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...”
“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....
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
“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, 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...”
“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 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”
“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.