"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!”
“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”
“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 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...”
“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?”
“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...
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.