Chapter 25 : Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
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She had lived in a hell of her own making long enough. But now it was time to fly away. At first Tobias had refused to sign the papers. But Eileen had cast a charm upon the next set Markham had sent, unknown to anyone, encouraging her alcoholic husband to sign, making him believe it was in his best interest to be rid of his nagging wife and disrespectful freak son. The charm wasn’t strictly white magic, it bordered upon the gray, but since it was not the Imperius, it was not considered a dark curse. It persuaded rather than forced.
And it persuaded her husband to release her from the shackles of a hellish marriage.
She stared down at the document in her hand and felt an immense feeling of relief come over her. She was free at last. No longer did she have to worry about coming home and finding her son beaten within an inch of his life, or finding that the electricity or the water or heat had been shut off because Tobias forgot to pay the bills again or had drunk the money away. Nor would she ever have to endure her drunken husband groping her and then passing out, or him flying into a rage and hitting her for no reason.
It was finally over. She could take back her maiden name and be plain Eileen Augusta Prince again.
She felt her eyes swim with tears and she dashed them away and scolded herself for being a sentimental fool. Now was not the time for tears, it was a time to celebrate. She decided to start by telling her son the wonderful news.
“Severus, can you come here for a minute?”
Severus rose from where he had been lying on the couch, perusing his new potions book, and came into the kitchen, wondering what had put that happy tone into Eileen’s voice. She sounded the way he remembered years ago, when he was little, before Tobias had taken the bottle to be his mistress. “What is it, Mum?”
Eileen was holding an official looking paper in her hand and smiling. More like beaming, actually. Severus tried to remember the last time he had seen his mother with that particular expression and couldn’t.
“Sev, sit down. I have something very important to tell you.”
He sat in the chair opposite and she levitated a cup of tea and some shortbread over to him. “Does it have to do with him?” Ever since Tobias had been locked away, Severus had refused to call him “dad” and instead referred to his biological father as “him”.
Eileen nodded. “It does. This is the final document I needed to sign to make our divorce official.”
“Then you really went through with it? I mean, I know you said you might file for it when I was going to Grimmauld Place, but you never mentioned it after that, so I thought . . .”
She laid a hand over his own, like him she had slender long-fingered hands. “I know. I didn’t say anything more because I was afraid the divorce might not go through and I didn’t want to get your hopes up, just in case . . .But now it’s official. I have sole custody of you and the house as well, plus a stipend from the government, since he’s in prison and can’t work to pay child support. It’s not much, but it’s enough to pay the bills.”
Severus smiled at her. “Good. I’m glad we’re rid of the bastard.”
“Yes. I loved him once, but the best thing he ever did was to give me you. Had I known what would happen after you were born, Sev, I would have left him.”
“Hey. Hindsight’s always twenty-twenty. Isn’t that what you always used to tell me?” he reminded her gently.
“Using my own words against me are you? Impudent brat!” she laughed, swatting him playfully.
“Hey, I’m a Slytherin, so sue me. We should go out to dinner and celebrate our freedom.”
“Unfortunately, I have work tonight. But maybe tomorrow night.” Eileen folded the letter carefully and placed it in the envelope provided and sealed it. She would mail it back to Markham tomorrow. She had one more piece of news to share with her son before she had to Floo to work. “There’s . . .one more thing I need to tell you, Sev. One day at work, a customer came into the apothecary and we got to chatting. He seemed like a nice enough fellow, polite and well-mannered. At first, I thought nothing of it, until he returned a week later and then a week after that, always on days when I worked in the shop.”
“He likes you. Who is he?”
“His name is Richard Marsh and he has currently accepted the position of Astronomy professor at Hogwarts for next term, since your old teacher retired.” Eileen answered. “He’s a Muggleborn and an alumni of Hufflepuff, a year younger than I am. We had many interesting talks together and I have decided to invite him here for dinner on Monday. Would you mind, Sev?”
Severus considered. He was a bit leery of meeting strange adult men, but he trusted his mother. And it was just dinner, it wasn’t as if she were marrying the fellow. “I guess not. It’s just . . .rather sudden.”
“I should have mentioned him before, but I never thought I would be attracted to a man after your father and what he did . . .and most wizards won’t have a thing to do with a witch who married a Muggle and had a child with him. But Richard is different. He is anxious to meet you and to spend more than a half-an-hour with me inbetween customers. Will you be willing to give him a chance, Sev?”
