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The Task

 

March 1997

 

A cloaked man walked briskly along a much-frequented street in London. He turned around some corners, checked that he wasn’t trailed and vanished behind the windows of an obviously derelict department store. Severus Snape chose to avoid the official entrance and stood now in a brightly lit but deserted corridor. He knew from Leonor how to enter the building without drawing attention, turned left and found an exit to a narrow stairwell, painted white and without nosy portraits.

 

Two flasks waited in his pocket to be delivered to Leonor’s former mentor, one with the poisoned mead received from Horace Slughorn and the other with the antidote; the real antidote and not the alternative with a Bezoar even though it saved Ron Weasley. The sluggish current potions master of the school appeared paralysed by surprise instead of heaving his potbelly into action to save the student. Harry Potter certainly had one of his brighter moments shoving the Bezoar in his friend’s mouth without hesitation. The Weasleys burst now with admiration that great Harry saved two of their children. Acknowledging the circumstances, Severus Snape growled inwardly about the failures of his own house listening simultaneously to faint steps some levels above. He climbed silently the stairs to the floor hosting Richard Jennings’ office and hoped that the wizard worked at the late hour tonight.

 

The heated argument with Albus Dumbledore on the walk round the Forbidden Forest just a day before the Weasley boy drank the poisoned mead rumbled still in Severus’ stomach. The old wise man backed no step away from the requested mercy killing. He even scolded Severus for being unable to tell Draco’s plans, nonetheless Albus gave some information to him, grudgingly. That unexpected truth made even the Head of the House Slytherin feel sick — a disloyalty to the childish naivety of the Potter boy who trusted the headmaster with his life; a betrayal of Severus’ promise to save Lily’s son. Severus had been used by the old man, a pawn of remorse, a soldier out of redemption. Dumbledore took even advantage of the boy; he didn’t elaborate why the boy’s death would be the death of Lord Voldemort too. Was there a possibility to survive? Anything that could be done to achieve both? Dumbledore’s coolness left just shadows and a weak trust that the old man was once wiser. The revelation made his blood boil with anger and the first time Severus felt independent in all the long and secluded years. He owed Albus Dumbledore nothing — not anymore. His own free will brought him here to St. Mungo’s; meeting Richard Jennings after so many years was a service for the hospital which could be a retreat for Leonor.

 

A group of healers and nurses stood talking in the long corridor where Jennings’s office was supposed to be. Severus observed them but fell quickly back into his own thoughts. Draco struggled with killing — luckily Ron Weasley was still alive. The blond boy resembled very little the true character traits of a merciless Death Eater, only the family owned arrogance matched Lucius’ behaviour beyond realisation that the Dark Lord killed Draco in case of failure at the end of term. Severus’ admiration for Dumbledore’s concern about Harry and Draco had vanished knowing now Harry’s fate — the boy had to die at the right moment. And Draco? He had to die if Severus found no way executing the murder of Dumbledore. The boy was hardly able to be successful himself. Dumbledore manipulated Severus with his own failures, the promises he gave years ago, and with the inability to forgive himself. The headmaster knew Severus had a liking for Draco, a boy misguided by the belief of a pure blood family. Severus was the tool to care for both boys and in the medium term the students of Hogwarts — it fit to Dumbledores’ plans. Severus was the one remaining person with a foot in the Dark Lord’s door. Severus promised it all, because it was right, there was no better way. And Severus’ private life? He had one recently, he kept it secret, avoiding that two masters took advantage of it.

 

The corridor lay now quiet after several more minutes of waiting. Severus walked straight to the described room. He pressed the handle and the door gave way. Jennings sat behind the desk, bespectacled and concentrated on some papers. The aged man startled and snorted in surprise when a foreign wizard stood in the room and a wand pointed directly to his chest from the distance.

 

“Quiet!” snarled Severus Snape and closed the door quickly. When Jennings held his hands up to surrender, Severus put the wand away and took out the flasks from his well-groomed travelling cloak.

