Chapter 7 : A SECRET TALE
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Scott hid herself in a dark niche, her back pressed against the stony wall. Lupin, Weasley and Potter had appeared from the dungeons; all looked cross and agitated. She didn’t want to be seen. The blood pulsated in Leonor’s ears. When they had been out of sight, Leonor descended into the torch-lit passageway and took a deep breath. She wanted to talk to Snape, badly. She knocked. The answer was unpleasant: “Enter!”
Leonor went into the office and closed the door silently without looking at Snape. She had practiced the sentence again and again, but it was different standing here. The office was gloomy, and the only light came from the fireplace. Snape stood behind the desk and his expression hidden in the dark.
“I owe you an explanation. I’ll meet you at the ‘Three Broomsticks’, eight o’clock, today”, said Leonor harshly; the voice hoarse as if it wasn’t her own.
Leonor was the last person he had expected. A visit of another student was likely, or Albus after the encounter with Potter. But Lupin wouldn’t divulge the detour of his precious little friend too quickly. Severus looked at Leonor like an unwelcome intruder; hiding the little pleasure that it was her walking in. He anticipated she would turn and leave, but she didn’t move. Even the poor light showed her weary and stressed face; like a nagging problem and sleepless nights were bothering her. She was pretty in the dark robes illuminated by the flames. He subconsciously rubbed his left arm and sneered: “You can explain yourself right away. There can’t be much to say.”
Leonor shook her head contacting the dark eyes and walked vigorously towards Snape. She took his left forearm with practiced hand movements. Severus was about to wriggle himself free, but her grip was firm and trained with rebellious patients. A silent spell rolled the sleeves up to the elbow. She sighed: “I’m sorry.”
Severus looked down at her furious. He swore; he should have used his wand to keep her on distance. Now the damage was done. The cut was prominent, but even in the dimness the skull and the snake were hard to overlook. Leonor brushed with her hand over the inside of his forearm, the cut still painful red and visible, but mended. He could bear to show the injury of her own curse, but not the mistakes of his past. Leonor looked up into his eyes and let go of his arm. The silence was heavy, and Severus fought hard to remain composed.
“Severus, I have to look after your arm. The cut is cured, but my curse also creates an infection. It may not heal before weeks or even month”, Leonor said determined.
He snarled through gritted teeth: “And what makes you believe I will let you after all?”
“It hurts and it’s getting worse. There’s no reason for me to tell anybody. I’m bound to my pledge of secrecy anyway. I should have come earlier; I know that”, pleaded Leonor still focused on Severus’ contorted face. He was dumbstruck. Leonor pointed Severus to sit down and to put the arm on the table. She took bandages, a phial and a larger bowl from her bag before she asked: “What did you use to relieve the pain? Most would use Dittany, but it makes matters worse in this case.”
“Different brews including St. John’s Wort, Arnica, Belladonna.” He sat slowly while his fury transformed into the knowledge that she had seen the Dark Mark. He couldn’t make it undone. The only gain of it was a reliable healing saving more nightly experiments. He lit the torches with a lazy wave of his hand. Leonor put the sore arm on a white blanket, hung her cloak to a hook next to Severus’ teaching robes and walked to the sink to wash her hands.
“I combined a simple spell creating deep cuts and a dark curse to create spreading infections. It will wear off, but it takes long. The curse is stronger relating to the other magic on your arm. It needs the cold-pressed oil of the seeds of an Araucaria to heel the infection quickly. The cut heals for a healthy person alone and masks the real issue. Other herbs will ease the pain, but merely await the curse to die away by itself.” Leonor smiled. She felt confident that Snape would obey the treatment. Her fear to end in another fight turned into the believe of sorting out her mistake soon.
Snape snorted eying the woman carefully: “Dumbledore wouldn’t be pleased knowing of your inventions.”
Leonor’s hands examined the sore parts carefully. She took the wand and covered his wrist with her hand. The spot froze under the charm. She moved the palm further and each spot became icy. The phial contained the oil and Leonor applied it softly. Her thumbs massaged the oil and it disappeared like water in wasteland. Severus couldn’t avert his gaze from the warm hands. Leonor’s fingers were slim and soft. The iciness vanished and the soreness with it. Leonor put a thick layer of ointment under the bandages and gave the bowl to Severus. She put his sleeve back into position without magic.
