Seedy City Streets
Severus allowed the water in the bathroom sink to run as he held the cold, damp cloth against his face. He was far past the point of caring if he disrupted Elliot’s sleep. Severus had been lying awake, staring at the ceiling for several hours. When he literally felt himself going mad, he opted to kill time by wandering the room, and eventually, the rest of the hotel. Severus had only just come back from his explorations now.
The building was so still, it felt almost dead. No one was awake, save for a few bleary-eyed employees and guilty-looking men leaving their rooms. So Severus simply wandered the halls, aimless and without direction. He even unlocked the doors to the pool and sat for nearly an hour, just watching the water and breathing in the heavy scent of chlorine. The sound of the lapping water stirred by the pool filter was relaxing, meditative. If he could bring himself far enough away from it all, he could almost swear he was sitting by the shores of Black Lake.
Exhausted, Severus reached for the tap, shutting of the running water. He held the cloth to his face a moment longer, trying to take the persistent ache away from his head, before he finally set it on the counter. Maybe now he could finally get some sleep.
But as soon as he opened the door, a human figure standing mere inches away from his face forced him to jump back, nearly falling to the floor. Severus was certain he felt three years shaved off his life expectancy.
“Morning, Professor!” Elliot chirped as though he had been awake for hours. “Coffee?” He held out the steaming Styrofoam cup to his former teacher.
“It’s three in the morning!” Severus hissed. His voice was hoarse, but it was there without pain, which was all he really cared about right now.
“Well, it’s six at night in New York City, which gives exactly two hours to get everything you need from London before you leave the country for good.”
Severus blinked back the sudden feeling of surprise. They were leaving now? And for where? Until that moment, the idea of leaving had seemed more like an abstract concept than an actual plan. Now, it was suddenly becoming very, very real.
“You said we weren’t leaving until morning!”
Elliot shrugged his shoulders. “Three o’clock is in the morning.”
Severus grumbled under his breath, but eventually took the coffee cup from Elliot when it became obvious he wasn’t going to be deterred. He suddenly recalled what Judith had said the night before: that Severus was no longer she or Elliot’s teacher, so they had no reason to be intimidated by him. This was becoming more and more apparent in the confident way Elliot held himself and even in his seemingly oblivious attitude towards Severus’ annoyance.
Since Severus had brought nothing with him, this meant there was nothing to pack, which made for a very sudden exit from the hotel room, making it no different from anything else that had happened that night. They wandered through hallways and staircases, ignored by the motionless night employees who may not have even noticed if the hotel had been struck by lightning and set on fire. As unnoticed as they had arrived, so had they left, without even allowing the front desk to know of their departure.
“Once we get there, you will be passed of to your handler: a specially appointed agent who will be overseeing your case while you’re in the program. They will provide you with a new name, a new identity, and help you get settled into the country.”
Elliot spoke to Severus while pretending to read a Muggle newspaper, as though it would make the three other customers in the convenience store believe that they didn’t know each other. Although Severus didn’t know exactly who they were creating this ruse for. The store was empty, save for the two of them and the cashier who seemed more interested in the fuzzy black-and-white television he had hiding behind a magazine rack.
“Country?” Severus whispered, as though he were asking the box of pre-cooked rice on the shelf in front of him rather than the young man skimming over the sports section.
“As soon as you get everything you need here,” Elliot told him, flipping the page to the business section, “we’ll Apparate to New York City, you’ll be passed on to your handler, and that’s the last we’ll see of each other.”
“A new country?” Severus rasped, abandoning all unnecessary attempts at undercover as he grabbed Elliot’s shoulder. He could hardly believe his former student had waited until now to tell him this.
But still, just had Severus had been seeing more and more of in the past few hours, Elliot remained completely calm in the face of his teacher’s anger. Shifting his gaze back towards the cashier, making sure they were still being ignored, Elliot folded his newspaper under his arm and stared Severus directly in the eyes as he answered.
“Professor, everyone in Britain, Ireland, and Scotland attends Hogwarts,” he explained calmly. “If you know anywhere in those three countries where you could hide where absolutely no one would recognize you as the ‘late’ Professor Severus Snape, I would love to hear about it.”
Severus felt his mind go through about a dozen snide responses he could have countered with, but instead chose to bit back his tongue.