“For you, I will.”
“Thank you. We can discuss this more tomorrow, I have to go to work. There’s ham and bean soup and bread by the stove.” She gave him a hug and a peck on the cheek. “Don’t stay up too late reading. Oh, and have a good time at the fair with Lily.”
He hugged her back, then she went into the den and he heard the soft swish of the Floo and then she was gone. He sat at the table, pondering upon this new development, hoping that it was a change for the better. He trusted his mother, but what if this wizard was fooling her, what if he were a man like Tobias? It scared him, thinking about a return to those days, days of pain and fear, the foul scent of whiskey and gin filling his nostrils, days of cleaning up puke, and hearing his mother weep when she thought no one could hear. I won’t have that again. Never again will I be helpless and afraid and let a man bully me. Or her. I’ll protect her, the way he should have but never did. Nobody will ever hurt us that way again.
He fetched his potions book and tried to return to the chapter he had left off, but he found that he could not concentrate. News of the divorce clashed in his head with news of this wizard—Richard Marsh. He set the book down and thought about writing Regulus, but after he had penned half a letter he crumpled it and threw it into the fireplace. Regulus had his own issues with his brother and he didn’t need Severus whining to him on top of it about a man he had never even met. He did write another letter telling Reg about the divorce and asking if everything were all right there. On impulse, he asked if Reg would like to come to the fair that night with him and Lily.
Then he whistled for his mother’s owl, Warlock, who had remained hidden from Tobias all these years by roosting outside like a wild owl, and gave him the letter to post. He hoped Reg would reply quickly, because he wanted to talk to Lily about what had just occurred and see what she made of it.
Warlock returned some twenty-five minutes later, a letter clutched in his beak. After Severus had stroked him and given him treats, he tore open his mail. Merlin, but it felt good to be able to open a wizard post without worrying about his old man catching him.
First I wanted to say thanks for the awesome present—the Invisibility Stone is really cool. I tried it out, and not even Kreacher can spot me when it’s activated. It’s better than that Invisbility Cloak of Potter’s, you know the one he’s always bragging about? It’ll come in right handy, you know?
I’d love to come to the fair, but I’m sick. Caught some darn flu and my mother refuses to let me go, even though I’m feeling much better. Insists I have to stay in bed. I argued and she told me she’d Stick me there if she had to and made Kreacher sit with me, making sure I didn’t try to sneak out the window or whatever. Ugh! This bloody sucks!
Well, hope you have a good time with Lily and eat lots of cotton candy and drink some lemonade for me. I’m glad to hear about the divorce, bet you’re over the moon about that, huh? Here comes Kreacher with more potions—(grimaces) so I’ll just say goodbye for now.
Write back and tell me all about it, it’s so boring stuck in this bed.
Severus wrote a quick note acknowledging Reg’s letter and saying it was too bad he was sick and gave it to Warlock to post.
Then he picked up the phone and dialed Lily’s house.
* * * * * *
Three minutes later, he was climbing up the ladder of the tree house in Lily’s backyard. They only used the tree house for top secret never-to-be-spoken-of conversations when they were children and Severus felt most comfortable there discussing his personal life. Not that he feared Polly Evans would ever gossip, she was not that sort at all, but it was habit and he knew Lily understood.
He managed to wriggle his way into the tree house, discovering to his dismay that he was nearly too big for it now. When had that happened? He couldn’t remember growing taller, but he supposed he must have, since now he had to scrunch himself to sit down where once he had sprawled comfortably.
Lily was already there, she was not much taller than she had been at ten and still fit inside easily. There were two glasses of fruit punch and some biscuits on the wooden crate as well. “Bit of a tight fit now, huh, Sev?” she teased, looking him over appreciatively. “You’ve filled out nicely.”
“Yes. I can tell,” she ran her hand over one lean muscled shoulder and gave him an arch grin. While he would never bulk as much as some men, she could tell that when he reached his full height he would be like a rangy panther, tall, sinewy, and lithe. Just the way she liked them.“Hungry?”
“Yes. Lately I always am, for some reason.” He reached for a biscuit and a glass of punch.
“Growth spurt, I’ll bet,” she said, nibbling on her own biscuit. “All right. What’s wrong, Sev? Talk to me.” She put her arms round her knees and gave him a worried look.
