time on his schedule, working as an accountant for some company in Manchester Severus never cared to know anything about, and her mother wasn´t all too keen on anything remoted related to culture...and even if she was, there would never cross her mind to bring him along with her daughters.It was enough that she let him into her house...almost as if he was a little bug she couldn´t keep outside just by closing the windows. She surely saw the act of letting him in her house as an immense gesture of kindness and charity on her part. Everytime she opened the door for him, Severus could almost hear her mentally congratulating herself for being generous to the point of allowing the kid from Spinner´s End to breathe the same air as her family. As for Severus parents. He was often more confortable when they just forgot about him.. It was less of a hassle.

"Here we are" he stopped at the front desk in the entrace hall where a plump blonde receptionist gave him a brochure and pointed him to the ticket office. Absentmindedly, he paid for the ticket and ignored her instructions, merely nodding and walking forward...Why do museum employees always assume every single visitor is a bumbling barbarian who never set foot in a museum and needs to be guided like a semi-retarded, half-paralysed toddler?

He passed by the line of posters at the entrance hall and walked into a smaller hall where an oversized screen showed a documentary. He needed no more than a few seconds to loose interest and walk to the next room. A biographical documentary...what a very imaginative way to open an art exhibition. Severus started to wonder if the curator had purposely organised this for high-schoolers...He couldn´t think of any other explanation for that big tv showing information that anybody with half a brain could easily find in any encyclopedia. Were muggles so lazy that they needed to be spoonfed the fact that Salvador Dali was born in Catalonia, had been the leading figure of the Surrealist movement, had lived through the two great wars in adition to the Spanish Civil war, married a woman named Gala and died of heartfailure in the late 80s ? God forbid one had to actually study something when you can just let a tv set do your hard work for you.

He had to admit, tough, that the selection of paintings was superbe. Of course they were arranged in a predictable chronological order, but he had to give the curator his or her due share of credit on managing to bring so many important originals. He or she must have some valuable contacts with other museums. Severus let the sound of his own footsteps lul him into a state of mindless relaxation, as the familiar pictures paraded in front of his eyes, each single one an old friend. Severus and Lily had made up little stories for so many of them, used so many of them in little collages that decorated his bedroom, and most of them were still there, in his boyhood bedroom, which he never had the heart to change since his teenage years. He couldn´t help but get this odd feeling inside his chest at the sight of the originals, hearing the whipers of his distant childhood into the echo of his own steps on the marble floor.

He distractedly paced about for some twenty minutes before deciding to move on to the next room. It was a darkened room with yet another TV set. Severus rolled his eyes...This would be a constant theme wouldn´t it ? Noticing he´d have to go pass by that room in order to move on to the next part of the exibition, he decided to just walk through it. A wise decision considering what the tv set was showing...nonsensical animation shorts, supposedly inspired by Dali´s work. Severus was now pretty certain the curator was trying to reach out to younger audiences and desperately so...He let his eyes get used to the darkness so he could find a way out through the rows of foldable chairs that would´t disturb the very few souls brave (or stupid) enough to sit through that siliness. But as he looked around something, or rather someone, familiar caught his attention. Sitting on the front row and apparently very engrossed by the whimsical animations was none other than Evelyn Black.

Severus narrowed his eyes, trying to get a better look in the semi-darkness lit by the ghostly white light of the screen. There was no mistake. He had known her for a week, but that Greek profile framed by waves of thick brown hair was unmistakable. He looked around and noticed there was a row of chairs proped against the wall, turned sideways so whoever sat on them would get a good view of the screen. He walked over and sat on one of them, a seat that gave him a perfectly clear vantage of the woman sitting a few feet away. He smirked under his breath. Was she really interested in this collection of little pretentious art-school animations? He expected more of her. Severus looked at her from head to toe with the same critical interest he would have looked at one of the statues in the Greek-Roman section of the museum....and in fact under the light of the screen she looked like she could very well be one of them.

It was truly remarkable how even a Black who was raised in complete ignorance of her origin would still have that aura of pride common to all members of the family...the way she sat, chin up, shoulders back, her spine almost perfectly straight, feet one in front of the other forming a graceful angle with her legs and hands lying neatly on her lap...Any ettiquette teacher would praise her poise. Maybe the Black family was right when they professed having a natural sense of the aristocratic running in their very veins.She was a placid picture of an enthroned Juno...at least to the untrained eye. Severus lips curled into a quiet smile...She was restless...he could see her high heeled right foot tapping the floor ever so slightly...she checked her watch discreetly and looked over to the door on the other side of the room. Poor Ms. Black...She was probably bored to a near catatonic state, and yet was entirely too proud to just stand up and leave the room. It would hurt her sense of intellectual self worth : a true academic would never under any circumstance admit to be bored by a cultural event, particularly such an avant-garde one. Typical Black pretentiousness. Or maybe she just needed a seat, Severus mused, looking at her heels...how tall were those things? Five inches at the very least. Crazy woman.

The credits started to roll and the lights were turned on, signaling for the people inside to move along to the next room so the video could be re-started for the next batch of sleepy-eyed visitors to have their love of art crushed by a collection of experiments of visual torture in the form of videotaped watercolor animation. She stood up and reached for her red trenchcoat and handbag, carelessly abandoned on the empty chair next to her, the soft shade of pink of her dress making her stand out against the dark blue walls and white chairs.

Well, time to be a good neighbour and go say hello, he tought to himself, walking up to her.

"Severus !" She beamed at him, before he could even utter a single word. He noticed her moving forward slightly, probably to shake his hand or give him that customary kiss on the cheeks women like her loved to use for greetings. He kept a certain distance, left hand inside his pocket, his coat over his right arm, holding the exibition brochure on his free hand. That seemed to discourage Ms. Black´s sudden display of familiarity, as she took a step back, smiling uneasily. "Nice to see you here."

"Likewise. I should thank you for letting me know about this.I wasn´t aware we would be treated to a little cinematic experience in adition to the art exibition" he told her as they entered the next exibition room, leisurely looking at the paintings.

"Oh, dear...what was the curator thinking ? That was atrocious !" she rolled her eyes, a husky and low little laugh escaping her lips.

"I could swear you were enjoying yourself." Severus raised an ironic eyebrow

"You know when you´re driving down the road and there´s a  nasty car crash ahead...and you just can´t help yourself ?" she smirked, he tone filled with a certain acidity Severus quite enjoyed.

"I understand completely. In fact morbid curiosity and a desire to look at tragic carwrecks was half the reason I became a teacher."

"That´s mean." she laughed softly, her voice getting slightly higher as she ran a hand through her mane of mahogany hair. Evelyn Black was one of those women to whom flirting came so naturaly they didn´t even notice they were doing it. He had to wonder how many of her students had fallen for her over the years...Annoying as she could be, Severus imagined the number would be quite significant. Amused, he decided to play along.

"Oh, please, Ms. Black. You´re a teacher. Don´t try to convince me you never enjoyed yourself with the pathetic and pointless endeavours of incompentent students. Nobody can possibly be that nice."

"Well, I don´t flaunt it."  There was something almost snarky in her tone. Yes, definetly he was in for an entertaining afternoon.

"Fair enough. Speaking of students...Those animated atrocities...really? Whose brilliant idea was it to add student movies to a Dali exhibition ?..."

"I know, right ? That was awful. But I guess I can understand what the curator is going for... "

"And what would that be ? Brain damage experimentation without consent?"

"You´re a horrible man, you know?"

"I´ve been told." Why was he smiling?

"What I mean is...look around. How many people under 30 do you see ? Not counting kids with their parents, of course. I can see why the curator went for something that might appeal a younger audience..."

"If that´s what it takes to grab the attention of the young, it´s no wonder being an educator can be such an ordeal."

"Oh, don´t be like this. You´re here aren´t you?"

"Only because I happen to like the artist."

"Dali is good enough a reason to leave the house for anything." she looked around and sighed "This brings back some memories..."

"How so?"

"Well...You see, we don´t have a museum in Doolin. Sometimes my father would take us to Limmerick or Dublin so we could visit a museum. Most of the time we had to settle for his art books... » she took a small pause, laughing softly for no appearent reason « You know what used to do ? My brother and I would get my father´s books and look at the pictures, completely ignoring the titles and..."

"...make up stories." he let out flatly, the torrent of childhood memories coming to mind again.

"Yes!Don´t tell me you did that too ?"

"Well... " Severus felt dazed for a second "is what children do, right ? Make up stories...make belief..."

"Dali was one of our two favorites..."

"Let me guess the other..."

"I doubt you could... "

"Goya."

"Well, Mr. Snape. Aren´t you a mind reader?!"

"You have no idea.» he told her seriously. She looked at him, those eagle-like golden brown eyes wide almost as if for a split second she had truly believed her could her mind. "This one was easy enough. You were fascinated with magic and witchcraft from a very early age...you told me so yourself. Very few artists depicted the theme as prolifically and powerfully as Goya."

"Of course" as that a small sigh of relief he heard under her smoky contralto ? "You know they managed to bring the original 'Persistence of memory' from New York."

Severus´heart skipped a beat. His mind raced back to that hazy summer afternoon...In Lily´s backyard, trying to melt those clocks under the orange light of a 5 o´clock sun...her crystal-clear laugh, the smell of grass and melted rubber...the screams of her mother berating them about the danger and the awful smell of burnt rubber...They had missed the spell and hit a couple of old tires that Lily´s father had made into swings...running out that huge hole in the backyard fence to go to the playground near the church and regroup after the failure, while sharing the only ice cream cone the loose change he had on his pocket allowed them buy...For a moment he felt like his legs would fail him.

"Are you ok ?" he snaped out of his reverie and looked at Ms. Black. Her face was filled with so much concern he had to wonder wether his mind had given out for a second.

"Yes" He quickly regained his composure and smiled weakly at her, hoping this would keep her from asking too many questions

"Are you sure ?"

"Yes, I just spaced out for a second...I told you those godawful animations could cause brain damage"

"I guess" she breathed out, her face still tense, eyes still looking for any signs of discomfort on him.

"Well...in what room is 'Persistence of memory' displayed?"

 

--------------------------------------------------

Severus Snape never ceased to amaze her. Evelyn looked at the tall, gangly, thin man dressed in black from head to toe. They had been talking for over an hour now, about Dali, about Goya, about art in general. He spoke of the paintings with the expertise of a critic and the passion of an aficionado. The words came out of his thin lips in a soft and clear baritone that was pleasant to the ear and commanded attention, even if he spoke quietly...he probably knew how to make himself heard without having to raise his voice at all. The piercing dark eyes, the pianist hands with long fingers that gesticulated in an elegant and contained manner,  the proud instance and confident gait, the stylized face with sharp jawline, heavy eyebrows and hooked nose framed by curtains of unkept black hair...She couldn´t help but try to imagine how he would be in the classroom....Severus had an aura about him, almost as if he had walked out from the pages of a  manuscript, the picture of a medieval scholar, buried in his Spinner´s End house among rows and rows of books until somebody bold enough could get a word out of him and then...marvel. She drank in every single word he said as if it was a fine cherry : rich in tone, full of meaning.

Very few times in her life Evelyn had been this impressed by the intellectual prowess of a man. She was an academic, conversing with intellectuals and bright minds was not news for her. But there was something deeper about Severus Snape...There was something about him that didn´t reek of reharsed intellectualism, that didn´t taste of pretentiousness...He was obviously proud of his knowledge and inteligence, as he should be, but he didn´t come across as trying to prove it. He spoke little and appropriately, he chose his words carefully, his facial expressions were austere, with a hint of a smile sometimes appearing under the harshness of his appearance. There was something almost stately about him, a mixture of a spartan demeanour and economy of expression with an obvious sense of pride that would have felt like entirely ostentatious in any other man, but just plain suited him.

They had seen the entire exibition and all the other collections... Evelyn didn´t feel the time pass. She didn´t even know what time was it as they came down the stairs leading back to the entrance hall, still engaged in a lively discussion about art before the rise of the third reich in Germany when she felt the floor disappear from under her feet. She had been so distracted, going on and on about the political implications of censorship in art under Nazi rule that she never paid any attention to where she was stepping. She felt her right foot turn sideways, the left one finding no support as her body fell into the void leaving her no time to think or reach for support. But before gravity pulled her to the ground shattering her dignity, if not some bones, Evelyn felt a hard yank around her waist pulling her backwards until she landed on her behind hard enough to make her moan in pain. When the walls around her stopped spinning, the first thing she felt was the smell of cigarrettes and oak moss eveloping her even before her eyes met with Severus´dark ones, his face only a few inches from hers. Only then she saw he had his arm around her and both had fallen down. She looked down the stairs ahead of them, and gasped at the thought that, had she fallen fowards, she might very well have gotten seriously injured or worse. If not for his reflexes... Evelyn felt so utterly stupid...she never triped on high heels, and surely not in public. NEVER. It was apoint of honor with her. Anybody who wore heels as high and as frequently as she did, better not fall with them least they endure a torrent of emabarrassing 'I told you so 's. She was still mentally kicking herself whe she heard Severus hiss audibly.

"Are you ok ?" she reached for his shoulder as he lowered his head and held his left wrist on his hand, grimacing in pain "Oh, my God, your hand ! Did you hurt your hand ?"

"It´s fine."

"No it´s not !" She yelped, suddenly remebering that he had serious injuries on that hand, precisely the one he had used to cushion their fall. She awkwardly reached for it, almost falling from the step where she was sitting, the inept maneuver pushing her skirt up in such a way she couldn´t decide wether she covered her legs or avoided a new fall.

"Be careful!" Severus sneered

"Here, miss. Let me help you" another male voice came from above her

She looked up to see an older gentleman offering her a hand to stand up. Evelyn took it, feeling her face go crimson with shame...everybody was looking at them. Actually, they were looking at her. She was the one who managed to fall down a flight of stairs and almost flash a whole crowd of museum-goers. Evelyn looked over at Severus who was pulling himself up with much more ease and grace than her. She thanked the other man and turned back to her neighbour

"I´m so sorry ! I´m not usually this clumsy." She told him timidly, taking off her shoes just to be safe.

"It could happen to anyone."  He told her seriously, as they made their way down "particurlarly to anyone with your taste in footwear."

"Excuse me?"

"Frankly I don´t see what you mug.." he stopped himself for a second and Evelyn turned to him raising a suspiscious eyebrow "what you women women find so enticing about high heels...they are unpractical and even dangerous. And is not like you even need them."

"Well, I happen to like them. But seeing as you saved me from breaking my neck, I´ll let that one slide" She smiled, faintly amused at his display of typical male ignorance...Men, they just don´t get some things and there´s no helping them.

"Precisely: you just proved my point. You could have broken your neck." His tone was a very odd mix of concern and triumph...she could swear he was about to throw that dreaded ' I told you so' her way "besides, what aesthetical purpose do this monstrosities serve anyway?"

"Montrosities is a bit harsh, no? Is not like my feet are bound or anything.»

"I don´t see how comparing this to some extreme form of Chinese body modification makes high heels any less silly. I still fail to understand why standing with your feet stuck on little thin 5 inch sticks is anywhere near reasonable. "

"I never claimed it was reasonable. They make your legs look better, that´s it. Quit trying to apply logic to it" She let out softly, amused at his vendetta against fashionable female footwear.

"You don´t need that...you have prefectly fine..uh...I mean, it´s pointless." He frowned and shut his thin lips tight, in obvious frustration. Evelyn smiled...was he trying to give her a compliment ? He wasn´t very good at that, was he ? Was this the dignified scholar who was just discussing art and history with her ? Somehow he suddenly looked like an awkward teenarger with little experience with girls.

"You know what? Since you saved my life I´ll pay you a cup of coffee...The museum has a little cafe and I need to sit down for a while anyway.God, I hope I haven´t broken the heels on these"

---------------------------------------------------

"Well, heels are intact, thank God." Evelyn let out with a sigh of relief, enjoying the way Severus rolled his eyes at her as the waiter came back with their coffe.

"That´s what you´re worried about?"  he sneered over his cup of black coffee.

"Are you kidding me?"  She laughed "These are my favorite pumps. Louboutins and the collection is not even being sold anymore."

"Do you have any idea how vain that makes you sound?"

"Absolutely vapid." she smirked

"You take pride in that?"

"No, not pride...Just amusement. You should see your face, right now. Is absolutely hilarious."

"Oh, you were mocking me...I see, well played."

"Mocking is too strong a word. 'Teasing' would be more appropriate." Severus shook his head lightly, a wry smile curving his lips. Evelyn was almost used to his dry sense of humour by now, and she was starting to like it. "Besided you dug yourself into a hole here, dear friend : never criticise a woman´s shoes. Particularly when they are Louboutins that cost over 200 pounds. It´s suicidal."

"Over 200 pounds?" He almost gasped

"Well...they were on sale."

"And you expect me to not find it ridiculous ? I could eat a week on that budget."

"You don´t eat very well, do you?"

"I´m a single male. I suppose I do not require as high maintenance as you do."

"Ouch ! Aren´t we snarky ? For what is worth...these are the most expensive shoes I own. I don´t make a habit of buying 200 pound pumps every other day. I just...needed them at the time." She bit her lower lip and shifted on her seat. No she wasn´t about to let a virtual starnger know that she had been self medicating her depression with expensive shoes.

"You needed 200 pound shoes ? You and I have very different definitions of what needs are."

"You see Severus, I can understand that one could eat for a whole week on a 200 pound budget. But that doesn´t mean you don´t deserve better. Sometimes indulging a little can be good for the heart...We all need bare basics, but that doesn´t mean we don´t deserve a little more...that we don´t need more than what we get."

"Are we still talking about shoes here, Ms Black?"

"Evelyn, please. And no...I don´t think we are, are we?"

"I have to say I admire a woman who can turn a conversation about shoes into an existencialist reflection."

"Wait till you see me drunk."

"That´s a fearsome prospect."

"You strike me as a brave man."

"Not brave enough to deal a drunken Irish intellectual who wears footwear that can poke one´s eyes out."

"You make sound less like a woman and more like a secret weapon for the IRA."

"The diference might be subtler than one can imagine."

"Remind me to wear flats if we ever decide to drink together... For your own safety, Englishman."

"Sounds like a reasonable plan. Speaking of plans... How is your little investigation coming along?"

"I hardly had any time to look into that. I´ve been too busy with the house. You have no idea the state some sixty years of abandon can leave a house. At times it seems easier to just tear the whole thing down and built a new one." she smirked

"I´m sure you´ve found a treasure of things that would make most historians jump for joy, though"

"That I did." she smiled, excited of having someone to share her discoveries with "Although I don´t really know what to make of a lot of things I found. I always knew my grandfather was an excentric, but it seems it ran in the family."

"You abruptly moved from Ireland to England on account of a few old documents and letters just to investigate your grandfather´s past. Ms. Black, I wouldn´t need any antique object to tell you excentricity runs in your family."

"I´ll take that as a compliment."

"It was. Normalcy is criminally overrated."

"Amen to that. But yes...so far, nothing but a very interesting collection of bric-a-brac. It seems I´ll be staying for a while if I want to untangle grandpa´s web of mysteries."

"Maybe it will take you less than you expect"

"What makes you say that?"

"Well, just this morning I happened to remember something that might help you."

"What was that?" Evelyn leaned in, staring into his dark eyes.

"I don´t know how that slipped my mind...but a couple times I heard my mother mention a certain aunt Violetta..."

"Violetta?!"

"Is the name familiar?"

"That...was the name of my great grandmother. Among my grandfather´s documents there were many letters written by her. I knew it. Ever since I saw that family tree I knew my family was related to yours somehow. That´s it!"

"Letters ? I don´t want to be a bother but...is there any chance I could take a look at them?"

"I was about to ask you. It would be no bother at all. In fact, I imagine these letters are a little part of your family history as well. Let me just get the check and we can go right now" she said, gesturing for the waiter

"I´m afraid that won´t be possible. I have to deal with some...paperwork right now. Is the whole reason I dropped by Manchester, actually."

"Well, I can drive you wherever you need to be, then we can just go back to Cokeworth"

"Better not. This will take a while and I don´t want to impose on you. Tomorrow, we´ll have more time" he told her, getting the check from the waiter´s hand

"I invited you, remember?"

"Don´t worry, I get that."

"I insist."

"You already treated me to dinner once, remeber ? I get this and I´d still owe you."

"You owe me nothing!" she reached the paper in his hand but he swiftly moved it away from her."There´s no point fighting you on anything, right?"

"No." He smirked.

"Well, I won´t stand in the way of you being a gentleman, then...As for tomorrow, I have a job interview in the afternoon, but I should be home by 5"

"Very well. I´ll drop by at 5 then."

"And I might just treat you to dinner again. Nobody should live on a 200 pound food budget, let us correct that Mr. Snape."

-------------------------------------------------------

It was still a little before rush hour, so Evelyn didn´t face nearly as much trafic as she usually braved since she started living in Greater Manchester. It was a matter of some twenty minutes to make it back to Spinner´s End. Home early. Enough time for a long bath and a good book. Yet another job interview the next day, then Severus would come to see the letters. Aunt Violetta...she had to be grandpa Marius´mother...Maybe together Evelyn and Severus could start making sense of that strange family tree...She had read the letters one by one, but other than her father being disowned, she knew nothing...there wasn´t a reason, no clues as to why and how. Maybe Severus´mother knew something? Maybe Severus´family history held any clues ? It was crazy. In the begining of the year she knew nothing about grandpa´s Marius´past in England and now...She stopped the car and got off, looking for the house keys into her purse.

As she walked towards her door, she noticed something odd about the house next to hers. The lights were on. Didn´t Severus say he had errands to run in Manchester? He couldn´t possibly have arrived home before she did...Evelyn shook her head and went inside.

Severus had surely forgotten to turn off the lights.

Chapter Text

October 7th

Cokeworth

Spinner´s End, 13

Severus looked up from his glass of elf made wine and stared down the man sitting in front of him. Tall, dark and stately Kingsley Shacklebolt. Still tranquil and commanding as Severus remembered him to be, but significantly older...Severus had noticed the same happen with Minerva as well...the war and its aftermath had grealy aged all its participants in just a few years...years that felt heavy as centuries...Maybe that was the reason Severus himself avoided looking at the mirror too often.

''Well, it´s an honour to welcome the new Minister for magic in my house.You will surely appreaciate my concern tough, for I doubt someone is such high-ranking position would go through the trouble of coming all the way here if there wasn´t something serious underway...'' His mind quickly drifted back to the flight of the Lestranges. The Ministry was surely in a dire position right now, if Shacklebolt´s presence told him anything.

''Interim, minister.' Shacklebolt´s calm and resounding bass filled the small sitting room 'And you guess correctly, I´m here on account of a serious matter of security. I came to warn you...''

''...that there´s a reward on my head. You seem to forget I was one of 'them' for quite some time. I knew this would happen if I was ever outted.''

''Still, it is the Ministry´s duty to inform you that your life may be in danger. I´m sure you are aware of the latest events...When Headmistress Mcconagall informed us that you had resigned and she knew nothing of your whereabouts we we´re worried that maybe some harm might have come your way.''

''Oh...the Ministry 'worries' now? That´s progress I guess.'' Severus snickered

''Yes, the new Ministry does worry about your safety.'' Shacklebolt continued, unfazed ''Your services during the war...''

''Please, spare me the violins...we all know what this is about. I have information, so you cannot afford to loose me... particularly now that the Ministry is in the process of being reformed and about half the new staff wouldn´t know their arses from their foreheads. Not that the old staff did, anyway...''

''Rude as your words are, you do have somewhat of a point. The Ministry is undergoing great reforms, and we have a lot of work to do, particularly considering we have only about half the known Death Eaters behind bars and yes, as you not so kindly pointed out, we still need to train many of our new staff members... It goes without saying that we cannot indeed afford to have anything happen to you. Your status is far too privileged not only in terms of information but also in light of what you mean...symbolically speaking.''

''Symbolically speaking? Next thing you´ll tell me there will be a monument erected in my honor.''

''Many think there should be. Various media outlets are calling you a war hero.''

''...and many others are calling me an oportunistic double agent who narrowly escaped being sent to Azkaban just for being a colaborating coward. I do read the papers.''

''Then you may have already stumbled on some reports of your 'death'.''

''I did.'' Severus laughed softy ''I guess is what I get for not giving interviews.''

'The ministry thinks these reports might turn out to be to our advantage.'

"'Our'? Not that I´m complaining about the Ministry´s concern. But 'our' seems a bit too supportive.''

''It is in the Ministry´s best interest that you remain alive and safe. It was rather difficult to get headmistress Maconaghal to reveal your status and whereabouts...'' Shacklebolt put his now empty glass on the coffee table and leaned in ''...and in hindsight, I have to say that your retreat to Cokeworth and the false death reports may have given us precisely the kind of shielding we were hoping for.''

''In other words...you want me to stay dead.''

''If you rather put in such terms. I must be honest with you, although I suspect you already know this...the Ministry, as it stands today, cannot provide you with protection...''

''Do allow me to explain a thing or two:'' Severus sneered, leaning in an a swift motion, almost agressively, slightly bearing his teeth, nostrils flaring ''first, coming back to Cokeworth has nothing whatsoever to do with the price-tag currently attached to my head. I´m no coward, dear Minister.  Second: you do expect me not to find humour in your contention that the ministry cannot protect me? As if the ministry was ever successful in protecting anything but their own salaries and pay-offs. And before you start lecturing me on how this is a new Ministry, yes I´m perfectly aware of the Ministry´s new structure...and seeing how you are filling your ranks with starry-eyed idealists and barely out of their diapers war veterans, not to mention the alarming influx of Gryffindors...forgive me when I say that I´m quite relieved to know you won´t be the ones looking out for my safety.''

''You are entitled to have your misgivings about the Ministry.''Shacklebolt continued, keeping his voice as quiet and calm as he could ''I would urge you, however, to keep an open mind in regards to the possibilities of this new organization...and the ways you could help it, given your unique position.''

''My unique position? So you expect me to be your informant, after years of being Dumbledore´s informant. Why is everybody in any form of authority position I cross paths with under the assumption that I´m some sort of glorified errand boy?'' Severus leaned back, rolling his eyes.

''We simply expected that, considering your services to the Order...''

''My services, loyaties and motives are nobody´s business but my own, and I wish they remain so. ''

''And you´re entirely within your rights. In fact, the last thing I want is to seem intrusive...but you must understand that, at the current state of affairs, we need all the help we can get. ''

''I do understand that. I let you into my house didn´t I? And I will do so everytime you knock on my door. I will answer your questions if you have any. But do not try to enlist me into another war when I already had two too many.''

''You seem to forget you didn´t fight these wars alone. And while we´re in the subject...you do realize you still have pending matters concerning some of your activities?'

''You should know better than to try to blackmail a Slytherin, it can turn into a rather slippery slope.'' Severus´lips curled into a sly grin.

''It´s not blackmail. I´m simply reminding you that the Ministry still has pending issues with you, and it might be in everybody´s best interest to address some of them''

''And I will kindly remind you that, officially speaking, I have no pending issues with the ministry. There are no legal charges to my name concerning activities as a Death Eater in the first war...As for my activities in the second war, they were all done in the name of the Order, an organization that you, minister, was also a part of...If you really want to open the can of worms that is labeling actions taken by the resistence during the second war as legal or illegal, then I wish you nothing but luck in keeping your current job.''

''So this is your final position?''

''As I said: I won´t stand in your way. I shall remain dead, as you wish. Not because I owe anybidy anything, which I certainly do not, but merely because it happens to be as convenient to me as it is to the Ministry.''

''Then what are you planning to do? Assimilate into muggle society?'' Shacklebolt asked him in a lighter, almost amused, tone

''Right now it seems like a very alluring prospect. Particularly when compared to living in a world where the likes of Potter and Longbottom may end up holding public office positions''

''In that case, I have nothing left to do but to, sincerely, wish you all the best.'' Shacklebolt stood up and outstretched his hand ''And I hope I can count on your help in the future, if needed be.''

''Not as much a matter of  'if' but 'when'. ''Severus shook his hand and escorted him to the door ''Luckly for you, the dead do tell tales.''

''Anything you want to share or I need a séance for that?''

''Patience is a virtue, Minister.''

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October, 8th

Cokeworth Academy

Headmaster´s office.

''Ms. Black, Mr.Nolan will see you now.'' the secretary told her softly.

Evelyn stood up and walked towards the door, promptly opened by the headmaster who joyfully let her in. The headmaster of Cokeworth Academy looked almost too picture perfect for the job. If anybody were to look for 'headmaster' in a dictionary they would surely find the picture of sixty-something, broad-shouldered and slightly overweight Mr. Nolan with his thinning wavy grey hair, thick glasses, reddish complexion, broad smile and tweed jacket...Evelyn shook his hand and sat on the chair he pointed for her.

''So...Ms. Black.'' he sat across from her, taking his glasses off ''I have to say I was rather surprised when I got to read your curriculum. I hope you don´t take this the wrong way, but is not everyday that we get Trinity professors applying for a position here''

Evelyn smiled. Candid and straight to the point; she liked that in a potential employer.

''Well, I haven´t been a Trinity professor for quite a while. In fact, for the past two years I´ve been teaching high school, as you know''

''Yes...St Brigid school for girls'' he muttered, putting his glasses back on and casting a quick glance at her papers before taking them off again ''..your own Alma Mater, I see''

''Yes, that´s correct.''

''I suppose you won´t mind me asking, but is there any reason in particular why you left Trinity?''

''Family matters. My grandfather had just passed away and my father wasn´t in his best health...so I decided that going back home might be a wise idea. And I needed a little peace and quiet to pursue other professional goals as well''

''Your writtings, I assume...I will tell you that your name sounded a little familiar when I first read your resumé.  I´ve read a couple of your works and allow me to congratulate you, they were very interesting.''

''Thank you, sir.''

''Ms. Black...I have to be honest with you, here...I don´t know what reasons made you come to Cokeworth, nor do I wish to be rude enough to ask, but I´m sure that by now you´ve already noticed that our little town isn´t exactly a cosmopolitan metropolis bustling with culture...to put it mildly. And I´m entirely sure you can appreciate that running a school in such environment can be quite demanding.''

''I´m aware of it, yes'' She replied softly. Somehow she was expecting this conversation to take place.

''What I´m trying to tell you is...Cokeworth Academy is no St. Brigid´s and it surely is no Trinity... I know you have experience with high schoolers, but our students can pose a little bit more of a challenge...''

''Yes, Mr. Nolan, I know. But I can assure you that I am no stranger to challenges. You see, I came to Cokeworth expecting to spend quite some time, so I might as well try to integrate with the community...''

''I see...but for somebody with your background...''

''Please, don´t tell me you find me over-qualified.'' She smirked, raising an eyebrow.

''Well, is not a question of being over qualified. As an educator I´m the first one to want my students to have the best professionals in charge of their education,...I just feel that that it is my duty to make sure you´re aware of the implications of working with us. Also I must clarify that what we´re offering is not a teaching job in the classic sense of the word...It is a program for students with learning difficulties, which most of the time means diciplinary issues''

''I know. Actually your idea of creating an extra-curricular program to support these students is one of the reasons I feel I may just be in the right place. Since we´re being completely honest with each other, Mr. Nolan...I know Cokeworth has many serious issues and I´m guessing, I suppose correctly, that such issues have a profound effect on your school. I don´t know many headmasters who would try to start a program like yours with all that can work against it. This tells me you and your staff are exactly the kind of people I´d like to work with. You see...my father was an educator as well, he taught children and teenagers his whole life. He was the one that taught me that giving children a good education should be the priority of any adult, teacher or not, and I have sworn by his book since I can remember. He would have wanted to be a part of a program like yours, as I know I want to... And I think it will be a great deal for both of us to let me.''

''Well, Ms.Black...'' Mr. Nolan smiled broadly ''I will tell you this, for somebody who could very well retire and live off royalties, or find a position in any higher education stablishment, you show quite a lot of will to roll up your sleeves. And I kid you not, when I say you´ll have your hands full...if you´re willing to compromise to that, then I´d be more than happy to welcome somebody with your credentials into my team.''

''We have ourselves a deal then''

''You´re aware of the fact that this is a little more than part time job, and...if we may discuss salary for a second...''

''You said it yourself, Mr. Nolan. I have my book royalties currently invested. Money is not the reason I´m here. I really just want to do something useful with my time. If anything you´re giving me a chance to do it. So that´s that.''

''Tell me...are there others like you in Ireland, because I could sure use some around here...'' he laughed softly.

----------------------------------------------

Her car was still not there. No point in knocking, she was not home. 5:10pm. Maybe that job interview had taken longer than anticipated. Severus shook his head in disbelief. She was really serious about working in Cokeworth...in a school? Teaching Cokeworth´s youth, comprised of a hopeless equation of juvenile delinquents, uninterested blockheads and very few kids whose potential would certainly be crushed when pitted against real life? No, Evelyn Black could be a little bit of an airehead but she couldn´t possibly be that stupid...she´d probably find herself a job in Manchester...in the higher education system. She was a Trinity professor after all.

But that still didn´t change the fact that she was seriously considering living in Cokeworth. Who does that? Cokeworth is not a place people immigrate to...is a place people emigrate from. Severus knew that better than no one else. For his entire childhood and teenage years he had longed for nothing other than leave this rotten town and make something of himself. To be more than a roughneck Cokeworth boy, working in the mill and wasting his meager wages at the nearest pub, like his good for nothing father had been. His Hogwarts letter had been more than just a letter of acceptance...It had been his ticket out of hell.

Severus decided to take the time to walk up to the nearest tobacco shop for an extra pack. He shoved his hands into his pockets, shivering at the sharp chilly breeze, but not bothering to go back home for a jacket. It was laughable really...so much effort to leave Cokeworth and everything it meant behind...and in the end he found himself here once again. All that effort to end up having nowhere to go but the ratnest of a town he so desperately wanted to escape from.

And Miss Evelyn Black wanted to live here...Wasn´t Irish economy suposed to be having an excellent moment? Celtic tiger and whatever else the muggle papers called it? To move from Ireland to Cokeworth was just insane. And yet there she was...looking for a job, making plans... Was her family heritage such a big deal for her to go through all the trouble? She must have really loved her late grandfather to go to such lenghts just to find out about his past...or maybe she was just bored with her life. She seemed like the kind of person who gets bored rather easily, with being such an irritating bundle of talkative energy all the time. Did she ever get tired at all?

Severus got his pack of Dunhills and a lighter. Having Miss Black around reminded him that he couldn´t always light his cigarettes with his wand. ''Do you plan to assimilate into Muggle society?'' Shacklebolt had asked him, almost in jest. The former potions master chuckled softly to himself, puffing smoke as he walked back to Spinner´s End. Severus wasn´t joking when he had told the interim minister the prospect of assimilating was inviting...Severus had a lot to complain about Cokeworth, but at least he could be left alone here. That is until Ms. Black decided to appear...but she still was a better distraction than the likes of the Lestrange brothers. Severus wondered what they were up to...Actually he had a pretty clear idea, if his memory didn´t fail him...Now that Voldemort was gone, the remaining Death Eaters would try to keep his legacy alive somehow...And good old insane Rodolphus probably fancied himself the Dark Lord´s natural successor...Severus wondered if he´d succeed in removing his head from his rear end before coming after him...

His train of tought was cut short when a red Volvo passed him by, driving towards Spinner´s End. Well, finally...

----------------------------------------------

Evelyn looked down at her watch. 5:15pm. She truly hoped all they said about British punctuality was just a myth, otherwise Severus would probably be rather annoyed by now. And he seemed like the type to get very annoyed very easily. She had lost track of time talking to Mr. Nolan. He had shown her the school and presented the support program in detail. More and more Evelyn felt like Cokeworth Academy was the right choice. Sure the salary was far from being satisfatory, and the idea of dealing exclusively with the so-called ''problem students'' might seem less than appealing to most...But there was something about that school that just made her think this was the place she had to be for now.

Maybe it was the challenge of it. The last two years of her life had been morose, boring at best...depressing and exhausting at worst. Particularly after her father´s death, which left her with a lot of legal and financial matters to deal with, which she did not want her grandmother, mother and sister to worry about. Her mother had just lost her husband of almost forty years, her sister had two small children to mind and grandma Liz...Loosing her husband and son only two years apart form each other didn´t do her much good, predictably. It was Evelyn´s duty to step up and take care of everything.

She had dealt with funeral arrangements, she had been the executor of her father´s estate, she had even sorted some of the pending matters he had as headmaster of St. Brigid´s... Her mother spend months in a catatonic-like state unable to do any of the activities she previously cherished, like tending to her dogs, cooking, going out to visit friends... Grandma Liz staunchly refused to leave the house she had shared with grandpa Marius for 60 years and come live with Evelyn and her mother, which only made everybody worry about her more than usual. In the end, Evelyn had been dealing with paperwork, bills, house chores, work and two elderly and stubborn ladies who refused to be helped, but needed help anyway...With working odd hours at the hospital, dealing with her ex-husband and getting her daughters through the loss of their great-granfather and grandfather in adittion to the normal perks of being little girls, Caitlin could only do so much to help.

When the storm was finally over, Evelyn just felt exhausted and numb...as if she had nothing to look forward to, no plans to fulfill...nothing but this hollow feeling inside.

Coming to Cokeworth probably had a much to do with trying to find a new direction for her life as it did with investigating her grandfather´s past. She wanted to do something different, she needed a dosis of challenge or just something to get out of bed for...Four years in a relationship that went nowhere followed by two years of nothing but losses and preocupations would do that to a person.

Evelyn pulled over and got out of the car just in time to get a glimpse of Severus leisurely strolling down the street, wearing a grey long sleeved shirt with jeans, hands inside his pockets and a cigarrete between his thin lips, leaving a trail of smoke behind him.

''There you are'' he let out as he walked up to her, in that caressing yet acid baritone of his.

''I´m so sorry'' she smiled ''I didn´t mean to keep you waiting but the interview lasted a little longer than I anticipated''

''I imagined it would.''

''I got us some take out'' she told him, taking the bags out of the car

''Well..that was not necessary...''

''Of course it was. I knew I wouldn´t have time to cook anything...Here, can you get this while I open the door, please?'' Severus got the bags and followed her in, almost tripping on her cat that had come up to rub against his legs. Evelyn giggled as he bit back a curse and got the bags from his hands, going into the kitchen. ''I wasn´t sure what you liked because we only ate together once, so I played it safe and got us Italian, I hope you don´t mind.''

''Anything is fine, really'' he told her, trying to shoo the cat away ''How was the interview,then?''

''Oh, excellent! I think Cokeworth Academy is it!''

''Cokeworth Academy ?'' he winced in surprise. It was the school Lily attended before going to Hogwarts...He used to wait for her to come back from class, hidden behind the trees by the front gate so her schoolmates wouldn´t see him. He´d walk her home and listen to her as she talked about how the kids who would say awful things about her...and they´d make plans, waiting for the day that letter from Hogwarts would free them from having to deal with this kind of annoyance...Severus tought Cokeworth Academy had closed down. Well, he never cared to go back there after her death … last time he had been there, the old trees by the gate still bore the doodles he and Lily had carved into the bark...he never went back.

''Isn´t Cokeworth Academy a primary and middle school ?'' he asked, pacing about and looking at the picture frames on the walls to distract himself from his own toughts.

''Used to be. They have expanded to High school as well. And they have a wonderful program to help kids with learning difficulties as well, and that´s what I´ll be working on'' she beamed from the kitchen.

''So...you´ll be in charge of the troublemakers. I tought it were applying for teacher, not warden.'' He chuckled softly as his eyes perused the diplomas and certificates on the wall...Evelyn...Teresa? How befitting...

''There you go being mean and spiteful again'' she laughed soundly, coming back to the sitting room ''You don´t even know these kids''

''Trust me I know them better than you currently do...But alas, you seem to have the Mother Teresa complex to go with your middle name''

''Oh, please. I´m Irish. We all have either Celtic names nobody pronounces right or saintly names''

''But Evelyn Teresa is quite...damming, no?''

''You came here to see the letters or pester me about my name?''

''My apologies.'' he smirked.

''Speaking of which, give me a second while I go get the box upstairs.''

 

-----------------------------------------------

Severus looked on as she climbed up the stairs and disappeared from his field of vision. Her cat had jumped on the couch next to him and was mewling softly, begging for attention. He scoffed and redirected his attention to the pictures and framed diplomas linning the walls. By now he could give names to the faces...Marius Black...burnt from the Black family tapestry so many years ago, if the information first given to him by Regulus about the family traditions wasn´t an exageration and he was pretty sure it wasn´t, knowing the Blacks...There he was...Marius Black featured prominently in so many muggle family pictures...husband, father, grandfather...clearly loved and revered... He couldn´t deny there was a certain sense of poetic justice there. Severus wondered what would a woman with Evelyn Teresa Black´s personality and education think if she knew her beloved grandfather had been disowned from his family of origin for no reason other than an archaic set of beliefs about a bogus concept blood purity.

A squib...a blood traitor from birth according to some...For all the talk there was about the status of muggles and muggle borns, complete with two wars and ensuing mayhem, nobody gave much tought to squibs, that was sure. At least muggle borns had magic, and muggles had their blissful ignorance of magical matters...what did squibs have? Nothing really...trapped in a world where even house elves had magic,having to live without it, not muggles by virtue of their birth, not wizards by virtue of their powerlessness... So insignificant that not even the Dark Lord bothered much with them...Severus could still rememeber Filch, wandering the halls of Hogwarts...not a person but a shadow, a little more than a piece of furniture, looked down upon even by the muggle-born students of humblest origins, who, being able to do a few silly tricks with a wand, counted themselves worthier than him, forgeting that their parents and siblings back home were just as magically useless as the Hogwarts keeper. Self righteous little half-bloods and muggle-borns, waging heroic efforts against the Dark Lord´s reign of terror and blood supremacist opression...and having their meals served  and clothes washed by virtual slaves and ridiculing a squib for his inadequacy.

Hell is the other people, indeed, Monsieur Sartre.

Miss Black would be better off not knowing any of this. It would be a cruel blow to know the man she so dearly loved and admired was nothing but a second class citizen at best, a non-person at worst to the wizarding community. Surely the day Marius Black was tossed out of his house and the world he had been born into, no laments were heard and no tears were shed for his departure. At his death, Severus imagined, all the people in these picture, his wife, son, friends and grandchildren must have wept for him, mourned his passing and talked about him with reverence and love. Given the option, who wouldn´t choose being a muggle over a squib, if that was the diference? That was obviously the reason he never told anybody anything about his past, and who could blame him? He was probably trying to spare his family...His granddaughter should let the man have his wish, instead of fussing around his past. But then again, how much could she possibly know? In her place, Severus would be looking for some answers as well...

''Sorry, it took me a little long.'' Miss Black came down the stairs, wearing her, apparently favorite, burnt orange sweater and jeans, bringing the wooden box with the Black crest on it. It still made him do a double take to see her in anything other than tasteful dresses, skirts and high heels. Quite frankly seeing her without high heels was as good as seeing her naked, given the woman´s obssession with them. It was more than a bit awkward.

''It´s quite all right.''

''Here we go.'' She let out, putting the wooden box on the coffee table.''I should get us somethig to drink first. I don´t know about you, but I could use a glass of wine. Any preferences ?''

''Whatever you´re having...'' he let out absentmindedly staring at the box

-----------------

Eastern Ore mountains, Erzgebirgskreis, Saxony, Germany

Near the Czech Republic–Germany border

''It´s insane...'' Rabastan sneered, leaning back on his wobbly chair. He looked on as his brother paced back and forth into the claustrophobic single room of the shabby little abandoned shack they´d been hidding into since they had made it into Germany. He looked down at the nasty injury he had in his thigh from their clumsy apparating accident. It pulsated under the bandages, warm and infected. Rodolphus was in no better shape, having dislocated a shoulder and received a bloody injury to his head, which was probably the reason for his unreasonable plans. ''To go after Snape? You don´t even know if the filthy mutt is alive.''

''He is. I know he is.'' Rudolphus looked out the window and into the dark woods that surrounded them, his eyes foccused and still like those of a maniac. The haunting stare of a man lucid enough to know what he wants and crazy enough to actually try to get it.

''Let´s entertain that possibility that Snape is indeed alive.'' Rabastan continued, frustrated ''He has to be collaborating with the Ministry. They probably have him under surveillance all the time.''

''No...Snape wouldn´t have it. He´s too proud for that...''

''And what is your master plan? I´d hope it involves getting us out of this hole first.''

''Quit your whining.'' Rodolphus snapped, giving his brother a disgusted look. ''You should be glad we´re not in Azkaban as of now.''

''I am. So glad indeed that I don´t feel like wasting our newly acquired freedom with the likes of Snape. We can´t afford the risk of going after him just because you want revenge.''

''Revenge? No, revenge is for the weak.'' Rodolphus hissed, manically ''What I want from Snape is simply what he owes us...retribution, Rabastan. Snape will pay the rightful price for his betrayal...And that price, dear brother, will be to undo his betrayal. He is everything we have right now, if we want to succeed.''

''You´re delusional. What use is he to us, now?''

''Snape only got to betray the Dark Lord because he got his trust. Snape knows things we don´t, and he will help us finish what the Dark Lord started.''

''And you expect the traitor to help us?'' Rabastan let out a roucous, spiteful laugh ''You got hit in the head harder than I imagined''

''I don´t expect him to help us...voluntarily. Tomorrow our good friends across the border will come to help us get to Russia. Once there you will see it´s only a matter of time for us to get Snape do our biding, wether he wishes or not.''

Chapter Text

Severus sat down on the couch and observed as Evelyn brought out a bottle of prosecco and two glasses. She put the glasses on the coffee table and sat next to him, mindful to keep a somewhat safe distance. She obviously knew by now her neighbour was´t given to too much familiarity and had finally started to act accordingly.

"This should open our appetite for dinner" She told him, dexterously removing the cork from the bottle, causing it to make a pleasantly soft popping sound.

"I assume this is in celebration of your new job" he asked as she filled his glass

"I guess..."she smiled quietly

"Being hired to teach at Cokeworth Academy is hardly a cause for celebration, you surely realize."

"Is this just you being your usual sour self or does it come from first hand knowledge?"

"A bit of both" he smirked

"Well, then I assume being the kind and concerned neighbour you are, you will surely tell me what´s so dreadful about Cokeworth Academy?"

"It´s located in Cokeworth to begin with" he told her with a flawlessly deadpan deliver

"Oh, Jesus,  Mary, Joseph and the donkey..." she laughed "Do you make it a point of honour to be a royal pain in the neck all the time? So, I guess it´s safe to assume you attended Cokeworth Academy?"

"No, I didn´t. But all chidren I grew up around did...And back in my day that meant that Cokeworth Academy was filled with nothing but little hooligans, killing time before growing up and replaying their parents roles: the mill for the boys, the kitchen for the girls. And of course, one cannot forget the children of our illustrious middle class whose families could not afford private schools...little snotty brats most of them, truly believing the boat full of holes they shared with the riff raff had anything like a first class...And something tells me very little has changed since"

"This town hasn´t been kind to you, has it?" her husky contralto sounded pained

"In case you haven´t noticed, this town has never been kind to anyone..."

"So, if you haven´t attended Cokeworth Academy..."

"Home schooled."He interrupted her flatly "One of the very rare instances in which my mother´s stubbornness and self-importance have done me any good."

"Well, your mother has done a fine job of it. She made a teacher out of you."

"Let there never be said of about Eileen Prince that she wasn´t ambitious or bright" he smiled sadly

"I imagine she didn´t home school you until college?"

"What is this, an interview?"

"You have yet to notice I´m curious?"

"Till I was 11. Then boarding school."

"Boarding school? I hope you don´t mind me asking, but..."

"You´re wondering how my parents could afford it. They couldn´t...it was a school for 'gifted' children so to speak. They didn´t pay for it"

"Then you of all people should understand why I want to work at Cokeworth Academy. Don´t you think their students deserve the chance you had? To have an educational system that helps them grow and succeed instead of just preparing them for the life of mediocrity you were just talking about?"

"You want the polite answer or the honest answer?"

"I suppose honesty is not always the best policy if one is to keep a polite conversation, eh?" She smirked.

"Depends on who you´re being honest to...and what your concept of honesty is"

"Why DID you become a teacher, after all?" she seemed more than a bit exasperated now. Evelyn Black didn´t strike him as the kind of person who was too fond of evasive and arcane answers.

"Masochism." He let out flatly.

"Seriously."

"Do I look like I´m joking?"

"When did you become so disillusioned?" she sighed

"To be disillusioned you need to have some illusions to begin with."

"So you never even cared?"

"You see, there´s a difference between knowing the importance of teaching and, as you put it, 'caring' about it and trying to be some sort of moral saviour of the world."

"And you assume I´m trying to save the world?"

"Well, look at you. A successful academic, from a nice middle-class Irish Catholic family, graduated from one of the most prestigious higher education establishments in the world, coming from a country that just happens to be growing economically...Opening a bottle of not-so-cheap prosecco to celebrate getting a job in a shoddy public school of a troublesome neighbourhood of Cokeworth...teaching children with disciplinary issues. Do you see the irony here?"

"Oh, I see...You think I´m a bourgeois airhead, living in a ivory tower, who consider myself so above the common man, that it is my duty to save the unwashed masses from their ignorance by sharing my enlightement." She told him in a deadpan manner that didn´t betray neither rage nor offense "Well, you sir are a dolt"

"I may be. But you are the one who misunderstood me"

"Then do enlighten me, oh master..." she almost hissed.

"You didn´t come to Cokeworth to teach underprivileged children..." Severus smiled, satisfied by the reaction he had gotten from her "Correct me if I´m wrong...You came here because your father just died...and your grandfather a while before him...You lost two of the most importante references in your life and you probably feel a bit lost. That´s why you cling to that box and this wild goose chase for your grandfather´s past. You left your home country probably because you had nothing that made you want to stay... And now you think these children will fill this void somehow..."

"So, if you´re Sherlock Holmes role playing was done right...I must be a selfish person, looking for something falsely selfless to occupy my time with in order to to make me feel better about myself..."

"No...quite the opposite, actually."

"I don´t follow"

"You invest too much of your happiness in other people" he raised his glass towards the wall "Look at those pictures...nieces, sister, mother, grandmother...all you talk about is your family...everything you do, you do for them. You even chose the same career as your late father....but of course being a consumate perfectionist, you surpassed him. But is quite clear that everything you do, you do for others, not for you. Even coming to Cokeworth"

"And that´s quite dreadful compared to living the lonely life you seem to live, I assume?" she shot back, her tone filled with venom

"You are alone in a way...Trust me, you and I are not that different. I´m just a little more honest about it than you are...and you are a lot more generous than I am...but when generosity is too much, it can become egoism"

"I´m not really sure if I should be offended"

"Feel free to... But I actually think you´re better than most people. And that´s why I wonder if you realize that is good to be mean and selfish once in a while. You have to if you want to survive."

Evelyn stared at him for a few seconds and, without any sort of warning, exploded with laughter, almost dropping her glass.

"I fail to see what´s so tremendously funny, Ms Black"

"I´m sorry..."  She laughed with gusto "I didn´t mean to laugh at you but...I mean, aren´t you just cute?"

"Excuse me?" He sneered back, outraged.

"You´re worried about me. You really think I´m a starry eyed idealist, who thinks the world is nothing but rainbows and cotton candy clouds,...And you are actually trying to warn me about the big bad world outside, ready to eat me alive. You are so cynical you´ve become naive..."

"And how am I naive, if I may ask?"

"Let me tell you something about myself." She told him in a suddenly serious and stern tone. "I come from a small town in the Irish countryside. You can´t even find Doolin in some maps. And yet, as you said, I attended one of the most prestigious universities in the world...an university that up until recently didn´t even accept Catholics. Not only I attended it, I went on to teach there. I have ten published books to my name, three of which made into the best sellers list for non-fiction books in Ireland, United Kingdom, France and United States. I´m not some small town schoolteacher, trying to get little kids to learn their abc´s. I´m an academic. And you surely know academia is a nasty environment, where you don´t succeed in it without having sharp brains and claws. And I didn´t only succeed...I thrived. "

Severus put his glass on the coffee table and turned to her, suddenly interested.

"Go on..."

"But because I´m generally nice to the people around me, you think I must be a weak little Polyanna, yearning to be liked, and you feel obliged to warn me about the dangers of the world as if I was somehow inept to recognise them. You say I live my life to please others...Fair enough, maybe I shouldn´t. But I can tell you one thing: isolating yourself from the world is a sure way to failure. You need other people if you want to go anywhere in life. It´s better to pass for a silly goody-two-shoes and collect potential friends and allies than to be an aloof misanthropist with a superiority complex who has nothing but their own convictions. And convictions maybe a nice thing to flaunt, but they make for very lousy companionship"

Severus smiled. Not such a nice country girl after all.... He looked deeply into her golden brown eyes and for the first time he saw something different than their usual limpid brilliance. There was spark there. Her eyes were limpid, boring right into his, like the sharp eyes of an eagle following the prey...Clear, aggressive, focused, tenacious. There it was...The Slytherin blood of the Black family. Blood so disgracefully wasted on the likes of Sirius Black, and yet running strong and thick into the veins of this otherwise meek and cheerful woman, even after two generations of watering it down with muggle blood. The pride, the self-importance, the words that bordered on shrew but still kept an obvious elegance of phrasing and softness of tone. The consummate Black aplomb. Severus could hear the centuries of generation after generation of haughty Black wizards speaking through her mouth, echoing under her pleasing Irish accent and mellifluous quiet voice, daring him to show any defiance.

Severus liked the sound of that.

"Wel, well, well...it seems I was indeed mistaken about you. My most sincere apologies for not noticing before how cunning you really are...You hide it fairly well"

"Is not about being cunning or hiding anything..." She told him seriously, now appearing slightly offended for the first time during their entire conversation"...is about living in society. Do I prefer to base my relationships in love and genuine affection? Of course. And for the most part, that´s what I do. I have family and friends whom I love and who love me just for the sake of love itself. But I´m not naive enough to think I can go through life without giving something to get something in return."

"Isn´t that being cunning?

"Maybe for you..." she let out almost spitefully

"Now, now, Ms Black..." he smirked "you think me completely incapable of understanding love for the sake of love?"

"No. But you do strike me as the type who likes to brush it off as something unimportant, just to make yourself feel like you´re in control of everything"

"In short..." He shifted the subject, a sudden feel of discomfort running through him "I don't know as much about you as I first assumed I did...and vice versa"

"You started...and as my mother always says: don´t ever start what you can´t finish" she smiled, somewhat relieved.

"Fair enough...I dug myself into a hole."Severus conceded, his voice almost sweet. He definitely didn´t want to me on the wrong side with Ms. Evelyn Black.

"You know what? We had enough to drink I think. I don´t know about you, but I could eat something"

 

---------------------------------------

The wooden box now lay open on the floor, its contents tossed about and the Black family tree unfolded and laid out on the coffee table. Severus leaned in, fingers interlaced, elbows on his knees,    looking at the large parchment, an intricate and artfully done tree with a multitude of branches that connected with other branches of smaller and incomplete family trees of other wizarding families. It was a complex piece, by far one of the most pleasing to the eye Severus had seen. It puzzled him as to why Marius would have decided to take that with him, when he was completely severing ties with his family.

"Violetta Black, née Bullstrode." Evelyn was sitting on the floor, across him, nursing a mug of black tea she had prepared to help recover from the two bottles of wine they had had before and during dinner. She spoke softly, almost as if speaking to herself, pointing at the name on the parchment."my grandfather´s mother..."

"You great-grandmother you mean..." he told her, carefully removing his steamy cup of tea from the coffee table to put it on the floor by the couch where it wouldn´t ruin the ancient parchment in case it tumbled over.

"Yeah, that..."

"Is hard to think of any of the people in this old piece of parchment as family, I imagine"

"You think?"she smirked bitterly"So you said your mother mentioned her..."

"In passing...I was young, and didn´t pay much attention to all the family members my mother talked about."Severus was only half lying. His mother never mentioned Violetta Black...But he did pay attention to what his mother said about her family and the Wizarding World...she didn´t talk about it much, tough...Nevertheless, the little she told him, he´d take in eagerly. I was his way of reclaiming the world he felt had been taken away from him. It wasn´t just Tobias that resented Severus for tying him down to Eileen... Severus resented his father just as much for his mere existence, the mere fact that this man was his father denied him the possibility of growing up in the world he felt he belonged to. Severus knew from a very young age that his mother came from a prestigious pure blood family...the Princes, a long line of Slytherins and Ravenclaws, a family known for their intellectual prowess, a family that had produced many accomplished academics and politicians... a family with ties with the Blacks and other respectable families. But Severus got stuck with a muggle father who worked in a bloody mill...not that muggles that worked in mills couldn´t be good fathers...Severus remembered some other children from the neighbourhood who had nothing but love and respect for their muggle, mill worker fathers. But these were decent family men. Tobias George Snape was neither decent nor a family man. He´d hang on to whatever shred of information about the wizarding world that his mother ever let slip like a man lost in the desert would hang on to a bottle of water.

"According to this our families are not blood related. There was a marriage...between Cassiopea Black and Servius Prince, but no children appear as resulting from it. It seems to have been disolved."

"Cassiopea being your great-aunt. That might explain why the house was passed to your grandfather."

"And Servius was your great-uncle, so I guess that explains why you have your house as well...But one thing still bugs me...other than what´s this obsession with Greek-roman and astronomical first names our families seem to obviously have"

"And what is that?"

"Grandpa Marius was from London...I assume so was your mother"

"Yes, she was..."

"Then why would their families own two houses in a poor district of Cokeworth? I mean look at this family tree...this box, this crest... These are well to do people we´re talking about. Maybe even rich. I remember my grandfather knowing French and Latin, and he even taught us a bit of etiquette. I know he didn't come from humble origins...then why? Why owning a house that was built to house mill workers in Cokeworth?"

"I wouldn´t know...I never had much contact with my mother´s family."

"Why was that...if you don´t mind me asking..."

"Much the same reason you never got to know your grandfather´s family."

"I see...what did she do for them to show her door?" a sad smile curled her lips

"Married my father. And in hindsight, I can´t really fault my grandparents for not supporting her decision...even if I don´t agree with how they decided to show their disappointment. But I assume that since your grandfather got married in Ireland, his unforgivable mistake must have been of a different nature"

"Well, that´s another thing I don´t get." She picked up the box and removed a bunch of letter from it, undoing the ribbon that tied them togehter

"These are Violetta´s letters?"

"Yes.I read most of them...I mean, the ones that weren´t half burned."

"You think your grandfather burned them?"

"Doesn´t seem like something he would do...but then again he was so young...According to the dates in these he was only fourteen when he was made leave his family. A fourteen year old boy, surely angry and disappointed. It shouldn´t come as much of a surprise that he´d burn her letters"

"And what did you find in those you did manage to read?"

"Nothing. Everything is too vague. Look at this:" she opened one of the letters and started to read out loud 'I know none of this is your fault. How could it be? But we did what had to be done. I would gladly take you back, but this is just a mother´s heart speaking. I cannot think with my heart, I must do what´s best for our family. As a Black you should understand'"

"Does she ever mention what 'this' could be?"

"No. Just this bizarre rambling about the family´s best interests...as if my grandfather had done something to shame them...but she insists is not his fault. It makes no sense. Here´s another one, one of the earliest from 1930 'It has come to my attention that the house sits vacant. I understand you don´t want my help, you´ve always been the proudest of my children. After all the trouble I went through to find out your whereabouts you won´t answer my letters. There must be something better for you than selling cheap tobacco to the Irish muggle riff raff'... I have no idea what the hell a muggle is, but I assume it can´t be good..."

"May I?" he carefully got the letter from her hands and breathed a sight of relief to see the use of the word muggle was the only red flag in it. Still, this was getting too dangerous.

"All of them are like this. No straightforward accusations, no obvious references to why he was disowned...just self righteous passive aggressive ranting...I sure hope this isn´t a sign that mental diseases run in my family, because great-grandmama sounds positively crazy"

"Maybe is the inbreeding..." Severus smirked "If I was in your late grandfather I´d probably run away before being disowned."

"I know, right? But no. He was disowned, it´s the only thing his mother clearly states in these letters. Disowned! Who these people thought they were, the bloody Royal Family?"

"Never trust families who have coats of arms. Would you mind if I held on to these for a while? "

"By all means, be my guest. Maybe you can find something I missed...a different set of eyes might find something I´ve missed..."

"And those?"

"Those what?"

"Those other letters..." he pointed to another bunch of letters inside the box

"Oh, these..." she smiled warmly reaching for them

"From crazy great-grandma Violetta?"

"No! These are the letters my grandparents wrote each other when they were dating"

"I wasn´t aware people 'dated' in the 30s"

"Oh you know what I mean."she laughed

"I guess...did you have any luck with these? Maybe something your grandfather may have told your grandmother?"

"No...he never told her much about his life in England. I asked her...and these letters, lovely as they are, are not of much help. You know, when he first arrived in Doolin, grandpa Marius worked as fisherman...it was the only job he could get, being English and all...he and grandma Liz fell in love first sight...When he went to get his boat in the morning to go out to sea, he´d leave her romantic letters on her windowsill...and she answered in the same manner...He picked her letters up from the windowsill the next day...These are those letters...A lovely read, but not very informative about his past."

"Don´t you find it bizarre that your grandmother of all people wouldn´t know much about him? It´s obvious they were very much in love, from what you tell me. Then why wouldn´t he be more open with her?"

"I know...but grandma Liz told me he always acted like he wanted to forget England existed. He kept telling her his life for all that mattered started the day he met her and decided he´d become Irish Catholic for her sake, if she agreed to have him. She never questioned it, and from then on he was nothing but her loving husband and father of her child. Like England really never existed"

"And judging from the difficulty you´re having in piecing his past together, I´d say he successfully erased England from his life."

 

--------------------------------------------------------------

Hogwarts

Headmistress Macgonagall´s office.

 

Minerva pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose, opening yet another file. At Severus request, she had pulled the records of students who had received their acceptance letters in the  late 60s and early 70s. Severus had specifically asked about an boy born in the muggle Republic of Ireland, which promptly eliminated a good number of files from the lot. But even after discarding all the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish students, and all the females ones, Minerva still had a significant amount of papers to go through. Each student file generated, over time, a rather large paper-trail. Subjects, grades, activities, events...everything was carefully documented. Minerva was glad she had a name to work with, otherwise the mission of finding what Severus has asked for would have been rather tiresome.

Paul Black

If Severus suspicions were correct, Paul Black would be a member of the Black family. The grandson of Marius Black, a wizard born after only two generations from a Squib. A somewhat rare occurrence but no unheard of.  A muggle born wizard bearing the Black name would never go unnoticed in Hogwarts. And Minerva didn´t remember such child. And surely it wasn´t age catching up with her, for she remembered all the students that had passed through Hogwarts since she became a teacher...every single one of them. She took personal pride in following each of the students from their first day of school all the way to the beginning of their professional careers. Severus had to be mistaken. After all he didn´t remember any Paul Black himself, and they would have been roughly the same age, attending at the same period of time. So why was he even considering this investigation? But still, she decided to check it, just to put her friend´s mind to rest.

She had just finished going over the records of 1972, and was half way through the records of 1973.

"Paul Éamon Black." She murmured, finally finding the name she was looking for in one of the files of that year. So maybe, Severus was right after all. But then, why couldn´t she remember that boy? She looked down at the file, noticing it was quite different from the others. While most student files had a large number of pages, containing detailed information, Paul´s file consisted of a single page. Upon reading it, Minerva suddenly realized why...and her heart sunk into her chest

Full name: Paul Éamon Black

Date of birth: December 22nd, 1961

Place of Birth: Doolin, County Clare, Province of Munster, Republic of Ireland.

Parents: Marius Éamon Black and Sophia Maeve Black (née Finnegan)

Blood Status: Muggle born

Aceptance letter status: received

Date of acceptance letter arrival: August  1st, 1973

Date of admission: None

Notes: Student never enrolled or attended for reason of death. Cause of death as reported by the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes: under-age magic related accident (fire spell of unknown nature). Date of death:July, 25, 1973

Signed and confirmed: Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Headmaster.

Chapter Text

"Why DID you become a teacher?"

Severus frowned. The female voice talking to him seemed to have changed midway into the sentence, husky contralto swiftly replaced by an airy soprano, bot voices overlapping eerily for a split second. He looked up and gasped, the room around him was no longer the sitting room of the house next door to him, but Hogwarts teachers´ lounge. It was no longer Evelyn Black he was talking to...the bright brown eyes replaced by soft mossy green ones, the tall patrician brunette had vanished leaving a short and mousy blonde in her place.

"Severus, are you listening?" Charity Burbage asked him, her pleasantly round face assuming a concerned expression.

"Y-yes...I´m sorry, I got distracted for a second."

"You´ve been quite distracted lately. Are you worried about something?" she smiled, collecting her papers from the table.

"Not in particular" he let out still confused. He looked around once again. Yes, he defintely was in Hogwarts. And it was definitely Charity sitting across him, preparing the papers for her next class. She was supposed to be dead...Severus was supposed to be in Cokeworth...in Evelyn Black´s house. How?

"Are you sure?"

"Yes...uh...what day is today?"

"My, my...you ARE distracted. Thursday. October 7th, 1993. XXth century of the common era" she laughed softly

"1993..."

"Yes, 1993. The year after 1992 and before 1994. Severus, are you really ok?"

He shook his head. 1993. No! It was supposed to be 1998. After the war, after her death. October 7th 1998, not 1993.NOT 1993. The War...it was supposed to be over...Voldemort was dead, Charity was dead, Dumbledore was dead...the war was over. Not 1993, 1998. He couldn´t possibly have dreamed up five years. He couldn´t have imagined all of that. He couldn´t have imagined himself killing Dumbledore, he couldn´t have imagined her dying the way she did, he couldn´t have imagined Nagini almost killing him...his mind couldn´t be that twisted. 5 years. It had to be over, he had to be in Cokeworth...with Ms. Black, drinking tea and bickering over how bad Cokeworth was. He couldn´t have imagined that.

1998. 1998!

"Oh, no. I´m running late." she got all of her papers and notes and stood up "See you later, Severus. And do try to get some rest. You must be overworked"

She walked calmly towards the door and with the sound of each one of her steps a sense of ineffable dread filled him. He felt like he was watching her walk towards a cliff, unaware of the fall ahead. He stood up, not quite understanding how his body had suddenly gotten so light that he reached her in a heartbeat.

"Charity, don´t!" it was like somebody else´s voice had left his lips. He couldn´t recognise it at all. He tried to reach for her arm and pull her back, but she was out of reach. He squinted...she was just a couple feet away...why was she so far away now, why couldn´t he get any closer? Why wasn´t she listening?

She left. Opened the dor and left.

Severus stood there and now the room was again the same size. The floor beneath his feet was no longer stretching away from him. The door was close enough to touch. He opened it. The morning light coming from the windows behind him were suddenly sucked into a void. He felt his body move forward without his feet ever moving. His eyes took a while to get used to the darkness as the door  slammed shut on his heels. A few feet in front of him there was a long table...a large assembly of gosthly shadows sitting around it.

He was among them. From where he stood he could see himself

"Severus..." his name, the Dark Lord´s voice...whispers, murmurs incoherences...he looked as his own face, wondering if he was there...or here. On that spot inside his chest where a heart was supposed to beat he felt nothing. He trembled and tried hard not to move his eyes. He knew what he would see if he did. He couldn´t see that...Once had been enough, he couldn´t see that again. He stared into his own eyes and wished he could claw those eyes out of their sockets for they were looking at it.

"Severus, please. We´re friends" the strangled plea came from beyond his field of vision, but he couldn´t look. The airy, cheery soprano of her voice filled with pain, terror...humiliation.

He turned his face, feeling something pull his head and twist it, forcing him to look. She was there, her honey blond hair a mess of sweat around her contorted upside down face. Her mossy green eyes were bloodshot.

"We´re friends"

"Please"

He looked back at himself.

He knew he´d let her die.

He had to let her die.

But why did it have to be like this? Her of all people? Dumbledore had gotten the luxury of choosing his own death, a death that made him a celebrated martyr... Lily had died protecting her child...Even Sirius Black and James Potter had gotten decent deaths, they got to fall while fighting. Why did Charity have to die like this? Mocked, exposed, humiliated.

Please kill her quickly. Just let her go. Do it quickly. God...if you exist, if you care...make this quick.

A flash...gone. Is over.

