Chapter 4 : CHRISTMAS EVE
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Leonor woke late in the morning. There was no need for a hurry. No duties had been assigned to her. She felt slightly useless at Hogwarts. There were only five students left and all looked perfectly healthy. Rose had been picked up by her parents and Severus had calmed their rage about their daughter’s injury. The basic multiple-choice tests on the last day of term gave her at least some justification to still be at the school. She would mark them and compile a short report for Professor Lupin.
The weather outside was wintery and not very inviting. But a good walk through the castle grounds would raise her appetite and bring some nice colour into her cheeks. Leonor was relaxing today, but had decided to continue her own exam preparations with a studious visit of the library on the next.
Leonor had dressed herself in black to prepare for the feast. The dress was elegant with green beads around the small neckline. It did well with the dark green lining of the cloak and an anthracite hair slide. She felt tense; it had been a long time since she had been invited. She left her room just to meet Albus Dumbledore outside. There was a stern expression on his face and Leonor went minutes later to Hogsmeade.
Severus entered the Great Hall. Leonor was not there yet. They hadn’t spoken much in the last two days. He felt grateful towards her for helping Rose and defending Slytherin House in the hospital wing. She had cared professionally.
The headmaster informed the heads of house about Professor Scott’s absence. A young couple had called for help. There were complications with the birth of their first child and the expecting father had asked for the matron. Severus swallowed his disappointment. Dumbledore’s fire cracker and the funny hats made Severus feel uneasy. Potter’s and Weasley’s snickering could have reasoning in their memory of Longbottom’s boggart. McGonagall’s bickering with Trelawny was somewhat childish, but at least some conversation. Severus couldn’t avoid glancing at the door. The students were already leaving the hall, when Leonor entered. She looked pale and torn. Her steps were unwavering, but Severus saw the dark shadows in the woman’s eyes. She looked briefly at him, but averted her eyes quickly.
Professor Sprout shouted joyful questions to receive the news about the offspring first hand. Leonor straightened and forced a smile to her face to tell the former student had given birth to a healthy little girl. She confirmed it was all very normal and no reason to worry. The young parents had likely been overexcited. Dumbledore raised his glass and so did all to celebrate the new-born. Leonor sat between Filch and Trelawny avoiding the conversation about the gratifications a midwife must feel.
Severus watched Leonor carefully. Leonor was searching distraction in small talk with Trelawney about fortune telling when Sybill took her hand with a knowing look: “You want me reading the cards for you, my Dear?”
McGonagall stood up and left shaking her head about the nonsense before Leonor could even answer. Sprout followed close with a suspicious look at Leonor’s dress and cloak. Leonor didn’t know how to interpret it and concentrated on Sybill. Trelawny was muttering under her breath about the impertinence of people and shuffled the cards, placing one card after the other in front of Leonor. Trelawney made important gestures telling Leonor about a happy life. It sounded much like a muggle horoscope and Leonor smiled politely as if she’d believe it. Suddenly Sybill’s voice became deep and mystic: “A prince demands forgiveness to bring the joy of a long-lost dream.”
Everybody was still listening when Trelawney’s eyes felt back in their sockets noticing the amused stare at her. Sybill started shuffling the cards again. Snape’s expression was grave. A silence followed and Professor Flitwick patted Trelawny on the back grinning: “It’s late Sybill, better to retire for the night.”
Dumbledore chuckled with a side glance at Severus: “Good night!”
“Oh, it’s time, pleased to meet you Mrs. Scott …”, said Trelawney with lavish stirring of her shawls, “... you are welcome any time to discuss the future.”
Leonor leaned back in her chair and sighed: “Have you had a good evening?”
“Presumably better than yours”, said Snape and refilled Leonor’s glass of wine.
“And what makes you believe that?”, said Leonor coolly waving her wand conjuring the chocolate candy from her room. She handed the bowl to Snape with an impish grin: “Merry Christmas, Professor Snape. I promise the sweets are delicious and we are not going to share tonight! Your turn to trust ...”
Severus hesitated, his gaze firmly on Leonor’s eyes. Her relaxed expression was replaced by weariness.
“Did some of Trelawney’s predictions come true? I mean is she a real seer or merely teaching a subject? You looked very tense, but it wasn’t a death sentence, was it?”, said Leonor concerned.
“I know of one prediction …”, and his stern voice trailed off, “… it sounded foreboding, but wasn’t it about a dream to fulfil?
