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.