A slithering sound...what was that? It´s over. It has to be over. She´s gone. She´s gone, it´s over!

The hollow sound of bones breaking...

God...

...no...

...why?

 

You´re not really there, are you? You don´t really exist, do you?

 

He looked into his own unblinking eyes.

 

He was going to vomit.

----------------------------------------------------------------

When Severus regained consciousness his body was somehow out of bed. He found himself standing in the middle of his bedroom, trembling from head to toe, shivers shaking his every muscle, his skin drenched in cold sweat and an overwhelming nausea twisting his innards. He had yet to find his balance and yet he knew he had to rush into the bathroom, least he´d puke his guts all over the floor. Still not in complete control of his legs, Severus scrambled towards the toilet bowl, practically falling onto it, his knees hitting the floor tiles hard as the contents of his stomach came rushing back up leaving behind a trail of acidity in his throat and mouth.

Only after he was done with that did he feel like he could control his body once again. He reached over to the sink, grabbing onto it for support and pulled himself up. In the mirror above the sink he could see his face, but if felt almost like it belonged to ghost. His dark eyes were sunken unto his skull, his skin, already sallow as it was, had acquired a sickly greenish hue, his lips were visibly dry and his nostrils were flaring almost as if his entire body was strangling for oxygen. Severus threw some cold water on his face then rinsed his mouth.

After quickly putting on a pair of comfortable pants and a t-shirt he climbed down the stairs, eager for a cup of coffee and a smoke to give him back some sense of normalcy. Closing the windows to keep the cool morning breeze outside he sat on his armchair, cup of coffee in one hand, cigarette on the other, staring at fire that crepitated in the fireplace, the crackling sound of burning wood soothing his nerves a bit. His idle eyes scanned the room looking for some distraction. For a second he almost wished Miss Black´s annoying feline companion had snuck in again. Speaking of the devil, where was that book she had insisted on lending him? On the coffee table, where he had carelessly dropped it last night after coming home from her house. Severus couldn´t quite remember how their conversation had drifted from the subject of her family to that of Irish literature...He had to admit the most recent Irish author he had read was James Joyce, which made him more than a tad bit behind with contemporary Irish literature. So, predictably, Miss Black had taken upon herself to educate him. It had been completely uncalled for, but nevertheless entertaining...as it was often the case with her.

Severus lazily stretchered his arm to get the book from the coffee table."Paddy Clarke ha ha ha". Why on earth did that crazy woman think this was the kind of reading that would interest him? He looked at the cover...a young shirtless boy wearing red shorts was joyfully hanging from a wall. The back of the book talked about it being a bitter-sweet Irish coming of age tale...Surely the sort of thing that Evelyn Teresa Black would read. Oh, well...he had misjudged her once, so maybe it was better not to judge the proverbial book by the cover? If anything this would do to distract him from the grim images that had tormented his night.

But before he reached page two, Severus heard soft knocks on the front door. It was probably his neighbour. For some reason the idea of her dropping by this early in the morning didn´t seem as bothersome now as it usually would be. It was probably the prospect of listening to a known voice that made him breathe a sigh of relief. Severus put the book down and went to open the door.

"Minerva..." he let out softly, a small smile on his lips "Come in"

"I hope it´s not too early in the morning for a visit."

"Not at all. Take a seat, please...I just made some coffee..."

"Coffee would be lovely, thank you" Minerva smiled and took a seat by the fire, the ruffling of her green tartan robes giving Severus a soothing feeling of familiar tranquillity that only the providential and unexpected visit from an old friend could procure. He quickly filled a cup of coffee and brought it to her, taking his seat.

"How are you doing?" she asked

"Fine, thank you for asking"

"Severus..." He knew that tone. It was the exact same same tone she used with him back when he was a child. That tone that commanded obedience in the most persuasively sweet way.

"I mean it, Minerva" he sighed, wearily

"I can see it on your face you´re not well."

"I just had trouble sleeping last night..."

"Nightmares again?"

He didn´t answer. Minerva knew about his recurrent nightmares. She had even witnessed a couple of them. In the long months he spent hospitalized in St. Mungo´s most, all of his nights were either dreamless death-like periods that left him in a semi-catatonic state for days or filled with nightmares that kept him from sleeping for countless nights. Minerva was his only visitor and more than once had spent the night at his bedside, as a loving mother would do to her child, unable to do anything to fight away the demons that crawled into his brain, but nevertheless stubbornly refusing to leave him alone. Severus couldn´t bring himself to lie to her.

"Yes. But it´s over now, don´t worry."

"It had been a while you didn´t have any nightmares...if memory serves me right...since Miss Black moved next door" she smirked, mischievously

"What are you trying to imply?"

"Nothing...nothing at all. I just think your new neighbour has been giving you something to distract your mind with. That´s good, isn´t it?"

"Positively therapeutic" he rolled his eyes

"Speaking of which...I found what you asked me."

"So, my assumptions were correct."

"Yes. Miss Black´s brother, Paul, indeed received a letter from Hogwarts. But he never enrolled"

"Because he died before that."

"How do you..."

"Miss Black briefly mentioned her older brother died when he was eleven."

"Did she tell you how it happened?"

"No. It seemed like too much of a sensitive topic for her."

"With good reason" Minerva pulled Paul´s student file from her robes and handed it to him.

"A fire spell gone wrong" Severus murmured flatly, after reading through it "This boy...accidentally burned himself to death? Is that it?"

"It seems so...It´s no wonder poor Miss Black doesn´t like to talk about it. Nobody deserves such a horrendous death...let alone a child"

"That explains it..."

"Explains what?"

"I found Paul´s letter...Miss Black keeps her grandfather´s old papers in a wooden box. I found it inside a false bottom in it when she wasn´t looking."

"So, her grandfather obviously knew about the letter."

"He had to...he was the only person in the family who knew about the existence of Wizards....as far as we know"

"Severus...you know what else is strange about this? I don´t remember Professor Dumbledore ever mentioning this boy. Surely I would have known about such extraordinary circumstances involving a would-be student...and yet he never as much as mentioned Paul Black"

"Did you go through his personal papers?"

"I can´t possibly..."

"Do that. Maybe there´s something there. If I had to guess, I´d say old Marius Black probably asked him to keep everything a secret. It seems he was hiding a lot from his own family..."

"Have you been talking to her about her family again?"

"Yes...she showed me some family letters...from Violetta Black to Marius, her son. He burned most of them, but I borrowed the surviving ones. I´ll keep trying to get more information out of her"

"You really think Miss Black knows something about her family´s past."

"I believe she doesn´t know anything. But she´s suspicious. And she´s smart enough to find the right clues if we let her. Just leave her to me and try to find Dumbledore´s personal notes."

"Severus...can I ask you something?" her expression seemed suddenly relaxed

"Of course." he raised an eyebrow...he knew that Monalisa smile of hers was never a good sign

"Why exactly are you pursuing this?"

"For the same reasons you are...the statute..."

"We could just turn this over to the ministry."

"The ministry..." he scoffed "speaking of the devil...the interim minister was here just yesterday. I should thank you for that"

"We both knew it was just a matter of time before you had to talk to the Ministry, Severus. Better go through with it already. I know I had no right to disclose your whereabouts, but I´m worried"

"I told you the Lestranges won´t try anything now..."

"Maybe not now...but eventually"

"I´ll take my own precautions"

------------------------------------------------------------

"Monday morning? Sure."

"Just for the sake of making things a bit simpler would it be possible for you to drop by tomorrow so we can take care of the paperwork?" the monotone voice of Mr. Nolan´s secretary asked from the other side of the line.

"Of course. I´ll be there first thing in the morning."

"Thank you very much, Miss Black"

"Thank you. See you tomorrow, then."

Evelyn hang up the phone, feeling very pleased with herself. New home, new job, new life. And now that Severus had told her he´d help with her grandfather´s letters she just felt like things would start to fall into place soon enough. Evelyn looked out the window, the chilly breeze outside was turning into a somewhat strong wind and dark clouds were gathering. Not a good day to go jogging.  Oh, well. She´d start in her new job on monday, she could afford a few days of dolce far niente. She closed the windows, changed her running shoes for wool slippers,  and grabbed the copy of "Breakfast in Pluto" Cat had given her in her last birthday, lazily letting her body fall on the couch. Ciarán had been just waiting for that to jump on her belly, purring happily.

"Lazy little bastard" she smiled, petting his glossy black fur.

Then the phone rang.

"Must be Mr. Nolan´s secretary again" she mumbled, stretching to get the phone without having to leave her cosy position on the couch. "Hello?"

"Evelyn?" the male voice sounded hesitant.

"Richard." Evelyn bit back a curse. She should have let the answering machine take it. "How are you doing?"

"Fine. You?"

"Busy."

"I see...you didn´t answer any of my calls"

"So that´s why you went after Fin to get any news from me?" That came out harsher than she had intended.

"He told you" Richard´s soft voice was quieter than usual.

"He´s my best friend, of course he would tell me. And you knew it when you went looking for him."

"Well, how else could I get any news from you?"

"Listen, Richard" Evelyn sighed. Good Lord she had no patience for this "these past few weeks have been a mess...no, scratch that, the past few months have been a mess. You were not the only one whose calls I wasn´t returning"

"I understand...I just wanted to know how you were doing"

"Now you do."

"How´s England treating you so far?"

"Rather well. It seems I won´t be returning to Ireland for a while. In fact I just got a new job"

"Oh, where?"

"Local school. They have a lovely educational program for teenagers"

"That´s wonderful..I´m happy for you."

"What about you? How´s the new book coming along?"

"Lewis told you about the new book?"

"Much like he told you about my new address. As adorable as Lewis can be, but he´s a bit too prone to gossip"

"He means well."

"So...the new book?"

"It´s...coming along."

"Great." Evelyn went quiet for a second. Uncomfortable didn´t even begin to describe how she felt right now. Even over the phone it was too awkward to talk to Richard and pretend like they were good friends, after everything that had happened between them. She just didn´t have it in her to act like this...she didn´t have Richard´s vocation for little games.

"But...this is not what I wanted to talk to you about..."

"And what would that be?"

"Evelyn, I..." a deep sigh "I wanted to talk to you...but not over the phone."

"If it has anything to do with work, I´m sure Lewis can handle it on my behalf"

"No, is not about work...is about us."

"Richard...there is no us, anymore"

"I know...and that´s exactly why I...Tell me, you will be back in Ireland for the holidays?"

"Maybe"

"Any chance we can meet?"

"If I drop by Dublin, I´ll try to contact you, ok?" She conceded, just wanting that conversation to be over.

"Sure, that works..."

"I...got to go now."

"Lyn..."

"Yes?"

"Good luck...with everything."

"Thank you. Bye." She hung up even before getting an answer and dropped the receiver on the floor. Ciarán lazily raised his head from her chest, mewling softly. She scratched him softly behind his ear, sure proof to make him fall asleep. "New life, Evelyn. New life"

-----------------------------------------------

 

October, 11th

Wiltshire, England

Malfoy manor

 

Severus looked around. Somehow that house looked even darker and more decrepit than the last time he´d been there. The garden outside had been dead and dry for so long it seemed like it would never recover it´s former glory. The tall french doors and large windows were all broken, and had been broken for a while if the damaged floor and walls could testify to the continuous fury of the elements bursting uninvited. His steps echoed on a hardwood floor now covered with dirt, dead leaves and twigs, the cool, milky blue sunlight of a frigid early morning came in making his shadow dance bizarrely on the cracked and greyed walls and the skeleton-like ceiling, ripped of all ornamentation...paintings that once hung from them scattered about carelessly, the subjects depicted moaning their despair at the fall of the once proud Malfoys, creating a eerie cachophony that sounded like a never ending funeral.

His eyes fell on the woman preceding him as he made his way down the stately hallway. She had been avoiding looking at him in the eye since she had greeted him at the door. Severus knew Narcissa Malfoy enough to know her behaviour had nothing to with him personally. She was a Black through and through...proud, shrew, full of herself. It pained her to be seen in such a state. Living in a ghost house, wearing the simplest dresses she owned, for the most expensive ones had long been auctioned off  along with many of the family´s possessions, her hair already showing some premature signs of greying as impeccably groomed as ever, but nothing adorned it other than a cornflower blue ribbon of cheap material and her face, aged but still pretty, didn´t have a hint of make-up. Even as a shadow of her former self Narcissa still had the same perfect posture and elegant gait, which now he noticed was so similar to that of Evelyn Black´s. Granted the Irish Black had a certain grace and  lightness about her that Narcissa with her delusional queen-complex would never muster.

They finally reached the door to Lucius Malfoy´s office. Narcissa finally turned to him, her eyes still avoiding his.

"You may go in. He´s waiting for you" Severus was a little taken aback...'He'...not 'Lucius'.  In just a handful of words spoken in a hushed and hoarse tone, Severus could feel Narcissa´s growing contempt for her own husband. He couldn´t say it came as a surprise, knowing Narcissa it was obvious it would take her a while to forgive Lucius for what their child had been gone through...that is if she ever did. Narcissa Malfoy could have all the flaws in the world, but she was a loving mother. Draco would always come before everything, Lucius included. It was one of the many reasons Severus managed to find in him to respect this otherwise insufferable woman. It surely put her way above many of the Blacks he knew. He could bet if confronted with the choice Violetta Black once had, Narcissa would have chosen her child over blood traditions. That required a strenght of character her husband lacked. Her strength was the reason the Malfoys were alive at all...his weakness was the reason they were reduced to the misery Severus now saw. It was  enough for love to turn into contempt.

She walked away briskly as Severus opened the door. His eyes could barely make out the contours of the furniture and objects inside, the only light coming from a broken window covered by diaphanous curtains ripped to shreds. Against the light he could barely make out the silhouette of Lucius Malfoy, noticeably thinner, his hair longer and unkempt, his once obsessive care about his looks now gone.

"Severus Snape...the hero." he hissed, smirking acidly

"Lucius." Severus closed the door behind him.

"What are you here for? Shouldn´t you be getting ready to receive your Order of Merlin?"

"I came here to talk"

"Talk..."

"It´s in your best interest."

"Do I look like I have any interests left?"

"Maybe you don´t. But your family does. And there´s still something you can do for them...Unless you rather keep on carrying the burden of being responsible for their disgrace as well as yours"

"There´s nothing I can do for them anymore..."

"Yes, there is and we both know it"

"This is about Rodolphus and Rabastan isn´t it?"

Chapter Text

Lucius stepped away from the window and sat on his chair, his face lost into darkness.

"Do you mind?" he let out acidly, making a broad gesture that indicated the entire room around them "I can´t bring myself to have a serious conversation with anybody whose face I can´t see."

Severus retrieved his wand from the inside pocket of his jacket and with a swift flick of his wrist lit all the candles in the room. Lucius office remained for the most part unchanged, other than the growing amount of dust and spider webs covering everything and the missing decorative objects, the most expensive ones notably...all auctioned off. The Malfoys no longer had the luxury of house elves and surely Lucius wouldn´t bother with cleaning his office himself. Severus had noticed the entrance hall and main sitting room were clean and in perfect order, even if missing most of their  furniture and art objects. Narcissa´s doing for absolute sure. Even if thrown in the most abject poverty, a Black would never be caught dead living in dirty lodgings or looking raggedy. Lucius on the other hand...then again, he had far more reason than his wife did to be a beaten down, hopeless mess.

"I would ask you to sit, but I imagine this conversation won´t take long.Not only did they take my wand, they have also taken away my privilege to entertain guests for as long as I please."

"It won´t."

"Severus walked over, standing near the large intricate mahogany desk, an heirloom from Lucius´ father and probably one of the very few things he had managed to keep from getting auctioned. A nicely executed piece, with a green slate top, an endless amount of drawers, supported by two exquisitely carved snakes. Severus remembered being thirteen years old, allowed into the Malfoy´s household, at Lucius´ request...that table sat in the middle of a massive library that was Severus dream come true. To this day he´d never forget how important he felt when Lucius´father allowed him into that room, even let him sit at that desk for a while. How little it took for him to be taken in...how ridiculously little.

"So...do I have to ask why you came here to ask about things you already know, or should I wait for a grandiloquent speech on why I should collaborate with the Ministry to save my own skin, like you did...or rather 'for the greater good'

"We´ve known each other for years Lucius...there once was a time I considered you my friend, even tough I wouldn´t dare say you felt the same, but nevertheless, I was at the very least useful to you..."

"Severus, please..." Lucius vomited a venomous smirk

"You can cut the act. I´m not going to pretend I didn´t use you in my own ways, much like you did to me. It was the entire point of our little contract, wasn´t it? I never complained, and never will. I was as guilty as you were"

"Then why are you here at all?"

"Draco."

"Let´s keep my son out of this. I´ve done enough to him"

"Your son is into this, up to his ears...through no fault of his own, as I surely don´t have to remind you. Once I took a vow to protect him... "

"And you´ve already fulfilled it...are you here to collect praise?"

"No, I´m here to remind you that you still have a debt to your son and wife. At the very least to not drag them down with you. I could go to the Ministry and tell them all I know. But I´m offering you an opportunity. If you take it...there will be leniency...you may even avoid Azkaban yourself."

"I don´t expect leniency from the Ministry...as for Draco and Narcissa. They are safe. As you may know, they have given Narcissa probation and Draco will never be prosecuted for things he did while still a minor and under my guidance."

"He´s not a minor now"

"I beg your pardon."

"Cards on the table, Lucius. You´ve sent Draco to France, didn´t you? To Claire."

"Claire is my cousin. Where else would you have me send my son?"Severus could almost hear Lucius´ jaw clench

"Don´t play dumb with me of all people. You know very well what I´m talking about. Only his inner circle knew about the Dark Lord´s plans to expand his rule beyond Britain as soo as Harry Potter died and Hogwarts had fallen. I was the one who dutifully helped him concoct that plan. Your dear cousin, Claire Brun, who currently answers by Madame Rott, after she married that Austrian pile of pureblood garbage, was the head of the French Death Eater cell...they were the ones Voldemort expected to help him start recruiting in the continent. Her and Dimitri in Russia. Nobody could ever prove anything against any of them and the French Ministry found no hard evidence for an investigation, let alone to hand her and he husband over to Britain for investigation. But I know better. And now you send Draco over to France, to her house. Are you really trying to disgrace your son?"

"The Dark Lord is dead..." Lucius replied faintly

"But the Lestranges are alive. And inside Rodolphus little delusional brain, they are the chosen ones to continue the Dark Lord´s work. I´m willing to bet Madame Rott and Herr Rott are the ones helping them escape."

"If you have so much figured out, then why are you here at all?"

"To give you a chance to do right by your child once. I can go to the Ministry now and tell them everything I suspect about the Lestranges´flight and how you may or may not be involved in this. Draco is no longer a minor, so if they as much as suspect he´s in on it, he won´t be given a free pass. I´ll give you a few days to sleep on it. Bring Draco back to Britain and tell the authorities about the Rotts yourself."

"What if I don´t?"

"I that case, there´s nothing I can do to help you. Just make sure to have a good excuse ready when your wife finds out you are once again putting her dear boy in harm´s way. And be prepared for an even bigger case to be brought against you before the Ministry."

"You have no evidence."

"Lucius, Lucius..." Severus smirked "You don´t understand, do you? I was there, right next to the Dark Lord this whole time. He trusted me...blindly. I don´t need evidence. I AM evidence. Living, breathing, evidence"

"Which is precisely why you should have 'stayed dead'. Is a dangerous game you´re trying to play...with Rodolphus at large."

"Rodolphus may be a simpleton inbred blockhead but he´s still smarter than you. He has figured out by now that he needs me...something you fail to get into your thick skull."

"Needs you? Why on Earth..." Lucius stopped mid-sentence, his eyes widening "No...so is true, isn´t it? The Dark Lord did tell you about the..."

"He did...down to every single detail, location included..."

"You´re bluffing...."

"...too bad the spell the Ministry has put over this house to keep you in house arrest will prevent you from telling Rodolphus just how alive I am, and much I know. But then again, he probably knows or at least suspects by now. You see, that´s the beauty of it... He wants me dead, yet he needs me alive. Let´s face it, the Dark Lord didn´t manage to get into my head, what hope do the Lestranges have? But if they kill me, the information dies as well. Isn´t it a thing of beauty? If I were in your shoes Lucius, I´d pick sides wisely now..."

 

------------------------------

 

Cokeworth Academy

Monday, October 12th.

 

"Well, I think that´s enough for today. Class dismissed, I´ll see you wednesday."

The clatter of desks and chairs being moved as the students collected their belongings to leave filled the air around her. Evelyn took off her reading glasses and collected her notes and papers into her briefcase, that familiar feeling of relaxation after a day of work starting to make way on her shoulders. First day of work in Cokeworth academy. It went much better than she anticipated, but first days can often be deceiving, so no fireworks just yet. Evelyn had been warned about disciplinary issues with the students of the support program, and many would have been worried about a class full of teenagers raising hell. But she knew that, more often than not, the problem with teenagers was not exactly their supposedly noisy and rambunctious nature...it was apathy.

They were at an age where they were starting to discover that defiance comes in many forms, and passive-agressive silence was a favourite. That was precisely why she had decided to not tackle the regular curriculum just yet. These were kids who already had content shoved down their throats on a daily basis and it wasn´t working. Not because they were incapable of absorbing it, but merely because...they didn´t care much for it. Evelyn had seen that time and time again, even in Trinity. This specific situation posed an extra challenge. For these kids, being in a support program was, in many ways,an affirmation of failure. Forcing them to memorize dates and events wasn´t going to give them any encouragement.

Instead, she had decided to use the first class to introduce some basic concepts of history. She had tried to ask their impressions about history. What was it, why was it in the curriculum, why did they have to study...more importantly, why they thought they didn´t have to study it. She tried to make them voice the reasons for their presence in a support program, in a way that went beyond "my grades are lousy". She wouldn´t say it was a great success. She was a new teacher, the class was not motivated, there was no way she would get them to partake into an animated conversation about the importance of the study of the past for the making and straightening of the social fabric or anything like it. But at least she got them talking. They had told her about why they disliked history, why they thought classes were boring...she had gotten them complain, joke, laugh, even to tease and nag her. She had engaged them. Silence was broken. It was progress. It was far from perfect but it was progress.

But of course, there was always a reluctant pupil in every class.

And there he was, in the back of the room, still sleeping on his desk. James Wright. A gangly 16 year old, with dirty looking blond hair, pale blue eyes and your run of the mill case of teenage acne, dressed like he had been caught in the middle of a collision between the touring buses of Nirvana and Marilyn Manson, where good taste was the first casualty. For most of the class he had merely scoffed and muttered crass remarks under his breath, as if she couldn´t hear him. Then once he realized he wasn´t going to get much attention for his antics he simply decided to check out. Now all his classmates were gone and he was still snoring and drooling on that raggedy notebook that he only used to practice his misshapen graffiti tags. Evelyn sighed and walked over to him.

"James?"

Nothing.

"Wright?"

She rolled her eyes, took a deep breath and returned to her desk to retrieve a pen from her briefcase.

"Wright!"

Silence.

"Very well then..." she leaned in and poked his ribs with the blunt tip of her pen. Hard. "WRIGHT!"

He jumped from his desk so suddenly and awkwardly his feet got tangled on the legs of his chair, making him fall back, screaming a torrent of curses.

"Do you kiss your mother with this filthy mouth, young man?" Evelyn smirked.

"ARE YOU CRAZY, LADY?!"

"I could answer that, but scaring you witless this early in the game would be counterproductive."

He scrambled back to his feet, zipping up his ridiculously oversized jacket, and grabbed his belongings, still grouching under his breath.

"Where do you think you´re going?" Evelyn asked him coolly, crossing her arms over her chest.

"Class is over." he sneered.

"I´m perfectly aware of that. In fact I was the one who ended the class. But I don´t remember giving you permission to leave."

"What the..."

"Sit down."

"No. I´m going home."

"No you are not. Sit down."

"You can´t make me. Class is over."

"Sit.Down.Now."

"Class.Is.Over. You can´t keep me."

"Mr. Wright, allow me to clarify something for you, so our relationship can get a little easier from now on. You´re in a classroom. That means you do what I tell you to do, not the other around. Now that this much is clear, you are going to sit your pseudo-rocker, wannabe-thug, back-talking arse down...Now."

James rolled his eyes and scoffed, but did as told.

"Very well. Now, care to tell me what this class was about?"

"How the hell am I supposed to know?"

"Oh, yeah...you slept through half of it...and seemingly your brain is not competent enough to remember what you did witness, am I correct?"

"Did you just call me stupid?"

"I don´t know you well enough to say that. But you are surely making it a point to make everyone around you doubt your intellect and capabilities... Let´s see... you are wearing a jacket with the anarchist symbol on it, even tough given your built and attitude you´d probably not last a day alive in a society without a State to keep you protected. You´ve wasted about half your notebook trying to come up with a decent graffitti tag but you aren´t even be able to replicate other people´s tags, which is a clear sign that your artistic skills are as mediocre as your grades. Which is the whole reason you emulate Kurt Cobain with this silly hair of yours, isn´t it? You want to be a rebellious young artist or anything equally interesting, but not washing your hair is the closest you can get to it. I know from your file that you´re prone to putting up this juvenile delinquent act, but judging by how clean your shirt is and the fact that you actually bother to show up for school at all, I´m more inclined to think you´re less of a thug and more of regular teenager  with and attitude. So forgive me if I´m too honest, but you have yet to give me a reason to take you seriously."

"Fine." She could hear his voice falter just slightly. Nerve hit. Good. "You don´t take me seriously and I´m a failure. Can I just go now?"

"I´m not done."

"Am I just gonna sit here while you...?"

"Do not interrupt me. As I was saying.... I see no reason to take you seriously. That doesn´t mean there isn´t a reason to take you seriously."

"Yeah, right..."

"Next class, I want a ten minute presentation, please write down the theme."

"What?!"

"Write down the theme, Mr.Wright....'What is History and why study it?'. I want it in your own words, no copying from any encyclopedia or book, got it? I will know if you do that."

"Is this all payback because I slept in your class? You don´t have to be such a bitch about it."

"First of: I´m not being a bitch. Trust me, you will know when I´m being a bitch and I´m not even started here. Second: yes, it is about your behaviour in class, but not in the way you think it is. You may believe that by disturbing my class, then just ignoring me you are, somehow, sticking up to authority and making yourself grander than you are. I hate to burst your bubble, but whether you pay attention or sleep, whether you succeed or flunk, whether you go from this school to a decent university, or to a good job or the unemployment line, or jail...I won´t be affected in the least. My life goes on, and my paycheck will be the same. What I´m doing here is giving you an opportunity to make me care at all about you. To make me see you as more than a waste of space, to see you as person with ideas and opinions I might be interested to acknowledge. Unless of course...you really are a waste of space. You may go now, Mr. Wright."

The boy begrudgingly collected his material and walked towards the door.

"Oh, Mr. Wright?"

"What now?!"

"Don´t think I didn´t hear those anti-Irish slurs earlier in class. I will let it slide for now because it was the first day and my expectations about you are not exactly high. But if that happens again, I´ll make you sit through the entire Michael Collins biopic and write a hundred-page essay about it...with focus on historical context."

 

-----------------------------------------------

 

The tree was still there.

Severus stood in front ot the old elder next to Cokeworth Academy, as his eyes followed the faded contours scrambled words and doodles he had carved into the ashen bark so many years ago. Before Hogwarts, this was where Lily went to school. Severus would hide behind that Elder so none of the other children would see him as he waited for Lily to come out of school. In a good day his mother would give him some loose change so they could have some ice-cream in that cheap cafe a few blocks away...Buckwheat pancakes, if it was a really good day.  He never had enough to pay for everything, but if he had at least half the price so he and Lily could split the bill, it wasn´t so bad. He´d never have Lily pay his way, so if his pockets happened to be empty, then they´d go home so his mother could serve them some biscuits with tea.

When Ms. Black had told him she was going to teach at Cokeworth Academy, Severus had been mildly annoyed...he couldn´t tell exactly why. Part of it was sheer frustration at the thought of Trinity professor deciding to waste time with playing schoolmaster...But maybe the main reason had been that school....It still reminded him too much of Lily. Evelyn Black was unintentionally forcing her way into his life in such a manner that made him less than comfortable. She was a muggle, a woman from a little village in Ireland...She was completely removed from his life, from who he was and the things he had lived. She should have no significant impact on him...just another muggle...And yet, she was inserting herself into his familiar surroundings in a way that felt both seamless and unnerving. He had known her for a little over a week, and yet she had already become a familiar habit, from the sight of that dreadfully red Volvo on the street, to the sound of her high heels on the pavement outside. Even as he opened his cabinet of potion ingredients, the lavender springs would immediately trigger an immediate association in his brain. She wasn´t supposed to be there, and it didn´t seem like she´d leave any sooner...But he shouldn´t be getting used.

Now he had to wonder why had he was standing there...in front of that school, of that tree...He had been avoiding this place and the memories that came with it for years....why now?

The school bell rang. It was probably a good time to leave, but he stayed. He didn´t know what he was waiting for, but he stayed. A horde of children and teenagers stormed from the building making an unholy racket. He couldn´t see her among the teachers who were coming out...maybe she had left earlier...She wasn´t a regular teacher, so her classes might have a different schedule. Still, he stood there...some twenty minutes later the sight of her red trench coat caught his eye against the greyish brown stone of the building. She walked briskly, papers, notebooks and briefcases on her left arm, car keys and an oversized bag in her right hand.

Severus stood still, resisting the sudden impulse to walk up to her. In spite of himself he had picked up the habit of seeking her, of going to her her whenever she showed up. Probably because he knew she would want to talk to him, so it as better to get the forced social exchange out of the way. It was just Evelyn Black´s way of doing things. She was a deeply gregarious creature, and Severus being her only neighbour often meant he was the victim of choice in her outbursts of sociability. After a little over a week of this, Severus had learned resistance was futile. And, if he was to be completely honest with himself, he had to admit it was not as infuriating as it was at first. Evelyn Black was a good distraction. She was energetic, smart, good-looking. Severus had fun observing her, giving her half clues about her search for her family´s past, teasing her about her job, her career choices, her eating and drinking habits, her Irish mannerisms to get her goat. In some ways it was like shaking a shiny toy in front of a curious kitten.

Another person came into his field of vision, startling him. A shorter woman with long blond hair wearing a hot pink duffel coat and ligt colored jeans came running after Evelyn. For a few seconds the two stood next to Evelyn´s car and talked cheerfully. Severus watched as red and pink moved into the dull greyish afternoon as both women got into Evelyn´s car and left.

Good. He needed a walk.

 

-----------------------------------

 

They walked into the little café just a couple blocks from the school and found it almost empty. It was a tiny little place with a décor that looked stuck inthe 50s, only with the colours almost entirely faded by the passing years. They chose a table by the window and sat down, leaving the coats and bags on the extra chair. A grumpy-looking waiter came over and handed them two menus, leaving them almost immediately.

"Well, service is not all that...and their tea is practically toilet water." Angela giggled "But they do make the best buckwheat pancakes. And this place is cheap....mostly because it sucks, but yay! pancakes!"

"Well, I can´t oppose pancakes. Just to be safe, whatever we drink let´s make sure it comes in a can or bottle." Evelyn told her, gesturing for the waiter to come back.

"Sounds like a plan." Angela turned to the waiter "We´ll both have the buckwheat pancakes, and a bottle of mineral water for me. You, Evelyn?"

"Mineral water is fine."

"Ok, then water for us both."

"How do you know this place?"Evelyn asked as the waiter walked away "I´ve passed by this street a couple of times and never noticed it."

"Oh, they´re not so grand in advertising...Or keeping the façade presentable for that matter. But anybody who grew up in Cokeworth knows this place. Worst tea and best pancakes of all Greater Manchester!"

"So, you´re from Cokeworth."

"My mother is. I was born in Liverpool actually. But we moved back to live with my grandmother after my father passed away. My mother worked long hours and nannies were too expensive."

"I see..."

"Eh...It was a long time ago." Angela smiled. They had known each other for only a few hours, but Evelyn felt at ease with Angela, actually, Angie, as she preferred to be called. She seemed to be constantly happy and would crack jokes at every given opportunity. In some ways she reminded her of her sister, Caitlin, at least on the surface. Angela taught English, and juggled both regular classes and the extra classes of the support program and the conversation they had at the teacher´s lounge during a coffee break quickly revealed she shared many of Evelyn´s views about teaching and education. So when she approached her at the end of the workday saying she had something do discuss with her, Evelyn was immediately interested. "So, how was your first day?"

"Not nearly as bad as people would have me believe it would, actually."

"Did you make Mr. Wright´s acquaintance."

"Oh, James...bit of a ruffian, no?"

"Like father like son..."

"So..problems at home...I´m not surprised"

"The classical case. Father is a good for nothing, mother is doing her best but...you know."

"Figures."

"Actually James is just a sample of our larger problem....ours kids are not motivated enough..."

"Not surprising, if I may say so..."

"You´re right. After the mill closed motivation became a rare commodity in Cokeworth. The city is getting back on its feet, but those things take time..."

"Well, the support program is a start."

"It is. And that´s why I wanted to talk to you. You see, I´ve had this idea for quite a while, but the history teacher before you was very skeptical about it, and I think so is Mr. Nolan...Mr. Nolan is great person, but he can be a tad conservative. I was hoping that maybe you could help me sell this one"

"Then do tell..."

 

---------------------------

 

Severus came out of a tobacco shop´where he had just bough a new pack of cigarettes and lit up a fag. His last pack had ran out on him just that morning, which was actually quite unusual. He rarely saw a single pack last him a week, but for some reason he had been smoking less lately. Of course after his conversation with Lucius he had returned to his old habits and gone through some four cigarettes on a row as soon as he had gotten home. Lucius stubborn stupidity just wore his patience too thin, and after a long while of most complete peaceful muggle anonymity, the mere sigh of Malfoy´s manor had made him instantly weary and moody. If only he could completely sever ties with that whole mess...

"Hello, Severus!" A soft male voice came from behind him, cutting his train of thought.

"Father Thomas, hello." he answered flatly, after a bit of hesitation. If the man didn´t have his clerical collared shirt under the heavy fisherman styled jacket, Severus might not have recognized him. It had been some years since they last saw each other and he had to admit the image of a young thirty-something Fr. Thomas was clearer in his mind...probably because his childhood memories in general were fresher, even tough they should be worn out from being overplayed in his brain.

"It´s been a while." The priest walked over to him, carrying a plastic shopping bag, his face mildly reddened by the cold.

"Yes...some years." Severus slowed down his steps, allowing the older man to walk along with him.

"I didn´t know you were back in Cokeworth. Weren´t you living in Scotland?"

"Yes,I was."

"Are you back for good?"

"It seems so."

"Weren´t you teaching in Scotland? What happened to that?"

"Not anymore...early retirement, so to speak"

"Oh...I didn´t know." Fr. Thomas seemed uneasy for a while as they walked side by side, silently. "How´s Evelyn doing?"

"Excuse me?" Severus turned to him, surprised. Why would he be asking him that? As if Severus was supposed to know anything about her. He bit back his tongue not to sneer something rude.

"Your new neighbour, Ms. Black. I met her when he came to the church about a week ago,lovely woman... but I haven´t seen her since."

"You probably won´t be seeing much of her...she just found a job."

"Oh, but that´s wonderful. She´ll be staying in Cokeworth then."

"It seems so."

"I´m glad. Say, where is she working?"

"Cokeworth Academy. She´s teaching history there." Damnit, Severus tought to himself. Do I look like her husband or father to be giving out information about her?

"Cokeworth Academy...is where that young girl you were friends with went to school, no? What was her name again? Lilian?"

"Lily. Lily Evans."

"Yes! Lily. You must forgive my lapse in memory. Age is catching up to me."

"Well Lily´s family wasn´t Catholic, so I don´t think you saw much of her. Is natural not to remeber" Severus smirked bitterly. The Snapes weren´t Catholic either and yet Fr. Thomas saw plenty of them. But then again Lily´s family didn´t need church charity like the Snapes did.

"True, true. Whatever happened to Lily? It´s been so many years since I last saw her."

"It´s been a long time I don´t see her either..." Severus let his eyes wonder away and follow the silhouettes of the dead trees that lined the street near Our Lady of Cokeworth church.

He shouldn´t have left his house today. First the school and now Fr. Thomas...both aged and inexorable reminders of the time he spent running around these old, dull streets, following the sound of Lily´s laugh, the brilliant red of her hair as it waved around her shoulders, the click-clack of her red mary-janes as she played hopscotch on the concrete of the church´s playground. In some way, returning to Cokeworth made such memories at once closer and distant. Cokeworth had changed, the playground had changed, the school had changed...even father Thomas has changed, as the crow´s feet around his bright blue eyes and the extra padding around his midriff attested. But what was truly unsettling to him was how much things changed and yet remained the same. The church was still there, children still played at the playground, the school bell still sounded everyday at the same hour, and Fr. Thomas remained the talkative and debonair priest who´d stop him on the street to ask how he was doing. And maybe that was the exact thing that pained Severus the most. Lily wasn´t there. Things changed and things remained the same...and she wasn´t there. In many ways Severus knew the nine-year old boy who had met Lily in a sunny afternoon almost thirty years ago refused to die within him...but what use was for him to be alive when his only playmate was no longer there? Lily was forever young, forever joyous...forever gone. Her playmate who stayed behind, still lived...but what had become of him?

"Well, here we must part." Fr. Thomas smiled "It was nice talking to you, Severus."

"Likewise, Father."

"I hope yo see you again soon. It´s not everyday we get to see this city´s children come back all grown up."

"Maybe that´s for a reason, Father."

"Maybe...still, I´m glad to see you again."

"Thank you."

"Oh, Severus?"

"Yes?"

"Send my regards to Ms. Black. Tell her I´d love to see her in church one of these days, if she can make it."

"I will. I´m sure she´ll find the time."

"Maybe you both will"

"Aren´t we full of maybes today, father?"

"Is there anything else to life other than maybes, son?"

"I guess not."

 

------------------------------

 

Even before she got out of her car, Evelyn could see the tall man all dressed in black, casually standing by her door.

"Severus!" she called out, picking up her handbag and papers from the passenger seat.

"How was your first day?" he smirked, tossing away his cigarette.

"I´m afraid to say your prophetic abilities are not all you think they are. None of the catastrophes you predicted happened." She smiled. Severus could detect a hint of tiredness on her. Just a hint. That usual look most people had after a day full of activities. The papers and folders she had with her were a bit disorganised, her bag was open, her usually flawlessly styled hair was slightly messy and there was a slight paleness to her face. Surely it had been a long day.

"Well, my area of expertise is potions not prophecies"

"If you have a potion that makes teenagers pay attention, I´d love to have it."

"If I did, I would have used it myself already."

"Fair point. But, yes. My first day was rather good, actually. Thank you for asking."

Severus shifted uneasily on his feet as she opened the door.

"Ms. Black, I.."

"How long is it going to take you to just call me Evelyn?" She smiled

"Well, I..I know you probably had a long day, but..."

"Come in...I´ll make us some tea"

Chapter Text

"I just ate something at Café Yalta, but I can fix you something to eat if you want" Evelyn offered as she poured him some tea.

"Just tea will sufice, thank you. Café Yalta, huh? I hope to God you only had their buckwheat pancakes."

"You know the place?"

"Everybody does. Best pancakes and..."

"...worst tea of all Greater Manchester! So it IS true. Angela told me exactly that!" she laughed softly, sitting besides him and kicking off her shoes by the side of the couch.

"Angela?"

"Yeah, a colleague of mine. English teacher. She wouldn´t let me have their tea because it supposedly tastes like toilet water"

"She might as well have saved you from some nasty infection. 'Supposedly' is entirely too kind. I´m fairly confident that their tea is actual toilet water."

"Cokeworth should put that in touristic brochures, 'Come to Cokeworth and drink the world´s worst tea'" her silvery laugher was growing in volume around him, as she ran her fingers through her long hair making herself comfortable on the couch. Severus had noticed that lately she had started  to get very much at ease around him . Worse still, it had ceased to bother him.

"I´m sure it´s there somewhere with the high crime rates and the most polluted river in Great Britain"

"You know, sometimes is just amazingly moving to see how much you love your home town."

"Wit that being said, you must agree, Cokeworth´s many touristic attractions are not what one can safely consider an interesting topic for conversation."

"I didn´t know that café was famous...or rather, infamous."

"Mostly among the people of my generation. The owners came from Ukraine...expatriates from the Soviet Union. It added to the charm, I guess. Many children and teenagers would go there...family-owned place, low prices, hyper-caloric foods, close to the city´s main school..."

"Now I get why they have all that Slavic art on the walls. I quite liked it, actually. So, were you one of the children or teenagers that went there?"

"When we had money, yes."

"We?"

"Uh...yes. Me and a friend, usually. To split the bill" Severus swallowed hard. Had he really said 'we'? Of course he always went to that place with Lily...so, it was 'we'. He shifted on his seat, uncomfortably."So...I´ve read those letters..."

"Oh, great-grandma Violetta´s crazy letters? What´s your verdict?"

"Well, much like you I couldn´t find an explicit reason for the Black family to have disowned your grandfather. Which only leads me to believe that there must have been some sort of intellectual disagreement"

"Such as?"

"From what you´ve told me about your grandfather he was a very...excentric man, correct?"

"Very much so. It was half of what made him an excellent grandfather to have"

"And he was an intellectual, so to speak. One with some very liberal ideas, possibly?"

"I´d say. It was one of the reasons why some of the people from Doolin didn´t really trust him when he first moved there. He was too...English, too urban too modern for their tastes. When my father was born the first thing my grandfather did was start saving up to pay for his studies, send him to university...he wanted my father to have the best possible education. It´s funny, even tough he converted to Catholicism, he remained pretty much non-religious. He converted just so he could marry my grandmother and nothing else. He kept butting heads with my mother about how silly it was to be giving us kids a religious education. I guess more than being 'liberal' per se, he was a no-nonsense type of man...didn´t have much patience for traditions, appearances or social norms he disagreed with..."

"And his family...it seems to me...was the exact opposite. A conservative, traditional family bound by appearances. I suppose that´s where the problem lay."

"I believe you are right. But that still doesn´t explain a number of things. This house for once. Why would they own a house in a poor district of an industrial town up North, if they were from London?"

"I can´t say I have an answer for that, honestly."

"You know....something crossed my mind...but it might be too crazy..."

"...and what would that be?"

"Promise me you won´t laugh?"

"Miss Black, in the realm of intellectual conjectures there´s not such a thing as laughable. Do tell me"

"Well...I´ve been wondering...and in my mind the only possible reason a rich family from London would have a house in a city up north in a place most people would not associate with them is if they didn´t want people to know about that particular house...correct?"

"Yes, correct."

"Now, why wouldn´t they want people to know about it, is what I aske myself...Maybe I´m venturing into romanesque territory here, but I guess four years dating a novelist will do that to your mind...but...what if this house was a cover for something or some activity they didn´t want publicized? Maybe something illegal?"

Severus frowned. No, this wasn´t crazy at all. Evelyn had no idea of who the Blacks really were, but she had inadvertedly found the right track. It wouldn´t surprise Severus at all if this house was a cover for activities the Black family wanted hidden from the Ministry of Magic, maybe even some related to their blood supremacy agenda. Except...no that was not right... If they had been using
this house for this purpose then why would they pass it own to their only Squib child? Marius had all the reasons in the world to want to rattle them out to the Ministry, after being disowned and expelled from the family, so why put a house in his hands that was probably as good as physical evidence of their wrong-doings? He looked back at Evelyn and noticed was biting her lower lip, which he knew was a sign of tension in her.

"And is there any reason in particular you think that?" he ventured, trying to get her to keep talking.

"I have something to show you..." She put her mug on the coffee table and turned to him, taking his hand into hers "Come with me for a moment..."

Severus left his own tea next to hers on the table and followed her, the warmth of her hand on his making him entirely too uncomfortable as they climbed up the stairs. As he imagined her house was built exactly like his, the narrow staircase that only made room for one person to climb up, forcing anybody else to follow in line, led into a tiny vestibule. Upstairs there were two bedrooms and a bathroom, much like his own house. But something was different. There was a fourth door there.

"See that door?"

"Yes"

Se walked over to it and opened it. It led into another staircase, on the top of which there was yet another door, painted in black, with something metallic on it that he couldn´t quite make out. Evelyn got up with some difficulty. The ceiling was too low even for her shorter frame, so to follow her up Severus had to practically fold his body in two. They reached the top of the stairs and now
Severus could see somewhat clearly into the small and dark space. The metalinguistic shape he saw was a strange type of handle shaped like a dragon-like snake. There was no lock of any kind.

"A basilisk..." he whispered without thinking

"You´re right, it´s a basilisk. The mythical king of serpents..."

"How did you find this?"

"The keys my grandfather left me...one of them opens the bottom door...but look at this! This door has no lock. And no key. I have exactly six keys for this house: one for each bedroom, one for the bathroom, one for the front door, one for the back door and one for the bottom door we just came through. As you know the kitchen has no lock it opens directly into the living room. So how is this
door supposed to open?"

"Maybe it´s not supposed to be opened." he told her coldly. He was at a complete loss to what he should think, but one thing he knew: her theory was becoming more and more plausible.

"Exactly! Is like they sealed this door so whatever it is that´s in there can´t be found! I´ve made up my mind. As soon as I have the time I´m going to find somebody to bash this open, with a chainsaw if necessary."

"No!" Severus almost yelled

"What do you mean, 'no'?"

"You don´t know what´s in there and for how long it has been there. It could be even toxic, with houses this old, it´s always a possibility. Besides, we don´t know enough about the structure of this house to just go bashing it to pieces." Severus swallowed hard. It was certain this door had a spell or charm attached to it. The Blacks wouldn´t have done any less if they wanted to hide something. There was no way to predict the consequences of taking a chainsaw to it.

"Oh dear, you´re right. Speaking about the structure of this house...."

"What about it?"

"Tell me...do your house has a third floor...or an attic?"

"No."

"Come with me..."

She went down the stairs hurriedly, like a raptor flying low, then down to the ground floor and rushed out to street without as much as waiting for him to keep up. He followed and looked at her in absolute puzzlement as they stood in the middle of the street outside.

"What are you trying to do, if I may ask?"

"Look up"

"Sorry?"

"Look up!" she pointed at the ceiling of her house "Do you see a third floor?"

He looked up. No, he didn´t see a third floor, or an attic. Just two floors, exactly like his house.

"I don´t." he answered flatly

"Then...WHERE does that door lead?"

That was it. That door led into a magically created third floor. One that muggles wouldn´t see from the outside. Actually wizards wouldn´t either, since he couldn´t see it. But that didn´t make any sense. If they had created a magical hidden room, then why leave the door to it visible to anybody? The right way to perform that spell would be to disappear with the room and any entrances to it. Of
course him being a wizard he might have the ability to at least see the door (as it would be rather impractical to hide the door from magical eyes) but Evelyn Black surely wasn´t supposed to be able to see it.

"Maybe it doesn´t lead anywhere. Just an architectural prank"

"It´s not!"

"You seem awfully sure."

"I tried to bash it in. Almost disloacted my shoulder in the process. From the sound it made, I can tell you, there´s a room behind that door!"

"You tried to bash it in?! Are you insane? You could have kiled yourself!"

"Killed myself?!" she laughed thunderously "Trying to bust a door open? I may be a weak little woman, but I´m surely NOT made of glass."

"I mean..." Severus took a deep breath. This was NOT the right time to explain to her how disturbing a spell could get her killed "...you could have fallen from those stairs."

"Oh, that...I suppose you´re right. But then again...If can´t bash it in, If can´t bring a chainsaw to it...what am I supposed to do?!"

"For now? Get a hold of your destructive cravings. While we don´t get a clear notion of the whole structure of this house and what damages it could cause to break that door in, you´ll have to restrain yourself." he told her seriously, hoping to buy himself some
time.

"So, am I just supposed to go to bed at night knowing there´s a ghost third floor above my head?"

"Unless you start hearing spectral moaning and chains being dragged in the dead of night, that´s exactly what you´re going to do"

"And if that happens, can I break it or should I wait for the Ghostbusters?!"

"I´m serious, Ms. Black. Give me some time and I´ll think about what we can do. Meanwhile find me the floorplan, or any other layout of the house. If you can be just a little patient we´ll find a solution to this."

 

------------------------------

 

Cokeworth Academy

Tuesday, October 13th

James sat on the front steps of the school building, staring at the blank page of his notebook. Last night he had stared for a long time at that exact same blank page "What is history and why study it?"...In his own words. Ms. Black might as well have asked him to design a rocket for a space mission destined for Pluto. What was he supposed to know about why we study history? All he needed was to bump  his grades up enough not to fail the school year...Well, it wasn´t like he was doing anything about that either...but damnit, this was pure revenge. Just because he had slept during her class and made a few stupid jokes about her. He tought the Irish could take a joke...

"James!"

He looked up. Constance, or Tancey as everybody called her,was crossing the entrance gate, wearing her signature black fake leather boots, that red kilt she kept stealing from her sister´s closet and her favourite R.E.M t-shirt under a beat up dark green jacket. It was funny really how different Tancey was from himself, and yet out much they were similar. In many ways they were opposites Tancey was black, he was white, Tancey was short, focused and energetic, he was gangly and all over the place, Tancey had a normal family he had...a not-so-normal family, she had siblings, he didn´t, Tancey had friends, James had...Tancey. But in the things that mattered they were pretty much the same. They both liked alternative rock, they listened to the same artists, they watched the same tv shows, the same movies... and they were friends, which was pretty much enough. Of course her parents weren´t too keen on some of the music she listened to, or the fact that she had James in tow almost all the time...but this was exactly why he liked Tancey: she didn´t give a hoot about what anybody thought.

"You´re early." she sat besides him, trying to sneak a peak into his notebook.

"Trying to get this sodding assignment done."

"The one Ms. Black gave you yesterday?"

"Yeah...she´s trying to get even because I slept in her class."

"Oh, please...if anything she´d be trying to get even because you called her names. Pikey? Really? Couldn´t you at least have come up with something clever?"

"Who´s side are you on?"

"Nobody´s. I rather let you butt heads with her on your own lonesome self. I have my own stuff to mind, remember? I´m in her class too, after all"

"And I swear I don´t know why. Your grades are ok."

"Not my History grades. I mean, really? What use is it to me to know about the bloody Battle of sodding Waterloo? At least with math there´s a right answer and there´s that."

"Welcome to the party. I have to come up with some explanation to 'why we should study history'"

"Because the school tells us we have to?" she laughed

"I can´t put that! Crazy Ms. Black already has it in for me as it is!"

"Don´t be such a big baby. Ms Black is ok."

"Says you."

"Well, off course, I wasn´t sleeping on her class and calling her names like a looser wannabe skinhead, was I?"

"Ok, so it´s all my fault."

"Just saying, if you want to piss off the teacher, don´t expect her to love you."

"Moments of wisdom with Constance Rhea Francis. Thank you"

"You know you´d be lost without my precious advise." she gave him a playful push on his arm before turning to the side "speaking of the devil..."

James turned to see Ms. Black´s red Volvo driving into the parking lot of the school. He shoved his notebook into his backpack and made it to get up, but Tancey pulled him down by the back of his trousers making him fall back with his arse on the hard stone steps.

"Shit, Tancey!" he sneered

"Are you gonna run away from her, you nancy?"

"I´m not running away from her! I just don´t want her to be on my case, AGAIN!"

"Oh, shut up and sit down"

They looked on as their teacher got out of the car and walked towards the main entrance. James was starting to get royally annoyed at Ms. Black. Just look at her! With her expensive shoes and fancy clothes and leather bag...sodding woman was just a fascinator away from fitting right in with those weirdos that are always around the Royal Family like moths to a flame...shouldn´t she be going to the races in Ascot instead of giving him hell?

"Hello Mr. Wright, Ms.Francis" she stopped in front of them, with that smug smile of hers.

"Hello, Ms. Black" Constance answered, then promptly shoved her elbow into his ribs to snap him out of his stubborn silence.

"Hi..." he let out, curmudgeonly

"The two of you are quite early today."

"Yeah, James is working on that presentation you asked."

"Tancey!" James hissed

"Is that so? How´s that going?"

"Eh..."

"Do you need any help?"

"Help?"

"Yes, help, guidance, orientation, clarification.... Those things I´m paid to do, remember?"

"No, I´m ok."

"No, he´s not! Me neither, actually. There´s still a lot of stuff from last class that I didn´t get!"

"Nerd" James rolled his eyes

"Don´t be stupid, she just offered to help! If you want to fail history, good for you, but I don´t!"

"Ok, ok, kids." Evelyn checked her watch “We still have some thirty minutes before the first class starts. Why don´t we go in and brainstorm a little?"

"Brainstorm?" James lifted an eyebrow

"Are you familiar with the concept?" Evelyn smirked

"Of course..." he scoffed

"Very well. So let´s go inside and throw some ideas around, maybe things will become a little clearer for you."

Constance followed Evelyn inside the school, as James dragged his feet behind them, grumbling under his breath.

 

---------------------------

Severus stared at the door of of Evelyn Black´s house for a few long minutes before finally deciding to take is wand out of his pocket and get to it. The idea of breaking into her house while she was at work definitely bothered him. Severus never had any qualms about doing reprehensible things as long as it was for a good reason. As any Slytherin worth his or her salt could agree, the ends justify
the means. But to break into Evelyn´s house of all things just felt markedly...wrong.

Still, it was for her own good. He didn´t feel well at ease knowing there was a magically locked up room inside that house, closed off with a spell he had yet to identify. As to what was hidden inside the room, it was anyone´s guess, which was, frankly alarming. Evelyn Black was a very stubborn woman, and  extremely curious. A combination that was as fruitful for an intellectual as it was potentially dangerous when dealing with magic. Danger that increased significantly considering she was a muggle. Severus knew Evelyn wouldn´t find rest until she had opened that door and found what what was inside. And he had no way to keep her from trying to do so without raising suspicions. So, what was left for him to do was to open it before she had the chance to try, and find out first whatever was in there.

She had gone to work a little earlier today. This Tuesday she would have a meeting with the principal so they could discuss some plans she and her colleague Angela had come up with for the students. Some sort of interdisciplinary approach to motivate students. It seemed like Miss Evelyn Black had found an equally idealistic educator in Miss Angela Holt. Well, if it kept her away from home enough for him to do what he had to...

"Alohomora" he let out softly, pointing his wand at the lock.

The door didn´t move.

"Alohomora!" he repeated, louder. The door trembled slightly, the doorknob moved a couple of times...but nothing.

So, there was a spell cast over the house. Predictable. If Evelyn´s suspicions were correct, and Severus was inclined to think they were, and this house was a cover for illegal activities, then it was only reasonable to cast a locking charm over it. The keys to the house were surely magical as well, which was the only explanation as to how Evelyn Black could go in and out without issue. Very well then...he´d have to exhaust the unlocking charms until he found one that worked.

"Dunamis!"

Nothing. Next...

"Liberare!"

Still nothing. Fine. Next one...

"Emancipare!"

Severus frowned. Obviously, harsher measures were in order. He´d have to break the door in. Nothing he couldn´t repair before Ms. Black made it back home.

"Portaberto"

Once again the doorknob twisted a few time, but remained closed.

"Open sesame!"

The door hinges squeaked loudly, but nothing else happened.

"Anihilare!"

The door trembled violently, but didn´t bust open.

Severus frowned. It was obviously a special spell...Inside, Evelyn´s cat had started to mewl. The violent shaking of the door must have scared him. Severus looked from the corner of his eye and saw the black cat climb up the window.

"Good day to you too, fleabag" he smirked. Ciarán squeezed himself out of the semi closed window and jumped outside onto the street, coming to rub himself on his legs.

The it suddenly hit Severus. Ciarán often snuck out of the house to go "visit" him, and never managed to make it back inside, even when the windows were wide open. So evidently it wasn´t just the doors and locks that were charmed. It was the entire house. He picked up the cat from the ground and put it back on the windowsill, gently prodding it to go back inside. As expected, he couldn´t. For the sake of experimentation, Severus tried to stick his hand into the small open space Ciarán had just exited through.

It was like hitting an invisible wall. His hand couldn´t make it into the window without being forced back.

The key. Of course, that was it. The key!

Ms. Black´s keys had to be the answer. Now he got it. Only the key could break the charm. Severus had heard about something like this. Of course he had! He remembered now...it was rare, but not unheard of. The Claudatur charm. A specific spell that was rather popular among pureblood wizards who wished to conceal their riches from outsiders to the family. It was usually cast upon safes, boxes and other similar containers, and it would take quite some effort to cast it over an entire house. But it was nothing that a skilled wizard or witch couldn´t do with enough experience.

What made this spell different from the others was the fact that there wasn´t a counter-spell to it. The only way to open a door or safe secured with Claudatur was to have the key and the right blood.  What really set this spell apart was the fact that his efficiency was based on blood-ties (something purebloods were enough obsessed with). The key didn´t work with just anybody. It was the main feature of Claudatur that the magical key had to be passed on from one member of the same family to another. Only if the key had been given to a direct relative, somebody who shared blood ties with the giver would the key work. There was, however,  a possibility to break or bend the spell, by creating a copy of the key that would work for anybody else, regardless of blood...but not only did it require a great amount of skill, the original key was necessary.

So that´s how Evelyn Black could come in and out of that house without any trouble, regardless of being a muggle. Violetta Black had given Marius Black the key, then he had given it to his son Marius Jr. who finally gave it to his daughter, Evelyn Black. Great-grandmother, grandfather, father and daughter. The same blood.

Severus would have to find a way to obtain the key from Evelyn...If he could find a way to bend the Claudatur by making a copy of the key, then he´d be able to let himself in in her absence. After that he´d have to come up with a way to open the door to the mysterious attic before she decided to take an axe to it.

--------------------------

Our Lady of Cokeworth Church

October 21st (a week later)

Fr. Thomas had just finished listening to the last, and only, confession of the afternoon. It was a rare event to have more than one confession on any given day. Of course he would never admit this outloud, but it didn´t really bother him that his flock didn´t confess as often as they used to in the past. The sacrament of penance and reconciliation was surely of utmost importance and not at all something that should be brushed aside. But Fr. Thomas could remember the not so good old days when anything and everything was a reason to come to the confessional.

He believed in an intimate relation between man and God, one that didn´t necessarily had to be mediated by a priest. He much rather think of himself as a man to whom people could come when they needed solace, advise or just someone who would listen. That was how he liked to see the confessional...as a place a person in need can find somebody to listen and help, feeling confident that whatever is shared there will stay between them and God. It wasn´t a place for people to come in and list a string of obnoxious little pecadillos just so they could feel better about themselves without having to do any deep self examination.

The church was still empty. 5:30pm. He should start preparing for the 6pm service. As he closed the confessional he heard footsteps coming from the front door.

"Fr. Thomas?" a husky alto called out softly.

"Evelyn!" He opened his arms and let her walk into them for a short hug. "How are you doing, dear?"

"Busy." she smiled

"Busy is good. Busy is very good. Did Severus give you my message?" he offered her his arm as they walked towards the main altar

"He did. I meant to come last Sunday, but I was so tired I stayed home all day"

"No worries. You´ve worked all week. God appreciates good honest work as much as he appreciates prayer, I assure you. Speaking of which, how are things going in Cokeworth Academy?"

"Good...slightly crazy, but that´s how it goes with teenagers."

"Teenagers...bless the youth, but pray they don´t drive us bonkers."

"Actually...that´s what I wanted to talk to you about..."

"Your students you mean?"

"Exactly. Fr. Thomas...Halloween is coming up, and I hear you have a party every year for the neighbourhood children?"

"Yes, you heard it correctly. Actually, we are starting the preparations for it. Why?"

"Well, I just had a meeting with our principal, Mr. Nolan. And he agreed that a good way to help the students who are having difficulties with their grades is to give them some extra curricular activities. You know to motivate them, maybe help the school reconnect with the community"

"So you´re thinking of bringing your students to the party?"

"Yes, but not just bring them to the party. How would you feel about having some extra help?"

"Oh, you mean..."

"Yes, I´m thinking about coming here with my students and some teachers who have already volunteered so we can work at the Halloween party. Maybe we could even make a bigger party this year. What do you say?"

"Well, Evelyn what can I say? Bring them in. Bring them all in! You know what, why don´t you stay for mass and after the service we can discuss this in more detail?"

------------------------

A week.

It took him the whole week to finally manage to get the key.  

In that week, it had become a sort of ritual for him to visit Ms. Black every afternoon after she came home from work, to have tea and talk. She´d talk about her work, her family, they´d discuss books, music, the news... whatever she felt like talking.... Severus just humoured her. It didn´t hurt at all actually. On occasion he had managed to get her to talk about her brother for a while, but the whole topic was too sensitive. He had yet to get any useful information about that...All in all, those evenings provided him with a distraction and gave him enough familiarity with the house, not to mention precious information about her and her grandfather. The subject of the mysterious attic would emerge frequently, and by now Severus wasn´t sure he could keep her from trying to open it by force. Her patience was running short, and he had to act.

But now he had it. He dropped by Ms. Black´s house in the morning, with the excuse of returning one of the books he had borrowed. He had barely read it, it was nothing but an excuse to go visit her before work so he could meet her exactly at the time she left the house. He escorted her to her car and managed to take the key from her purse as she got in. Easy enough. It was laughable that Severus Snape had to resort to petty pickpocketing to achieve his ends, but he couldn´t afford to care about it.

It had taken him a whole week of study, an entire morning and most of the afternoon worth of work, but he finally had it. A perfect copy of the original key, magical properties included. He looked up from his work table to the wooden clock on his mantle. 5:45pm. Perfect. He had more than enough to take the original key and carefully leave it on the ground by Ms. Black´s front door. This way when she came back from work she´d just assume she had dropped it there in the morning. Severus put the copy in his pocket and walked out with the original in hand. He quickly did what he had to do and returned home. Today there would be no time to do test his spare key, as Ms. Black should be home any minute. But there was always tomorrow.

However, as he walked back to his own house a shadow flying from above caught his eye.

An owl.

The bird came down swiftly and gracefully perched on his windowsill. It wasn´t one of Hogwarts owls, he could tell by the species. If memory served him right, that was an European Eagle-owl. Not that Severus was an expert in birds, but that particular one was easy enough to recognise: large,  brown-black feathers with a rich and intricate combination of patterns like stripes,freckling and vermiculations and the very distinctive reddish-orange eyes. Furthermore, it wasn´t native e to Great Britain. Actually those could only be found in the continent...And Severus could bet that that particular one must have come from France.

The owl dropped a letter and took flight immediately. Severus picked it up. It was a blue envelope of high quality parchment. On the crimson seal he could see the dreadful coat of arms of the Rotts, a misshapen mess of bats and fleurs-de-lis. But the sender was not Claire, nor her beat up husband-slave. Severus didn´t even need to read the name on the envelope to know it couldn´t have been them. But the actual name written on the envelope didn´t surprise him any less.

"Draco Malfoy..."

 

----------

 

Chapter notes:

Claudatur is a charm that does not appear in the original Harry Potter canon. It was created for the purposes of this story.

The word Claudatur is the third-person singular present passive subjunctive of claudō, which is related to the Latin clāvis ("key, deadbolt, bar"), clāvus ("nail, peg"), claustrum ("bar, bolt, barrier"), claustra ("dam, wall, barricade, stronghold"). Cognate with Ancient Greek κλείς ("bar, bolt, key"), Old High German sliozan ("to close, conclude, lock"), Old Saxon slūtan ("to close, conclude,
lock"). So basically "Claudatur" means "locked", "closed" "bolted" or "barred"

Chapter Text

"Professor Snape

I´m not entirely sure this letter comes as a surprise. But knowing you I´d say no. As you can probably imagine my father contacted me right after the two of you met. Of course he didn´t tell me exactly what you talked about, as well he wouldn´t if he wanted to keep me in line with his newest plans, but knowing what I know about you and your real role in the war, I have a clear idea of why you came to the Malfoy manor.

I´ll have you know that appealing to my father will get you nowhere. Of course, I assume you never wanted to convince him of anything in the first place. You wouldn´t be so naïve as to expect my father to see the error of his ways and give the ministry any sort of help. You were trying to get to me.

As it always is with your plans, it worked. You have my attention.

My father sent me to France to keep me away from the disgrace of our family...As if the surname Malfoy wouldn´t follow me around, with all that comes with it. At least that´s what I tought at first. But as Claire and her husband welcomed me into their house, I soon realised there were other plans in store for me. Plans I did not want to be any part of.

That´s why I´m writing you. Without my parents´ knowledge and at risk of being disowned by the family I still have left.

In confidence that you will keep the source of your information secret (not only on my behalf but also because we both know doing otherwise would be counterproductive), I tell you what I know so far. The Lestranges were rescued by people send by the Rotts. I don´t know any names, tough. Last I heard of them they were being smuggled across the border of Germany and Czech Republic. I don´t know where they went from there, but if I had to guess, I´d say Russia. Dimitri was to meet them in Ústi nad Laben, so I think he´d take them to Russia where all his contacts are. I´m confident you´ll know what to do with the information and whatever else I may come up with in the future.

I don´t think I´ll be coming back to Great Britain anytime soon, but I´ll be in contact. Please, don´t write back.

Draco Malfoy"

Severus folded the letter and put it on his work table, leaning back on his chair. He was right about Malfoy... He had feared his intincts were wrong, but fortunately that wasn´t the case. Draco Malfoy was still very much under his father´s thumb...a whole upbringing with the same ideas being obssessively knocked into his impressionable young mind couldn´t be erased. But he still had time to break free and Severus believed he would...and the process had started. The war had left deep scars on him, in some ways depeer than those of his peers. Potter and his fellows had all suffered immensely, it couldn´t be denied...but they came out of the war as heros. Draco had seen and taken part in just as much death and mayhem, but when everything was said and done, he was one of "them", not one of "us". If that didn´t give him pause and a chance to finally grow up and do something of himself, nothing would.

But regardless of why the letter had been written, the important thing right now were the contents of it. Severus had just had the confirmation of his suspicions. Just as he expected Dimitri and Claire Rott were helping the Lestranges. He knew both of them were far too smart to believe the Lestranges were the Dark Lord´s natural "heirs". Claire and Dimitri were well aware they were only a pair of psychopathic yokels. But they were the only ones left from the Dark Lord´s inner circle...except for Severus himself, of course. If he had to guess, Severus would say the French and the Russian cells were going to use the Lestranges´knowledge to further their own agendas, then get rid of them. That plan only had one problem. The Lestranges didn´t really know much about Voldemort´s plan of action once Great Britain and Hogwarts had fallen. The only one who was privy to it was...Severus. So, surely, as soon as the two brothers had safely made it to Russia they´d start to think of a way to make him..."cooperate."

That gave Severus some time to think about what to do. But for now the most urgent issue to deal with was that sodding attic in Ms. Black´s house.

...

October 22nd

It worked. Severus couldn´t say he was surprised. Clever as the Claudatur charm might be, it was amazingly easy to break once one obtained the original key. He opened the door and turned on the lights. Evelyn´s house, like his own, didn´t get a lot of natural light and he wasn´t going to open the curtains, at risk of forgeting to close them again and raise suspicions. Ciarán was rolled up in a ball, on a cushion on the floor, but hearing the sound of the door opening then closing, raised his head. Upon seeing it was Severus he went back to sleep.

"I guess that´s why dogs are the ones who guard houses..." he smirked.

Severus looked around. That house looked quite odd when it was empty. It had nothing to do with the Claudatur charm or any sort of magic. It was something entirely different. Over the course of the last three weeks Severus had gotten used to associate these walls with the smell of lavender, fresh tea and home-made meals, the sound of soft music played at the lowest volume just for the sake of breaking the silence, Miss Black´s husky voice, her frank laughter...of her full-bodied mezzo singing unintelligible Irish songs as she ran errands in the kitchen (surprisingly...perfectly in tune.). Looking around he could see her in every single detail. The art-nouveau posters on the walls, the rows of neatly organised books, the papers and notebooks, the piles of colourful cushions, the little bric-a-brac of small decorative objects and subtle Irishisms,the warm colours and rich patterns...The house just oozed a feeling of energy and domestic bliss that felt suffocating when it´s owner wasn´t it...Like a stage ready for the play to start, but missing it´s main actress.

