"I just ate something at Café Yalta, but I can fix you something to eat if you want" Evelyn offered as she poured him some tea.
"Just tea will sufice, thank you. Café Yalta, huh? I hope to God you only had their buckwheat pancakes."
"You know the place?"
"Everybody does. Best pancakes and..."
"...worst tea of all Greater Manchester! So it IS true. Angela told me exactly that!" she laughed softly, sitting besides him and kicking off her shoes by the side of the couch.
"Yeah, a colleague of mine. English teacher. She wouldn´t let me have their tea because it supposedly tastes like toilet water"
"She might as well have saved you from some nasty infection. 'Supposedly' is entirely too kind. I´m fairly confident that their tea is actual toilet water."
"Cokeworth should put that in touristic brochures, 'Come to Cokeworth and drink the world´s worst tea'" her silvery laugher was growing in volume around him, as she ran her fingers through her long hair making herself comfortable on the couch. Severus had noticed that lately she had started to get very much at ease around him . Worse still, it had ceased to bother him.
"I´m sure it´s there somewhere with the high crime rates and the most polluted river in Great Britain"
"You know, sometimes is just amazingly moving to see how much you love your home town."
"Wit that being said, you must agree, Cokeworth´s many touristic attractions are not what one can safely consider an interesting topic for conversation."
"I didn´t know that café was famous...or rather, infamous."
"Mostly among the people of my generation. The owners came from Ukraine...expatriates from the Soviet Union. It added to the charm, I guess. Many children and teenagers would go there...family-owned place, low prices, hyper-caloric foods, close to the city´s main school..."
"Now I get why they have all that Slavic art on the walls. I quite liked it, actually. So, were you one of the children or teenagers that went there?"
"When we had money, yes."
"Uh...yes. Me and a friend, usually. To split the bill" Severus swallowed hard. Had he really said 'we'? Of course he always went to that place with Lily...so, it was 'we'. He shifted on his seat, uncomfortably."So...I´ve read those letters..."
"Oh, great-grandma Violetta´s crazy letters? What´s your verdict?"
"Well, much like you I couldn´t find an explicit reason for the Black family to have disowned your grandfather. Which only leads me to believe that there must have been some sort of intellectual disagreement"
"From what you´ve told me about your grandfather he was a very...excentric man, correct?"
"Very much so. It was half of what made him an excellent grandfather to have"
"And he was an intellectual, so to speak. One with some very liberal ideas, possibly?"
"I´d say. It was one of the reasons why some of the people from Doolin didn´t really trust him when he first moved there. He was too...English, too urban too modern for their tastes. When my father was born the first thing my grandfather did was start saving up to pay for his studies, send him to university...he wanted my father to have the best possible education. It´s funny, even tough he converted to Catholicism, he remained pretty much non-religious. He converted just so he could marry my grandmother and nothing else. He kept butting heads with my mother about how silly it was to be giving us kids a religious education. I guess more than being 'liberal' per se, he was a no-nonsense type of man...didn´t have much patience for traditions, appearances or social norms he disagreed with..."
"And his family...it seems to me...was the exact opposite. A conservative, traditional family bound by appearances. I suppose that´s where the problem lay."
"I believe you are right. But that still doesn´t explain a number of things. This house for once. Why would they own a house in a poor district of an industrial town up North, if they were from London?"
"I can´t say I have an answer for that, honestly."
"You know....something crossed my mind...but it might be too crazy..."
"...and what would that be?"
"Promise me you won´t laugh?"
"Miss Black, in the realm of intellectual conjectures there´s not such a thing as laughable. Do tell me"
"Well...I´ve been wondering...and in my mind the only possible reason a rich family from London would have a house in a city up north in a place most people would not associate with them is if they didn´t want people to know about that particular house...correct?"
"Now, why wouldn´t they want people to know about it, is what I aske myself...Maybe I´m venturing into romanesque territory here, but I guess four years dating a novelist will do that to your mind...but...what if this house was a cover for something or some activity they didn´t want publicized? Maybe something illegal?"
