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."
"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?"
"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..."
"...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..."
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.
She rolled her eyes, took a deep breath and returned to her desk to retrieve a pen from her briefcase.
"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."
"No. I´m going home."
"No you are not. Sit down."
"You can´t make me. Class is over."
"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."
"Next class, I want a ten minute presentation, please write down the theme."
"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?"
"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."
"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."
"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?"
"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."
"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."
"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"