Severus shook his head, laughing at himself. He must have been delirious. Maybe it was too much familiarity making him get strange ideas...maybe it was Draco´s letter the day before which, much like Shacklebolt´s visit a week ago that forced him to face everything he sought to distance himself from. Knowing Claire, Dimitri and the Lestranges were planning to start the war all over again...which made him weary and eager to find some space of comfort and calm...even if it had to be the house of his pushy and annoyingly bubbly Irish neighbour. Two wars and that´s what he got for a retirement,...Do they have medals for this sort of thing?

Instead of wasting any more time with futile contemplations he climbed the stairs and went straight for the attic door Ms. Black had shown him a week before. Considering how much thought was put into locking the entire house, it was quite safe to assume the door to the attic would have been secured with a simpler spell.

He was right. It took him less than five minutes of experimentation with several unlocking charms for the lockless, keyless door to open, creaking loudly.

...

Cokeworth Academy

later that day

"Come ooon, Tancey!" James puffed, resting his back against the door and tapping his foot, anxiously.

"I´m almost done..." Tancey told him distractedly, as she scribbled the last words on her notebook.

"You know it´s called HOMEwork for a reason! Do you have to do it here?!"

"I don´t have to, but I want to! This way I get the rest of the afternoon free."

"For what? To run errands for Ms. Black?"

"You forgot she gave us the afternoon off today? We´re meeting Fr. Thomas tomorrow, you sourpuss! Are you still mad because she asked us to help with his Halloween party?"

"'Asked'?" he scoffed "She just ordered me to. And you volunteered because you´re a dork and the teacher´s pet."

"WRONG! I volunteered because it´s Halloween! Costumes, free candy..."

"Snotty brats running around and puking..."

"Do you happen to have anything better to do?"

"Actually I do. There´s gonna be a horror movie festival on Halloween night at the old movie theatre on Oldham Street. Only shorts. No American rubbish."

"Yeah, but that´s at night. The party is in the afternoon, we can do both" She finally closed her notebook and put it back in her briefcase, following him outside the classroom

"You really want to do this party thing?"

"Everybody does! Just today Mitch asked me about it"

James rolled his eyes..."Mitch"...It was so obnoxious that their P.E. teacher wanted to be called by his stupid nickname. He tried so hard to be the "cool teacher" he came off as desperate for attention. As if he didn´t get enough! All the girls had crushes on him and all the boys wanted to be like him. Actually not all the boys, just the "athletes"...they had a retarded little personality cult going on as if ol´pretty boy Mitch was their Messiah of all things manly. Pretentious wankers all of them...

" 'Mitch' asked you about it?" he asked, mocking her high-pitched, raspy voice.

"Yes, he did. He wants to help"

" 'Help'. I´ll bet you my autographed Ian Curtis photo dear old Mitch just wants to get into Ms. Black´s knickers"

"Ew, James, don´t be disgusting." She glared

"I mean it, wanna bet?" James shruged.

"What if he is interested in her? He´s a nice guy and they´re both grown ups."

"Ms. Black is too good for him."

"Waaaait, didn´t you think she was an authoritarian psycho?" Tancey raised an eyebrow and smirked

"She is. But he´s a retarded arse. I´ll take a psycho with a brain over a brainless wanker any day, thank you"

"Whatever you say...I´m starting to think you like Ms. Black after all..."

"Eh...I don´t hate her." he grumbled "But she IS an authoritarian psycho."

"Yeah...right..."

...

The large gray clock hanging from the white-tiled wall by the pool had already struck 6pm. Evelyn had lost track of time. One last turn...Evelyn pushed her feet against the wall, feeling her body move forward swiftly, gliding under water, piercing through it like an arrow, the world locked outside, nothing in her mind but the soft embrace of water, no weight, no effort, no cares, nothing but the clear, crisp blue surrounding her, and the complete conscience of every single muscle, of her breathing patterns, of her legs and arms...full control and total freedom.

Swimming had always been one of her favorite things to to. Being inside the water was much like being in the arms of an old lover. Growing up in a coastal village meant the sea was as constant a presence as the sky above her head. Doolin was a small town that rested upon the arms of three giants. The Cliff´s of Moher, the rocky plans of the Burren and the Atlantic ocean..Out of these three mighty titans that overlooked her tiny hometown, most people would be more suspicious of the sea. The fearsome waves that attracted surfers, the unphantomable dephts that challenged divers and fishermen..In many ways Ireland turned her back on Europe and embraced the sea...the open, wide, majestic, formidable Atlantic...

The cold and boisterous sea that bathed the west coast of Ireland had always been kind to Evelyn...Like an old friend, who had, patiently and lovingly, watched her grow up, even before she took her first steps, even before she was born. Her grandfather had been a fishermen for years, her father, as much of an intellectual as he might have been, was just as fascinated by the sea and would spend a good amount of his free time swimming and teaching her and her siblings how to. Evelyn, her brother Paul and her sister Caitlin had all been taught to swim as a babies. When her mother was pregnant with Paul she had terrible nausea almost throughout the gestation, but when she was carring Evelyn she barely felt a thing. So her father would often take her on his father´s old fishing boat, some meters off the coast where it was still safe to swim in her condition. The waves seemed to calm Evelyn down inside her mother´s womb and Paul, then a little over one year old, was already an avid wee swimmer. Even as her mother was too big to safely be brought off coast, she´d still go to the beach at least once a week, even if just to get waist deep into the water for a while, as it helped with the backache that came with carrying a pregnant belly around. Evelyn´s grandmother would often joke that all that time in the sea was the reason Evelyn was born "a little fish".

After she moved to Dublin she tried to come back home at least on the week-ends and if weather allowed she´d go out to sea with her grandfather or her father. But since they both died, she didn´t swim in the sea as often. The family still had the boat, but it wasn´t the same...He cousin Cilian had borrowed it a few times to fish, and whenever she happened to be in town he invited her to come along...but that was maybe once every couple months. She had to settle for the beaches of Dublin...but the Irish Sea didn´t feel like the Atlantic...it didn´t feel like swimming into the abyss, like taking on a titan. When she moved to landlocked Cokeworth she knew she´d have to make peace with no having the beloved sea nearby, and decided to start looking for public pools. Then Mr. Nolan had told her the school had a brand-new pool and the teachers and students were allowed to use it for recreation when it wasn´t being used for curricular activities and her first instinct was to ask for permission to use it. Now she´d swim for at least half an hour everyday after class. It wasn´t the same as the sea, but it suited her just fine for now.

Evelyn felt her hand touch the opposite wall and halted, removing her googles. With her head over water now she could see she wasn´t alone. Sitting on one of the plastic chairs on the pool´s deck was the PE. teacher, Mitchell something...All his peers and students called him as Mitch, tough. Evelyn had been briefly introduced to him on her first day of work. A tall, athletic man who looked like he had walked out of Nazi or Soviet propaganda poster for the "model soldier": bland and perfectly symmetrical good looks, blond hair styled in a neat buzz cut, light eyes, square jaw, broad shoulders, big smile...almost a grown-up version of your average High school sports hero from a 50s American advertisement illustration. Maybe that was why Evelyn hadn´t paid attention to him till now..to the point she couldn´t even remember his last name.

"Well, that was flawless, Black!" he beamed, walking over to the edge of the pool.

"Thank you." She answered, more than a little bothered to have her personal moment of peace and quiet disrupted and his unceremonious use of her surname. Well, she was about to leave anyhow, she conceded as she got out of the pool,taking off her swimming cap and tugging on the legs of her red swimming suit. For some reason Evelyn was now quite relieved now to have chosen one that covered her almost till her knees as opposed to the regular one which would hardly be appropriated for her workplace.

"I´m sorry, I didn´t mean to intrude. I just thought one of the kids had come in without permission. They do that all the time since the pool was installed."

"It´s quite all right. I was about done."

"You have some professional level skills."

"Thank you. Growing up by the sea helps..."

"Oh, yeah, I hear you´re from County Clare?"

"Yes, Doolin..."

"Don´t say...I love Doolin. Been there just last summer to surf. You guys have the most amazing sea for water sports. No wonder you´re such a great swimmer."

"That´s nice of you." she smiled somewhat awkwardly. Receiving praise was never her forte, particularly in such effusive manner.

"By the way, I meant to talk to you anyway and hadn´t had a chance till now.."

"Sure, what about?"

"I heard you´re helping Fr. Tommy organize the Halloween party of Our Lady of Cokeworth church this year"

"Yes, well not just me of course..."

"You know, I used to go to his Halloween parties every year when I was a kid. "

"That´s nice. It seems a lot of the teachers here have, you´re not the first one to tell me that"

"Yeah, a lot of the teachers here are born and bred in Cokeworth, myself included. So you´re having your students help? And some other teachers, is that correct?"

"Yeah, that´s right. I mean not all of my students, just a handful. The ones I´ve been having a harder time with..."

"Don´t tell me that´s punishment?" he laughed

"No...the opposite actually. I want to spend a little more time with them, have fun...you know, it helps when you get closer. But some other students have volunteered as well, and we have some three teachers so far..."

"So, yeah...I was wondering if you have room for an extra volunteer, by any chance?"

"Well, I´d have to run that by Fr. Thomas" she answered distractedly, looking over his shoulder to see Angela coming up to them and making broad and slightly manic gestures at her general direction "Why don´t you drop by the church tomorrow after class?"

"Sure, we can..."

"Uh, if you excuse me, Angela is waiting for me. See you tomorrow then?"

...

Severus looked down to see Ciarán had followed him back home. He opened his door and let the cat in. Obviously he wasn´t the only one to have fallen in a reassuring routine. Ever since Ms. Black had started teaching at Cokeworth Academy Ciarán would keep sneaking back into his house by the end of the morning and stay there until she came back from work and picked him up. When exactly had Severus conformed to becoming a cat nanny he couldn´t be sure, but Ciarán was not exactly the worst companion he could ask for. At least not since he had learned to refrain from knocking breakable objects down and using Severus´favorite armchair as a scratching post.

The cat wandered about his living room looking for a comfortable place to continue the nap Severus had interrupted when he got into Ms. Black´s house. Severus on the other hand didn´t feel all too relaxed. Now that he he had finally opened the mysterious attic, his mind was racing to figure out a way to keep Ms. Black from seeing that. Not only she wouldn´t understand, it would mean throwing the wizarding world and the existence of magic right on her face, starting by the most unpleasant aspects of it.

Severus went back to his work table, got pen and paper and quickly scribbled two short letters.

...

Angela closed the locker room door and sat on the wide fake-marble tiled sink by the door as Evelyn got her bag from a shelf and withdrew a change of clothing, which she laid out neatly on a bench, a towel which she hung from the door on one of the shower stalls and a plastic necessaire containing small bottles of shampoo, hair conditioner and soap.

"What´s Mitch´s story?" Angela asked, swinging her feet and resting her back on large mirror behind her.

"Story?" Evelyn distractedly took off her swimming suit and got into the shower.

"He´s never by the pool when there are no classes, and the lazy bastard closes his office as soon as the last class is out. So I know he wasn´t just hanging there. I heard he´s been asking students about the Halloween party."

"Yeah, he says he wants to help" Evelyn told her, raising her voice over the noise of the water.

"Is that so? And you believed him?"

"No." Both women burst out in laughter

"So, I´m not seeing things? I mean...he was kind of...flirty, was´t he?"

"I don´t know. Quite frankly I wasn´t really paying attention."

"Is that so?"

"Yes, it is. I mean, if he wants to help with the party fine, I´ll ask Fr, Thomas. But as to 'flirting' or whatever he was doing...I don´t really give a fiddler´s fart."

"I knew he was not your type..."

"Not by a long shot."

"That would be more like that neighbour of yours, am I right?"

"Severus? What does Severus has to do with anything?"

"Weeeell...he´s been popping up in conversation quite a lot lately."

"But of course...Other than you and other people from work Severus and Fr. Thomas are the only friends I´ve made so far in Cokeworth.

"Oh, so it´s 'friends only'. Most convincing phrase in the entire English language...not."

"Shut up, will you?"

"Ok, ok...Say, how about dinner? There´s a new Thai place at Rochdale I´ve been wanting to try"

"I´d love to, but I´m just too tired for that today. Maybe tomorrow?"

"You and Severus have some 'friendly' time scheduled?"

"Angela, just cut it out already!"

"Fine. I won´t say anything else. What about tomorrow, after we meet Fr. Thomas and the kids at church?"

"Tomorrow sounds great. Do you want a ride home?"

"Thanks, I was about to ask"

...

6:40pm.

For over a week now Ms. Black had been returning home well past her usual 5:30pm curfew. At first he thought it was about the Halloween party she had been helping Fr. Thomas with. She had been on and on about it. The decorations, the costumes, the candy...how wonderful of an opportunity it would be to get to know some of her students better, to motivate them, to reconnect with the community...All that politically correct aggravating non-sense she loved so dearly. It was not to say it wasn´t amusing to see her so excited, like a five-year old on Christmas morning, but there was so much excitement over costumes and candy that Severus could handle coming from a grown woman.

But it couldn´t be that. A simple Halloween party for the neighbourhood children wouldn´t take daily planning to happen. And yet, she´d arrive well past 6pm every other day... Even more intriguing, Severus had noticed that whenever she arrived home late her hair was always wet, even when it wasn´t raining. He didn´t think much of it at first, but after a while it struck him as odd...She couldn´t be coming home from Fr. Thomas parish. Severus let his body sunk into the armchair, playing with his cigarrete and watching as Ciarán lay in front of the fireplace, the nearly spent flames fascinating him.

Maybe Ms. Black had found herself a boyfriend...why not, she was an attractive woman, it was only natural. No, he shook his head, it was possible, but not likely. She had been at Cokeworth for merely three weeks...even if she had found someone, she wouldn´t be that deep into the relationship to be indulging in "after school activities" that included a shower before going back home. Evelyn Black just didn´t strike him as that type of woman...And assuming there was really a man in the picture, Severus would have heard about him by now, wouldn´t he? How many times had he been to her house for tea, even for dinner listening to her endless yapping about work, family, friends and whatever else she felt like talking about. She would have told him if a man had caught her fancy...Or maybe not...Yes, probably not. She had never told him anything about any romantic endeavours,except for a very brief mention to her ex, why would she start now? This was something she´d be talking about with that friend of hers from work, what was her name again? Angela or something like that. Definetly the kind of thing she´d tell a woman, not her male neighbour, specially if it was a new relationship. Besides it was not like they were close at all.

He was rambling. That was not like him to be so distracted by something so trivial...

Severus was startled out of his thoughts by knocks on the door and went to open it.

"Hello!" There she was. Evelyn Black, once again late, and once again her hair was wet. It really shouldn´t bother him that much...

"Good evening..." he muttered

"And here´s my baby!" She walked past him to go pick up her cat from the floor.

"How´s the party planning coming along?"

"Oh, we didn´t do anything today. We can´t very well bother poor Fr. Thomas every day, can we?" she smiled "But I´m taking the students tomorrow to get started on some things."

"I see..."

"I think I owe you an apology..."

"And why is that?"

"Because...you´ve been so nice looking after Ciarán and I keep running late to pick him up."

"You´ve been busy...the classes and this party...it´s perfectly understandable"

"Oh, is not just that. Cokeworth Academy has a new pool and..."

"A new...pool?" Well, that explained the wet hair. Of course...Evelyn Black was not that type of woman, he should have known...

"Yeah...they let the teachers and students use it when there are no activities...and I got carried away. You see back in Ireland I´d swim at least four times a week, so when I moved to Cokeworth I was a little crestfallen to have to drive all the way to Liverpool for the beach..."

"You´d swim four times a week...at the sea?"

"Not even a month living in Cokeworth and you already forget where I come from?" she smirked, forcing her Irish accent for effect.

"I´d need to have a severe form of memory impairment to forget that."

"Well...I guess I got a little carried away. And it´s always better to use the pool at work then to go to a public one...In any case, I should have let you know, instead of just leaving Ciarán here until so late without asking."

"No harm done. He has learned to behave...somewhat"

"Oh, has he? Well, look who´s such a good boy all of the sudden" did she have to keep baby talking that bloody animal?

"Well, now that this has been cleared..."

"But, I wanted to make it up to you."

"No need."

"I insist. Why don´t we..get some dinner?"

"No, you don´t have to. You must be tired."

"I am. That´s why I´m not cooking tonight. There´s a little dinner two blocks from here...And there´s always delivery if you don´t feel like walking in this cold"

"I really don´t think..."

"Oh..."she suddenly got a glimpse to his work table, cluttered with papers and books "I´m bothering while you´re working. I´m so sorry."

"Oh, that...is not work. Just some things a former colleague asked some help with."

"Can I ask what is it, or is one of those things a non-scientist would never get?" she smiled, putting Ciarán back on the floor and walking straight to his work table, her curiosity obviously getting the best of her.

"Just some...formulas, nothing you´d find terribly amusing, I´m afraid" he walked ahead of her and collected some of the papers that contained obvious references to spells and potions, stuffing them inside a book "Come to think of it...I do believe I need a break from this."

"Well, that´s grand! Let´s go then."she beamed "But do get a coat, it´s freezing outside"

Chapter Text

Severus looked down at the pile of papers on the coffee table. He picked one up and distractedly ran his eyes over it. A photocopied handout announcing the Our Lady of Cokeworth´s Halloween party in decorated letters and black and white drawings of spider webs, cats and flying witches. The way muggle culture saw magical matters never ceased to amuse him. Well,cliché witches with warts on their hooked noses were still better than the systematic persecutions. He put the paper back on it´s pile and leaned back on the sofa, listening to the sound of Miss Black´s voice as she talked on the phone.

"Yes, that´s right." she nodded her head, looking down at a flyer from a nearby anglo-Indian restaurant, then softly called out to him, covering the speaker with her hand "Severus?"

"Yes?"

"Are you sure you want me to order for you?"

"Yes, whatever you order is just fine, don´t worry...Just let me know how much it will be..."

"No, no, I invited you, I got this."

"Absolutely not, I insist.."

"Ok, we split the bill, then." she smiled, returning to her monosyllabic phone conversation "Yes, yes. That´s all. 40 minutes? That´s ok. Thank you, good night."

Severus watched as hang up the phone, pulled her hair up in a loose bun and put on an oversized green sweatshirt with Trinity college´s logo emblazoned over it with large capital letters over the simple cotton blouse and jeans she had changed into after returning from work. He was still at a loss at how at ease she was around him. Maybe daily visits over the course of weeks would have this effect on somebody who was naturally very social which was something that one of Severus´ reserved disposition could not understand. Or maybe he could after all...after all he was there wasn´t he?

"How about some tea while we wait?" she offered

"Sure..."

"So...what formulas were those you were working on?"

"Nothing much...just some studies on...toxic substances"

"Toxic substances? Doesn´t sound as boring as you said it was." she asked from the kitchen, over the
clatter of porcelain mugs being removed from the cabinet.

"Oh, trust me, it is." Severus leisurely strolled till the kitchen door, his eyes following her around as
she filled a teapot with water and put it to boil."Speaking of work...I see the party preparations are in full force."

"Yes! We start working on the decorations tomorrow!"

"And how is the pedagogical aspect of it coming along, if I may ask?"

She turned around and crossed her arms over her chest, resting her back on the counter.

"Pretty welll..."

" 'Pretty well?' To be honest I expected a little more enthusiasm from you..."

"Don´t get me wrong. Things are going much better than I anticipated. And I´m well aware I have some advantages. Take this party for example...I wouldn´t be able to do this with a regular class, with more students...You know, the more students you have, the less time you can dedicate to them, so this project is just...perfect. I really think I´m getting closer to them..."

"But...?"

"You´re a teacher, so you probably understand what I mean...There´s always that one student who just...you just feel like you need to pay more attention to. You feel there´s something there...Something that has nothing to do with school, strictly speaking."

"I´ve had some of those..." Severus smirked.

"So you DO know!"

"You´re talking about that boy...the...The Cure fan..."

"James"

"Yeah, that" he scoffed lightly at the name "So...something going on with him?"

"James...he´s a very bright kid. But..." she sighed "...things are not going well for him at home...

"How so?" Severus asked, wondering to himself why he was anywhere interested in that.

"His father..."she sighed, taking the teapot from the stove and pouring water on the mugs.

"Drinking? Beatings? Verbal abuse?...All of the above?" he let out sardonically

"Drinking...as far as I know. And the man has been able to hold on to a steady job since the mill closed in the 80s.  From what I hear from the school councellors James´ dad has a tendency towards taking his frustrations on others...  and James is a bit of a hot head himself, so I don´t think family life is all that calm...nothing as serious as beatings I would say, but...I just get this...this uneasy feeling about the whole thing"

"Well... isn´t that a a typical Cokeworth story..." Severus grinned bitterly "You should know that bloody mill has had an effect in this town that you can´t even begin to comprehend without having lived in this hole all your life. Your student´s family is hardly an exception on this side of the river...If I may ask...what about the the mother?"

"I´ve met her a couple times.Seems like a good woman, but terribly overworked. Emergency call operator, so you can imagine the workload... I don´t think the dynamics between her and the husband are all that healthy, either. She seems...afraid of him"

"How do you gather?"

"Her reaction when I told her about the possibility of James failing..."

"I see..."

"I just...don´t really know how to go about here. I feel like a should do something..."

"If you feel like you must, then by all means..."

"I tried referring them to counselling, already...But you know, it´s hard to be an outsider and just insert yourself into this sort of situation..."

"She´s not taking your help?"

"She doesn´t think she needs it." she brought the tea mugs to the table and they both sat down

"Give her time...you´ve known them for what...three weeks?""

"I know, I know...Some people think things will fix themselves...And sometimes you have to give them time. But it gets frustrating to see somebody in a tough spot and not being able to help, when you know you can..."

"You seem to speak from experience..."

"Yes..." she whispered, looking into her tea "...family, you know..."

Severus looked over his shoulder to the living room wall covered with family photos. If his memory didn´t fail him, he had seen plenty photos of Ms. Black´s sister and her two young daughters...but none of the father of the girls. Maybe that explained it.

"Your sister?"

"Yes...How do you?" she looked up at him, wearing a shocked expression on her face.

"I apologize if I´m assuming but...The photos over there...I didn´t see any of your nieces´father."

"Thank God for that...the sodding bastard" she sneered. Severus blinked in surprise. This was probably the first time he could feel genuine hatred in her voice. He didn´t need legilimency to know she had no good feelings towards her brother-in-law.

"Well, then you must know these...situations sometimes arrange themselves"

"It´s different. My sister knew when enough was enough. She had the presence of mind to get out before things escalated...and she had us for support. Me and my parents. James and his mum on the other hand..."

"So that´s why you took an interest on this boy?"

"I suppose I´m pretty transparent, aren´t I?" she smiled "You know, when my brother died...I...I had been the middle child since I could remember things clearly, then Paul was gone and I, I felt like I had to fill in for him in some ways. And my sister was a huge part of that, of course, her being the youngest and all. I had to look out for her...But after I moved to Dublin...she got married and...you can imagine the rest. I´m just glad I was wasn´t too late to be there for her...and of course Caitlin didn´t need me to get out of that mess of a marriage, she´s self-suficient like that. But I still would have liked to be there early on..."

"Your brother´s death did have a great impact in your life, didn´t it?"

"On us all...It changed everything..." The long, pregnant silence was broken by the sound of a motorcycle stopping outside and firm knocks on the door. She smiled, relieved, and got up to answer it "...dinner is
here. I´ll be right back."

-----------------------------------

October 23rd

Early morning

Kingsley Shacklebolt´s apartment, London, unknown location.

 

Kingley Shacklebolt locked himself into his private quarters. Even tough there was nobody but himself in the modest apartment he had been occupying since his appointment as Minister for Magic, he had picked up the habitude of locking the door to him bedroom, that doubled as a private office, merely because it helped him relax. It was probably because it gave him the illusory feeling that the mundane act of closing a door was enough to leave the world outside and give him some peace. The truth couldn´t be more different, however...He knew he had a daunting task ahead of him when he had accepted the position. He had never been a man to fool himself about the scope of his personal responsibilities and his capacity to handle them. But even for the most well prepared of men, the task of having to oversee the rebuilding of a world where old prejudices still lingered seemed Herculean at least. And off course the fact that there were many of Voldemort sympathizers and associates still at large did nothing to ease the weight on his shoulders, particularly with Severus Snape making it so clear that he wasn´t going to cooperate unless it was on his own terms.

He couldn´t fault the man, tough. Anybody in his position would be weary to say the least. 17 years of risking his neck as a spy, acting on Dumbledore´s orders without the knowledge of any sort of authority or ally who could provide them with a minimum safety or logistics for their endeavours... A brave, if mad, mission that had almost cost his life, and might have landed him in a trial, if not for Harry Potter´s testimony. But then again, without Severus help, what did they have? Foreign ministries would never give up information on any of their citizens without some sort of compelling evidence, and even if they did, where would they start looking? All they knew was that the Lestranges and several others had fled Britain...But where to?

He had barely closed the door when the sound of wings called his attention to the window. An owl landed on his windowsill, dropped a small envelope and took flight immediately. Kingsley picked it up and closed the window. It didn´t have a sender name or address, but that wasn´t necessary.

"To the (interim) Prime Minister

The Lestrages were last seen in Germany. They were helped out of the country via France, then send over the border border of Germany and Czech Republic. An associate known only as Dimitri has met themin the city of Ústi nad Laben. Keep your contacts well informed about strange events ocurring in the French department of the Yvelines. See if you can find trustworthy Russian contacts as well. Watch France, Austria and Russia closely."

Snape”

-------------------------

 

Hogwarts

Headmistress Macgonaghal´s private quarters

Minerva looked on as the owl took flight from her windowsill. It was still early in the day and she could spare a couple minutes to read the newly-arrived letter before her work day started. From the spiky calligraphy on the envelope she could tell exactly ho the sender was. Severus. Minerva couldn´t deny she was a bit anxious about him and his whole 'investigation' into his neighbour´s family. After finding out the terrible fate of Ms. Evelyn Black´s brother, Minerva had been waiting for news from Severus, but none came for quite a while. She didn´t know what Severus was up to, particularly now after the new Minister had contacted him about the Lestranges. She preferred to think the lack of news meant everything was fine, but a letter should put her mind at ease.

"Minerva,

I have some unsettling news regarding Evelyn Black´s house. It seems the Black family left their Irish offshot some rather unpleasant surprises hidden in that house. If it´s not too much trouble, I´d very much appreciate if you could come over. Better make it in the afternoon, if class schedules allow you.

Severus"

Minerva pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose, folding the note and returning it to its envelope. "Unpleasant surprises"...she didn´t like the sound of that, at all. So much for being at ease. It was probably better get there as soon as possible. She could ask a fellow teacher to replace her in the afternoon classes.

-------------------------

 

Cokeworth

Mill Road 1455

James munched on a bit of toast, his eyes uninterestedly following his mother´s motions as she walked around the kitchen, trying to organize the mess from last night´s dinner, all the while talking on the phone and getting the mail sorted out. He picked up some of the letters she had forgotten on the table and started to go through them.

"Mum..."

"Yes, dear?" she asked without turning to him, still to preoccupied with the phone call she was engaged in.

"Muuum!" He insisted

"What, James?" she finally turned, holding the phone on her shoulder and reaching for a tea towel to dry her hands, her pale blonde hair falling in messy thin strands around her tired-looking face.

"These are past due..." he told her flatly, holding up a couple envelopes.

"Shit!" she hissed under her breath "Uh..I´m sorry but I´ll have to call you later, ok? Bye"

James rolled his eyes as his mother caught the envelopes from his hands and looked for the due date on the bills.

"Telling ya, they´re past due..weren´t even opened till now, and they were due early in the month" James pushed his plate of toast and beans aside, and drank his tea.

"Your sodding father...I ask him to do ONE thing..."

"You should have learned by now, Meredith...can´trust your husband with money, he´ll just drink it all"

Meredith sighed, but didn´t have the heart to reply. James had a point.

"Eat your beans, darling..."

"Not hungry..."

"But you have to eat...do you want me to fry you an egg?"

"No...I´ll just eat something at school"

"Speaking of which, you´re not running late, are you?"

"No, mum...I´m an hour early.." he sighed, a little exasperated.

"Oh? Oh, yes, you are." she rambled, looking down at her watch

"You don´t even know what time is it, woman? Bloody hell..."

"James, you watch your tone!" she poured herself some tea and sat across from him at the table.

"Sorry..." James glared at her in silence.

"I know, I know..." she whispered, almost apologeticaly, reaching over to squeeze his hand lightly over the table.

"Ms. Black called you again?" James asked, retracting his hand.

"Yeah...as if I don´t have enough to worry about, now your teacher is hounding me..."

"If you´d show up to the meetings..."

"James, I don´t know about the other kids parents, but I happen to work!"

"It´s your own bloody fault you have to work for two."

"James..."

"Yeah, yeah, Meredith..."

"I´m working late today..."

"Yeah, you already told me last night..."

"Good, thought I´d forgotten. Well, since you won´t eat, finish your tea and I´ll drive you to school
today. I have to drop by the bank so we can eat something on the way..."

"Tancey´s mom is giving me a lift."

"But you´re early, aren´t you?"

"Yeah, going to the library with Tancey. Because we´re going in early her mom can drop us off on her way to work. And we´re going to see Fr Thomas after school with Ms. Black, then I´ll just sleep over at Tancey´s. I called her yesterday asking, so don´t worry..."

"You know what your father said about..."

"We all know exactly why he doesn´t like Tancey..."The sound of a car horn outside cut his sentence short.

"There´s your lift."

"Give me that one.."

"Excuse me?"

"That bill. I can take care of it, I´ll just ask Mrs Francis to stop by the bank. It´s the one that´s due tomorrow, isn´t it?"

Meredith handed him the envelope and walked over to the cupboard, getting the biscuit tin where she kept the money for bills and immediate expenses. James pretended not to notice her annoyance as she found only half of what was supposed to be there for the expenses of the rest of the month. She quickly got some of it and closed the tin, as if it would keep James from seeing anything.

"Here´s the money. You can keep the change to buy something for lunch, but no junk food, ok?"

"Ok, mum..."

 

--------------------------

"Good morning, James." Tancey´s mother, Olivia, greeted him in her usual cheery Caribbean-accented way.

"Good morning, Mrs.Francis, hey Tancey."

"Hey...you´re ok?" Tancey´s large hazel-green eyes focused on his face, showing a hint of concern;

"Yeah, why?"

"Nothing...Oh, mum, forgot to ask you, James can sleep over, right?"

"Of course he can. Henry is not coming over this weekend, he has a party with some friends” Tancey´s older brother, was off to college in London. James would usually sleep in his bedroom, when he spent the night. Which thanks to his father was a rather frequent event.

“Thank you, Mrs. Francis”

“Your mum is working late tonight, right?"

"Yeah. Uh..Mrs. Francis, would mind if we stopped by the bank. I have to pay something for my mother."

--------------------------

Spinner´s End, 12

Early afternoon

 

Severus opened the door and stepped aside to let Minerva in.

“You have the keys to Ms. Black´s house?” The Hogwarts´headmistress cocked a suspicious eyebrow at him.

“Yes.” Severus closed the door behind them and turned the lights on.

“I imagine she didn´t give them you”

“I made myself a copy.”

“Severus!”

“What? How was I supposed to get in, when she´s not here?”

“Well, that´s not very...honest.”

“Minerva, I have nothing but friendship and consideration towards you, so I say this with the utmost respect...Working with Dumbledore was more entertaining. You have too many scruples.”

“Oh, pardon me for my faults, Mr. Snape” she smiled “so...where is this mysterious room you were telling me about?”

“Upstairs...the attic”

Minerva followed him through the livingroom, but felt compelled to stop before they reached the staircase. She stopped in front of a wall covered with family pictures and felt a small pang in her heart. From the pictures she could recognise Ms. Black immediately, she hadn´t changed too much from her childhood years, the wavy brown hair and alert eyes were hard to mistake. So, that little boy next to her in some many of these photos had to be him...Paul. The little boy who died before seeing Hogwarts. It was devastating enough to have seen that file...those cold words stating his dead by a “fire related accident”...but to see his little face was...She sighed. He looked a lot like his sister.  The same dark hair and brilliant, smiling eyes. Minerva couldn´t help but wonder...How was he? Was he as energetic and free-spirited as these photos showed him to be, or more introspective? What house would he have been sorted into? Slytherin like most of the Black family members? Or maybe, like Sirius, he would have gone to Gryffindor? Or would he turn out to be an intellectual like his little sister, and be welcomed into Ravenclaw? Maybe Hufflepuff? Why not? With that lovely, frank smile of his, he just might have a place in the house that valued a good heart above anything else. Which subjects would he be good at, which ones would he struggle with? Would he be a quiet student, or would he find hinself in the headmaster´s office too often for mischief? It felt oddly melancholic to realize she would never know.

Severus stood next to her, silent.

“That´s him? Paul Black?” she asked, grimly

“Yes, that´s him.”

“They seem very close”

“They were.”

“And this blonde little girl?”

“Caitlin. Ms. Black´s younger sister. She was only five when the brother passed on, so I don´t think she knows much of what happened to him”

“What about Ms. Black?”

“She refuses to talk about his death. But my best guess is that she doesn´t remember much...or chose not to...”

“Where´s Marius?”

“Here...” Severus pointed to one of the pictures “...this is Marius Black, his son Marius Jr. and Paul”

“Marius Jr. is...Evelyn Black´s father, then?”

“Yes. Now shall we? We need to get this done before she comes back”

“Sure, of course”

Minerva followed Severus up the stairs till they reached the small stairway that led to the attic door.

“Watch your head”he warned before climbing up to open the heavy black door.

Severus made his way in, took his wand out of his pocket and cast the lumos spell so Minerva could see her way into the dark. It was a clear, if cold, day outside, but the attic had no windows, and was thus bathed in darkness, as it probably had been for decades. Once Minerva has made it past the door, Severus turned to the side. The day before he had noticed there was a  flambeau beside the entrance. With a  swift motion of his wand he lit it up. Under the flickering light of the fire they could see the room somewhat clearly.

It was a secret room that couldn´t be seen from the outside of the house. It wasn´t too big, neither did it have any sort of special features or decorations when seen from inside. It was, to put quite simply, an attic like any other, a square room with a ceiling only high enough to accommodate a tall man, and unadorned walls. It  was quite damp and smelled of old parchment and humid stucco. There were numerous shelves filled with books attached to the wall on one side, and a large cabinet on the othes side, hidden by a yellowing white cover. There was a heavy table on the centre of the room and on top of it a medium-sized trunk, similar to those Hogwarts students routinely used to keep their books and objects.

“Has this room been sealed all these years?”

“Yes...you can even smell it.”

“So...how should we go about this?”

“I´m not quite sure yet, but I do know one thing. Evelyn Black cannot even imagine these objects are here.”

“Well, off course, no muggle should...”

“Is not just that she´s a muggle. It´s a bit worse than just breaking the Statute of Secrecy”

“What do you mean?”

“As you well, know...her grandfather was disowned by the Black family due to his blood status.”

“Yes, I´m well aware of that awful story”

“The story is about to get a bit more awful...”

“Severus...” she whispered, tense “...what do you mean?”

“Take a look at those books over there...go on, just read their titles”

Minerva walked over slowly and ran her eyes over the book spines, with the help of her wand for light.

“Oh no...” she muttered weakly

“Yes. That charming library contains examples of the most vile anti-muggle literature I ever had the misfortune of laying my eyes upon. Most of these books were banned from circulation even before the Dark Lord had been born. This is the sort of rubbish that Purebloods had been writing and reading long before he used their blood purity obsession to entice them to his cause. Look at this lovely one” Life unworthy of life”, makes me wonder if the muggle Nazis had wizards among their ranks...this expression “life unworthy of life” is the exact same they used in Nazi Germany to refer to homosexuals, the sick and the handicapped and the supposedly racially inferior whose extermination they advocated. Well, this little book basically defends the same thing, the complete extermination of muggles. This other gem over there, it´s an eugenics manifesto that suggest us wizards taint the muggles´ water supplies with potions that will render their women infertile, so within some time they´ll disappear. Another one goes in the opposite direction: it proposes the use of muggle women and breeding marers for half-blood children, who would then be inter-married until the whole Earth´s population would be comprised of purebloods. I could go on...but the rest is just as bad if not worse...The bottom row over there...nothing but books about poisons and curses. Most of them I haven´t even seen in Hogwarts´ library´s restricted section.

“Oh, Severus, stop! This is...horrifying...” Minerva gasped, feeling her stomach churn.

“That´s not all...come over here” He walked to the other side of the room, and removed the white cover from the cabinet, opening it. It revealed a wealth of vials, bottles, flagons  and flasks

“Potions?”

“Not just potions. Poisons. I took some of them home for analysis. See this purple liquid here? It causes paralysis on the muscles. That red one of there? Well, somebody decided to try that potion that would supposedly make muggle women infertile, according to that book´s suggestion. That green one is a mix of several different types of snake venoms all combined into a single poison that causes slow and painful death. I haven´t had the chance to go through everything, but the rest is probably more of the same.”

“I can´t even...we need to report this!”

“Minerva, no! This house belongs to Evelyn Black and her  family. We can´t report this...who are they going to arrest? Muggles? Besides, if we report we will be doing exactly what those depraved bastards wanted all along...”

“I don´t understand...”

“The other day, Ms. Black posed me a question that intrigued me. All she knows about her laste grandfather is that he´s from London and born to a well to do family. Then why, she wondered, would he own a house in Cokeworth, in a poor, industrial district of it, of all places. After I opened this attic one thing became clear to me. They were trying to hide this. These books, these potions...they were all illegal, even in the 20s and 30s. This house was a cover, an almost perfect cover. Who would ever imagine a Black as much as setting foot at a muggle dunghill like Spinner´s End?”

“Then, by God, Severus, why a report would be 'exactly what they wanted'?”

“Follow my line of thinking and tell me if I´m not right. Marius Black...a squib, disowned by his family...why would he be the owner of this house? If they disowned him, he shouldn´t keep any of the Blacks´ property, then why would they allow him to have a house? And THIS house on top of it?”

“Severus, you are not suggesting that...no, this would be too horrible even for them...”

“I´m not suggesting it, I´m saying it. The family put this house in Marius name so if this attic, and whatever illegal activities they were conducting in this house were ever to come to light, he´d be the only one directly implicated. Just think about it. A squib, who probably yearned to fit in with his pureblood family...it wouldn´t be too hard to make a case and implicate him in anti-muggle activities...”

“That poor child...and he was only 14 at the time, you told me. He was lucky this attic remained hidden..”

“He wasn´t lucky, he was cunning...”

“How so?”

“Marius Black might have been a squib, but I can assure you Slytherin would be proud to have him as a member. From what I´ve read in his letters to his mother, it´s clear he found out his family was setting him up, so, to thwart their plans, he left the country, taking the house keys with him.”

“I don´t see how taking the house keys would have done any good”

“There´s a particularly ingenious spell over this house, which can only be broken with a special key. That´s exactly the same key he left his granddaughter when he passed away. That´s why Ms. Black´s cat could get out of the house, but never managed to get back inside. The only way to enter this house is having the key, and it only works if the key is passed on by a person who shares blood ties with the author of the spell. That´s how Ms. Black can get in and out. She has the key, and she´s a Black. I only managed to make this copy because I got the key from her purse...if it hadn´t been on her person at the time I got it, the copy wouldn´t work. Marius knew that. His old letters don´t state it clearly, but they have heavy hints that he managed to steal the only available key when he left for Ireland. Not only that, he also took all the documents pertaining to the house´s ownership. And once in Ireland, he moved to a small little village in the country side and created an entire new life for himself, thus ensuring nobody would ever access the key, and therefore never open this attic. And it would have remained so, if his granddaughter wasn´t so bloody nosy. I´m telling you, Minerva. It´s a bloody shame Marius Black was born a squib. If he had this presence of mind at age 14, and with no magical abilities to fend for himself...I know he would have been one of Slytherin´s best had he been born a wizard.”

“Well, the Black´s blindness surely cost them a valuable member, magical skill or not...But there´s one thing I don´t understand, yet. If he wanted to keep this attic hidden...then why pass the key along to his granddaughter?”

“I don´t think he did it on purpose...According to Ms. Black he died of natural causes at age 81. Well, 81 is not too old for a squib, they have a life span similar to that of wizards. I´m sure what transpired between him and his family, and the premature death of his grandson had taken a toll on his health. In my opinion he didn´t have time to disapear with the key. And even if he did have time, I don´t see what he could do...he wouldn´t be able to destroy it...”

“Maybe...” Minerva cupped her chin between her thumb and her forefinger, deep in tought. “Call me crazy, but maybe he wanted her to discover this attic?”

“You think so?”

“It´s a possibility...you told me yourself he had been feeding his grandchildren stories about wizards  disguised as fairy tales since they were very young...maybe he had some sort of plan for them. Specially considering the boy was, in fact a wizard.”

“You may have a point...but we will never know...I´m sure whatever his plans for the key were, they died with him...”

“What about that trunk on the table over there?”

“Oh, that! Thank you for reminding me...I didn´t think much of it at first...” Severus opened it “there are some materials for potion making, like these scales and a couple unused vials. Also these loose notes and notebooks also about the potions and poisons in the cabinet...but what really caught my eye was this...”

Severus removed a black velvet box, about the size of a large book. It had some discoloured patches on it, probably due to humidity, and the closure had a similar design to the ornament of the attic door: a silver dragon-like serpent. It popped open without too much resistance, revealing an empty interior.

“It´s empty...to state the obvious” Minerva told him

“Yes, it is. But look at all these divisions inside of it...it almost looks like a jewellery box. I don´t think anybody would just leave an empty box here for no reason. There was something inside..or some things...”

“Do you think Marius...”

“Well, he did take the key...why not take some more souvenirs with him, if he was to leave for good? I remember Ms; Black mentioning he had all sorts of old trinkets at home that he didn´t let anybody touch...”

“And where are these trinkets now?”

“According to her...locked up in a trunk, in the attic of her parents house along with all the family´s old rubbish. Her father has also passed away and her sister lives down the street with her children, so the only person there is her mother...who probably doesn´t even think about these old family heirlooms too much. Ms. Black did ask her not to toss them out, so we don´t need to worry about them for now.”

“But we do have something to worry about now...This attic. We have to close it.”

“Too late. Ms. Black knows it exists. It´s odd, really...they went through all the trouble of hiding this attic...why leave the door in plain sight for a muggle to see?”

“We don´t have time to ponder over that. If she knows the attic exists, she will want to know what´s inside.”

“Most of these objects are charmed to be invisible to muggles...but I still don´t think is wise to leave them here. Not to mention the utter depravitiy that is to let the poor woman sleep right under all this filth...and these potions are dangerous, as well...I can take the potions with me. I´d very much like to study them. As for the rest...does Hogwarts still have available storage room?”

Chapter Text

Our Lady of Cokeworth Church

Rectory

October 23rd

Late afternoon

"So we have to do...paper decorations? What is this, kindergarten all over again?!" The boy sitting next to him by the large pinewood table in the main room of the rectory bemoaned his fate, but James barely heard him. He looked at the mess of purple, black and orange papers, stencils, tapes, ribbons and plastic decorations scattered all over the tabletop. Other than James and Tancey there were some other seven students working on decorations today. It was surely better than homework, but that still didn´t make it any good. Tancey had lucked out, she was in charge of music, so all she needed to do was bring some mixed tapes over. And yet she still insisted on helping with this silly "manual work". James couldn´t remember her enjoying Halloween that much, frankly.

"Hey, James!" speaking of the devil. There she came, running his way after giving the mixed tapes to Fr. Thomas.

"What is it now? Am I not cutting these bloody paper bats the correct way, Miss Halloween?"

"Don´t be silly! I just had an idea!"

"Another one!? Aren´t we all blessed..."

"Do you still have those spray cans?" she continued, giving no importance to his annoyance

"Some. Mum made me toss most of them..."

"Ms. Holt just told me she knows somebody who can built us a podium for the speakers and microphone"

"Speakers and microphone? We have those?"

"Now we do...Mitch said he can get new ones with a friend."

"Oh, Mitch...how surprising..."

"What ever do you mean by that?"

"Just look at him" James pointed out to the PE teacher, standing next to the rectory´s fireplace, cheerfully conversing with Father Thomas, Ms. Black and Ms. Holt "He´s trying to impress her. Can you smell the desperation?"

"Oh, whatever you say. The important thing is: we have a podium, speakers and a microphone. You know what else we should do? Get some spider webs. Nigel´s dad promised he´d get us some pumpkins, but Ms. Black suggested we also have turnips. You know what else I´m thinking?"

"What?" James rolled his eyes and puffed

"We can have a bonfire! Ms. Black was just telling me about Samháin, you know, that Celtic festival that originated Halloween, we could do something like that, with bonfires and celtic stuff."

"You´re high, Tancey?"

"Oh, shut up, you´re no fun!"

...

"Yes, the parents are offering help as well. And some mothers offered to cook." Evelyn briefly looked up from her notebook and turned the page so Father Thomas could have a look at the to-do list she had quickly scribbled. With about a week to go, the preparations for the party were in full swing, and it was evident that this year the celebrations would be bigger than ever before.

"I already have the list all sorted out with who is going to bring what. That leaves some things for us to buy and we need to get around to buying the fizzy drinks, but that is best done on the week of the party. Now all we have to do is finish the decorations and games." Angie continued the list of activities, running her finger over the lengthy list of tasks marked out from Evelyn´s notebook.

"Well, with the speakers and microphones Mitchell procured for us and the kids helping with games and activities...I think we have it all covered... In fact I think we can give these poor children a break. It´s well past 6pm, they should be going home before it´s too dark." Fr. Thomas smiled broadly, patting Mitch in the back and making his way to the large table where the students were working.

Evelyn closed her notebook and looked around. She had some ready-made decorations she´d need space for, but that could wait...the rectory was already filled with rolls of coloured paper and ribbons, plastic masks, cut-outs and all manner of cumbersome things, and until all of that was organised she´d have to find another place for the heavier decorations.

"That´s it for the day, Lyn?" Angie asked her as the students walked out, waving goodbyes as they passed them by.

"Yes, I guess...too early to put these up."

"What about the ones you bought?"

"I´ll just keep those at home."

"Need any help with that?" Mitch had been standing around silent for the past couple minutes...so silent Evelyn had forgotten he was even there. Truth to be told, she wasn´t really paying attention to him at all. She didn´t quite know why, but handsome and charismatic as he obviously was, Mitchell didn´t really bring out any sort of interest in her...too bad her lack of interest only seemed to fuel his. He seemed like the kind of person who didn´t take kindly to not being in the centre of attention...

"Thank you but that won´t be necessary. I have everything in my car...maybe I´ll just leave it all there for the time being...Well, it´s getting late..."

"Oh, yes, we should get going" Mitchell answered flatly "...I think I´m going to drop by this Mexican place on my way home, if you girls feel like tagging along..."

"Oh, sorry...Angela and I have a previous engagement...but thank you for offering."

...

"So...Pretty boy Mitch is on your case..." Angie snickered, getting into Evelyn´s red Volvo and putting her briefcases and bag in the backseat along with all of the Halloween decorations.

"Oh, Jesus..." Evelyn let out an exasperated sigh and started the car "Am I paranoid? Every time I´m in school grounds I always 'stumble' on him...Am I imagining things?"

"Hate to break it to you, but I don´t think you are...You do know the only reason he volunteered to help with the party was to be around you, right?"

"I was hoping that wasn´t the case..."

"Oh, dear...It´s Mitchell...he can´t stand the thought of any attractive woman NOT dropping to his feet on command...He can´t get over the fact that you are not swooning over him like his 14 year old students do..."

"Oh, God...how is he allowed near kids?"

"Relax...he´s just a self cantered imbecile..."

"A persistent one!"

"Just ignore him..."

"I´ve been trying to..."

"I´m telling you..he tries this sort of thing with every female teacher that happens to be good-looking, but he´s hardly a seasoned Don Juan..."

"Did he try this sort of shenanigans on you?"

"He did, actually" Angie snickered under her breath

"And..."

"My fiancé is a navy officer..." Both women exploded in thunderous laughter at the thought of Mitchell being confronted by a member of the Royal Navy. Evelyn was sure it must have been a sight to behold...too bad Angela probably didn´t have it recorded for posterity.

"What a specimen of man Mitchell is..."

"I know, I know...he´s more pitiful than anything...Seriously though..."

"Yes...?"

"My fiancé has single friends if you´re interested... Just saying...We can introduce you to some people and all that..."

"Thank you, but I´m not looking..."

"It´s been two years since that Richard bloke you told me about, no?...I´m not saying you need to get a boyfriend or anything but...it wouldn´t hurt to have some fun."

"Thank you, again...but no."

"Okay, if you rather spend your time drinking tea and discussing books with your Heathcliff-esque neighbour...which you haven´t introduced me to, by the way..."

"Angie..."

"Yeah..."

"You´re in a moving car...keep that in mind before trying to be funny..."

"Fine, fine..." Angela raised both her hands, feigning outrage "...no more talk about the tall, dark and mysterious man next door...That is, until you decide you´re ready to make the proper introductions.."

"Angie..."

"Yeah?"

"Moving car..."

...

"Mum, we´re home!" Tancey briskly walked into the living room, followed by a morose James.

"How was school?" Her mother´s voice came from the kitchen, loud over the television that broadcast some MTV programme her sister was watching mindlessly, not paying any attention to their racket.

"Fine! James and I are going upstairs to do homework before dinner, ok?!"

"Wait right there, little miss...You and James get here for a moment, will you?"

The pair begrudgingly made their way into the kitchen. Take-out boxes were piled up on the table, and Olivia, still in her dark green trouser suit was taking out dishes, glasses and silverware from the cabinets.

"Need help?"

"No, dear, I just have to set the table. I had to stay a little later taking care of some paperwork and your father is having dinner with a workmate because of that project they´re working on so I got some take out on that Italian restaurant that everybody likes. There´s chicken parmigiana, pasta primavera and veggie lasagna. I also got some of that garlic bread James likes. We still have some time, so if you kids want I think I still have time to make some quick dessert."

"Can we have tiramisu, then?"

"Sounds good to me. What do you think James?"

"That´s fine, Mrs. Francis" the boy answered, standing awkwardly by the kitchen door.

"Good. Now go wash your hands, dinner will be ready in a few."

Tancey spun on her heels and made it past James and up the stairs within seconds. He motioned to follow her when Olivia´s voice reached his ears, a pang on concern hidden in it.

"How are things at home, James?"

"Same as always..." he answered, calculating his words...by now he had become an expert in answering the questions the adults posed him without flat out lying but carefully to not let them know the whole truth. Tancey´s mother was a hard one to fool though. In between her and Mrs. Black at school, it was getting increasingly difficult to pass his half-truths for plausible stories.

"And school? Tancey tells me Ms. Black is watching your kids like a hawk...making sure you behave and all that. She seems like a tough one..."

"..She´s ok."

"Is she? Tancey seems very fond of her..."

"Tancey gets along fine with teachers. Ms Black is nice too, I guess..."

"I´m happy to know..." Olivia took a long pause, as if measuring her next words "...your father called, by the way.."

"What did he want?" James tensed up and his words came out harsher than he intended.

"Just wanted to know where you were...You told him you´re spending the night, right?"

"Yeah...he forgets things sometimes...Uh...He wasn´t rude or anything, was he?" James stumbled on his words, embarrassed. "Rude"...codeword for drunk. He knew it wasn´t the first time he called Tancey´s house looking for him while completely intoxicated. Last time Tancey´s father had picked up the phone and after a heated argument he had forbid James to go back home, fearing for his safety. James had to spend almost an entire week at their house, until his mother called to say things were "better" at home. Back then, James had heard many things through closed doors and telephone extensions...Mrs. Francis had talked to his mother, tried to convince her to do something about it, she even gave her the number of a divorce lawyer. Mr. Francis offered to lend her money if she needed it for any immediate legal fees or a place to stay...

But nothing came out of it...as usual.

"No, not really" She was lying, of course. His father most certainly had been rude to her. Like his teachers, the school counsellors and most of his mother´s (now former) friends, Mrs. Francis had given up on the task of knocking some sense into his Meredith´s head and getting her to admit something was wrong and decided to keep her opinions to herself. James couldn´t blame her.

"I´m sorry about that..." James left the kitchen without waiting for an answer. That conversation wasn´t going anywhere...

...

Severus looked up from his notes as the sound of an upcoming car, muffled by his closed windows, came from the street outside. He glanced at the clock atop the mantle. I was well past 11pm. Ms. Black´s social live looked like it was steadily improving...she never came back home after 8pm on weekdays, even when she had extra work at the school. Considering the limited number of cultural activities available in Cokeworth and the fact that she had moved in less than a month ago that shouldn´t come as a surprise...But it was to be expected that she´d eventually find friends to go out and have fun with, being the social butterfly she obviously was. Evelyn Black was not meant to be indoors tending to domestic chores, skilled as she might be at it...she was not the type of woman who could be contained by the walls of a house.

For no reason other than sheer boredom he walked over to the window and pushed the curtains back, only enough to get a peek at the street without being seen. Under the precarious yellow-reddish light of the few lampposts that still resisted in spite of the lack of maintenance and shed a dirty light over the stones of Spinner´s End, he could scarcely see her with too many details. His eyes could make out the tall figure in high heels and formfitting skirt that reached a little below the knees as she exited her car, carrying bags and briefcases. She still insisted on that social experiment of teaching History to the brats in Cokeworth Academy... Arriving late, bringing work back home, making little party invitations and decorations...Quite a waste of a serious scholar...Idealism has a way of making even the best among us look utterly silly he thought to himself before closing the curtains and returning to his work.

...

The phone rang incessantly in the living room. Evelyn dropped her papers and bags on the couch and ran to reach for it.

"Lyn?!"

"Hi, Cat."

"Jesus, woman, I´ve been calling you for hours!" Caitlin questioned her in a mockingly over-dramatic tone

"Sorry about that...I went out."

"With...?"

"A friend..."

"A 'friend', you say? Does he live next door by any chance?"

"A friend of the female kind who does not live on this side of the bridge, you wannabe matchmaker. Angela! I told you about her. We just had dinner and watched a film..."

"Oh...well, that´s disappointing..."

"Sweet Jesus, what is it with both you and Angela trying to set me up with Severus, if I may ask?"

"Maybe is because he seems like the only decent prospect in Cokeworth so far? Unless you´re considering that PE teacher..."

"God, no! Why do I have to consider anybody at all?"

"Because at this rate you´ll have to join a convent soon enough!"

"And pray tell what are you doing parroting mam´s lines?"

"Am I? Ugh, sorry about that. She´s been giving me a hard time..."

"About?"

"Apparently I just turned 30 and have yet to get my life well organised enough for her standards..."

"Oh, dear...don´t worry, she gave me the very sane litany when I turned 30..."

"Except when you turned 30 you weren´t a divorced mother of two with no romantic prospects and working overtime to pay the bills..."

"I had plenty other issues for her to complain about, in case you´ve forgotten...And since when mam´s standards of 'success' are anything to strive for? You know damned well if she had her way we´d be two bored housewives, with no careers, raising an army of babies. You should know better than to pay attention to her antics. And speaking of being 30, did you get my birthday gift yet? I wish it could have made it there on the 15th, but I didn´t have time to send it sooner and mail is a nightmare..."

"I got it today, actually, I left you a very sweet thank you message, but Ms. Busy-busy-busy only got home now!"

"Make up your mind, do you want me to go out or stay home?"

"Ok, ok, I´m done nagging. As long as you´re having a good time with whatever you´re doing. Just don´t let this Angela person replace me as your favourite partner in crime, will you?"

"Oh, so that´s what this is all about? Look how cute, my baby sister is jealous!"

"I´m entitled to, you weren´t even here for my birthday! For the first time since you were in college!"

"I´ll make up to you in December, I promise..."

"Ok, then. Now I´ll let you go, you must be tired..."

"Tired and late...I was hoping to get Severus to finally help me with that damn attic, but he must be asleep by now..."

"Still with that attic? Or is it an excuse to run next door?"

"Enough with that, will you?...That attic does have me worried. I guess I´ll just find somebody who can bust the door open..."

"If you ask me, your neighbour seems to have a point. If it´s been locked for so long, there might mould and whatnot up there. These things can be toxic...You should get that checked by a professional..."

"You´re right...Well, I´ll think about that tomorrow. Now I need a shower and bed."

...

Evelyn´s eyes moved uneasily around the room as she finished drying her hair. After the quick conversation with her sister she had spent quite some time putting away materials for her classes on the next day before getting into the shower. The day had been long and she was still a ball of energy...she needed a break to unwind before a night of restoring sleep. Evelyn took her time under the warm water, letting the lavender scent of the shampoo and soap ease her into relaxation. But...it wasn´t quite working...

As soon as she got off the phone, Evelyn felt some vague sense of uneasiness. "I´m tired" she thought to herself...She had spent her whole day surrounded by loud teenagers, of course coming back to an empty house would feel a little strange. She just needed to relax, maybe watch something on the telly and that feeling would go away.

But it didn´t.

She was not the kind of person to be scared of noises, corner of the eye sightings or passing shadows. Being home alone was no news for her, and at 35 years of age she´d think she had outgrown such childish concerns as the unsettling aura of a silent room, and the dead night outside, coming through the windows in the form of cool wind and uncertain noises...In spite of herself she brought the blow-drier with her to the living room and turned the tv on. She hated drying her hair outside the bathroom, but she needed some sort of sound to fill the hollow quiet that surrounded her in an almost oppressive manner.

It distracted her for a while.

But she couldn´t really focus on any programme...that odd uneasiness was quickly turning into something akin to dread...She had heard stories about people who felt that odd sensation right before something bad happened...Maybe it was silly, but it wouldn´t hurt to check the doors and windows, would it?

It might help her sleep better, if anything, Evelyn thought as she walked around the house checking on every single door, window and lock. It wouldn´t be too much to check those upstairs... just to be safe. She walked up and repeated the inspection on all rooms before heading back down.

She didn´t quite know why she had to stop at the stairs and look back. She just did...

The attic door...

...it was open.

...

1am. Who in the bloody hell would come knocking on his door at 1am?

Severus first thought of Minerva, but she´d never have this sort of discourtesy, unless it was a matter of life and death. And as far as he knew matters of life and death were, most fortunately, no longer an issue in Hogwarts. The only other people who knew his whereabouts were the Narcissa and Draco Malfoy and the current Prime Minister. Shacklebolt certainly wouldn´t pay him a visit so soon after the last and mother Malfoy and her dearest boy were unable and mostly uninterested in dropping by for tea and crumpets.

Then, who?! He mumbled surly incoherences to himself as he put on a fleece robe over his nightshirt and went downstairs to open the door, making sure to bring his wand with him, concealed in a pocket.

His late-night visitor wouldn´t require the use of his wand, but it didn´t startle him any less He looked down at the woman standing in the cold outside clad in a lilac bathrobe, matching slipers, her brown hair falling on her shoulders in humid waves and a frown over her golden brown eyes.

"Ms. Black?"

Chapter Text

"Ms. Black?!"

"May I come in, please?" Evelyn asked sheepishly, shruging inside her lavender colored bathrobe.

Severus was so stunned by her presence at his dorstep at that time of the night he could barely mumble an answer. A low chirping sound caught his attention and brought him back to reality. He looked down to see Ciáran in her arms, his fur and tail puffed, pupils dilated to the point his eyes couldn´t be distinguished from the rest of him..He was obviously distressed, making bizarre noises before running into his livingroom, as if seeking refuge.

"Of course, come in..."

"I´m so sorry to bother you this late at night, is just that...you´re my only neighbour and I didn´t know where else to go. I didn´t even get changed or got my purse and my car keys..." she walked in, frantic.

"Ms. Black...slowly. What happened?" Severus closed the door and walked over to her, then simply decided to stand about, awkwardly. He wasn´t sure if some sort of gesture was in order to calm her down...but if it was he had no idea which would be appropriate.

"I need to use your phone..."

"What for? Ms. Black, please, you´re not making any sense."

"I think I may need to call the police..."

"The what?! Police? But, why? Did something happen?!" He frowned, trying to recall the last hours. Severus was a light sleeper, if something had happened at her house he surely would have heard it..Maybe something had happened while she was out? No, no...it was impossible...He distinctively remembered seeing her comming back home...quite later than she usually did, but otherwise fine..and she looked like she had just taken a shower...Surely nobody who was a victm of a crime would worry about personal hygiene...right? In spite of himself, Severus let his eyes wander, looking for any sign of trauma or violence on her face and body, but finding none.

"I think somebody broke into my house..."

"You think? What do you mean you 'think'? Did you see somebody in the house?" Now he was worried...Severus was well aware of the possibility of Death Eaters coming after him, but would they be as incompetent as to target the wrong house ? Even then, her house was under a rather potent protective spell, and he had made sure to not break it when he had been there that afternoon...Surely no wizard or muggle could possibly have entered.

"No, no...I didn´t! I just...I don´t know, I felt it! I just felt it!"

"Ok, Ms. Black, please, try to breathe and tell me what happened, from the beginning...Sit down...''

''Oh, yes, of course...I´m rambling...'' she mumbled and sat down, still confused and tense. ''I had dinner with a friend after work, then...I came back home, talked to my sister on the phone and took a shower...then I just felt it...some sort of...presence. You know that feeling when you know there´s something or someone around you, even if you don´t see it ? Have you ever felt that ?''

Severus fell silent...Of course he had felt that...He was a wizard, after all...strange happenings and sensations were naught but daily occurrences to those of his kind. But Evelyn Black was a muggle...Severus knew for a fact the only persons who had been to her house uninvited that day had been himself and Minerva. He had opened her attic and then he and the Hogwarts headmistress had removed all of the potions, books and dark magic parafernalia from there. Obviously it was not safe having all of that laying around within easy reach of a muggle, specially a muggle of Evelyn´s background...He was well aware the left-over energy would remain for a while...It happened with the the dark arts...a bitter aftertaste so to speak...It took a few days to wear off, usually...

But Evelyn was not supposed to feel that...Was she ?

Severus had heard plenty of nonsense about muggles who were sensitive to magic...Some were called (or rather called themselves) mediums...Supposedly they could see ghosts and witness magical events, which they foolishly blamed on 'poltergeists', 'demons', folkloric creatures or aliens. The near-totality of those ''supernatural sightings' were merely wizards who had been careless enough to get caught red-handed...But some muggles claimed to see this sort of thing regularly and were believed by other muggles. Those were the supposed ''mediums''...Some wizards, even a few respectable scholars, believed the abilities of some muggles to perceive magic on a small scale...It wasn´t that far-fetched...if animals could sense magic, why not some muggles ? Specially muggles that had wizard blood running in their veins. After all Evelyn Black was a great-granddaughter of wizards... However, Severus never quite believed that muggles could have any sort of special sensitivity...All who claimed to have it were nothing but charlatans, looking for an easy way to get money out of desperate and naïve souls.

Could he have been wrong ? She was obviously not making anything up, if her state was to be trusted,. And why would she have this reaction just hours after he had released a small wave of dark magic fumes into her house ?! The only explanation was that she had, somehow...felt it.

''You say you felt something...how so ? How was that feeling ?''

''I don´t know...It was...dread. It´s the best way I can describe it...something oppressive...'' she seemed increasingly more agitated

''What did you do then ?''

''I checked all my doors and windows...then...when I went upstairs, I saw it...the attic. I swear it was closed when I left. Remember, we talked about it, I wouldn´t try to open it until I had contacted a professional to check for mould and infiltrations...Things have been so hectic at work with the Halloween party and all that I simply forgot about it. But today it was open ! The door was open ! Somebody has to have done that because I didn´t do it.''

''Shit...'' Severus hissed under his breath...he had forgotten to close the sodding door...

''See?You see ?! I´m not overreacting, am I ? We have to call the police...''

''No. We´re not calling anybody.'' he pulled her back before she could get up to find a phone

''What !? Severus, for Christ´s sake ! We have to !''

''Ms. Black, I hate to have to be the one to pull you back into reality, but I must remind you your new address is Spinner´s End. Cokeworth´s brave police officers wouldn´t be bothered to cross the river and come all the way down here for anything less than murder or an all out gang war, and ever then they´d drag their feet all the way...They´re not going to bother with a call from a person who thinks somebody may have broken into their home...''

''Then what am I to do !?''

''You stay here and wait for me...'' he got an old, worn out trench coat from the hanger by the door and motioned to leave. Evelyn almost jumped from the couch and onto him, both her hands grabbing his sleeve and pulling him away from the door

''You´re not going there, are you ?''

''Give me ten minutes. Now you sit down and wait'' he told her sternly, roughly pulling himself away from her and walking out of the door without giving her a chance to answer or stop him.

...

Evelyn stared at the closed door in complete disbelief.

Was Severus really just going to casually check her house for an intruder ? By his own admission Spinner´s End was not a safe neighbohood, and as much as she wanted to believe that he knew what he was doing, having lived there since his childhood, she couldn´t help but be petrified for his sake. She knew there was somebody there. Nothing else would explain the way she felt and that open attic...Evelyn didn´t believe in ghosts or magic, as much as she wrote about them... She knew something rather human was going on in her house...and Severus had just gone there...

She walked around in circles, not knowing what to do. Severus had told her to wait, but she wouldn´t just sit around waiting to hear a gunshot...She should have brought her mobile with her..Well, given her luck today she wouldn´t get service on it anyway. Severus had to have a phone somewhere...She started to look around for it...

''Not in the living room...'' she mumbled to herself, looking at every corner as Ciáran´s eyes followed her around ''Maybe the kitchen...no...not the kitchen...Jesus, this man doesn´t have a fecking phone?!'

Severus leisurely strolled back into Evelyn´s house. In her hurry she had left the front door open. He chuckled. Now, this way she might have a real intruder come in...Was she really that terrified ? It made sense if she could feel the residual dark magic...The dark arts could be overwhelming enough for seasoned wizards and witches...For muggles they were downright harrowing. But even then...it was residual energy from spells and potions that were decades old. No muggle should detect them. Maybe he had forgotten something in the attic when he and Minerva were removing everything...it was the only explanation...

He quickly made his way up the stairs and to the attic. Using his wand for light he looked around and found the attic as empty as he had left it. The rest of the house was undisturbed except for Ms. Black´s papers and folders laying about in the living room. There was nothing that could explain away her fear...except for the residual energy she wasn´t supposed to feel...

Severus turned on his heels and went right back to his own house, only to find her distracted, looking around and running her fingers through her mane of disaveiled brown hair.

''Anything you need, Ms. Black ?''

''Oh my God ! There you are !'' She almost jumped and practicaly ran his way

''Well, off course...''

''Are you ok ?''

''Yes, and so is your house...There´s nothing worth of note there...''

''Did you check the attic ?''

''I checked everything...Unless the intruder is hiding in your undewear drawer, the house is safe...''

''But...I swear I...'' she hissed and started to blurt out words he couldn´t understand...Was that how spoken Irish sounded ?

''Go check for yourself...''

''I most certainly will !'' she raged, marching past him.

...

''I can´t believe this...'' Evelyn climbed down the stairs, hands on her waist, beffundled almost to the point of disorientation...Severus was right...there was nobody...nothing. The house was untouched... And yet, she still had this vague sense of dread hoovering around her...

''You forgot this...'' She looked down to the front door and saw Severus standing there, awkwardly holding Ciarán on his arm. The cat still seemed agitaded and jumped from his grip, going to hide under the couch...That had to be a sign that she wasn´t going mad...something was indeed amiss, even Severus couldn´t feel it. Ciáran´s demeanour was proof enough for her.

''Ms. Black...Is everything all right?''

''I...don´t know...''

''Did you check everything ?''

''Yes...There´s not as much as a pin out of place...''

''I told you there was nothing to worry about...Is not like burglars go around Spinner´s End of all places looking for valuable objects to steal...Even if your shoes might qualify...'' he snickered

''Not funny, Severus...'' she smiled in spite of herself ''...I do owe you an apology, though...''

''Whatever for ?''

''What do you mean 'whatever for' ? I just knocked on your door in the middle of the night for nothing...I could swear there was...I mean...'' she could feel she´d start to babble again and took a deep sigh ''I think I need a drink...would you like something ? I´ll have some whiskey, but if you want something else...''

''There´s no need.''

''No, no...I insist...it´s the least I can do, after all this trouble...''

Severus sat down while she went into the kitchen to get ice and whiskey, hoping she wouldn´t just drop the glassses on her way back and make an even bigger fool of herself. If he didn´t already think she was a complete and utter mess of a scatterbrain, then he´d sure start now. Imagining an intruder, then waking him up at 1am scared witless over nothing...Fortunately he had kept her from embarrasing herself further by calling the police...Not that it did much to ease her discomfort...

