“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”
“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”
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?”
“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.”
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.
“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.