Chapter 3 : They Bring Me To You
| ||Rating: Mature||Chapter Reviews: 19|
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Lengths of ribbons and several reels of thread flutter through the air in the shop. The seamstress sews several pieces at once, her wand waving quickly in jabs and slashes. Two suits, a pair of curtains, four skirts, and a shirt all drift in midair. It is a moment of magic. The air crackles as the multitude of spells spew from Eileen’s wand, mending and creating. A needle threaded with black stitches the bottom of a skirt while the pins pull themselves away – Eileen twists her hand slightly to the left in the direction of the skirt – the needle straightens its course over the cloth.
The skirts fold themselves and the shirt wiggles in discomfort as the needle threads through a tear in the shoulder. One o’clock chimes on the grandfather clock and Eileen waves the supplies and clothing into place.
“EILEEN! Oh my God, Eileen!” A squeaky voice screeches behind Eileen who flaps her hands in sudden terror and whirls around.
“What? What is it?”
Now whispering conspiringly, the short blond woman says, “It’s a Muggle! What do I do? What do I say? Where do I go? What about my robes? Wait! My wand! Oh-”
Eileen sighs as Lorraine, her new assistant – new, as in two hours new – rushes around madly. She wears dark blue robes that are too long and drag the ground, but do not slow her down in her panicked state. The hands and wrists that clench and unclench nervously are thin and almost dainty. Her hair is the shade of sunbeams on a summer’s day, Eileen notices, as she raises her wand and gives the woman a prompt knock on the head.
“Lorraine, don’t be ridiculous. I hired you to work with both Muggles and wizards. Calm down.”
“But, how I am supposed to act?”
“Like a human being. Just don’t sprout four eyes and start babbling like a banshee,” the Prince lady continues. “Look, I’ll show you.”
Before she walks into the front of the shop, Eileen transforms Lorraine’s robes into a long skirt and peasant top in the style of poorer Muggle women of the area. Birds are leaving as autumn’s ending brings in the harsh winds of winter; their chirping signals the change. Eileen is a tree hovering over the small and swaying dandelion that is Lorraine, the disparate image they create framed against the cracked darkness of the back room.
Always the surefooted business-woman, the seamstress gives her face its best and most adoring smile, wide and toothy, as she approaches the customer.
“Hello, how can I help you?”
“You’re a seamstress, then?” The man asks, a skeptical lilt to his voice.
“If that’s what you’re looking for, then you’ve come to the right place. How can I help you?”
“I need some trousers mended. You aren’t too expensive, are you?” The man steps forward. He is thin and wiry, his gray factory-issued clothing too large for his frame. He is also tall – Eileen feels small as he looms over her.
“I can fix them before you leave and you’re in luck – I’m running a special this week. A shilling a pair.”
The man pauses, observing Eileen critically. “Well then…”
Eileen motions for Lorraine to step forward. The hopeless woman gives a jerky bow like she’s just met the Minister of Magic and asks to see the trousers. She takes them to the counter and spreads them out. “Sir, what’s wrong with them?”
“Well, missy, there are holes in them.”
Lorraine’s plump cheeks show a slight blush and she begins to intently check the merchandise to hide her nervousness. The appointment is taking longer than usual as Eileen silently coaches her assistant through the steps of working with a Muggle customer.
“You’ll have to excuse the delay, I just hired Lorraine here,” the seamstress says, making conversation.
A strange expression graces the man’s features for a moment and he simply gives Eileen a nod. Lorraine mutters to herself as she attempts to stitch the pants in the Muggle fashion.
“Lorraine, why don’t you go into the back room? You’ll find a better needle for that fabric.”
“But, this one’s….”
“Lorraine-” Almost imperceptibly, Eileen flicks her wand-less wrist. Comprehension dawns on the young assistant and she hurries into the back room, scooping up the pants as she goes.
“Right away, Eileen.”
Underneath the flickering electricity, Eileen and the man fidget in silence. Numbered minutes stretch ahead, sixty simple seconds becoming an endless string of tension. Once again, Eileen attempts to make conversation, “I haven’t seen you around – are you new in town?”
Momentarily glancing up, Eileen catches his eyes. They are black, their depths curl like cinder and smoke in a fevered dream. An unsettling rush of blood slams into her heart; her breath quickens – it is radioactive; it erodes her cool resolve and quiet demeanor.
Lorraine emerges from the back room just as the man opens his mouth to speak. The moment’s pressure dispels as Eileen hurries to inspect the sewing – she wishes to get the man out of her shop quickly.
He leaves the shop without so much as a thank-you-kindly, and Lorraine leans against the wall in a heap of frizzy hair and sweaty palms.
“How do you do it, Eileen? That was awful.”
“Usually the customers aren’t so…ornery. Treat them normally, Lorraine, just don’t mention anything to do with magic.”
“You didn’t tell me you were running a special. I thought that all mended pieces were a shilling a piece?”
“They are, Lorraine. He wanted to think he was getting a bargain…you’ll learn.” Eileen thinks proudly of her astuteness.