''I swear I´m not usually like this...'' she rambled, mortified, sitting next to him ''I´m not some scaredy histeric who hallucinates things and runs off to bother other people, I promise you. I really did believe something was wrong...I´m so sorry about all this, truly...''

''You´re probably overworked...Oftentimes when the body is tired, the mind tends to play tricks...it happens to the best of us...''

''Has it ever happened to you ?''

''Possibly more often than I´d care to admit publicly...''

''So you don´t think I´m insane, do you ?'' she smiled shakely

''Not anymore than the average person...You´re simply tired, I believe.''

''I guess...God, I can´t wait for this year t be over with...''

''It´s been long enough indeed...'' he told her criptically before going quiet. She almost asked him what he meant by it...but that would be a silly question...The scarring on his neck and the paralysed fingers on his left hand were all the answer she needed really...Apparently,1998 hadn´t been too kind on him either...

''In any case...thank you. My intruder may have been imaginary, but I really do appreciate the help... and once again, I´m sorry for bothering you over nothing...''

''That´s quite all right...'' he answered, quickly finishing his drink ''Well, I should get going...It´s late and you have work tomorrow.''

''Sure...'' she answered flatly...It was probably going to be too awkward if she asked him to stay a little while more, wouldn´t it? Yes, it probably would. ''Good night.''

...

''Lyn ? Hey, Lyn !''

''Yes, what ?''

Evelyn looked up from her papers to see Angela hoovering over her, looking rather concerned.

''You´re ok ?''

''Of course, why wouldn´t I be ?''

''Well, you´re filling out your notes on the wrong dates...''

''Oh, shite !''

''Here, have some coffee...''

The teacher´s lounge was almost entirely deserted. Neither Evelyn nor Angela had classes until later in the morning, but they had decided to arrive earlier to take care of some paperwork. Evelyn´s mind was all over the place, however. She pushed her datebook and papers aside, and took the plastic cup filled with steaming hot coffee, taking a sip as if it was some sort of magical medicine.

''You look tired...I know we stayed out quite late last night, but...'' Angela insisted

''No, is not that...I just...Oh, Jesus, I made an arse of myself...''

''What ? When ?''

''Yesterday when I came back home...I had the distinct feel there was somebody inside my house...''

''What !?'' Angela gasped, running to sit across from her on the table ''You had a break in ? Why haven´t you told me sooner? Did they do anything to you ? Did they steal anything ?You called the police, right ?''

''There is exactly where I made I fool of myself...there was nobody in the house...I thought there was...I guess my mind was playing tricks on me..''

''Oh, dear...You must be tired.''

''Yes...that´s what Severus said...''

''Severus ?...''

''I told you I made a fool of myself...I went to his house to ask him for help...I don´t even know how I´m gonna face him again, after embarrassing myself like that...''

''Ok, hold it right there ! You went to his house to ask for help ?''

''Well, yes...what else was I supposed to do ?''

''Evelyn, dear...I know I promised I wouldn´t talk about it anymore, but for heaven´s sake, this Severus just seems to keep popping up in conversation, doesn´t he ?''

''Angela ! I thought I had an intruder in the house and Severus is my only neighbour ! Of course, I made a whole spectacle for nothing...The poor man had to get out of bad in the middle of the night to check my house for a burglar...I might as well have told him I had monsters under my bed...''

''Oh, yes, the poor man...His atractive neighbour knocks on his door in a panic, in the middle of the night asking him to save her from a non-existent intruder, thus giving him the perfect opportunity to be all manly and heroic...Poor man indeed. Say, did you reward him accordingly ?''

''Oh, shut up, Angela !''

''Fine, fine...I´m just trying to cheer you up a bit. But since you don´t seem to have your sense of humor turned on today...In all seriousness though...You have been working too much...Is no wonder you´re starting to see things !''

''Yeah...I suppose it´s the only reasonable explanation...''

''Tell you what...why don´t we go out for drinks tomorrow ? Matthew is back in town, so I can finally introduce the two of you... What do you say ?''

''Well...I guess I could use some time off...But...''

The door opened quietly, interrupting Evelyn´s toughts. Mr. Nolan´s secretary walked in without much ceremony and called out her name, as if she couldn´t plainly see the two women were alone in the room.

''Yes, Ms. Brown ?''

''Constance Francis´mother just called asking to have a moment to talk to you this afternoon after class. I told her she could come.''

''Mrs. Francis ?Oh, well, thank you Ms. Brown, I´ll talk to her...''

''Tancey´s mother ?'' Angela mused, as Mrs. Brown left as quietly as she entered ''Is everything ok with Tancey ?''

''Yes, as a matter of fact she´s doing excellently...Unless...''

''Unless what ?''

''Nevermind...''

...

Severus closed his window as the owl took flight, leaving an envelope behind, closed with the wax seal of the Ministry for Magic. Kingsley Shacklebolt had eased into his new role of interim prime-minister rather swiftly, hadn´t he? It had taken longer than he expected it to... One could only assume Shacklebolt had been taking precautions and putting investigations in place before contacting him about the information Severus had sent him. Nice to see a minister acting with some measure of forethought for a change.

The message inside the envelope was as to the point and laconic as Severus expected from him.

''We must speak. I´d like to meet you tomorrow at 6pm, at Aumbry St. Foret´s.'

...

The last class of the day had left her drained, but Evelyn still had one last thing to do. Olivia Francis was waiting for her in the teacher´s lounge.

''Mrs. Francis...''

''Ms. Black...I finally get to meet you. My daughter talks about you quite a seem to be her favorite teacher...'' Olivia Francis was a short and somewhat stocky woman, with a pleasant face and sweet green eyes, sharply dressed and well mannered, who spoke with a subtle hint of a Caribbean accent. Constance resembled her greatly, both in appearance and in the graceful countenance. Evelyn knew Olivia worked as a paralegal in a rather successfull local office, which meant she had surely taken time off a busy schedule to meet her. It had to be important.

''Oh, is that so ? Well, that makes me happy. Tancey is a lovely girl, very bright and dedicated...But, please, take a seat...'' The two women moved to a more reserved corner of the room where they´d be less likely to be disturbed. ''It´s not always that a student´s parent actually asks for a meeting...I was a bit surprised, specially because Tancey is doing really well in my class. Actually she´s excelling, if I may be honest...''

''Oh, yes...she´s been really excited about your classes. But is not about her I wanted to talk...''

''Oh, no ?''

''No...it´s about James...''

''James ?...What about him ?''

''You probably know that my daughter and James are...well, they´re best friends. So, evidently, my family gets to spend a lot of time around him...I only came here because...I´m worried...''

Evelyn frowned. She was ''worried''. Evelyn didn´t like the sound of that. She had heard through the grapevine that James has engaged in some acts of vandalism and possibly petty criminal offenses in the past, and many a time other teachers would wonder outloud why a ''good girl'' like Constance would be friends with him. Evelyn also knew there had been some kind of altercation involving Tancey´s father and James´father a few months before, but she never quite found out over what. Now her mother came to tell her she was ''worried''...Precisely when James was starting to do well...As if her preocupations over James family situation weren´t enough...

''Worried about what exactly ?...''

''I think you know by now that...well, is not in my place to meddle but...You must understand James and my daughter are really close, and she really cares about him a lot...So as a mother, I have to do something...Well, James father...You know he...'' Olivia seemed to be trying hard to pick the words.

''I do know James´father seems to have...issues...''

''I suppose I can just spell it out...He drinks...A lot. Always did, as far as I know...He used to work in the mill and after that closed he got himself a job in another place in Oldham...then he had an accident, went on disability and...it´s been downhill from there. Not that it was any better before...At least is what I know through Tancey...He´s...violent too...'' the words came out of her mind in a rambling torrent, as if she had been holding them back for so long, that once the door was open, everything just came rushing out without any control or order.

''Violent ?...'' Evelyn inhaled deeply, trying to keep her composure ''...you know for a fact that Mr. Wright has been physically abusive towards James ?''

''Not towards James...well, not anymore. Not since James grew up enough to defend himself... Meredith is another story...I´m pretty sure he still hits her when James is not around...I don´t know how much better that is, if at all...No 16-year-old should be forced to defend his mother from his own father...''

''For how long has this been going on ?''

''I don´t know...All I know is what my daughter tells me, or what James lets slip...I never really witnessed anything myself...Except...''

''Except... ? Mrs. Francis, if you know anything, please...''

''A few months ago...He called us...James was at our house, working on some school assignement with my daughter, and he called us, completely drunk, looking for his son...We know he doesn´t approve of James being friends with Tancey...I don´t want to throw the racism accusation around, because we don´t know for sure, and it´s an awfully serious thing to say about anybody...But you do understand that...one has to wonder...''

''Of course, I completely understand...What happened then ?''

''My husband picked up the phone and they had an argument. We forbade James from going back home, because, well, it obviously wasn´t safe...I´m pretty sure he took it out on Meredith...I saw the bruises, which she insisted she got when she tripped on some stairs at know how that goes, right ? 'I ran into a door', 'I fell down some stairs'... There´s always an excuse to not admit it... We offered to help her find a divorce lawyer but...that went as well as you can imagine...''

''Yes, I know...I´ve had about the same degree of success when I tried to reach her for a conversation..''

''Then you know what I´m talking about...I hate to say this, but...At this point I gave up on Meredith...But James is another story. It´s not his fault. My husband and I do what we can, but we´re not his parents, we´re not his family members. There´s just so much we can do if Meredith is not willing to accept any help. That´s why I wanted to talk to you. You´re his teacher, and Tancey tells me you´re the only teacher he actually respects. You might be in a better position to do something about it.''

''Mrs. Francis...I understand...trust me I´ve been keeping an eye on James, but, I didn´t know for a fact how bad things were until now. Thank you very much for coming here and telling me all of this. I assure you I´ve been thinking about James´situation for quite a while now.''

''I know I shouldn´t be meddling but...I couldn´t keep watching it. You know ? I couldn´t just keep watching it all happen...''

''Of course not. Of course not.'' Evelyn shook her head, overwhelmed ''And trust me..It is very important for James to have people who care about his well-being. I know Constance has been a really positive influence on him, and to know that you and your husband also support him is truly a relief. I know this type of situation may seem like a dead-end street and it can be frustrating for everyone involved, but I can tell you for a fact, that providing James and Meredith with a net of emotional support is a great first step...I´ll try to talk to James again and see what we can do, at this point to help him...I´ll make sure to keep you informed...''

''Thank you...''

Evelyn followed Olivia with her eyes until she disappeared through the door, making way for Angela who was just returning to the teacher´s lounge after her own long day of classes. She briefly greeted Olivia before walking up straight to Evelyn.

''So...anything wrong with Tancey ?''

''No, not Tancey...You know what ? Is that offer still up ? Because I could definetly go out for some drinks tomorrow...''

...

October 24th

Evening.

Severus put on the one still decent-looking muggle jacket he owned. It was a relic from the 1960s, bought from a thrift store when he was 17 years old. Thankfully it still fit him perfect, and the iron gray color of it distracted greatly from the outdated cut. It looked adequate enough for a business dinner... It was at times like these he missed living in Hogwarts. One could never really go wrong with black robes. Not having to worry about personal presentation sure saved up a lot of time and patience... Oh, well...It was not important what he wore as long as he could pass unoticed among muggles.

As he reached for his wallet on the nighttable, the blaring sound of a car horn disturbed the silence outside.

''What the bloody...'' he pushed the curtains aside and looked down on dimly lit street below. Besides Evelyn Black´s red volvo, which was by now a familiar part of the landscape he saw from his window every day, there was a dark colored Ford parked across the street. Before he could make any assessment of the possible reason why that car was there and why the driver was making that unholy racket, he noticed somebody crossing the street then going around it to get in on the passanger´s side...Evelyn Black...wearing a dark colored coat over a green or turquoise dress, he really couldn´t be sure from far away. He did see she had her signature high heels on and her hair pulled into a messy updo.

Once she had gotten in they drove off.

...

''What about Matthew ? I thought he was coming with us.'' Evelyn asked distractedly, checking her makeup on a small hand mirror, as Angela drove past the bridge.

''He´s waiting for us there. I asked him to get us a table while I picked you up''

''Oh, good. Where are we going again ?''

''Picadilly Lounge, in Manchester. I´m glad you´re coming, by the way. You really need a little time off.''

''I know, specially after that conversation with Mrs. Francis yesterday...Thank you, Angela.''

''You´re welcome. But let´s not think about that for now. We´re just going to relax and have some fun. Work can wait till tomorrow.''

''Yes, you´re right.''

Angie´s green Ford Fiesta moved fast through the empty streets of Cokeworth. It was not at all surprising that the old industrial town didn´t have much of a night life to speak of. The residents looking for nightly entertainment had to seek it in Manchester or Oldham. Driving around Cokeworth at night was almost an unsetling experience, really. But somewhat more unsettling than the deserted streets passing by her window, was the silence inside the car. Evelyn looked at her friend as she drove, finding her to be oddly taciturn. After a few more blocks of silence, she started to find it moren than a bit uncomfortable. Evelyn knew she could be a blabbermouth, but Angela usually didn´t fall too far behind her in verbosity, so why on Earth was she suddenly so quiet?

''Angie...?''

''Yeah?''

''Is everything ok?''

''Sure, why?''

''Well, you seem too quiet...''

''Oh, you know what?'' Angela blurted ''I better say it now, so if you want to be mad at me we can get it over with.''

''What ? Why would I be mad at you ?''

''Remember how you told me you were not looking for a date or anything like it ?''

''Angela, what have you done ?'' Evelyn yelped ''You didn´t set me up with anybody, did you ?''

''Weeell...''

''Angela, I don´t believe that!''

''Lyn, I know you´re probably mad at me right now, but at least give him a chance. His name is Ben, he´s a military engineer and has been friends with Matthew since before we started dating, I´ve known him for years now, and I swear he´s a really nice fellow. If you´re not interested in him you will at least meet a nice person...worst case scenario you get a new friend.''

''Ugh, fine!'' Evelyn grumbled, aggravated ''I should make you drive me back home, you know ? But I suppose is not the poor man´s fault that you decided to meddle into my personal affairs. If I know you you probably set him up as much as you did me. So I won´t be rude to him or Matthew...But I swear to God, tomorrow you´re going to hear it!''

Chapter Text

October 25th

Aumbry St. foret restaurant

Manchester

6 pm

Aumbry was a small but elegant and well-regarded restaurant. A red-brick façade, two ample bow windows, discreet doors painted in black and a sleek inconspicuous sign barely called much attention in the small street off the main avenue. Of course the size and discretion only added to the value. Which was one of the reasons Severus tended to avoid places like this. As much as one could benefit from the privacy and quiet a place like that had to offer, the truth was that restaurants such as these, that prided themselves in being small-scale and therefore providing supposedly higher quality services, were little more than a nest of middle-class snobs who viewed themselves in such high regard that even their food had to be treated as some sort of ritual for the initiated, preferably including many French words none of the patrons knew the real meaning of and decorations that should make any sensible person weary of paying actual money for food that looked like rejected first drafts of Jackson Pollock´s paintings...

It didn´t surprise him at all that Shacklebolt should choose this place. He knew enough about muggle social circles to know exactly where he´d blend in the best. And the ever-elegant, ever-sharply dressed, aristocratic-looking interim prime minister would surely fit right in in this fashionable little temple to muggle savoir vivre. If anything, Severus couldn´t fault his choice. Aumbry´s was small enough as to not draw attention, expensive enough as to not draw crowds without being entirely impossible to afford, and, although well-known, not famous enough that any wizards in the area may have heard of it.

A perfect place for a business meeting.

Severus immediately spotted him, even in a room full of people. But as hard to miss as Kingsley was, with his striking features, bald head and impressive height that made him tower over the other patrons even while sitting down, it was undeniable that he did a remarkable good job of making himself pass for a muggle. Dressed in a sharply well tailored suit, of a warm shade of dark grey that flawlessly complemented his dark aubergine shirt and tyrian-purple tie, he sat by the window analysing the menu distractedly, seemingly very at home. The maître quickly guided Severus to his table.

"Minister..." Severus spoke softly, not missing the opportunity to address him by the title he didn´t seem to yet be too comfortable with.

"Professor Snape...'' Kingsley smiled politely, as he got up to shake his hand, returning his subtle dig with a healthy dose of good humour.

"Just Severus, if you will. I haven´t been 'professor ' anything for quite a while now, and you know that..."

"You will agree to call me Kingsley, then. Titles are indeed not necessary, specially when we´re among muggles"

"Agreed."

"I took the liberty to order a Pinot Grigio, but if you prefer something else, we can..."

"As much as a appreciate your intention to make this a pleasing little social meeting, I´ll pass...That´s not why we´re here."

...

Lady PepperMint Lounge

Oldham

6:20pm

Evelyn looked around. It was still early, but since it was a weekday the lounge seemed filled with young working people fresh out of their offices and cubicles, looking for some much needed down-time after a stressing day. The Lady PepperMint seemed quite adequate for unwinding after work or just spending some relaxing time chatting with friends. It was decorated in cool shades of absinthe green and aqua, turn of the century styled posters filled the walls and soft greenish and yellowish lights added to the ambiance where antique couches and ottomans shared space with distressed wood tables, giving the place a cosy feel that matched well the soft-pop and soul tunes that filled the air at a volume that it didn´t interfere with conversation, but still brought people to the dance floor.

Evelyn and Angela walked in, dodging a couple of over-excited twenty-somethings that couldn´t decide whether they wanted to get a table or just stand by the bar, and walked about for a while, looking for their table. Suddenly Angela waved at somebody across the lounge and took Evelyn´s hand, pulling her all the way across the place towards a table in the back. Once they got there, Evelyn saw two men get up from their table to greet them. One of them, slightly shorter than the other and more broadly built, with blondish hair, and bright blue eyes approached Angela and gave her a quick kiss on the lips.

"Lyn, this is Matthew."

"So we finally meet! Angela speaks so much about you is like the two of you are childhood friends!" He shook her hand firmly, smiling broadly.

"Does she? I´ve heard a lot about you too. I´m glad that you´re finally back home."

"Yeah, this time around I should get some extended down time. Oh, let me introduce you two." he turned to the other man, standing slightly behind him. "Ben, this Evelyn, Angela´s co-worker, Evelyn, Benjamin."

"Hello." Ben shook her hand and let out an awkward greeting. He was slightly leaner and taller than Matthew, had green eyes and a darker complexion, his hair was also dark and starting to grow out his buzz-cut; he was also sporting a slight stubble so Evelyn assumed he had been on leave for longer than Matthew.

"Hi..." she answered, uneasily. He seemed like a nice enough fellow, but the truth was, she was not comfortable. It was not Benjamin´s fault, of course...but she couldn´t simply pretend she was ok with the arrangement, it wasn´t really in her to act like that. Once they settled on their table, she ordered some white wine, hoping she´d loosen up enough as to not be a complete bore and ruin everybody´s evening.

...

"I looked into the information you game me..."

"And...?"

"We haven´t found any definite evidence connecting the Malfoys to the Lestanges´ flight, so far. Of course, that doesn´t mean they didn´t participate, but it´s a difficult lead to follow with Lucius Malfoy on house arrest. I´m afraid we might have to turn our attention to Draco Malfoy..."

"Draco has nothing to do with it..."

"Draco is in France. The Lestranges escaped through France and into Germany as far as we know...That´s the only possible link."

"I´m telling you, Draco Malfoy doesn´t have anything to do with it. He happens to be in France because his father desperately wants to keep some sort of connection to the Rotts, seeing as they now run the show."

"You´re talking about Lucius´cousin..."

"Yes, Claire Rott...I believe she is the one behind the flight of the Lestrange brothers."

"France doesn´t have anything on her."

"Claire knows how to cover her tracks. She was never implicated on anything simply because she was not a direct participant in the events of the war, but I know for a fact she kept her connections to the Malfoys, through wartime and after. Claire and her husband have supported the Death Eaters through anonymous transfers of money and they were just waiting for the final victory of the Dark Lord to help him dig his claws into France next..."

"While I do tend to believe you, you must understand, I don´t have anything solid to act on. I´ve sent people to Paris, but there´s not a single thing that we can use as leverage to ask them to open an investigation on the Rotts...Draco on the other hand...His participation on the war was open and well documented, as you surely don´t need to be reminded. Right now he´s the only connection between the Malfoys and the Rotts"

"Kingsley Shacklebolt...You´re a smarter man than that, or at least I thought you were. Draco Malfoy? Poor Draco couldn´t act as an agent even if he wanted, and I assure you he does not. As for his participation in the war...He was a minor for most of it and no charges were ever brought against him. You have no legal standing."

"I know you´re the youn man´s godfather, but..."

"I am, but one thing has nothing to do with the other. You should remember us Slytherins don´t always act solely based on self-preservation and personal interests. Sometimes we just happen to be thinking ahead. You´ll have to trust me."

"No, Severus. You have to trust me. If you know anything that exonerates Draco of any potential participation you have to tell me so I can find another course of action."

"I can´t do that without jeopardizing his safety. He´s inside a pit of hungry lions, right now, and I can´t get him out. You will have to trust my word and not pursue any action against him. Not only it will be counterproductive, it will severely predispose me against you...and you do not want that. You may not like it, but right now you don´t have a strong Ministry in your hands, and your current roster of Aurors consists of naught but a band of shell-shocked children. Can you afford to loose my help, Kingsley? You may think having me as an ally is frustrating, but try crossing me...Minister or not, you will not touch Draco, understood?"

"Is that a threat, Snape?"

"A friendly warning. Threats are for those of histrionic dispositions and too little energy for real action... "

"You´re using him as a spy, aren´t you?"

"Believe whatever you feel you need to believe."

"That´s not much better than the dangerous stunts Dubledore pulled in the past..."

"Dumbledore and I didn´t have much in common other than one thing: we never tricked ourselves into thinking our actions had any sort of moral high ground or justification aside from the necessity of pursuing them. This is why we succeeded where you and the ministry failed..."

"Well, do give me the benefit of your superior advice, then...If I can´t go after the Rotts what am I supposed to do?"

"Have you checked your connections in Russia?"

...

Well, that was just grand. After more than half an hour of inane conversation, Matthew and Angela had suddenly decided they were in the mood for a little dancing. Evelyn was starting to get comfortable, listening to the stories Matthew and Benjamin had to share about how they met in high school, how they decided to join the military and the progress of their respective careers, Angela and her had talked about their work and their own daily issues, and everything was progressing towards what seemed to be a potentially fun night out with friends.

But Angela had apparently taken it to mean her little plan to get her and Benjamin together had worked and that Evelyn was somehow interested in him. Well, he was a great company, but this was not what Evelyn had come for. But Angela and Matthew had simply decided on their own accord to leave her and Benjamin alone...probably so they´d get to know each other better. Evelyn truly hoped those two never decided to open a match-making business or they´d be headed for bankruptcy in about three days.

...

"You know Russia is even less collaborative than the French. At least France has a progressive ministry. The russians on the other hand..."

"I heard their new prime minister is known for his...conservative leanings..."

"That´s a kind way to put it. The man is a known supremacist. As is most of their currently ministry. They flat out denied us access to any documents."

"Another good reason for the Lestranges to be there. Dimitri should be waiting for them with open arms..."

"This Dimitri...You know him personally?"

"No, we were never properly introduced, I´m afraid. All I know about him is his first name and that was was supposed to be the Dark Lord´s contact with in Russia. It was the second base. France for western Europe, Russia for eastern Europe. Which is precisely why you need to be careful. We don´t know much about him, so any clumsy action may give him the upper hand."

"You do realize my hands are tied, right? If the ministries of France and Russia don´t want to collaborate, I can´t make them. Not without solid evidence that proves there are illegal activities under way, and even then, we could get ourselves into a mess of diplomatic issues."

"I´m well aware of that... Why do you think Dumbledore and I had to come up with our our alternative strategies? The Ministry is bound by law to act in a certain way, and that´s exactly the reason its not all effective. But here´s the plot twist, Kingsley...I´m not the ministry"

"So you´re informing me that you are planning to act on your own? Without any legal standing?"

"I´m 'dead', remember? You told me yourself I´d be wiser to 'stay dead'. Well, death sure does come with many advantages."

"I cannot allow this..."

"I don´t recall asking for permission..."

"Severus, this is wildly irresponsible"

"Not anymore than letting the Lestranges escape from under your nose to go seek support for their demented plans in countries you can´t even negotiate with."

"So you´re asking me to look the other way while you take matters into your own hands?"

"I´m not doing anything for the time being. If I know my former associates they´ll need time to recuperate. A lot of time. Meanwhile I´ll do my best to gather information. Is information that you want, right?"

"And how can I trust that you will report back to me?"

"You can´t. I don´t report to you, or to anybody for that matter. You have to trust me on the basis that, out of all of us involved, I´m the only know who knows what we´re really dealing with and I have as many interest on the matter as you do. Is that or nothing..."

...

"They tricked you into this too, didn´t they?"

"Excuse me?" Evelyn was caught off guard by the casual comment and turned to Benjamin who was smiling at her, seemingly amused by something she didn´t quite understand yet

"Angela and Matthew. They tricked you into coming here and meeting me. It´s ok, they did it to me too."

"Oh, I don´t know what you´re talking about, I..."

"It´s ok, you don´t have to be nice. It was quite the naughty trick they did. I didn´t know you were coming, to be honest. I just thought we were celebrating that Matthew was back home, then when I got here he told me they had this nice girl to introduce me to..."

"Angela did the exact same thing to me..."Evelyn let out a soft laugh, feeling suddenly relieved.

"The bastards."Benjamin laughed heartily "I´m so sorry, about this."

"It´s fine, you didn´t know. I guess some people just can´t leave their single friends well enough alone..."

"Well, they meant well."

"Don´t get me wrong, it was lovely meeting you but...I´m just not looking..."

"That makes two of us."

"Angela told me about you and your girlfriend" she told him, almost apologetically

"Well, Matthew told me about you and your ex, too...And that creepy teacher at school..."

"Oh, I´m gonna kill her!"

"Eh, don´t. That bloke´s antics are not exactly a secret..."

"Yeah, Angela told me Matthew had to deal with him once...Well, since they´ve been doing their fair share of gossip, I think there´s no harm in asking. Do you know what exactly he did to Mitchel?"

"The school´s Don Juan?...Nothing."

"Nothing?"

"All Matthew had to do was show up at the school wearing his fatigue and the big bad wolf suddenly turned into a choirboy."

"Oh, dear..." Evelyn let out before both started laughing uncontrollably.

"You should let me know if you need a similar favor, I´d love to see that face on him again!"

"If he ever crosses the line, I´ll make sure to ask, thank you for offering. Uh...Ben?"

"Yes?"

"Would you mind if I left a little earlier? Is not that I´m not having fun, but, I really don´t want to go back home with Angela and I should get a cab back home."

"I´ll take you."

"You don´t have to..."

"It´s ok, really. Besides, if I take you home I can get Angela and Matthew off my hair for a while."

"Well, in that case..."

...

Severus left the restaurant and decided to walk back home. At this time of the night apparating would pose no issue, as there were plenty deserted streets to choose from for a speedy sent-off, but he could use some cool nightly breeze, a smoke and a moment to think.

The plans he had laid out with Dumbledore, years before, didn´t turn out to work out as well as he´d like them to. Sure, the Dark Lord was gone and Potter was alive, but what now? Many a time he had warned Dumbledore that defeating Voldemort was only the beginning of something bigger. But he seemed confident that those brats could continue his legacy. Sodding Potter couldn´t even wipe his own arse without a whole safety net of people to watch his back, to imagine that he or any of those kids would be able to deal with the repercussions of what would came after the Dark Lord´s fall was unthinkable.

But he hadn´t worried about that.

Severus was supposed to have died. It was part of the plan. Voldemort should think he was the master of the Elder wand and kill him in order to acquire complete power over it. Taking Draco out of the plot to kill Dumbledore, and having Severus kill him instead, with his own permission, would assure not only the protection of Draco´s soul, sanity and criminal file, but it would also ensure that Voldemort would never be the true master of the Elder wand.

Severus had to die, and he had prepared himself for it. Whatever came after that, it was no longer his concern. But alas, even in Dumbledore´s seemingly flawless plan, some loose ends were unavoidable. Severus´accidental survival was one of them. Now, what a man who dutifully accepted death should do once he finds himself regrettably alive?

He had told himself many times that his mission was complete. He had nothing else to do with the aftermath of the war, whatever it was. He had done his part. It was over for him.

But the Lestranges´flight had filled him with a vague sense of trepidation he couldn´t quite explain. He wasn´t worried for his own safety...he had long given up such concerns. Living or dying made little difference now. And even if it did, he was reasonably protected by the fact that most people thought him dead. It wasn´t a general concern for the well-being of wizard and muggle-folk either. Severus had no illusions about the fact that bigotry, wars, death and violence were just a part of the collective experience of humankind and it would remain so till the end of our days upon Earth. He could do nothing to change that, neither did he particularly want to.

That why had he left the comfort of his self-inflicted exile to get himself into this?

...

"Here we are." Benjamin parked his car behind Evelyn´s Volvo.

"Thank you. Again, I´m terribly sorry for everything..."

"Nothing to be sorry about. It turned out to be a rather enjoyable night after all."

"And so it did. Would you like to come in for a cup of coffee?"

"Oh, well, why not?"

Benjamin got out of the car and walked around it to open the door for her. A cool drizzle was falling, forming a ghost-like mist around the faint street lights. It wasn´t heavy enough to require an umbrela, but bothersome nonetheless. Evelyn reached for her keys into her purse in a hurry. She didn´t much like being out of the house at that time, specially after what had hapenned the night before. As much as she knew that nothing had really happened, she couldn´t ignore the fact that Spinner´s End was isolated, too close to the woods, dimly-lit and surrounded by the wasteland of former industrial town. At that time of the night the whole area was so deserted all they could hear was the murmur of the rain and their own steps on the pavement.

"This is a bit isolated, don´t you think? For a woman living alone."

"A bit..."she continued to look for her keys, they must have had slipped to the bottom of the purse "..I haven´t had any problems so far, though..."

"I see. But still you should be careful...You don´t even seem to have any neighbours"

"Oh, I have one. Severus, he lives next door. Very kind man, a bit eccentric, but completely trustworthy. Found it!" she brandished the keys victoriously and moved to open the door.

"I´m glad to hear that..." he answered distractedly, looking away from her. "...Is that him?"

"Who?" she followed Ben´s gaze and saw a tall, dark figure coming down the street, dressed in a dark suit of a somewhat outdated cut that made his shoulders look even broader and more angled, hands inside his pockets, approaching at a swift pace. "Oh, yes. Speaking of the devil."

...

Severus had seen the car pass by, but didn´t give it much thought at first. It only caught his attention once it made a turn into Spinner´s End. That wasn´t the green car that had picked Ms. Black up earlier that night...this one was dark blue trunk. He tossed his cigarette and rushed his step slightly, following from a safe distance as car slowed down and stopped right behind Ms. Black´s red Volvo.

After a few minutes he saw a man come out of it. A tall, athletic man, with very short dark hair, wearing a neat suit and leather shoes. He went around the car and opened the door at the passenger´s side. Evelyn Black stepped out, smiling and talking affably to the man, her red trench coat revealing the form-fitting turquoise wrap dress she wore underneath. The couple continued to talk as they made their way to her door and she looked for something inside her purse. Probably her house keys.

Severus would do better to just let them get in, and not making his presence known. But for some reason he had to keep walking. He shoved his hands into his pockets and moved forward quietly, his eyes focused on the cheery duo, scrutinizing their every action, trying to read the situation. He didn´t remember Ms. Black mentioning any man in her life, currently...But she wouldn´t have any reason to talk about such things to him, of course; even though she seemed to have no qualms about talking to him about every other aspect of her life. Still, it came as a surprise to see her coming back home at night accompanied... And very much enjoying the company, apparently.

Well, maybe if she got herself a boyfriend she´d leave him alone for a while. As much as Severus had come to enjoy her company, it probably wasn´t wise to let her get too close. He couldn´t really afford friendships right now... But this particular specimens didn´t look all too well suited for her.

"Severus!" she called out as they walked up to him. Only now did he notice he had come too close. Great, he had to engage in conversation. Should have known when to walk away. "Ben, this is my neighbour I was telling you about. Severus, this is Benjamin."

"Nice to meet you." 'Benjamin' offered his hand, smiling a bit too much for Severus tastes.

The wizard looked down at the man, his dark eyes measuring him from head to toe. He was more or less the same height as Severus, a couple inches give or take, but of a rather more imposing physique, noticeable even under that black well-tailored suit. It was rather obvious he was used to getting plenty of muscle building exercise. Severus soon saw the reason why: around his neck there were the two metallic circular dog-tags characteristic of the British army. A soldier...explained his over-confident alpha-male gait. In fact, the poor man seemed to be trying a bit too hard...His five o´clock shadow was well-groomed, his hair, starting to grow out of the military buzz-cut, was neatly styled, his dark suit and light blue shit scrupulously ironed, the absence of a tie seemed almost calculated in order to show off the dog-tags, and he had overpowering scent of cologne all over him, one of those over complicated muggle fragrances, combining green and citric notes.

A sign reading"I´m a manly army man, shag me!" hanging from his neck might have been a tad subtler.

Severus didn´t make it a habit of using legilimency on muggles, out of fairness more than anything, but also because muggles rarely thought of anything worth the trouble of getting inside their heads. But he couldn´t help himself... Besides, soldiers were far too-simple minded...as all people who made a living out of blindly following orders... Getting inside their heads was so easy, it required close to no effort, one could do it almost by accident.

As he imagined...a mundane little existence...a woman gone, some heart-break and tears...even more mundane military tasks and gadgets...No memories of Evelyn Black from before tonight...so, they had just met...Didn´t exactly go sterlarly either...Severus smirked and finally shook his hand, feeling sufficiently satisfied that Benjamin was indeed as uninteresting as innocuous as he looked.

"Likewise." he let out dryly. Was dear Benjamin feeling suddenly uncomfortable? Hopefully it wasn´t anything he said.

"Well, Evelyn...I should get going..."

"Oh, already?"

"Yeah, it´s getting late...I´ll come back for coffee some other day. Good night." He gave her a of polite and rather uneasy peck on each cheek, and nodded awkwardly to Severus before getting into his car and driving away.

"I hope I didn´t scare him" Severus told her, mildly amused

"No,I don´t think you did. " she smiled

"I suppose I should get going too..."

"Oh, Severus...I´ve been meaning to talk to you for a while now..."

"About?"

"Advise. You know, teacher to teacher...Would you mind coming in for a second?"

...

Evelyn put her trench-coat on a hanger by the door and took off her constricting high heels, neatly placing them next to the couch, possibly to remind herself to put them away later. Severus looked away for a second in spite of himself. It was something rather silly, come to think of it, but, even though she might have been wearing a form-fitting and somewhat low-cut dress, seeing her take off her shoes was the thing that made him most uncomfortable. It was somewhat excusable of him to briefly glance at her cleavage or take note of how that dress hug her hips and arse...He was a man after all, certain things were just instinct, it couldn´t be helped...Specially if she decided on her own volition to walk around dressed to impress. But for some reason the fact that she felt so at ease walking around barefoot in front of him made him feel like a voyeur. Maybe it was the familiarity of the act, or simply the fact that she always made a point to wear such fanciful footwear everywhere that seeing her without them was almost as intimate as seeing her undressed.

"I´ll make some coffee, I hope you don´t mind. I´ve gone past my share of alcohol for a week night" she asked, going into the kitchen

"It´s quite all right. I´m recovering from a rather sub-par Pinot Grigio myself" Shaklebolt might be an expert in all things muggle, but wines were certainly not his forté, he tought to himself, following her into the kitchen and sitting by the table.

"Sub-par Pinot Grigio? Where was this sin commited?"

"Aumbry St. Foret´s" He sighed, loosing up his tie and trying not to stare at her too hard. There was something rather fascinating about a woman doing something as common as preparing a cup of coffee while dressed up in a cocktail dress, even if her hairdo was completely undone by the drizzle. Not that it didn´t suit her.

"I heard they´re very good, though"

"They are...My 'date' is the one that can´t be trusted with wines"

"Your...date?" her tone was stunned.

"Yes. A 6-foot tall, black man who´s far too fashion forward to blend in with normal people and knows nothing about good alcohol" he smirked.

"Oh...?" she seemed even more confused. Severus couldn´t help but laugh.

"A potential business associate." he let out amidst his own snickering

"Oh, I see!" he mouth hung open for a split second before she joined his fit of sudden hilarity, laughing and lightly shaking her head.

"I had you fooled for a second, didn´t I?"

"Yes, you did! You´re just bad sometimes, Severus."

"I´m hardly being bad at all" If I was I´d have hexed the little tin-soldier you brought home just for amusement, he thought to himself. "Your night seems to have been much more pleasing than mine"

"Well, lovely man as he is, my date has about as much romantic prospects with me as yours has with you."

"Ouch...Poor Ben."

"Don´t be mean, Severus."

"That´s the one thing I can´t do for you, I´m afraid"

"Funny." she snickered "So this possible business associate..."

"Consulting work..."

"Interesting...what about?"

"Poisonous...things"

"So that´s why you were working on poisons the other day..." she started to pour the coffee and sat across from him by the table.

"Yes, exactly. But you said you wanted to talk to me about something..."

"Yes..." she looked down at her coffee, all gaiety disappearing from her features "It´s a bout James..."

"Your problematic student..."

"Remember I told you that...I suspected he had some issues at home?"

"I do...I´ll assume your suspicions were confirmed?"

"Unfortunately. And it´s worse than I imagined. It seems his father is a heavy drinker, and he´s emotionally and physically abusive towards James´mother..."

"Only her?"

"Now yes, but I believe James has suffered some physical abuse in the past...Now it seems to be mostly emotional..."

"Daddy dearest wasn´t so brave once Jr. grew big enough to return the blows, I see..."

"Yes, that´s how it went. And now Meredith is being singled out for the brunt of the physical abuse. She systematically refuses to get help, even when it´s offered to her. I´ve been wrecking my brains trying to find a way to help them, but I can´t..."

"That´s where you´re going the wrong way about this..."

"Where?"

"'Them'...You´re thinking of ways to help 'them'. But there is no 'them'. The boy´s mother made it very clear she doesn´t want to be helped."

"Severus, it´s surely more complicated than this...Abuse victims develop a..."

"...crippling inferiority complex, fostered by the abuser´s tactics of breaking their psyche and isolating them emotionally, socially and economically so they don´t reach out for help thus enabling them to continue to abuse and to keep the abuse escalating till it usually reaches a tragic climax. I know how that goes, Ms. Black. But the ugly truth is, nobody can help this woman but herself. She´s an adult, and until she wants to be saved, she´s beyond salvation. Her son is a different story, though..."

"We´ve been doing what we can. James is taking part in many different after school activities, he´s spending more time away from home and off the street, and his grades are getting much better. He has a good support net too, his best friend´s family has really done everything within their power to help him cope with his problems, so I guess we have a good basis to work with him."

"How old is the boy?"

"I think he´ll be 17 next November...why?"

"Well, that gives you a year."

"A year for what?"

"A year until he´s legally an adult and able to move out of the house."

"And what would he do with himself then?"

"You´re his teacher...Help him find out...Prepare him for it."

"I think see what you mean..."

"You´re a smart woman, Ms. Black. I´m sure you´ll find some resolution to this."

"As a matter of fact...You may have given me an idea."

"Did I? Good. May I ask what idea is this?"

"Give me just a week. I still have a party to take of..."

...

October 31st

Spinner´s End 12

Morning

It was a good thing that among all the elegant pieces of furniture she had inherited with her grandfather´s house, Evelyn had also gotten a full length mirror. It made the task of getting dressed much easier, and when it came to putting together a costume it was surely a great idea to know exactly how all the components looked. Specially in a party for children and teenagers. Choosing an appropriated costume was key.

She twirled in front of the mirror, feeling quite satisfied with what she saw. It looked rather good for something put together with things she had laying about. High-heeled black boots, thick and warm black leggings, a black long sleeved top, a belt, black gloves, red lipstick and a couple of accessories from a random costume store in Oldham and voilà.

Ready to go.

But before...maybe she should make one last attempt...

After checking her make-up and hair one more time, she climbed down the stairs and went into the kitchen. The many different kinds of Halloween food she had spent most of the night preparing were all neatly accommodated in tinfoil and Tupperware containers. The party decorations and supplies were already in the trunk of her car, so that left space in the back-seat for the food, plastic cups and paper plates.

Once she had everything accommodated for the short trip to Our Lady of Cokeworth church, Evelyn quickly walked over next door. She knew Severus didn´t much care for parties or social events, and was particularly uninterested in any that involved costumes and children, as he had made abundantly clear. But it just seemed like an act of courtesy to ask one last time. It was unlikely that he had changed his mind, but it would be nice to tell him his presence would be missed.

It took him quite a while to answer the door...It seemed to take him evenlonger to make out who the woman in costume standing at his door was.

"Ms. Black?...Pray tell, why do you have cat ears on?"

Chapter Text

"Ms. Black?...Pray tell, why do you have cat ears on?"

"It´s a costume, Severus...You see, there´s this very interesting cultural phenomenon mostly in the Western hemisphere and in English speaking countries called Halloween, during which people dress in costumes and go around giving or receiving sweets and just generally having fun...It happens to be today"

"Very funny...I know what and when Halloween is, thank you very much." He knew very well indeed. It was the only date of the year he could never forget, no matter how much he tried to. "Now you came here for a reason or you´re simply planning on lecturing me on the origins and history of Halloween next?"

"Who´s trying to be funny now? Well, yes, I did came here for a reason..."

"And that would be..."

"May I come in for a second? It´s a bit chilly outside"

"Will you ever take 'no' for an answer?" he sighed

"You seem to be starting to get used to me." she smiled, a hint of mischief on her crimson painted lips. Severus couldn´t help but stare at her face for a split second before snapping out of it. He had seen her wearing various styles of make-up, but never something quite as heavy as this...the deep red lipstick, her golden brown eyes framed by black mascara and eye-liner that enhanced their almond shape and made their colour seem lighter and more vivid than usual, their eagle-like sharpness more haunting than he remembered it to be. It was almost disturbing.

"Do come in, Ms. Black...but can you please take off those cat ears? They´re very distracting..."

"Sorry, but I can´t...I´ll mess up my hair if I do. I can remove the tail if it helps any..."

"You have a tail?" he rolled his eyes

"Actually no. Catwoman doesn´t have a tail, Severus. I just thought it would be funny to see your face if I said I had one..." she laughed, probably fighting the urge to yell "Got you!" as she passed him by and got inside. Severus had to restrain himself from actually looking down and checking whether she did have a tail or not. This was her idea of a costume for a children´s party? Oh, well... it was conservative enough for children, wasn´t it? It was just black pants and a black blouse... For sure the teenage boys present would beg to differ...but then again...teenage boys will lose their composure on account of anything. He closed the door and turned back to her, now noticing she had a package in her hands.

"I´m going to the church now. The party starts in about two hours and we have to put up all the decorations and get everything ready for the children."

"Good luck with that."

"I know what you´re going to say, but just for the sake of my peace of mind I came here to ask one last time...Are you sure you don´t want to come?"

"Yes. Trust me, Ms. Black, you need not worry about your peace of mind...the last place on Earth I want to be today is at a party."

"I guess there´s no point in insisting then...But I´ll have you know Fr. Thomas is going to be disappointed"

"Don´t bring the good old priest into this, Ms. Black" he gave her an oddly melancholic smirk "Blackmail doesn´t look good on you, even if you´re dressed as a comic book villain"

"Is not blackmail." Her tone was so soft as to sound sad "Fr. Thomas did ask about you. He said you came to each and every one of his Halloween parties when you were a young lad, and he´d love to have you back...You know, for old times sake..."

"I´m afraid I´ve grown out of a lot of the things Fr. Thomas remembers me for"...maybe not all of them, he thought sombrely to himself.

"If that´s the case...I´ll tell him I tried. Here, this is for you." she handed him the package. It was wrapped in a tea towel, but he could feel a plastic container inside the bundle

"What is this?"

"Barmbrack. I´ve made two, one for Fr. Thomas and this one for you. I don´t think the children will respond well to Halloween fruit cake."

"Just cover it with enough sugar and you could feed them dirt...They wouldn´t know any better. Anyhow... thank you...This is very thoughtful of you."

"You´re welcome...Well, I should get going..." she moved to the door, but stopped on her tracks suddenly, then reached into her back pocket, producing a piece of paper and handing it to him "...here...an invitation, in case you change your mind...Party will be over at 5pm or so..."

...

Evelyn´s car entered the church´s parking lot and she pulled over at the small area reserved for the cars of those who would be helping at the party. The rest of the space had been emptied so the stands with games and cooking tools could be put up. The little wooden structures with tent-like striped canvas covering made the parking lot look like a sort of miniature carnival. It was early but she could already see Fr. Thomas, or at least it looked like him in that Phantom of the Opera costume, and Angela, in a distinctive Cindy Lauper get-up´, walking around the stands, putting up signs. Matthew and Benjamin, wearing matching pirate costumes were carrying some boxes around, helped by a couple other men wearing brightly coloured costumes she couldn´t quite identify. Probably the friends they had brough to help put up the stands.

Before she could get out of the car, a tall and thin man in a blue jumpsuit and half mask that covered the bottom half of his face seemed to appear out of nowhere, walked over to the red volvo and leaned over at her window.

"Hello, Clarice" he rasped, badly imitating an american accent, while thin wisps of straw colored escaped his slicked back hair.

"Dr. Hannibal Lecter, uh?" She smiled, getting out of the car "You look great, James"

"Thank you, Ms. Black" he removed the mask and gave her an awkward smile "I just borrowed some old overalls from one of my father´s mates and got the mask at a store. Just wait till you see Tancey, now that´s a costume."

"Oh really? What costume is that?"

"Blade. You know, the vampire hunter. But she made a girl version. She´s got a thing for Wesley Snipes, I think"

"Oh, wow! I can´t wait to see how she does in the Costume contest, then!"

"I think she takes Halloween a little to seriously"

"No such a thing as taking Halloween too seriously, my dear boy. But, I see the stands are all up already."

"Yeah, Ms. Holt´s fiancée and some friends of his came early to put them up. One of them has been asking about you...Ben something..."

"Ben and Matthew are here? That´s grand, we´ were going to need some muscle for setting up those stands and the speakers. Speaking of which, has Mitchell arrived?"

"Mitch?!" James chortled "You really thought he´d be here early, ?"

"Hoped more-so than anything..." she rolled her eyes "Oh, well, we´ll see to that later, for now can you help me get these boxes and everything else from the car?"

...

"There he is..." Evelyn overheard Angela say, flatly. She turned around and saw Mitchell, dressed in a Capitan Britain costume so form fitting it made him look more like a speed skater than anything, leisurely making his way towards them carrying a cardboard box, followed by another man also carrying a box and dressed as, she assumed, Axl Rose. At least she hoped that was a costume.

Evelyn and Angela had just spent the last hour getting everything ready in the food stands: arranging all of the muffins, cakes and sweets Evelyn and the students mothers had baked, stacking all the paper plates, plastic cups and forks, organizing the multitude of store bought sweets, chocolates and confectioneries and filling the fridge they had borrowed from a local pub with ice, water bottles and fizzy drinks. Matthew, Benjamin and their friends were loading and unloading boxes full of toys and setting up the game stands with the help of the students, while the other teachers and Fr. Thomas finished with the decorations, signs and the ballot boxes, papers and pens for the costume contest. And now Mitch arrived. Evelyn rubbed her temple, pretty aggravated by now, then dropped what she was doing and marched over to where he was standing, apparently at a loss as to where he should begin helping

"About time."

"I´m sorry, Evelyn, I..."

"Let me guess, you were stuck in traffic...on a Saturday morning, in Cokeworth. Well, that´s simply unfortunate, isn´t it? The people will start to arrive in less than an hour and we don´t have speakers or a microphone. You have ONE job, so get to it, will you? And do make it fast and mind the electricity, your costume looks awfully flammable, and I don´t want any traumatised children."

Mitchell opened his mouth to say something but she was gone before he could find the words.

...

He had lost track of how long he had been sitting on his armchair, staring at the photos on the mantle, listening to the monotonous ticking of the clock. As if, just by staring long enough they could somehow come to life...Foolish notion of course, but that didn´t stop Severus from continuing to stare...

What else could he do?

Over the years Halloween had, thankfully, become a bit less unbearable...The festivities in Hogwarts provided him with enough distractions in the form of out of control brats, stuffing their faces with sugary treats until they here even more hyperactive than usual.. It didn´t make things any easier by the end of the day, however...When the eating, drinking and games were all over and the students were sent back to their dormitories, he still had to go back to his own chambers and face a multitude of memories that refused to give him a moment of peace. At first the mere thought of Halloween festivities made him sick to his stomach...watching children celebrate, play and laugh on the date of Lily´s death felt somewhat obscene...But then he made his peace with the fact that this pain was his and his alone...

He learned to keep it inside.

After all, he had run out of tears to cry and curses to throw at God long ago. There was just so much a man could do with a 17 year old pain that won´t go away...What was once an open, bleeding gash, clawing into his flesh, digging it his heart, was now a dull ache that refused to leave him, chewing into his bones like age and disease chew at a dying old man. So, like a dying old man, he kept quiet. Back in Hogwarts he´d retreat into his room as soon as the festivities were over. Sleeping potions helped...It´s what the sick do, isn´t it? They sleep to make the pain and discomfort go away momentarily...After his release from the hospital, Severus had indulged on sleeping potions and pain-killer potions more than he would like to have...But when the nightmares started to become too frequent and vivid to allow for any rest he had decided to trade sleep for a numbing alertness.. He´d work on potions, read, study...anything that could distract his mind.

Ms. Black had been a welcome distraction in many ways. Going to her house to have some tea and talk about books and authors was a good way to help time pass...Getting small snippets of information about her family bordered on fascinating. The story of how her grandfather had adapted to Ireland was particularly compelling, like a pleasant little novel... specially with his knowing of things Evelyn Black herself ignored. It was almost a month since she had arrived and barged uninvited into his life, and those few weeks had proved entertaining. It was almost a relief to pretend he was something he wasn´t...As far as Evelyn Black was concerned he was a retired chemistry teacher, a regular, albeit moody man...Normal, mundane even...Just an acquaintance she enjoyed spending time with...For reasons he´d never really understand

But today that wouldn´t do...Not today of all days. Today Evelyn Black couldn´t distract him from who he really was...Not today...

Severus leaned back, feeling his back ache slightly from sitting on the same position for so long, and looked down at the coffee table. The brightly coloured piece of paper Ms. Black had given him was still abandoned there where he had left as soon as he had seen her off.

If only she knew...

He didn´t feel all too well at ease brushing her invitation off without a proper reason. She had, in fact, been nothing but kind to him, and as much as he could be a surly bastard, Severus had learned the hard way not to be ungrateful to those who were kind to him. But there were certain things that were better left alone. It was enough having those photos of Lily on his mantel...he didn´t have to go over to Fr. Thomas Halloween party...For what purpose? To stir old memories that crept into his every dream and nightmare more often than he could handle?

"Fr. Thomas did ask about you." She had said "He said you came to each and every one of his Halloween parties when you were little, and he´d love to have you back...You know, for old times sake..."

For old times sake...Severus wondered if fr. Thomas remembered Lily, if he knew what had become of her... He spent a lot of time at Spinner´s End with the needy...The Evans family was anything but. But when it came the time to hand out the invitations for the Halloween party, Severus would always get two. He would then rush to find Lily and give her one, so they could go together. They´d spend the whole day there, playing games and eating buckets of treats that would surely rot their teeth off if they indulged too often on them...Not that Severus had the option to indulge on anything as even basic food items were scare at the Snape household. Often times he´d leave Fr. Thomas party feeling nauseous from eating too much...It was a once a year opportunity, after all. But still, he´d put on his best face and follow Lily to the Cine Victoria, a cinema a few blocks away from the church. They´d have special screenings on Halloween...Horror classics with Lon Chaney and Vincent Price, among others. The screenings went on all night till the next morning. They had never stayed the entire night of course. But they had vowed that once they were old enough to spend all night out without requiring parental permission, they´d watch Cine Victoria´s classic horror Halloween festival till the end.

They never did.

He looked down at the invitation again. Ms. Black had been going on and on about all the wonderful things they were doing...the games, the costume contests with prizes, the food and music...It all sounded much like a festival, rather than the small little neighbourhood party he remembered from his youth. Lily would have liked to see that party getting bigger and welcoming more children...She delighted in seeing others happy...Much like Evelyn Black herself...The two of them would probably have gotten along well... He could feel a smile on his lips that almost hurt a bit...Lily would have loved being at that party. It had always been one of her favourite things... She loved Halloween...Bit of a cruel irony, wasn´t it?

Ms. Black said the party would be over at 5pm...He looked up at the clock on the mantel.

3:30pm.

...

The speakers had been blasting catchy pop-songs for hours now, and for hours children had been running about giving no sign of wanting to slow down. There were long lines of parents and children of all ages waiting to play games or buy snacks, teenagers walked about in groups, talking loudly, comparing costumes, being silly and having fun, while smaller children played as if they were in the backyard of their own homes.

The party was an undeniable success.

Evelyn was overwhelmed. Her feet were killing her from walking up and down, stopping at every stand to make sure everything was running smoothly, fixing little issues here and there; in spite of the autumn chill a very thin layer of perspiration covered her forehead, and she could feel her throat starting to go a bit sore from talking too much and, and occasionally resorting to yelling so she could be heard over the music. Still, she was beside herself with joy. They had successfully welcomed over a hundred children and teenagers, not counting the parents, and everything was running smoothly. Food and toys were flying off the shelves, teachers, students and volunteers were working non stop to make sure all the beverages snacks and sweets were being handed out orderly, and the games were played non-stop, fishing, tossing, bowling and many others. Evelyn herself had spent the past hour working at one of the game stands, where they had they had improvised a little bowling game for the youngest children using plastic bottles filled with aniline-coloured water.

Of course, tending to children as young as two while they played a game that involved tossing a ball at a number of plastic bottles lined up on the floor, while wearing high-heeled boots was probably not the wisest idea at least as far as her calves and lower back were concerned. She let out a sigh of relief at the welcome sight of Jocelyn, Cokeworth Academy´s art teacher, who had told her she´d take over after the hour to give Evelyn some time to rest and get something to eat. Jocelyn had brought her two year old daughter, Sadie, who had been happily playing with her mother and Angela at the (relatively quieter) fishing stand, waiting for her father to arrive and take care of her so her mother could replace Evelyn at the bowling game. But much to Evelyn´s surprise, Jocelyn was coming over with a very fussy Sadie in her arms.

"Lyn, I´m so sorry. It seems my husband is running a bit late." Jocelyn apologized while trying to contain Sadie, who was on the verge of throwing a tantrum, violently trying to wriggle out of her mother´s arms, having already tossed her paper witch hat on the ground.

"Oh...that´s quite all right, I can continue for a while more"

"Oh, thank you, Lyn. I´m so sorry. I´d leave her with Angie for a while, but she´s so cranky..."

"She must be overwhelmed by the noise and the crowd...Here, let me try..." Evelyn took the irritated toddler in her arms and reached for a headband with tulle flowers that was amongst the game prizes and offered it to her. Sadie stopped struggling for a second to look hard at the colourful, fabric flowers. "You like them, Sadie? You like the pretty flowers, love?"

"Oh, well...that was easy."Jocelyn smiled, seeing her daughter was considerably calmer now "You´re good with babies."

"I have two nieces. Both of them like fashionable accessories as well."

"I´ve got an idea...If it doesn´t bother you too much, I can take over the stand if you watch her for a little while. My husband will be here in about half an hour, I promise."

"You´re sure?" Evelyn asked, but seeing the line grow and feeling her back ache she was most inclined to accept.

"Yes, positive. Go, have something to eat, give your legs some rest. I don´t think Sadie will give you too much trouble."

"Well..." Evelyn turned to Sadie and arranged the headband on her mass of curly brown hair, getting a little giggle for reward "Off we go, then, little Miss Sadie"

...

A sandwich, a glass of orange juice, a table located further away from the turmoil of the party and a few paper toys was all that took to calm Sadie down. Evelyn finished her own sandwich looking on as Sadie nibbled on hers, her free hand playing with a pile of animal cut outs and origamis, as her little feet swung under the table.

"Lyn! Tiguh!" she blurted out with a full mouth, showing Evelyn a cut out of a tiger.

"Yes, that´s a tiger. And this one?"

"Doggie!" more bread crumbs fell on her pink tulle skirt. Evelyn laughed and wiped her mouth with a paper napkin.

"Very good! Your daddy has a doggie, right?"

"YES! A big doggie! It´s a girl doggie."

"What´s her name?"

"Bwondy"

"Blondie? Blondie is a very cute name."

"Lyn!Kitty!" She pointed at Evelyn´s ears

"Yes, you´re right." Evelyn mewled softly, giving Sadie another fit of giggles "You know, I also have a kitty at home"

"Is a girl kitty?"

"No, it´s a boy kitty. I call him Ciáran."

"Kweaawon?"

"Something like that, yes."Evelyn smiled as Sadie returned to the paper figures. She played with them for a while, before apparently becoming bored and letting her eyes wonder around. She looked on to the tall trees surrounding the church, the branches peering from above the parking lot´s walls, sitting perfectly still for a while, her half eaten sandwich forgotten in her little hand. The wind was blowing the leaves, making a rustling noise and creating moving patterns of gold, crimson and orange that seemed to mesmerize the toddler. Suddenly she turned back to Evelyn and blurted out, her big dark eyes wide and amazed:

"Birdie!"

"Oh, you saw a birdie? Where?"

"There!" she pointed to one of the trees outside "Black birdie!"

She turned back to the pictures scattered on the table and picked one of them up. A raven they had photocopied from an illustrated edition of Edgar Allan Poe´s complete works to use on the decorations. She looked at it and showed it to Evelyn.

"Black birdie!"

"Oh...a raven?"

"Wayen"

"Ra-ven." Evelyn repeated, amused

"Waven! There!"

Evelyn looked up to the tree. There was no bird there, raven or otherwise. And the tree was close enough to the parking lot that she would have seen it if it were there. Maybe it was gone.

"Lyn! There! We go there!" Sadie started to fuss about in her chair, dropping her sandwich on the paper plate, and pulling on Evelyn´s sleeve.

"You want to go see the raven?"

"Yes, we go!"

"But it´s gone, love."

"No!" She was getting restless and Evelyn could smell another tantrum.

"Ok, ok...We´ll go see the birdie. But just for a little while, then we come back and clean up this mess. Your daddy will be here soon." It wouldn´t hurt to humour her just a little. God forbid Evelyn discouraged the interests of a future biologist or bird watcher. Evelyn herself was a bit curious. Her father often took her bird watching as a child, and she could completely understand the fascination those winged creatures could wield, so why not give little Sadie her first bird watching experience? She stretched out her arms and Sadie awkwardly jumped on them, then off they went.

Evelyn made her way to the entrance of the parking lot, as Sadie happily babbled about birds and trees, wiggling and twisting about in her arms, excited at the prospect of seeing the "black birdie" up close. Once outside she quickly located the tree Sadie had pointed out, a tall birch crowned in gold and ruby leaves.

The wind started blowing again, momentarily distracting Evelyn as she removed a few strands of hair from her face. Once she resumed her path towards the birch, a lean and dark male silhouette appeared materialize out of thin air among the trees and into her field of vision. At first all she could make out in the midst of the mass of low branches and leaves blown by the wind was a black coat and equally black hair and pants, that made the figure look like an ink blob accidentally dropped on the canvas by a clumsy artist in the middle of painting a warm autumn landscape. But as the wind quieted down and the man slowly walked towards her she could finally make out his features.

"Severus!"

Chapter Text

Severus had seen her even before she had spotted him. But that was still a close call...too close for his taste... He was getting careless... Maybe he shouldn´t have come after all. What was she doing outside the parking lot anyway?! And with a small child to boot. Oh, well, no point turning back now, was it? He walked on.

"Severus, you came! I didn´t think you would!" she beamed.

"I suppose I didn´t have anything better to do..." he told her, hoping to put a dampener to her enthusiasm.. pointless endeavour, he knew, but he´d never be faulted for lack of trying.

"You know what? I´m so happy you´re here I won´t even mind that you´re being rude and sour like that."

"Is the party over?"

"Oh, no, not at all! I just stepped outside for a moment because Sadie wanted to see a raven that flew by." Only then did Severus noticed the brown haired toddler was staring at him as if he was some sort of alien form of life.

"Well, I´m afraid that raven is gone now..." Had the girl seen him in his animagus form? He was rustier than he imagined, then.

"See, Sadie? The black birdie is gone, love" Evelyn was cooing, gently bouncing the baby on her hip. The girl was whining softly, mumbling something about a 'black birdie', Severus assumed she was indignant that she didn´t get the chance to see it. Evelyn continued to try and soothe her"Now, now, don´t be like this. We´ll see birdies some other time, ok?"

"So...you ditched the party for a baby-sitting stint? Or you just kidnapped a random child and I happened to catch you mid-flight?"

"Aren´t we funny today? Sadie´s mother works with me. I´m just watching her for a little while while her mother replaces me in one of the stands. We´re waiting for her dad to pick her up, but she´s getting a little fussy. Hey, Sadie, here, let´s be a polite young lady and say 'hello'"

She held the baby slightly up. The girl kept on staring at him before finally deciding to reach over, throwing her body forward, almost leaping from Ms. Black´s arms into his. Startled, Severus instinctively put his hands under her, but Evelyn was holding her expertly and there was no need for him to help. The woman looked like she had held her fair share of bouncy and fussy infants over the years. One would wonder how she didn´t have some of her own already, enamoured as she obviously was of them.

"You do have a way with youngsters" he told her flatly, as the baby babbled incoherences at him.

"And Sadie seems to have taken a liking to you...So much for trying to act like a bogeyman, uh, Mr. Snape?"

"She´s far too young to know what´s best for her."

"Oooh, such a scary, scowling man" Evelyn laughed with gusto and bounced the child some more, eliciting delighted giggles from her. "You´re not afraid of Mr. bogeyman, are you, Sadie?"

As if responding to the prompt, Sadie once again leaned in towards him, the tiny hand aiming straight for his nose. Evelyn pulled her away just before she could hit the target.

"You´ve been training her to do tricks before an audience?" he smirked, raising a hand towards the girl and allowing her to grab at his fingers, in spite of himself. Inspecting his digits seemed to distract her enough to allow them to talk in peace.

"No, she was just born this smart. I think Sadie is a people´s person" Evelyn smiled at him, a quiet smile full of a kind of warmth that struck him as somewhat different than what he usually saw in her

"Small wonder you two seem to get along so well."

"Shall we go in? Or you just plan to stand out here in the cold while everybody else is having fun?"

"I don´t think I have much of a choice now, do I?"

"No you don´t. And keep up that attitude and I´ll have to put you to work." She smiled, pulling him gently by the arm. He had the feeling she might actually keep that threat, so he better tag along.

...

Not even ten minutes had passed and Severus nerves already felt raw. What was he expecting, though? It was a child´s party, after all...Loud music, screaming, manic running and overall havoc were all to be expected. He surely didn´t remember Fr. Thomas´ Halloween parties being that crowded. There had to be some two hundred people there. Was it his memory failling him, or had the festivities actually grown in attendance? He wondered how much of it had been Evelyn Black and her colleagues´doing. As they walked into the parking lot, she had shown him each and everyone of the stands and in all of them there was at least one student of hers or a member of the Cokeworth Academy faculty.

Sure it was a frenzied fandango from hell with all the brats running about like damned demons fleeing out of Tartarus, but he had to concede, Evelyn Black had good leadership and organizational skills. In fact given the number of children, it was no small feat that everything seemed to be running with no incident. Of course, a muggle Halloween party wasn´t Hogwarts, so he couldn´t expect hexes to be flying around...Come to think of it that might have made this party more entertaining to attend.

He didn´t expect he´d able to obtain alcohol in any of the stands, evidently, but maybe something caffeinated was in order. Evelyn had just left him alone for a moment, going to hand Sadie to her father at another stand, so he made his way to the stand where they were selling drinks. As expected, no alcohol, coffee or anything remotely suitable for adult consumption. He´d have to make due with some saccharine and fizzy cola concoction.

It was going to be a long afternoon...

"Severus?!"

He heard a male voice calling his name and turned to see a man in a cheap looking pirate costume.

"It´s Severus, no?" the "pirate" insisted "Don´t you remember me?"

Severus did a double take before he could place the stranger.

"Benjamin, right?"

"Yes! How are you, mate?" He shook Severus hand with that firm, almost forceful handshake military men took pride in. "I didn´t expect to see you here, Evelyn said you wouldn´t make it."

"She did?.." Severus had been under the impression that Evelyn and this little pantomime soldier hadn´t quite hit it off on that first date...At least it was what she had told him...So now he was a regular in her social engagements? He had lost some updates on that, apparently "So...uh...You and..."

"Who? Evelyn and me?" he laughed and got a bottle of water for himself "I should be so lucky...She´s a lovely lass, but I´m afraid I´m not much her type...and vice versa. Besides, I´ve got some...unresolved issues somewhere else..."

"Oh, I see...well, good luck with that."

"I´m afraid I´ll need it."

"One of those complicated love stories, uh?" Severus smirked, recalling the thoughts he had taken a glimpse of in that night when he briefly entered Benjamin´s mind, back when they were first introduced to each other. He couldn´t say he didn´t feel for the poor sod.

"Yeah...we´ve all been there, right?"

"Indeed..."

"I´ve got to be honest with you" Benjamin chuckled, sipping his water "I would be lying if I said I wouldn´t have liked it if things had gone well with Evelyn. I mean just look at her, right? What man worth his salt wouldn´t?"

"I suppose" Severus let out in a low hiss, rolling his eyes. He was no prude, and truth to be told he quite agreed with Benjamin. Evelyn Black was very attractive. He had caught himself many a time looking at her in...less than chaste ways. He was a man, after all...What normal, heterosexual man wouldn´t look when faced with a beautiful woman? But to actually comment on it like that? Now that was simply vulgar. Small wonder she wasn´t interested in the little tin soldier. Evelyn Black was not the kind of woman to lower herself to the standards of some unrefined testosterone fuelled creature whose sole talent consisted on following orders instead of thinking for himself. Severus expected her to have better taste than that.

"But it wouldn´t work, you know. Not only because of this other...eh...engagement of mine, but...Well, lovely lady as she is, I´m afraid Evelyn is a bit too smart for me"

"You like ´em stupid?" Severus sneered.

"Oh, no!" Ben laughed heartily, probably taking Severus dig as a joke "Is just that... Well, you understand, Evelyn is an academic and all that. I´m afraid she´d be terribly bored with me. I guess her type is more the intellectual kind, and I, unfortunately, don´t quite fit the bill."

"More of a man of action than a thinker, I see..." Severus smirked

"I guess you could say that."

Well, it was pretty obvious dear Ben was not a thinker in any sense of the word, Severus thought to himself, but held his tongue.

...

Angela saw Benjamin at the drinks stand, talking to a tall man dressed in black plain clothes and quickly approached

Father Thomas had just gotten the cardboard boxers they´d be using as ballot boxes for the costume contest. They´d have three competitions: one for children, another for teenagers and finally one for the adults, all of them with prized donated by neighbours: toys, books and gift baskets containing Halloween goodies and assorted objects. They had also gotten some cheap plastic trophies, just for laugh of it. Now that the party had been going on for a while, they could finally put the ballot boxes out so people could start voting.

And yet, Lyn was nowhere to be found. The costume contest had been her idea, and they needed her to set it up. Maybe Ben knew where she had gone.

"Ben!" She called out coming from behind him, then turned to the man he was talking to and mumbled an apology for interrupting. Benjamin made way for her to come closer.

"Angie, this is Severus Snape, Severus, Angela Holt..."

"Cokeworth Academy´s English teacher, if I´m not mistaken. Evelyn told me about you"

Angela did a double take and looked at him with wide eyes. So this was the famous Severus Snape Evelyn couldn´t stop talking about? Well, he definitely looked...unique. Tall, solemn-looking, sallow skinned, with sharp features, of which the most evident was a hooked nose that would make the envy of any bust of Julius Caesar. Not quite ugly, but far from being good-looking. In his all black outfit he looked like one of those sullen faced, pale Spanish aristocrats you´d see in XVIIth century portraits on a tour to a museum. Give him a goatee, and armour and a horse he might as well be more imposing and far less pathetic version Don Quijote. Not Angela´s cup of tea, but she could see how Lyn would find him... interesting.