“Yes, I thought so too. Let’s see if it’s any better than the muggle fortune telling”, said Leonor sipping her wine and sucking the candy. Severus did the same still concentrated and offering a sly searching expression. Leonor felt confident Snape wouldn’t probe her mind again. The silence was comfortable; it gave her the space to release her carefully maintained mask of joy. Leonor was nearly startled when he spoke smoothly measuring his words focused on her dress: “I presumed healers are not taking sides, but you are different, aren’t you?”
Leonor didn’t rush with the answer. She had expected the question since setting foot into Dumbledore’s office.
“It’s the all deciding question in England, isn’t it? Do you know about my first answer when asked about the sorting into houses? … I said I shared an apartment with other people and now own a small terrace house in London. I’ve got some credit as foreigner and a good explanation of the Hogwarts Houses. So, your guess?”
“Your colours indicate Slytherin, but it might not have been deliberately …”, he grinned.
“No, not deliberately and unfortunately I missed the fun about my dress with the Gryffindor’s.” Leonor couldn’t hide a grin as well. “The colours are just my favourites. Personally, I measure resourcefulness highly. Without a bit of cunning I wouldn’t be here, neither without patience nor diligence. I’m addicted to my own research topics, but couldn’t work endless hours without passion to the topic. So, isn’t it a bit of every house?”
Snape seemed to agree silently, and she continued more seriously: “The houses seem an organizational necessity. It’s obvious that three houses get along very well, but Slytherin is on its own. So, … some kids are likely sorted to choose a political preference at the age of eleven. I wouldn’t like to make that choice at my age, but somebody made it for me. Is that why I’m supposed to end up with the Head of Slytherin House in the evenings? Knowing the house seems to save effort to get to know the person. It’s a pity, isn’t it?”
Snape’s eyes glared at her in surprise: “And would it matter?”
“It’s just my view on the things as an outsider. I don’t like prejudice. It doesn’t mean I’m uncomfortable with the situation. Your students do very well in class. By the way, I discovered the ‘accident’. You’ve been teaching werewolves”, Leonor paused, and Snape moved uneasy in his chair, “… I presume the escape of the boggart was before that?” Leonor didn’t wait for the answer and continued: “It’s not Longbottom’s fault. He’s a nice boy and much less inflated than some other Gryffindor’s. Unfortunately, somebody took away all his concentration and ego. Lupin should have apologized to you.”
Leonor glanced at Severus, half expecting him to lash out at her. He was fuming with embarrassment securely hidden behind an unmoving expression.
“Severus, it’s not cooperative behaviour to make a fool of your own colleagues. It’s not fair. A teacher should be able to handle the results of a practical exercise. Lupin obviously didn’t do anything. Failures come back … it may take time, but still ... It could have been one of my own ideas of revenge to teach werewolves to the third years … just a shame that none of them gets the hint”, and Leonor smiled.
Severus felt cornered. Her smile irritated him more than anything else. There was no malicious joy in it, just understanding. He was still hurt and even worse the sad events of his own school days were walking the corridors again. But she had spoken his thoughts and the fury diminished slowly. Curiosity took over; his voice calm.
“What was the ‘accident’ in Hogsmeade?”
She had been consumed by the conversation and for the moment forgotten about the earlier events of the evening. It came back to her like a boomerang. She knew how to delude people, but excuses didn’t work easily with people skilled in Occlumency. She looked away saying: “I can do my job well ... but the event as such is not very exciting to me. I avoid it, if I can help it. I prefer to cure curses, hexes, bites, poisoning … but don’t like dealing with maternity and child welfare.”
It was much more than Leonor had confessed to anybody in her career. Every mentor had considered her as unfeeling and she had been glad to move on with other topics. It had never been necessary to explain anything. Severus’ look still searched her, but he didn’t press the matter. Suddenly he stood and left quickly saying: “See you around, Scott.”
Leonor yawned and found her way up the staircases. It would be difficult to sleep tonight. Snape had had the sense to pull out the carefully concealed memories.
The remaining days at the school passed quietly. Leonor was pleased with the excellent library and made progress in her own studies. She finally left with a short note to Dumbledore. Leonor returned to London. There was no Christmas gleam in her home and even some good nursed fires couldn’t drive out the chill. Leonor unpacked and dusted the rooms quickly. She conjured some green plants and seasonal decoration. It was a start of feeling homelike. She hadn’t lived much in the house, just from time to time for some days or weeks. But still, it was much better than New York and she would make it comfortable. She finished the day with a hot shower and went to bed early her thoughts spinning around Hogwarts again.