“Apply it every morning. Nobody will see the bandage under your robes. Latest in a week all will be gone, except … the Dark Mark. You-Know-Who isn’t death, is he?”
Severus considered Leonor’s dark brown eyes, they were almost black like her hair and worried. “No, he isn’t. The Dark Lord tried to return, every year since Potter is at the school. Two years ago, Dumbledore hid the Philosophers Stone and Potter broke all security measures to prove I was the traitor, but faced the Dark Lord in the back of Quirrell’s head. Last year Weasley and Potter have been lured to the Chamber of Secrets to free a girl, Weasley’s younger sister. It also appears that the Dark Lord played a role”, Severus sighed, “Dumbledore is always pleased about Potter’s ‘efforts’.” Severus walked to the fireplace, leaning his head to the mantelpiece and staring into the flames.
“Has Lupin’s visit something to do with another heroic deed of Potter and Weasley? They’ve been to your office earlier, haven’t they?”, Leonor asked.
“Malfoy saw Potter’s head together with Weasley at the Shrieking Shack. Potter got no permission to Hogsmeade weekends. The brat knows a way to leave the school without passing Filch and the Dementors. I found him near the statue of the one-eyed witch, his hands were covered with mud. He had an old parchment from his father and friends. I wouldn’t have believed Lupin so brazen to lure the boy out of school with Black on the run. If I’m not mistaken he’s even supporting Black right under Dumbledore’s nose. But Dumbledore doesn’t believe me of course.”
“Lupin, Black, Potter – you know them?”
“We’ve been in the same year. Potter was extraordinary arrogant and above all rules. Black was his right hand. Lupin and Pettigrew were the other two in the gang, admiring Potter and blessed with admittance to be part of the cool Gryffindors.”
Leonor had observed Severus from the side. His expression was torn into grief and resentment. She found him vulnerable; the mask of indifference had vanished into smoke. Leonor touched him on the shoulder. He still glared tensely to the fire when Leonor started to massage shoulders and the nape of his neck; not powerful, but with pressure to the most strained muscles. It took a while until he relaxed and straightened himself. Leonor felt uncomfortable. She swallowed the tension of the private situation and packed her things to leave quickly. She was glad to have chosen the inn in Hogsmeade for tonight. Severus grinned at Leonor’s hurried clean ups.
“Shouldn’t we pass the Dementors together?”, he said.
Leonor nodded before leaving Snape’s office.
The trepidation grew. The minutes passed as if it were seconds. The evening meal prepared by Hattie was only half finished. Leonor felt dull. She told herself that Snape was fine. She had done everything to heal the wound and all the need to explain herself was unnecessary. Why should he know? Leonor moaned and walked purposely late to the entrance hall. There wasn't a plausible tall story to tell, except the truth.
A dark cloaked figure waited in the yard. Leonor put herself more upright and fell into a swift pace. Severus spoke first: “Dumbledore wants to be informed if somebody passes the Dementors after dusk. We are leaving the school for potions research. Why are you at the school out of regular schedule?”
Leonor swallowed the lump in her throat: “I’ll visit the apothecary. It’s for sale. I’ve asked Dumbledore if I can stay overnight and then I will go down early tomorrow.”
Severus snarled grimly: “I’ll dock points from students buying Jackson’s crap.”
“And if I sell better crap?” She waited a moment for an answer then continued: “I need to wait at least another half year before I have all authorization certificates to run an apothecary and work as independent healer in Britain. A bad reputation might save me the place and bring the price down. Hogsmeade itself isn’t that bad.”
Leonor looked sideways at Severus hoping he’d continue the conversation. Instead he was examining the surrounding air and grounds; his wand at the ready. They walked watchful and without another word into the tavern. Severus opened the door for Leonor while she took off her hood. Only a few tables where occupied and Madam Rosmerta was yawning behind the bar.