Severus frowned. No, this wasn´t crazy at all. Evelyn had no idea of who the Blacks really were, but she had inadvertedly found the right track. It wouldn´t surprise Severus at all if this house was a cover for activities the Black family wanted hidden from the Ministry of Magic, maybe even some related to their blood supremacy agenda. Except...no that was not right... If they had been using
this house for this purpose then why would they pass it own to their only Squib child? Marius had all the reasons in the world to want to rattle them out to the Ministry, after being disowned and expelled from the family, so why put a house in his hands that was probably as good as physical evidence of their wrong-doings? He looked back at Evelyn and noticed was biting her lower lip, which he knew was a sign of tension in her.
"And is there any reason in particular you think that?" he ventured, trying to get her to keep talking.
"I have something to show you..." She put her mug on the coffee table and turned to him, taking his hand into hers "Come with me for a moment..."
Severus left his own tea next to hers on the table and followed her, the warmth of her hand on his making him entirely too uncomfortable as they climbed up the stairs. As he imagined her house was built exactly like his, the narrow staircase that only made room for one person to climb up, forcing anybody else to follow in line, led into a tiny vestibule. Upstairs there were two bedrooms and a bathroom, much like his own house. But something was different. There was a fourth door there.
"See that door?"
Se walked over to it and opened it. It led into another staircase, on the top of which there was yet another door, painted in black, with something metallic on it that he couldn´t quite make out. Evelyn got up with some difficulty. The ceiling was too low even for her shorter frame, so to follow her up Severus had to practically fold his body in two. They reached the top of the stairs and now
Severus could see somewhat clearly into the small and dark space. The metalinguistic shape he saw was a strange type of handle shaped like a dragon-like snake. There was no lock of any kind.
"A basilisk..." he whispered without thinking
"You´re right, it´s a basilisk. The mythical king of serpents..."
"How did you find this?"
"The keys my grandfather left me...one of them opens the bottom door...but look at this! This door has no lock. And no key. I have exactly six keys for this house: one for each bedroom, one for the bathroom, one for the front door, one for the back door and one for the bottom door we just came through. As you know the kitchen has no lock it opens directly into the living room. So how is this
door supposed to open?"
"Maybe it´s not supposed to be opened." he told her coldly. He was at a complete loss to what he should think, but one thing he knew: her theory was becoming more and more plausible.
"Exactly! Is like they sealed this door so whatever it is that´s in there can´t be found! I´ve made up my mind. As soon as I have the time I´m going to find somebody to bash this open, with a chainsaw if necessary."
"No!" Severus almost yelled
"What do you mean, 'no'?"
"You don´t know what´s in there and for how long it has been there. It could be even toxic, with houses this old, it´s always a possibility. Besides, we don´t know enough about the structure of this house to just go bashing it to pieces." Severus swallowed hard. It was certain this door had a spell or charm attached to it. The Blacks wouldn´t have done any less if they wanted to hide something. There was no way to predict the consequences of taking a chainsaw to it.
"Oh dear, you´re right. Speaking about the structure of this house...."
"What about it?"
"Tell me...do your house has a third floor...or an attic?"
"Come with me..."
She went down the stairs hurriedly, like a raptor flying low, then down to the ground floor and rushed out to street without as much as waiting for him to keep up. He followed and looked at her in absolute puzzlement as they stood in the middle of the street outside.
"What are you trying to do, if I may ask?"
"Look up!" she pointed at the ceiling of her house "Do you see a third floor?"
He looked up. No, he didn´t see a third floor, or an attic. Just two floors, exactly like his house.
"I don´t." he answered flatly
"Then...WHERE does that door lead?"
That was it. That door led into a magically created third floor. One that muggles wouldn´t see from the outside. Actually wizards wouldn´t either, since he couldn´t see it. But that didn´t make any sense. If they had created a magical hidden room, then why leave the door to it visible to anybody? The right way to perform that spell would be to disappear with the room and any entrances to it. Of
course him being a wizard he might have the ability to at least see the door (as it would be rather impractical to hide the door from magical eyes) but Evelyn Black surely wasn´t supposed to be able to see it.
"Maybe it doesn´t lead anywhere. Just an architectural prank"
"You seem awfully sure."
"I tried to bash it in. Almost disloacted my shoulder in the process. From the sound it made, I can tell you, there´s a room behind that door!"
