Severus Snape paced back and forth in the circular office of the Hogwarts’ headmaster. Fawkes, the Phoenix, tilted the head and eyed Severus suspiciously. Albus Dumbledore sat with a stern look behind the desk and watched the potions master through small reading glasses. The heavy dark travelling cloak enveloped Severus Snape as usual these days when leaving the castle. The look of it matched the desolate mood of the wizarding society; a stark contrast to the supernormal, hot, and sunny summer weather. A wicked game brooded below the surface.
After a while the old man said discerningly, “It is Leonor Scott’s decision to return to England. There is nothing I can do in that matter. You knew the limitation of the mission. Richard told me that there will be no prolongation of the stay. The team was successful.”
“And they cannot hide her at St. Mungo’s either? The Dark Lord never ordered to attack it; it is supposed to be safe,” spat Severus.
Albus Dumbledore replied with an almost amused intonation, “You mean ‘employ’ — that is outside my area of responsibility.”
Severus stopped abruptly in front of the headmaster’s desk. The dark eyes flashed menacingly. “You tried to persuade Leonor to stay in England or why did you call her to one of the order meetings even though I asked you to abstain from inviting her? You are looking for replacements of Sirius and all the others who cannot participate in the fight anymore!”
“Of course, I do. Your master does the same. There have been losses and you were not able to avoid them either.”
“The Dark Lord is not my master,” spat Severus. “You wanted me to give certain information to him to remain in his good books. He planned the actions well and succeeded. The Order is weak!”
“As you say, the Order of the Phoenix needs the support, Severus — no matter of our personal wishes. It is even impossible to recruit in the half-open meanwhile, but you should trust that I do my best for the good.”
“Is that the explanation for sneaking out of the castle to who-knows-where? What are you looking for?” challenged Severus.
“I will respect if Leonor changes her mind to remain non-participating. It is not your choice to make. Do not forget that Leonor hates you for misusing the trust. You played your role well. I’m pleased with your efforts,” replied Dumbledore coldly.
Severus bellowed accusingly, “You always wanted to recruit Leonor! Lupin can do the necessary surveillances like in the past. The fight acquiring the werewolves is already lost. There’s no need to send him out. The Dark Lord pays Greyback and his folks since he returned a year ago. They are tame meanwhile.”
“It is Remus’ decision to go to the pack of werewolves and convince them of Voldemort’s real intentions once he won the war. They won’t be paid forever.” The headmaster took the Daily Prophet and started to read.
Severus gave another hard and haunted glance to the old man who was supposed to be his adviser — or at least Severus saw Dumbledore that way in the past — and when Albus did not react, he left the office and rushed into the courtyard and out of the Hogwarts grounds.
It was good that all the students left the school this morning or Severus could not have guaranteed that someone on his way survived. The blood was racing — if the information received by Dumbledore was true, then all British returned from Brazil in a few days. It made Severus even more nervous that he was supposed to live at Spinner’s End this summer. It was almost impossible to control Hogsmeade from there. Voldemort assigned Peter Pettigrew to assist him while he was no resident at Hogwarts. Whatever tasks Severus needed to accomplish during that time; Wormtail would observe him and report like a weak-kneed chatterbox to the chosen master.
To add insult to injury, Voldemort obliged Fenrir Greyback and Severus to report the return of the healer when he was informed that the apothecary was closed. Severus had to be first with the news to claim Leonor for ‘health services in the ranks of the Death Eaters’ or Greyback would finish what he couldn’t a year ago. The Dark Lord watched the jealous game between the two men; he was curious to see the winner and patiently waited to torture Severus for the slightest demonstration of emotions towards the pretty witch. Greyback wanted the revenge of a werewolf because Severus got into his way.
At the last summons, the Dark Lord spoke sweetly about ‘honouring Severus with an assistant for delaying the arrival of the Order of the Phoenix at the Battle of the Department of Mysteries’ — what seemed like a privilege confirmed that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named mistrusted Severus, still. Though Voldemort was displeased with Lucius’ imprisonment in Azkaban, he was angrier about failing to retrieve the prophecy than losing some Death Eaters. He didn’t even require all Death Eaters and put no efforts to set them free. Leonor would be needed if the imprisoned men wanted to regain their strength, and she was a teacher — that was the story to inoculate to Voldemort. Hopefully he would prefer Leonor over Severus to prepare potions. Would she play along and understand that helping the wrong side saved her life? For how long the ‘help’ was needed, was anyone’s guess.
The evil business run well. Voldemort had all reason to be confident; Dumbledore’s Order of the Phoenix was weaker than ever and the headquarters which had been so full of allies a year ago were now deserted most of the times. Albus Dumbledore often left the school for unknown reasons and every time he returned, he appeared weak and tired. And he kept his activities a secret from Severus — as usual. War and age took its toll; and the Dark Lord had the puppets on strings. It was a mere matter of time until the new Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour was surrounded by infiltrated agents under the Imperius Curse.