"She told me about you as well. So nice to finally meet you!" she shook the hand he offered her. "Speaking of the devil, did any of you gentlemen happen to see Evelyn? Fr. Thomas is looking for her to set up the costume contest..."

"No, I only saw Lyn when she arrived this morning..." Benjamin shrugged

"I believe she went to take Sadie back to to her father..." Severus replied quietly, his eyes searching the crowd...Come to think of it, she was taking a bit too long, wasn´t she?

"Oh, did she?" Angela seemed oddly relieved "Well, she should be back soon then..."

"You´re ok, Angie?"

"Oh, yes...It just hit me that...I haven´t seen Mitchell for a while either.."

"Oh, Angela, please..." Benjamin chortled "You´re worried about Mitch?! I think Evelyn can handle him just right... He´s just an overgrown tantrum-prone toddler."

"Excuse me, but I´m afraid I don´t quite follow..." Severus didn´t usually bother with idle gossip, particularly not with people he had just met, but he did´t really like the direction that conversation was taking.

"Evelyn didn´t tell you about our local Casanova? He´s got his sights on her...Quite pitiful if you ask me...He actually thinks he has a shot, bless his heart..."

"Ben!" Angela hissed.

"I see..." he tossed the empty can on a litter bin, shifting lightly on his feet. "If you excuse me, I think I´ll walk around for a bit. I´ll make sure to let her know Fr. Thomas needs her help if we happen to meet."

"Thank you" Angela smiled faintly as he walked away. As soon as Severus was out of sight she gave Ben a hard slap to the upper arm.

"What was that for?!" he yelped, rubbing the stricken area

"I should be asking 'what was that for?'. What were you thinking gossiping about Evelyn in front of him?! This is not like you, to do something this rude!"

Ben simply laughed and finished his bottle of water

"What´s so funny? You shouldn´t have done that!"

"Oh, Angie, sweet Angie...You need to learn a thing or too about matchmaking...First lesson: subtlety. Now let´s leave dear Severus to find Evelyn because we both should be going back to work."

...

Mitchell...Evelyn had never mentioned this man...Were suitors really lining up like that? Well, not like Severus should be surprised, after all. He suddenly craved a cigarette, but with that many children around it wouldn´t be wise. He kept dodging the running children and their distracted parents until he made it back to the stand where he had last seen Evelyn, chatting with Sadie´s parents. The baby and her father should be gone by now, and the mother was probably working, but she probably knew where to find Ms. Black...So he walked over to the bowling stand to ask her. He didn´t have to go all the way, though, as a somewhat surprising scene unfolding just a couple meters away caught his eye.

She was hard to miss in her all black Catwoman costume, but the man standing next to her stood out far more and for all the wrong reasons. What the bloody hell was he thinking coming to a children´s party in a skin tight Union Jack? Some sort of superhero get-up, Severus thought...or rather hoped. But the unlikely duo of hero and villaness didn´t look like they were about to team up and save the world.

As he approached, Severus noticed the man take off his hood, revealing a blond buzz cut and a face as smug as it was handsome. Severus cursed under his breath...Mitchell...the name should have rung a bell, but what were the odds after all these years? That sleazy expression with the broad nauseatingly saccharine smile were unmistakable...The over the top, garish mannerisms and the vacuous self-importance based on no substance he´d only ever seen on two people and this little piece of muggle garbage had been the very first. Sure the last time he had seen the man was no older than twelve, but certain things don´t change. Or rather they do. That face looked even worthier of a good hex now than it did back when they were young.

Severus pressed his step, observing how Evelyn took a few steps back from Mitchell, her body language showing all tell-tale signs of discomfort. She didn´t seem intimidated, but rather exasperated, rolling her eyes and pursing her lips in a way Severus could only interpret as disgust. That didn´t stop Mitchell from continuing to intrude into her personal space, leaning in and showing teeth like a hungry predator. The music around them was too loud for Severus to understand what they were saying, but what he could see didn´t testify to a pleasant exchange.

"Ms. Black." he called out not too loudly, just enough to be heard over the music, as he joined them. Evelyn turned to him and he could almost see her let out a sigh of relief. Even more telling, she automatically stepped away from Mitchell coming to Severus´ side in a swift stride. Severus turned his back on Mitchell, standing somewhat between the two "Fr. Thomas is looking for you."

"I was on my way, thank you, Severus...Uh..." she stood awkwardly, tucking an non-existent lock of hair behind her ear, almost getting her glove stuck on an oversized cat shaped silver earring "Severus, this is..."

"Mitchell." Severus turned around as if only now he had noticed the other man´s presence, greeting him with an acidic half-smile "It´s been a long time"

"Excuse me, do I know you?" Mitchell´s face went from irritated to surprised in a split-second.

"No, I´m afraid you don´t. But I know you. Mitchell Daniels, Cokeworth Academy, class 2b from 1969 to 1970, used to walk around the mill district between Prince Edward Lane and the main street with a posse of some five boys. Your father worked in the mill, too...Lorry driver, if memory serves me right."

Severus memory served him right indeed. Mitchell Daniels, the good for nothing little thug son of one of Severus´father´s co-workers. Tobias Snape operated heavy machinery full-time, while Johnathan Daniels drove one of the the lorries...It was a part time job for him, which allowed for just enough time to work on a second job for the rest of the day. Because of this, their family was slightly more well off than the Snapes, which had spared them the fate of living in Spinner´s End. Predictably that had given the young Mitch an quite a superiority complex. Severus had never bothered with him much, until Lily got involved...Cokeworth was a small town, with only two schools, the only one of any repute being Cokeworth Academy...As chances were it was not surprising that Mitchell and Lily would both wind up studying there.

For the year leading up to Severus and Lily´s entrance in Hogwarts, Mitchell and his little posse of brats had made her life in school a living hell. Severus could still remember her coming back home in tears, telling him or Petunia how the other children found her weird, called her names and played tricks on her... And Mitch Daniels was the ring leader. One time, he had tried to follow her home to continue the torment outside school. It was a very, very stupid idea. All he did was give Severus a prime opportunity to try a new hex. Poor boy never knew what hit him. Alas, Severus couldn´t do much to defend Lily inside the school. Luckily, their acceptance letters arrived and soon enough Mitchell Daniels was a naught but a unpleasant footnote to their Cokeworth days.

After all these years, who would have thought Mitchell would return to school, as a teacher. Granted, a P.E. Teacher, but still...Well, Mitchell Daniels never struck him as the kind of man who´d be going places in life...Not surprising that he´d return to his old turf, the only place in the world where he could feel powerful and find some illusory confirmation of his non-existent merits.

"I´m really sorry, but I can´t place you" Mitchell seemed dumbfounded.

"Severus Snape, but the name surely won´t sound familiar to you. How about Lily Evans? Does that one ring a bell?"

Severus could feel Evelyn standing next to him, tense.

"Lily...Oh" Mitchell laughed uneasily "I remember her. Lovely girl."

"Indeed she was. But pray tell, how did this happen?"

"Pardon?"

"How did you go from school yard bully to teacher? I mean, congratulations, I´m very pleased to see you´re no longer the same little fucktard you were growing,if you pardon my language."

Mitchell´s mouth hung open, and he was visibly trying to collect his thoughts. Severus blissfully ignored him and looked at Evelyn through the corner of his eye. She seemed just as confused as Mitchell, but hardly as dismayed. In fact, Severus could see a hint of delight in her lips, slightly curved in a smirk. He failed to suppress a smile himself. Still, he should put an end to this little scene. She seemed to have read his mind, however, and acted first.

"I should get going, Fr. Thomas is waiting. I´ll leave you gentlemen to catch up" she told nobody in particular and walked away, purposely passing behind Severus and as far as she could from Mitchell.

"I should be going back to work as well.." Mitchell´s voice was barely audible, and his eyes were following Evelyn as she walked away. Even with Severus standing right at his face. The blockhead had no shame.

"I´m not quite done." Severus cleared his throat

"Yes, I believe you are."

"I see you´ve graduated from harassing little girls to harassing grown women. Say, how long till you grow some bollocks and start playing with somebody your size?"

"Well, that´s none of your sodding business, now, is it?" Mitch seemed to have found his lost courage.

Severus snickered.

"As a matter of fact...It is.I´ll simply give you a piece of sound advice, as I´m feeling awfully generous today. You better leave that woman alone."

"Or else?" Mitchell chortled. Severus shook his head and smiled, taking two steps forward so his face was a mere inches away from his.

"I have ways to make you disappear, Daniels" His Mancunian drawl was thick and raucous. " And by disappear I mean the police will need laboratory tests to identify whatever´s left. You´re not the little king of the school yard any longer, Daniels...do keep that in mind"

...

Evelyn kept looking over her shoulder as she helped Fr. Thomas put up the ballots and ballot boxes for the costume contest voting. She hadn´t seen Severus again since she´d left him with Mitchell. What were the odds that they´d know each other? High, actually, she reminded herself. Cokeworth was no metropolis, after all, and she knew Cokeworth Academy had been the main school there in the 60s to the 80s, until the mill went under. A huge chunk of the adult population, between ages 30 and 40 had attended that school, Mitchell himself had told her he had. Still, Severus had told her he had been home-schooled.

He mentioned a girl...Lily Evans...She had gone to school with Mitchell. Whatever had transpired there, it was surely not a happy story. Evelyn mentally kicked herself. She shouldn´t be making conjectures about things Severus had chosen not to tell her...

"Hello, Severus" Fr. Thomas voice caught her off guard. She looked up and Severus was right there, just a few steps away, talking to the priest. The man had a talent for appearing out of nowhere. "I see you decided to join us."

"Well, yes, I couldn´t turn down an invitation from you" the men shook hands and chatted briefly, but Fr. Thomas soon excused himself to go tend to other tasks. Severus then walked over to her.

"I see you and Mitch had a lot of catching up to do" She smirked, ironic

"You should have told me about him."

"Told you what? Mitch is just a harmless dolt with an overinflated ego. I don´t occupy my time with his antics."

"He won´t be a harmless dolt for long if you give him room to make himself comfortable."

"Don´t worry, Severus. I´m a big girl, I can handle myself"

"Still...Be careful. And do report him to your boss. It will go out of hand soon if you don´t"

"I don´t think that will be necessary...But thank you for the concern." she smiled and handed him one of the ballots "Want to be the first one to cast a vote?"

...

"The winners, please, come on stage to receive your prizes!" Fr. Thomas bellowed happily on the microphone as the contest winners came up. Evelyn and Angela stood on stage to welcome each one of them, and distribute the plastic trophies and prizes. Toys, books and sweets, all neatly organized in baskets with orange, purple and black ribbons. To nobody´s surprise, Tancey´s very elaborate vampire hunter costume won her first place in the teenager category. Among the children a little girl whose mother had obviously slaved for days, if not weeks, to come up with a cotton-candy pink, rococo princess dress, complete with a white wig and fake jewellery that made her look like a miniature Marie-Antoinette was an easy enough pick for winner. In the adult category the father of one of her students´s costume of Pinhead, from the Hellraiser films, won him a basket of treats for his kids, but also a bottle of Jameson, courtesy of Fr. Thomas, for himself. They had decided not to put the children under five in competition, so instead gave out sweets and small toys as souvenirs for every baby and toddler in attendance.

There was a small bit of havoc as they handed out the prizes to the littlest guests. The ceremony took a little longer than expected, but they finally made it with minor issues. Once the contest was over most parents decided it was time to head home. It was almost 5pm and they still had to go back home and get the children ready for trick or treating. Evelyn wondered how those kids would fit even more sweets in their bellies, as they had cleaned out the food stands at the party, but she knew better than to underestimate the appetite of a child on Halloween. Parents should count their blessings that the next day was a Sunday...dealing with tummy woes on a school day was a fearsome prospect.

Before 5:30pm, most people were gone. Paper plates and plastic cups went to the garbage, speakers and sound systems were disassembled and left over food was accommodated in Tupperware and aluminium containers and put into the fridge in the rectory but Fr. Thomas decided to leave the cleaning up for the next day. Everybody had worked enough for the day, he said, it was now time to enjoy the rest of Halloween as each one saw fit. The stands and decorations could wait to be taken down, so all volunteers were free to go home with his blessings and effusive thanks.

Evelyn didn´t quite like the idea of leaving the cleaning half-way done, but Fr. Thomas had a point. It was still Halloween and they should enjoy the rest of it. In fact, by the time they were done it was almost 6pm...and she did have that film festival at Cine Victoria. Tancey and James had told her about it. Every year for the past thirty years or so, that theatre had held a special event for Halloween. They´d stay open overnight, from 7pm till sunrise and have back to back screenings of horror films and thrillers all the price of a single admission. It was usually classics, but this year they had decided to go with foreign shorts. Evelyn had gotten tickets for herself and Angela. Matthew and Benjamin had had to pass, as they had a previous engagement with some navy mates. Evelyn knew the only reason Angela had accepted her invitation it was so she wouldn´t go alone, and to be honest, that upset her a bit, no matter how much her friend insisted she´d be more at ease at the a film screening than in yet another Halloween party.

Maybe she could ask Severus to join them? No...that was unlikely...he was probably gone by now. He had disappeared in the crowd as contest winners were announced. Well,she was happy that he had shown up at all. He probably wanted nothing more than go back home to his usual solitude, if she knew him. She sincerely hoped he had had some fun at least...and that Mitchell hadn´t spoiled it for him.

"Lyn!" she heard Angela call out as she walked out of the rectory and back into the parking lot.

"I was about to go looking for you. We should get going if we want to get decent seats, and I still want to change into another pair of shoes, these boots are killing me."

"Yeah, about that..."

"Is something the matter?"

"I´m so sorry, love...Matthew is not feeling too well. I think it was something he ate"

"Oh, no."

"Yeah, is what he gets for sampling the sweets from the party I guess." Angela giggled uneasily "He´ll have to skip the party so...If you give me just a half an hour I´ll drive him home, make sure he´s comfortable and meet you there."

"Of course, I´ll save you a seat, but...You know, if he´s not feeling well, and you want to skip the festival to be home with him, I don´t mind it."

".Wouldn´t you, really? I just...I don´t want to do this to you, and I was really looking forward to the festival, but I don´t know...He doesn´t usually get sick with food, and I´m a bit worried."

"It´s ok, Angela. I don´t mind it at all."

"Thank you, Lyn. And I´m really, really sorry." She fumbled with her purse to get her wallet and produced the ticket Evelyn had gifted her "Here, have my ticket, maybe you can invite someone else to go?"

"Thank you, but...I don´t think I have anybody to invite...Ben is gone, so is Severus and..."

"Oh, I think I saw Severus outside having a fag. By the parking lot, front entrance."

...

Severus finished his cigarette and put it out on a rusty lamppost outside the parking lot, before tossing it on an overflowing bin. The very last party goers were still making their way out as well as the teenagers who had volunteered to help. Some cars had left too, but surely most of the adult volunteers were still inside, cleaning up the place.

He had lingered for long enough.

Quite frankly he was still at a loss as to why he had come at all.

It wasn´t an unpleasant experience...but it was far from being enjoyable either... Except maybe from witnessing the look of sheer terror in Daniels face...Yes, thayt had been good...But even so...Sure, Fr. Thomas and his co-conspirators had put on quite the event, but the traditional Halloween party wasn´t as exciting to him now as it had been almost thirty years ago. He never came for the sweets and games...Well, not only for that, at least...He truly came for Lily. But Severus was no longer a child, Lily was no longer alive, and besides Fr. Thomas the only person in attendance that held any of his interest was Evelyn Black. Who was obviously too busy being the hostess. He had to admit, it was rather entertaining seeing her move around greeting guests, smiling left and right and ruling over the proceedings like a post-modern Marie-Antoinette playing pretend games in a doll-house sized Versailles of her own creation. But in that little mock bal-masqué of hers there was obviously no place for him.

He zipped up his jacket, shoved his hands into his pockets and braced himself for the walk back home, the bitterly cold breeze blowing on his face and making his nose and ears burn ever so slightly. It looked like rain too. We were in for a harsh winter, if this frigid autumn was anything to go by, he thought. As he waited for the red light light to cross the street, however, a familiar, husky contralto called his name in the distance. Even if he assumed it to be his imagination playing tricks on his hearing, he still turned around and walked back.

The sound of heels click-clacking on the pavement confirmed he was not, in fact, imagining anything. How the hell could Evelyn Black run in those blasted heels?

"Severus! There you are!" she stopped in front of him, breathing hard, the street lightS shedding a faint yellowish glow on her face, her cheeks flushed from the cold and the run.

"Ms. Black...is anything wrong?"

"Oh, no, not at all. I was just wondering...are you going anywhere this evening?"

"Home, I´d hoped. Why?"

"Well..." it took her some long seconds to find the words, slightly biting on her lower lip, her eyes lowering a little sideways, as if she couldn´t keep visual contact with him and her nimble fingers fidgeting with her gloves. "Would you like to... well...would you like to go to the cinema?"

Chapter Text

"Would you like to... well...would you like to go to the cinema?"

Severus winced, momentarily confused. Had he heard it right?

"Excuse me?"

"Eh...yes...I..." she seemed flustered, the crimson flush across her fine cheekbones growing deeper..he was pretty sure it wasn´t from the cold "Cine Victoria has a Halloween event and..."

"Oh, that" Severus almost laughed "The all-night horror films...It´s been a local tradition for some decades now..."

"I take that you´re a regular then..."

"I used to...Not so much after growing up. I didn´t even know it was still going on, I thought Cine Victoria had gone under"

"Some of my students told me about it. It seems this year they have an international short film selection. I was going with some friends, but they had a bit of an emergency..." she was shifting on her feet, her eyes seemingly unable to hold his gaze for too long

"...sorry to hear that... But I take that you´re still going"

"Well, yeah...There´s not much else to do, as I´m obviously a bit too old for trick or treating..." she smirked "So...would you like to go as well?"

"I..." He could hear himself stammer. The Cine Victoria Halloween Night. Last time he had attended he was still in Lily´s good graces...They had gone together like they did every year after Fr. Thomas Halloween party...Mr. Evans had decided to give them permission to linger until 1am, as opposed to their usual 11pm curfew. They had been so excited about that..It was a sign they were growing up. Eventually they´d be able to actually stay all night like the young adults they were soon to become...

That never happened, of course...

"I´m sorry..." Severus looked up as he heard her apology, confused. He didn´t know how long he´d been mute, but she looked concerned. His mind was starting to wander too deep into the past again...That wasn´t good...keeping track of time was getting harder...What was she sorry about? Did he say anything outloud?

"Whatever for?" he asked, coughing to bring himself back into the conversation.

"I´m being pushy...again" her smile was forced and melancholic "I didn´t mean to insist so much. You must be dying to get home after the party and I´m pestering you to stay up all night. You must be tired"

"I take that you´re not..."

"No...one of my many flaws...I didn´t come with a turn off button. Or so my mother would say. My siblings suffered from the same defect, and I´m not quite sure how our parents survived our childhood." Now her smile was genuine. Severus wondered if he could so easily tell the difference because he was used to reading people, or because she was too easy to read. Evelyn Black was too transparent. "Well, I best be going...Good night..."

Severus didn´t say a word as she gave him another smile (not one of the genuine ones) and started to walk away.

"Miss Black..."

Why was he doing that? He wasn´t a teenager anymore...The woman in front of him wasn´t Lily...They were not hoping into Mr. Evans car to go to the cinema... It was 1998...he was 38 going on a 100...Why must she insist, when he was less and less able to tell her no?...Who the hell was he trying to trick? Himself? Her?

"Yes?" she turned around

"I´m not that tired..."

He wasn´t a teenager...She wasn´t Lily...But then again, he didn´t want her to be...He didn´twant to be 15 again... Maybe he just wanted to watch a film with somebody...anybody...maybe her. That would do for now...better than going back home to sleep embracing ghosts...

...

"My car is right over there" she announced as they went back into the church´s parking lot.

"Cine Victoria is within walking distance from here, you must know"

"I do. But there´s no such a thing as walking distance in these boots, specially after wearing them all day. I´m on the brink of gangrene here, Severus..."

"Unless you were forced into these boots, I can´t say I find it in my heart to have much sympathy for your current predicament..."

"I have a pair of flats in my car, I just need a moment to change into them, if you can keep the snark down for a second." she seemed more amused than offended at his berating of her fashion choices.

"You could have just worn the flats in the first place"

"Catwoman doesn´t wear flats, Severus"

"She doesn´t exist either, I´m afraid to inform you. Which makes her an unlikely candidate to loose her feet to gangrene as you seem to be striving to"

"Eh, everybody needs goals..."

"Yours is achievable at least..."

"You can´t fault me for lack of realism, then..." she laughed wholeheartedly. Severus wondered if his usual sarcasm had lost effect on her, or if she simply found it to be an interesting addition to their conversations.

Evelyn finally stopped by her car and opened the door. He stood by the rear of the Volvo as she looked for something inside. After some fumbling she produced a pair of flat shoes and, keeping the door on the drivers side open, sat down on the front seat to remove her boots.

Severus shifted on his feet, uneasy. The parking lot was dimly lit, but he could see every single of her actions in detail...and the fact that he couldn´t quite avert his eyes was starting to trouble him. As the zipper of her boot came down, seemingly too slowly, Severus didn´t dare wonder why it felt so a clandestin to look on, like a peeping tom peering through a keyhole... For what? A pair of silly looking socks...Little cats? Did she shop for shoes in the adult section and for socks in the children´s one?

He could have hexed himself for being so foolish...what the devil was he expecting? Skin, maybe? As if the curve of her calves wasn´t plainly evident from the leggings she wore...Let us not play dumb here...he tought to himself...Let us not pretend he didn´t take notice of the fact that all the jogging he saw her doing every morning from his window didn´t give her an enviable pair of legs...It was only human, to notice...But for Merlin´s sake, boots? Really, Severus...a pair of boots is troubling you? Did seventeen years of no intimate contact with the fair sex turn you into a pathetic caricature of a Victorian puritan?

"Are you quite done?" He asked gruffly, knowing full well she was done, as her feet slipped easily into the flats.

"Just getting my purse" she reached into the backseat, stretching like a cat before getting out of the car and closing the door behind her. "Ok, we can be on our way now."

...

They had made it just in time. The first session was to start at 9:30, they entered the theatre at 9:15, with plenty time to buy a drink and a snack and comfortably look for their seats. Severus of course had declined anything aside from a bottle of water. Sometimes Evelyn wondered how he could be such an ascetic, specially in public. She knew for a fact he wasn´t always like this...At least not when they were sitting in her livingroom, talking about books and life...Severus Snape definetly knew how to properly enjoy food and drink, conversation and company...

But he seemed intent on denying such small pleasures to himself...

Even in private, over glasses of good wine and plates of good food, he was still quiet...somber in a way...He spared her very few smiles in between acid jokes she had learned not to take personally by now. He didn´t really laugh...ever. She wondered if he had ever gotten drunk in his life...Seemed unlikely. Had he ever allowed himself to be anything other than proper, she wondered, studying the man that walked next to her as they looked for their seats, decked all in black, from head to toes, hands into his pockets, black military-like jacket buttoned up all the way up to his chin.

And yet, he was here. Willing to sit with her for a night of pointless entertainment. Watching horror movies in a Halloween night...Such a silly thing to do...the kind of delightful silly thing teenagers do regularly with friends, and adults indulge on here and there, because life is too short to be a grown up all the time. Didn´t seem like something Severus Snape would do with his spare time. But he was here and Evelyn was happy for it. Maybe he wasn´t that much of an ascetic after all...

"Ms. Black! Over here"

They had just taken their seats when she heard her name coming from somewhere in the crowd of young people in costumes looking for their own places. She looked back, trying to find whoever had called her when Severus lightly tapped her shoulder.

"Three rows ahead" he motioned with his chin. Tancey was standing between the third and fourth row, waiving at her.

"I´ll be right back, Severus."

"Session will start in a minute"

"It´s just a second!"

...

He looked on as Evelyn walked down the aisle to greet her student. Constance, was her name, or so he tought. Seemed like a good enough student, a well-behaved girl, from a good family from what Evelyn had told him. The blond lad that accompanied her was a slightly different case. James... Severus remembered that name well enough... Evelyn´s pet project. Severus couldn´t help feeling some sympathy for him, knowing his unfortunate circumstances in life, but that didn´t make him any more comfortable with how the brat was glaring at him.

He nodded his head slightly when Constance waved at him. James sat down, still looking over his shoulder to where Severus sat. The young man did seem like he needed an atitude adjustment.

Severus let out a small sigh of relief when the lights were finally turned off and Evelyn returned hastly to his side.

...

"What has gotten into you?!" Tancey hissed under her breath as the first film of the night started

"What?!" James hissed back, his eyes glued to the screen.

"You were staring at that bloke like you wanted to set him on fire!"

"Which bloke?"

"Ms. Black´s bloke"

"He´s not 'her' bloke"

"Either way, it was not nice what you did."

"Well, I´m sorry, but he´s just...weird. I don´t know, I didn´t like him ok? Can we watch the film now?"

Tancey sighed. James was impossible sometimes...

...

The lights were back on when the second row of films was over. Evelyn looked down at her watch. 2 in the morning. A significant part of audience had already left, James and Tancey included. Her mother had come to pick them up, apparently. She stretched. They had been sitting for almost five hours watching short film after short film and she had no intention of stopping now...The selection was delightful. But she was all too aware of the stiffness of her back.

She couldn´t even imagine how stiff Severus felt. He had been sitting in the same position since the first roll, arms folded over his chest, back straight, looking at the screen almost without blinking. Evelyn had stolen glances of him all night long and she was pretty sure he had not moved or changed position. He didn´t as much as use the arm rest between them. In the last interval they had walked around and talked about the film selection, the acting, the directing...But during the actual screenings, he seemed more like a statue, stiff and quiet. Although...she could swear she heard him smirk at times when she made a whispered joke at the expense of a less than talented actor or not so clever plot point.

"I need to go to the restroom for a second" she told him as they got up from their seats.

"Fine. I´ll step outside for a smoke"

"You know, you don´t have to stay till the end...You must be sore"

"I´m perfectly fine, don´t worry."

...

Severus lit up his fag and paced about in the smokers´section of the front hall. Looking around he could say he had a newfound appreciation for this place. As a teenager didn´t quite care forthe Art Nouveau wallpaper and mirrors that decorated the place, or the elegantly geometric balconies, marble staircases, mahogany wooden furniture and deep blue velvet seats. But as an adult he could fully enjoy smoking a cigarrete there in the intervals of a quite decent movie selection. He wished he could have a glass of The Glenlivet, but nothing is perfect.

He was glad he had acepted Ms. Black´s invitation, after all. The organizers of the Halloween Festival were as sharp as they were when he was young. Small wonder Cine Victoria had remained open even after Cokeworth had gone into frank decline. They knew cinema, and definetly knew how to pick their films. It was a shame he hadn´t set foot there for nearly two decades...Well, there was something utterly pathetic about going to the cinema alone...

He sat on one of the cushiony round seats that graced the corners of the front hall, and from there he had a great vantage to observe the parade of ill conceived costumes the atendance was sporting. He must have been the only one without a ridiculous outfit. Back in the day Lily would have fitted him with an appropriate costume, and they´d seat by the main staircase laughing at the other costumes as they waited for the session to start. It was an awfully silly thing to do now, but he missed it...

"Severus!" Evelyn Black emerged from the crowd with two paper cups in her hands. He moved a little as she sat by his side.

"I thought you had lost your way back from the restroom"

"No, not at all. I was getting us some coffee. I figured we´ll need if we are to stay here till the last film."

"Thank you..." he took a sip, and almost choked"...but this is piss poor coffee."

"I know, I know...here, this will help" she handed him a small bottle from her purse. He turned it to see the label.

"The Glenlivet?"

"You strike me as a The Glenlivet man...I´m more of a Tullamore Dew woman, but I can compromise"

"Did you smuggle alcohol into the movie theater?"

"Of course I did, they don´t sell it here. And don´t look so shocked, you never smuggled alcohol anywhere? I´m sure you were a teenager one day too..."

Severus smiled. By the time he was old enough to interested in things like alcohol or drugs he was already in too deep in his little circle of Death Eater companions. They did worse than smuggling alcohol into cinemas and staying out late...Much worse... He could clearly imagine Evelyn Black as a fresh faced teenager of 16 or 17, feeling dreadfully wicked and satisfied with herself for stealing a little whiskey bottle from her parents cabinet with her friends, with the same smug grin she had just flashed him on her lips...What would she say if she knew the things he did with his friends when he was 17? She surely wouldn´t be as amused...

"Last time I came to this cinema I was only old enough to smuggle sweets in my pockets..."

"It´s been that long, uh?"

"Yes...Over 20 years...Amazing how nothing has changed..."

"What happened?"

"Life..."

"Life does have a habit of just...happening upon us, doesn´t it?"

"Asking or telling?"

She didn´t answer...But that was enough of an answer for him, of course. They both knew just how much of nasty habit life had of just 'happening' upon a person. They could agree on it and leave it at that.

"Thank you for the coffee...and the scotch..."

"You´re welcome...Shall we go back? Last session is about to start, if you´re really up to it, that is..."

"Eh...what else do I have to do..."

"Enthusiastic much?!"

...

Those two had been in there for hours. The signs in front of the Cinema did say "all night", but he hadn´t expected they´d actually stay for the whole thing...Most others had left.

The tall, pale man shruged inside his thick brown woolen coat, regreting his poor choice of outfit undeneath it. The street was deserted, the breeze outside was bitterly cold and a small drizzle of stabbing rain fell on his unprotected head. A simple coat worn over light clothes wouldn´t do much to protect him. He considered leaving...but he couldn´t.

If he had known they´d just spend the night, he could have left to come back later to catch them on their way out. Maybe he should have gone in as well...No...too risky...they´d see him...Well, he would see him...Severus Snape was dangerously perceptive...Better safe then sorry with that one...

He should wait outside...It would be dawn soon...

...

"I can´t believe we made it!" Evelyn yawned as they left the hall and walked outside in the blueish fog of the early, morning, still dark and untouched by the sun. "I can´t believe I made it, actually! I did I doze off for a second, I believe, but still!"

"Yes, you did doze off...But waking up right at the film´s scare jump climax must have made the experience all the more interesting..."

"For YOU maybe!" Her laugh sounded low and tired, but as ebullient as ever.

"Proud of yourself, I take? No small feat making it to the end of Cine Victoria´s famed Halloween Night...Not every local can say the same..."

"You mean yourself! I still can´t believe this is the first time you make it to the end."

Severus didn´t have a barbed answer for that. Without Lily there was no point in trying to make it to the end of the Halloween Night...But in a way he was glad he had come...It didn´t hurt as much as he thought it would have... Now that he could consider a feat. He´d thank Evelyn if he could find in himself to let her know any of what went through his mind as he walked back into that hall, into that screening room...for the first time in over two decades...without Lily...

But he couldn´t...It was enough that he had let her walk into that old memory of his...Cine Victoria was his and Lily´s alone...Until now...Maybe that was the reason it didn´t hurt so bad now...In an odd way, Evelyn´s presence had taken a bit of the weight from those memories and given them a fresh smell...Something different from the melancholic mothball-like odour of old things that are kept too long inside a drawer because we don´t dare contemplate them...Cine Victoria was no longer his and Lily´s alone...but that didn´t bother him as much as he thought it would.

"Thank you..." he murmured, half hoping she wouldn´t hear.

"What for?"

"For inviting me. I suppose I needed this..."

"So did I...And you know what else we need? Breakfast! I don´t know about you but I´m starving. Why don´t we go back to my place and I´ll fix us something?"

"That would be nice, but I believe I´ve troubled you enough...

"Hardly..." she sounded disappointed. It bothered him a bit.

"I think I have a better idea."

…...

Evelyn wondered why they hadn´t gone back to get her car if Severus was planning to take her back to the old part of town, but she didn´t complain. After sitting down for hours, a long walk was more than welcome. They crossed the bridge over the river and moved forward for several bocks until they were back in the desolate part of town where Spinner´s End was.

The sun still made no mention of showing up as they moved forward into the azure twilight.

They passed by the crossroad that would have led them to Spinner End, and moved east, towards the empty lots that separated the residential streets from the mill property. The woods were far behind them, eerily dark, rising above the roofs of the old houses of Spinner´s End, their own homes included, making their blood red tiles look ike black gnarly gargoyles in the shadows. It had never really downed on her that the house she currently resided did, in fact, stood between a somber forest straight out of a grim fairy tale and a wide expense of vacant lots, abandoned buildings and dismal streets littered with storage sheds. She never really thought about it when she drove her car to work and back. Maybe the car gave her a sense of safety that allowed her to ignore all of that. But walking around that place in the silence and dark of the wee hours of the morning felt...unsettling.

"All this area was commercial back when the mill was open." Severus told her, as if he had just realized her trepidation. "Markets, butcher shops, bakeries...the like. This is where the families of mill workers went about their shopping and daily life... Some of the storage space was rented out to the mill as well. Once the mill closed...well, you know how that story goes...Now it´s all vacant. I heard about drugs being sold from some of these sheds, but nothing more alarming than the occasional police round ever came of it...There are some nightclubs... If you could call them that...At least the owners were considerate enough to have them sound proofed...All and all, it´s pretty harmless "

"Severus...What are we doing here?" She hoped she didn´t sound too much like a scaredy little girl. She trusted Severus´word well enough...but they were in the middle of nowhere.

"Trust me on this one. It may look spooky, but everybody here is too drunk or drugged to pose any inconvenience. Just coming out of their holes to feed before sunlight turns them into powder, I imagine... And there is one place worth visiting, if you can bear with the company..."

She could see Severus was right. One or two of the sheds were opening their doors to let out small groups of teenagers and young adults dressed in punk, post-punk, grunge styles and a myriad of other current underground fashions that Evelyn had stopped keeping track of after 1985. The sight of people did calm down a bit, however. They were all young and looked like they were more interested in having fun than bothering anybody. None of them seeemed to notice her or Severus, and if they did, they were not interested. Much better than the unnerving silence of an abandoned lot of sheds.

Severus turned into a corner and made his way towards a small coffee shop. "Here we are."

They went inside. In spite of how ludicrously early it was, barely 5:30 according to her watch, the place was operating at full speed. Most of the tables were taken by the same colorful groups of nightclub patrons she had seen outside, coffe was flowing like wine flowed in the rivers of the mythical country of Cocagne and food was just as copious. She wasn´t too surprised. Evelyn wasn´t as old as to have forgotten that a night out and about dancing and consuming mind altering substances could engender unholy hunger of gargantuan proportions. Back in her Trinity days she had spent many a morning quaffing liters of coffee and hastly swallowing full breakfasts of bread, bacon, eggs and black pudding that would normaly serve two, before heading for the first class of the day and hoping the professors wouldn´t notice how hung over she was.

"I know it´s not the most refined place in the world" Severus told her quietly, almost apologetically "..but their breakfast is decent...and they know how to brew proper coffee, unlike our better mannered friends at Cine Victoria. The mill workers always came here for their meals ...I had many a breakfast here myself, so I can vouch for it, in case you´re worried about the service."

"I´m not. It smells delicious. And I´m starving."

"Anything you´d like, or I may just order the house special?"

"Well...If I am to have the whole Cokeworth experience, then house special it is, I guess..."

"Fancy a heart attack, then?"

"Eh...didn´t kill me in college, it won´t kill me now..."

Severus approached the counter with easy familiarity, and curtly shot his order as the girl behind the counter wrote it down quickly, while taking at least three others at the same time and shouting them at the kitchen in the back.

"Two coffes, two bacon butties with mustard and cheddar. All to go." He had said, barked moreso, in a thick mancunian drawl that made his voice sound deeper and more guttural than it already was usually. Evelyn was slightly startled by how it sounded, but she shouldn´t have been, really. Severus was born and raised in Greater Manchester, she figured that was his natural accent, or at least the one he grew up with before going to Scotland to study. Much like herself with her own west Irish twang, he must have toned it down to make himself more personable to the posh students of his elite school, or to potential employers later in life. Surely, his mancunian drawl was always subtly noticeable under the more standard and polished elocution he tended to adopt, but hearing it on full blast like that was still a bit jarring...though not exactly unpleasant.

Their order took less than five minutes to get ready, as the kitchen was working on full speed. Severus picked up the bags, paid and headed for the exit.

"They have an empty table, Severus..." she tried, but he was already holding the door and urging her out.

"I know. But we´re not eating here. I´m not subjecting you to have breakfast among the riff-raff...I´m not that much of an uncouth brute."

Evelyn almost laughed. Under any other circumstance Severus making decisions for her and ordering her around like that would have earned him a slap to the back of the head at least...But she was too curious to be bothered. And he did hold the door for her, so not that much of an uncouth brute after all...just a bossy one.

"Where are we going then?"

"You´ll wanted the complete Cokeweorth experience, didn´t you?"

…...

Evelyn should have been scared out of her wits. And yet, she wasn´t. It was probably worthy of serious concern that Severus could have led her out into a vacant lot without her as much as questioning him, but her first instinct was to trust him. And so she found herself standing in front of the old mill. All the area around it was littered with trash, weeds and wild grass growing everywhere. The square block of red bricks stood in the middle of the industrial wasteland like a sleeping kraken, its massive chimney pointing to the skies as Leviatan accusing God of his own damnation.

Severus walked on, comfortable in that barren desert as Evelyn would have been walking around the Doolin Pier, watching the ships leave to the Aran islands. He crossed the front patio, or what once was the front patio, when the mill was still functioning, and walked in. Evelyn followed him into an enormous room with an oppressingly high ceilling. Heavy machinery was scattered about, covered in dust, spider-webs and God only knew whatever else that had turned the metal a ghastly white where it wasn´t simply rusted. Their steps echoed like they would have echoed in a catedral, and the very first rays of sunlight filtered through broken glass like they were pouring in from vitrals that had long lost their colors.

Severus didn´t waste much time in that room and went straight to the back, where a flight of stairs led them to the second storey. He didn´t linger there either, climbing a second flight of stairs, then a third, then a fourth. In each single floor Evelyn saw the same panorama of dusty brickwalls, abandoned machinery and unrecognizable debris. Finally they reached what looked like the last stairwell, much narrower than all others and umcorfortably steep. Severus had to give her his hand in the last few steps, least she lost her balance. At the top of the stairs there was a door, boarded up. The wood was starting to rot, for it only took Severus a single kick to break it in.

When they stepped out onto the mill´s roof, Evelyn could hear herself gasp.

They had emerged from the darkness inside the building to be engulfed by a sea of flaxen light. The sun was just rising above the green blanket of distant hills outside the city, a huge golden disk floating into a liquid sky of orange and red, where warm pink clouds floated as vaporous jelly fish in the sea. The river that crossed Cokeworth cut through the hill was a glistening snake, its waters much like liquid gold, nothing like the dirty stretch of putrid water she drove by everyday...Then it disappeared into the woods, under the tall trees and red-yellow leaves that reflected the light in such a way they shone as much as the river waters. And after the woods, she could see Spinner´s End, and the dark red tiles of the roofs made a soft crimson, warm like spent embers in a fireplace. Behind Evelyn, the windows on the tall skyscrapers of the new part of town glittered like jewels as the sunrays hit them little by little, pulling the town from the dark.

"This Mill may have had its flaws, and they were to many to count, but for what is worth, this is the best place in Cokeworth to see the sunrise." She heard Severus say behind her "Surely it´s not a gorgeous daybreak over Caribbean seas, but one must make do with what´s give to them..."

"Are you kidding me, Severus? It´s magnificent..."

"I´m sure you got much better in Ireland, with the ocean and cliffs right at your door...Now, shall we seat and have breakfast before the coffee goes cold?"

"Yes, of course..."

Severus went to the ledge of the roof and sat down, swinging his long legs over it, so his feet were hanging on the outside of the building. Evelyn felt her stomach sink as she watched him, but he had done it with such practiced ease it was obvious that was not the first time he had sat on that ledge facing the abyss below. Once seated he took off his jacket and laid it out next to him, gesturing for her to approach. She complied and sat on the covered space he had offered her, mindful of the vertigo inducing view of the drop.

"Thank you" she said to no answer from him.

They sat in silence and ate their breakfast, taking in the view laid out at their feet for quite a while before Evelyn felt like speaking at all

"Say..." she finally asked "How did you know this is the best place to see a sunrise?"

"My father worked in the mill, as you know..."

"So, you came often to visit him?"

"Not exactly...I had to work some summers with him...Just a few before he was treated to an early retirement..."

"And why was that?...If I may ask..."

"Asbestos...But don´t worry, they changed all the roof as soon as too many employees started to get ill and the authorities decided to visit...Didn´t help them much, they closed anyway a little while later..."

"I´m sorry about that..."

"Don´t be..."

"Did he..."

"Die from it?" Severus´ smirk was roucous and slightly disconcerting "No...Dying from a work related disease was far too noble an end for Tobias Snape...He retired and decided to dedicate his time to making my mother´s existence a living hell before getting himself killed in some pub across town..."

"Severus..."

"As said, don´t be sorry...If it hadn´t been his temper, it would have been the asbestos poisoning, or the chain smoking, or the alcohol...He had been looking for it...no reason to be sorry...Except maybe the fact that he managed to get himself killed before we could collect any compesation on the whole asbestos affair to pay the debts he left us...Fine man, Tobias Snape...even in death you couldn´t count on him for anything..."

She was at a loss for words. Severus was always so guarded about his personal life, that the confessional torrent pouring from his lips was entirely too startling. There was no feeling in his words...he had simply recited them with the same non-chalance he would have told her the weather forecast. He hadn´t looked at her face once as he spoke, his stabbing black gaze focused somewhere out in the hills. He didn´t seem like he was talking to her as much as he was talking to himself. She didn´t want to pressure him, but at the same time...He never talked about himself...She felt like, if there was any a time to ask, this was it.

"Then...how did you manage...You and your mother, I mean...It was just the two of you, I assume?"

"Yes...We just got by as we always did. I was in school back then...My mother worked some odd jobs, sold some of her personal belongings...I did some... things, here and there...Borrowed money from school mates...We managed...Then she got sick, passed away and I inherited the house and some more debt. Got that sorted out when my old headmaster hired me...It all got settled eventually."

"I´m so sorry, Severus...I mean it...I can´t even begin to imagine how you..." Evelyn didn´t know what to say. Every word coming out of her lips sounded dull, hollow and utterly meaningless. There was nothing she could say that would have mattered much...Instead she simply put her hand over his. His hand was much larger than hers, his long spindling fingers cold and dry. He let his hand linger under hers for a moment before sliding it away.

"As I said, nothing to be sorry about...I´m here, am I not?"

"So you are...But you never really answered me..." She smiled, feeling he had had enough of the bitter subject "How did you ever find this spot...It wasn´t working down there in the machines, I´m sure..."

"Well, you´re right...I would...come up here to smoke behind my father´s back...since I made it a habit of stealing his fags..."

"Oh, so you WERE a teenager once, after all!"

"I´m afraid is a rather universal condition for which no treatement is available as of yet..."

Evelyn wasn´t quite sure that was a smile she saw on his lips. He smiled so little that when he dared crack a grin it often came out more like a grimace. Regardless, she was relieved...That dark curtain of unpleasant memories had been lifted for a moment. Maybe Severus could take a little friendly teasing now.

"Say...did you ever bring many girls up here?"

"Just one..." His voice was whispered and almost sweet.

'Just one'...she may have been something else, this one girl, if the mere memory of her was enough to mellow his gruff baritone like that. Her mind drifted back to the red haired girl in the photos on his mantle...Maybe her? Maybe...What was the name..Lily...That was the name he had said when he talked to Mitchell back at the party, the same one Fr. Thomas had told her about?...Surely...Maybe they were all one and the same, she wondered...Regardless...whoever she was, that one girl must have been rather unique. All of the sudden it downed on her how much of a big thing it must have been for Severus to bring somebody else on this rooftop.

"So I´m only the second?...I feel special now..." It probably came out sounding like a quip...but it wasn´t.

He turned his gaze to her, sharp features catching the sunrays in such a way that his complexion didn´t seem as sallow as it normally did. For a split second she could see something akin to surprise in his eyes, before he looked away...and what she saw on his lips then looked more like an earnest smile than anything he´d ever shown her before...an awkward one, for sure, but an earnest one nevertheless...

...

"Thank you so very much...for everything."

The night was over. The sun was fully out and the clouds from the night´s rain had completely cleared out to give way to a crisp autumn day and a slight chill pervaded the streets as they walked down Spinner´s End, stopping at her door.

"Nothing to thank me for...Just making up to you for last night´s invitation..."

"So I invite you to the cinema and you thank me with breakfast and a sunrise...I feel like I still owe you..."

"Breakfast was nothing impressive...As for the sunrise...I can hardly take credit for making the sun rise in the morning... Trust me, we´re even."

"Still...thank you..." Evelyn knew it would make him umconfortable, but she stepped forward and tiptoed to give him a ligth kiss on the cheek. He made no mention of stepping back, but she could feel his body stiffen, a slight tension tightening his muscles. But he didn´t back away as she feared he would. He simply stood, silently, his eyes betraying nothing of his feelings. "I guess I´ll take a nap now...I still have to back to church and help Fr. Thomas with that mess...and get my car...You should get some rest as well..."

…...

Neighbours...They were neighbours.

How very convenient.

He had to follow them an entire night, but it had been worth it in the end...Even if he had to wait like a fool until they came back from the blasted mill. It wasn´t safe to follow them in there, where he could have easily been spotted,... But why would anybody take a woman to an abandoned mill and spend close to an hour in there?

Well, why else?

Severus Snape may have been a presumptious, cocksure, stilted prick, but he surely wasn´t above a quick shag in a vacant lot, he was sure of that much. Why else would he take a woman to an abandoned mill, if not to bend her over a piece of machinery and have a jolly good time. Well, with that particular woman, he could understand the urge, frankly.

Didn´t make his stomach churn any less. Some nerve the bloody wanker had...

She had just kissed him. From where he stood he couldn´t see much other than Snape´s back, but that was a kiss for sure. Neighbours...Friendly neighbourhood, it would seem...Very, very friendly, indeed.

And now the love birds made their way into their respective nests...That was his cue to leave...He had seen what he needed to see.

Chapter Text

November 1st

Spinner´s End 13

 

Deep down he knew what he was looking for as he examined his face on the mirror. As much as he knew he wouldn´t find it. Severus smirked at his own reflection as he brushed his teeth, washing away the taste of coffee and bacon from the sloppy breakfeast he had shared with his Irish parrot of a neighbour. Much like a cheating husband looking for evidence of his betrayal before slithering back into his wife´s bed, he was looking for lipstick marks...Metaphorical ones, moreso than real ones...He knew for a fact that chaste kiss on the cheek had left no visible marks behind. The red lipstick she had chosen to go with her Halloween costume had long wore off from her lips as they hours passed and she was much more interested in chatting than she was in reapplying her make up.

He didn´t have lipstick on him. But that didn´t make him feel any more at ease walking back into his house and facing the pictures of Lily on his mantle with the warmth of another woman´s lips still burning on his face. It was ridiculous he knew. He had never had any qualms about getting into other women´s bed when Lily was alive. But it was different then... He was trying to forget her, trying to make himself not love her...Trying to forget the fact that he was to spend every night alone while Lily was a happy young wife and mother who had no place for him in her life anymore. She was Potter´s wife...the mother of his child. It mattered little wether he found himself in the arms of some random pure-blood witch eager for a risky liaison with a death eater or a muggle prostitute merely doing her job...It mattered very little, really. He sought them as he´d seek alcohol, drugs and potions. They were not really other people as much as they were distractions.

Then Lily died and he had no interest in distractions anymore. He had no interest in forgetting her anymore. It was the opposite. He wanted to remember her. And in his masochistic quest for punishment, and maybe some measure of redemption, he had made sure that every breathing moment of his was about her, about her memory. There was no space in life for ditractions, of the sexual kind or otherwise. He had been lucid, focused, driven. For seventeen years, he had tought of nothing else but Lily and what she would have wanted him to do, what he could do for her, even if it was too late to actually do it for her and he had no choice but do to it for that boy that was everything left of her.

Then it was over. He had done everything he could, he had nothing else to offer, and he still didn´t feel it had made any difference. So what then? Nothing really. She was dead and he was done with the war but his every breathing moment was still about her and he didn´t know what to make of it.

He didn´t want distractions, he couldn´t seek tdistractions like he had done in the past. He didn´t quite know what he wanted, but he knew it wasn´t some random woman to make him feel some momentary pleasure to forget Lily for a couple hours. And yet, he had allowed himself to go out, to go to that party, to that movie teather...to the mill. Place he had shared with Lily, that were theirs and theirs alone and nobody elses. And he had allowed himself to go back, with somebody else.

It felt like cheating.Which was frankly ridiculous, and he knew it. Sleeping with other women hadn´t felt like this. This was different...Evelyn Black had no romantic or sexual interest in him. There couldn´t possibly have been a more innocent demonstration of affection than that kiss she had given him as a token of a appreciation for a good night out with a friend. She wasn´t at all like those women he´d been with years ago. She was not a distraction.He had nothing to be embarrassed about. But he still felt compelled to march back into his hourse without as much as looking up at the photos on his mantle and go upstairs to check on the mirror for visual evidence of some imagined betrayal.

"You are the most pathetic man in existence, Severus Snape" he muttered to himself after rinsing his mouth.

Had it been worth it? To let some other woman walk into his memories like that? He didn´t really want to admit it...but it had. Lily would have to forgive him for this one...He had peace for a night. He had fun for a night. It was worth it feeling like that again. That feeling of having a special secret to share with someone, to see awe and wonder into another person´s eyes as they marvelled at something only he could give them. He dared say he was happy. For the first time in years as he opened the door and let Ms. Black walk onto the roof of the mill only to be greeted by a spectacular sunrise only he knew about, he had been happy. She had said he´d given her a sunrise. Well, is not everyday you get to give somebody a sunrise, is it?

He didn´t care much for that sunrise. The sun rose everyday. But seeing her face...Evelyn Black was a beautiful woman as it was, but in that moment she might as well have been the most gorgeous woman to have ever lived. Much like Lily had been the most gorgeous girl to walk the earth when he first saw her smile, her green eyes wide like pools of clear water when he first showed her he had magic too, just like her. There was some inherent beauty to be found in the joy of another, specially when it´s someone close to your heart. Did that mean Evelyn had made some way into his affections in spite of himself? Maybe. She cared about him, at least as a friend, he could return that much. He could allow himself that, couldn´t he? A friend...

He didn´t quite know how he felt about Evelyn Black just yet, but he suspected he liked her well enough, as a matter of fact. He liked being with her, annoying as she might be on occasion, he did like that he could talk to her, that he could make her smile, that she could enjoy a simple sandwich and a cup of coffee on the roof of the mill or a silly Halloween film festival with him...And he did like that a sunrise could make her eyes widen in joyful childlike wonder like that...He surely did like the way the rising sun reflected on them, lighting them up, its rays of flaxen light going though her irises and turninng their usual warm brown into fiery amber and liquid gold so vivid it made him wonder if he hadn´t just found the proverbial “girl with the sun in her eyes” from that Beatles´song.

He could have that, couldn´t he? Just for a little while, he could be happy...right?

….....

Later that day

Our Lady of Cokeworth Church

 

Evelyn had slept all morning.

It had taken a little while for her fall asleep though. When Severus dropped her off at her doorstep she had been so exhilerated, she didn´t feel like sleeping at all. Sure, her body was exhausted. She wasn´t in the habit of spending all night awaken. Every single muscle of her body was protesting the hours sitting at Cine Victoria, followed by the long walk to the old mill and her eyes were bothered by the lack of rest and heavy mascara. But he mind was wide awake and doing somersalts. When she washed her face, brushed her teeth, changed into a nightgown and crawled under the covers, her body had been thankful, but her brains refused to turn off. It replayed every second of the night non stop.  

Particularly that magnificent sunrise. Evelyn had received her fair share of gifts from several different men, but never before had she been treated to anything quite like a sunrise to go with breakfast. Severus Snape was surely not a man like any other. He certainly lacked the ease and calculated  social graces of some men, and most definetly he wasn´t interested in cultivating any of it. But when he wanted to, he could turn out to be frankly delightful. Maybe it was precisely the fact that he wasn´t trying to be. Severus had no interest in cajoling, captivating or ingratiating himself to others. He was guarded, dry, at times even abrasive. Evelyn had learned in the past weeks that it was better to just take him for what he was, and not take it personaly. It had been a good decision to make.

As they sat on the roof of the old mill and Severus suddenly poured his heart out, she felt rewarded. Evelyn knew he wouldn´t have done it to just anyone. It was too intimate... Which coming from a man like Severus was a precious gift, and she was all too aware of it. That he had allowed her into his most private memories was all the proof she needed that he considered her a friend, and she was happy for that. He wasn´t going to stop being the taciturn, caustic hermit anytime soon, and that was fine with her. She knewin her heart where it mattered he was a good man.

Eventually exhaustion got the best of her and she dozed off. She was up by noon, however. Fr. Thomas had told everyone clean up would continue in the afternoon for anybody who wished to drop by and help, and she definetly had to be there for it.  After a quick shower, she changed into a comfortable pair of jeans, flats, her favorite burnt orange sweater, found herself a cab and headed back to the church. Evelyn had left her car in the parking lot, so before anything else she had to go and take some of the rubbish out of it. As she opened the volvo and took out papers and decorations she had left inside the night before, the backdoor of the church building opened, as a man came out carrying two empty bin bags.

“Matthew!” She called out

“Hey, Lyn” Angela´s fincé walked up to her “Just in time, we´re starting get the rest of the decorations down, need help with anything there?”

“Just this” she tossed her own trash into one of the bin bags “And  how are you feeling now?”

“Me?”

“Yes, you. You seem to be feeling better.”

“Feeling better? How so?”

“What do you mean, how so? Angela told me you weren´t feeling well last night”

“Who, me? No. Angie was the one who was a little off. That´s why we skipped the film marathon at Cine Victoria. I thought she had told you, didn´t she?”

“No, she told me that you...wait a minute...Is Angela inside”

“Yeah, in the rectory with Fr. Thomas, looking for more bags for all the rubbish...”

“Thank you”

“Evelyn, what the...” Matthew stood puzzled as she walked past him and into the building.

 

….............

Angela was putting away a miriad of toys and games used in the party into a  big cardboard box when Evelyn walked into Fr. Thomas office. The good priest was nowhere to be seen, probably somewhere looking for more plastic bags as Matthew had told her.

“Evelyn!” she sounded surprised “You´re early.”

“Hardly. By the way, Matthew looks great.”

“Oh, yeah...He´s much better now.”

“Funny, he just told me you were the one who wasn´t feeling too well.”

“Did he, now?” Angela laughed softly.

“Oh. My.God. You set me up´! AGAIN!” Evelyn didn´t know if she was indignant or amused by it.

“I most certainly did not!”

“Don´t act all offended! You DID! You made up that story about Matthew being sick just to make me invite Severus to the film festival!”

“Like you needed any encouragement! You wanted to invite him, I just gave you the opportunity, that´s all. So, technically, I did NOT set you up.”

“Well, still!”

“Come on, look at your face! You´re not even mad. The opposite, you seem very happy. And if the dark circles under your pretty brown eyes are anything to go by, I´d say you had a very good night”

“Well, as a matter of fact...”

“I KNEW IT!”

“Yes, we had a good night...No, it was not in the way you´re imagining right now”

“Oh, please...You´re trying to tell me you and Severus didn´t stay up all night? You can´t stop yawning!”

“We did stay up all night...watching films.”

“Watching films? That´s it?”

“That´s it.”

“So you mean to tell me you left here in that sexy form fitting Catwoman outfit, you took Severus to the cinema, you two staied up all night and...that´s it.”

“Yes.”

“He didn´t even try anything?”

“'Try' what, Angela?! First: Severus and I are friends. Second: even if he was interested in me, and I assure you he´s not, he happens to be a perfect gentleman.”

“A perfect gentleman...Is that code for gay?”

“WHAT!?”

“Just asking...is he gay?”

“Just because a man doesn´t have any immediate interest in getting into a woman´s knickers, that doesn´t make him gay.”

“Of course not!”

“Then, what? Sweet baby Jesus...why is it so strange to you that Severus might not be all eager to get anything other than my friendship?”

“Well, is just that... Let´s be honest: you and Severus have this weird...thing...going on.”

“I beg your pardon!?”

“Come on, Evelyn. You talk about him all the time, he visits you almost every day, you´re always inviting him to everything, you go out to dinner on the regular...he babysits your cat, for Christ´s sake”

“We are friends!!And he´s my neighbour to boot!”

“So...that´s all? You just watched some films?”

“Well, that´s not all we did...”

“Oh?”

“He got me breakfast...”

“Oh, now, did he? So where did the perfect gentleman took you? Some fancy restaurant?”

“No...The old Mill.”

“The what?”

“The old mill.”

“THE old mill? That creepy abandoned one on the edge of town that looks like a portal for H.P. Lovercraft´s Old Gods to take over the Earth and anihilate humanity? THAT mill?”

“Yes, that creepy abandoned one on the edge of town that looks like a portal for HP Lovercraft´s Old God to take over the Earth. Which also happens to be the best place in this town to watch the sunrise. Did you know that? You can see all the woods and the hills from that rooftop, AND the skyline of the downtown, it´s breathtaking”

“Let me see if I got this right...Severus watched the whole film marathon with you, then he got you breakfast, then he took you to see a breathtaking sunrise at the roof of an old abandoned mill just the two of you...Ok, I take back what I said. He´s definetly not gay...Just sneaky.”

“Ange...Oh, hello Fr. Thomas.”

Evelyn could have died. She had turned around to pick up one of the plastic bottles from the bowling set, and Fr. Thomas was standing there, holding an empty cardboad box and some more plastic bags.

“Hello, Evelyn. Thank you for coming.” he smiled and gave her the customary kiss on the cheek he always greeted her with. He didn´t seem to have heard the conversation, but if he had, he was gracious enough to pretend he hadn´t. “I´ve finally found those bags, and another box for the toys. Maybe we should take care of the decorations and the rubbish outside first, seen as Matthew has started. We should take advantage of the sun too, later it´s going to be rather cold and dark.”

“Of course.” She mumbled, getting one of the plastic bags and briskly walking outside. She could feel her cheeks burning. One look at Fr. Thomas kind blue eyes and she was back to school again, when the nuns would catch her discussing boys with other girls and tell everything to her father. What a nightmare it was for a hormonal teenage girl to not only go to Catholic school, but also to be the daughter of one of the teachers. Didn´t help matters much that her mother was a regular at church and knew all the priests, deacons, ministers and nuns in the county by name.

Oh, well, she wasn´t a hormonal teenage girl anymore...was she?

…..........

The rustle of wings reached his ears as his mind drifted between sleep and alertness. The sun was high up in the sky when Severus opened his eyes to see the silhouette of an owl taking flight from his windowsill. He wasn´t sure how long he had slept, or when exactly he had fallen asleep. He had tried to remain awaken enough to review some correspondence but sleep got the best of him, he hadn´t even changed out of the shirt and trousers he´d worn the night before, he was so tired. Still, he pried his eyes open and dragged himsef out of bed. As expected he found an envelope on the windowsill.

He knew it wouldn´t take long for Draco to write again.

“Professor Snape,

I´m afraid I don´t have too much to write in the way of news. Claire and Herr Rott rarely say anything relevant in front of me. I don´t think the suspect anything, but I can´t be sure. I do know the Lestranges have safely arrived in St Petersburg a couple days ago. There have been owls coming and going. All letters are coded, however. I´ve copied some, but not all of them. I can´t make sense of any.

There was, however, one thing that had me suspiscious. I heard Claire say something about a dagger the Lestranges want to recover from somewhere. She seemed terribly annoyed by the idea.

About a week ago, I received another letter from my father. He had Ministry officials come to Malfoy Manor. He insists I shouldn´t say anything to anybody and come back to England as soon as I can. I don´t know what he thinks I could know that insterest the Ministy, or if he suspects I´ve been writing you. I haven´t answered him just yet. I´m afraid I can´t leave now without raising any suspiscions. I´ll just stay put for now.

I´ll write you as soon as anything new comes up.”

Severus sighed. The Ministry was probably pressuring Lucius to keep his son in France. This way he´d continue feeding Severus information that Severus could pass on to them. As he expected they had tracked the boy´s correspondence and Shacklebolt had connected it to the information Severus had supplied him...Using Draco as a spy.... That was a plan Severus was starting to feel rather uncomfortable about. Sure it was useful having Draco inside the Rotts´residence, but at what cost? Draco was at risk spying for him...and frankly, the boy was no spy. He didn´t have the cold blood necessary for the task, and it was just a matter of time before he got caught. And Severus doubted Claire would be merciful if that happened. What was Lucius thinking sending his son into the claws of that harpy? And now that the ministry was breathing down his neck, he wanted the boy back home. One would think the war would have taught him a thing or two about putting the welfare of his offspring above other concerns, but alas, even in his schoolboy days Malfoy wasn´t known for his intellect... Severus had to come up with a way to return Draco to England and continue to get information from the Rotts´house through other means. He´d have to pay Lucius another visit soon...

For now, as far as spies went, poor Draco would have to do. But maybe Severus underestimated him. That was only his second report and he had already given him two very valuable pieces of information: the Lestranges´ location and the fact that they did, indeed, want the dagger. Exactly as Severus had imagined they would. Unfortunately there wasn´t much else Draco could possibly find out about the second one. Severus knew for a fact that the Dark Lord hadn´t disclosed his suspiscions in regards to the location of the dagger to anybody else, and even Voldemort himself wasn´t confident about its whereabouts. Most people didn´t even know it existed, many more didn´t even believe it could be recovered. If it existed at all, of course.

Knowing Claire, she surely had other priorities. She had always been a pragmatic woman. Her foremost priority had always been enlarging the ranks. Whereas the Dark Lord was selective about his followers, but Claire Rott knew the power of numbers. Money, people and connections were much better than magical objects as far as she was concerned, and Severus tended to agree. In fact, the Dark Lord´s love of intrincate and arcane magic and objects had been his downfall. He was a self-professed Messiah, not a real leader. Claire was the opposite. Which was precisely why she was in some ways more dangerous. It was all a business to her.

 

…..............................

 

“Well, that´s the last of it.” Fr. Thomas closed the door to the storage room after putting away the last box of toys. “Tomorrow I´ll think about what we´ll do with those, if we keep them for next year or we can just do something with them next Christmas.”

“You´re already planning Christmas?” Evelyn laughed softly, filling a teapot with water and putting it on the tiny stove of the diminute kitchen the rectory was equiped with. She had made tea for all the teachers and students who had shown up to help with clean up but didn´t have time to have some herself. Now that everybody was gone she could enjoy some. It had been a quick clean up with that many helping hands. Almost everybody had come, with the predictable exception of Mitchel, which didn´t bother her in the least.

“Of course! You´ll see how November is going to zoom right by...” Fr. Thomas sat on a wooden stool by the corner. The rectory kitchen was so small it could barely fit two stools and a foldable table in adittion to the tiny oven and even tinier cabinet. The constricting lack of space was somewhat compensated by the amount of natural light coming from a window that accupied most of the only free wall. She could see a timid, pale sunset peeking trough grey clouds and naked black trees outside, the wind gently blowing the dry branches and taking away their last leaves. Days were getting shorter and shorter...It would be winter soon.

“I barely saw October pass by. It feels like I´ve been in Cokeworth for months. Would you believe it´s been just a month?...Tea?”

“Yes, please...” He got up to unfold the small table and get a small sugar basin and two spoons from the cabinet. “And yes, it´s hard to believe it´s only been a month...you seem perfectly adapted. I´m glad.”

“I should thank you for it.” She put the tea bags into two chipped porcelain cups and poured the boiling water over them, watching the clear liquid turn into a dark amber color. “Actually I have plenty of people to thank for it. You, Angela, Matthew...”

“...Severus.”

“Yes...” she sat across from him “...Severus. Fr. Thomas...about that...conversation Angela and I...”

“You don´t have to explain anything, Evelyn. If anything I should apologize for barging in like that.”

“I just want you to know that...Angela was just trying to get my goad, there´s really nothing to it...I mean, Severus and I...” she could feel herself getting flustered

“Evelyn, Evelyn” he called out softly “Relax, my dear. Whatever it is that´s going on between you and Severus is none of my business, you have nothing to explain.”

“Is just that...NOTHING is going on. We´re just friends.”

“And that´s good. And if you happened to be something other than just friends that would be good as well. Look, I´m glad that you and Severus are growing close, regardless of the manner. You´re in a new town, you needed friends to help you adapt...and Severus....Well, I´m sure he can use the company as well.”

“You...you care a lot about Severus, don´t you?”

“Well...I´ve known him since he was a young lad. Sure we´ve never been close, and...I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I´ve even talked to him after he moved out of Cokeworth to study... But...I won´t lie I do have a bit of a soft spot for him. He was a good boy growing up... Quiet, for sure...didn´t have many friends...”

“Only that little girl you told me about...”

“Yes. Life wasn´t kind on him as far as I know...He deserves some hapiness...don´t we all?”

“You always seem sad when you talk about Severus...”

“I don´t know if sad is the word...I mean, Severus turned out fine in the end, in spite of it all. But in some ways...I guess I feel like I failed him.”

“You mean...because of his father...”

“Did he...”

“Yes, he told me about him...”

“I should have done something. But I was young back then...I had just been ordained and this was my first parrish. The Snapes weren´t parrisioners and...I should have done better, but I didn´t know any better. It´s not an excuse, I know...But I regret it...I still do.”

“What could you have done?” her words were more of consolation than anything else.

“Anything would have been better than not doing anything, Evelyn. Any action is always better than inaction”

“Fr. Thomas...”

“Yes, dear?”

“Can I ask you for some...professional advise? Just between the two of us.”

“Evelyn, my child. I´m a priest. Privacy is sort of part of what I do for a living. Do tell, what troubles you?”

“It´s about one of my students...”

 

…..........

 

Malfoy Manor

Narcissa closed the door behind her back and exhaled. She had lost track of how many arguments she had had with Lucius in the past couple weeks. He refused to answer to her questions. She had had enough. Weeks had passed since Severus had visited her husband and she still didn´t know what they had talked about. It had been enough of a surprise to see Severus alive standing on her doorstep...What he could posssibly still want from Lucius after everything was said and done? Narcissa  knew she owed Severus her gratitude. If Draco was alive and free it was because of him. But she couldn´t help the fact that Severus mere presence left a bitter taste in her mouth. He was alive. Not only alive, free. People were calling him a hero. He had lied to them all those years. She wondered if the friendship that once bound her husband to Severus had an ounce of truth to it, or if Snape had just been lying from the beginning, sly snake as he was.

She had gone to him in her moment of darkest despair, pleading and begging him to help. He had stood before her and promised to protect her son. He killed Dumbledore in Draco´s place, sparing her only child´s soul from irreparable damage, eventually saving him from a certain life sentence in Askaban after the war was over and the authorities started compiling the list of crimes commited. She should be grateful, and she was. But she couldn´t shake the feeling that Severus had toyed with them, that he had seen her cry and fret needlessly, all the while knowing Dumbledore was setting up a farse, a farse she eventually played a role in, to save her family... But now Severus Snape was a hero. And they were disgraced.

Of course, that was nobody´s fault but their own. Hers and Lucius. They had followed the Dark Lord...All that befell them aftewards, they had done it to themselves. They had done it to their child. If she didn´t love Lucius so much she´d hate him with all her might. If she didn´t hate herself so much for allowing Lucius to do the things he did, for standing by his side as he ruined their family, she´d probably have abandoned him by now. But they were, in all possible ways, birds of a feather. They loved each other and their child, and that love had both doomed and saved them.

They were alive, but they had lost everything. She was determined to save what little they had left. She was determined to stand by her husband once more. She had been with him when they walked into a trap of their own making, she wasn´t going to abandon him now. They had to be together, for they they were everything their son had left, and their son was everything they had left. The ministry could take away their possessions, her jewlery, her gowns, their books and antiques, everything. But they weren´t going to take her family away from her. That was the reason she had agreed to send Draco to France. To protect him. To keep him away from the sordid state they had been reduced to. They endured their humiliation quietly, hoping for a better future for him.