"You tried to bash it in?! Are you insane? You could have kiled yourself!"
"Killed myself?!" she laughed thunderously "Trying to bust a door open? I may be a weak little woman, but I´m surely NOT made of glass."
"I mean..." Severus took a deep breath. This was NOT the right time to explain to her how disturbing a spell could get her killed "...you could have fallen from those stairs."
"Oh, that...I suppose you´re right. But then again...If can´t bash it in, If can´t bring a chainsaw to it...what am I supposed to do?!"
"For now? Get a hold of your destructive cravings. While we don´t get a clear notion of the whole structure of this house and what damages it could cause to break that door in, you´ll have to restrain yourself." he told her seriously, hoping to buy himself some
"So, am I just supposed to go to bed at night knowing there´s a ghost third floor above my head?"
"Unless you start hearing spectral moaning and chains being dragged in the dead of night, that´s exactly what you´re going to do"
"And if that happens, can I break it or should I wait for the Ghostbusters?!"
"I´m serious, Ms. Black. Give me some time and I´ll think about what we can do. Meanwhile find me the floorplan, or any other layout of the house. If you can be just a little patient we´ll find a solution to this."
Tuesday, October 13th
James sat on the front steps of the school building, staring at the blank page of his notebook. Last night he had stared for a long time at that exact same blank page "What is history and why study it?"...In his own words. Ms. Black might as well have asked him to design a rocket for a space mission destined for Pluto. What was he supposed to know about why we study history? All he needed was to bump his grades up enough not to fail the school year...Well, it wasn´t like he was doing anything about that either...but damnit, this was pure revenge. Just because he had slept during her class and made a few stupid jokes about her. He tought the Irish could take a joke...
He looked up. Constance, or Tancey as everybody called her,was crossing the entrance gate, wearing her signature black fake leather boots, that red kilt she kept stealing from her sister´s closet and her favourite R.E.M t-shirt under a beat up dark green jacket. It was funny really how different Tancey was from himself, and yet out much they were similar. In many ways they were opposites Tancey was black, he was white, Tancey was short, focused and energetic, he was gangly and all over the place, Tancey had a normal family he had...a not-so-normal family, she had siblings, he didn´t, Tancey had friends, James had...Tancey. But in the things that mattered they were pretty much the same. They both liked alternative rock, they listened to the same artists, they watched the same tv shows, the same movies... and they were friends, which was pretty much enough. Of course her parents weren´t too keen on some of the music she listened to, or the fact that she had James in tow almost all the time...but this was exactly why he liked Tancey: she didn´t give a hoot about what anybody thought.
"You´re early." she sat besides him, trying to sneak a peak into his notebook.
"Trying to get this sodding assignment done."
"The one Ms. Black gave you yesterday?"
"Yeah...she´s trying to get even because I slept in her class."
"Oh, please...if anything she´d be trying to get even because you called her names. Pikey? Really? Couldn´t you at least have come up with something clever?"
"Who´s side are you on?"
"Nobody´s. I rather let you butt heads with her on your own lonesome self. I have my own stuff to mind, remember? I´m in her class too, after all"
"And I swear I don´t know why. Your grades are ok."
"Not my History grades. I mean, really? What use is it to me to know about the bloody Battle of sodding Waterloo? At least with math there´s a right answer and there´s that."
"Welcome to the party. I have to come up with some explanation to 'why we should study history'"
"Because the school tells us we have to?" she laughed
"I can´t put that! Crazy Ms. Black already has it in for me as it is!"
"Don´t be such a big baby. Ms Black is ok."
"Well, off course, I wasn´t sleeping on her class and calling her names like a looser wannabe skinhead, was I?"
"Ok, so it´s all my fault."
"Just saying, if you want to piss off the teacher, don´t expect her to love you."
"Moments of wisdom with Constance Rhea Francis. Thank you"
"You know you´d be lost without my precious advise." she gave him a playful push on his arm before turning to the side "speaking of the devil..."
James turned to see Ms. Black´s red Volvo driving into the parking lot of the school. He shoved his notebook into his backpack and made it to get up, but Tancey pulled him down by the back of his trousers making him fall back with his arse on the hard stone steps.