“It’s not that something’s wrong . . .just . . .I don’t know . . .there are a lot of changes taking place with my family right now. With my mother. She filed for divorce and it finally went through and now we’re free of the sperm doner for good.”
“Oh, Sev, that’s great! I’m so happy that you’ll never have to worry about him again.”
“So am I. But that’s the good news.” He sighed and shifted, trying to make himself more comfortable. “I really didn’t come over to talk about that, but about this wizard my mum has started seeing.”
Lily’s eyes went wide. “Eileen’s dating again?”
“Well, not dating, since she’s never gone out with him, only spoken to him at work. She wants to invite him over for dinner on Monday and I’m kind of . . .nervous. No, it’s not like that, but I’m concerned . . .I don’t want her to make the same mistake she did with him . . .Ah, hell, it’s coming out all wrong, you think I’m an idiot, right?” He shook his head in disgust. He could hold a dissertation on potions and ingredients like a master, but when it came to speaking of his feelings, he was a tongue-tied disaster.
“No, you’re not,” Lily soothed, moving over and draping an arm across his shoulders. He relaxed then, leaning against her shoulder. “I understand. You’re afraid Eileen might be picking another loser like Tobias. And you don’t want her to get hurt and you don’t know if you can protect her if something goes wrong, right?”
He gaped at her. “How do you do that?”
“What?” her green eyes twinkled mischievously.
“Know exactly how I feel without me saying it.”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. With you, I just know. I can’t really say it works with anyone else, though.”
“Only you.” She began to play with his hair. “Sev, I think you need to calm down and think things through. Or better yet, just play it by ear and wait and see what happens on Monday night. What does this guy do? Does he work for the Ministry?”
“No, he’s would you believe it? . . .our new Astronomy teacher for next term. His name is Richard Marsh and he’s a Hufflepuff.”
“Oh? Hufflepuffs are loyal and dependable, Sev. Hard workers too. He doesn’t sound too bad. Is he a pureblood?”
“No. Mum said he’s a Muggleborn.”
“Like me.” Lily smiled. “I say give him a chance, like you said you would. And hope for the best. If things don’t work out . . .well, you can cross that bridge when you come to it. I think your mum’s probably just as nervous as you are.”
“Yes, and she probably waited a long time before agreeing to do anything with him, afraid she was making a mistake. That’s why she invited him to dinner at your house. Because a woman feels safest in her own home and if need be, she can send him packing. She wants to have the upper hand and I’m sure you know why.”
Severus thought that Lily made a lot of sense. Eileen had done her best to regain her self-esteem and become more like the woman she had been before Tobias. It had taken her all those months he was in jail, but now she had finally managed it and Severus doubted if she would ever let a man boss her around again. “Yes. And if he tries anything, he’ll get my fist in his face and my foot up his arse.”
“Unless Eileen hexes him first.”
“Right.” He pulled her close, drawing her onto his lap. “Thanks, Lil. Talking to you always makes me feel better.”
“That’s why I’m here.”
“The only reason, little oracle?”
She tilted her head up. “No. Kiss me, Sev.”
He brought his mouth down on hers and kissed her softly at first, then more passionately as he allowed his emotions to surface. Kissing Lily was like drinking a Stimulent Draft, she always left him wanting more. He couldn’t get enough of her. His hands roamed down her shirt and through her silky fiery hair.
He felt a familiar aching and burning spread through him and wished to heaven that they were finished with school and of an age to get married, because then he wouldn’t have to stop touching and feeling and he could make love to her like he had done so many times before in his dreams. But he knew that Lily was not quite ready for such intimacy and he would not force her. He was no Tobias.
“I love you, Lily,” he murmured into her hair, it smelled like apricots and apples.
“Love you too, Sevvy.”
He coughed. “Sevvy?? Only you can get away with calling me that name, Lily. You make me sound like an old lady’s pet poodle.”
“Pet panther, more likely,” she giggled. “Sevvy, Sevvy, Sevvy.” She began to trail kisses down his neck. “My Sevvy!”
He gasped, her kisses sent spirals of lightning through him, stimulating him in obvious places. “Merlin, Lily! Where in the name of heaven did you learn to kiss like that? Been reading the Kama Sutra?”