Severus closed the eyes for a moment and concentrated to appear in a blink in Cokeworth. The unmistakeably foul smell of the town greeted Severus. Even worse, the stink multiplied with the high temperature like a relapse into old times. Severus killed those heavy thoughts when leaving the riverbank near Spinner’s End, and the ‘rat’ stepped out of the bushes and awaited his arrival like a pathetic worm. Severus gave him a disgusted look. All these low denominated animals were more worthy and useful than Peter Pettigrew. Wormtail followed Severus with a whimper. Severus disliked the house of his birth but having Pettigrew around as a constant reminder of the treachery leading to Lily’s death — it was even more torture. Not even the dust in the ramshackle house deserved to be touched by the double-dealer.
Leonor walked through the rotted gate in the rain forest. She was tense. The clearing with the house of Martina and Luiz came soon into sight. The different shades of green shone vividly in the daylight. Tropical plants framed the house and the main door. Luiz told Leonor that his wife preferred it inside in the last days of the pregnancy. Sounds of laughter resonated from somewhere in the garden. Voices of boys and girls gave commands like instructing a Quidditch game.
Leonor hesitated a moment before using the golden door knocker. She plucked up the courage and a deep tone resonated from the wood. It took a while until muffled steps announced somebody inside. Martina opened the door with a wide smile.
“Leonor! Here you are! Finally! I’m sorry for being so slow these days.” Martina gestured Leonor inside and put quickly an arm around the old friend’s shoulders. Every word got stuck in Leonor’s throat. Martina had always been taller than Leonor and the familiar embrace crushed Leonor mentally into pieces.
Martina led Leonor into an air-conditioned kitchen with a view into a greenhouse full of herbs and fruits. The cleared room was decorated in Martina’s favourite colours, light blue and yellow. She had kept her likings! Photographs of children, pieces of handicrafts, and self-made jam stood on several boards.
“Sit down,” said Martina and pressed Leonor into one of the chairs. “A message of Luiz arrived ten minutes ago, and it was just enough time to make a tea.” The pregnant witch put mugs to the table and poured the steaming liquid into it. Martina watched Leonor from the other side of the table, curious and nervous because the small talk obviously dispelled nothing of the heavy silence. She waited patiently.
‘Yerba Mate Tea’ were the first words Leonor spoke after some minutes when the beverage cooled slowly. The voice wavered between forced coolness and deep emotions.
“Are you alright?” asked Martina carefully.
“Yes. You embraced me the same way you already did as a child. It is so familiar and still so many years past. I think it is my first Mate Tea since I left Argentina.” Suddenly tears filled Leonor’s eyes, and she wiped them away with the back of her hand. Memories of good times, of fun and friendship came to the surface. The bad things did not win the day. Leonor sipped the tea before looking into Martina’s eyes. “I don’t know where to start. What should I tell you first?”
The old friend was quiet now, the face stern and thoughtful.
“I never understood why you broke the contact. Did I do something wrong? Did we have a quarrel?”
Leonor answered with a shake of her head. “You did nothing wrong and I missed to talk to you, but it was the best to keep you and your family safe.”
“I discovered that some servants and neighbours suffered from ill-treatment of my father. It often happened after they were kind to me. A menial was sacked and when leaving she shouted that I was ‘responsible’. It made me suspicious and I observed the events better. Suddenly, I was not allowed to buy things in the bakery anymore after my father discovered that I loved to go there. Different of those incidents made me believe that my father spied on me, because I never told him. Neither he, nor my brothers nor anybody else could have known all those situations when somebody did something good to me. I got final proof when he trashed the stable boy for helping a fox.”
“You told me about an injured stray fox; it was our last conversation.”
“Yes, and the stable boy took care of him while I was studying. I know he never said a thing about it to my father, neither did I. Father commonly never visited the horse stables either to find the fox accidentally. Nobody knew and still my father found out after questioning me about trivialities. I had the feeling that he was reading my mind. My brain prickled when he spoke to me and merely hours later, I suffered from light headaches. I told my grandmother about it, and she said that it was likely that my father was a Legilimens. She ordered a book for me and I learned Occlumency slowly. The punishments stopped initially because I broke all contacts. I stopped taking help or gifts and when my skills improved, I noticed that my father was less able to read my mind. I felt when he penetrated my thoughts and I learned how to fight it.” Leonor looked to the now empty mug of tea. “I did not want you insured because you were friendly to me.”
“What happened to the fox? Did your father kill him?”