 

Jennings frowned, “Severus Snape, if I am not mistaken.”

 

Severus continued unfazed, “Dumbledore sends you the venom of Ronald Weasley’s resent poisoning for investigation. You have been informed by the matron accordingly.”

 

“Difficult times, another almost deathly incident at Hogwarts this year,” sighed Jennings and took the poison out of Severus’ hands, sniffing at the bottle.

 

“Smells a bit too sweet.”

 

Severus just bowed in agreement.

 

“And the other flask?” asked Jennings curiously.

 

“It is the antidote and here are the descriptions of both. According to my investigation it is a rather uncreative brew, though effective without a Bezoar or the right counter poison. It uses a bit of ricin powder which is rather crowd-pleasing in Knockturn Alley recently.”

 

“Oh, good to know!” exhaled Jennings. “Is the help of St. Mungo’s required to heal the Weasley boy?”

 

“The headmaster believes it might give insight in future poisoning by the dark forces.”

 

Jennings nodded and looked through the notes.

 

“Very well Professor Snape. Your writing, if I remember correctly. Isn’t it the task of Horace Slughorn to come forward with that kind of explanation since you gave up your position?”

 

“Albus Dumbledore gave the task to me.” Severus straightened visibly, knowing that the more difficult potions for the school’s hospital wing usually crossed his desk while Horace Slughorn fostered new relationships and candy. “I’m sure you can verify my investigation easily,” sneered Severus making clear that it was not necessary to prove the result again and turned to leave as unobserved as he entered.

 

“No harm intended,” replied Richard with a tinge of regret, “I’d like to have one more word.”

 

“Of course,” snarled Severus impatiently.

 

Richard took his time and studied Severus’ aged face.

 

“Dumbledore sent you here?”

 

Severus nodded almost unnoticeable as if the question was an impoliteness.

 

“Please be so kind and tell him to let some of his staff look after the healer in Hogsmeade. The girl looks meanwhile as pale as you, with shadows around the eyes and in general unhealthy. She needs a rest. St. Mungo’s is still capable of helping also those who need special protection. She can send patients here, but she doesn’t listen to me,” said Jennings with a no-nonsense tone and gave Severus a sharp look.

 

Severus bowed deeply, sneered and turned exiting the hospital in hasty speed wondering how much Richard Jennings knew about Leonor’s situation. Anyway, the pregnancy would soon be visible and difficult to abnegate for the well-versed eye. Leonor needed indeed a place to rest, where she had privacy at least once the baby was born. Severus needed a solution for it, soon and before end of term.

 

Severus hurried next to the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix to hand over some letters from Dumbledore, obviously including some instructions. The corridor of Black’s old family residence appeared dark and cold. The safe house in Grimmauld Place was now mostly abandoned by the few remaining members of Dumbledore’s organisation; all regular meetings stopped. It was ghastly quiet amongst the pure blood remains of the Black’s. Severus believed that he arrived before the contact person and entered the kitchen to wait.

 

The door creaked suddenly behind him and a kind voice said, “Hello Severus!”

 

“Lupin.” Severus frowned at the other man wryly. “You look worn down. I hope Dumbledore or Tonks do not request too much of you.”

 

Severus Snape took three letters with a stamped crimson seal from an inside pocket and handed it to Remus Lupin, who ignored the provocation with a mild smile. Remus read the addresses. There was a letter for him, Arthur Weasley and Kingsley Shacklebolt. The door opened another time.

 

“At least Remus is out on the street while nobody knows what you do for our side.” A female voice came from behind and a young woman with blazing red hair glared at Severus. She must have listened.

 

“Dora, it’s not worth,” said Remus pacifying.

 

“Nymphadora, my pleasure to find you so vivid. You looked rather mousy at the beginning of the school year,” said Severus with a brief glance at the woman’s appearance. She appeared more grown-up than months ago.