“Severus!” She smacked him across the back of the head. “For shame! Where would I get a copy of that?”
“The bookshop,” he suggested naughtily. “I saw it on the shelf. In the back on top.”
She eyed him suspiciously. “Have you looked at it?”
He didn’t answer.
And by that she knew he hadn’t . . .or had he? “For your information, I learned to kiss by instinct.”
He cupped her face in his hands. “Damn, I am so lucky. Keep listening to that instinct, sweetheart.”
“I will,” and then she kissed him one last time before snuggling into his arms, and listening to his heartbeat. She knew without knowing how that he wanted her very badly, and she wanted him, but she also knew the dangers of going too far, and neither of them had any protection and she did not want to end up pregnant at fifteen. “Have you heard from Reg?” she asked, changing the subject to something low key and safe.
“Just this afternoon. He’s sick with some kind of flu and can’t come with us to the fair.”
“Oh, that’s too bad. And Tuney’s off with James going flying, so I guess it’s just you and I.”
“A perfect combination,” he whispered, gazing into her green eyes lovingly.
“Always,” she laughed.
They remained that way for a long time, content just to be in the other’s embrace, two halves of the same whole, and their betrothal rings sparkled a counterpoint upon their fingers.
* * * * * *
Petunia gazed at the polished shaft of wood dubiously as it hovered before her at knee height. James was already straddling the broom like a boy on a hobby horse, completely at ease. “Umm . . .James, are you sure there’s room on this for me? It looks kind of . . .small for two.”
James chuckled. “Tunia, my love, there’s always room on the broom for you. Trust me.” His hazel eyes met hers earnestly. “Do you trust me?”
“I . . .yes, of course . . .”
“Then come on. It’s perfectly safe, I won’t let you fall.” He patted his knee. “You can sit on my lap.” He invited with a roguish grin.
“And give you ideas? Humph!”
“What ideas?” he countered.
“Wicked ones, where you drag me off and . . .and . . .”
“Have my dreadful wicked way with you? Those ideas?” he inquired saucily.
“See? You know exactly what I’m talking about.”
“I won’t deny it. The thought has crossed my mind,” he admitted shamelessly. “But, my lady, you have been in my bedroom and your . . .ah . . .virtue has remained untouched.”
“But it won’t be if I sit on your lap. I know where that leads to.” A faint shiver went through her as she recalled the last time she had sat on a young man’s lap.
“With that slob you dated, yes. With me, it’s different. I won’t do anything you don’t want me to, Tuney. Hard as it might be, I’ll keep my hands to myself if that’s how you want it.” He promised and thought ruefully, That will be damned uncomfortable for me, but I’ll do it. Damn bloody Dursley! This was new territory for him. He had never had to coax a girl into his arms before, usually they ran into them. But Petunia was like a water-shy cat, and he had to go slowly and patiently. “It’ll be more comfortable the first time if you’re sitting on my lap. Especially in a skirt.”
“How high will we go? And are you sure I won’t fall?”
“Sure as my name’s James Potter. I’ll take you up nice and easy, about maybe ten feet. Okay?”
Petunia hesitated. It had looked like fun when she saw James and Sirius flying, but to actually do it herself . . .even with James there holding her . . .
“What’s the matter, Evans? Scared?” came Sirius’s soft taunt from above.
Petunia’s eyes flashed. Nobody called her a scardeycat! Especially not stuck-up little fifteen-year-old brats. “The bloody blue blazes I am, Sirius Black!”
Then she moved, walking haughtily over and sitting sideways across James’s knees.
His arm came around her waist, settling her more securely against him. Sirius gave a whoop of laughter and then soared away. “Don’t mind him, the show off,” James said in her ear. “There. Comfortable? It’s like riding a horse sidesaddle.”
“I’ve never ridden a horse.”
“No? Well, maybe I could teach you sometime.”
“You have horses here?”
“Used to. When I was a little kid. Mum’s last horse died when I was seven and she never could bear to get another. I learned to ride a horse when I was three.”
“Is that why you’re such a good flyer?”
“Maybe. Though riding a broom’s a bit different. Broom’s don’t move under you. Relax now. Ready?” He pointed the front of the broom towards the sky, holding her securely with one well-muscled arm. “Don’t be afraid. This will be fun, I promise.”
And before Petunia could count to five, they were airborne, drifting effortlessly among the clouds.
