Chapter 2 : Passing Afternoon
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“Just one more pin….there, I’m finished. Be a dear and take it off behind the screen there - don’t stick yourself.”
Eileen Prince points the young woman in the direction of the changing screen, sticking the rest of the pins at the bottom of her skirt. Spotty electric currents flicker through the power supply and the dull black lanterns above pulse quietly, casting gray shadows over the racks of mended clothes. A cracked wooden door opens up to reveal an equally decrepit countertop littered with receipts, bobby pins, scraps of fabric, and a cash register. Near the changing screen in the corner there sits a raised platform for fittings.
“Eileen, you’re a gem. Mum was too busy teaching me to cook and I never learned to stitch even a button,” the young woman says as she steps from behind the screen.
Eileen takes the dress from Hannah’s hands and lays it on the counter. “I know you can’t sew, love, that’s why I do it for you. How’s Liam?”
“Oh, he’s a dear, but if he gets me pregnant again, I might put him in the yard with the dogs!”
Laughter echoes through the room and Eileen replies cheekily, “If you didn’t cook so well, he wouldn’t want to repay you with more mouths to feed. And baby Jack?”
“A mess just like his six sisters. How much do I owe you?”
Eileen looks at Hannah, trying to hide the sadness she feels for the woman she considers a friend. Hannah often comes to the shop and attempts to seem less desperate than she really is – many little mouths and very little money do not make for an easy life.
“You don’t owe me anything, just pick it up tomorrow.”
Sensing that Hannah is both ashamed and grateful, Eileen urges her out the door, promising to drop by and see the children. Eileen silently closes the door and stares at the product of five years’ hard work. Pulling a wand out of a pocket in her skirt, Hannah’s dress levitates to the back room. Eileen walks the short distance across the room, catching sight of herself in the full-length mirror in which her customers so often admire themselves. She perches on a stool and her fingers touch her hair instinctively, smoothing down the black, stick-straight strands. She knows she isn’t Witch Weekly material and certainly not anything magnificent to look at - tall and lanky, plain at best. Her brown eyes are her only alluring feature, but still she does what she can with her appearance. Eileen's brought from her thoughts when a large grandfather clock chimes three times. It's one of the few family heirlooms she has been able to save, and one she's proud to display in the shop. As the final echoing ring dissipates, she directs her wand at the door and mutters a spell. The lock slides in place and Eileen prepares to cater to her other customers.
Just as she sweeps the curtain closed with a flick of her wand, a loud pop causes Eileen to jump in her seat. More than once has the sound of Apparition caused her to prick a customer's legs or arms. In front of her, composed as if he hadn’t just experienced the chest-crushing feeling of Apparition, stands Fabian Prewitt. He is, she believes, the most handsome man she’s ever seen.
“Fabian! What can I do you for?”
“Afternoon, Eileen. Is this a bad time?”
“Oh no, you’re the first customer of the day.”
“Well then, that’s good,” Fabian hesitates and notes the empty shop, “I’ve got a bit of odd request for you…I need you to make me two suits like Muggle men wear.”
Fabian shrugs off his cloak, throwing it over his arm. Eileen summons a measuring tape and motions Fabian to follow her. As if he’s modeled cloaks and robes all of his life, Fabian stands on the block. He is shorter than Eileen without the block and now she towers over him, feeling like a medieval overlord reprimanding a serf. Fabian, however, is unfazed by the seamstress’s height and begins to make the customary small talk.
“You hear that Albus Dumbledore is the new Headmaster of Hogwarts? I always knew that old dodger would make it big. Should have been Minister, he should. I suppose the beard’s what does it…makes him look like a right proper professor…”
As Fabian rambles on, Eileen realizes that the Muggles may hear his deep voice through the door and into the street. Holding the measuring tape with one hand, she flicks her wand at the door, muttering, “Muffliato.”
“What was that?”
“Sorry – just had to lock the door. What were you saying?”
“That I really appreciate you doing this for me. You’re becoming right famous…people are talking about coming to you instead of Madam Malkin. Eileen, you should move your shop to Diagon Alley, hang the Muggles, you’d make more money with wizards. I always recommend you, of course.”
“Thanks, love…” Eileen pauses for a moment, “now, hold still. I need accurate measurements and that’s a bit difficult you being such a fidgety man.”
“I wouldn’t be so damned fidgety if I didn’t have this date!”
“What’re you on about?”
“That’s why I’m having you make this for me. I’ve a date on Saturday with this gorgeous woman, downright looker, but she’s a Muggle. I met her outside the Leaky Cauldron after I knocked her to the ground trying to dash into the pub out of the rain. She looked so damned upset that I took her to one of those Muggle cafes down the street. And now, here I am, pretending to be a Muggle over a pretty face.”
Looking down at Eileen as she wraps the measuring tape around his ankle, Fabian asks, “How are your parents? And your brother?”
Hesitating, she does not immediately answer. The darkness that surrounds the Prince family is not a topic that Eileen discusses with anyone.
“They’re fine, thank you…Now, what kind of fabric and what style, love?”
Fabian watches as Eileen rises. He has no idea about Muggle clothing and looks to the expert. “I have no idea. Make it fashionable for the times, I suppose.”
“I’ll do a single-breasted suit with just a pinch of padding, narrow lines, and dark charcoal gray coloring.”
Fabian smiled. “You do you know your way around the fabric and fashion, Eileen.”
“I do know how to make my customers happy…The other suit, I’ll do in traditional style in case your Muggle likes a classic man. Double-breasted, wide shoulders with a bit of padding, and black?”