Francesco greeted Leonor with lively gestures, hugging and kissing her. Maria did the same with a motherly touch: “Leonor, we thought you had forgotten us. How can you start a new job without visiting before?”
“I’m sorry …”, said Leonor grinning. She was back in little Italy … her friends really had a heaven with the restaurant, the home-made food and the delicious wine. The guests noticed the passion put into the very detail by the Romano’s. The restaurant was always crowded.
“You’ve to tell everything! Matteo and Richard will be here for lunch and want to know all about Dumbledore!” Maria was fussing around, shooing Leonor into the kitchen and admiring the late gift.
“Dumbledore? Both should know him better than me!” Leonor thought the Gringotts assignment was more interesting, but unfortunately, she was bound to keep quiet about the treasures. Maria kept her busy with the preparation of dishes and snacks for the party and shared the latest gossip of St. Mungo’s and the neighbours. Maria’s nephew arrived soon together with her son Matteo.
“Maria, you look fabulous as always! And Leonor, how did you escape the cunning old devil Dumbledore! You surprise with every new job, at least nothing life-threatening this time!” Richard kissed the two women and sat on the table. Everybody settled for lunch consuming the smell of fresh tomato and garlic.
“Matteo, how are you doing?”, asked Leonor.
“Yes, I’m doing well.” He was proud and glanced at Richard who nodded in agreement. “Looks as if I’m up to the job. I’ll start in the potions department next week.”
“Leonor, don’t evade the topic! How’s Dumbledore?”, asked Richard with curiosity. Everybody glanced at her. They had probably been waiting to interrogate her.
Leonor was uncertain what to tell exactly. “Well, I wrote an application, got invited to the interview and had the job within an hour. I believe there was no other applicant. Dumbledore made it clear to give me the job and against the opinion of his deputy headmistress. There’s nothing special about it. And by the way it’s just a job for three days a month. I teached for two days successfully. And Dumbledore made me stay over the break while the matron was on holiday. That’s it basically.”
Francesco responded amused: “Sounds like you are not impressed by Dumbledore, but I can’t know. I’m a muggle”. Francesco exchanged a look with Leonor and took another helping of pasta.
“I just had some small talk with Dumbledore and the rest of the staff. There’s not much to price yet.” Leonor continued eating, staring at her plate hoping the conversation was completed.
The silence was uncomfortable until Matteo spoke: “What do you think about Professor Sprout and Professor McGonagall? They are great. Both helped me a lot. And did you meet Snape, the old git! He wouldn’t believe I’m doing well at Mungo’s.”
Leonor frowned, and her face became more rigid. She said quietly: “I didn’t get along with McGonagall and Sprout. The first didn’t want me to do the job. The second felt a black and green dress was inappropriate. Madam Pomfrey, their friend, kicked me out of the ward, just for introducing myself until she had noticed that I’m not totally stupid as a healer. Professor Snape was on the other hand very professional and …”, Leonor hesitated thinking, “… the only interested person.”
Richard, Matteo and Maria glanced at her. Richard spoke first: “Be careful, I’ve met this Snape. He applied for a job after his graduation from Hogwarts. I must admit his work and written exam was brilliant. But as far as I know, he was involved with You-Know-Who. Whatever Dumbledore made to employ the guy, but the sort of people doesn’t belong into a hospital.”
Leonor smiled to herself. Severus in a hospital like a nurse … an odd thought. His appearance was surely not compassionate. But hadn’t he made a point with Rose? Rose calmed, when he was there. Rose didn’t moan his presence. The sour feeling sneaked up Leonor’s throat. She shrugged: “So much was obvious, he’s hard to please as a teacher, but not too bad for a profound conversation.”
“He’s after the ‘Defence against the Dark Arts’ job. But Dumbledore doesn’t give it to him. It was so much fun to see his face every year. I guess he doesn’t get along with the new teacher?”, said Matteo.
Leonor sniffed: “No, he doesn’t. But Lockhart was a fraud and Quirrell was weak. At least that’s what I heard. Lupin seems to be an improvement indeed, but for a subject on combat a bit soft washed. Severus was aware of your skills, Matteo. Your talent was noticed. Did he give you a recommendation?”
“Yes, he did”, growled Matteo, “and still he’s been an unpleasant prick most of the time.”
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