"Shit, Tancey!" he sneered
"Are you gonna run away from her, you nancy?"
"I´m not running away from her! I just don´t want her to be on my case, AGAIN!"
"Oh, shut up and sit down"
They looked on as their teacher got out of the car and walked towards the main entrance. James was starting to get royally annoyed at Ms. Black. Just look at her! With her expensive shoes and fancy clothes and leather bag...sodding woman was just a fascinator away from fitting right in with those weirdos that are always around the Royal Family like moths to a flame...shouldn´t she be going to the races in Ascot instead of giving him hell?
"Hello Mr. Wright, Ms.Francis" she stopped in front of them, with that smug smile of hers.
"Hello, Ms. Black" Constance answered, then promptly shoved her elbow into his ribs to snap him out of his stubborn silence.
"Hi..." he let out, curmudgeonly
"The two of you are quite early today."
"Yeah, James is working on that presentation you asked."
"Tancey!" James hissed
"Is that so? How´s that going?"
"Do you need any help?"
"Yes, help, guidance, orientation, clarification.... Those things I´m paid to do, remember?"
"No, I´m ok."
"No, he´s not! Me neither, actually. There´s still a lot of stuff from last class that I didn´t get!"
"Nerd" James rolled his eyes
"Don´t be stupid, she just offered to help! If you want to fail history, good for you, but I don´t!"
"Ok, ok, kids." Evelyn checked her watch “We still have some thirty minutes before the first class starts. Why don´t we go in and brainstorm a little?"
"Brainstorm?" James lifted an eyebrow
"Are you familiar with the concept?" Evelyn smirked
"Of course..." he scoffed
"Very well. So let´s go inside and throw some ideas around, maybe things will become a little clearer for you."
Constance followed Evelyn inside the school, as James dragged his feet behind them, grumbling under his breath.
Severus stared at the door of of Evelyn Black´s house for a few long minutes before finally deciding to take is wand out of his pocket and get to it. The idea of breaking into her house while she was at work definitely bothered him. Severus never had any qualms about doing reprehensible things as long as it was for a good reason. As any Slytherin worth his or her salt could agree, the ends justify
the means. But to break into Evelyn´s house of all things just felt markedly...wrong.
Still, it was for her own good. He didn´t feel well at ease knowing there was a magically locked up room inside that house, closed off with a spell he had yet to identify. As to what was hidden inside the room, it was anyone´s guess, which was, frankly alarming. Evelyn Black was a very stubborn woman, and extremely curious. A combination that was as fruitful for an intellectual as it was potentially dangerous when dealing with magic. Danger that increased significantly considering she was a muggle. Severus knew Evelyn wouldn´t find rest until she had opened that door and found what what was inside. And he had no way to keep her from trying to do so without raising suspicions. So, what was left for him to do was to open it before she had the chance to try, and find out first whatever was in there.
She had gone to work a little earlier today. This Tuesday she would have a meeting with the principal so they could discuss some plans she and her colleague Angela had come up with for the students. Some sort of interdisciplinary approach to motivate students. It seemed like Miss Evelyn Black had found an equally idealistic educator in Miss Angela Holt. Well, if it kept her away from home enough for him to do what he had to...
"Alohomora" he let out softly, pointing his wand at the lock.
The door didn´t move.
"Alohomora!" he repeated, louder. The door trembled slightly, the doorknob moved a couple of times...but nothing.
So, there was a spell cast over the house. Predictable. If Evelyn´s suspicions were correct, and Severus was inclined to think they were, and this house was a cover for illegal activities, then it was only reasonable to cast a locking charm over it. The keys to the house were surely magical as well, which was the only explanation as to how Evelyn Black could go in and out without issue. Very well then...he´d have to exhaust the unlocking charms until he found one that worked.
Still nothing. Fine. Next one...
Severus frowned. Obviously, harsher measures were in order. He´d have to break the door in. Nothing he couldn´t repair before Ms. Black made it back home.
Once again the doorknob twisted a few time, but remained closed.
The door hinges squeaked loudly, but nothing else happened.
The door trembled violently, but didn´t bust open.
Severus frowned. It was obviously a special spell...Inside, Evelyn´s cat had started to mewl. The violent shaking of the door must have scared him. Severus looked from the corner of his eye and saw the black cat climb up the window.