“No. Luckily, we let the fox free a few hours before my father discovered about it. The fox returned from time to time to the estate. I prayed that he kept the distance and the Gray Fox heard my wishes. After about a month he never returned and was free. The stable boy wasn’t that lucky. He was disfigured and left. I could not help him.” Leonor waved her wand harrowed and spoke ‘Expecto Patronum’. The Gray Fox appeared and lingered in the door frame for a while. “It is still my Patronus.”
“My parents warned of your family, but it is not your fault what happened to the stable boy. I’m still ashamed that mother and father were happy when our friendship ended. It is clearer now,” whispered Martina.
“There’s no need to be ashamed. My family is to blame, not yours. I just wonder, did you know about my magic?”
“Why didn’t you tell me? It would have been easier to outsmart my brothers. I thought that muggles had even less power fighting my father. I wanted you save, because I could not defend you either.”
“I don’t know. My parents wanted to keep the magic a secret in town and I got my education only later at Castelobruxo. You were better trained at a young age and, I was … envious,” shrugged Martina.
“You knew about the home-schooling too?”
“Our families have been rivals. My father said that I was on the good side and you on the bad. He knew a lot about your ancestry and the business of your family but never told me much of the details. The end of our friendship was the final proof to him that you did not deserve my friendship.”
“They wanted you save too. Your parents have been right. My family was violent. Criminals. Murderers. They got me in the end. I was not enough; I was different.” Leonor continued to explain the escape from Argentina, the years in the U.S. and Europe. Though, she skipped the details of Hogwarts carefully.
Leonor’s secret tale brought Martina several times to the verge of tears. Each time Leonor shook her head telling that there was no reason for it.
“I’m alive, Martina. And the last years have been the happiest, not perfect but I left more and more of the traumatic stress behind. I always hoped for a normal life, and I was the obstacle to make progress with it. It improved. I have a job. I will publish my work, because the fear to be discovered is now outdated. My family is deceased.”
“That’s good,” pressed Martina through shaking lips.
“It is! I could not help the stable boy but several others.” Leonor managed a small smile and the two witches held hands without speaking.
“Stay tonight. Tell me something about your planned wedding! We should not dwell in the past.”
“There will be no wedding.”
Martina looked questioningly.
“I’m looking for a place to stay. Luana’s patience is about to stop with my camp bed in the laboratory. I lived only two nights with Brian. I’m not the bride-to-be. He should be free for somebody else, if he intends to have many children. I am a broken woman. The life with me will never be standard, and I cannot give him the offspring he deserves.”
“But if you love him? Brian will understand!”
“He was already patient, and I talked myself into it. I like Brian as a colleague, maybe a friend. However, I do not love him, and I feel better now. It is a bit like gauntlet running in the hospital, but that’s entirely my fault. He is dating with a nurse from the intensive care ward meanwhile. It’s alright. It doesn’t even hurt to see them together.”
“Oh, mockery and ridicule from the charge-nurses!” smiled Martina.
“Yes, kind of it. I’m most of the times in the laboratory and hear just a little of it.” Leonor shrugged and smiled too. “It’s good that Brian goes out again. It proves that my decision was right. Maybe he’s going with his date to England and I stay here. There is some work to finish and Luana would still be a big help.”
“You are looking for a flat near the hospital?”
“I haven’t thought about it. I need something quiet to mull over about what I will do next. I don’t want to return to England right now.”
“That is understandable if that evil wizard is on the loose. All rooms in our house are taken,” said Martina subdued.
“No worries. I will find something. I’ve to start the search,” replied Leonor quickly.
“… but we have a garden house! The kids slept there sometimes, but it’s nice, quiet. You can have it.” Martina’s eyes gleamed with anticipation.
Leonor nodded. The idea to stay a while with an old friend tempted. The surroundings were beautiful. “Ask Luiz first! He should have the last word if that’s alright.”
“It means you want it?”
“It sounds wonderful. I can see Mía and you … of course only if I pay for the lodging,” said Leonor earnestly.
“As if I offer it for the money!” protested Martina.
“I know you don’t. I’d like to give you something at least.”
“My baby is due, it’s merely hours, maybe a few days before delivery, and it is still school break. If Mía and Isabella could search retreat with you if the boys play wild Quidditch then it gives me some rest with the new-born. A healer in the vicinity is always appreciated with a house full of children.”
“No problem! I like to do that and whenever you need help; I will be there. Tonight, I apparate back to the laboratory.”
Leonor left despite Martina’s protests and slept once more on the camp bed. She hoped that Luiz agreed to give the garden house to her, and she didn’t need to wait long for the owl with the positive missive. The idea to have a family and a trusted friend around felt good. There was no reason to return to England.
The portkey to London left weeks delayed but without two members of the team. Brian waved with the full-bosomed nurse in his arms when the British healers touched the bewitched golden mask one after the other to return home. Both smiled a radiant smile.
“Good luck for you two!” said Leonor honestly when everybody was gone. The pair giggled happily.
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