“That is perfect. Can you have them by Saturday morning? And how much do I owe you – you are doing me such a large favor.”
“What day is it – Tuesday? – I’ll have them for you Thursday morning. ‘Suppose I’ll be fair and ask ten galleons per suit. That’ll do you?”
“Ten galleons each? You’re a thief, Eileen.”
Eileen laughs, trying to hide her wide-mouthed smile. Stepping off of the block, Fabian pulls a small purple change purse out of the depths of his robes and counts out twenty galleons. She puts her earnings in a little black box that keeps the Muggle and wizard money separate.
A loud pop fills the shop. For the second time in an hour, Eileen jumps. The customers are nearly constant.
“Thursday, Eileen,” calls Fabian as he Apparates away.
Eileen Prince stumbles onto the pavement and takes a deep breath. Sounds of gossiping mothers and giggling children replace the rushing noise of Apparition. Eileen has landed by Ollivander’s – she glances in the window and sees the wandmaker himself, a dark-haired, middle-aged man, rearranging the thousands of boxes of wands behind the counter. The young woman turns and begins walking briskly toward Gringotts. It looms in the distance, the white marble glowing despite the lack of sunshine.
Within a few moments, Eileen is inside the wizarding bank standing in front of a very wrinkly, very angry looking goblin.
“I need to get to my vault.”
The goblin glares up from his ledger book and says, “Miss Prince. Do you have your key?”
The young woman hands are her key to the goblin who examines it, like he does twice a month. The two disparate companions head for the caverns and make the stomach-churning journey down to the vaults. Eileen’s vault is deep below the streets of the city – it lies in a chamber with seven others just above the oldest of the family vaults (the Lestranges, Blacks, and Prewitts). The goblin gets out of the vehicle and inserts the key for Eileen, heaving the steel door open.
Before stepping inside, Eileen says, “I’ll be a few minutes.”
Eileen looks around at the modest fortune she has amassed in five years. Nearly constant work has benefitted in large piles of Galleons, Sickles, and Knuts – their cold and unyielding exteriors are poor substitutes for the capacity of human comfort they’ve assumed. Eileen pulls a little pouch from the pocket of her robes and adds the earnings of the past two weeks to her fortunes. Before leaving, she reaches into her cloak pockets, pulls out a piece of parchment, and updates her personal ledger.
The goblin closes and locks the door, but not before peering greedily into the vault, no doubt looking for goblin-made heirlooms. Eileen, however, keeps those safely at home away from the beady and prying eyes of the goblin that sees her vault so often.
Ten minutes later, Eileen steps into the fresh air. She cannot help but ask herself why she doesn’t spend her money. It does her no good miles beneath London in a vault, but what could she do with it?
A high squeaky voice echoes down the alley. The young woman looks up to see her old friend, Viola. “Viola!”
The two hug, swaying side-to-side like excited teenage girls. Viola has changed little in the last ten years. Each time Eileen sees her, Viola has added another child to her personal Quidditch team. They release each other.
“Eileen, it’s so good to see you! I’m still waiting on that marriage announcement and then those baby announcements! Oh God, has it really been ten years since we graduated from Hogwarts? I should say, ‘cause I know you’ll ask, the kids are doing fabulous. Lily’s eight, Benjamin and Joseph are six, Anna’s three, and Della and Lorene will be six months on Saturday,” Viola rambles like a broken gramophone.
“You look great, Viola, really. And how’s Tom?”
“He’s off on some great adventure for the Ministry this month. I’ll never understand why he likes risking his neck, but I still love him even when he comes home with one less finger. How are you, Eileen?”
“Smashing, absolutely smashing. I work all the time trying to keep up with my customers. They’re relentless.”
“You should hire an assistant, darling. Make your life a little easier – no sense in spending all of your time up to your eyes in fabric and thread!”
Eileen looks down on plump, petite Viola and marvels at the paths their lives have taken. Viola was always headstrong and wanted to be an Auror who made her own living and had illicit affairs with fashionable foreign men behind privately owned cafes and in dingy hotel rooms. Eileen had wanted to work her way toward a career as a Charms professor at Hogwarts. But Viola had fallen madly in love with Tom, an Australian wizard, and Eileen’s life plans had simply changed after the deaths of her parents.
It is heartrending to imagine that someone can exist happily without a close friend in whom to rely. Eileen becomes sentimental as she realizes that the passage of time and banality of daily life has separated her from the close friendships she held dearly.
“…I’ve got to run, Eileen, but I’ll send you an owl and you can stop by for dinner sometime soon,” Viola says. She squeezes Eileen’s hand and rushes off in the direction of the Leaky Cauldron.
A bit punch-drunk after the dazzling encounter with Viola, Eileen turns away and heads for the office of the editor at The Daily Prophet, her old friend’s fleeting advice sparking an idea for spending, practically, of course, the handfuls of Galleons at her disposal.
Author's Note: Hello lovelies! Thank you so much for reading chapter two! I'd like to extend a special thank you to JChrissy (Jami) for being a fabulous beta and to stellar at TDA for the banner!
What did you think of the story? Did Eileen's characterization surprise you? What do you think about the normalcy of her life? I only ask of you all that you do not allow Severus's limited (and limiting) view of his parents to color your thoughts in this story! Please leave a review and let me know what you think!
Thank you for reading and reviewing!
**Disclaimer: Everything you recognize is property of JKR. Everything you do not recognize is original material. The title of the chapter, "Passing Afternoon" is song by Iron & Wine.
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