And then Severus Snape came back from the dead to stir things up. Lucius insisted Severus wanted him to disclose things he knew nothing about. She wasn´t sure she believed that. It had been a while since she last trusted her husband´s word. Then, just a few days ago, two Ministry officials showed up. Not the usual officials who were in charge of checking if they were keeping to the terms of their arrest. They had come asking questions. About Death Eaters in France and Russia. About Claire... Narcissa started to wonder if it was a good idea to ask her to lodge Draco. If Lucius was expecting to drag her son back into that black hole once more, he had another thing coming.

Well, if Lucius wouldn´t answer to her questions, maybe Severus himself would...

 

….............................

 

November 2nd.

Cokeworth Academy.

 

Evelyn felt a chill as she left the pool and walked barefoot on the cold titles. Cokeworth Academy´s pool was indoors and the area heated but the autumn outside was unforgiving. They were surely in for a harsh winter this year, she tought, rushing to get a towel and cover herself with it. She looked around to see if Angela was coming. She always met her after classes in the pool, but today she seemed to be running late. Oh, well...Evelyn was cold, her hair smelled of chlorine and her muscles were pleasantly sore...She needed a warm shower, so if Angela really wanted to meet up she would have to wait.

It felt good to have the restroom all to herself so she could shower in peace. The entire complex that housed the pool and other sports areas and equipment was pretty deserted after classes ended. On occasion some small groups of students would show up after classes to play. But as autumn advanced and the cold got harsher Evelyn found herself alone more often than not. It was peaceful if slightly unsettling. At least Mitchel hadn´t shown up to bother her. Actually she hadn´t seen him once since the Halloween party. Maybe he´d finally leave her alone. Yet another thing she had Severus to thank for.

Evelyn  took her time washing and drying her hair, putting her things back into the gymbag she brought with her when she planned to swim after classes, then finally bundled up as warmily as she could to brave the temperatures outside. Sometimes she felt it wasn´t just a humorous cliché that Irish women were always freezing. Evelyn had on a cotton shirt, a blouse, a wool coat and an overcoat, in adittion to wool thights and jeans and she was still cold. Her mother had always marvelled at how she could swim in the frigid ocean even in the bitterest of winters but on dry land the smalled drop in temperature had her reaching for cover. Her grandfather often joked that she might have some mermaid blood on her, so the cold water didn´t bother her as much as cold wind did. She shook her head at the memory of her grandfather´s tall stories, and zippered up her boots. Angela was still in no show. Her last class must have taken longer than usual, maybe she should go and get her in her classroom.

Her thoughts had her so distracted that she didn´t see the restroom door was blocked. It was only when she lifted her eyes from her bag and found herself less than a foot away from a regretabbly familiar face.

“Mitchel...”

“I was looking for you.” his saccharine smile was wider than usual.

He was just standing at the door, still techinically outside, but blocking her way out. The tall tiled walls on each side of him made it impossible for her to leave without pushing him out of the way. And she she knew how effective it would be for her to try to push a six-foot athlete out of her way.

If this was a joke, it was very much in bad taste.

“I´m sorry, I don´t have much time now. Just look for me in the teacher´s lounge tomorrow, now I gotta run” she tried to make her voice sound sweet but stern, her lips opening in a shaky smile

“It´s going to take just a minute”

“I´m afraid I don´t have a minute, Mitchel. I´m running late.”  she couldn´t hear a sound coming from outside. Nor would she. Most students and teachers were likely gone by now. Where the hell was Angela?

“I won´t keep you, I promise. It´s important.”

“Important enough that you have to come into the girls´restroom? This wildly inappropriate, Mitchel. We´ll talk some other time.” It was probably her nerves that made her words come out harsher than it would have been safe...but she had to do something... Evelyn could see him motion slightly forwards, not quite a step, but almost. She shivered. “Mitchel, get out of my way, will you?”

“Look, I know I haven´t been quite a gentleman with you lately, but I need to tell you...”

“We can talk outside...” she offered, hoping he´d at least unblock the door. He didn´t seem likely to move, however. Evelyn opened her purse with trembling fingers...“I can give you a lift, if you want...my...my car keys are in here somewhere...” She was sure she still had that pair of scissors she had used to cut the Halloween decorations in her purse...Where was it?

Chapter Text

“It´ll just take a minute, Evelyn, I promise.” He continued speaking with a monotone voice that was almost as unsettling as his proximity. “It´s important.”

“Fine, I´ll listen to you. Let´s just step outside, ok?” she tried to supress a tiny sigh of relief as her fingers finally found the pair of scissors inside her purse. It was a big pair o scissors,  heavy and well sharped mettal that she usually used to cut thick materials like cardboard or heavy fabric. She grabbed them by the hilt as she would have held a knife, but kept her hand inside the purse. There was no telling what he might do if he saw what she was doing, but if bad came to worse she knew the blades were long and sharp enough to handle the matter just fine.

“It´s about Severus Snape. I know you don´t like me, but listen: you shouldn´t be around that man, he´s dangerous.”

“Severus? Look, Mitchel, whatever bad blood there is between you and Severus, I want not part of it, ok? It´s got nothing whatsoever to do with me. If this is the serious matter you wanted to discuss, then I should probably...”

“Listen, I know you must be thinking that I´m here just because I have a personal problem with him, but is not.” he was starting to ramble “You don´t know him. I don´t know what lies he has been telling you, but Severus Snape is a criminal, has always been, and everybody always knew it. Even before his father died he was a little delinquent at best! Then Tobias Snape died and he started to support his mother with money and nobody knew from where, but p, it was the only explanation... then he disappeared for years and he´s back to Cokeworth now? Like he´s running away from something...”

If she hadn´t been so intimidated, Evelyn might have laughed. Severus had told her all of that himself... His life of criminal, gang member, whatever that was...That Mitchel would dig that up for petty gossip...whatever for? Cornering her in a bathroom to badmouth Severus? He was crazier than she gave him credit...Severus was right, she should have reported him a long time ago. Suddenly she felt more offended than afraid.

“Ok, Mitchel...I understand. Now for the last time, move or I´ll have to move you out of my way.” She held on to the scissors tighter, taking a step further. If Mitchel wouldn´t move on his own, she´d have to take care of it herself. But just as she readied herself to take another step further, a male voice reached them from outside the restroom.

“Mr. Daniels, pray tell what the devil are you doing in the girls restroom!? Step outside immediately!”

Evelyn couldn´t see who had spoken, but she had no doubt that voice belonged to Mr. Nolan. Mitchel seemed cross and confused, but stepped outside as told. As soon as he moved away from the door, Angela came rushing in, to Evelyn´s relief. She could feel her heart beating in her throat, as she dropped her bags and coat, collapsing with her back on the wall behing her, right hand still clutching the scissors with a convulsive grip, as if her fingers had yet to process that the threat was gone while the rest of her body relaxed.

“It´s ok, darling” Angela whispered, prying her fingers open to retrieve the scissors

“Where were you!?”

“I´m sorry! I took a little longer with the last class and when I came over I saw Mitchel heading to the restroom, so I went to get somebody. Thank God Mr. Nolan was just leaving his office.”

“Ms. Black and Ms. Holt, would you two kindly step outside as well?” Mr. Nolan called. Angela practicaly had to drag Evelyn out, her body felt so numb. Mitchel was standing in front of Mr. Nolan, like a schoolboy about to be lectured by the principal.

“Now, Mr. Daniels, you may go. But I warn you, if I catch you engaging in such improper behaviour once more, there will be consequences. You may go now.” Mr. Nolan´s tone was bitting enough that Mitchel left without protest like a dog kicked out of the house.

“Mr. Nolan, I swear...”Evelyn begun, shakly

“It´s ok, Lyn...I told Mr. Nolan everything”

“Angela!”

“Yes, Ms.Black, she did tell me everything. Which begs the question, if this was going on why didn´t you come to me and report it?”

“Well, I...didn´t think much of it. Untill now...”

“Let´s go back to my office, so you can tell me this story from the beginning, shall we?”

 

….....

She was running late. Not her usual late...Severus knew she would be in the pool, doing her usual after-work exercise as she did nearly everyday, but that never delayed her more than an hour or so. But it was already 8:30pm and he hadn´t heard the sound of her car pulling over. He had been distracted writing letters and reading the latest wizarding news, trying to come up with a solution for the matter of the youngest Malfoy, so maybe he hadn´t heard her arrive, but even if that was the case, she would have knocked on his door by now. He looked over to the black cat pacing back and forth like a diminute panther locked up in a stressfully small cage, stopping only to scratch the door.

“I know, I know...She should have come to pick you up by now. Trust me I´m as eager as you are to see you out this door, furball.”

Ciarán mewled plaintively, looking up at him before returning to his incessant pacing and scratching. Severus left his desk and opened the curtains. No sign of the red volvo, as far as he could see. Maybe it was a good idea to check, he thought, opening the front door and getting out, carefully to not let the cat out. Ciarán´s noises grew lowder.

“I´ll be right back, you aggravating little runt.” he hissed.

Outside nothing but the sound of his steps on the pavement. Her car was not there.

“What the...something must have happened.” He reached for his pack of cigarrettes inside the back pocket of his trousers and lit one up with his wand, shifting on his feet. She should be at school still.. Would they be open at this time, however? Certainly not... Severus shook his head. Of course she wasn´t there...Probably had gone out with Angela...that must be it. He turned to go back in, when car lights caught his attention. Even in the dark her bright red volvo was unmistakable. He puffed a lazy cloud of smoke as she pulled over and got out of the car.

“Your cat was driving me bonkers...” He told her, his voice trailing off as he noticed she was supporting her weight on the side of her car as if she couldn´t walk properly “...are you ok?”

“Yes...yes, I am.” she smiled shakily.

“What happened?” Severus shot pointblank, walking up to her. She looked up at him, trying to maintain her smile and failing. Her expression looked pained and her eyes seemed moist, as if she had just cried or was about to start. “And don´t say 'nothing'...something obviously happened.”

“You were right, Severus”

“About?”

“Mitchel...”

He felt his jaw clench and took a deep breath

“What has he done this time around?”

 

…........

 

The tall man by the corner shoved his hands into his pockets, as the couple entered Snape´s house. From where he stood he couldn´t hear a word they said, but he watched. He watched as her car pulled over and she stumbled out of it, looking like she was about to cry. He watched as Snape walked over to her, and for a moment it seemed as if he would take her into his arms. She stood before him, looking tiny and fragile, as if she wanted him to embrace her...For a moment it looked like he would. He just put a hand on her shoulder and led her into his house. Severus Snape wasn´t one to show affection in public after all...They´d probably take a while inside. Alas...time to retreat for the day.

 

…......

“Are you sure you don´t want any tea, or something else...I can..” Severus stumbled on his words patheticaly. There were a great many things he could do well, but consoling a distraught woman was not one of them.  He had to remind himself to keep his own temper under control. At least for now. It wouldn´t exactly be productive to react before she even told him what had happened. He was sure whatever it was it would warrant his anger, but all in due time.

“Just water, thank you” Evelyn replied quietly, taking the glass he offered her.

“So?...” he sat on his armchair, and waited.

“You were right about Mitch...I should have reported him. It was foolish of me to think he wouldn´t try anything other than his usual Don Juan antics...”

“And what...exactly...did he try?”

“I´m not even sure what he was getting at...I...I had just finished showering after my swimming session and he was there, blocking the door...Insisting he had to talk to me...”

“WHAT?...” Severus felt his muscles tense at the thought of over 6-feet of pure dumb muscle cornering her in a school bathroom, but bit his tongue and atempted to keep his composure as best he could. “I mean...Why? What was he...did he hurt you? If he assaulted you in any way...”

“No, he didn´t. He just...stood there. Vomiting a mess of nonsense...”

“What kind of nonsense?”

“Things...about you. Trying to convince me you are some kind of dangerous criminal. He wasn´t making any sense...Severus, if I may ask...What the devil went on between you and Mitchel!? The man seems to hate you!”

“Just an old childhood rivalry. To be honest, until I saw that twit at the Halloween party yesterday, I had forgotten he existed.” What the hell was Mitchel trying to accomplish with that little pantomime?

“I´m afraid he feels differently.”

“So, he acosted you in the restroom to talk about me? I´m afraid dear old Mitch is off his rocker...”

“I know...If it wasn´t for the fact that I was terrified, I might have laughed at his face. A grown man spouting neighborhood gossip...and what for?”

“Neighborhood gossip?”

“Yes...apparently your old neighbours were talking about you behind your back when you father died... That you were a juvenile delinquent...”

“Well...they weren´t exactly wrong if that was the case...” Severus smiled. He knew what his father´s coworkers and associates thought of him. Surely none of them had shown up to offer any help when good ol´Tobias had gotten himself killed leaving  Severus and his mother to fend for themselves with an amount of debt that rivaled those of small third world countries. But they were surely quick enough to point out that Severus was a good for nothing git, getting money from nebulous origins. Nebulous origins being the Malfoys bank account and his own part time job as a potioneer for less than reputable shops in knockturn alley...thanks to recommendations letter of several known Death Eaters. Maybe if Mitchel had know the entire story, he´d think twice before spreading malicious rumours behind his back, or threatening people close to him. For a moment Severus wished he hadn´t grown so excessively scrupulous over the years.

“Severus...” she smiled “I know you´re not a saint...You´ve told me about that part of your life yourself. I´m not going to act like it bothers me, because honetly, I don´t really give a fiddler´s fart about things you did decades ago.”

“In any case, my troubled youth is not the question. That Daniels decided to harrass you within school grounds is what concerns me...”

“Mr. Nolan arrived just in time to catch him. I made an official report about it. There´s nothing Mr. Nolan can do as of now, except keeping an eye on him...He hasn´t done anything illegal, after all.”

“Just barely...Give him time, however...I´m afraid his interest in you has grown into unhealthy levels...To the point that any other male in your vicity has become an immediate threat in that peanut sized brain of his...He might go from futile gossip to turning his agression on you eventually. Maybe is not a sound idea for you to be spending time after classes in that school.”

“What am I supposed to do? Give up my regular activities because Mitchel might jump from a dark corner at any given moment?”

“All I´m saying is that, maybe, you should be more careful from now on. At least for now...we don´t know what he´s going to do next. Maybe this was just a little display of idiocy and nothing more...but better safe than sorry don´t you agree?”

….........

St. Petesburg, Russia

 

Rodolphus stared at the large, silver haired man entering the room. His steps echoed on the polished floor and empty walls, the cool, colourless sunlight that came through the white curtains made him look like a vaporous ghost in his  pale grey overcoat.

The Lestranges had arrived in Russia days ago, and after being moved from one hiding spot to the next, they were finally allowed entrance into Dimitri´s favorite hide away: a two storey mansion in St Petersburg, which he kept under a false muggle identity. The place couldn´t have been more pedrestrian. A square-ish neo-classic terraced house with close to no ornamentation, hidden in a corner of a muggle residential area. Inside, only the bare necessities: tables, chairs, beds. No decorations, no books, nothing that could give away anything about the owner of the house. Rodolphus and Rabastan were kept there for nearly a week, had their wounds tended, and their basic needs fulfilled, but nothing more. No newspapers were allowed, no radio, no news from the outside world, no visitors...

Evidently, they were in no position to complain. Anything was better than Askaban. But Rodolphus wasn´t stupid. The only reason Dimitri was keeping them isolated, and denying them any information or access to the world outside was to show them exactly who was in charge now. It was laughable really. In France Claire was under the impression that she had control over the entire operation, while here in Russia Dimitri believed himself to be the leader of the pack. But the truth was that neither of them knew what Rodolphus knew.

He would be patient if needed be. Claire had helped them escape and cross Europe to safety, and Dimitri was willing to protect them in Russia. If allowing both of them the illusion of power was the price Rodolphus had to pay to put his plans in motion, then he more than willing to do just that. He had played along, perfectly fulfilling the role of grateful refugee..No questions, no demands, no rebellion. He simply waited for the day Dimitri would finally give them the honor of his presence.

That day had arrived, at last.

“Rodolphus Lestrange. I´m honoured to finally meet you, even if under such circumstances.” For a man his size, his voice was surprisingly soft and cool. His accent was barely noticeable, which gave credence to the stories that he had spent most of his youth away from his homeland. Where, nobody knew exactly...As a matter of fact, nobody was even sure if 'Dimitri' was his actual his name, let alone where he had spent his time before becoming a minor celebrity in the small and close-knit circles of anonymous dark wizards operating under the radar of the many eastern-european wizarding ministries and agencies.

“Likewise.” Rodolphus got up from his seat by the spent fireplace, but made no mention of a greeting.

“I do apologize for the less than desirable accomodations. Given the recent events we had to favour secrecy over comfort. I´m sure you will understand.”

“It´s certainly a marked improvement ove my last address...I´ve got no complaints. But I assume you have not come to discuss wether or not our lodgings are adequate.”

“I have not, in fact.”

….........

 

November 4th

 

Once more Severus watched from his window as Evelyn Black left for work. Mercifully, Mitchel had been avoiding even as much as being in the same room with her after the restroom incident. At least that was what she told him. She hadn´t seen him in the teacher´s lounge, or in the school halls, or anywhere else in school grounds. She seemed relieved, but Severus believed it was too early for celebrating.

He drew the curtains and went back to his room, looking for the small box of everyday use potions stored in his bathroom. Severus had had a good stretch of two weeks with only occasional moderate migranes and nearly no muscular pains, but in the past couple days they had come back full force. He wasn´t sure if it was just the usual symptoms of stress coming back or if his body was getting too used to the pain-killing potions that now demanded more of them. Finally finding the small vial he was looking for, he went to the kitchen. Maybe diluting it in some water would be better than drinking it straight.

It was remarkable how some people had a seemingly God-given gift to be a nuisance. Mitchel Daniels had always been one of these uniquely blessed individuals. As if Severus didn´t have enough to worry about as it was. He had sent out two owls the day before, and still no answer. Lucius Malfoy was most likely stalling, biding his time and deciding on a way out of his current predicament. Unfortunately for him, the Ministry wouldn´t be generous this time. They would pressure him until they got what they wanted. And Malfoy would rather sacrifice his child once more than simply give them the location of the Lestranges. Which was the reason for Severus´ second letter, adressed to the new interim minister. Shacklebolt would also bide his time in answering. Severus knew he wanted to use Draco as a spy, regardless of risk, even if the sanctimonious minister would never openly admit it. Maybe they hadn´t sacrificed the well-being of enough children during wartime. Or maybe the ministry was trying to teach Slytherins a lesson: make yourself useful now, or face consequences. Ah, the brave new world, run by the ever-heroic and just Gryffindors...

Severus had done what he could up until here. Both Malfoy and Shacklebolt were warned about his misgivings regarding the whole arrangement. None of them would have reasons to complain once Severus decided to take the matter into his own hands. Using Draco was out of the question. It was dangerous and counterproductive. The boy clearly knew very little of the Lestranges´whereabouts, and more glaringly he knew even less about Claire´s schemes... more importantly, he had no idea of the existence of either Dimitri or the dagger. Indeed, very few people knew about the first, and only Severus could be sure about the second. If anybody was to recover information, it surely wouldn´t be a teenager whose sole qualification for the job was having the misfortune of being the child of a self-serving coward. All the Ministry would accomplish was eventually getting Draco harmed, or worse.

It was decided. One more week was all the time Severus could spare. After that Draco would be returned to Great Britain wether his father and the Ministry liked it or not. For now, however, he had other concerns.

 

…............

Going back to the pool was probably not a wise thing to do after what had happened in the restroom just a couple days before, but her last class had been cancelled due to a field trip to a plantarium, so Evelyn imagined she might as well take the chance. Angela was one of the teachers in the excursion and had told her Mitchel had been one of the designated chaperones as well so, at least today, he wouldn´t be bothering anybody on school grounds.

Evelyn had decided she deserved to relax for an hour, and there was no better way to do so than indulging on a hard swimming session. One hour of full speed swimming...untill her muscles were sore and her skin flushed bright red. That was what she needed... the isolation of being immersed in water and the pleasant tingle of endorphins rushing through her weary limbs. And she wasn´t about to let an entitled overgrown brat ruin the one thing that could give her feeling right now.

Her hand touched the wall for the upteenth time, brought her head over water, rested her arms on the tiled poolside, feeling it pleasantly cold against her warm muscles and worked on bringing her breathing down to a resting rhythm.

“I knew you were an accomplished swimmer, but I have got to say I´m still impressed.”

Evelyn would have startled if she hadn´t immediately recognised Severus´ deep, carressing baritone. Surely enough he was standing there, wearing his usual black, standing out like a longilineous dark silhouette among the white tiled-walls of the attached building that housed the pool.

“Thank you.”

“You could race a mermaid if you wanted to...” he smirked, walking over to her, his steps so agile and light they barely echoed on the tiles

“Now you´re just flattering me”

“I´ve seen merfolk much less skilled than you.”  he crouched next to her so they could speak closer

“You´ve seen merfolk!?” she laughed

“When I lived in Scotland: on a regular basis. Lakes in are infested with them over there...”

“Really?” she laughed even harder “Mermaids? Let me guess, they were also otherworldly beautiful and tried to bewitch you?”

“Oh, thanks heavens, no. Horrid creatures the lot of them. At least the ones in Scotland. I hear the Mediterranean ones are better looking, but I wouldn´t know.”

“I wish my grandfather was alive so he could meet you.” She sighed, getting out of the pool “I swear the two of you gentlemen have the same bizarre sense of humour. I´ve never seen anybody else who could say this kind of bold faced fibs with a straight face.” As she stood before him, Severus seemed to avert his eyes, focusing on some non-existing point in the bottom of the pool. Evelyn was amused by it. At times she truly wondered if Severus Snape hadn´t stepped out of a time machine, straight from victorian times. She ignored the temptation of poking fun at him. He was easy to offend, and the last thing she wanted was to upset a man who consistently showed her nothing but kindness and affection. And to be honest, his quirks were oddly endearing...  “But, what are you doing here?”

“I told you I didn´t feel like it was a good idea for you to be coming back to this pool.´” His tone had gone from light hearted to serious, hands shoved into his pockets, shifting his weight between his feet, his eyes insisting on fleeing away from hers. “Knowing you, I imagined you´d be eager to come here as soon as that excusion to the planetary was out the school´s front gate.”

“Mitchel is with them.” She removed her cap and goggles and walked over to a bench to get her towel and pat herself down. She wondered if Severus would dare look at her once she turned her back, and the mere thought put a smile on her lips that she had to force herself to close.

“Still. There won´t be an excursion every day, and you don´t seem inclined to change your routine on account of Daniels. So I imagined it might be a good idea to have some company other than Angela.”

“You don´t have to do that.” Sure, he didn´t have to do that. But she liked that he had decided to anyway. That smile tugging on the corner of her lips was getting harder and harder to suppress

“I know I don´t. But I want to. I can´t help but feel I have... insufflated his antics towards you, somehow.”

“You have not. Idiots scarcely need encouragement to act like idiots. Well,  since you´re here, maybe we could go somewhere to eat? All that exercise really opened my appetite, I´m starving. Ifyou´ll just give me twenty minutes to shower...”

“Of course...take your time” He nodded, still not looking directly at her.

….........

 

That was it, Severus thought to himself, sitting on the bench and staring at the pale blue water, the hydrous sounds of the building feeling queerly calming to his ears. If he hadn´t made a fool of himself before he surely had accomplished that task now. At 38 years of age, he had just acted like a sodding teenager. What kind of grown man can´t bear to look at a woman simply because she´s wearing a swimming suit? A rather modest swimming suit at that.

Well, that wasn´t exactly the truth, now was it? He did look... He was just too much of a bloody coward to look at her when she could actually notice it... But he did, indeed, look...Possibly more than he should have. It wasn´t the first time either. Once or twice it would be understandable. Evelyn Black was a good looking woman, and good looking people draw attention. It´s simply human nature to contemplate beauty. But he had caught himself staring more than it should be tolerable. What was it about that woman that troubled him so much it made him act like a bumbling idiot?

Oh, sod it...who was he kidding?... It was simply hipocritical of him to try and downplay it now... Evelyn Black was downright alluring. She was far from being a perfect beauty, that was for sure. Her facial features were perhaps a bit too intense, with those large almond shaped eyes framed by dark, thick eyelashes and strong angular eyebrows, a greek nose and thick lips, her rosy-olive skin showed a barely noticeable sheen of freckles, which probably became more evident after being out in the sun, in adition to a few birthmarks...He had also noticed a large scar on her right thigh, most of it covered by the shorts of her swimming suit. It looked like it had once been a severe burn...

All and all her body was not willowy or even slim, but sturdy and abundant... She would never find herself on the cover of any muggle magazines, which obviously favoured bland, pale, eerily polished waifs...Evelyn Black´s lavish amount of curves would have have made a fashion designer frown in frustration, but Severus be damned if it wouldn´t make any other man drool... There was a stately air about the way she carried herself, a joyful exuberance on the way she laughed and wipped her thick mane of dark hair as she talked, an obvious sweetness in her sprightly golden brown eyes. Simply put he woman was beautiful, and only a blind fool wouldn´t see that. Which only made his troubles even more understandable, perhaps... An adult man can´t help but notice beauty when it parades in front of him, specially if clad in a wet swimming suit.

An adult man, Severus Snape. Emphasis on 'adult'. He had been acting like a bloody child. Evelyn Black was his neighbour, and a muggle to boot. He shouldn´t be as taken with her as he was, even if it felt unavoidable at best, fateful at worst. He had far too much to worry about, to indulge in such juvenile fondness. Things Miss Evelyn Teresa Black couldn´t even dream existed...

“Sorry it took me so long... I had to blow dry my hair.” she was back, mercifully covered by a crimson red overcoat, buttoned up almost all the way to her chin, and thick dark jeans that ended on brown boots...high heels, as always.

“That´s quite all right. Shall we?”

…........

The was no question about Severus Snape´s intentions. Why else would he be fawning over her like that?  For days now, since that Halloween outing, he had religiously watched over her as she left for work, and welcomed her on the way back. The two would retreat into his or her house and spend hours together before parting for the night. Tonight in particular their little chilvarous romance had a new interesting development: now the stoic Severus Snape was picking his 'special' friend from work. Quite the gentleman...and not so stoic after all...

They had just arrived in her car and, as usual, went inside for another of their long 'chats'...Well, if one was naïve enough to think 'chatting' was all they were doing with their intimate time...It was a shame he couldn´t simply approach and take a look through the window...He wondered for how long that little courtship had been going on...It certainly put a damper on his plans for now. Nevermind that...If anything this little romantic subplot might have just given him more leverage.

Chapter Text

She knew she shouldn´t be snooping around, but Evelyn truly couldn´t help herself. Severus rarely invited her into his house; everythime they´d meet for dinner or tea, or simply for a chat, he would come to her house, almost never the other way around. He was a fiercely private man, who kept to himself, she was well aware...But there was something more than that. In every interaction they had, Evelyn had the distinct feeling Severus was trying to keep tight control over how much of himself he allowed her to see. At first that had bothered her, but as she got to know him better, she made her peace with it. Severus Snape hadn´t had an easy life, and as it often happens with people with difficult pasts, he had trouble opening up completely. The little she knew about his history had been revealed in the small doses he could handle sharing at any given time. She hadn´t pushed, as much as she wanted to get to know him better. Evelyn knew the seemingly little amount of insight he gave her was anything but little to him. So she humored him. If he stopped by her house she´d let him in, but she´d almost never request to be received in his house, and even when she had to drop by for any reason she usually made it quick. She´d tell him about her family and her everyday life, but never asked him about his day, or his family or friends, unless he breached the topic first, which he rarely did.

But tonight, oddly, he had invited her in, without prompting. For coffee, he said. Evelyn wondered how much the events in the past few days had to do with it. Something had changed after that morning at the old mill. Severus seemed more comfortable around her...He was still stiff and laconic most of the time, but he smiled more, his sardonic japes had become less acid and more playuful...It had only been a couple days, but the change was evident to her...she couldn´t be imagining it. Then, there was the whole story with Mitchel. Severus was worried about that, to the point of actually coming out of his comfort zone to offer to scort her home. He could be borderline agoraphobic, so that must have meant something... and she´d be lying if she said it didn´t please her that he was showing that much concern for her well being.

Now she stood in the middle of his sitting room as he prepared coffee in the kitchen, and, knowing she was taking quite a chance, Evelyn was looking into his stuff. Running her fingers over the bizarre titles in his library, eagerly observing the odd decorative objects on his shelves, running her eyes on the scribbled papers scattered all over his desk. She couldn´t understand a single line of them. His handwritting was small, spiky and cramped, and the notes went in every direction, occupying every inch of the paper without any apparent order. It was nearly impossible to read on a passing glance, and she couldn´t very well take her time with it when he could come back in the room at any second and catch her in the act. Aside from the unreadable notes, there were loads and loads of seemingly complicated formulas.

Evelyn could hardly deal with everyday math, so these might as well be Chinese written backwards to her. Her sister Caitlin was the exact sciences expert. Caitlin had sailed through math, chemistry, physics and biology at school, unlike Evelyn who struggled with all of them, being much better suited to languages, histpry and social sciences. Caitlin´vocation for caregiving and her aptitude for natural sciences made nursing as much a natural and easy choice to her as it had been for Evelyn to become a historian. If Caitlin was here she´d probably make sense of every single one of Severus´ scribbles and probably debate him at lenght on them.That would have been nice...Severus didn´t have many friends, if any...At least Evelyn didn´t know of any. The fact that she couldn´t make sense of his work gave her a little pang of sadness. She wondered if he would have liked to tell somebody about this. It was rewarding to be able to tell somebody about your work and share things you´ve accomplished. Severus was patient enough to listen to Evelyn talking about her professional achievements, but he never discussed his own. She probably wouldn´t understand a thing if he did, but she wished he´d try...

"So you talked to Fr. Thomas on the subject of James, after all" she heard Severus ask from the kitchen.

"Yes. He asked me to tell James to drop by the church and chat with him."

"You think that will work?"

"I don´t know" she answered distracted, still looking at the papers on his desk "I suppose he can at least give me a second opinion after he talks to James."

"It´s a start I suppose"

"Yes..." She trailed off...Evelyn was about to give up on understanding his notes when she noticed something odd...A piece of paper that didn´t seem to belong with the rest. She picked it up, completely forgeting to continue the conversation. It was an envelope. She had tought at first it was a mock parchment paper, like those you can find in novelty stationery stores, but once she touched it, it was obvious it was actual parchment, good quality one at that...No stamps or postmarks of any kind, as if it had been delivered in person, or via messenger. It beared Severus name on the space traditionally reserved for the addressee, written in an excessively flowery handwritting that looked like a calligraphy exercise designed to impress moreso than convey a message. Above that, there was a fanciful green wax seal, an elaborate "M" over a crest sided by two reptilian creatures, dragons or snakes, she couldn´t be sure... It looked almost fake, like somebody had tried to replicate an antique letter just for the fun of it. Curious, she turned it around. In the same rococo-ish penmaship it read "Narcissa Malfoy"

“Entertained?” she almost jumped at the sound of his voice. Always sneaking up on her like that

“Oh, I...I´m sorry...I was just curious about your work. Not that I´d understand any of it...” she smirked, uneasy and thanked him for the steaming cup of coffee he had brought her.

“That´s nothing but drabbles...To keep the mind sharp, nothing much.” he looked down at his desk, smiling as if the complicated equations were nothing more than silly doodles a child does on the edges of a notebook during a particularly boring class. “But you were saying?”

“Oh, yes...I...I´ve talked to James today”

“And..?” It didn´t escape her notice that Severus had swiftly and discreetly put the envelope under a small pile of papers before turning away and sitting on his usual armchair. Obviously, she had been looking into something private... She was relieved that he didn´t seem to have noticed.

“I told him Fr. Thomas wanted to talk to him, that´s all.”

“You didn´t tell him why?”

“No. I know it´s not very honest, but...Knowing James, if I told him the reason for the meeting he probably wouldn´t go...”

“That´s true... Well, I suppose all that´s left now is to hope for the best...”

“Indeed.” she answered, still eyeing the envelope hidden under the papers

“Ms. Black...Is everything all right?”

“Yes” she looked up at him confused, “Why?”

“You´re awfully quiet...”

“I´m just...”

“Worried? About James...or is it about Daniels?”

“A little bit of everything...” she wasn´t lying, but.... Evelyn wasn´t really thinking about Mitchell right now...

-------------

At times Severus regretted his excessive escruples. Other wizards in his place wouldn´t have resited  the temptation of going into her mind to find out what was wrong. Evelyn Black was definetly not her usual talkative self tonight.  Well, maybe not through the entire night...she seemed normal enough over dinner...But for some reason, as soon as they had entered his house she seemed umcomfortable. They had coffee and talked for a while more, before she excused herself rather hastly. Maybe it was the fact that she didn´t visit him all too often. Severus had himself to blame for that lack of consideration... he went to her house regularly, but never invited her to his. Evelyn was a muggle, the less she knew about him the better...or so he tought. But things had started to change, and as he felt like he could trust her, at least insofar as his muggle life was concerned, he thought it would be appropriate to invite her in. Maybe that had thrown her off her balance?

No, it wasn´t like her to be awkward in unfamiliar environments. Not Evelyn Teresa Black, beguilling social butterfly that she was. Truth was that she was worried about a multitude of things...Small wonder she should be tense, with Daniels threatening her safety and James´situation showing no improvement. That was probably the reason her demeanor had changed once he returned the topic of James and Fr Thomas meeting. It was the only explanation. If Severus had learned anything about her in the month or so they had known each other, was that she was hopelessly uncapable of deception, almost down to the physical level. She couldn´t as much as utter a benign falsehood without blushing furiously. She wasn´t exactly an expert in hiding her feelings either..she wore them on her sleeve instead... It both irritated and endeared him, but if anything he had to respect her candour.

Severus finally decided to let it go. Evelyn was such an open book that whatever it was that was bothering here he would know it sooner than latter.  Sitting by his desk, he chose to foccus on the unpleasant task of answering Narcisa´s letter. He had gotten it earlier in the day but hadn´t bothered thiking up a response just yet, so he just left it in the middle of his notes. It was a strike of luck that Evelyn hadn´t found it.

As he expected, Narcisa was suspiscious of her husband´s reasons for sending Draco away to France. And she suspected, rightfully so, that Severus knew something she didn´t. He pinched the bridge of his nose, looking down at piece of fine parchment the Malfoys couldn´t afford, filled with her ornate handwriting. In the direst misery, Narcisa had to keep on playing the role of 'grande dame', even if it meant using expensive parchment to write her letters when the entire Wizarding Community knew that even her gowns had been auctioned off.

He quickly scribbled a couple of dismissive sentences, denying any knowledge of Lucius machinations and urging her to direct her questions to him, then sealed it. As much as he could empathize with her concerns, Severus wasn´t the one who owed her explanations....

-----------

Narcisa Malfoy...

The name echoed  stubbornly inside her mind... It was an odd name. Fitting of that bizarre letter, Evelyn thought. Why the hell would anybody write and send a letter like that? Well, it had no stamp or post marks...So she must have delivered it in person...But Severus never received guests...let alone women. Except for herself, that was... But he certainly didn´t receive women who wrote flowery letters in fine parchment...right? Why would anybody write a flowery letter in fine parchment in 1998, anyway?! She seemed like a piece of work this Narcisa Malfoy... Probably a snob...That “M” in the wax seal must have stood for her last name...Who, outside of aristocracy, had a family seal!? And what business could such a person possibly have with Severus? Severus the hermit Snape, a man slightly more frugal than Zeno of Citium and somewhat more Spartan than King Leonidas. It was nearly impossible to imagine Severus associating with people who had their own family seals and wrote snobbish parchment letters with baroque callygraphy in the bloody XXth century.

And yet, the letter was there, in the middle of his personal papers. Severus obviously intended to answer it...it was open on his work desk, after all. No, no...she was overthiking it..It could just be a practical joke among friends, maybe... Not that Severus seemed to have any friends...In over a month the only 'friend' of his she had heard about was Lily Evans, whoever Lily Evans really was... definetly not any Narcisa. Still...she was starting to wonder if that one girl he had brought to the mill before herself was, indeed, Lily, as she had imagined...

“Evelyn?” Jocelyn´s airy voice pulled her back to Earth

“ Yes?”

“Your mobile is ringing...”

“Oh, shite...” she hissed under her breath “Thank you, Jocelyn”

Evelyn fumbled with her purse for a moment before finding the phone.

“Hello?”

“Hello, Evelyn. Fr. Thomas speaking. How are you doing,dear? ”

“Oh, quite fine, thank you, Fr. Thomas. What about you?”

“Good, good. I´m just calling because...James dropped by this morning before school.”

“Did he? So...how did it go?”

“Better than I expected. Which is why I´m calling, I´d like to have a word with you if that´s possible?”

“Sure, I was just informed that my last class of the day was cancelled due to the Planetarium project we´re having this week, so I can meet you today if you want. I just have to drop my my house first. Severus is supposed to pick me up from work, but he´s a ludite who apparently believes phones are the work of the devil designed to eat his soul, so I have no way of telling him not to come to school.”

“I´m afraid my day is a bit full today” Evelyn could almost hear the smirk in his voice “there´s a meeting scheduled to start planning for the Christmas festivities, which I must attend. And  I´d hate if you and Severus changed your plans on account of me...But if you could drop by the rectory tomorrow, I´d very much like to have a chat.”

“Sure. After class is a good time?”

“Perfect. Thank you, dear.”

---------------------

Severus was expecting this to happen, but not that soon. How long had it taken Narcissa to apparate at his door step after getting his letter? 24 hours, maybe, if that much? Severus knew his letter wouldn´t please her, but this was frankly ridiculous. She must have run out of ways to badger her husband for answers, if she was as desperate as to come to Spinner´s End on a whim like that.

“May I come in?” she asked with an icy voice, standing so upright and tense at his doorstep, Severus had the impression of a bow ready to shoot an arrow at him.

“I suppose I can´t very well say no...But do try to make it brief, if you will” he glanced at the clock on the matle. Almost 5pm. He should be meeting with Evelyn at 6pm...Trust Narcissa to derail one´s plans with her demands, even if unknowingly...It was a talent that came with being a Malfoy, by birth of marriage...

“I intend to.” he rolled his eyes and stepped aside, making way for her to step in, dragging her long dark green skirts behind her with his her haughty and martial gait.

“Do take a seat.”

“That´s not necessary...I´ll make it brief, as you requested. In fact, I have only one question for you Severus.”

“I suspect which question it is, and I´ll save you the trouble: ask your husband.”

“You think I´d be here if I hadn´t done just that?...Over and over again.”

“Narcissa...” he mellowed his tone, agravating as she was, Severus couldn´t fault her actions. He wasn´t a parent, but if he had children of his own, he´d probably do the same.

“Severus, please...This is not the first time I come here to plead with you, to beg you for help. I know a second time is one time too many to ask, specially after everything that happened, but …We have been punished enough...If my husband is hiding something from me, anything that can put Draco at risk once more, I beg of you, tell me.”

The ice in her voice was melting rapidly, and once more Severus could see the distraught mother who had come to him less than a year ago, desperate to save her child. He had a hard time denying her.

“Narcisa...I´ll tell you once more, it´s not in my place to tell you anything. But if it makes you feel any better, I don´t plan to let anything happen to Draco.” he walked up to her, insisting she took a seat. Her composure was only as strong as a broken vase glued back together. Under the proud posture, the gelid expression and tense shoulders, she was ready to fall apart.

“Then, there is something you´re not telling me, isn´t it?”

“I can´t be sure of what your husband is planning...I have suspicions, but he never confirmed any of them.”

“Severus, don´t make me implore you”

“You know just as well as I do where Claire loyaties laid when the Dark Lord was amog us...Why do you think she would receive your child after your family has been disgraced and shunned by both sides? You know better than I do what´s the extent of her generosity.”

“So...Lucius wants to start it all over again? Is that what you mean to tell me?”

“You know your husband better than I do, I should expect. Why do you think the Ministry officials have visited your house? To start a book club?”

“They can´t possibly think Draco would...Lucius, maybe, but Draco wouldn´t get involved in this. Not after everything he´s been through, Severus...”

“You´re right. Your son has better sense than his father. Draco is not aiding the Rotts.”

“And by the certainty of your tone, I should conclude that you do, indeed, know something about what´s going on with my son. You lied to me...”

“I did no such thing. I don´t really know what your husband is hiding from you. He has told me exactly the same he told you: that Draco was shipped off to France for his own safety. I simply happen to know Lucius better than to believe anything that comes out of his mouth. It´s not exactly hard to figure out what he wanted when he decided to have Draco move to Claire´s mansion”

“There´s more, right?” she sounded defeated. “The ministry officials...they...”

“Have a seat...” Severus let out a deep sigh. It was about time to end this. If anybody could get Draco out of France, and out of dange it would be Narcissa. Lucius should listen to her, at least, Severus hoped  

 

---------------------------------

“Are you sure you don´t want to tag along? We just got free time, that doesn´t happen everyday.”

“Yes, I´m sure, Angela. Thank you for offering but...” Evelyn grabbed her coat from the hanger on their way out of the teacher´s lounge.  Angela and a couple other teachers had decided to use the extra time they had gotten from the cancellation of the last period of the day to go out for drinks. It was a lovely idea, but Evelyn just didn´t feel like it. She couldn´t stop thinking about Fr. Thomas and James´s meeting, and the entire plantarium project had made her fall behind schedule. “...I´ll just use the time to catch up with some things.”

“You mean catch up with Severus.”

“Here we go again...”

“He came to pick you up yesterday, after all, didn´t he?”

“Yes, thanks to Mitchel...Severus is just trying to help me out...”

“And I believe he´s coming today too, isn´t he? That´s why you´re won´t come with us?”

“No, Angela...I´m just tired. And if you must know, yes, Severus was coming, but since I´m leaving early...”

“Just call him. Ask him to join us.”

“Severus doesn´t have a phone.”

“What? He doesn´t have a phone? You mean his phone is broke, no?”

“No, I mean he doesn´t own a phone.”

“He doesn´t...own...a phone? Evelyn, in what century did you dig this man up?!”

“I thought you had promised me you wouldn´t do that, anymore...”

“Do what?”

“Be on my case about Severus!”

“Ok, I won´t. So...you´re really not coming?”

“No, not today. Thank you for asking, but I really need some rest.”

“Well, you have my number if you change your mind.”

 

--------------------------------

Severus held Narcisa´s gaze for a long moment. The momentous break down seemed to have subsided, and she had put the icy mask back on.

“Speak, Severus. I´m listening”

“The Ministry officials who visited your husband...They don´t think Draco is involved in Claire schemes... I have given them every assurance that he isn´t”

“You have...how?”

“You son has written me...twice thus far. Draco isn´t planning to go along with Lucius plans to support Claire´s designs to protect fugitives abroad...It´s the opposite, actually.”

“The opposite? What do you even mean by that?”

Severus shouldn´t be telling her what he was about to tell her. But he knew Narcissa, and he didn´t need to read her thought to know he could trust her. She had stood in front of the Dark Lord himself and lied, without as much as blinking, to his face. All for the sake of her child. Narcissa had many, many flaws...but she was a good mother. She didn´t care about Death Eaters or the Ministry, she cared about Draco. And for that, Severus could trust her.

“Draco has been giving me information about them, I´ve passed them on to the responsible authorities as I saw fit. Thanks to him the Ministry is now very close to tracing the Lestranges...”

“You mean to say...” her voice was suddenly hard and emotionless “...the ministry is forcing Draco to act as a spy?”

“No. It was Draco´s own decision. I´ve been trying to dissuade the Ministry from doing that, specially considering they already got plenty of information, far more than I´d expected Draco to come up with. But considering the fact that the information he has been sending out has, thus far, proven legitimate, I´m afraid they are not inclined to give up his help.”

“Severus...If Claire finds out that Draco is spying from inside her own house...”

“I know. Which is why I´m telling you all of this, even though I shouldn´t. I know your only interest in this is to keep your son safe. And trust me, Narcisa, I have not forgotten the vow I took. I´m trying my best to protect him, as I promised you I would. But the fact is: your son is no longer a young boy, and your husband is not inclined to enforce his paternal auhtority to convince him to come back. And the Ministry is going to pressure Lucius into not doing that. I´m trying to come up with a solution, but, honestly, there´s little I can do.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

“First of all. Lucius can´t as much as imagine you´ve been here and that I told you all of this. He´s not to be trusted... I know I don´t have to ask, but...”

“Severus....I´ve betrayed the Dark Lord just as you did. Rodolphus and Rabastan probably want my head as much as they would want yours if they knew you´re alive.” her sigh sounded pained, as if she was about to cry. However, Severus had a more than passing suspicion that she had run out of tears by now. “If anything, Lucius is probably trying to convince them we´re still loyal, by sending Draco to France... I´m afraid my husband has gone mad...”

“If he has, then there´s little hope for us to protect Draco without him trying to ruin everything...”

“Severus...I have an idea...it might work...” her sudden revelation was cut short by the sound of soft knocks on the door.

Severus startled. Who could be knocking at his door at a time like this? Evelyn was at work...Minerva and Shacklebolt rarely visited without a previous announcement...Unless it was an emergency...If not them...

“You made sure you weren´t being followed, Narcisa?” he asked, for the sake of being safe. One could never be too paranoid.

“Of course! What kind of a bumbling idiot you take me for? You probably have a visitor, that´s all...If anybody was to follow me here with any ill intent, they wouldn´t knock.”

“Only if they had a dreadful sense of humor...At least trick or treat season is over”

“Excuse me?”

“Nevemind...” Answering the door with Narcisa in his sitting room was a stupid idea any way he approached it, but the knocking got more and more insistent. Whoever that was, they weren´t going away.

“Severus? You´re home? It´s me, Evelyn.”

Severus cursed under his breath, looking at the clock once more. 5:20pm. She should have been at work. Maybe Mitchell had been acting up again?

“I have to get that...”

 

--------------------------------------

 

“Hello, Severus.” she smiled, as usual, but there was something about his face when he opened the door that gave her pause. He seemed tense.

“Weren´t you supposed to be at work?” the words sounded harsh, but with Severus she could never really be sure if he meant to be harsh or if it was just his usual stern self speaking.

“Yes, I was. But that Planetarium project just made them cancel my last class. Since I couldn´t call you to let you know I was getting off work earlier, I had to drop by to let you know you didn´t have to pick me up today...”

“So you just came home on your own...”

“Well, I would have called you if you weren´t allergic to technologies developed in the past couple of centuries” she smiled

“Oh, well...You´re home safe, at least.”

Evelyn studied his face. He didn´t seem tense as much as...irritated? She was familiar with the that rigid, aggravated expression on his face. She remembered it clearly from the first time they met, when she knocked on his door and he nearly kicked her off his door step. What had happened?

“Is everything all right, Severus?”

“Yes, of course.” for a moment Evelyn had the distinct impression he was trying hard to tone down his annoyance and adopt a mellower tone “I´m...just in the middle of something.”

“Oh, I see...I´ll let you be, then...” she was about to bid Severus good night when a female voice spoke from inside his sitting room.

“I´m dreadfully sorry to interrupt, but...I believe we haven´t been properly introduced.”

Evelyn looked over Severus shoulder. Standing a few steps behind him there was a tall, willowy blonde woman. A beautiful, tall, willowy, blonde woman, Evelyn corrected herself. Her hair, tied in a meticulous low bun, was almost as golden blonde as that of Evelyn´s mother, before she had started to go grey, but her eyes were pale blue, cold and distant, unlike her own mother´s warm cerulean ones,  and her fine ruby red lips formed a scornful grin. She had a long black cape-like coat over a long dress in a peculiar shade similar to bottle green that Evelyn had rarely seen in fabric. The emsemble was, at best, unconventional, but the woman wore it with undeniable aplomb, a haughty elegance that gave her an air of aloof refinement, like she was an old Hollywood starlet that had just walked walked out of a photo taken on the set of her latest period film.

Evelyn was so taken aback by that bizarre apparition in Severus sitting room that it took her a while to notice his scowl had grown more somber. He looked over his shoulder at the blonde as if silently lecturing her for interfering in their conversation. Her grin grew wider, as her pale blue eyes looked on, ignoring Severus to foccus on Evelyn, as if she was appraising the quality of new curtains or a new decorative object...and finding it below her standards of quality.

“Well, Severus?” she insisted, in the perfectly posh and polished Queen´s English “Do be a gentleman, will you?”

He sighed, looking defeated.

“Evelyn...Narcissa Malfoy. Narcissa...Evelyn” he made the introductions begrungdingly, with a quick hand gesture, as if he wanted to get it all over with. Narcisa walked over to the door, followed by the soft ruffle of her dress and stood next to Severus

“I´m very pleased to meet you, Evelyn...” Evelyn noticed she smiled with her lips, but not with her eyes “Now, as much as I hate to be rude, my dear, Severus and I have some rather urgent matters to handle...if you don´t mind.”

Evelyn could feel a warm rush of blood running fast to her cheeks, but she wasn´t quite sure if from embarassment or anger. Probably both. For a moment she expected Severus to say something, but he stood silently, still wearing that egnimatic scowl on his face, his eyes avading hers. Well, as her mother would always tell her, a true lady knows that leaving gracefully is always preferable to lingering where she is not wanted.

“I do apologize for the intrusion” she smiled back, purposely adopting the sweetest tone she could muster “I was just on my way, as a matter of fact. Lovely to meet you as well, ma´am, have a nice evening.” Evelyn turned on her heels and walked away without sparing a word to Severus. Judging by how quickly he closed the dor behind her, he didn´t seem to mind it that much.

 

-------------------

 

For a “dead” man, Severus Snape definetly had an interesting social life. Not only did he routinely fraternize with his, admitely very atractive, muggle neighbour, now he was getting visits from hard on their luck wizarding socialites. Claire would be very interested in knowing what mother Malfoy was up to. Considering Narcissa had betrayed the Dark Lord in the foulest, most cowardly way, it was not surprising that she´d come crawling to Snape after Lucius had sent their dear boy to France. It was obvious what was her stand in the matter...It was left to discover wether Malfoy Manor was a house divided, or wheter all three Malfoys were plotting something.

A shame she´d probably be less interested in the little romance novel scene that was playing out before his eyes, the tall man smirked to himself. Wonder what that poor muggle was thinking when she found another woman in Severus´s house. She didn´t seem too pleased...Severus would have to come up a very good excuse for that... Alas, that was for another episode...Now he had an owl to send out.

Chapter Text

"Pray tell what the devil were you trying to accomplish with this ridiculous scene?!" Severus hissed as he slammed the door.

"Excuse me?! I was under the impression we were discussing something serious. Don´t get bent out of shape just because I put some muggle in her place.”

"Must I remind you  are currently in no position to put anyone on whatever your frivolous opinion considers to be their place?”

"All of this over a muggle, Severus? You really had us all fooled." she smiled wryly. Severus could almost hear his own jaw clench.

"I do not appreciate your tone, Narcisa. As many character flaws as you may have I´m sure stupidity is not among them."

Narcisa seemed caught off guard by his words, and Severus could tell she was struggling not to snap back at him. Prepotent as she might be, Narcisa knew she needed his help, and was not dumb enough to cross him.

"Very well...were were we?"

"You had just had an idea...Here´s to hoping it´s any better than anything I´ve had to hear from you this evening..."

…........................................

 

As soon as Evelyn closed her her living room door behind her the phone began to rang. She was very much inclined to let the answering machine handle it, if it wasn´t for the fact that she just remembered she had been expecting a call from her sister.

“Hello?” she almost growled into the receiver, startling herself with how aggressive that sounded.

“Evelyn? Jesus, what happened?” surely enough it was her sister.

“Oh, uh...Sorry, it´s nothing.”

“Yeah, right 'nothing', she says...What the hell bit you?! Let me guess, it´s either work or Severus?”

“What?! What do you mean 'either work or Severus', why does it have to be one or the other?”

“Well, after that romantic post-Halloween breakfast I´d think you´ve made some progress...did he go and do something stupid?”

“Jesus Lord, Caitlin! How many times do I have to tell you that Severus and I are just friends. He has every right to do whatever the hell he damn pleases with his spare time and...” she stopped midway, realizing what she had just said...WHY had she said that?

“So...it IS about Severus...What did he do?”

“Nothing, Severus did nothing! What the hell you´re getting at, Cat?”

“Still as terrible a liar as always, Linz”

“Ok, fine. It´s not something Severus did...exactly.”

“Come on...tell me what has he done.”

“It´s nothing...I just went over to his house and he had a very rude guest over and she pushed my buttons...No big deal really.”

“She? Did you just say 'she'?”

“Don´t go getting ideas, ok?”

“I´m not getting any ideas!”

“Yeah, right...”

“Who IS this woman, anyway?”

“I don´t know. Some posh socialite type I´ve never seen before.”

“Socialite type? Where did that come from? Isn´t Severus a hermit who´s always locked up at home and only ever interacts with you, because you obviously have a very specific fetish for awkward intellectuals?”

“Caitlin, will you please stop? And your guess is as good as mine. As soon as he introduced the two of us she told me to feck off, only no in so many words...And he just stood there. Needless to say I didn´t offer to stay and socialize...”

“She just sent you off like that?”

“As if she owned his house...”

“How did she look like?”

“How is that important?”

“Humour me...was she..you know...pretty?”

“She sort of looked a fashion model”

“Really?”

“Yeah, overdressed, thin, blonde and with a face like she´d just sucked a dozen exceedingly sour lemons.”

“It´s always some skinny, blonde bitch, ain´t it? Men...”

“I´m not jealous if that´s what you´re trying to get at...”

“You said it, not me.”

“Oh, do shut up, will you?”

…..............

It was close to 7:30 in the morning. It was the time Ms. Black usually left for work. Severus should probably have gone and apologized to her on the spot, but he couldn´t just leave Narcisa unattended or she´d make an even bigger scandal of it all. Still, there was no excuse for her childish behaviour and an apology had to be made, even if not by the offender. Evidently Narcisa would never “stoop so low” as to apologize to a Muggle...It never ceased to amaze him how even in the direst distress Narcisa Malfoy couldn´t quite shake off the signature haughtiness of the Blacks. None of them could really... Narcisa, Bellatrix, Sirius...They could all be thrown in the pits of hell and yet...a Black remained a Black. Severus smirked under his breath, leaning on the door frame and lighting a cigarette to warm himself up face the chilly breeze outside.

Evelyn was also a Black, he reminded himself. As a matter of fact,Severus could see that in her more and more. Worse still, he mused with a chuckle, she was at least three quarters Irish, a stubborn and fiery lot, if muggle history books were anything to go by. She didn´t have the quick temper the tired cliché assigned to her people, but neither was she one to take any abuse laying down...Evelyn Black had a way of telling people to fuck off in the gentlest terms that was, frankly put, quite delicious. He had had a taste of her bitting sweetness himself more than once. It had been quite the treat to see that rare talent directed at Narcisa Malfoy. Lucius´wife would never admnit, but it had hurt her to receive that amount of subtle contempt from a muggle.

Severus wondered what both Evelyn and Narcisa would say if they found out they were actually related. Cousins. Narcisa would surely have a fit. It was no small blessing that that was precisely the one Black trait Evelyn conspicuously lacked: the hystrionics. In fact one would be hard pressed to believe the affable dark-haired scholar and the conceited wife of one of the once-richest wizards in Britain shared a single strand of DNA. They couldn´t be more different if they had intentionally tried to be.

And yet, Severus had to admit, if you looked close enough...

Maybe it had been the healthy dosis of muggle blood that two generations had injected into her, or maybe it was simply the fact that she considerably less inbred than her wizarding relatives, but Evelyn Black somehow had managed to keep most of the best traits of the Blacks while avoiding most of the worst.  She had the dark and solemn beauty of the Blacks, but not nearly as much of their vanity, she had their inate elegance, but none of their haughtiness, their assertiveness without any of their tyranny... Surely enough she was irritatingly stubborn and proud just like every last of them, but her willfuness had been directed towards study and work, and her pride was mostly justified by actual achievements, which was more than he could say for any of the members of the magical branches of the family who had mostly made it far in school and life more through marriage and conections than actual merit. Maybe instead of marrying their cousins the Blacks should have tried marrying some muggles...Hybrid vigour was a scientifically proved way of improving genetics...and the wizading family line wouldn´t have come so close to extinction. Severus couldn´t decide wether it was funny or sad that the wizarding Blacks were on the verge of disappearing, shrowded in infamy, while the 'impure' branch Evelyn descended  from seemed to be perfectly happy and striving... Poetic justice, perhaps.

He put out his cigarrette on the doorframe as soon as he saw Evelyn come out from her house, carrying her usual multicoulored multitude of folders and bags. She made her way to her car so fast he almost had to run to get to her before she got inside and drove off.

“Miss Black? Can I have a moment please?”

“I´m dreadfully sorry, Severus, but I´m running late.” she spat without as much as looking at him, carelessly throwing her folders on the passenger seat.

“It´s about that unfortunate ecounter last night, I assure you...”

“I´d really rather not discuss that.”

“I understand and I agree you have every right to be upset about..”

“Actually, I don´t, and I´m not.”

“I´m sorry?”

“I showed up at a bad time, and I was told as much. That´s all there´s is to it. Now if you can excuse me...”

“Ms. Black, please. It´s simply that Narcisa is...”

“Narcisa was your guest and I was intruding. My parents happened to teach me manners...”

“Yes, Narcisa was my guest, but she had no right to treat you that way. You should know you are welcome to my house at any time you wish, and I will not have anyone...”

“Severus...” she looked like she was about to say something harsh but took a deep breath and paused before continuing “Ok, fine, Severus...apologies accepted. Now will you let me go?”

“I was under the impression you had something to talk to me about yesterday? If you´re running late now, maybe later we can...”

“Actually about that...I just wanted to tell you that  have a meeting with Fr. Thomas after work. I don´t know how long it will take, so you don´t have to bother to accompany me home today.” with that she got into the car and sped away not giving him any time to reply.

 

…...................................

 

The conversation was probably serious. Fr. Thomas didn´t receive her in the small and cozy rectory where they usually talked over tea and cakes, but in a meeting room in the main church building. It was an ample and gloomy room that smelled of mothballs, paper and incense, with a long table and wooden chairs on its center and cabinets filled with books, papers and registers covering the right wall and a few religious paintings decorating the opposite one. A large ebony scuplture of Christ hanging from the cross looked down gloomly on the table with deep empty eyes on his long angular face.  

“Sorry to keep you waiting, my dear.” he told her, pouring coffee from a thermos flask into two plastic cups. “Mrs.Murphy came in for a surprise confession...It had been a while, actually.”

“No problem at all, I´m early myself.”

“I apologize in advance for the coffee. I´d have made it fresh but we just ran out of ground beans... You take sugar, right?”

“Yes, please...Well...You said you talked to James?” she asked, trying not to mind the bad coffee too much.

“Yes, I did. As you had predicted, James is rather hesitant to discuss his private matters, as one should expect from a lad in his situation...”

“Tell me about it...His mother is no better, I must say”

“I´m afraid it will take him time to open up, but...he seems to trust you. He told me himself, he wouldn´t have come to meet me if you hadn´t asked him to do so. I think you have a good chance of reaching out to him...”

“From your mouth to God´s ears, Father...”

“I had no illusions of being able to get him to talk about the issues that are really troubling him, but  we did discuss other things. James is a good young man under that whole rebel act.”

“That he is. I think if he had more activities to occupy his time and find some sense of purpose...”

“About that...Were you aware he´s a quite gifted musician?”

“Oh, yes! He can compose too, you know? Tancey showed me some of his works, a couple 80s-rock style power ballads, very good stuff actually. I´ve been wanting to ask him for a copy of some but I´m a bit afraid he´ll get upset if he knows Tancey showed me those...and my piano is back in Ireland, so I can´t make much use of music sheets anyway...”

“You have a piano?” Fr. Thomas´face seemed to light up.

“Well, my mother does, actually...It belonged to my father, now she has it.” she smiled, sadly, memories suddenly washing over her “Not to brag or anything but dad was a gifted musician and singer. After he came back home from college in Dublin he and some friends started a little amateur music group... Traditional Irish music and all that. He compiled traditional songs and arranged them on the piano and they performed in family get-togheters and local events...”

“So I take that you can play the piano, then”

“Not expertly, but my father did give us all piano and singing lessons. My brother was quite better than me, God rest his soul. It was a bit of a family tradition, so to speak.”

“That...that actually gives me an idea...” Fr. Thomas has a huge smile on his face now“As you know James can play the guitar...”

“Yes, I´ve heard him; he´s actually very good. And he taught himself, I should note.”

“Precisely... I was wondering how James would feel about maybe accompanying our choir. We also have a piano, in bad need of tunning, but it still works...I wonder what James would think of maybe...learning to play it? Since he could teach himself to play the guitar, I don´t see why he can´t learn the piano...It should help him compose his own songs too...You can help him, if you can spare the time”

…..................

“Heeey? You in there?” Tancey snapped her fingers on his face, startling him

“What?” he grumbled

“You´re planning on sitting out here forever?” she sat by his side on the front steps of the school building. Most other students were long gone by now.

“What about you, what are you still doing here?”

“I wanted to return some books I borrowed from Ms. Black, but she´s gone. The secretary told me she left earlier today...”

“Did she? Why?”

“I don´t know...Why you´re asking?”

“I think Ms.Black is up to something...”

“Up to something?” she smirked “Paranoid much?”

“She had me meet with Fr. Thomas yesterday...”

“Fr. Thomas?! Whatever for? You need an exorcism or something?”

“Ha.Ha. You´re so funny. And yeah...she asked me to drop by the church,´cause he wanted to talk to me...When I got there he asked me these nonsense questions about my music and whatnot...”

“Maybe he needs help with the church choir” she laughed

“I rather have the exorcism... I just hope she didn´t leave early to go talk to my mother.”

“There´s a way you can find out...”

“Which is?”

“Well, since I couldn´t find her to return the books and she told me she needed them...we could go to her house to return them...If she´s there is because she hasn´t gone to talk to your mother, if she´s not, we can ask around...Wasn´t that bloke she brought to the party her neighbour? ”

“You know where she lives?”

“Spinner´s End...”

“You´re bonkers? Nobody lives in Spinner´s End.” James used to go to Spinner´s End with some other lads to break into the abandoned houses to smoke and drink. They had stopped after a few of them had become convinced the whole street was haunted a few months earlier. James himself had seen some strange events. but he didn´t believe ghosts so he never thought much of it...Still, Spinner´s End was, at best, a dump. “Ms. Black can´t live in that hole!”

“She does. She told me so herself. So, want to come or not?”

 

…...............

 

As her car took the turn that led into Spinner´s End, Evelyn felt relaxed. Fr. Thomas idea was actually very good. Some days before Severus had told her she had to help James find something to do with his life, something that could get him away from his father and the whole dysfunctional situation he had to endure back home and maybe direct him towards a better future. Maybe Fr. Thomas had found the solution. If James spend more time in church, playing his guitar, learning the piano, composing and refining his musical skills...maybe he could find a path for himself?

It would be good for her too...How long had it been since she had played the piano? Months...her father was still alive last time...She hadn´t had the heart to touch the keyboard since he had passed on, and that old relic of his remained untouched on the corner of her mother´s sitting room. Months had passed...maybe it was time for her to try her hand at it again...Her father would be pleased if he knew she was teaching someone else what he had taught her.

Evelyn stopped the car and remained inside for a while, debating wether she should knock on Severus´door. She was dying to tell him about Fr. Thomas´ idea but...she hadn´t exactly been very nice to the man that morning. She wasn´t even sure why she had treated him so poorly...Maybe she should head over and apologize...But what would she say? “I´m sorry for being rude to you for reasons I can´t explain even to myself, so please don´t think I´m completely insane”...That probably wasn´t going to go over particularly well. She should sleep on it. In the morning, with a fresh mind, she´d talk to him.

Having decided that, Evelyn stepped out of the car.

As she opened her front door, a sharp pain shot through her skull as she felt something pull her hair so hard her neck snapped back violently, making her lose her balance and fall back against something..someone. Someone strong enough they could single-handedly pull her whole body weight back by her hair only, she realized in horror. Nothing but a scream fuelled by all the air she had in her lungs could escape her lips. She felt an arm grab her around her torso, before a large gloved hand covered her mouth, fingertips digging into her cheeks. Her body struggled almost without her control, as if her every muscle was instinctively fighting to get away, her feet kicking back, heels first, and elbows hitting back as hard as she could against what she assumed was her attacker´s chest and stomach. But the person holding her felt like a giant, the arm around the torax nearly crushing her ribs. The hand covering her mouth moved away and she hoped screaming again might help...

Severus had to be home. Maybe he´d hear her...

Then she felt something cold against her throat. She brought her hands up to try and get it away but all she managed to do was cut her fingers...

...a knife.

Before she could think of what to do, Evelyn felt herself be dragged inside.

…........................

Watching Snape´s antics with his attractive muggle neighbour had been quite interesting for a while, but after the All Hallow´s Eve event, everything had returned to the same monotonous routine. Narcisa´s visit had been somewhat entertaining, and no doubt it would of interest to Claire. He had dutifully reported that the day before in his latest letter. But returning to his usual hiding spot on the vacant house in front of Snape´s, he soon realized life was about to fall back on the same pattern of hours upon hours of watching completely mundane and inconsequential everyday activities that provided no useful information, and much less any entertainment.

How wrong he had been.

As Snape´s neighbour´s red car stopped in front of her house he was nearly calling it a day. He was so bored, in fact, that he had started to get slumberous...Which probably accounted for the fact that he never saw that indinstinct shadow approach behind the woman.

It all happened too fast for his eyes to catch every detail. He had heard her scream before even noticing anything was amiss. When he looked up there it was: a tall hooded man had grabbed her from behind. She struggled, kicked and screamed like a captured animal.

But she suddenly went quiet. Then he dragged her inside.

Chapter Text

Evelyn tried to drag her feet with all the strenght she had. Outside there was some chance Severus could hear her, or that she could run...Inside, she´d be trapped. But the man was much stronger and bigger than her; big and strong enough to almost lift her off the ground with a single arm, his free hand pressing the blade against her throath. If she trashed too much the blade would sink into her...She grabbed at his wrist, vainly trying to move the blade away, to give herself some leeway to move, she kept on screaming for help as loud as she could...I was all pointless, she got dragged in anyway, pushed and pulled like a ragdoll.

As soon as she felt he had pushed her through the front door, Evelyn made a last ditch attempt at trying to get away: she stomped on his foot, heel first as hard as her leg muscles would allow her. She felt her stilletto heel sink into his foot before everything spun around her. It took her a while to get her bearings: her attacker had let out a loud yell before pushing her away, the pain on his foot momentarily bewildering him.

Evelyn looked around. He was still between her and the front door. She couldn´t see the knife, and there was no way to know wether he had dropped it or not. She couldn´t make it past him...The backdoor. If she could reach the backyard and jump over the fence to Severus´side...She had jumped enough fences in her childhood to be confident it would work. Before the man could get his balance back, she pulled the coffee table between them, turning it to make it so that he´d have to jump or push it away before reaching her. It might buy her a small advantage. Surelly enough he pushed the table away to get to her, just as she made for the kitchen door, kicking her heels off.

She should have kept them on.

As she took off her shoes, Evelyn lost balance for a second, almost falling. It was enough for him to catch up. She didn´t see how he did it, but he was on her again. He pulled her arm and spun her around, slamming her against the wall. Trapped once more, Evelyn reached for a small stone statue she kept on her book shelf and tried to hit him over the head with it. He simply stopped her hand midway, grabbing and twisting her arm.

She then felt her body being flung through the room...the side her head hit something hard...

…..........

Severus should have known something was amiss. Ciáran had been pacing about his living room, obviously distraught. Miss Black´s cat had come to his house as he usually did when his owner was away, but he´d been restless all day, and as the time approached that she should be back home from work it only got worse. The wee beast had started to desperatly meow and scratch at the door at around 5pm, half an hour before she was to be back to pick him up.

At first, Severus had chalked it up to the usual excentricity of cats. Felines where known for not being the most predictable creatures in Earth, and Ciáran was particularly...spirited. But when he heard a loud piercing scream comr from outside...he knew something was, indeed, very wrong. A second scream came immediately after the first and Severus´s brain went into full alert.