 

Nymphadora Tonks wrapped her arms around Remus Lupin’s waist, building a barrier of defence, the happiness of being around her loved partner obvious.

 

“Anything you want me to tell Dumbledore?” said Severus matter-of-factly, ignoring the hostile stare.

 

When Remus shook his head and tried to free himself from Tonks, Severus turned on his heals and exited quickly. There was still time to visit Leonor, at least for a short hour.

 

“Take care of your friend in Hogsmeade,” called Tonks after Snape, “or is she not worth a healing draught? Do you just watch how she wastes away like she left Remus without the Wolfsbane?”

 

“Dora, let it be. Leonor said she’s alright, just overworked. We all could do with a rest,” insisted Remus with a low voice.

 

But Severus Snape had already returned, the wand at the ready. Some slow sparks crumbled from the tip.

 

“Don’t judge things from the outside, Tonks! Unfortunately, the biased attitude of Gryffindor rubs off on you.” 

 

Severus glared at Lupin and left; the heavy door of the ancient house of Black fell into the lock.

 

 

 

XXX

 

 

 

A cold hand pressed the fingers on Leonor’s left hand almost painfully. She woke up slowly, tired and the eyes still closed. A familiar whiff of bamboo, wood and mint tingled the nose and for a moment she felt like dreaming. The uncomfortable feeling of something unusual clenched her breast. All was quiet and Leonor opened her eyes carefully. A candle burned on the window ledge which Leonor blew out before she went to bed. The sparse light revealed Severus; he gave a short moan as if past hope and held to her hand as if saving them from a free fall.

 

“Severus,” whispered Leonor and freed herself from his clammy clenched fingers. He gripped the bed sheets now with the right fist, restless and breathing with an effort.

 

“Severus wake up.” She touched his shoulders gently, brushing the hair from the sweaty temple. He knelt in front of her bed, the left arm hung on the floor, the head on the bed sheet. He must have tiptoed to let her sleep. The clock showed two hours after midnight.

 

“You have a bad dream,” said Leonor a bit louder and moved carefully, shaking Severus’ shoulders a bit stronger.

 

It took some more moments until Severus was awake, alerted by an unknown force and becalmed at once. A hushed smile crossed Severus’ face realizing that Leonor was there, safe, smiling at him gently. He heaved himself up, stiff from the awkward position. Severus pressed a kiss to Leonor’s lips, tasting the warmth of her body.

 

“I’m sorry thieving your sleep. I know you need it,” he whispered before taking her face in his hands, kissing her again more passionately.

 

“You said that you needed to return to Hogwarts tonight. I would have waited otherwise.”

 

“I decided differently. I had to see you, make sure you are alright.” Severus hands wandered below the blanked, searching for the baby bump. “I must have dozed off watching you sleep,” he said mischievously.

 

“When did you arrive?”

 

“Before midnight.”

 

“Midnight is long gone,” replied Leonor, giving in to a series of more soft kisses down her ear and neck.

 

“Don’t tell me now that you just wanted to watch my sleep!” grinned Leonor playfully.

 

“I came just for that or why would I have made the effort to keep your alarms silent?”

 

“Liar,” she said. “There’s enough space in this bed for two, you’ve been in here not just once recently.”

 

“Indeed? I fancy the idea again,” whispered Severus, removing the blanket from Leonor, kissing the baby bump and running his fingers tenderly along her skin, a smile on his face.

 

Leonor giggled, “It tickles,” and she turned away.

 

Severus took this as invitation to remove the remaining cloths quickly. He snuggled against Leonor’s back, full of lust.

 

“You look good, I mean fresh.”

 

“It’s going better,” murmured Leonor under Severus lips.

 

“You said that already earlier.”

 

“And you didn’t believe it.”

 

“I see it now.”

 

“What do you want?” chuckled Leonor.

 

Severus stopped now the advances and said thoughtfully, “Richard, Tonks and Lupin are concerned about you. I saw them tonight.”