There was an odd sensation in the pit of her stomach, but it was not an unpleasant sensation. She felt slightly lightheaded but she was not about to faint. She was not the fainting kind. She looked about her curiously and saw that the manor looked somewhat smaller from above and some of the roof tiles appeared to be missing. There was a gap in a rose hedge and the oak tree off to the left had a hollow with some squirrels peeking out of it.
“Oh! Oh my goodness!”
“View’s great up here, isn’t it?” James grinned. She was light across his knees and he had no trouble holding her, but he had given her a Floating Charm to wear on her wrist, just in case. He sucked in a breath as she wriggled a bit. Oh, hell, Tuney, it’s getting real hard for me to keep that promise. His hands itched to cuddle her and explore, she was like a siren, tempting him into danger, but he firmly resisted his impulses for once. It was hard, but he behaved like a gentleman. He did not want to resurrect the specter of Vernon Dursley.
“Alright, now let’s do some circles,” he said, anything to get his mind off the way she felt when she moved against him. He gently guided the broom into small and large circles, letting her get used to the way it moved and how it felt being in the air. “If you feel sick or dizzy, tell me and we’ll land, okay?”
“I feel fine!” She called gaily. “Better than fine!”
“That’s my girl. See, I knew you’d love it. Flying’s the best thing ever!” He began to do more complicated corkscrews and twirls.
Petunia didn’t know why she wasn’t petrified out of her wits, sitting on a wizard’s lap with her legs dangling into open air with nothing between her and the earth below but a bit of wood and magic. The wind played havoc with her upswept hair, tugging it out of her chignon, and making tendrils fall across the back of her neck. It caressed her playfully and she laughed and said softly, “James, how fast can this broom go?”
“Pretty fast, Tuney. Why? Want to speed things up?”
She nodded and then gave a soft yelp as he shifted and the broom shot across the sky.
The wind screamed in her ears and she did too, but she was not afraid. She knew she was safe and for the first time ever she felt an urge to just let go, to become one with the wind and the clouds and the birds of the air. Even the wizard beside her.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to go that fast,” James apologized, cursing himself for an idiot. Petunia was dabbing at her eyes and he hoped she wasn’t crying in terror.
He looked at her.
She was laughing.
“You’re . . .you’re not . . .that didn’t scare you?”
“No! Let’s do it again! Only faster!”
“I’ll be a purple griffin!” he chuckled. “Looks like I’ve got a speed demon in my arms, huh?” He pressed her close to his chest. “Put your arms around me, Tuney, and hold on tight and don’t let go!”
Then he kicked the old Cleansweep 7500 into its fastest speed and they tore across the sky like a comet, Petunia was laughing in delight, and James even showed her a few Quidditch maneuvers. He was delighted by her response, he had been scared she would hate it, and instead he had found a kindred spirit.
What a woman! Too bad she’s not a witch, I could teach her everything I know about flying. Oh well, this is good too. Damn good. He cradled her close, loving the way she felt against him, warm and sweet and utterly enchanting. He could not remember the last time he had felt this way with a girl. It was more than just passion, it was something deeper, a need to protect and to shelter, and to love with all of his heart.
I think I’ve finally found out what all those crazy poets felt all those years ago. Love, thy name is Petunia Evans, and you have bewitched me.
He dipped his head and kissed her as they flew through the clouds. “Sorry, couldn’t resist.”
But she was not upset. Instead she tilted her mouth up at him like a baby bird waiting for a treat and said, “I don’t mind. Once more, please.”
This time he allowed himself the leisure to kiss her properly and was thrilled when she wound her arms about him in response.
“Oi, Potter! Get a room! My virgin eyes!” Sirius called as he went by.
“Have seen things even I haven’t,” James shot back. “Jealous, Siri?”
“Not on your life! I have prospects too, y’know.”
“Sure you do. Up here,” James tapped his forehead meaningfully.
“Real funny. Want to race?”
James looked at Petunia. “Should we?”
“Oh, yes. Let’s tan his hide good!”
“All right!” James grinned. “Hang on, daredevil.” He looked over at Sirius, who was hovering lazily, looking as if he’d come from the womb on a broom. “You’re on, Black! Ready . . .set . . .go!”