“Oh, I get it,” Lorraine says, then adds, “I’m going to organize your fabrics by color and type, it’s driving me barmy.”
Lorraine bustles into the back, her curly, bouncing hair already a welcome sight. Three days ago, on Monday, Lorraine had arrived in the shop in careworn robes, but with good experience and a cheerful smile. She’d been the best candidate that Eileen had seen all month, many of them desperate, inexperienced teenagers, ragged homeless people, and several bimbos.
Despite her nerves around the Muggles, Eileen thinks that Lorraine has proven in a few short hours that she is a capable and competent associate who can be trained to Eileen’s standards. Secretly, she hopes that the woman will become a good and trusted friend.
Heading back to her work from earlier in the afternoon, Eileen is surprised to find that it is being finished. Lorraine works more slowly than Eileen, but the result is nearly the same; clean lines, correct stitching patterns, good workwomanship. She falters. What does she do now? She has leisure time. It would not be wise to leave Lorraine to her own devices mere hours after beginning, but the idea of a leisurely activity is too tempting. Forgotten and dusty books murmur sympathetically, urging her to open their covers and turn the crackling, musty pages. Quietly so as not to disturb Lorraine, Eileen slips up the staircase, the tips of her shoes barely touching the wood as the thought of reading sends her floating.
Unlike the shop, Eileen’s living spaces are illuminated in warmth. She has sown cream-colored curtains and recovered the sofa in a daffodil yellow. Soft pinks and radiant blues meet the eye. Across from the window that looks out onto a deserted, dusty yard of the factory sits a vast bookcase. It is overflowing with some of the most precious gifts her parents left to her. Young Eileen did not read often, preferring to use her hands in the pursuit of something productive. Age and solitude have given Eileen a reason to occasionally peruse the pages of a novel.
Contemplating for a moment, Eileen selects a book that she bought several years ago, never having read beyond the synopsis on the back cover. She hurries back down the stairs, clutching the book protectively against her chest as if the spools of thread and fabric below will rob her of this limited and seldom joy.
Lorraine stops her work for a moment as Eileen reappears and says, “Eileen, check this, will you?”
Eileen inspects the cloth and deems it acceptable. She then perches on the stool and opens the book. It would be a momentous occasion and one worth celebrating after years of relentless work, but the moment never begins.
“Eileen, show me how you do a pad stitch. I don’t think I’m doing it properly.”
And sure enough, Lorraine’s pad stitch wasn’t exactly perpendicular to the line of stitching, but rather slanting at an incorrect angle. Eileen inwardly sighs and adjusts the angle for the anxious young lady. Before she can be interrupted again, Eileen flips to the first page and launches into her novel – “This is the saddest story I have ever heard.”
Typical, she thinks. Creaking hinges, then the slam of a door alert the two women to another customer. Hannah’s plump figure appears in the doorway.
Putting her book down, the woman smiles at the sound of her name on a loving and familiar tongue. The two hug.
Hannah is beaming as she speaks, “I can’t stay long – I’ve come to invite you over to dinner tonight. Liam’s been promoted at the factory and we’re having a bit of a celebration.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful, Hannah!”
“Be over at the house at seven. No need to bring anything – I’ve got it taken care of.”
They idly discuss the children and the shop, Eileen introducing Lorraine who is immediately invited to dinner and given a warm hug. Hannah is admirably kind; the difficulties of her life do not deter her loving heart. Hannah leaves after a few moments, as a long afternoon of cooking and cleaning await her.
“Let’s close up for today, love. I want to attempt to bake a pie and then head over to Hannah’s. Are you coming?”
“I don’t think I will, actually. Give my apologies and congratulations to them – Hannah really is divine – but I’ve got to get home. I’m sure my husband is half-starved by now.”
Lorraine picks up her wand and bag, saying right before the moment of Apparition, “Thanks again, Eileen. See you in the morning.”
Muttering furiously, Eileen glances at the nasty water stain on her newly pressed skirt. She knows she can’t use magic in the middle of the street, even if the sky is dark and clouds obscure the moon.
She is less than a block away from Hannah and Liam’s home, its lights shining like a beacon, when she notices someone approaching from the opposite direction. Adjusting the Banoffee pie from her left to her right hand, Eileen squints, hoping to see who it is that walks so quickly and with such long strides.
They reach the home at the same time, but rather than passing her, the figure turns toward the door. To Eileen’s surprise, it is the quiet, reclusive man who came into her shop earlier in the day. His eyes show recognition and he opens the door, ushering her inside. Eileen is taken aback by the man’s gentility. She cannot see his eyes in the darkness of the street, but her heart begins to race nonetheless, the memory of that startling gaze breathtaking. High, raucous laughter filters out into the street.
Inside, the home is teeming with people. Most of the guests congregate in the living room, leaning against the mismatched furniture, drinking beer or wine. The walls are covered with the children’s drawings. A single family photo rests over the fireplace,and it hangs lopsided on the uneven, buckling walls. What the home lacks in aesthetic value it makes up for in warmth and laughter.