 

“I know. I thought they all believe the story of being overworked.”

 

“Not a hundred percent.”

 

Severus sat upright, pulling Leonor to his lap.

 

“And you promise to send enough patients to St. Mungo’s, will you?”

 

“I do already,” braved Leonor.

 

“And you didn’t agree to make the Wolfsbane for Lupin?”

 

“No, he didn’t even ask for it. Tonks just picked up a potion for her mother. She’s nice, good for Remus once he accepts the relationship.”

 

Severus snarled impatiently, showing that the topic didn’t please him.

 

Leonor pressed a smack to Severus’ lips quickly, “You are thrilling if you are angry or is it jealous.”

 

“And what did you have for dinner?” The scolding undertone accentuated and not to overhear.

 

“My goodness, a plate full of ham and eggs. I praised you already for your improved batch of the lime green potion. The baby is half of you too and I must suffer. It’s not fair, isn’t it?” Leonor smiled at Severus, brushing the hair from his face and holding it back in a ponytail. She faked her anger, genuinely happy about every won minute with him.

 

“Be careful, you know.”

 

“Are you finished interrogating me?”

 

“Yes.” Severus pulled her closer and his hands roamed her backside, “It is very sensual to have you in this position.”

 

“Listen first,” said Leonor and created again a bit of distance. “Give me your hands.” She put them both on the left side of her belly. “You woke us both. It’s kicking me. Can you feel what I feel?”

 

Severus shook his head, a little disappointed after some minutes waiting. “Can it feel me?” he said awkwardly.

 

“I think so; it is still very early to feel it from the outside; the baby has to grow stronger. The midwife visited me today after you left, and she was satisfied. She allows to take a few drops of your improved potion daily, morning sickness goodbye.”

 

“You still have something to catch up.” Severus traced the lines around Leonor’s eyes.

 

“Sleep with me Severus — now. I know we didn’t dare but today I’m positive we manage it till the end. It is not too often that we can be together.”

 

Severus was much too ready to follow that invitation. They had been very careful in the past months. He longed for Leonor’s touch and all the pleasure that came with it. It was a rare pleasure to come here tonight.

 

XXX

 

“I have to leave soon,” whispered Severus in Leonor’s ear, both exhausted and happy to hold each other in that warm spot between pillows and blankets.

 

Leonor ignored the bad news and nestled deeper into Severus armpit, tracing his arm with her fingers.

 

“Where does that scar come from? It has not been there before I left for Brazil.”

 

“Greyback’s unclean knife,” answered Severus quietly. “It had not been enough to convince the Dark Lord that you are mine.”

 

“I thought he fears you?”

 

“He does — now.”

 

“Have you been fighting with him?”

 

“I won,” smiled Severus proudly. “You don’t need to worry, not as long as you are here with me.”

 

“I don’t worry.”

 

“Leonor, you cannot stay here. The house is vulnerable, too much public. The Death Eaters will patrol Hogsmeade once Dumbledore is dead.”

 

“I can close.”

 

“Closing won’t be enough. The war is not yet at its peak, things are unpredictable.”

 

“And what do you suggest doing?”

 

“You mentioned that you brought official documents from Argentina.”

 

“Yes, but I’m not moving to South America if that is your suggestion.”

 

Severus grunted, “I know. You told me about that house of your grandmother at Francesco’s.”

 

“Severus, I want to be near you and you are in Hogwarts. I need to see you sometimes. There’s no valuable trace of that house, some pictures of a cottage, nothing giving insight.”

 

“Sooner or later the Death Eaters will control the village, even if there is still some time, but one day they will. And what do you think were they stop for a bite to eat?”

 

“The Hog's Head Inn,” mocked Leonor.

 

Severus grunted in response incredulously. “Do you know who made Lestrange stop from his frequent visits with all sorts of scum?” Nobody knew why Lestrange cared suddenly and even Bellatrix brooded that he might favour a change; a younger prettier woman for a bit of pleasure.