The Cleansweep wasn’t as fast as some of the newer models, but it had staying power, and the race was usually to the house and the first tree beyond it, which was an ancient willow. Sirius was winning, at first, until James slingshot around a tree and managed to get ahead by five yards.
Petunia was hollering and shrieking like a banshee in delight, she had never felt so alive . . .so energized . . .she never wanted it to end. She felt as if her hair were on fire and the only way she could quench the flames was to go faster and faster until . . .they reached the willow and James brushed his fingers across it a scant three minutes before Sirius.
“Whoo-hoo! How’s that for some fancy flying, huh, boy?” cheered the Chaser. “And me with a passenger too.”
“You got lucky, Potter.”
“Ah ah ah. Don’t be a sore loser,” James scolded, waving a finger at his friend. “But you’re right, I did get lucky. She’s my good luck charm,” he said, kissing her lightly on the top of the head.
Sirius rolled his eyes. “Merlin help me! She’s a Muggle without a scrap of magic in her.”
“So? What difference does that make?” Petunia bristled.
“None whatsoever, darling. There are more kinds of magic in the universe than the kind you can do with a wand.” James said, glaring at Sirius.
Sirius snorted. “Honestly, James . . .”
“There are, only you don’t know it yet because you aren’t in love,” put in the Gryffindor smugly.
“Ha! Says you, who have never felt it.”
“I hope to God not, if this is what it does to you. You’ve turned into a poetry-spouting puppy, James.”
James shrugged. “There are worse things I could spout. Come on, Tuney. I think I hear Bilbo ringing the bell for us for supper.” He turned and glided down for a landing in front of the back walk and saw, to his satisfaction, that Petunia looked very reluctant to dismount. It would seem he had converted yet another to the wonderful society of Broom-Lovers Anonymous, or Those Who Would Rather Fly Than Walk.
* * * * * *
Severus set the table, using the best plates and silverware they had, a service that had the Prince crest on it and was made of white porcelain. Severus had never seen it before, Eileen had inherited it from her grandmother and had hidden it away in the attic. Only now did she summon it and dust it off, or rather Severus did, and had him set it out on the table.
While he was doing that, Eileen was stirring the Bearnaise sauce that was to go over the beef Wellington she had made. Accompanying it was Yorkshire pudding and broccoli in butter sauce. For dessert she had made baked apples with cinnamon sugar on top of them, since she had extra pastry dough.
“Where did you find all these recipes?” Severus had asked her while helping her chop up parsley and mushrooms.
“Your grandmother Snape liked me and gave me her cookbook,” Eileen answered. “The first few years we were married, I used it all the time. But once Tobias started drinking I stopped bothering to cook anything complicated, since most nights he didn’t even eat and other times I’d end up wearing it, or the floor would.” She told him, referring to the nasty habit Tobias had of throwing plates filled with food on the floor or at her if he didn’t like what she had made for dinner.
Severus’s face grew dark, for he too remembered those nights. And the nights when they had nothing to eat at all and he went to bed hungry. “That’s over and done now, Mum,” he said quietly. “And whatever you’re making smells wonderful.”
“It’s beef Wellington, only without the goose liver pate, since that’s too expensive. I substituted grated cheese with a bit of horseradish instead,” Eileen said.
“Good thing,” Severus muttered, liver anything sounded disgusting. “When is Mr. Marsh supposed to be here?”
“I told him to come at five-thirty.” Eileen replied, rolling the pastry dough around the beef topped with cheese, mushrooms, wine and other spices. She brushed the dough with a beaten egg.
Then she sent Severus off to set the table.
Soon heavenly smells were coming from the kitchen and Severus’s mouth was watering. He wished Lily or Reg were coming over, then maybe it wouldn’t be so awkward between him and Richard Marsh. He just hoped the man were nothing like his father. He didn’t think he could stomach anyone who even remotely resembled Tobias.
Right on time, there was a soft whoosh and a medium-sized man slightly younger than Eileen stepped gracefully through the Floo and with a flick of his hand, swept the soot off himself and back into the fireplace. He was dark-haired, and wore his hair short, it had a slight wave to it. He had large hazel eyes, eyes that were open and friendly, not hard and calculating like Tobias’s. He was tanned slightly and fit, with rugged Yorkshire good looks, not quite as handsome as Tobias but pleasing to the eye. He was wearing conservative tan slacks and a casual collared shirt of a cream color with a hippogriff upon the right side. Over it all was a leather duster.