"Good day to you too, fleabag" he smirked. Ciarán squeezed himself out of the semi closed window and jumped outside onto the street, coming to rub himself on his legs.
The it suddenly hit Severus. Ciarán often snuck out of the house to go "visit" him, and never managed to make it back inside, even when the windows were wide open. So evidently it wasn´t just the doors and locks that were charmed. It was the entire house. He picked up the cat from the ground and put it back on the windowsill, gently prodding it to go back inside. As expected, he couldn´t. For the sake of experimentation, Severus tried to stick his hand into the small open space Ciarán had just exited through.
It was like hitting an invisible wall. His hand couldn´t make it into the window without being forced back.
The key. Of course, that was it. The key!
Ms. Black´s keys had to be the answer. Now he got it. Only the key could break the charm. Severus had heard about something like this. Of course he had! He remembered now...it was rare, but not unheard of. The Claudatur charm. A specific spell that was rather popular among pureblood wizards who wished to conceal their riches from outsiders to the family. It was usually cast upon safes, boxes and other similar containers, and it would take quite some effort to cast it over an entire house. But it was nothing that a skilled wizard or witch couldn´t do with enough experience.
What made this spell different from the others was the fact that there wasn´t a counter-spell to it. The only way to open a door or safe secured with Claudatur was to have the key and the right blood. What really set this spell apart was the fact that his efficiency was based on blood-ties (something purebloods were enough obsessed with). The key didn´t work with just anybody. It was the main feature of Claudatur that the magical key had to be passed on from one member of the same family to another. Only if the key had been given to a direct relative, somebody who shared blood ties with the giver would the key work. There was, however, a possibility to break or bend the spell, by creating a copy of the key that would work for anybody else, regardless of blood...but not only did it require a great amount of skill, the original key was necessary.
So that´s how Evelyn Black could come in and out of that house without any trouble, regardless of being a muggle. Violetta Black had given Marius Black the key, then he had given it to his son Marius Jr. who finally gave it to his daughter, Evelyn Black. Great-grandmother, grandfather, father and daughter. The same blood.
Severus would have to find a way to obtain the key from Evelyn...If he could find a way to bend the Claudatur by making a copy of the key, then he´d be able to let himself in in her absence. After that he´d have to come up with a way to open the door to the mysterious attic before she decided to take an axe to it.
Our Lady of Cokeworth Church
October 21st (a week later)
Fr. Thomas had just finished listening to the last, and only, confession of the afternoon. It was a rare event to have more than one confession on any given day. Of course he would never admit this outloud, but it didn´t really bother him that his flock didn´t confess as often as they used to in the past. The sacrament of penance and reconciliation was surely of utmost importance and not at all something that should be brushed aside. But Fr. Thomas could remember the not so good old days when anything and everything was a reason to come to the confessional.
He believed in an intimate relation between man and God, one that didn´t necessarily had to be mediated by a priest. He much rather think of himself as a man to whom people could come when they needed solace, advise or just someone who would listen. That was how he liked to see the confessional...as a place a person in need can find somebody to listen and help, feeling confident that whatever is shared there will stay between them and God. It wasn´t a place for people to come in and list a string of obnoxious little pecadillos just so they could feel better about themselves without having to do any deep self examination.
The church was still empty. 5:30pm. He should start preparing for the 6pm service. As he closed the confessional he heard footsteps coming from the front door.
"Fr. Thomas?" a husky alto called out softly.
"Evelyn!" He opened his arms and let her walk into them for a short hug. "How are you doing, dear?"
"Busy." she smiled
"Busy is good. Busy is very good. Did Severus give you my message?" he offered her his arm as they walked towards the main altar
"He did. I meant to come last Sunday, but I was so tired I stayed home all day"
"No worries. You´ve worked all week. God appreciates good honest work as much as he appreciates prayer, I assure you. Speaking of which, how are things going in Cokeworth Academy?"
"Good...slightly crazy, but that´s how it goes with teenagers."
"Teenagers...bless the youth, but pray they don´t drive us bonkers."
"Actually...that´s what I wanted to talk to you about..."