The man from the shop is still behind Eileen as she lays her coat on the pile by the door. She hears Hannah’s voice and walks toward the kitchen.
“Eileen, you’re here! Oh, look, you’ve brought a pie. You silly goose, you didn’t have to do such a thing!”
“It’s the very least I could do. Mind you, it doesn’t come close to your Banoffee.”
“Be a dear and take these biscuits in there,” Hannah says as she simultaneously bumps the stove’s door closed with her hip and hands Eileen a tray.
Leaving the hostess behind, Eileen walks back into the living room. Liam spots her and yells, “Oi, Eileen! Nice of you to join us. What’s that my wife’s sent us?”
“Biscuits. And I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Congratulations, Liam.”
Liam waves his hand in mock humbleness. “Here, let me introduce you....This is Sal and his wife, Angelina, Bob and Marla, Cindy, Becky, Bess, John and Sue, Jake, Jack...you’ll get them confused, they’re twins...Sammy, Dean, and Tom.”
Everyone smiles at Eileen, who acknowledges them with a smile in turn, some waving from across the room as Liam calls their name. She discerns that Liam did not introduce her to the man from the shop. But she then realizes that he has disappeared from sight and immediately becomes curious.
“Pile in, pile in! Dinner’s on the table,” Hannah shouts from the dining room.
The host and hostess have added another table, wooden and crudely crafted, to the room. It is cramped with lawn chairs. In the shuffle of hungry, tipsy adults, Eileen finds herself stuffed in the corner at the end of the table. She is startled to find that the man is sitting right across from her. Eileen lowers her eyes, inspecting the food that Hannah has prepared. Yorkshire puddings, toads-in-the-hole, roast gammon, roast pork, apple sauce, brussel sprouts, mashed potatoes, and sage and onion stuffing; the spread barely leaves enough room for the plates and silverware. Eileen briefly wonders how Hannah and Liam managed to afford so much food for so many people. She hopes that Liam’s promotion will give the family a little security for the future.
Hannah is on her feet, her hand on her husband’s shoulder. “Before we tuck in, I just want to say how proud I am of Liam. As you all know, Liam’s just been given a promotion at the factory. We wanted you all to celebrate this with us.”
Liam leans over and kisses Hannah hard on the lips. She laughs as everyone cheers and choruses of congratulations fill the air.
Eileen hesitates before grabbing a plate of roast pork. The guests begin to chat away, but Eileen and the man are silent.
“Pass the Yorkshire pudding?”
“Oh...yes, here you go.”
Elbows bump sharply together as the dishes are passed around.
“So...how do you know Hannah and Liam?” Eileen asks unable to continue in the silence, feeling uncomfortable, after being so used to a steady flow of customers and the accompanying conversation.
“I work at the factory with Liam.”
“Oh, of course.”
Silence covers them again. The tension is tangible and smells faintly of desperation and awkwardness. Forks scrape the plates; shaking hands reach for hot, buttered rolls; glasses clink together as drunken toasts are given. For the guests, it is an occasion of camaraderie and revelry.
“How are your trousers?”
“Wot?” The man gives Eileen a confused look and attempts to swallow his mouthful of potatoes. He begins to choke. Eileen resists the urge to pull out her wand and instead stands, leaning over the table to thump him on the back. Her long arms extend over his shoulders and she pounds on his back as he leans over the table, coughing. Eileen’s skin tingles at the contact.
“Everything alright down there? You aren’t trying to kill him, are you, Eileen?” Liam asks.
“No...no, he just got choked.”
The man coughs several more times, his black eyes now glitter with tears. The roast pork seems particularly intriguing, Eileen concludes, endeavoring to keep her wits about her under the bewildering, yet staggering gaze of a stranger. It has been many years since Eileen last felt this unsettled and the man’s black eyes momentarily revive specters thought to be permanently locked away.
“I was just wondering if Lorraine’s sewing on your trousers was holding up properly.”
“I’m not walking around with holes in my arse, so yes, I suppose they are.”
Eileen thinks she catches a slight, indiscernible smile. After such an embarrassing moment, Eileen can only wonder what the rest of the evening will hold. She is pleasantly surprised when the man initiates the conversation, “You never told me your name.”
“Oh, how rude of me! I’m Eileen Prince.” She smiles her signature wide, toothy smile.
“I’m Tobias, Tobias Snape.”
Hello lovelies! I hope you all enjoyed the chapter! I'd like to say a special thank you to Jami (JChrissy), my wonderful beta, for all of her hard work and support - she's a gem! I can't wait for you all to read the next chapter (and the rest of the story, for that matter). Thank you all so much for your reviews and support - I appreciate it so much!
What did you think of the chapter? How do you like Tobias? What are your thoughts about Eileen? Once again, I ask that you do not let Severus's limited (and limiting) view of his parents to color your thoughts in this story. Please leave a review and tell me what you think!
Disclaimer: The line from Eileen's book ("This is the saddest story I've ever heard.") is from Ford Madox Ford's "The Good Soldier." Anything you recognize is property of JKR and everything you do not is original material.
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