“Don’t worry: your handler knows who you are, and they will be the one to approach you at the meeting place. For security reasons, I know nothing about the agent appointed to you other then than they more than likely breathe and have toes.”
“Splendid,” Severus replied in a drawling tone.
As soon as they were done speaking, Elliot opened his paper once again and went right back to pretending the two men didn’t know each other. Severus turned towards the counter, rolling his eyes, and dumped the collection of over-priced ‘essentials’ onto the surface. Absent-mindedly, and with one eye remaining on the television screen, the cashier scanned the items over a ruby light and then held his hand out for payment. Out of habit, Severus found himself searching for coins before he remembered the paper money that Elliot had given him on the street. Without even needing to watch what his hands were doing, the cashier took his money, typed in the code for the register, and was able to count out exact change, placing it all neatly in Severus’ hand.
And then, as though none of it had even happened, the cashier turned full attention back to the television just in time for a startled woman on the screen to turn around and scream in the face of a stranger shrouded in shadow.
With an excessively loud snap, Elliot shut the newspaper once again. Without a signal or even a sideways glance, he pushed his way out the door, the annoying electronic chimes signally his exit. Given no lead for anything else to do, Severus followed him out. Finding himself in a more distracted mood than he had ever found himself in before, he didn’t even notice when Elliot stopped moving ahead of him, nearly causing Severus to nearly run into the Junior Auror.
“Grab jacket,” Elliot suddenly ordered, holding out his sleeve to Severus. But while he said this, he kept his eyes forward, avoiding eye contact, as though he and the professor weren’t even speaking to one another.
Out of reflex, Severus glanced around for any eyes that might have had the opportunity to see them performing magic. But the flickering street lights portrayed empty pavement and sidewalks devoid of human life.
“I can Apparate myself, Mr. Rogers,” Severus informed the young man.
“Do know where we’re going?” Elliot asked his former teacher, with a cynically raised eyebrow. It was now abundantly clear that Elliot no longer had any feelings of fear towards his former teacher. “Because if you do, then yes, you can Apparate there yourself.”
Severus clenched his teeth, his jaw becoming stiff with having done it so often in the past two days. He distained the lack of power and control he now had over even the most minor detail of his own life was quickly becoming more than this man could take.
“Grab jacket,” Elliot order once again, holding his sleeve even closer to the professor.
Severus huffed under his breath, but finally submitted to the order of his student, grabbing the right sleeve of his jacket. And without a word of warning Elliot’s jacket seemed to burst in a flash of magical energy and transported the two of them, without bothering to double check for sneaking Muggles. But before Severus could reprimand the young Auror, or even before his eyes could become aware of the change in scenery, Severus found himself in the cab of an old, rather dirty and dusty car. Elliot, not nearly as bewildered, for he was the one in control of the movement, relaxed his back and shoulders as he reached down to adjust the car seat.
“Buckle up for safety, Professor,” he told Severus as he reached across to fasten his own seatbelt.
“And what do you know about driving a car?” Severus buckled the seatbelt as he was told, following orders from Elliot having become a bit of a reflex.
Without skipping a beat, Elliot stepped on the gas and floored the accelerator. The car raced forward, pinning Severus against the back of his seat. Although the scenery raced across the windows before most eyes would have been able to register the images, Severus found himself glancing to the side, trying to gain some perspective of where he was. Along the seedy city streets, the few scattered bodies paced along the sidewalks; some conversing with one another, others waiting alone, and a very small amount sprawled on the pavement, talking to themselves. Upstanding citizens all, Severus found himself thinking to himself as a sneer passed over his lips.
Still not bothering to warn his former professor of his abrupt actions, Elliot slammed on the brakes, sending both men hurtling forward, Severus feeling the seatbelt cut sharply across his middle.
“Wow!” Elliot breathed a sigh of relief as he glanced down at his watch, his idle hand shifting the car into park. “Just barely made it before I told your handler I would have you here.
“Lucky me,” Elliot continued, unlatching his seatbelt, allowing it to snap over his shoulder. “Apparently, the agent in charge of your case is one of those types who does not play well with others.”