"Your students you mean?"
"Exactly. Fr. Thomas...Halloween is coming up, and I hear you have a party every year for the neighbourhood children?"
"Yes, you heard it correctly. Actually, we are starting the preparations for it. Why?"
"Well, I just had a meeting with our principal, Mr. Nolan. And he agreed that a good way to help the students who are having difficulties with their grades is to give them some extra curricular activities. You know to motivate them, maybe help the school reconnect with the community"
"So you´re thinking of bringing your students to the party?"
"Yes, but not just bring them to the party. How would you feel about having some extra help?"
"Oh, you mean..."
"Yes, I´m thinking about coming here with my students and some teachers who have already volunteered so we can work at the Halloween party. Maybe we could even make a bigger party this year. What do you say?"
"Well, Evelyn what can I say? Bring them in. Bring them all in! You know what, why don´t you stay for mass and after the service we can discuss this in more detail?"
It took him the whole week to finally manage to get the key.
In that week, it had become a sort of ritual for him to visit Ms. Black every afternoon after she came home from work, to have tea and talk. She´d talk about her work, her family, they´d discuss books, music, the news... whatever she felt like talking.... Severus just humoured her. It didn´t hurt at all actually. On occasion he had managed to get her to talk about her brother for a while, but the whole topic was too sensitive. He had yet to get any useful information about that...All in all, those evenings provided him with a distraction and gave him enough familiarity with the house, not to mention precious information about her and her grandfather. The subject of the mysterious attic would emerge frequently, and by now Severus wasn´t sure he could keep her from trying to open it by force. Her patience was running short, and he had to act.
But now he had it. He dropped by Ms. Black´s house in the morning, with the excuse of returning one of the books he had borrowed. He had barely read it, it was nothing but an excuse to go visit her before work so he could meet her exactly at the time she left the house. He escorted her to her car and managed to take the key from her purse as she got in. Easy enough. It was laughable that Severus Snape had to resort to petty pickpocketing to achieve his ends, but he couldn´t afford to care about it.
It had taken him a whole week of study, an entire morning and most of the afternoon worth of work, but he finally had it. A perfect copy of the original key, magical properties included. He looked up from his work table to the wooden clock on his mantle. 5:45pm. Perfect. He had more than enough to take the original key and carefully leave it on the ground by Ms. Black´s front door. This way when she came back from work she´d just assume she had dropped it there in the morning. Severus put the copy in his pocket and walked out with the original in hand. He quickly did what he had to do and returned home. Today there would be no time to do test his spare key, as Ms. Black should be home any minute. But there was always tomorrow.
However, as he walked back to his own house a shadow flying from above caught his eye.
The bird came down swiftly and gracefully perched on his windowsill. It wasn´t one of Hogwarts owls, he could tell by the species. If memory served him right, that was an European Eagle-owl. Not that Severus was an expert in birds, but that particular one was easy enough to recognise: large, brown-black feathers with a rich and intricate combination of patterns like stripes,freckling and vermiculations and the very distinctive reddish-orange eyes. Furthermore, it wasn´t native e to Great Britain. Actually those could only be found in the continent...And Severus could bet that that particular one must have come from France.
The owl dropped a letter and took flight immediately. Severus picked it up. It was a blue envelope of high quality parchment. On the crimson seal he could see the dreadful coat of arms of the Rotts, a misshapen mess of bats and fleurs-de-lis. But the sender was not Claire, nor her beat up husband-slave. Severus didn´t even need to read the name on the envelope to know it couldn´t have been them. But the actual name written on the envelope didn´t surprise him any less.
Claudatur is a charm that does not appear in the original Harry Potter canon. It was created for the purposes of this story.
The word Claudatur is the third-person singular present passive subjunctive of claudō, which is related to the Latin clāvis ("key, deadbolt, bar"), clāvus ("nail, peg"), claustrum ("bar, bolt, barrier"), claustra ("dam, wall, barricade, stronghold"). Cognate with Ancient Greek κλείς ("bar, bolt, key"), Old High German sliozan ("to close, conclude, lock"), Old Saxon slūtan ("to close, conclude,
lock"). So basically "Claudatur" means "locked", "closed" "bolted" or "barred"