A multitude of thoughts, none of them pleasant, coursed through his mind as he instinctively looked for his wand before rushing out. He had told her not to come home alone. He had told her, insisted even, that he wanted to keep her safe. But she was stubborn, stubborn and hot headed. She didn´t think anything of Mitchel as being a threat, she tought she could handle him with just an official complaint and a shrug. He should have hexed the bastard. As the cabinet where he kept his wand refused to open for a few long seconds, he hoped to himself that it was indeed Mitchel.

In the small eternity that it took for him to finally make it out of his front door another possibility filled him with dread...Severus was sure the Lestranges wouldn´t come after him any time soon. Not without Claire or Dimitri backing them up. What if his calculations were wrong? It wouldn´t be the first time. If that was the case then...why would they come after her?...Hell, why not? You should always hit a man where it hurt more, and Severus didn´t care much about himself, right now. She was another matter entirely...

Her door was wide open and the lights were out but he could hear more screaming and an unholly racket coming from inside. There was no time to look for the lightswitch...Secrecy be damned...

“LUMOS MAXIMA!”

A fountain of light filled the room to reveal a dark, hulking figure standing in the middle of it. He, for Severus immediately realized it was a man, stood still, dumbstruck. Severus´eyes, sharp as he had trained them to be through years of spying, immediately told him his worst fear had not, in fact, come true...Trainers, jeans, a hooded sweatshirt and a knife...This man was no wizard, but a muggle. That wasn´t what troubled him, however...It was the sight of a female form  laying limp on the floor...Evelyn Black...

“AVA...” he stopped himself midsentence. He couldn´t do this.As much as the rage running fast and hot trough his veins blurring his mind and judgement told him to, he couldn´t. He bit back the curse, quickly adopting an alternative plan. “EXPELLIARMUS”

The knife went flying across the room, landing somewhere behind the sofa, as the man fell squarely on his arse, frantically scrambling away, trying unsuccessfuly to get back on his feet. Severus couldn´t see his face, hidden behind some scarf of sorts...But he could see his eyes...And they were filled with the most abject terror...

“Good” he tought, walking forward in long strides.

Finally, the man managed to get himself off the floor, crawling on his hands and knees, struggling to get away as fast as his panic would allow him to, shrieking in horror and stumbling on everything, knocking furniture and objects down on his wake. Severus was half tempted to practice a few curses on him, but there was no time for that...Not when he didn´t know the state of Evelyn, still unconscious on the floor. He had to incapacitate this man and quickly. As the hooded man tried to go for the kitchen door, probably trying to escape through the back, Severus blocked his way, moving a table with a flick of his wand.

Desperation gave the man some measure of courage: once he realized there was no way out and Severus stood between him and the front door, his only possible way out, he charged forward. Severus stepped aside letting him fall to his face, possibly breaking some facial bones, if the cracking noise he heard was anything to go by. Severus could thinks of a few dozen spells that would have solved this in a clean and quick manner, but he couldn´t use deadly force on a muggle, no matter how the idea seemed appealing...He raised his wand once more, but the proximity to the door had given his target his energy back and he found use of his legs once more... Just as well, Severus thought...Chasing him wasn´t his main priority right now. As the man rushed out the door like a bat out of hell, Severus turned on the lights and rushed to Evelyn´s side.

She was laying on her stomach, out cold. He carefully turned her over, gathering her in his arms as if she were a broken porcelain doll too delicate to handle without breaking, carefully craddling her head to his chest, hoping that his moving her wouldn´t cause further harm. There was a nasty cut above her eyebrow which bled profusely...as head wounds tend to, even when they´re not particularly serious, he told himself, trying not to think much of it...In any case, it was a head injury...Passing out after a head injury was never a good sign. He put the thought aside and decided to focus on what he could do for now. Remembering her attacker had a knife on him, Severus frantically looked for any open wound. There were no other cuts but what he did found gave him a sinking feeling into his stomach: her arms had red marks on them, her knees were badly scratched, her blouse was half open and the skirt partly torn. There had been no time to do anything other than bash her head to render her unconscious, but the mere thought of what could have happened made him queasy. Severus could feel his voice tremble as he murmured the incantation that should heal the cut on her forehead...The soft song of the vulnera senetur came out broken from his lips, steeped in thick panic...It didn´t seem to work

“Evelyn...talk to me...”

…...............

“I still can´t believe she lives in Spinner´s End.” James grumbled as they approached the crossroad that led to Spinner´s End

“I know, I wouldn´t have believed it if she hadn´t told me herself. I even asked her why she lived there, she said her grandfather left her a house there or something like that”

“That´s some inheritance...That´s a dangerous place to live...”

“You should know, isn´t that where you and those rotten wankers used to go when you were up to no good...I´m glad that stopped...Why DID it stop anyway?”

“Stupid Max Brent was convinced Spinner´s End was haunted...He kept saying  some 'invisible force' knocked him on his arse. 'Invisible force' he said it exactly like this like one of those wankers who hunt ghosts in those American tv shows”

“So that´s why you didn´t want to come here? Because is haunted? I tought you didn´t believe in such things.”

“I don´t! I don´t wanna come here on my own because there´s people selling drugs and God knows what else in those old shacks by the mill”

“Some juvenile delinquent you are...The worse you do is smoking pot and doing some grafitti on abandoned houses and your mother thinks you´re ripe for the jail house. If she knew she only needed a ghost to get you in line...”

“Tancey I...” James had an indignant answer for her teasing but it got cut short as someone came running their way and, on trying to make it between the two, bumped on both, tossing Tancey to the groud.

“HEY YOU! YOU´RE BONKERS?!” James yelled, helping his friend to her feet

“James...James!” she pulled on his sleeve, suddenly scared

“What?”

“He was coming from Spinner´s End”

His eyes widened from the sudden realization of what she was implying.

“You go check on Miss Black.” he barked before running away from her, following the direction of the man who had just passed them.

“JAMES, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

“JUST GO!” he yelled back not giving her time to react. Grunting in frustration, Tancey ran in the opposite direction, towards Spinner´s End.

 

…..............

Tancey ran as fast as she could. When she finally made into Spinner´s End, she saw the lights on and the door ajar on one of the houses. She quickly made her way down the street, glancing at the numbers atop of the doors. Surely enough that house was Miss Black´s, the number 12. She entered without announcing herself to find the room in complete disarray and a man kneeling in the middle of it craddling something in his arms. Soon she realized that was the man Ms. Black had introduced to them at the Halloween movie festival and what he was craddling in his arms was Miss Black herself.

“Constance? What are you doing here?” he sounded surprise, but seemed too concerned about Miss Black to pay much attention to her.

“I came to...”she stammered “What happened?”

“Quick, find the phone. I can´t wake her up, we need an ambulance.”

“Was it...that man?” she asked, frantically trying to find a phone in the middle of the mess. “The one who just ran past us?”

“What do you mean 'us'” He asked, carefully leaving Evelyn on ground to help the girl.

“Me and James”

“James? Where is he,?”

“He ran after him” she told him blankly

“WHAT? Fuck, just what we needed!” he rushed past her

“Where are you going?”

“To get that idiot friend of yours back! You call emergency and wait with her. If she wakes up you try to keep her awake for as long as you can, but don´t move her!”

….............

Oh, muggles...Always so entertaining...

Even more entertaining sight was to see Severus Snape bent out of shape on account of that woman, he tought, leaning against the window, lazily following the night´s events. So some muggle had broken into her house, small surprise in a place with Cokeworth´s reputation for criminal activity...Then in came rushing Sir Galahad to save his lady. If only that poor muggle criminal had known he had just had the misfortune to face one of the most powerful wizards in Britain...Remarkable restraint Snape had shown, not outright killing him.

He had tought the show was over, when a muggle girl entered the scene...There would be act II, then, he mused, watching as Snape made his way out of the house and rushed down the street, swiftly taking on he form of a Raven.

…........................

James´ pursuit had been fruitless. He had kept up with the fleeing man well until the bridge and almost had him within arm´s reach. But the man had hopped on an old piece of rubish motorcycle that was waiting for him by the bridge, and there was no way to get him unless James could grow wings. At least he had managed to get a good look at him...He was sure he had seen that...

“What the hell were you thinking, running after that maniac?” A cutting, hissing voice came from behind James, as he felt someone yank him by the collar of the jacket and spin him around roughly.

“I lost him him!” the boy yelped, more surprised than angered. Wasn´t this the bloke that had come with Ms. Black to the Halloween party? Where had he come from? James never saw or heard him approach.

“Good thing you did! That lunatic just assaulted your teacher and you go chasing him like some dimwit with a hero complex! I have enough to worry about without you getting yourself killed, you dunderhead!”

“What did he do to her?"

Severus didn´t dignify his question with an answer, choosing instead to just drag the lad along. James wiggled himself out of his grip, but followed him anyway.

“Snape! That´s your name, right? I saw him!”

“We all did, you want a medal?”

“No I really did see him!”

“His face you mean?” Severus stopped and turned around.

“Yes. I mean, no, I saw...” James stumbled on his words, trying to put togheter a coherent sense while running out of breath.

“Great.” Severus rolled his eyes and walked away “Let´s go. I had to leave your friend all alone with Evelyn back in the house.”

James kept on trying to explain himself, but Snape kept on walking, forcing him to follow, flustered and short of breath. They arrived back at Spinner´s End in a hurry and James tried to get him to listen one last time, but he wouldn´t.

“Snape, I...”

“Just shut your gob for now, lad!”

“But that window...” James stood for a moment, staring at one of the windows of one of the abandoned houses that stood ominously around them...

He must have been seeing things...

 

…..............

“She´s coming to!” Tancey announced as soon as the two made their way in. Evelyn was mumbling softly as her eyes flutered, half-open.

“Keep on holding her head steady” he ordered the girl, kneeling beside them.

“Severus...” Evelyn slurred, obviously confused.

“Talk to me, Evelyn...” he begged, hoping she´d be coherent at least. But, as usual, Severus had underestimated her. As soon as she managed to get her eyes to open, she looked around and sat up almost as if nothing had happened.

“What are you two doing here?” she shot at the two youngsters, still slurring but certainly not confused anymore.

“Let´s not worry about this now. Now you have to stay down. You were hit in the head, and we don´t know if...”

“I´m perfectly fine, Severus, but these two...” she immediately brought her hand up to the open gash Severus had been too incompetent to heal with magic, wincing in pain. “God, my head...”

“That´s it, we need to get you to a hospital” as if on cue, he heard sirens approaching...”Well, finally...”

 

…............

 

“She can give a statement later.” Severus barked at the police officer who stood next to Evelyn´s bed as a nurse finished her stitches. They were waiting for her to be moved to a different room to get a CT scan and screen for any possible brain injuries or broken bones, and this insolent muggle thought nothing of barging in demanding a statement. Muggle authorities...Just as useless as wizarding ones, and considerably more brutish. Cokeworth officials managed to be even worse than average, somehow...

“Excuse me, Mr...?”

“Snape.”

“Are you a family member?”

“Excuse me BOTH of you gentlemen!” the nurse seemed almost as annoyed by the officer as Severus himself “The patient is about to undergo a CT scan, so nobody will be answering any questions now.”

“Very well” the office let out, indifferently “I´ll just talk to the kids then”

“Not without their parents presence you won´t” Evelyn, who had been quiet thus far, stated harshly, her eyes narroying. Severus knew what she was afraid of...James had a bit of a record with the police. Vandalism and minor offenses but still... If the lad was put in the scene of a violent assault, even as a perfectly innocent witness, God only knew what his father would do to him.

“Constance has already called her parents, and they´re on their way. Don´t worry.” Severus assured her, then turning to the officer “I´m sure we can wait till they get here.”

“Sure, sure” the officer strolled outside nonchalantly as the nurse shooed them away. Without skipping a beat he turned back to Severus again as soon as they were out in the corridor “Mr. Snape, is it your testimony that...”

Severus sighed, looking over his shoulder to see Evelyn being wheeled away to another room. James and Constance were sitting near the front desk waiting for her mother to show up accompanied by Angela and Matthew. Severus had called them before to ask if they could drive the two teenagers to the hospital, as Severus went with Evelyn in the ambulance. There was nothing else he could do but give the bloody statement once again to this badge-decorated fool.

…...........

 

They had scanned, checked, prodded and poked her everywhere just to tell her what she already knew: aside from the fact that she had a raging headache, as expected from someone who had banged their head against a coffee table, a sprained wrist, a cut on her forehead and soreness all over her body, she was fine. They still wanted her to stay overnight, “to be safe”.

Then that obnoxious police officer had returned to get her statement.

A statement. Easier said than done. How do you even begin to describe some random stranger jumping on you as you return home from work, in the middle of the street, violating the sanctity of your house, beating and hurting you for no discernible reason, if there was a “reason” possible for such a thing? How do you describe the shattering your entire sense of safety all in a matter of seconds?

How do you begin to describe complete helplessness?

How the hell had that happened?  35 years on God´s green Earth and never had she found herself in this position. An “assault victim”...Evelyn wasn´t used to being a victim... She let out a frustrated sigh.

“Excuse me...” she heard Severus walk in, his voice, sounding sweeter, so much sweeter than it ever did before, to the point of being hard to recognise “The nurse told me Officer Selfrighteous Wanker was done with you.”

“Not a moment too soon”

“He´s pestering your students now...Mr. and Mrs. Francis are there, tough.”

“You didn´t call James´parents, did you?”

“No. Constance´s parents seem well capable of handling it. They´re taking them both home too...Your friend Angela just left to get a change of clothes and some supplies for you”

“Oh, God...I´ve disrupted everybody´s night, haven´t I?”

“You did no such thing.”

“I feel so fecking stupid...”

“Enough of that now...”

“Thank you...”

“Whatever for?”

“If it hadn´t been for you, I might have...”

“I said 'enough of that'...You need rest. I hear the doctor thinks you should stay for observation”

“Yeah, that´s not going to happen.”

“Evelyn, please, don´t be obstinate.”

She gave him a bizarre look before laughing softly

“Pray tell what´s so funny?”

“You just called me 'Evelyn'”

“And...?”

“ 'Evelyn.' Not 'Miss Black'” she mimicked his deep voice and mancunian accent so exagerately he couldn´t help buy smirk “I tought I had heard you call me that before, when I was coming to, but I imagined it was just the head injury making me have auditory hallucinations...But you did call me 'Evelyn'”

“Well, it is your name.”

“So it is...And look what it took for you to finally use it. I fear to imagine what it will take for you to start caling me 'Lyn' like all my other friends do...”

“Don´t make this sort of jokes...”

“Well, I guess we have to wait for Angie to come back with my stuff so I can finally go home.”

“The doctor AND the police said you can´t go home.”

“Well, I AM going home.”

“We´re in a bit of hurry, aren´t we, Ms...Black?” The door behind him opened to let in a short, graying woman in a white coat and thick glasses, holding a clipboard that must have had Evelyn´s file on it. She immediately recognised her as the doctor who had been tending to her. Severus stepped aside and let her approach the bed, visibly relieved. He was probably hoping she´d have more success than him in convincing Evelyn to be a good, obedient patient.

“I´m in no hurry...I just don´t see the point of me staying here. My exams came back fine, didn´t they?”

“Yes, yes they did. But we can never be too safe when dealing with head injuries. Your friends reported that you were unconscious for quite a while... It´s wiser to keep you in observation for the time being, just in case.”

“Well, I can go home and if anything is off, I´ll come back then...I´ll just sign a document taking full responsibility...” It was quite enough that she had been attacked in her own house...She wasn´t about to let that bloody eejit keep her from going back home...

“Ms. Black, I can´t keep you here against your will, but as your doctor I strongly urge you to reconsider.”

“Duly noted, doctor, but you still can´t convince me to stay...”

“May I ask, is there anybody who can take care of you? Because given your injuries and the head trauma, I don´t think it´s a good idea to be on your own...”

“I can handle myself just fine...” Evelyn almost laughed at herself...Just like she could handle herself just fine when that man jumped her at her own doorstep and did as he pleased until Severus stepped in...Yeah, she truly knew how to handle herself. Now everybody was treating her like a bloody child...Evelyn refused to cry, but the sheer frustration was almost enough to make tears well up in her eyes...She lived alone and no, she wasn´t safe. Had probably never been but only now she realized it...If it wasn´t for Severus she could have died and nobody would even find her until it was too late...She should be able to handle herself, she always had...She never had to rely on anybody for anything, and yet here she was...requiring a nanny just to be allowed to go back to her own house. “I just want to go home...”

“That officer said your house still needs to be checked for evidence” Severus pointed out matter of factly. Evelyn had forgotten about that detail... “He also said it might not be safe to go back there so soon, and I tend to agree, as a matter of fact...”

“Your friend just arrived with your personal effects, maybe you can stay with her? It would be safer to have someone to look after you if you insist on leaving” the doctor offered, obviously not willing to debate her for the rest of the night.

“Angela? Absolutely not. This is the last week she has with Matthew before he has to return to work, and I´ve spoiled it enough for them.”

“Fine, then” Severus grumbled, approaching her bed “If you absolutely must be that stubborn, then I may have a good enough solution”

“As long as I get to leave the hospital...”

“...You´re coming to my house.”

Chapter Text

Evelyn had protested, but what use would that be? Severus was right: she couldn´t go back to her house, at least not until the police was done sweeping it for evidence, and since she didn´t want to bother Angela any more than she already had, the only option left was going to his house. She had nowhere else to go, really... Even if it had been his idea, Evelyn still felt uneasy about it. In a single night Severus had not only rescued her from a violent assault, but also accompanied her to the hospital and through every single medical procedure, dealt with the authorities, with the hospital staff, the nurses and doctors, made sure James and Tancey were safe and assisted by responsible adults and called Angela and Matthew, so they could take care of anything he might have overlooked ... It was downright abusive to expect him to take care of her for the rest of the night as well.

As much as she didn´t want to admit, Evelyn did need assistance. Her doctor was right: her head hurt and she had lost consciousness for quite a while...She couldn´t be alone for now; there was still the risk of brain injury, loss of counsciouness or balance and God only knew what else...Her sister had told her of many head injury cases in which people were seemingly fine, only to collapse hours later, sometimes even fatally. Evelyn was in no position to reject Severus´offer. Particularly not when he phrased it in the form of an order. She knew Severus wasn´t prone to negotiating. He was rigid to the point of being authoritarian...probably a remnant of his teaching days...Evelyn didn´t really hold it against him, as she could be quite bossy herself. The few disagreements they had had in the month or so in which they had known each other had always ended in very close ties after endeless verbal sparring...But not today. She simply had no energy to protest. She was tired, frustrated and in pain. For once it would be good to leave the decisions to somebody else...and to be honest, it was comforting that it was Severus...If she already trusted him before, now she´d gladly leave him in charge of her life if needed be.

She just needed a good night of sleep.

Too exhausted to be hard-headed, Evelyn simply got into Angela´s car and they all drove back to Spinner´s End.

 

------------

 

Severus looked on as Angela and Matthew bid Evelyn goodbye, showering her with advice and concern. It was quite remarkable how she could make friends so fast and easily. When he had called Miss Holt, she had pretty much flown to help. One would imagine they had been friends for decades, instead of colleagues for barely a month. Matthew had been just as forthcoming, even tough he had seen Evelyn maybe a handful of times, if that much. Her two students went without mention, Severus could see the fear and concern in their eyes. Even Severus, in spite of himself and his futile attempts of resisting, had to admit, there was something about Evelyn Black that made it nearly impossible to be indifferent to her. Maybe there really were people in the world who could naturally inspire deep affection and draw others in with the same irresitible power stars could make planets orbit around them...Severus had met one such person in his life thus far and he thought he wouldn´t live to encounter another ...Evelyn Black, as it was becoming a habit of hers, had proved him wrong...

Matthew gave him the bag Angela had packed for Evelyn, offering once more to come over if needed. Severus reassured him that it wouldn´t be necessary, and the couple finally drove off. Severus opened the front door to let Evelyn in, offering his arm for support. She accepted  it. He wasn´t sure if she really needed the help or was just too tired to protest.

“What a night...” she sighed, flatly, once they were inside.

“I´ve had worse...”

“I won´t even ask...”

“Don´t. Trust me on this, you don´t want to know...

“It´s past 10...” she stated dully, looking up at the clock on the mantle.

“You must be tired...I´ll show you your room now if you like...”

“Actually...I really need a shower...”

 

…....

 

Severus led her upstairs, keeping a featherlight hand on her back as they climbed up the narrow and steep staircase, as if fearing she might collapse at any moment. He was obviously exagerating, but she didn´t say anything. Evelyn wouldn´t admit it outloud but that light, nearly imperceptible touch was comforting in a most strange way, and she wasn´t quite willing to let it go. The events of the night had shaken her so deeply that she´d cling to anything that could give her back some of that sense of  safety that had been so crudely shattered..Regardless of how silly the notion in on itself might seem. So, she simply decided to allow Severus to treat her like the invalid she (hoped) she wasn´t. Once upstairs, he led her to one of the rooms, opening the door and letting her in, being careful to stay behind, standing at the door, as if silently telling her that he´d only go in with her permission. The poor man was obviously walking on egg shells.

“Severus, could you bring the bag in, please?” she asked, making a pathetic gesture to her own sprained wrist, as if to justify the request, but really, it was just for the sake of getting him to step in. He quietly walked into the room and set the bag on the bed, a very simple iron framed bed that looked at least a few decades old. In fact, much like the rest of the house, this room seemed frozen somewhere between the late 60s and the mid-70s: the geometric pattern on the pale green wallpaper had faded nearly into oblivion and posters of a few Protopunk and Punk bands and football pennants were the only decorations on the walls: The Who, The Cure, Joy Division, Sex Pistols; Cokeworth FC and the national team. As far as funiture went, aside from the bed there was a tall bookcase that looked about to collapse under the weight of more books than it was designed to contain, a fair share of which looked like school manuals and textbooks, an old dunk on a corner with more books piled over it and next to it a very rickety looking set of desk and chair.

The room looked like that of a child. The footbal memorabilia and a handful of toys on a small shelf over the bed, one action figure and a couple metal cars, made it clear that it had been a little boy. Above thhis shelf, a bizzare looking banner was hung: deep green with dark grey details, with a crest drawn on it, and inside the crest a snake rendered in a lighter shade of green, rampant as if about to attack. She couldn´t identify what team that could possibly be, assuming it was a team, even though she fancied herself quite a connaisseur of football, from watching so much of it on the telly with her father and bother growing up. Most interestingly, the room looked pristinelly clean and well organized for a bedroom that apparently hadn´t been used since  around the time Ian Curtis was still alive....as if it had been carefully kept that way.

“I know is not ideal” he told her, almost apologetic

“It´s perfect Severus, don´t worry....This room...if you don´t mind me asking...”

“It was mine. Well, when my parents were still alive, that is. After my mother passed on I moved into their old bedroom and never quite did anything with this one. I would have given you the other bedroom if there had been enough time to prepare it properly, there´s more space and a bigger bed but...I´m afraid I´ve turned into a bit of a hoarder over the years, so you wouldn´t exactly be much at ease there...” he smirked somberly.

“Severus, I told you not to worry. You´ve gone well out of your way for me as is. The bedroom is perfectly fine.”

“For what´s worth I can assure you the bed is comfortable. Anyway, I´ll leave you alone. Bathroom is the last door to your right. I can get you a towel or anything you need...”

“I don´t think that will be necessary” she smiled at him, and started to unpack the bag. “I think Angela had everything covere...Oh, no...”

“Is there anything wrong?”

“Oh, no, it´s nothing important” she sighed, momentarily forgeting he was there and starting to ramble to herself.“I think she forgot to pack me something to sleep in. Well, makes sense, she thought I´d be spending the night at the hospital, so of course I wouldn´t need a nightgown, the hospital would give me one. Oh, well, I suppose I´ll just sleep in my clothes...Severus?”

He had disappeared. She stood dumbfounded for a few seconds before he returned with a pile of neatly folded linens and wordlessly set them on the bed. She looked down at it to see it was a bedding set, crisp white and smelling of freshly cleaned. On top of it there were two other articles of different fabric, both grey in color, that she didn´t quite identify at first.

“It should be comfortable enough to sleep in for tonight...” he told her quietly.

Evelyn picked the first grey article up and unfolded it. It was a male nightshirt, its color faded by time and use. It was as methodically clean as the bedding set, but the softness of the fabric and a few threadbare spots indicated quite a bit of wear. The second was an equally clean-yet-worn-out fleece robe, surely meant to be worn with the nightshirt.

“Thank you, Severus...You didn´t have to...” How many times had she thanked him tonight?...

“I´ll leave you be.You know where the bathroom is, and I believe you have everything you need. The doctor said you could still get vertigo, so do be careful with wet tiles and whatnot. I´ll be downstairs, call me if anything.”. His tone had shifted back to his usual matter-of-fact, cold one and once he was done with his laundry list of recommendations, he left without giving her the time to answer.

Evelyn stood where she was, holding his nightshirt, slightly confused by his abrupt change in demeanour. It shouldn´t be surprising, though. Severus was naturally guarded and withdrawn, she could only imagine how bothersome it could be to have an unexpected house guest. If anything it only made his gesture all the more meaningful. She looked down at his worn nightshirt, cracking a smile...She shouldn´t  expect an excentric hermit to wear regular pajamas to bed, after all...An old nightshirt that could have been designed for a Mr. Scrooge costume seemed to, indeed, fit him better. Absent-mindedly, she brought it to her face. It smelled of soap, not cigarettes and oak moss, she noted, with a smasl pang of disappointment.

-----------

Severus suddenly felt his body getting heavy. The adrenaline rush had run its course, so now his muscles relaxed into an aching state of rest...What a night...It was barely 11pm and he felt drained...Sure, his body was tired, but his mind was still racing.

Fortunately it hadn´t been this time...But it would come eventually...There would come a time when the remaining Death Eaters would come after him... Sure, he was “officially” dead, but Severus knew better than to take solace in that. Rodolphus was as obssessive and paranoid as his, thankfully late, wife had been. If Draco was right and the Lestranges had found their way to Claire and Dimitri, it was only a matter of time before he could convince them that coming after the traitor would suit their plans. After all, he needed them if he wanted to get to the dagger, and Severus knew that was what he wanted...

It was a matter of time before they came after him...And, only now he realized, Miss Evelyn Teresa Black would be right there, right next door when that happened, blissfully unaware of it all: wizards, wars, spionage, murders...Even the fact that she was, through an amazing series of twists of fate, related to it all. It was almost funny that this muggle woman who lived right next door to him was, in fact, related to the maniac who would love nothing more than to murder Severus as soon as he got the chance...Small world.

For now he had nothing to worry...Today´s events, while terrifying enough, were nothing compared to what could happen if she was caught in the middle of a Death Eater revenge plot that could be just waiting to unfold. Severus was used to always think in terms of worst case scenarios...It was a habit born of necessity...The “worst case scenario” had a nasty habit of actually happening, and it had caught him unprepared once...No more, he had decided years ago...Once had been enough.

Before Evelyn moved next door, the “worst case scenario” worried him very little. Should his former associates show up at his door step, he wouldn´t be too bothered about the possibility of meeting his demise at their hands. Severus had outlived his own plans and calculations on nothing but dumb luck, and to be honest, it would be entertaining to watch them scramble to get information out of him that he´d never give them. It´s impossible to extort information out of a man who doesn´t fear or care for his life anymore. What will can you threaten him with, if he has nothing of value to lose?

But what was the worst case scenario now? The thought made him shudder. Severus remembered the gelid rush of panic that overcame him just a few hours before when he saw Evelyn bleeding on the floor. Yes, panic, there was no way around it. Panic like he hadn´t felt in over 17 years...Panic so thick and paralysing he couldn´t even bring himself to perform a simple healing spell. What would happen if...Severus couldn´t bring himself to even formulate the thought...Not tonight. Evelyn was safe, and the Lestranges were far away...If only tonight, he could afford to not think of the worst case scenario.

For now, his most pressing concern was the fact that his pantry was a barren wasteland and neither him not Evelyn had had dinner yet...

----------------

Evelyn had gathered her personal items, towel, soap, shampoo, and everything that Angela had packed for her, and locked herself in Severus´bathroom. Mechanically, like an automaton, she undressed and removed the bandages protecting the her wrist, her scrapped knees and the stitches on her forehead. That bloody sprained wrist made the task of undressing and cleaning herself slow and umconfortable. She tried not to think of it. In fact, the less she thought, the better. At least for a while she wanted to operate on auto-pilot, tending to her basic needs first: to get clean, to get the stench of hospital off her skin, to wear something comfortable, to ease the dull pain on her head and wrist, the stabbing, burning pain on her knees, to finally get a bit of rest.

She stepped under the shower, trying to rub off the miasma of powerlessness and terror that seemed to stick stubbornly to her, ignoring the unpleasant burn of the warm water hitting her abrasions and sutures. Even if it hurt, the feeling of warm water running down her body was comforting. Water could wash away anything, she knew. Salt sea water or warm shower water, as long as she could immerse herself in it, she knew it would get better, eventually. If only she could find a way to prolong that feeling of complete, womb-like oblivion. But she couldn´t. She needed rest...Sleep before facing the world again the next morning. There would be a lot to deal with. She´d have to go to the police station, clean the mess at her house, check on James and Tancey...She´d have to call her mother and sister, eventually...Oh, she could already hear her mother´s shrieking through the phone “How many times have I told you it was insanity to move to that pigsty of a town. I told you crime was rampant over there and you didn´t listen to me, you just have to be stubborn, now look what happened.”...

If only that had been the worst of it.

The worst of it, the one thing that made her feel like screaming in frustration,  was that whoever had done that was still out there somewhere. For what she knew he could be right outside on the street this very moment. The mere idea that the only thing that stood between her and God only knew what dreadful fate was the lucky conincidence that her neighbour just happened to be home was maddening. The fact that none of it would have happened if she hadn´t told Severus to not pick her up from work. Yes, Evelyn Teresa Black, who had made such a point of being self-suficient her whole life, now had to deplore the fact that if only she had accepted the company of a man, she would be safer. Because you never think awful things will happen to you, even though awful things happen to millions of other women like you every single day. And the kids... God, James and Constance were on their way to her house when it all happened.What could have happened to them?

She had tried not to look at herself in the mirror, but as she got dressed, Evelyn couldn´t avoid catching a glimpse. It looked bad...The suture on her forehead was an ugly, raggedy metallic line that looked almost cartoonish, there was a small bruise on her cheekbone that would probably be  purple in the morning, and a tiny cut on her lower lip she hadn´t noticed till now.

This face couldn´t be hers, could it?

Evelyn had resisted till now, but looking at her reflexion in the mirror did her in. Tears started to swell up in her eyes, and she was entirely too exhausted to fight them.

---------------------------------

So, apparently Severus was not completely inept as far as cooking went...That is, if instant soup with some extra vegetables thrown in to make it look more like food fit for human consumption could be considered cooking at all. It would have to do. It was the best he could do with his meager pantry, and his mind torn between worry and  desperatly fighting to ignore the fact that Evelyn was showering right upstairs. It was not only pathetic but ridiculously impudent of him to even let his mind wander in that direction, particularly considering what chain of events had brought her to his house, but there was no controling where his thoughts went.

Severus had quite a few reasons to have reservations about inviting her to stay over night, and the chance that she might accidentaly stumble onto a magical object or end up in harm´s way due to whatever magical event were only the first in the list. But he couldn´t have predicted he´d suddenly turn into a bloody hormonal teenager and become entirely too bothered by her presence would even make it into the equation. It was plain laughable, but nevertheless predictable. After all, he had spent the past couple weeks trying his best to ignore the fact that, yes, his neighbour was indeed a lovely woman, in more ways than one, and yes, it had been quite a while since he had been thrown off balance by any member of the fair sex in the same way he had been by her. He had no trouble admiting that, and he shouldn´t have...All part of the natural order of things...But to actually entertain certain thoughts while she was under his roof, distressed and trusting him to be a gentleman was a bit beyond the pale...

Sipping some hastly made black coffee he glanced at the clock. Over half an hour...Could she still be in the bathroom? Maybe she had gone straight from the shower to bed...She must have been tired enough...It was better to take a look in any case... Severus went upstairs to find the bedroom empty. He looked over to the bathroom and saw the light was still on. Had she really been in there for 30 minutes? He immediately thought of the worst. Her doctor had warned them about vertigo and possible loss of consciousness...she could have...

He walked over and knocked. No answer.

He  knocked again.

Silence.

“Evelyn? Evelyn, are you ok?” By the third attempt, Severus was nearly banging on the door. It was impossible that she hadn´t heard him. When no sound came from inside he started to consider opening, even if by force. “Evelyn, I´m coming in.”

He didn´t have to make good on his warning. The door opened slowly, only a narrow crack at first, then hesitantly wider until Severus could see her standing in front of him. In his drab grey robe, that was more than a bit too big on her, her thick made of hair still humid, silent and morose she looked wilted; a far cry from the exuberant dynamo he had become used to to. She was so huddled inside the robe, arms folded around her own body, that she actually looked smaller, and without her signature high heels the effect was even more flagrant. He wasn´t quite sure if it was cold that was making her shrink into herself like that, but if he had to guess, he´d say it wasn´t. But that wasn´t what tugged at him...It was her eyes. Their luminous golden brown had gone dull, and they were clearly bloodshot.

-----------

“You were taking a while...I was afraid you weren´t feeling well...” Severus told her apologetically. Evelyn could see from his expression he was more than a bit stunned by the state of her. Severus wasn´t stupid, and it was clear for anyone with half a mind and functioning eyesight the she had been crying. But, bless him, Severus was courteous enough to act like he hadn´t noticed anything, and allowed her to maintain some measure of dignity.

“Is a bit hard to shower with my wrist like this...And I didn´t want to move too fast  either, because everything aches...” she faked a smirk  “I´m sorry I had you worried...I´ll be right out.”

“You´re going to need help with the bandages” She could tell he made sure to keep all his remarks flat as possible, like he wanted her to know he wasn´t patronzing her, and Evelyn couldn´t thank him enough for it.

“Oh, it´s not necessary...”

“At least your wrist. You can´t do it with a single hand. If you´re done with your shower, then come downstairs, I´ll help you with that before we eat something.”

“I´m not hungry...”

“You? Not hungry? I refuse to believe that.I know you´re upset, but the day something takes away your apettite, then surely the end of times is near. Now stop with this nonsense and come downstairs.”

 

---------------

Evelyn sat awkwardly on the sitting room sofa as Severus wrapped her wrist in the bandages the hospital had supplied them with. He proceeded with the task silently and carefully as a professional would have done, but that only made her more umcomfortable. Now that she had finally settled down, Evelyn suddenly remembered how poorly she had treated him this morning. And after all he had already done, as he sat in front of her, personally tending to her wounds, she couldn´t help but feel like the worst person in the world.

“Severus...”

“yes?...” he answered, too distracted by his task.

“I want to apologize.”

“...what for?” he looked up, seeming genuinely confused.

“For this morning...I was a complete bitch to you for no reason” A tiny voice inside her mind screamed at her...No reason? No reason? Why that was fine joke if there ever was one. There was a reason, she just wouldn´t be caught dead admiting it...

“Oh, that...”

“Yes, that...I´m so sorry. I wasn´t mad at you. I just got upset with that...your guest. And I took it out on you.” More lies. It wasn´t that. It really wasn´t that, Evelyn, and you know it.

“No harm done. I was under the impression I had done something to offend you...I suppose that´s cleared up then.”

“It was really stupid of me. Particularly not knowing your guest or the circumstances, I mean..Here I was, like a bull in a glass store, barging in when you´re obviously dealing with something important...”

“Something important? With Narcissa? Oh, dear... ” he smirked and scoffed lightly.

“I mean...uh...Is none of my business, of course. You´re a single man, so whoever you fancy seeing...” great, she was rambling. One day she´d learn to think before speaking, but that day was obviously not today.

“Wait...” he looked astonished for a moment, then a second later it seemed as if he was about to burst laughing “You think Narcisssa and I...”

“I didn´t say that! I mean, is none of my business if you are, I just mean, I shouldn´t be getting into  your personal life like that and...What´s so funny?”

He was snickering so hard it was almost frightening.

“I´m sorry, Evelyn...Is just that...the notion that Narcissa and I could be remotely involved in any way with each other is entirely too ridiculous to even entertain.”

“You just lost me.”

“Narcissa and I are, for lack of a better word, friends.”

“What do you mean 'for lack of a better word'?”

“Narcissa is the wife of an old friend of mine I´m not that close to her, if that´s what you´re wondering, but her husband and I were friends growing up, and I´m their son´s godfather, so I get to socialize with her a wee bit more than I´d prefer.”

“I see...” well, if she wasn´t feeling stupid enough...

“That´s why she was here, as a matter of fact...on acount of the boy. Teenagers doing stupiding things, you know how that goes...She thought I might know what he´s up to...”

“Oh, my God. I thought she was being rude to me, and she was just a mother worried about her child? Now I actually feel worse.”

“Well, don´t. She WAS being rude to you.” he seemed even more amused  “Nothing personal...That´s just how she is. Mind you, Narcissa is not a bad person but...she can be a bit of a...how do I put  this nicely...a tremendously pompous and self-important shrew...I guess is what happens when you grow up in a rich and pretentious family, so is not entirely her fault, I suppose.”

“Still...I shouldn´t have...”

“I believe we cleared that up. Now you really should get something to eat and go to bed. You must be exhausted.”

Chapter Text

Shacklebolt looked up from his paperwork when John Dawlish walked into his office. Dawlish had been an auror for decades, a battle-worn veteran who had seen two wars and worked his way up the ranks, being, at one point, the assigned bodyguard of Cornelius Fudge himself. Dawlish had served honourably for a long time, possibly for far too long, but refused to retire. He was stubborn, it was known, but the interim minister had a more than passing impression that Dawlish´s insistence had more to do with the fact that he simply couldn´t forgive himself for "failing" his duty in the Second War.

Even though he had been cleared of all charges of collaboration with Death Eaters once it was proven that he had acted under the Imperius Curse, Dawlish himself couldn´t let it go. His hair had gone from gray to nearly all white in a matter of months, and his usual stern expression had turned into a frozen mask of weariness. Shacklebolt knew he could trust him. Dawlish might a tired and disillusioned old auror, but he was still one of the best. If anyone could keep tabs on Severus Snape without raising suspiscion, it was him.

However, Dawlish´s presence in his office tonight worried him. The auror reported to him a weekly basis only. They had detected a Death Eater spy operating in Cokeworth, watching Snape´s every step, and since then Dawlish had been "watching the watcher", as he said himself. The Spy in question was a low-ranking Death Eater, too unimportant to raise any suspicion during the massive purge that followed Voldemort´s demise. Which was precisely why the Rotts had selected him for the job.

Ludwig and Claire Rott. Lucius Malfoy´s cousin and her German husband. Snape had been correct in his suspicion, particularly concerning Draco. Malfoy had sent his son to France, ostensively to spend some time with their relatives, but it was only his way of maintaining a connection to the Rotts, while they provided support for escaped Death Eaters. And of course, rumours of Snape´s status changing from "very much dead" to "potentially alive" had immediately inspired the Rotts to send in a spy.

Dawlish had managed to intercept every letter the spy had send to the Rotts and replaced them with fake ones that didn´t provide any information. The ministry was sure Snape´s status and location were protected but they had decided to allow the spy to continue to act, in hopes of gathering information about the Rotts´future plans through intercepted mail. However, all information they did manage to gather came from Draco, and even that wasn´t much. Ludwig and Claire never answered any of the fake letters.

The whole situation had come to a stalemate.

But now Dalish was standing in front of him, when he should be reporting a only few days later. Something must have happened.

"So..?"

"Snape´s muggle neighbour."

"Did something happen to her?" Shaklebolt had feared that. Apparently, Snape had grown close to a muggle woman, and while that wasn´t in any way relevant to the investigation, having a muggle in such proximity to a Death Eater spy plot was extremely dangerous. But, thus far, it didn´t seem like that would be of any consequence. With the spy´s letters being intercepted even before the owls made it out of the Greater Manchester area, it was certain that nobody other than Dawlish and Shacklebolt knew anything about Snape´s connection to this muggle. Or so he expected...

"She has been atacked in front of her house tonight."

"What?!”The minister nearly shouted, bolting from his chair “I thought you had intercepted all the letters! Nobody is supposed to know Snape is even alive, much less who he associates with. Don´t tell me this is a retaliation attack. On a muggle!?"

"No, it wasn´t." Dawlish answered with his usual ennui-filled tone "A common muggle criminal. Nothing too serious happened."

"Well, then..?"

"This is the last letter.It was sent out immediately after the attack on the muggle woman." he handed him an envelope "It details the entire event and outcome, as well as Snape´s action and the fact that she is now sheltered in his house. It also suggests it would be a good idea to target her somehow. I believe this little farce has gone on for long enough. We´re not getting anything out of this, and if anybody finds out about this woman we might end up with a dead muggle in our hands. And I don´t think Snape will be too willing to collaborate if anything happens to her."

“Fair point.I suppose this game of cat and mouse will lead us nowhere.Aprehend him, and continue the fake correspondence as to not arise any suspicion. We can´t risk having the Rotts suspect Snape is alive. In due time we´ll spread word that this man has been arrested on an unrelated charge outside of Cokeworth, which should provide enough cover. Also...Do something about this other man.”

“Which other man?”

“The muggle who attacked Snape´s neighbour”

“Sir, with all do respect, this matter doesn´t concern us. We should leave him to the muggle authorities.”

“You said it yourself that Snape might be less inclined to collaborate if this woman is harmed, so let´s make sure this doesn´t happen, shall we? A 'muggle common criminal' shouldn´t be too much of a hassle to deal with...See if you can obtain any information from the Cokeworth´s police files. They must be easy enough to break into overnight.”

…..

It shouldn´t come as a surprise that she would have trouble falling asleep, Evelyn thought. She was exhausted, but her brain refused to allow her body any rest. After lying in bed for some 30 minutes, forcing her eyes to stay closed in the vain hope of falling asleep, she finally gave up.

Finding something to read might help...But she expected the shelves to hold naught but school books and story books. This had been Severus childhood bedroom after all, and he admitedly hadn´t changed it since. She didn´t want to go downstairs either.Evelyn knew Severus was a night owl, so he was probably still up, and she had bothered him enough for the night. And if he had gone to bed, she still  wouldn´t feel too comfortable going through his personal library while he slept. She knew he was quite particular about those books of his...Well, school books would have to do then. They were probably more sleep-inducing anyway.

Evelyn scanned the spines of the rows of volumes that perilously filled the shelves to full capacity. Nearly all of them were so old that the titles had vanished. She felt like pulling any of them out would make the whole thing collapse. There was, however, a small volume tucked in between two rows of books that looked like it could be safely removed without bringing everything down with it.

It was a small paperback that had been covered with powder blue paper, much in the same way children used to do to their school books to protect the cover from wearing when she was little. Upon opening it, the first thing she saw, on the blank page preceding the title, was a dedication, written in very regular, small, rounded handwriting

“To my Prince.
January, 9th, 1966”

The dedication wasn´t signed, but no signature was necessary for her to know who had given Severus that. It couldn´t be anyone other than his mother. It didn´t really take much thought to figure it out. “Prince” or “princess” were some of the most common terms of endearment mothers directed at their children, Evelyn´s own mother not being that much different in that regard. Judging by the fact that Severus looked to be in his late 30s or early 40s, he would have been a young boy in 1968. Finally, no mother needs to sign a dedication for her child to know she was the one who wrote it. None of the books Evelyn´s own parents had given her over the course of her life bore any signatures on the dedications, as she knew their handwritting as well as she knew her own...This had to have been written by Eileen Snape.

Severus had told her about the hard times him and his mother had gone through, a bitter tale of neglect and abuse so personal and difficult it had made Evelyn wonder why he would share it with her at all. Seeing this short, simple dedication on the first blank page of what was presumably a story book gave her a glimpse into something much more pleasant. She had no doubt Severus was close to his mother, but seeing physical evidence of such closeness warmed her heart. It felt good to know there had been love somewhere in his childhood.

Judging by the date it was probably a birthday gift. There was no special calendar celebration on January 9th that would merit a gift, so that had to be Severus´birthday. Evelyn should make a mental note of it. It was November which meant January would roll in soon, so she should keep this in mind. It seemed fitting that Severus would have a winter birthday. Was he a Capricorn, then? Or an Aquarius...Nevermind that, her sister had always been more into horoscopes than she had.

Having decided this would be the perfect nighttime reading, Evelyn turned the page, curious to see what Eileen had chosen as a birthday gift for her “prince”.

….......

Severus had always been a light sleeper.As both a spy and a teacher in a boarding school where every student was capable of producing magic, being a light sleeper was pretty much a matter of safety. He had dozed off on his armchair, sitting by the fire, when the nearly impercetible creaking of the floorboards startled him awake as easily as the loudest alarm clock would have.

“I´m sorry.” Evelyn seemed just as startled as him, standing on the last step of the stairs, staring at him. “I didn´t mean to wake you up.”

“You didn´t.” He lied. “What´s the matter?”

“Couldn´t sleep...Would you mind if I...” she gestured the sofa, hesitantly

“By all means.”

She sat quietly for a while before speaking again.

“...Severus..?.Can I ask you something?"

“Sure..."

"I...I´m really sorry but...I couldn´t sleep so...I took a look at your bookcase...I swear I didn´t mean to prod, I just wanted to read something to see if I could fall asleep"

"Ah... and did you find anything that piqued your interest?" Only then did Severus notice she had a book with her.

"This..."

"Woah-wait...” he choked on his own saliva when he realized what book she was holding. “H-How -- how did you find this?"

"It was on the bookshelf by the bed...I´m sorry, is it something I wasn´t supposed to...I uderstand if it is, really..."

Severus should have disguised his obvious shock, but he couldn´t help his mouth hanging open. She wasn´t supposed to have found that... His mother had cast a spell over all of his books that had anything to do with magic or the Wizarding community...School books, story books, any volume that was remotely related to magical matters had been carefully charmed in order to make it invisible to muggles. It was Eileen´s way of making sure Tobias wouldn´t go into another violent fit as he usually did whenever magic came up. Even after her passing, Severus hadn´t lifted the spell. In fact, he had used the same charm to conceal more objects, specially after he moved out of the house. It was too risky to leave such articles in a house that was empty and vulnerable to potential break-ins for most of the year.

How could Evelyn have found this? More than just finding it: she wasn´t supposed to even see it. Not only did she see and find it, she was handling it...reading it.

"Ahh...I don't” He walked up and took the book from her, looking at the cover, pretending to be trying to remember it, to buy himself time “I didn't think I still had this. Was one of the books my mother read to me when I was a boy."

"Yes, I saw the dedication" she smiled. Severus couldn´t remember the dedication, so he opened the book to see it again. It was mildly embarassing, to be honest.

"You did.”he cleared his throat and returned the book to her “I see no reason for you not to read it. I suppose some stories are dull and childish enough to knock you into a relaxing slumber after all."

"About that...I´ve already read it...Years ago"

"WHAT?! H-how is that possible?!" he yelped, surprise forcing him to toss caution to the wind.

"I´m asking myself the same thing! My grandfather gave me a copy of this book when I was little. A much older edition than this, though...I´ve looked literally everywhere for a newer copy and never found it. I even tried to locate the editing house but it´s like they don´t exist anymore. Then I found this, here in your house! How bizarre is that!?"

"Errr... Well, it's been out of print for decades” he lied “Do you by chance happen to still have your grandfather's copy, if I may ask?"

"Yes, I do. But it´s in my office back home. I can´t go back there for the time being it seems. It´s a very old hardcover his mother gave him when he was little."

"Of course...” Obviously, Severus thought to himself. Every magical child had that book, why would those born in the Black family be any different? “I mean, of course it was. So did you like it?"

"Like it? It was one of my favorites growing up, right up there with Andersen"

"How intriguing! Which tale did you like best?"

"'The Warlock´s hairy heart' kept me awake for quite a few nights, I liked that one...I got to enjoy the 'Fountain of fair fortune' once I was old enough to understand the moral in that. But I guess the 'Tale of the Three brothers' has to be the best one of them all, it´s the one I always went back to...still do at times"

So, she had indeed read it...A muggle who had read Beedle the Bard...Merlin only knew what else she could have read, seen or heard about. He grandfather really was giving his grandchildren information about wizards...Which made sense for her older brother, who was a wizard...But Evelyn and her sister were both muggles...Why tell any of them those things? And how could a muggle see his books, with concealing charms still active? How many objects and books in his house was she able to see that she shouldn´t be seeing?

" 'Three Brothers' was always my favorite too."

"Really!? I could never get over how well-tought and complex it is. So many folkloric themes you can find in other fairy tales combined and you can take a million different interpretations out of that one. I see something new every time I return to it”

“Indeed...” he could barely pay attention to what she was saying as his mind raced to find a plausible explanation for all this “..by they way -- Ohhh... where are my manners -- but would could I interest you in a bit of a nightcap? I personally like a small shot of whisky before bed."

“Oh, thank you, but no. I make it a point to never mix alcohol with traumatic events. But I would take a cup of chamomile tea if you have?!

"Of course, by all means”

Severus left her perusing his book and went into the kitchen to prepare the tea and get himself a glass of whisky and a time to reorganize his toughts.

"Thank you, Severus. Slaínte!"She playfully raised her mug once he returned with the tea

"Tired?" he asked after a long moment of silence, noticing she was starting to yawn

"Starting to get. Guess my batteries are finally giving in..I think it's time to turn in... what about you?!”

“I´ll linger a while more...” he smiled, relieved that, at least for now, she wouldn´t be asking questions about magical books she wasn´t supposed to know anything about.

“Thanks for the tea, my friend."

…....

“It´s seven in the bloody morning...” Meredith hissed softly under her breath as she rushed to open the door. Who could be at the door at this time, she wondered, glad her husband had left early for work...

“Good morning, ma´am.” a white-haired man in a ill-fitting purple suit was standing outside, looking quite grumpy.

“Good morning...May I help you?”

“I´m officer Dawlins, I´ve been informed a young man residing in this house was witness to a crime yesterday...”

“Yes, that would be my son, James... but he already talked to the police yesterday...”

“Oh, yes, but there are a few things we need to clear up. Details, mostly. It won´t take too long.”

…....

Severus was used to going to bed late and waking up early. Functioning on little sleep had never been an issue. He didn´t, however expect Evelyn to have been up so early after such a long night. It was barely 7am and there she was, dressed and rummaging around his kitchen, making breakfast, if the smell of fresh coffee, eggs and sausage was anything to go by.

“I see you´re feeling better” he grumbled, still not entirely awake.

“Oh, good morning, Severus.” she beamed without stopping.

“Where did all this food come from? My pantry was quite empty last night...Don´t tell me you woke up at the break of dawn to go to the grocers?”

“No, I got this from my pantry.”

“You weren´t supposed to go back home...”

“I know...But there´s an officer there who let me in to get some things...”

“Already?” he blinked “Our police is not usually this efficient...Nor are they early risers, for that matter...

“It was just one officer, he said he was waiting for the others who will sweep for evidence or something to that effect...Anyway, I didn´t know what you usually had for breakfast so I made a little bit of everything...”

“You shouldn´t have.”

“Least I could do.”

“So, eh...If you don´t mind me asking, are you going anywhere? Not work I hope...”

“Why not?”

“Evelyn, did you listen to ANYTHING your doctor said? You´re supposed to rest. Wasn´t Angela going to inform your headmaster about what happened so he could give you a couple days off?”

“Yes, I know...Not that I agree at all, but I´m sure if I go against doctors orders I´ll never hear the end of it from you and Angie...”

“So, where are you going, then?”

“I have to check on Constance and James.”

“You´ll do no such thing. Those two have parents who are well equipped to care for them.”

“At least Tancey does.”

“So that is what this is all about...James?”

“Well...”

“He´s going to be fine. Now do stop rummaging and sit down for breakfast...Bloody hell, woman, do you ever stop?”

“What is that supposed to mean?” she laughed

“It means I have no idea where you get all this energy from. It´s frightening, to be honest...”

“It´s how I deal with things, I guess...” she told him, a somewhat sad smile curving her lips as she finally sat down to have breakfast. “By the way, I got the book from my office. Left it on your desk, if you want to take a look.”

 

…....

Claire Rott looked on as her husband tossed yet another letter into the fire. She reclined lazily on her favorite ottoman, bright red hair spilled around her like a flaming halo, catching the light from the fire and reflecting it into the darkness of their room.

“Another pile of non-information, I take?” she asked quietly.

“He probably got caught...” Rott answered flatly pouring himself a glass of brandy.

“That much goes without saying...I´ve been telling you that for a while now...None of these letters came from him. The ministry would benefit from hiring more Slytherins...Gryffindors can´t fake letters if their lives depended on it...”

“How bothersome...These aurors truly think they´ll get any leads by sending us fake letters?”

“They´re not trying to do that.”

“You insist on this? I expect this sort of nonsense from the Lestranges, not you...”

“Even a broken clock is right twice a day, so the same can happen to the Lestranges.Why would the aurors be going through the trouble of feeding us false leads if Snape wasn´t alive?”

“Maybe to make us think Snape is alive and force us to divert from our original plans to chase a ghost...There´s nothing to gain from this...”

“Humour me for a while more, then...What else do we have to do while we wait for Dimitri to finally make up his mind about the Lestranges?”

“Fine, have it your way then...”

“Don´t I always?”

Chapter Text

Severus looked on as the police officers canvassed Evelyn´s house. She stood by his side, fidgeting nervously. It probably wasn´t a good idea to come back while this was being done, but she had a hard time knowing people she didn´t know would be going through her personal things without her presence. It had taken some persuasion to get the officers to allow them back in.

Severus wasn´t too worried about that, however. Earlier Evelyn said another police officer had let her into the house so she could get food from her pantry. Now these officers wouldn´t allow them to ge in any further than the living room. That was odd. When enquired about the first officer none of these men seemed to know what they were talking about. Maybe there had been some miscomunication, which was common enough in inept police departments, or maybe there was something else. Evelyn didn´t seem to make anything of it, but Severus had to wonder...

"Severus, you don´t have to stay here till they finish..." she told him as they stood by the door, trying to stay out of the way of the work being done.

"I don´t have anything better to do, I´m afraid..."

"But you seem tired..."

"I´m not."

"Don´t lie to make me feel better...I know you got very little sleep last night."

"I don´t usually sleep much more than I did last night..."

Sure, he had gotten very little sleep the night before. But certainly not for the reasons that worried her. Severus couldn´t very well tell her how it had taken him hours to fall asleep due to how troubling it was to have her sleeping under his roof...in his clothes... He couldn´t tell her he had suddenly gone back to the time he was fourteen and barely able to reign over his hormones. And above all, he couldn´t tell her he had gone into her room, after she was long asleep, telling himself he was simply going to check to see if she needed anything...And that what he really had wanted, in spite of all his good intentions and scruples, was to get one last look at her as she slept, to make sure she truly was there and this was not one of those feverish dreams that constantly assaulted in the past few days. But mostly, to make sure she was sound asleep before fleeing into his bedroom and locking himself up to allow his mind and body to indulge on feelings he, trully, shouldn´t be entertaining.

Severus had managed to stave off such urges thus far, but the events of the night, the knowledge that she was so close...seeing her in his old, worn nightshirt, which looked much less like a sack of potatoes on her, with those bewildering curves to fill it out...It all had converged in such a way that he couldn´t resist it. It was wrong, very wrong of him to even think of her in these terms...She trusted him...Blindly almost. Even if she would never suspect it; even if was just a solitary, feeble atempt at satisfying urges he believe long dead, it was still quite wrong. But, he told himself, it was a simply matter of seeking relief. At some point imagination will get the best of a man, and paliative measures must be taken before one goes insane with need and want. It was pathetic and embarassing, but forgivable as long as it stayed in his mind and in his bedroom.

"I´ll step out for a moment. I need a smoke. Call me if you need anything."

His current infatuation, or whatever it was that led him into a sleepless night filled with indecorous reverie was not what he should be thinking about now... Too many parts of the previous night´s events were not addiding up as far as he was concerned. And Severus had a hard time believing Cokeworth´s inept police department would be of any help with it.

"Mr. Snape!"

Severus didn´t recognise the voice until he looked towards the main street and saw the lanky denim-clad figure of James coming from the corner.

"If you´re here to talk to your teacher" Severus told him in a bored tone, going up to meet the boy. "she´s quite busy at the moment. And shouldn´t you be at school?"

"No, it´s you I want to talk to."

"Me?"

"Yeah. I wanted to ask..."

"Just spit it out, lad!"

"A police officer came to my house this morning."

"I thought you had given your testimony last night?"

"I did. But then this bloke showed up. It wasn´t one of those who talked to us yesterday."

"And what did he want?"

"So...uh... yesterday I thought I had seen somebody in the house across the street"

"Wait, what? Why didn´t you tell me that?"

"You wouldn´t let me talk!I told the officers yesterday and they didn´t look like they were taking me seriously either...Then this other one shows up at my house asking about it..."

"I see..." Severus could smack James for this. Why the devil hadn´t he told him?

"I don´t think it was anybody though..." the lad was shifting on his feet and looking around nervously.

"Why not?" Severus pushed.

"I just saw a shadow for a second then it disappeared. It must have been my imagination."

"A shadow? Then it...'disappeared'? How exactly?"

"I don´t know. It was there one second and then poof!Gone.That´s what I told the police last night. I could tell they didn´t believe me, but now they sent somebody else to ask me about it."

"Don´t tell me you´re afraid it will get you trouble?"

"Somewhat, yeah...I mean, I wasn´t lying, but...Do you think I should be afraid?"

"What did you tell the officer this morning?"

"The same I just told you. I thought I saw something like a shadow and it disappeared."

"What else did he ask you?"

"About the man who attacked Miss Black. A description."

"Could you provide one?"

"Yeah, of course. Not his face though..."

"He had a mask on, I remember."

"Yeah, but I saw his clothes and the motorcycle...That should help, no?"

"Of course. Just do me a favour?"

"Yes?"

"Don´t go around telling anybody you saw something in that house."

"Why not?"

"Because nothing will come of it. It was probably your imagination. You were nervous that´s all...Now...you wanted to talk to Evelyn?"

"Can I?"

"She´s inside. She´s been meaning to go and visit you and Constance anyway, so...Just go there and reassure her you´re both fine if you will."

Severus waited for the boy to go inside before heading for the house he had pointed out. The door was closed. Of course he could break in, but not with a team of police officers across the street. He walked to the window and looked in instead. Surely enough, the house was as abandoned as Severus had always thought it was. Still... He doubted James had just imagined that...

Severus had to cut his investigation short as he noticed the small group of police officers leaving Evelyn´s house. The one who had taken his and the children´s statements the previous night was the last one out, and Severus noticed he was lingering outside, taking more notes.

"Hey!" Severus shouted, moving towards him "Office...whatever your name was"

"Perry, Officer Perry"

"Oh, I´m sorry, I didn´t mean to give you the impression that I cared."

"Mr. Snape..."

"Yeah, yeah, we´ve been through that. Just tell me, is harrassing witnesses really the way you want to go about this?"

"Pardon?"

"Did you send another police officer to James´ house this morning to ask all the same questions he has already answered last night?"

"Wait a minute, did he tell you that? Because I can assure you..."

"Well, someone went there!"

"Not any of my men...And frankly Mr. Snape, if I were you I wouldn´t put much weight on whatever that boy says. He´s clearly troubled and I ran a background check on him..."

"Yes, I´m aware that James has been charged with minor offenses. Which doesn´t invalidate anything he says."

"Unless he´s trying to cover for something..."

"All right, let´s stop right here, officer, for your own good. This fine municipality´s police department is already known across the entire Greater Manchester area for being grossly incompetent, even by local standards, which is saying a lot... I´m sure being a Cokeworth police officer adds no bonus points to you curriculum, so you probably shouldn´t go looking to get yourself sued for harrassing witnesses... I don´t care for your opinion of James but I was there and I know the lad is not involved in any wayn with what happened."

"Excuse me, Mr. Snape, but this conversation is over."

Officer Perry rushedly walked towards his car, but Severus suddenly remembered something.

"Officer Perry!"

"Now you remember my name?"

“How many men were assigned to collect evidence here today?”

“What the hell kind of question is that?”

“Can you just answer it?”

“I shouldn´t, but since you´re so intent on ruinning my morning I don´t believe you´ll leave me alone if I don´t...Three...the three men you saw yourself with your own eyes, for that matter.”

“You didn´t send anybody earlier?”

“Dear Lord! We´re understaffed as is, why do you think I´d waste time and resources sending rogue officials on imaginary missions!?”

“So nobody was here early this morning.”

“Of course not. Get it through your thick skull, sir, nobody questioned that boy a second time and nobody was here before our team arrived. Even if I had sent anybody, we´d have to wait for Miss Black to wake up and let us in, or would you prefer we bust the door open?”

As Perry walked away muttering insults under his breath, Severus hurriedly walked into Evelyn´s house.

“Severus, where were you?” She asked him. James was awkwardly sitting on the sofa, and looked up at him as if begging him not to tell her anything of they had just talked about.

“Just checking some things with that officer...”

“Well, James came to see how I was doing.”

“I know, we talked a little while ago...”

“I´m going to get him tea and something to eat back at your place...can you believe this boy left the house without breakfast?! Do you want anything?”

“No, I´m fine...Thank you.”

Evelyn had barely left the room before Severus swiftly and quietly lunged forward towards James, asking in a low, hissing tone.

“What did he look like?”

“Who?”

“The officer who visited you. What did he look like?”

“I don´t know...Normal I guess...”

“Elaborate. Height, hair color, clothes.” 'Please don´t make me have to go into your head for this, kid' Severus thought to himself.

“Average height, I think. Hair was grey...almost white. I don´t remember the eyes. And he was wearing a stupid looking suit.”

“How was it stupid looking?”

“It just was. It didn´t fit him right...and it was purple, with a green tie...He looked like a bloody cartoon. Why?”

“You remember his name?”

“Dawlins, I think...Or something like that.”

“Daw...lins?...But of course.”

…....

 

“Severus?...”

Severus had been quiet, too quiet, the entire time James was there. Evelyn had taken the opportunity of James visit to start to ease him into the idea of an extra-curricular project. Before that awful event the night before, Fr. Thomas had suggested James would make a good addition to the church choir. They needed a pianist and even though the boy didn´t play the piano, he could be taught. He had learned the guitar by himself, so it wasn´t a stretch... Evelyn knew she had to proceed with caution. James would say no if she told him right the way. She had to get him to open up to the idea of a project first...something outside school.

She had asked him about his latest piece, an intrumental ballad he had been toying with. As usual, James gave her  monossilabic answers. The boy really didn´t think of himself as a composer or considered his work any good. Evelyn asked him wther he had ever thought about learning an instrument formaly, wether he considered music as a career...He looked at her as if she was speaking in tongues.

Severus had looked on without intereferring, and she couldn´t quite decide if because he didn´t want to override her or if he just wasn´t interested in the topic. Severus had acted normally all morning. Well, about as normally as Severus could act. He still seemed extremely awkward around her, moreso than the night before, if possible. Over breakfast he barely made eye contact, and talked little as usual. She had gotten used to Severus´ aloofness, and had learned not to take it personally, but he seemed particularly detached now that James had shown up.

Once the boy was gone she had to ask.

“Are you ok?”

“Yes, of course...” he answered, not even looking at her, as if his mind was lost somewhere else.

“You´re sure? I know it´s been a rough night...”

“More for you than me.”

“I´m fine...So, what do you think?”

“Of..?”

“What I was telling James...”

“I don´t know. It looks like you´re going to have some trouble getting him to accept any project...Is this what you and father Thomas discussed? Music lessons?”

“Yes...” she studied his face. Sure he was talking to her, but his tone sounded mechanic, as if he was simply answering for the sake of being polite but wasn´t really 'there'. “What do you think?”

“You´re a better judge than me.Your student, after all” he got up from his seat, where he had been for the last hour without moving. “I should get going”

“Already?”

“You´re home, and everything seems fine. The officers said you could come back.”

“True...” suddenly she felt like he was trying to get rid of her. In all fairness she had indeed intruded on him quite a bit, and an unexpected houseguest could be a nuisance even to the most hospitable of people, but still...

“I...have some matters to tend to. I should be back in a few hours. Will you be fine till then?”

“Sure...I may go to school. To talk to the headmaster, explain what happened.”

“You should probably stay in...Angela already talked to him, didn´t she? And you...”

“I know, I heard the doctor.” she smiled. “So you will be back in a few hours?”

“I will.”

“I´ll wait then...”

“Do try to be quiet for a while, will you? I don´t want you to have a dizzy spell and hit your head again when I´m not here.”

“Yes, I´ll try to stay alive while you´re away. I´ll manage somehow.”

…...

It wasn´t wise to go back today. Snape was probably on full alert. That muggle woman that was so important to him had been attacked and he would surely be feeling very protective and paranoid. It wasn´t safe to be around now them now, he´d be easily caught.

As a matter of fact, he wondered how he had managed to go undetected for over a week. Maybe Snape had gone soft after the war...Or maybe, and considerably more likely, he was too distracted by his little tryst with this woman to be as observant as he was known to be. To be perfectly honest, he couldn´t really blame him. Looking at that woman it was difficult to believe she was naught but a baseborn muggle. It wasn´t that she was pretty, which she surely was, but there were plenty of pretty women of better, cleaner birth...This mongrel Snape had found himself was downright enticing. It almost made it worthwile to be a blood traitor when he imagined the fun Snape must be having with her.

Distracted as he may have been, however,  now that little toy had gotten hurt, testing Snape would be dangerous. Not to mention the fact that he was almost certain that muggle boy had seen him in his hiding spot.

The ruffle of  wings came from outside the window of the room he had rented in a shabby muggle hotel across town. He looked up to see an owl perched on the windowsill. Well, well, finally her highness had decided to answer one of his letters. If he had known working for the Rotts would be this thankless...

“Midnight behind the old mill. Wait for further instructions”

He folded the note after reading the laconic message. Maybe the idea of using the muggle woman as bait to get to Severus had pleased her enough to stirr a reaction? Oh women, even those without a heart would still be easily swayed by a romantic plot...

…..

Severus didn´t feel well at ease leaving Evelyn all by herself, but given the circumstances...

“Dawlins”...The dolt hadn´t even bothered to come with a proper fake name. Of course it was Dawlish. Who else would be as un-creative as to cover his identity by changing only the last two letters of his own bloody name. Then again he had always been a straight-laced, unimaginative, by-the-book boor. Severus had heard about his readmission into the auror office and how Shacklebolt had vouched for him, and personally advocated his return. Evidently the new minister would try to prove his point by giving Dawlish the important assignment of keeping an eye on the most important living evidence and resource the ministry had: Severus himself.

But to what end had he gone after James asking questions about Evelyn´s attacker? Whoever that criminal was, Severus knew beyond a shadow of a doubt he was a muggle...What interest would Shacklebolt have in a muggle criminal, he had wondered...And then it hit him...It wasn´t the criminal... It was Evelyn. The ministry sent Dawlish to spy on him. Would it be too much of a stretch for them to use Evelyn in some way to get him to cooperate? With so many Death Eaters still unaccounted for, and the Rott´s money financing them, Severus could understand the desperation.

He could understand, but he wouldn´t be pressured. Kingsley was enough of a big boy to take care of his duties without having to resort to this. Severus refused to let the Ministry play with his personal life. He had told Shacklebolt more than once he wasn´t not at his disposal. Maybe the interim minister needed a reminder, even if he had to apparate to London and deliver the message in person.

…...

“Was it really necessary to threaten the secretary to gain access to my office?” Shacklebolt asked him cooly, without even leaving his seat, as Severus burst into his office unannouced, slamming the door behind him.

“He should count his blessings that I didn´t curse him.”

“For a man who wanted to stay dead and hidden, you´re sure making a spectacle of coming into the Minister´s office. I imagine something serious happened...”

“Spare me the act, Shacklebolt. You know why I´m here. You know, you could have told Dawlish to come up with a better fake name if he wants to spy on me.”

“It doesn´t surprise me that you´d detect him. Do take a seat, will you?”

“I rather stand, this won´t take long.”

“As you wish” Kingsley crossed his fingers over the tabletop and leaned in “How did you find out?”

“Your obtuse pet auror is not exactly subtle. So, the ministry doesn´t take 'no' for an aswer, I gather? I told you I wasn´t at your beck and call, and you send an auror to spy on me?”

“To protect you.”

“Oh, please!”