Elliot did not make eye contact, so Severus allowed his eyes to drift out the window, searching for some more occupying use of his time. Unfortunately for him, the only sight within his line of vision was a crowd of…working ladies, clustering around the same streetlight. A few walked up towards approaching cars, the drivers hidden in shadow. All the other women all seemed too–for lack of a more sensitive word–hideous, misshapen, and old to appeal to anyone for even the cheapest price. They seemed to know that, for even though they were dressed very much the part of their profession, the did nothing to attract the passing cars. They smoked, gossiped, or simply stared of into space, a gaze seeming to portray they were not currently ones of this world.
“It shouldn’t be more than a few moments before your handler comes for you,” Elliot informed his former teacher, even though Severus did not even move to look the young Auror directly in the eyes. “I got you here just in time, but still, I don’t want to be around when that handler of yours shows up, just in case they still has anything they wants to take out on me.
“Good luck, Professor Snape,” Elliot wished to Severus with a tone of finality to his words.
Suddenly, a moment later, a loud snap preceded a strong rush of air circling the inside of the car. Once Severus’ eyes finally ceased watering, he was able to see that Elliot was gone, Apparated out of sight without so much as a word of warning.
“Mr. Rogers,” Severus hissed into the backseat of the empty car, as though Elliot were simply hiding somewhere, playing some elaborate prank. “Mr. Rogers, get back here this instant!”
A sharp knock at the window distracted Severus from calling out for Elliot. Waiting beside the car, hugging her trench coat around her shoulders, was a young woman surveying the interior of the car. Her eyes were heavily lined with black make-up and her lips were painted bright red. This, along with her short skirt and her reviling blouse, left no doubt in Severus’ mind as to what she was doing on that street corner so late at night.
“Hey, baby.” She smiled coyly at him, trailing a finger across the window. “You lonely tonight?”
She raised one eyebrow and flashed her shiny white teeth, contrasting heavily against her dark red lips. Manicured nails traced back and forth against the bottom of the outside window as she waited for an answer from Severus.
“No,” Severus stated coldly, hoping that it would be enough to drive the…‘working’ girl away. “Certainly not enough to require company from someone of your stature!”
The young woman cocked her head to the side, seeming both confused and amused at the same time. She gave a snorting laugh at Severus’ expression as she shook her head, her blonde hair flipping from side to side.
“What, blondes?” she asked. “Alright, I understand. What were you looking for: a Puerto Rican, an Asian, a fat chick—”
Severus held up his hand to stop her.
“I don’t mean any offence,” Severus tried again, not out of desire to spare he feeling, but just to see if he could make her go away. “I’m sure you are very…talented at…what it is you do, and that there would be many, many –”
“Severus Snape?” she asked in an even tone.
The coy, flirtatious look had all but vanished from the young woman’s face, replaced by a serious, almost business-like expression. Her posture became straight and her fingers now tapped against the car door in an impatient manner.
“How about letting me in?” She signaled to the door handle with her eyes. “I’ve been on my feet since eight, and these heels are gonna make me a cripple.”
“Why,” he spoke slowly, “would I do-”
“I’m your handler,” the girl explained. “It’s my job to make sure your cover doesn’t get blown till…well, pretty much till one of us dies.
“Now if you’ll just let me in the car…” she reminded him.
The scantly-dressed stranger tapped her foot shortly against the street before finally coming to the realization the Severus would not be the type to welcome her with open arms. From one of the deep pockets of her trench coat, she extracted a wand: thin and wrapped in silk cord. With a slight tap against the car door, the locks popped up and the girl pulled the door open and let herself in, making herself comfortable against the driver’s seat.
“Thank you,” she replied to a statement not said, reaching for the ignition out of reflex, but stopping when she found nothing there. Elliot must have taken the key with him when he Apparated out of the car. “I’m guessing you don’t drive. Just give me one second.”
Handful by handful, various pieces of junk were piled onto the dashboard: an empty pack of chewing gum; a purple cigarette lighter; a few silvery coins, both Muggle and magical; a pen cap; and few scraps of crumpled paper covered with notes.