“Hello, Richard!” Eileen greeted, she had taken off her apron by then and was dressed in a pair of nice black and silver slacks and a silvery mesh blouse and black shoes. Her dark eyes seemed to sparkle as she looked at the Muggleborn professor. “Welcome to my home!”
“Thank you for inviting me here, Eileen,” Richard said, he was very soft-spoken and he took Eileen’s hand and shook it gently, then he removed his coat. “Err . . .where shall I put this?”
“Severus, take Mr. Marsh’s coat.” Eileen beckoned him forward.
Severus approached warily, taking the leather duster. “Severus, sir. Pleased to meet you.” He said politely, holding out his opposite hand.
“Hello, I’m Richard Marsh, but you can call me Dickon. Richard is too formal for me, especially outside of work,” the professor said, smiling genially and shaking Severus’ hand.
Severus looked up into the other wizard’s eyes, trying to determine if this Dickon were someone who could be trusted or not. Richard met his eyes steadily, and Severus could not see any deception in them, only an honest goodwill. There was no aura of violence or menace about him either. Still, years of living under Tobias’s thumb had made Severus wary, and so all he said was, “Very good, sir. Let me put your coat in the closet.”
He took his time hanging up the coat, observing the way Richard spoke to his mother, with politeness and courtesy, and he did not raise his voice either. Eileen escorted him into the kitchen, and offered him a glass of wine, which he declined, another point in his favor as far as Severus was concerned.
He returned to the kitchen in time to hear Eileen say, “I hope you’re hungry, Dickon, because this was the smallest roast they had.” She pulled the cover off the beef Wellington.
Richard’s eyes widened. “Great Merlin! I think you’ve confused me with Hagrid, Eileen.”
Eileen laughed. “That would be impossible. Well, don’t be shy, start eating.” She muttered a spell to cut the beef into slices.
Everything was delicious. The beef was tender and juicy, the Yorkshire pudding melted in your mouth, and the broccoli was tender and sweet, with just the right amount of butter. They all went back for seconds and the Astronomy professor claimed he couldn’t have eaten any better at the queen’s own table.
While he was eating, Severus had been watching the way Marsh ate, neatly and without talking with food in his mouth and asking politely for the salt or another piece of pudding. It was a far cry from the way Tobias had behaved when he sat down to supper, on the rare occasions he wasn’t drunk and deigned to eat with his family. Tobias had expected to be served by his wife and he never offered her a compliment on her cooking, usually it had been just the opposite.
Severus had to admit it was nice to sit down to dinner with someone that actually appreciated the time and effort Eileen had put into making this dinner. Over dinner, Eileen and Richard chatted about their jobs, and Richard had remarked that he would have to return to school a day or two earlier than the students so he could get things squared away in his classroom.
He looked over at Severus. “And are you all set to return to school on January 3rd, Severus?”
“Pretty much, sir.”
“Good. Your mum has said you’re a good scholar, I look forward to having you in my class. And please, call me Dickon. I’m going to get “sir”-red to death once I’m at school, no need to start early.”
With a start, Severus realized the other wizard was teasing and he gave him a tentative half-smile and said, “Okay . . .Dickon.” The name felt strange on his tongue at first, it was an old Yorkshire nickname for Richard, which people nowadays had shortened to “Dick” or “Rich”. Deciding to get some useful information, Severus asked, “So are you from Yorkshire too then?”
“I am. For many generations. I’m practically part of the moors hearabouts. My family dates back to the War of the Roses, where my ancestor marched with the Duke of York and fought against Lancaster. We were loyal supporters of the Plantagenets all the way through the reign of Richard the Third, who was not the villain he was painted as, you know. I was named for him.”
Severus nodded. “I know. I used to go to public school, and they teach us the true history of Richard the III, and not the lies Henry the VII told to make himself look better than the usurper he was.”
Richard’s eyes twinkled. “Spoken like a true Yorkshireman. We of the north know that Richard had nothing to do with that filthy business of murdering the two princes in the Tower. That was most likely the doing of Buckingham and Henry Tudor. Richard would have had nothing to gain by their murder. They say that when Richard was slain at Bosworth Field, a fiery comet flashed across the heavens, a portent of doom now that the rightful king was dead.”
“That’s not a surprise, considering how bloody the Tudor monarchy was,” Severus said.