 

Leonor looked at Severus surprised, “I thought it runs better for them, fewer injuries.”

 

“Narcissa persuaded Rodolphus to let her treat the scum at Malfoy Manor. And Bella appreciated it, kind of self-serving jealousy.”

 

“Narcissa did that for me?”

 

“Maybe she owed me something, maybe she likes you,” grinned Severus imperviously. “Narcissa got permission to leave the house refilling the potion stocks on a regular basis, certainly a big advantage instead of always being under the Dark Lord’s attention. The scum lives in her house anyway, more potions mean more freedom.”

 

“She ordered a couple of times per owl recently.”

 

“However, you mentioned that it was important to go to Argentina.”

 

Leonor watched Severus reflectively. They had never spoken much about Brazil. Leonor had not been eager to speak about the trip; still embarrassed about the relationship with Brian and unsure how much of it was worth to tell Severus.

 

“Do you really want to know about it?” asked Leonor quietly.

 

“Yes,” said Severus and stared at her. She knew she blushed, and Severus’ searching look got the hint even in the dim candlelight.

 

“I almost married Brian,” sighed Leonor, the truth finally escaped.

 

Severus frowned; his jawbone suddenly tense.

 

“I was not right; you’ve been in my head all the time.”

 

“Are you sure?” snapped Severus, more aggrieved then he wanted.

 

“A thousand percent,” whispered Leonor, kissing his thin face gently, it felt better with the truth out. “I found an old school friend in Brazil. She married a Brazilian healer, the head of the hospital where the British worked. I went to Argentina with them, meeting many people of the village, old acquaintances.”

 

Severus watched Leonor with a penetrating look. He didn’t need Legilimency to see into her soul. “She means a lot to you.”

 

“Yes, she does. It would be good talking to her now. Martina and Luiz have four children, the fifth was born when I lived with them; loads of experience you know.”

 

“What have you been looking for in the old house of your family?”

 

“My birth certificate, school attestations, documents of my grandmother, some heirlooms.” Leonor shrugged. “I hoped to find anything about Eleanor Shafiq’s life in England and all the things that prove who I am.”

 

“And?”

 

“Not much. Some documents, a few pictures, but very bad muggle quality.”

 

Severus embraced Leonor stronger, thinking about how it must be to return to a place where your life almost ended. He knew she was strong to cope with it. He didn’t dare asking if she entered her room. She would tell him, if she wanted to share it.

 

“The grounds and house were cursed. My brother secured it with dark magic and with Caipora. I freed the creatures and the grounds quickly. But it took me a couple of days before breaking the spell to enter the manor.”

 

“Did you really need to risk that?”

 

“No, but I wanted it. My brother knew that I was the last to come to destroy the remaining property of the family. He was right. I could not rest until releasing everything to the villagers, the rightful owners after the legal expropriation of the family. He took everything of value before, except house and landholding of course.”

 

“And how did he secure it?”

 

“Black Fiendfyre and a password on the house created the most intensive magic. Is there any chance to break a password spell without knowing the password?”

 

“Not to my knowledge, I never researched it.”

 

“Luiz suggested trying my name. He was right. I finally defeated my father and brothers.”

 

“So, what did you find?” insisted Severus again.

 

“I show you.” Leonor wriggled herself free from Severus’ embrace and took a large cardboard box from the shelf. The box contained legal papers, a pair of interesting wedding rings, many photographs — all memories of other times. Severus stole one photograph with a small scribble on the backside; there was something familiar about that place.

 

“The Shafiq’s coat of arms is inscribed to the rings.” Severus pointed to the small embossing around the large gemstone in the middle of the wedding band.

 

“Yes, my grandmother must have saved it below all those faded pictures and the family didn’t bother to search. It’s all past Severus, my future is here. I know that for sure, I want to be Leonor Scott and I want to be with you. All that isn’t my life; but I only knew when I returned to see it.” Leonor closed the box and put it back to the shelf.

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