Rosmerta glanced at the two guests suspiciously until she recognized them: “What an unusual pleasure, Professor Snape, if I’m not deluded … and in company. What brings you down here after curfew?”
Snape’s expression was stony. A muscle twitched on his chin. Leonor ordered quickly avoiding any further small talk and gestured Severus into a corner barely visible from the counter. Severus was observing the other guests. There were a group of celebrating wizards, a young couple and some foreigners, likely on their journey through Scotland. The wizards were joking and then the laughter was drowning all other noises in the room. Leonor played nervously with her glass of wine.
“Why am I here?”, said Severus examining Leonor intensely.
“I want you to understand what happened in January. I trust you keep quiet about it.” Leonor took a large gulp from her glass and fixed her view to the sticky table. She continued with a low voice.
“I was born as Ana García Hernández. The García’s are a very old and wealthy family in Argentina; interlacing their business with wizards, muggles and criminals. I’ve been raised in a rather feudal manor with very traditional rules. The estate was near a muggle community. I’ve attended a muggle school and been educated in magic with my two older brothers, Juan and José. There were private lessons and teachers in languages and all kinds of magic. After a while it showed that I could easily perform most of the magic where my brothers had to train hard. My father never liked me and outshining his precious sons didn’t help much to change his opinion. My mother was always distant and cold. The Dark Arts were a welcome instrument to push through the interests of the García family. My father and Juan are much alike, cruel business men with a strong sense to make money in any possible way. José on the other hand was an idiot, rich, spoiled, brainless … and wicked.”
Severus glanced at her, asking curiously: “You’ve no Spanish accent.”
Leonor shook her head. “No, I haven’t. I’ve removed it with magical training. Initially the Spanish and later the American accent. My grandmother was English. She married an Argentine and never went back here. I think I like England because of her. Visits at her place are the best memories of my childhood. There I could be myself. My father used Legilimency to spy on me and his servants. Everybody who was kind to me, teachers, maids, neighbours had to suffer dismissal or other tortures. I discovered it by the headaches and cruel events after his interrogations. My grandmother gave me the idea to learn Occlumency. My father would have never believed it. I pretended to be dumb and continued my own studies silently including the counter curses for the dark hexes infiltrating my brother’s brains.”
Leonor’s voice sounded a little happier talking about her grandmother. “How old have you been learning Occlumency?”, Severus asked sternly.
“I started learning it with ten and improved it step by step. It started with disguising little mishaps until my father was completely unaware of my continued studies or my friendly relationships with some girls in the village. I don’t think he was great in ‘mind reading’, but if you merely use it on muggles and weak people then it’s still an advantage.”
“And why are you here now?”, Severus snarled provokingly. He didn’t want to feel pity. He knew the shadows; the shadows behind her dark eyes. He couldn’t bear his own past nor liked to hear about another. Leonor considered the black eyes of Severus; impatient and irritated. The couple had left the tavern embracing each other. Madam Rosmerta poked around their table. Leonor ordered a Fire Whiskey and swallowed it in one go. Rosmerta offered refills quickly.
“My mother died when I was sixteen. She likely had some influence on my father’s behaviour, but with grandmother and mother gone I noticed a deathly chill. I didn’t need to wait long, until my brothers and friends broke into my room. I’ll never forget the sound when the door banged shut. José gave it a wave with his wand, an ugly smile of triumph on his face. It was your door; I got panic. You couldn’t know.”
Severus nodded. Leonor swallowed another lump in her throat. She had to muster all strength and all training to continue deliberately focusing the celebrating wizard; the hilarious joking a weird contrast.
“I survived the rape barely conscious. I only remember my father being outraged about it. He had already taken care of my 'disposal'. The arrangement was a deal with a boss of the drug mafia; he had already sold his daughter unscathed and lost all gain from it. Instead he had to silence teenage boys from celebrating heroes and order a murder without careful planning. His rage helped to pick at least my wand. After that I cannot remember any detail. I woke up weeks later in a settlement of native people. I had been found besides two death bodies, in a wood with rivers and swamps. I had deep cuts and bruises everywhere. The two men had died uninjured; both criminals, drug dealers and well known to the police.”