“Your neighbour had a little mishap last night, didn´t she?”

“Leave her out of this.” Severus lunged forwards towards the desk, his face inches away from Kingsley

“I can´t.” the interim minister leaned back, opened one of the drawers of his workdesk, retrieved an envelope and dropped it on the tabletop in front of Severus.

“What is this?”

“Open it.”

Severus eyed him suspisciously before picking up the envelope. He didn´t recognise the handwritting, of a penmanship so poor it took him a while to understand, but once he did, Severus felt a punch in his stomach.

How could this have happened? How did he fail to notice? He had been a spy for years, and yet he had missed this? How? Had he gotten this careless?

“We have intercepted more of these. None reached its destination I assure you.”

“Since when?”

“It started on Halloween, so not too long ago. I had asked Dawlish to keep an eye on you, and he had been on the case since mid October, so you can rest easy that the Rotts got no information concerning you...or your personal connections.”

“Dawlish was there yesterday?”

“Not on the scene, no...He has kept his distance from you. We didn´t want you to notice, evidently. But he did learn about your neighbour´s misadventure as soon as it occurred. Our dear Death Eater friend was quick to report it...”

Severus looked down on the letter once more, feeling his blood run cold inside his veins

“...Snape´s muggle whore...”

“...the baseborn is probably going to come in handy, he seems to hold her dear...”

“...he might be more incline to cooperate if...”

“It´s not signed...” Severus asked, after finally finding his voice “...who?”

“Selwyn.”

“Cant´s say that surprises me...” Selwyn was notorious for his sadism, Severus remembered well. The man´s mere presence had always disgusted him. A sleazy coward with a nasty tendency of preying on the vulnerable and weak, and a penchant for girls and women. It had been quite the task to get him to keep his paws off Luna Lovegood when she was in their custody. Even the average Death Eater had more moral standards than this brute. Small wonder he would suggest hurting Evelyn to get to him...He probably would have wanted to do it himself if he could get his way. “I thought he was dead”

“He ran away right after the Battle of Hogwarts...Now he´s probably trying to get back in the good graces of his former associates.”

“Once a coward...”

“We will deal with him in due time. As for what happened to your neighbour, we are also looking into it...”

“What do you want?” Severus asked in a low, defeated tone.

“Pardon?”

“What.Do.you.Want?” he hissed

“I thought you said you were not 'at my beck and call'? Your own words.”

“Just tell me what you want. I´ll do it.”

“What I want depends on what you´re offering.”

“You wanted my help, didn´t you? Fine. I´ll do it.”

“And in return...”

“Don´t let anybody near her”

“Your neighbour?”

“Yes. This...this has nothing to do with her, and she shouldn´t suffer for it. She´s a muggle, a schoolteacher. I´m sure you don´t want the scandal if any harm comes to this woman. Attacks on muggles so soon after the war would be a publicity disaster for the ministry.”

“Yes, that´s true. But that´s not what you´re worried about...is it?”

“It´s none of your concern what I´m worried about, Minister. Do we have a deal?”

“Yes.”

Kingsley stood from his seat and walked up to Severus, stretching out his hand. Snape sneered and turned away, walking to the door.

“Do I have your word?”

“Yes.” Severus nearly barked, his hand gripping the doorknob till his knuckles went white.

“Can I count on you for anything?”

“Anything. I gave you my word, didn´t I?” he turned “Just let me know when and where.”

Shacklebolt nodded, knowingly.

Chapter Text

Dawlish nearly jumped out of his skin when a raven descended upon him in a dark alley close to Spinner´s End, only to swiftly reveal the form of none other than Severus Snape. He would never guess the former potions master was a (most likely unregistered) animagus, but it didn´t really surprise him,come to think of it. It was a valuable skill to have if you were a spy and Dawlish would have liked to have had enough talent for it himself, but alas, he was seemingly destined to be a bureaucrat.

"I hope I didn´t startle you" Severus offered with a sardonic smile.

"Snape." he scoffed "You really are intent of making everything more difficult for us all, aren´t you?"

"Quite the opposite, in reality."

"I thought you were going to keep a low profile. First you storm into the minister´s office and now this? Why don´t you just give them your location already?"

"I knew the minister would inform you of my visit. Is that why you´re scrambling to get to Spinner´s End to convince me to behave before I spoil whatever plan it is you´ve concocted to aprehend Sewlyn? You and Kingsley both have quite a bit of nerve. Like I´m enough of a fool to believe any of you have my best interest in mind."

"How did you even find me?"

"You´re not that hard to track, 'Officer Dawlins'... Merlin gracious, at least put some thought into it..."

"That still doesn´t answer my question: what you´re doing here?"

"What do you think I´m doing here? And what are YOU  and your band of Aurors thinking of doing now? And don´t try to lie to me, Sewlyn may be in the wind, but if he had left Cokeworth you wouldn´t be here."

"He´s in a hotel across town. We are going to proceed with his arrest tonight, so if you could kindly not stand  in the way"

"Stand in the way? You Aurors really are a bloody joke. You really think you can simply arrest him? Sewlyn is not going to surrender without a fight and by now he may even have reinforcements."

"We haven´t located any other..."

"Of course you haven´t...The Rotts are not dumb. Claire is a dangerous loose cannon, but Ludwig is far more calculating than she can ever hope to be, and definetly more than most give him credit for. He won´t simply let you aprehend Sewlyn, specially the dirty coward decides to give information away to save his own carcass from Azkaban...And there´s always Dimitri. God only knows where his interests are at the moment."

"So what´s your plan, then?" Dawlish seemed defeated moreso than convinced. He knew he couldn´t affort to be on Snape´s bad side, and there was no way he could keep the former potions master from doing as he pleased. Merlin willing tonight´s arrest would be a success and they would stop worrying about Snape´s current status being leaked. It was wiser to play along.

"How many men do you have?"

"Two."

"Do you trust them?"

"With my life. I´ve trained both myself."

"Where is it going to be?"

"At the old mill. Is the most accessible place where we can avoid muggles in this town.”

"My, my...maybe you do have a brain after all. Just your luck, Dawlish, I happen know that old mill almost as well as I know my own childhood home...How about the other one?"

"Which other one?"

"The muggle degenerate who attacked Evelyn."

"No need to worry about that."

"Oh, but I do. What will be made of him? I don´t believe you would delegate that task after personally going after James."

"I didn´t 'go after' that boy"

"And why was he so terrified, then? For the state of his nerves, I bet you´ve used legilimency on him, haven´t you?"

"Don´t act so indignant. We both know you have no qualms about using legilimency or whatever other spell or curse to get your way. That´s why Dumbledore used you in his insane plans, after all. In any case, thanks to the muggle boy´s memories we were able to locate the man who attacked your neighbour...The poor lad was under such distress he didn´t even consciously remember he had seen the license number on the motorbyke. I wouldn´t have gotten tha information out of him without using legilimency."

"...so...?" Severus urged, his patience running thin.

"Your neighbour is a very, very lucky woman, Severus. Apparently the man who attacked her crashed his motorcycle as he was escaping from the scene. Seen as you were acting in her defense, I won´t even ask what you´ve done to scare the wretched bastard into having an accident, but it seems he was so distressed the muggle doctors who saw him thought he was under the influence of hallucinogens and put him under surveilance. Tonight Cokeworth´s police will be receiving an anonymous lead about a possible suspect fitting the desciption James has given them that checked into a hospital last night and is still there. We did everything but wrap the wanker a nice wrapping paper with a bow and deliver the package at their door step."

"Good...even tough it hardly justifies scarying a teenager half to death. I´m sure you could have found this man without resorting to this."

"And what do you care about a muggle boy´s hurt feelings. From what I heard you were never one to spare children´s feelings. Has the war  made you soft? Or...well, of course. Is not the boy you care about, is it?"

"What time will you and your men be proceeding with Selwyn´s arrest" Severus trailed off.

"Within the next hours. We´ve sent him a fake letter so he should be at mill at midnight."

"Fine. I´ll be there."

"I don´t recall asking for your help."

"I don´t recall offering any help. You´re in my hometown, snooping into my private life and trying to aprehend a man who´s a threat to me and those close to me. This is much more my business than it is yours, so do try not to ruin everything, will you?"

 

….....

Evelyn nearly ran to the door as soon as she heard someone knock. It had to be Severus. He had been gone for hours now, and she wouldn´t stop fretting no matter how much she told herself it was stupid to worry. She was just shaken by what had happened the previous night, she thought, there was nothing to worry about. It was a reasonable enough train of thought but she couldn´t stop that sinking feeling of dread that overcame her more and more as the hours passed and Severus didn´t return.

It wasn´t him, however.

"I just decided to drop by to check on you and tell you that Mr. Nolan has decided to give you the rest of week off, more if you need." Angela went in, not even noticing Evelyn´s disappointment "I showed him the copies of your hospital papers and the police report you gave me and he said you can take as much time off as you need. Since you´re only giving the remedial classes and extra curricular projects, there´s no harm done suspending your classes for a few days."

"What am I going to do with a whole week off?" Evelyn  asked, offering her friend a seat on the couch "Besides, remedial classes can´t just be suspended like that, a lot of these students are struggling and finals week will be..."

"...in December...It´s still early November. You´ll have plenty of time to catch up on everything, relax. I thought I´d find you feeling better."

"I am better."

"It doesn´t look like it. Evelyn, dear, you wear your emotions on your sleeve. I can tell you´re tense. Is it about that man who attacked you? If you don´t feel safe here, you can spend some time at my place..."

"No, thank you, but that won´t be necessary..."

"Well, of course, you´d probably prefer staying at Severus" Angela laughed heartily "How did that go, speaking of which?"

"It went just fine."

"Let me guess, he was a perfect gentleman again, which means you have nothing interesting to tell me...Pity."

"Angela, please"

"Evelyn! I know what happened yesterday was awful, and you´re still very upset, but frankly you sound more aggravated today than you did at the hospital. Come on, spit it out. Did something else happen?"

"No, nothing happened...But I´m afraid it might."

"Why?"

"The police came here earlier today, then James showed up to visit. Severus spend a lot of time outside talking to that officer Parry and I´m pretty sure he talked to James as well, when I wasn´t around. He seemed very worried about something, but he wouldn´t tell me what it was. Then he left. Hasn´t come back since."

"He didn´t say where he was going?"

"No. Just that he would be back soon. It´s getting dark already and nothing."

"Evelyn, what kind of ideas are you getting into your head?"

"I´m not getting any ideas." She took a long pause before deciding to tell Angela of her true concerns "But you have to agree that it´s odd. Severus has a temper, you know...  "

"You´re not thinking he...He wouldn´t do that."

"I hope not..."

......

 

Angela had stayed for the rest of the evening. It was past 11 when she finally had to leave; she had to work in the morning after all. That distracted Evelyn for a while, as her friend was kind enough to talk only about work and other matters that had no connection with either Severus or the events of the previous night. But once she was gone, Evelyn couldn´t do anything but start worrying and fretting again.

After escorting Angela to her car, she walked over to Severus´ door. It scared her half to death to be outside at night..But she had to check. The lights were off. She knocked just to make sure, but she knew he wasn´t home. He would have let her know if he had arrived.

Evelyn rushed back into her house, locking the door behind her and closing the blinds. After double checking the back door, she decided going to sleep was afoolish endeavour. She went up to her office and started to look for something to do...a book to read, assignments still left to grade, notes in need of revising...Anything that could distract her from the fact that Severus wasn´t back yet and she was terrified.

 

…..

 

Perched on the roof of the old mill, Severus could see the silhouette walking down the path that led to the front gate, faintly illuminated by the street lights. The mill was sinister enough in daylight...at night one would have to be entiely bonkers to venture inside. As soon as one crossed the gate, leaving the lights of the streets behind, it was pitch black. Cokeworth´s skies were morbidly dark, and stars were hard to see all thanks to the smog most industrial cities had to deal with, but at least tonight there was a full moon.

Selwyn had walked into the trap so willingly Severus was suspiscious. Did he really trust Ludwig and Claire that much, or was he simply stupid? He watched as Selwyn stopped a few steps past the gate and pulled out his wand. He seemed to hesitate before casting a lighting charm to see his way. He crossed the patio that was once used to load the lorries and stopped in front of the main entrance. Dawlish´s two men hadn´t moved from their positions inside the building, one at the entrance and another at the backdoor of the main machinery room which led to the second floor, as Severus sugested. The building  had no back door and to leave that room one could only use the front door or go up, and more one went up the more claustrophobic and difficult to navigate the building became. The only open spaces were the patio and the roof where he had taken Evelyn after the Halloween party. For a wizard leaping off the roof would be no issue, so it was necessary to block that access, regardless of how unlikely it would have been for Sewlyn to have the idea of using it. Once lured into the machinery room, which was dark and cluttered enough that he wouln´t he see his surroundings well enough to escape, even with magic and a surprise attack would leave him no time to get his bearings and react, Sewlyn would have nowhere to go. If he was smart, he would surrender and the whole thing would be over in minutes. Severus was to stay back unless he was needed, which Dawlish found unlikely. It seemed like a straightfoward and simple plan, but something still bothered Severus.

It was too easy.

He wouldn´t put past the Rotts to sacrifice a spy, but that could come back to bite them. If Sewlyn was under their orders, he would certainly have useful information about them, which the Ministry would gladly bargain for...And Sewlyn was never a loyal man...he would jump at the first chance to collaborate. Severus wondered if the Rotts would indeed abandon him like this...Unless of course they trusted their connections with the French ministry só much that even Sewlyn´s possible testimony wouldn´t hurt them. That was a hell of a gamble as far as Severus was concerned. Which is why he refused to believe Sewlyn would show up alone...that the Rotts would allow him to...

As if the whole scene had been rehearsed, Sewlyn finally walked in, certainly tired of waiting outside. Patience had never been his forté...Severus moved from his perching spot outside to one of the high beams of the machinery room ceilling, from which he had a panoramic view of the yet-to-unfold drama. The clutter and machines cast long shadows on the walls as the faint light of Sewlyn´s wand lit the way, and the more he advanced the less the moonlight could be of any help. If Sewlyn had an ounce of critical thinking he would turn around now, but he didn´t.

It all happened faster than his eyes could discern in the dark. As soon as Sewlyn found himself in the middle of the room, both aurors had descended upon him with swift efficiency. Confundus followed by a full body binding spell was a tough combination of attacks to pull off on a moving target and in the dark, but if well executed it would end the action in seconds. Alas, as Severus predicted, the plan was much too smooth on paper to go well on the field. While the confundus charm did its job, the body binding spell missed the mak by centimeters by sheer luck, or lack thereof. The confunded Sewlyn was such an erratic moving target that the second auror could not have aimed no matter how he tried and using any light-casting spell would give their positions away. The fumble had allowed Sewlyn time to counteratack. But caught off guard and confunded, he had mere seconds to decide on a spell and figure out where to aim it, having no idea how many attackers were coming for him. Of course he would do something stupid, Severus tought. And something stupid he did, indeed.

The yellowing white sheets of dusty fabric covering the machinery all went up in flames in a matter of seconds.

Fiendfyre. That lunatic was going to kill them all.

As he left his post on the high beam and dove in, Severus could see Dawlish and his two men casting spells to try and put out the rapidly spreading inferno. A fire in the mill was the last thing they needed, it would alert the muggle authorities and with the amount of rubbish piled up outside, it might spread into the neighbouring houses. The whole thing was a fiasco if he had ever seen one. If Severus could accept the notion that Sewlyn had a brain after all he would say he had done it on purpose, to give himself time to flee. But the dimwit was still struggling to get his bearings as a circle of fire of his own creation closed in on him.

Suprisingly, Sewlyn seemed to immediately recover most of his wits the moment Severus landed in front of him, fully reverted to his human form, as if sheer hatred had dispersed the confusing effects of the first attack he´d suffered. Dawlish and his men had succeeeded in keeping the fire from spreading, but Severus knew there was no way they could get to epicenter of the blast. It was up to him to end it, and he had to do it fast.

“Snape.” Sewlyn grimace maniacally “´been a while”

“I may have missed an invitation for tea or two.” Severus quipped before raising his wand. Severus had half a mind to simply throw him into the flames and call it a suicide, but he had enough of a body count to his name. Still, nobody had asked him to go nicely about this

“SECTUMSEMPRA”

Severus slashed him twice. The first time on his wand hand, a gash deep enough for the blood to gush out painting a dark crescent  on the ground, the dark red liquid looking ominously black under the flaming lights. The second time on his face. A small token of Severus´appreciation for that little piece of elgant prose in Evelyn´s hommage. Sewlyn fell back, screeching from the pain.

Then it happened. Precisely as Severus had feared.

As Sewlyn lay on the ground powerless to do anything but shriek  in agony, and Dawlish and his men were finally putting out the last embers of the fire, the deafening noise of breaking glass and howling wind came from above them. Severus and the aurors looked up to see two shapeless, smokey clouds of black burst in with the violence of a tornado, obliterating the windows and sending a rain of glass shards down on them.

“Well, fuck me...” Severus hissed “...the cavalry has arrived.”

Chapter Text

The attacks rained on them before they could get their bearings. Even as he was expecting something like this to happen, Severus was only barely able to deflect the fast succession of curses and hexes coming his way from all sides. From the corner of his eye he could see Dawlish doing no better, as one of his aurors was already on the ground and the other one nowhere he could see. It was impossible to tell how many wizards were attacking them, but from the sheer intensity and speed of the orchestrated hits Severus knew they had to be outnumbered.

Eventually, Dawlish managed to get his wits about him for long enough to cast a protective shield over himself and the wounded auror. As bolts of light ricocheted in the darkness, Severus moved to the back of the room. Dawlish needed the magical shield to make sure at least one of his men left alive, but that wouldn´t help them reach anything other than a stalemate, he thought. They had to fight back or their defenses wouldn´t last. Severus tried to think fast: he needed  some protection to reduce his vulnerability so he could attack without having to guard his back, and thankfully, he knew the floorplan of the mill well enough that he could move effectiely in the dark and under a storm of hexes.

Oddly enough, as Severus finally found himself in relative safety, with a solid wall shielding his back and a large piece of machinery protecting his front, he had the distinct impression that the attacks were starting to subside. There was nothing but complete darkness as far as his eyes could see and he heard the zapping and thundering of hexes die down until there was silence. He wondered if they were trying to locate him order to strike again, seen as Dawlish and the wounded man were somewhat out of reach behind a protective spell and his other auror was nowhere to be seen, and likely incapacitated as well. Severus couldn´t afford to wait to find out. It might be suicidal, but they couldn´t crouch and hide in the dark, waiting for the next strike, they needed light. The only problem was that he couldn´t perform  a lighting spell without immediately giving away his position.

Suddenly, the entire building lit up as if an aurora borealis had exploded from within its walls. Severus´eyes followed the stream of light to identify its origin, only to see the auror he thought had disappeared standing on the opposite side of room. He didn´t know if he should be thankful for the heroic sacrifice, or if he should decry the young man´s recklessness, but he had time to do exactlly neither, as a looming shadow descended and a flash of light knocked him out of Severus´field of vision.

Now he could see there were six attackers,three men and three women as best as he could see, all standing in the middle of the room,  close to where Selwyn had fallen just minutes before. Even with light, Severus couldn´t recognise any of their faces. But there was no time to think of that, he decided, as two members of the group started to collect Sewlyn´s unconscious carcass from the ground. A rescue attempt, as he had feared. Over his dead body they´d take the pleasure of giving Sewlyn to Azkaban´s dementors away from him, Severus thought.

"Deprimo" he hissed and the ground under their feet collapsed. The basement bellow was even darker and more cluttered than the machinery room, so falling into it would stun them for long enough that he could attack from above or so Severus planned, hoping Dawlish would take his cue and help. He moved towards the edge of the crater but suddenly he heard Dawlish yell.

"SNAPE, STAY BACK!" Severus stopped dead on his tracks only to be knocked back by a gust of wind so sheerly powerful he had to struggle to stand. The deafening noise made it seem like Dawlish´s voice was was miles away in the middle of a storm. Severus felt the impact of something non-physical, a hex most likely, hit him on the chest, and send him flying, tumbling like leaf caught by the wind, only to fall squarely on his face meters back. Collecting all strength he had left, Severus stood up and readied himself to finish the job Sewlyn had started. He´d destroy the mill if needed be, but their assailants weren´t going anywhere, he thought, aiming his wand at the ceiling.

"LET THEM GO!" Dawlish had somehow managed to reach him and grab his arm before he could do anything.

Then there was silence and darkness again.

"They came for Sewlyn. There´s no point in killing ourselves to stop it" the auror barked at him.

"I knew this would happen." Severus hissed back. "They got him."

"Yes, they did. And count your blessings that this is all they got. You could have been killed .All of us could "

"And you don´t seem half as concerned about them getting away as you should be"

"We have other aurors posted outside the area. Hopefully they´ll get to them. For now I´m more worried about getting ourselves out of here. I´ve got two wounded men, in case you´ve forgotten.” his tone was exasperated at best “I told you not to get involved."

"Would you have fared any better if I wasn´t here?"

"Maybe not, but now they have hard proof that you are alive."

"Sewlyn would have told the Rotts regardless."

"Did you recognise any of those people?"

"No, but what does that have to do with anything?"

"They were not sent by the Rotts, I bet. You wouldn´t have known them if they were. Claire and Ludwig have written Sewlyn off a long time ago. I´m sure they´d just use their contacts in the French ministry to discredit any testimony Sewlyn might have provided implicating them with Death Eater activities. They just threw him to the lions."

"If not the Rotts..."

"I have no idea, nor do I want to think about it now...You´d probably know better than me, in any case" he scoffed

 

...........

 

Severus and Dawlish carried the two wounded men out of the building and clumsily apparated with them to St. Mungo´s where a group of healers and nurses was waiting as if they knew ahead the mission would be a fiasco. Severus himself had sustained minor injuries, a small fracture to zygomatic bone and a cut on the inside of his lip from the fall, but nothing worthy of worry. Dawlish seemed to be the only one relatively unscathed, but he was fuming.

Within the hour he got informed that the group that attacked them had indeed managed to escape, and, no, they were not identified. A search party had been dispached out but they had lost them after they had made it into the continent. The chase had injured another three aurors non lethally. There were no casualties, fortunately. Dawlish was pacing about in quiet fury. Severus was aching to go into an "I told you so" lecture about how carelessly he had gone about arresting Sewlyn, but that wouldn´t help anybody.

He simply kept thinking about what Dawlish had told him. Severus refused to believe Claire and Ludwig Rott would have abandoned Sewlyn, but if Dawlish was right and they had...then who had sent the rescue party in? And what for? Well, that was a stupid question. The Rotts were not the only ones who wanted the information Sewlyn currently had. Dawlish and his men had managed to keep information about Severus´whereabouts from reaching the Rotts, but whoever had Sewlyn now would have easy access to everything he knew, which included Severus location and even Evelyn´s existence. “Properly paranoid” didn´t even begin to define how he was starting to feel.

"You have to stay out of this mess from now on, Snape. And I mean it. Sewlyn was the only Death Eater who knew you were alive, we kept him from passing the information on for as a long as we could, but now whoever has him will know about you and where you´re located." Dawlish voiced Severus inner fears in such a clear way it all felt even more hopeless.

"Nobody will be coming after me for now." Wouldn´t they, he asked himself. He wasn´t so sure any more.

"And you know that how?"

"We still don´t know for sure if this was the Rotts, but regardless...The minister has people all over the Greater Manchester area. Whoever has got Sewlyn, they´ll bide their time. Doing anything now would be suicidal."

"That may be. But do take some precautions. And I don´t just say that for your own sake. If you care an inkling for that muggle woman, you better stop sticking your neck out and start listening."

......

 

Evelyn had long lost track of how many times she woke up through the night. And at every turn she´d go to the window and look out to see nothing but the dreadfully quiet night outside. After 5am she could no longer keep on falling asleep at short intervals on any random chair or piece of furniture welcoming enough...she was wide awake and frightened.

Severus had spent the entire night out.

Enough was enough. She changed out of her nightgown into a comfortable pair of trainers, jeans and a warm jumper and, going against all the fear and dread  that steadily had piled up on her shoulder since that attack, headed out to the street into the blue cold dusk. And before she had taken five steps in the faint light of dawn she saw the silhouette of a man coming in the opposite direction.

"Severus! Finally!" he yelped, rushing to him. Only as she approached did she see the state he was in. One of this cheekbones had a large bruise that had already started to go a dreary shade of purple and his lower lip was swollen. More troubling still, his shirt had patches that looked and smelled burnt.

"Evelyn? What the devil are you doing out at this hour?"

"I could ask you the same!  You´ve been out the whole day and the whole night. What happened?"

"Something came up."

" 'Something came up'? Is that all you have to say? Do you have any idea how worried I was? What were you thinking disappearing like that, on day after a bloody criminal invades my house? And coming back like THAT?"

"I didn´t mean to keep you waiting. I ran into an acquaintance...We had some old issues to deal with and it took some time..."

“And did you solve those issues in a fistfight followed by arson? Your face is all banjaxed and you smell like barbecue gone wrong!”

"I tripped.... I tripped and fell on my face like an idiot.."

"Severus...."

"It´s true."

"Fine, be like this, don´t tell me...To be frank, I´m not even sure I want to know."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"Let´s go inside, I have some rubbing alcohol and ice for that"

"It´s not necessary"

"Oh but it is. And  don´t think you´ve got many bargaining rights left after keeping me up all night, let´s go."

 

....

Severus didn´t offer much resistance as she brought him in and made him seat on the sofa. He looked tired. Not just tired, but exhausted. Evelyn couldn´t even begin to imagine what he had been through over the course of over twelve hours that would cause him to come back home in that state, but she knew asking would get her nowhere. She had learned that much about him: Severus wouldn´t tell you anything he didn´t feel like telling, no matter how much you pestered him, so she simply stopped asking questions and went silently about the task of tending to his wounds.

He winced sharply as she put a pack of ice to his face. His right cheekbone was a swollen ruin.

“I´m sorry. You have to keep this pressed.... This looks nasty”

“I know.”

“The bone might be broken.”

“I don´t think that´s the case. You worry too much.”

“You have to see a doctor anyway.” she countered, kneeling on the floor between his parted knees to get a better look. She could feel him tense as she did so. “Relax, I´ll try not to hurt you any more than I have to.”

Severus didn´t reply, seemingly concentrated in keeping still as she continued to examine his face as delicately as she could. As she tended to him, she studied his face, beyond the injuries. His expression was unreadable, but Evelyn could see more than a hint of concern on his frown, which was deeper than usual, forming a crisp line between his thick eyebrows. She looked at him, agitated.

One feature of Severus´face that had immediately seemed striking to her from the first day they met was how focused and sharp his obsidian-black eyes were. He usually looked straight at people, intensely, his eye colour so dark it was hard to make out his irises from his pupils, which lent his eyes a strange, almost dizzying abyssal quality, as if one was staring into two a deep bottomless holes. At first it had alarmed her a bit, but she eventually became used to it. It matched his personality, and as she came to know him better, his eyes stopped being disconcerting and became more and more familiar, reassuring even, a mere sign of his usually straightforward personality. It was when he avoided eye contact that she worried. And as she looked at him with barely a few inches separating her eyes from his, she could see he was forcing himself to look away.

“Your mouth...” she noted

“I´v bitten my lip when I fell, it´s nothing.”

“Let me see..” Severus complied as she gently turned his face toward her. He was right, there was a cut on the inside of his lip, but it didn´t look too serious. She wouldn´t have to do anything about it but make sure it was disinfected.

His warm breath tickled her face comfortingly, as Evelyn got lost within herself, contemplating his face as close as she ever had. Nobody in their right mind would ever say Severus Snape was a conventionally handsome man, but the more she got to know and observe him, the more she found a certain arid elegance about the lines of his features. There were, however, two physical traits of his she found unambiguously attractive: his hands and his lips. She had to police herself not to look at his hands too much, as she knew he was self-conscious about the fact that he couldn´t move at least three of his fingers, but at times she would catch herself staring at his mouth as he talked for long moments, to the point she had their shape memorized. Severus had thin lips as crisply defined as all of his other facial features that sloped downwards slightly at the corners and a wide cupid´s bow that made his mouth appear somewhat broader than it was. Devoid of emotion as his face could often be, his feelings tended to betray him through his lips...Evelyn knew by now how he unconsciously pressed them together when he was frustrated, pursed them when aggravated, and  how their corners twisted upwards just slightly when he smirked. Smiles were rare, but on the few times they happened, Evelyn saw there was something under all the scowling and frowning that was, in fact, surprisingly beautiful.

A strident noise shattered her quiet contemplation.

“You better get that” he whispered

“Of course” she stumbled back onto her feet and got to the phone. The voice of Officer Perry greeted her with a sleepy drawl.

“Ms. Black, Good morning. I apologize in advance for calling so early, but I thought you would like to know the news as soon as possible”

“News? Which news?”

“You assailant has been apprehended overnight. I know you haven´t seen much of his face, but I know your neighbour got a better look, so it would be good if both of you could drop by as soon as possible so we can wrap this up. I´ll be calling your students shortly as well.”

Perry continued on as Evelyn looked over to Severus, who was still sitting quietly on her couch, showing not a trace of curiosity about the call.

“Sure, officer. I´ll go as soon as I can...Today. Thank you.” she answered mechanically before hanging up

“Officer Perry?” he asked blankly.

“Yes. He says they arrested the man.”

“You´ll have to go to the police station then.”

“You don´t seem very surprised”

…..

 

Everything hurt. Even his eyes hurt as Sewlyn opened them to the unforgiving light. He groaned and tried to move, but any movement he made sent stabbing sharp burning pain through his muscles, like his flesh was being torn apart. Snape had ripped him nearly to shreds. That he was even alive seemed like a bad joke in on itself.

“We weren´t expecting you to wake up so soon...” a soft female voice with a thick accent he couldn´t identify reached his ears. He turned to where the voice was and saw a beautiful woman, wearing white robes and  a white bonnet that contrasted with her black hair, pulled back in a bun. A nurse, he thought. So his captors had been kind enough to send him to a hospital before giving him over to the dementors.

“Wouldn´t have been better not to have.”

She didn´t answer, and instead proceeded to check his bandages with a subtle smile frozen on her face and no detectable emotion in her bright blue eyes. There was a long silence before Sewlyn heard steps coming into the room, and a male voice came next.

“Anya, dear...I´ll need you to step out for a moment if you don´t mind it.”

Sewlyn simply figured it was a healer, even if the fact that he too had that same accent as the nurse felt odd...Then he saw the man, and noticed didn´t have robes on, but a grey muggle suit. His hair was almost the same shade of grey as his clothes, and his eyes were eerily pale, blue or grey it was hard to tell. His face was calm, bordering on cheerful. As soon as the nurse left, the man approached his bed.

“Good morning. I´m glad to see you´ve come to...”

“You´re not a healer...”

“Well observed. You´re alert, that´s excellent. We have a lot to discuss.”

“Am I under arrest?”

“Quite the contrary...You´re a free man. Free from the British Ministry and free from the Rotts. Of course everything comes at a price, but you will soon find out you could do far worse than negotiating with me. But first things first. You may call me Dmitri.”

Chapter Text

Cokeworth´s police station had operated for over a century from a small and unimpressive three storey red brick building close to the old commercial centre. The town grew as the small, square building became obsolete, more and more unfit to handle the criminal occurrences that inevitably increased along with the cycle of urban development and decay. As a result, papers piled up in complete chaos, archives and boxes had to be squeezed into tiny cramped spaces, and the staff laboured on tiny desks where reports and occurrences came in faster than they could be dispatched and dealt with.

Evelyn noticed the tendency towards maddeningly slow bureaucratic process from the moment she set foot in the place. Phones ringing non-stop, files and documents being stacked, moved, shuffled and passed around, people sitting around waiting for their own complaints or occurrences to be processed, people running amok trying to accomplish ten tasks at the same time. She wondered how such an understaffed and overwhelmed agency could have possibly found the man who assaulted her so fast? Surely there were many more serious cases ahead of hers...

It took her and Severus a good five minutes to locate Officer Perry´s desk. He was on the phone, talking about some other case he was working on, and she wondered how many cases did the average officer in Cokeworth had to work on at the same time.

"My apologies" he smiled as he finished the call and offered them each a handshake "please, take a seat."

"Officer Perry," Evelyn started, as Severus remained oddly quiet "I have to say I´m surprised. I didn´t think this would be solved so soon..."

"Neither did we, and trust me, that´s not usually the case. But you seem to be a lucky woman. Yesterday we got a call saying the man who attacked you had been admitted into a local hospital. They even provided his name: Peter Henley"

"A hospital? What happened to him?" her heart skipped a beat and she briefly looked at Severus from the corner of her eye. He was as quiet and still as a statue.

"Apparently Mr. Henley fled the scene in a motorbike, which is consistent with James Wright´s statement. He then suffered an accident. Nothing too serious, some bruises and scratches, a broken arm and a fractured foot. The foot injury is not related to the crash from what I gathered, however."

"Yes, I know. I stomped on his foot wearing high heels. The heel broke off even..."

"That explains it, then."

"So his condition is not serious?"

"Physically no. But the hospital staff was keeping him in observation due to what they described as 'erratic behaviour'. They said he appeared to be having hallucinations, so he got tested for drugs. The results haven´t come back yet."

"What kind of hallucinations was he having?"

"Well..." Perry looked at her obviously taken aback by the question " The doctor who saw him said he was paranoid, claiming that someone was after him, and that he was going to be 'cursed'. I went in to talk to him, and he practically admitted to having assaulted you before I even asked anything. Then he told me I could arrest him, as long as I didn´t turn him over to 'that man'...whatever that means. I´m betting good money that the drug screening will come back positive for a laundry list of substances"

"Are you considering running a psychological test?" She felt her stomach drop. Did that man have mental issues? What would become of him if that was the case?

"At this stage we don´t know. He may seem like lunatic, but he also has a criminal record, which includes battery and at least one count of sexual assault, so I wouldn´t put him in the 'poor sod who didn´t know any better' category just yet. And as I said the test results haven´t come back yet, he may just be drugged out of his mind. But let us worry about that. I just wanted you and Mr. Snape to come so we could get the whole identification part done and you can put this behind you as soon as possible"

"I haven´t seen my attacker´s face. He grabbed me from behind..and he had a scarf over his head."

"But you´ve seen his clothes and general built. I know Mr. Wright saw his face, and  Mr. Snape has taken a partial look as well from what he told me. I have contacted Mr. Wright´s mother and she´s bringing the lad in later for an identity parade, so if you two could be so kind as to take a quick glance at Henley"

"I can´t verify his identity for sure...I´ve told you I haven´t seen that man´s face."

"And I´m not asking you to. I told you, he confessed before I even asked. This is merely a formality. Just tell me if he matches what you did see: height, built, any detail you feel like you can be sure of. You don´t have to confirm his identity. He left plenty forensic evidence behind. We just need the extra evidence to wrap this up neatly and avoid problems down the line. Same for you Mr. Snape, you..."

"Sure, whatever is needed." Severus replied icily without letting Perry finish "So, shall we get this over with at once?"

Perry guided them into a small room. It was fitted with one of those two-way mirrors that she had only seen in the American investigative TV series her sister loved watching. They stood in awkward silence for a few moments as Perry lit the light on the adjoining room, so they could see it through the mirror. After another few moments a police office in uniform come into the other room bringing a sallow faced hulking man with dark hair and blue eyes, his right arm in a cast, face all bruised and limping from one leg.

"Remember, you don´t have to make a definitive positive identification.” Perry reassured her “Just tell me if there´s anything about him that rings a bell."

"He´s tall and he´s wearing jeans and a black jacket...That´s about all I can say. I´ve told you, I can´t help you much..."

"It´s him." Severus let out flatly.

"How can you be so sure?" Evelyn turned to him, not quite believing her ears.

"I am. That´s him. May we go now?"

"Of course." Perry knocked on the glass to let the other officer know they were done before opening the door for them. He led them out and back into the main office, so Henley could be removed from the room without crossing their path. “Standard safety measure”, he explained.

“Shouldn´t he be in the hospital if his tests haven´t come back yet?” Evelyn asked, looking over her shoulder as Henley was let out of the room.

“He´s not officially under arrest. We will wait for the tests then interview him officia...” Perry was interrupted mid-sentence by beastly screams, and Evelyn suddenly felt Severus roughly grab her arm and pull her back behind him before she could figure out what was going on.

Henley was howling,  struggling violently to get away from the officer who had custody of him. In a matter of seconds, he broke free of the officer´s grip and body slammed him to a wall. Even in handcuffs Henley´s required three men, Perry included, to wrestle him to the ground and restrain him as he kicked and bit, grunting profanity-laced incoherences. For a moment she thought he was trying to lunge at them, and surely Severus had had the same impression, which explained why he had stepped in front of her. But as Henley was restrained she realized that wasn´t it. Now she could hear  clearly what Henley was saying.

“Get him away from me”.

The giant of a man who had terrorized her less than 48 hours before was on the ground, sobbing in terror, struggling, not to attack, but to get away. As Perry and his men forced him back onto his feet, Evelyn saw it...Henley´s eyes were staring at Severus as she trembled from head to toe.

He wasn´t having a fit of rage. He was petrified. And Severus was the reason for the panic attack.  

Evelyn turned to look at his face and found, much to her shock, that Severus was as calm and collected as before, as if the event hadn´t shaken him in the least. In fact, aside from pulling her behind him, he had barely moved.

“We better go.” he finally spoke “I don´t think officer Perry needs us anymore.”

 

…..........

 

"That man..." Evelyn ventured as they stepped out of the police station.

"What about him?" Severus answered distractedly, lighting up a cigarette.

"He was scared out of his wits."

"He´s just been arrested, I´m sure he´s not having a very good day thus far."

"He was scared of you"

"Evelyn, please..."

"He acted like he had seen the devil in person the moment he laid eyes on you."

"I´m sorry but I can´t give you a good explanation for that. You heard the officer, that man is a drug addict, he could be high as the Everest or going through a withdrawal for all we know..."

“Or he has a mental condition of some sort. I heard the officer as well, Severus.” He studied her expression as she stood in front of him, arms crossed over her chest. She didn´t look like she would let this go until she got the answers she wanted from him.

“Or that.” he shrugged “See? We´ve got way of knowing what´s going on through his mind, and nor should we care. It´s over. You should be relieved.”

“Yes, that´s the thing. I´m not.”

“And why is that?” he sighed, starting to get irritated.

“I thought you had seen as much of my attacker´s face as I did. But you identified Henley without any hesitation. Then he comes out and has that reaction to you. I´m sure you can understand that I should have some questions.”

“What are you getting at?”

“I don´t know, you tell me.”

"Let me guess: you think I´ve done something to him.”

“Have you?”

“Evelyn, don´t be ridiculous. Not that I didn´t want to, but I can promise I didn´t lay a finger on that wanker. You heard officer Perry, he has had an accident. Or maybe some other lowlife did that to him, who knows....I´m sure he doesn´t spend his spare time playing bridge with his granny."

"Then where were you last night?"

"I´ve told you."

"God, how stubborn can you be?"

"About as much as you apparently. You´re working yourself into a state for no reason!"

"Severus, look... I...” her tone mellowed. More than irritated she sounded upset “I care about you, ok? A great deal. I don´t want you to get yourself in trouble, specially on account of me."

“I´m not...Evelyn, don´t do this...” he let out after a small shocked pause. Was she really that worried about him? She seemed tired and  weary, as if all her usual energy was gone and there was nothing left but confusion and fear. He would have loved to give her some form of reassurance, but there was nothing else he could feasibly do but deflect her questions. Fort he sake of them both “Trust me you´re twisting your metaphorical knickers in a bunch for nothing."

"I hope I am.” she wasn´t, and he knew it. Little did she know, Evelyn actually had all the reasons in the world to be in that state. He just couldn´t let her know. Which was getting more difficult by the minute, specially when she gave him that pained look with those big brown eyes of hers.

" Let´s just stop this right here, ok? That man has been arrested and we should be celebrating, not bickering. Let´s have dinner somewhere. You chose the place..on me."

"Severus, are you trying to distract me with food?"

"It usually works..." his forced smile didn´t even begin to convince her.

“I´ll pass for today...”

“Evelyn...”

“I hope you don´t mind walking back home.”

Severus looked on as she walked towards her car and drove off. Maybe it was for the best that she wanted some time away. He needed some time himself, after all.

…...

Evelyn stared at her phone for what seemed like ages before finally working up the courage to pick it up and dial. But the moment she heard officer Perry´s voice answer her resolve faltered. Suddenly, she wasn´t sure making this phone call was a good idea.

“Ms. Black? Is everything alright?” He sounded surprised to get a call from her less than hour after she had left the police station, and Evelyn herself didn´t know what had come over her to call him the moment she had set foot back home.

“Yes...I hate to bother you but...” she still had time to hang up. Or make up something. Just tell him you lost your handbag and ask if it was in the station, Evelyn. He´d say no and the conversation would be over.

“You´re not bothering me at all, Ms. Black. Is there anything I can help you with?”

“I...need to ask you a favour”

“Sure, I´m listening.”

“Please, don´t think I´m crazy, but...”

“Ms. Black, I would never think that. Just tell me what´s on your mind and I´ll do my best to help you, ok?” his voice was soft and calm. Evelyn imagined how many distraught victims of violent crimes he dealt with on a regular basis to have developed that obviously calculated tone.

“I need to talk to Henley.”

“Pardon me?”

“Henley. That´s his name, right? That man... I need to talk to him.”

“I don´t think that´s advisable.”

“I know it´s not. Under different circumstances the last thing I´d want to do would be to look at his face again...But I have to do it. I have to talk to him.”

“May I ask why?”

She paused. Did she know why? The truth of the matter was that the only thing Evelyn had to go on was her intuition. Which had always served her well, it should be noted. She trusted her instincts, and more often than not they were right. But this time... Everything was so confusing she couldn´t even convince herself that her intuition was right, let alone convince somebody else.

“I´m afraid I can´t give you a good reason.”

“Then I´m afraid I can´t help you.”

“Officer...”

“Ms. Black,  you can appreciate the fact that I can´t simply let you talk to him without, first, having a  good reason for it, and second, going through all the appropriate legal and bureaucratic measures. Henley is the only suspect in a crime of which you are the victim, letting you two have a chat flies in the face of all proper procedure. So if there´s anything you can tell me that would help me understand this request...”

“It´s too complicated.”

Evelyn could hear him sigh on the other side of the line.

“Ms. Black...Let´s try this. My shift is ending in half an hour. There´s a little café around the corner from the station. Why don´t you meet me there and, calmly, tell me what this is all about?”

 

“I had no idea things were getting to this point...” Minerva looked up at him from her armchair.

“Neither did I until now...I´ve miscalculated everything” Severus leaned against the window frame, blowing a cloud of smoke into the cold, crisp air outside.

As his fingers played with the spent cigarette, he looked on the vastness of hills and lakes that surrounded Hogwarts, wondering how he could have spent two decades locked inside those walls, when a vast world continued to live on outside. As dangers other than Voldemort lurked, waiting for their turn to come out and play. He had definitely miscalculated...his whole life. So focused on the Dark Lord he had been, fighting his own private war inside the school walls, a war fed by old resentments and broken love and friendship, he had never accounted for the possibility that he´d eventually move beyond these walls and have to face other enemies. In fairness, that was never part of the plan.

And, in a way, that possibility didn´t seem to occur to anybody else either. There was a sense among the British wizarding population that things would be well and settled now that the Dark Lord was gone. The general public had no idea of what seeds had been planted and would begin to sprout soon.  

Only a handful of people, himself included, were beginning to realize that two wizarding wars had merely opened the Pandora box...

“What about her?”

“Evelyn? She´s...fine. Worried but fine. I don´t blame her. She´s not stupid you, know. It is to be expected that she suspects something is amiss...”

“What have you told her?”

“What am I supposed to tell her? Not the truth, that´s for certain.”

“Then?..”

“I can´t lie to her” he spoke quietly. The hushed confession startled his former colleague.

“You´ve done it before.”

“Not to her.” he moved away from the window, taking a seat in front of her, his shoulders sloping forward. “I simply can´t. I keep trying to come up with a convincing story, and I should be able to. As you said, I´ve done it before. But it just won´t come out of my mouth.”

“You mean you can´t lie to her?”

“Ridiculous, isn´t it?” he grimaced, leaning back. “But I can´t. Evelyn Black has this way of just disarming me And as I said, she´s smart...Too smart for her own sake, I feel at times. And more stubborn than I can eve hope to be. She´s been asking questions, and won´t swallow my excuses. She knows something is wrong and I can´t convince her otherwise. Her patience seems to be wearing thin as well.”

“Did you two have an argument?” she smiled

“I guess you could call it that...”

“So that´s why you´re so bent out of shape”

“Sure, that´s why” he scoffed “not the fact that people seem to be tripping over each other for the honour of having my head on a silver platter, and that these same people might pose a threat to the safety of the entire wizarding community. I´m 'bent out of shape' because Evelyn and I had an argument. Minerva, for crying out loud...”

“You´ve been through two wars, Severus, and never once I´ve seen you like this. You can deal with dark wizards and life threatening events quite well, and you have for most of your life. But I don´t recall you ever feeling this 'disarmed' by anyone quite like Ms. Black...your words not mine.”

“This is hard enough without having her involved. She just won´t stop asking me questions...”

“You care about her.”

“Of course. I can´t have this mess end up in a muggle casualty, can I?”

“Don´t play dumb”

“Pardon?”

“Is not just her safety you care about. It´s killing you that you have to lie to her, which you apparently can´t bring yourself to do, even though you´re enough of an expert liar as to have fooled the Dark Lord himself...What´s worse, now she´s upset and you can´t deal with that.”

“Minerva, you have it all backwards.”

“Severus I´ve had enough little lovers´quarrels of my own to know exactly what I´m talking about.”

“It was NOT a 'lovers´quarrel, Minerva, damn it. I have no romantic relationship with her nor do I intend to, for the last time! Can´t you Gryffindors even entertain the idea that a Slytherin may care about anybody´s well-being without ulterior motives?”

“Us Gryffindors don´t consider 'love' an 'ulterior motive'.”

“There´s no 'love' in this equation. Friendship perhaps...I´ll give you that. Evelyn is a friend, and I care about her. That´s all.”

“You have feelings for her in any case. To the point that you can´t bring yourself to be dishonest with her, even if it´s for her own safety.”

“Yes. Yes, I have feelings for her. Is that what you wanted to hear? I will, however, remind you that 'feelings'  is a broad category so don´t go putting your own narrative in my mouth, if you will.”

“Merely making observations”

“Did Dumbledore leave you in charge of tormenting me after he passed? Wouldn´t surprise me if it´s actually written on his bloody will.”

“Fine be like this...But if you want my opinion...”

“Not particularly at the moment.”

“Regardless...you might want to talk to her. Maybe say you´re sorry”

“I´ve done nothing to be sorry about”

“Lesson number one about dealing with a woman´s feelings: you may think you´ve done nothing wrong, but apologize anyway. There probably is a reason to, even if you don´t think so.”

“I´m not in the mood for riddles.”

“Is not a riddle. She´s upset and worried...Obviously this woman cares about you. Maybe acknowledging this would be a good idea? Giving her a little reassurance?”

“How?”

“You´ll find a way. She suspects something is amiss, so just try to make her feel like everything is fine. I´m sure you don´t need to lie for that. I trust that the minister and his aurors will handle more pressing matters at the moment, so, why don´t you go back home and work on making her feel a little safer, so you can put your mind to other matters that also need your attention?”

 

…..

 

“I don´t even know why I´m doing this. But...” Evelyn told him, her eyes staring into her steaming hot coffee.

“It has to do with Henley´s outburst, I imagine.”

“I suppose that much is obvious.” she finally looked up.

“Tell me what you´re thinking.”

“This won´t be making into any official report is it?”

“My shift is over, remember?”

“It´s about my neighbour.”

“Mr. Snape? What about him?”

“I think Henley´s 'outburst' as you call it...was directed at him.”

“I had that impression as well. If you´re worried about your neighbour´s safety, I can assure you that, with his record and everything else, Henley won´t be walking around to do anybody harm any time soon.”

“I´m aware but...”

“This is...not what you´re worried about?”

“Not quite. You see...yesterday Severus sort of...disappeared. He was out the whole night. Then Henley got arrested and...that scene happened. And I´m not sure what to make of it all. There, that´s it. I know it makes no kind of sense.”

“Ms. Black, I hope you don´t mind if I ask but...Are you and Mr. Snape, how can put this in a respectful way...”

“No.”

“No?”

“No...I mean...”

“It´s complicated?”

“Well...”

“I see...So, let me see if I got this. Are you afraid that Mr. Snape and Mr. Henley may have had any sort of altercation we don´t know about. Is this what we´re getting at here?”

“I suppose.”

“And you believe that to have happened after the actual break-in into your house”

“Yes. Last night. Severus had a few injuries when he came back home.”

“I noticed Mr. Snape has a bit of a temper, but do you honestly think he´d go after Henley?”

"I honestly...don´t know. You must understand I´m not saying Severus is violent or anything. But, as you said, he has a temper. And I don´t want him to get in any trouble." Evelyn knew Severus had a less than model background. Of course she wouldn´t share that with Perry, but if he had gone after Henley...What if Henley had any connections, friends and whatnot. Even if that wasn´t the case, she didn´t like the idea of Severus going around risking his own safety dealing with people like Henley...All the possible scenarios were rushing through her head and any way she looked at it, it simply wasn´t good.

“You want my professional opinion? Even if your suspicion is right, and Mr. Snape did have...ahem...'words' with Mr. Henley. I wouldn´t think much of it. It wouldn´t be the first time somebody close to a crime victim went after the perpetrator to teach him a lesson. As a police officer I´d even let it slide. Misdemeanour assault under strong emotion? In Cokeworth we have about ten of those per pub on any given Monday. Not even worth the resources we´d spend.”

“That doesn´t do much to calm me down I´m afraid.”

“Well, if it will make you feel any better...” he called the waiter and asked for their check.

 

…..

 

“This is completely off the record, Ms. Black.” Perry told her as they made their way back into the police station and headed for the cells where incoming suspects were detained before being moved elsewhere for the adequate procedures.

“You´re sure you won´t get in trouble for this?”

“As I told you, I can´t allow you to talk to him on your own, but there´s nothing that specifically forbids you to be in the general vicinity when I ask him a question not in the context of an actual statement. But let´s make it clear: it´s one question and it won´t be on the records of your case. Understood?”

“Yes.”

“Ok, stay back a few steps if you will.”

She looked on as Perry approached one of the cells where some three men were being held and called out Henley´s name. Only then she saw him sitting in the back, propped up against the wall. He didn´t move until Perry called him out a third time. He looked up and Evelyn could swear there was a hint of a smile on his lips as he realized she was standing behind the officer.

“I have a visitor?” he drawled.

“Don´t fancy yourself so important. Now listen up, and I´ll ask you this just once, so don´t try to be smart. How did you end up in the hospital last night?”

“You know how, don´t be daft. Don´t tell me she´s worried about me, now” Evelyn could hear a raucous snickering coming from him.

“You wish. So...just an accident. Nobody you want to press charges against? Nobody laid hand on you?”

“He would if I had let him, but I ran away before he could curse me. Hey, you” he was looking straight at her now. “you think I´m scary, dear? If I were you I´d run the hell away from that man next door to you. I don´t even think he´s a man. He´s a demon, I know. He´s not human. You think I´m bad? He´s going to do things to you.”

Evelyn stepped back as Henley started to rant about magic, blood and satanic rituals, working himself into what looked like another fit. Perry shook his head and escorted her out of the dingy corridor.

“See what I mean, Ms. Black.? That outburst was just that:the ravings of a madman on drugs and nothing else. Here, let me show you something.” They walked back to his desk as Perry pulled some papers from inside a folder.

“When I answered to your occurrence, I got the names of all the witnesses, that is your students and you neighbour.When you were in the hospital that night, Mr. Snape gave me quite a bit of an attitude, and he continued to do so the following day, so I admit, I pulled his criminal record. When you´re in my line of work anything can be considered suspicious until it´s checked.”

“He...has a criminal record?” She braced for what he had to tell her, but he merely handed her the sheet.

“Yes. As you can see, your neighbour has a grand total of three occurrences to his name. One for vandalism, one for getting into a fistfight on the street and one for breaking and entering into the old Mill where his father was an employee at the time. Both happened when he was under the age of 18. Not as much as a littering fine since then. Hardly the type of man to go around taking justice into his own hands. Sure he´s got a nasty temper, but that´s not a crime as of yet.”

“I guess it was all unfounded paranoia then...”

“Ms. Black, I have no lost love for Mr. Snape and frankly, I´d have loved to have found something on him after he had the nerve to come around trying to teach me how to do my job. But I have to admit he´s only guilty of being a self-important, ill-tempered know-it-all.”

“Well, thank you in any case...And my apologies for wasting your time like this.”

“No problem.” he snickered “It was more entertaining than the paperwork I have to fill out on any given day.”

“I suppose” she smiled back, giving the piece of paper one last look. But something caught her eye then “Officer..I see here these charges resulted in fines.”

“Yes, as I said they weren´t anything serious.”

“And...this” she pointed at a name on the paper “would this be the person who paid the fines and bond?”

“Yes, precisely. Lucius Malfoy.” he shrugged “Why?”

“Nothing. Thank you again.”

 

…..

 

Her car wasn´t there when he arrived, but Severus only had to stand around for a few minutes before spotting the red Volvo driving up the street. She came out of the car and walked up to him, wearing the same serious frown from before. He took a deep breath. It was going to be yet another long conversation, he could feel it.

“Severus...” she started

“We need to talk, I know” he conceded.

“We most definitely do. Come in.” she walked past him and opened the door without as much as waiting for a reply.

Chapter Text

It was the first time Severus entered her house and Evelyn hadn´t offered him a smile, a seat, a cup of tea or something to eat. She walked about for a while, sighing, as if planning what to say next but finding herself at a loss of never happened. Evelyn rarely ever took too long to put her thoughts into sentences. Her mind was wickedly fast like that. It was one of the things that made her a terrible liar: she had no patience for even taking the time to contruct a lie before uttering it, so she simply didn´t. It was more than simple honesty, Severus imagined, she simply found it a waste of time. But now she seemed to be measuring her next words.

"I went back to the police station" she finally said.

"Pardon?"

"What you heard"

"What for, if I may ask?"

"To talk to that man."

"Have you lost your mind?"

"Aren´t we off to a good start here?" she chuckled in a way that didn´t become her "Yes, I lost my mind. It´s got nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that you´re blatantly hidding things from me."

"If that man said I laid as much as a finger on him, he´s lying."

"He said you didn´t. He also said you´re some sort of demon who will do unspeakable things to me."

"Hopefully you didn´t believe the second part." he smirked. Henley was not wrong about the second part, however. He was simply thinking about a different type of 'unspeakable things'...But it was better that Evelyn remained ignorant of the sort of ideas Severus had been getting regarding her as of late.

"I´m glad you´re amused because I´m not." her brown eyes where sparkling with what he could only imagine was anger, or at the very least outrage.

"What do you want me to say? I´ve told you where I was. I can´t do anything if you don´t believe it."

"You know...Sometimes I think I´m going crazy. I always get this feeling that you know things I don´t...Things I should know but you won´t tell me."

"What are you talking about?"

"When I first arrived here, you wouldn´t even talk to me...Then you started to get interested in my grandfather´s papers...Then there was that attic, which I´m still not over...You were not too suprised about it, if I recall correctly. Now this...Is like there´s always something you´re not telling me."

She sounded both iritated and scared. Severus sighed. If he knew her, Evelyn probably was scared out of her wits. It was not in her personality to be paranoid...she was a level-headed, no-nonsense person for the most part. What she was saying, what she was feeling...She was right. She was absolutely right. He was hiding things from her. But those were magical things that not only she couldn´t see, but she wasn´t supposed to. She was right, but what she suspected to be true was far too absurd for a muggle to contemplate, and from that came her fear. The confusion of knowing something was off, but at the same time not being able to pinpoint what it was. It must have been wrecking havoc in her head. She was right to be scared and confused, and there was nothing he could possibly do to ease her worry.

"If that´s what you think...there´s nothing I can do, I´m afraid." he let out, defeated.

"That´s all you have to say?"

"What will you have me say? Trust me, there´s nothing I can possibly tell you that will change your mind." Strictly speaking that was the truth. There were many things he could say to clear up her questions...but he couldn´t really say any of them, on penalty of breaking the statute of secrecy. There literally wasn´t anything he could say to change her mind.

"You know...Officer Perry pulled your record." she told him flalty, as if hoping to get a rise out of him.

"He did what?"

"Apparently your attitude made him suspicious...Goes without saying he´s not a fan of yours."

"The feeling is mutual...So how many murders could he trace back to my person?"

"Severus don´t joke like that!"

"What should I do?" he shruged, tired of it all "I have to laugh at the absurdity of this exchange, because, honestly, there´s nothing left for me to do at the moment."

"I din´t ask him to show me your criminal records, for what´s worth. I was surprised you had criminal records at all."

"Oh, were you really? Because it seems to me you´re pretty convinced I´m up to some nefarious deeds...I guess I should thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt on this at least."

"Put yourself in my shoes for a second!"

"Ok, fine. I will. So just go ahead and say it clearly. What do you think I´m up to? C´mon, tell me what´s on your mind, Evelyn."

"Frankly...I don´t know. I don´t want to accuse you of anything, but you´re doing nothing to convince me I shouldn´t worry about you. Can you look at me in the eye and say you´re really not hiding anything from me?"

"As a matter of fact, no, I cannot." he spat without thinking or pausing, venomously "There´s plenty I´m hiding from you. And you know why? Because we barely know each other. I´ve lived 38 years of a life I´m not particularly proud of before you came along, but it is what it is, and I had made peace with it. And now you show up and start to throw everything in disarray again and demand answers from me I don´t owe have no right to go investigating my past. I never gave you that liberty. I never gave you the permission to just barge into my life in the way you´re doing."

Severus had no idea what came over him. He didn´t want to say that. But there, he had said it. Deep down he wondered what he truly meant, because honestly Severus himself didn´t know. Maybe he was just trying to be hurtful on purpose. End that conversation. More than that, end...whatever it was that was beginning to happen between them. Yes, it was probably that. Evelyn had, indeed, thown everything in disarray... But he didn´t stop her. He let her in. And now she was stuck in a very dangerous situation that she had no idea about. She was suspiscious and afraid, but Severus was in panic. It was probably for the best that he sent her away from him, somehow. To take back the space he had given her and make it so that she wouldn´t feel welcome anymore. It was the most sensible course of action. He had too much to worry about without her making everything all the more complicated. It was enough that the thought of her kept him up at night.

"You´re right." her tone was lifeless. "We barely know each other. I have no right to demand anything from you...And I can´t trust you enough to just take your word. So that´s it, then."

"I suppose." he answered, forcing himself to sound spiteful.

"This was all a mistake." she seemed to be talking to herself before looking back at him "I´m...I´m very thankful for everything you´ve done for me so far, but...You should probably go. Whatever it is that is happening between us is obviously not going to work. None of this, this house, that attic, us...none of it is going to work."

"What do you mean..?" Severus let out dully, stopping himself before completing the question...What did she mean by 'whatever is happening between us', he wanted to ask...but he didn´t dare. He couldn´t...he shouldn´t. Whatever it was, it wasn´t indeed, going to work and it wasn´t supposed to have even begun.

"Well, Severus, that´s not your problem, now is it? We´re not friends. We´re not...well, frankly we´re nothing to each other. So...if you would kindly leave now."

...

"Where AM I?" Sewlyn tried to sit up, but his whole body ached. Dmitri smiled warmly and walked over to the side of the bed, pulling a small lever that propped the bed up to a sitting position in a gentle motion.

"There, there. You are safe. That´s all you need to worry about for now."

"Herr Rott didn´t send you to help me...did he?"

"You´re smarter than you seem. You must have realised by now the Rotts sacrificed you."

"They wouldn´t."

"You know your bosses better than I do. Truly ask yourself: wouldn´t they? Really?"

Sewlyn didn´t answer. There was no need to. Dmitri pulled a chair and sat, crossing his legs and resting his elegant hands on his lap, an odd mixture of amusement and sympathy colouring the way he looked at his interlocutor.

"The Rotts have no criminal record and their names never appeared on any investigations by the British Ministry. Ludwig has contacts in the French Ministry, so even if their names did show up in any investigation he could make it go away. You, on the other hand" He continued, softly "I understand you were one of the many tried in absentia. Convicted, from what the news tell me. Life in prison. Standard conviction for almost all of Voldemort´s followers. Am I correct thus far?"

"Yes."

"So...do ask yourself: If you were the Rotts...what would you do?"

"They...left me to die"the realization dawned on him all at once.

"Not to die, perhaps." Dimtri chuckled. The sound was strangely metallic "You´re not that important to them that they´d want you dead. But you were no longer useful so the aurors could have you. And if you rattled on them, it would be your word against theirs, with no evidence and all their influence against you."

"The letters! The Ministry intercepted them, I´m sure. That´s how they found out about me."

"They intercepted your letters. Not theirs. They never sent you a single one."

"How do you know?"

"The Rotts are not the only ones with friends in high places. Trust me. They never wrote you back. The note setting up the meeting at the mill was a trap by the British Ministry. They probably were observing the Rotts before you were even sent you back to England, due to their connection with the Malfoys. I´ll bet Dawlish caught up with you before you even sent the first report back."

"So they did leave me to die. They had to know Snape would kill me the moment he found me."

"Would he? What I heard about Severus Snape tells a different story. I believe his only known fatal victim was a mercy killing, no? At least this is what that boy Potter is telling everybody who cares to hear."

"You don´t know Snape."

"But you do."

"What do you want from me?"

"The real question is: what do you want from me?"

"What?"

"I have many flaws, as any person is ought to." Dimitri shrugged, his smile getting a little warmer "But I do pride myself in keeping a sense of fairness in my relations, particularly in business. So, I´d like to let you know that whatever contract we now agree on, it will be as fair and mutually satisfying as possible."

"You saved my life. I already owe you."

"I saved your life because I wanted your undivided attention and access to any information you currently have. Now we negotiate the rest. But before, I need to know your conditions. What´s your price?"

"Snape."

"That´s all?"

"He´s a traitor. He must pay."

"I see. Before I make you any promises to that regard, I´ll present my conditions, shall I? First of all: considering you already owe me a debt of gratitude, you will tell me exactly what you´ve found out about Snape´s current status."

"Your informants, whoever they are, must have told you something."

"I want to hear it from you. I know he´s alive. What else can you tell me?"

"Well, while the Ministry is trying to come up with a good story to convince the public he died a hero, he´s been playing house."

"Care to elaborate?"

"This woman...she moved into a house in that muggle rat hole of a street where he lives now. He grew up there, so I guess he had nowhere else to go, but her? I don´t know why anybody would do that...Well, Snape is going with her."

"Are you sure about it?"

"What else would he be doing? He spends most of his time at her house, till very late most times, they go out every other day...A couple nights ago a muggle criminal, as they seem to have plenty of them, broke into her house. Attacked her. Snape couldn´t have come faster to her aid. Took he to a hospital, then she slept at his house. On his bed, I´d bet...She´s good-looking for being a filthy mongrel. He´s not enough of an idiot to pass up a..."

"Do spare me the commentary. We´re among gentlemen here"

"I mean...Yes, I´m sure. They have got to be together."

"This woman...tell me about her. Not her looks. I want to know about her. Who is she?"

"There´s nothing to tell...She´s a muggle. I was surprised that Snape would have done that, but, truly, I shouldn´t have been. He betrayed the Dark Lord, of course he would get mixed up with their disgusting ilk."

"Are you confident she´s a muggle?"

"Yes."

"Antything else?"

"She´s a teacher. That´s all I know."

"Which school?"

"Cokeworth Academy...Or something like that"

"Well, you must be tired. Get some more rest." Dimitri got up pulled on the lever again to return the bed to a flat position. "I´ll come back tomorrow so we may continue talking. Is there anything else you need?"

"Only what I´ve asked you."

"In due time. Now, I´ll have Anya come back, she´ll provide you with anything you might need. I hope to see you in better spirits soon."

…..

Dimtri left the room quietly and held the door open so Anya, who had been waiting outside, could go back in. Once she closed the door he made this way up the long corridor that led from west wing of the mansion to the main staircase. His personal office was on the top floor, a spacious room with tall French doors and an elegant ample balcony overlooking the Neva river. It was the kind of location one couldn´t easily obtain in this day and age, as muggle Russia grew in a maddening pace. But that house had been an unlikely easy purchase. It was an elegant Petrine baroque four-story mansion, painted in the vivid tones intercalated with white details the architecture of the old Russian Imperial capital was known for under Peter the Great. It had belonged to a very ancient and respected family of aristocrats.

That was until the muggles started another one of their wars. A "revolution" they had called this one. It made no difference to Dimitri´s father what muggles were killing each other over this time around as long as he could get what he wanted out of the situation. And so he did. He always got what he wanted.. Dimitri´s family had outlived the Romanovs, just as it outlived that unique collection of muggle states they called Soviet Union that came after them, just as it had outlived every single dynasty of Tzars and those before them, all the way back to the Princes of Novgorod in the Middle Ages. Muggle politics concerned them little and meant even less in the grand scheme of things.

He walked into his office to find Arseniy already waiting for him, sitting on a chair by the window, taking in the cool sunshine of the late morning, his overlong long black slicked back, short trimmed beard and aquiline nose silhouetting him against the cloudy sky outside like a caricature of an Orthodox mystic. The old man insisted on donning old fashioned wizarding robes that had gone out of style before Dimitri´s gandfather was even born which made him look less like a wizard and more like one of those icons painted on the walls of muggle cathedrals. Dimitri´s mother had told him that Arseniy was already old when his grandfather was still an old man and in three generations Arseny had changed little. Dimitri had tried to guess his age many a time, but had resigned himself to the fact that he would never know.

"How is he?" Arseniy asked, never tearing his eyes from the milky sky.

"Better than I expected for someone who was cut, nearly crippled and almost burned. At this point his hatred towards Snape may be what´s keeping him alive"

"I still don´t know why you´ve saved that wretch..." Arseniy turned to him with bird-like movement, long fingers like claws scratching his beard "He´s a lunatic who has nothing to offer us. Much like the Lestranges, if you ask me. His spying of Snape was amateurish at best. What has he told you that we don´t know already?"

"Nothing. He told me about the muggle woman, but he doesn´t seem to know anything about her other than her address, occupation and blood status. Doesn´t seem to be important to him..."

"Precisely. Your contact in the ministry has reported that only Dawlish and Shacklebolt know anything about her. This idiot was following Snape day and night and couldn´t even get her name."

"Typical narrow minded pure-blood mentality. He believes because she´s a muggle knowing anything about her is a waste of time. He can only see her as a tool to punish Snape." Dimitri sat by his desk, distractedly looking at a bunch of neatly stacked notes.

"I assume you won´t be sending him back then..."

"Of course not. Not only is Sewlyn as dumb as a doorknob, he´s also violent and vindictive. He wants nothing less than to kill Snape. It´s beyond me why Claire and Ludwig thought it would be a good idea to use him as a spy. Dawlish didn´t even need to put on any effort to blow his cover."

"They thought they could control him...precisely because he´s imbecile. Or he was the only one available. The Rotts´ connection with the Malfoys and other known Death Eaters must have tied their hands. Most of their close associates have been arrested or are on the run, and the few people they do have they can´t afford to lose. Isn´t that why they sent the Lestranges here, after all? Too keep those two fools alive? But you didn´t say what are your plans for Sewlyn, anyway.

"I´ll send him back to the Rotts. As you said, they facilitated the Lestranges entry in Russia, so is just fair that I reciprocate the favour."

"For how long do you think you´ll be able to keep the Rotts trust?"

"I never had it to begin with. The Rotts trust nobody. It´s their one redeeming quality. But if they believe I´m willing to collaborate with their plans they´ll be more forthcoming."

"Sewlyn resents the Rotts now that he knows they set him up to get caught. You´re sure is a good idea to send him back to them?"

"His resentment is precisely what I´m counting on. I´ll offer him a deal...Sewlyn is far too amateur to spy on the likes of Snape, but Claire and Ludwig´s special brand of hubris will keep them from suspecting such a base-life form as Sewlyn."

"What about Snape?"

"Now, that...We need more information on this muggle woman. Arseniy, will