While she searched, Severus watched the young woman hands disappear and reappear with knuckles white around some new handful of trash. The more he observed her, the more he began to wonder how he ever could have believe that the young agent was a…what she was disguised to be. Her hair was clean and styled and her makeup appeared extremely soft compared to the gaudy dime store makeup the other woman slathered on their faces like circus clowns. Her blouse hardly seemed like one that would belong to a professional, but it appeared fine quality and fairly new. The length of her skirt…forced Severus to shift his attention away almost the moment he looked at her. The areas of skin around he plastic bands of her high heels were red and inflamed, leaving no doubt to her story that she had been on her feet all night.
Finally, she pulled out a set of keys on a ring. She pushed them into the ignition and flashed Severus with a triumphant smile. Pleased with her small victory, she immediately reached for the radio and began flipping through the Muggle stations, stopping when she found a station blasting loud rock and roll and turning the excessive volume up even louder.
“You don’t happen to have a name, by any chance, do you, miss?” Severus found himself shouting in an attempt to be heard over the blaring ‘music’, if that term could be applied liberally.
“Shoshana St. James,” she answered, lowering the volume for benefit of her own voice. “Try saying that three times fast.”
Suddenly, demonstrating no better drive skills than Elliot had, Shoshana slammed her foot against the accelerator, the tires screeching as she raced down the yellow tinted streets, none of the residents of the sidewalk even bothering to look up. As though this were the kind of thing that was a daily occurrence on these particular streets in New York City.
“Consider yourself lucky that you did get me, though” Shoshana rambled on. “I’m probably one of the only ones who have been in the Department of Magic’s—that’s what it’s called in this country, by the way, not the Ministry—Witness Relocation program from the time my career started. We have dozens of agents who have had to be reassigned to this unit just to accommodate them all.”
“So why do I not have one of them,” Severus asked snidely as Shoshana made a sharp turn, causing Severus to smash into the side window.
“Because this kind of meeting place isn’t the kind of place you can stand around in wearing a business suit or a robe without being unnoticed,” Shoshana replied as though it were the most obvious answer in the world. “And besides, I’m the only one who can fit into the hooker disguise.”
“How fortunate for me,” Severus muttered in a facetious tone, earning yet another laugh from Shoshana as she sped into a parking space and slammed on the brakes.
“Thirsty?” the young woman asked him abruptly as her seatbelt clicked and snapped over her near-bare shoulder.
Later that night, Severus found himself in the bar of yet another hotel: a smoky room decorated in burgundy leather resting under the surface of the city, with occasional sets of shoes walking passed the small, high-resting windows. The room was sparsely dotted with lonely business travelers, stumbling men who slurred their speech and spilled their drinks on themselves, and scantly clad women that hardly made Shoshana stand out.
Severus stirred the ice in his scotch but did not drink it. He had never actually planned on drinking it when he ordered the drink from the bartender. But Shoshana’s attitude as they entered the bar insisted that the world would be full of people just looking for holes in he cover she had created, and that anonymity would become as vital as oxygen in the next few months. And certainly no one came into a bar and sat their with nothing to drink.
Shoshana remained empty-handed, because, much to Severus’ annoyance, she was apparently still six months too young to order alcohol. Instead, she occupied her time by throwing an official looking file onto the surface of the table, opening it, and beginning to take out various pieces of paper. “Alright, let me give you a basic overview of the program and all that will be expected from you.”
“You are so insistent on secrecy,” Severus commented, keeping his voice low, “and yet you choose to discuss all these things in such a public place as a pub?”
“Relax. No one’s going to come over here, Professor,” Shoshana replied, snapping her compact mirror shut. “You’re having a drink with a hooker; they all think you’re a pervert.”
Severus sneered at the girl, but like Elliot, with a lack of authority, it accomplished nothing.
Nonchalontly, Shoshana tapped a cigarette out of a pack in her coat pocket. How much could she possibly be carrying with her? Severus though to himself as she tried to light the tobacco on a candle resting on the center of the table. When the low flame failed to yield any results, she pulled the purple cigarette lighter from her purse and used that. She noticed Severus’ expression, but misread the reason behind it.
“I know, I know they’re bad for me,” she confessed as she exhaled a cloud of the wispy smoke. “But on this job, there have just been so many times I would say to myself, ‘I wish I smoked, ‘cause this would be the perfect time for a cigarette’, and I just ended up picking up the habit.