“Indeed. Until Elizabeth the First. Who was a great patron of the arts, including astronomy. Do you like astronomy, Severus? Your mother tells me you are a superb potions apprentice.”
“I do, s-I mean, Dickon. Just not as much as potions.”
“You take after your mother then,” Richard said. “I hope that after my class, you will learn to like astronomy as much as you do potions. It’s not all boring equations and such.” His voice took on a passionate tone. “There is magic in the stars, Severus, as much magic as there is in a cauldron of healing elixir. You can feel it on a night, when all is still and clear, and the stars shine down.” Abruptly, he came back to himself. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to babble on and on, but the stars are my passion. My mother always said I was born stargazing, so it was only natural I become an astronomer.”
“Dickon is a member of the Magical Society of Astronomers, Severus.”Eileen said. “He’s working on a new theory. How to draw magic from a source other than the earth.”
“From the stars?” Severus guessed.
“Yes. The stars have their own magic and if you could figure out a way to harness it . . .but right now all of that is just speculation.” Richard shrugged. “Maybe someday . . .”
“That sounds like a good idea. My mother said you met her at work. What sort of potions does an astronomer use . . .Dickon?”
“Well, we often use Clarity Drafts and Stargazing Elixirs, and sometimes even Endurance Drafts, so we can stay up all night watching comets and meteor showers and other portents.” Richard explained.
“My mother can brew almost anything,” Severus declared softly, a proud note in his voice.
“Of that, I have no doubt. I could tell from the moment I saw her that she was an excellent Potions Mistress. Not to mention a beautiful one.”
Eileen blushed and laughed. “Go on with you, Richard! Maybe I was beautiful once, before . . .” she trailed off awkwardly. Before Tobias beat and starved the beauty out of me, she finished silently.
“You are still, Eileen.” Richard declared quietly. “Your beauty does not fade like some. For true beauty lies within as well as without.” He touched his heart.
Severus coughed, feeling awkward and uncomfortable. He had never seen a man look upon his mother that way, as if she were the only woman on earth, the way he looked at Lily. Hearing Richard call his mother beautiful . . .it was strange, for he had never thought of her that way, to him she was his mother representing comfort and love and warmth.
“I’ll just clear the plates,” he muttered, and began to do so, leaving the two to speak to each other in the silent language that conveyed as much with a look as one did with a dozen words.
Once the table was cleared, Severus set about making tea and bringing dessert out. That brought the two out of their reverie and back to the world and the two blushed like two guilty children. But neither apologized.
“Thank you, Severus,” his mother said. “Try my baked apples, Dickon. They were Sev’s favorite as a little boy.”
“They still are,” he told her. And then he sat and ate one.
“I can see why,” Richard said, eating a bite of the dessert and sighing in pleasure. “Mmm . . .this could almost make me forget about my stargazing.”
Eileen laughed, bright and carefree, something that she rarely did, and Severus smiled upon hearing it. Oh, Mum. I’m so glad you are happy. I just hope it lasts. I hope that Dickon is the one you were looking for. You deserve a hell of a lot better than what he gave you. He looked at Marsh with eyes that were too knowing and jaded for fifteen and thought, Make her happy, Marsh. Don’t ever hurt her, or by God and Merlin, I shall make you regret it. Then he glanced down at his plate again, pretending to ignore the byplay between the two.
Thus he missed the glance Richard shot his way, his hazel eyes filled with sympathy for the boy, who had learned too young to be afraid and to distrust a man in authority. Eileen had told him a little about her past, and her vicious husband, who was now in jail, and how she had divorced him. Someday, you will see that I am not your father, Severus. Not all men hurt those they are supposed to love. But you would never believe that if I told you, so I will simply have to show you. If you will let me. He had lost his father when he was seven, and knew what it was like to grow up without a male role model. From what little Eileen had told him, Tobias had been a terrible father and no kind of example to a boy of what a good father should be. Or a good husband. It was a good thing, he reflected, that as an astronomer he knew how to be patient and how to catch a falling star and set it free to shine again among the heavens.
So, how did you like this new twist?
I felt that Sev deserved a good role model and Eileen a decent man as well.
Next: James shows Petunia his Animagus form and they all prepare to go back to school. Sirius returns to Grimmauld Place. What will his parents say to him?
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