“Plus, with so many clients who have been in jail,” Shoshana reminisced, “cigarettes are a form of currency, so you can get pretty much anything you want, ‘long as you ask for it.”
As almost an afterthought, Shoshana offered the pack to Severus, who turned her down. Shrugging, the young agent used the bright purple Muggle lighter to relight the end of her cigarette, which had gone cool during her explanation, taking a deep drag and then blowing a long stream of smoke above her head.
“Anyway,” she said, taking a breath of fresh air before she continued, “it’s all pretty cut and dry. No phone calls back to England, no letters, no travel there for at least ten years, no contact with anyone from your old life whatsoever.”
Shoshana tapped her cigarette against the ashtray, cinders falling softly into the dirty, yellowed glass
“Yes, just like in the movies,” she remarked, bringing the cigarette back to her lips.
Shoshana took a few deep puffs of her cigarette, as though giving Severus a few moments to reflect on what she just said. In truth, she was just wasting her time. This whole thing had been happening so fast for Severus, that he still had a hard time actualizing what had happened, let alone consider what it all meant. He put his hand to his forehead in an effort to end the dull ache spreading over his brain.
“Do you have any family?” Shoshana asked him. “Parents, a wife, kids? It’s still pretty early in the program, so it wouldn’t be too late to include them too.”
It had been ages since Severus had even considered his family. His father had died while he was away during his sixth year at Hogwarts, his mother following not five years after that. He had been an only child, which had left the Snape household always with an empty, lonely feel, although Severus was quite sure no one else deserved to suffer a childhood in that place. In his younger, more idealist days, he had always though that he and Lily would go somewhere far away together and become family to one another.
The only problem with idealism was that it was something easily shattered.
“No, no one.”
“Good,” Shoshana answered quickly before she stopped to realize what her words must have sounded like. “Oh, I don’t mean good as in ‘you don’t have any family’. I mean that you won’t have anyone that will need to be included in the program. Not that I’m lazy or anything! It’s just that, so it’s really very good that you don’t have any…”
Shoshana stopped attempting to redeem herself and took another long drag of her cigarette as though an attempt to relax.
“Wow, there really is no way of sidestepping all that, is there?”
Shoshana took another puff of smoke and watched the smoke rise up to the ceiling. She held herself much like a person waiting for a storm to settle, waiting for any signs that her words which had stirred the waters had finally calmed down.
“Oh, my God,” Shoshana remarked as she glanced at her watch; Severus found himself nearly reprimanding her for her language once again. “It’s really getting late. I suppose you’ll want to call it a night.”
Shoshana gathered all her things into her purse, including Severus’ empty glass, and pushed herself out of her booth. She waited for Severus to follow her, not caring about the other bar patrons staring at them or the thoughts that must have been circling about the two of them. And it didn’t stop at the bar doors. At the front desk, in the lift, and all the way down the hallway, people would turn their heads and whisper, making very sure to point as they passed.
“Here we are,” Shoshana spoke with a sweeping gesture towards the door. “Room 673.”
The young agent swiped the card key, met with a green light and an electronic chime. The lock clicked open and Shoshana opened the door a crack for the professor.
“Home, sweet home,” she remarked, “at the for the next few weeks.”
“Splendid,” Severus answered beginning to open the door further. He stopped when he notice Shoshana was not leaving, She stood very relaxed against the off-white walls, leaning with her shoulder and one heeled foot shuffling back and forth.
“Is there something else?”
“Aren’t you going to invite me in?” she asked in that same fake-coyness she had used on the street, unable to stifle a giggle as she did so.
It took a short moment for Severus to realize what was happening: Shoshana was toying with him. For all the disguises and covers she had put forth, much to his humiliation, she had been enjoying watching him squirm. She was like a small child who would rip the wings off a fairy, someone who enjoyed watching the embarrassment of others for her own amusment.
Severus glared at his new handler. “That is not funny!”
Shoshana, who seemed about as unfazed as Elliot had been by Severus’ seething gazes, burst out in another snorting laugh.
“Good night, Severus.” She snickered under her breath as she walked back down the hallway towards the elevator, her hips swinging with her steps. At that last observation, Severus shook his head violently as he tried to convince himself that he did not just notice the young woman’s hips, and slammed the door shut behind him.
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