Severus averted his gaze. His father’s echoing steps on the wooden floor, the noise of broken bottles, the bawling, the whimper of his mother was in his ears as if it had happened only yesterday. He couldn’t stop the memory; all the skills to lock it deep inside were useless beside Leonor. That woman made him weak. She spoke like a court journalist; as if uninvolved, but Severus didn’t fail to see her efforts to remain composed.
“The village of the natives wasn’t too far away from the province of my home. They had collected the newspapers. I have been killed in a car accident officially and buried beside my mother; a family photo praised the mourning and grief of my father and brothers. The native people have magical skills and believed me strong enough to have killed my tormentors with my magic only. They helped me to flee the country. A contact person in the U.S. was supposed to give me a new identity. He was a wizard and informed the MACUSA. The only thing left of my old live was my wand with the killing curse visible at ‘Priori Incantatem’. I’ve got a new name, passports, school certificates as if I had always lived in the U.S. In return, I had to study medicine and forensics. Later I worked ‘incognito’ for the FBI; to spy on magical crimes within the muggle community. MACUSA also insisted on an Auror training. I liked the job, but it was hard to fight the nightmares and the memories beside all the physical pain. The loads of work kept me focused and alive. About nine years later José was killed and my father arrested. Juan escaped the police raid. The raid was based on an international search against the drug mafia. My father avoided the trial by suicide. A little later there was a picture of a criminal case in the paper, with my team and me on it. I’ve never published anything nor posed on pictures if I could help it. Questions about my person followed soon and could be traced down to Mexico; the supposed hiding hole of my brother. MACUSA and myself were convinced that Juan was searching his sister frantically. I decided to change my name again and leave America. I went to London helping Scotland Yard.”
The foreign wizards bid good night and left into the guest rooms of the upper floor. Rosmerta had put a final bottle of mead to the celebration and Leonor stopped talking abruptly. Severus listened absentmindedly, if at all; his expression unmoving and distant. Scorn and derision seemed to twist his mouth. She hadn’t expected pity nor nice words. She had never told anybody, because nobody would understand. She’d trusted Severus to be different, but hadn’t expected his disregard of the situation. The dread of the past and the mistaken trust hit Leonor like a slap. The whiskey had blurred her mind, but it couldn’t brush away the new humiliation. She needed fresh air and rose from the wooden chair suddenly.
Rosmerta came over and smiled. “Looks like she’s able to hold a drink. Hope the evening will be a pleasure. Professor Snape, see you soon.”
Both looked up to the woman walking steadily out of the door. Severus put a galleon on the table and finished his wine. Madam Rosmerta cleaned the table nosily. Severus peered coldly at Madam Rosmerta and gave a curt nod following Leonor swiftly. The gossip would arrive Hogwarts soon enough. The breezy day had changed into a cloudy night. The mild wind smelled like rain announcing the warmer season. Leonor had a notable head start. Severus followed the gravelly slope hoping the Fire Whiskey had left enough caution and magic in the woman before she was safely inside the Hogwarts grounds.
Leonor swayed uphill. She did not want to feel. She sat down exhausted behind the gates. Her back to the pillar below the boar, the arms entwined around her head and knees. The gentle breeze of the night changed into an icy bleakness. She lived the darkest moments of her life until a silvery glance and a soft breath touched the broken soul. A doe galloped through the gates and circled Leonor until it came to a watchful halt waiting silently. A little warmth flowed through Leonor’s veins and it felt like a peaceful end to everything. The beautiful deer was replaced by an angry voice and a hard pull at her shoulder.
“Scott, get up.”
“Leave me alone.”
“You need to go back to the castle. “
“I’m not interested.”
“The Dementors ...”
It was raining now. The rain drops fell like glittering beads to the ground. Leonor opened her eyes; a swelling rage inside her. A moment of silence passed until Severus spoke annoyed with an edge of sarcasm in his voice.
“Dumbledore does not want us to be out here. Come, get up.”
Leonor jumped towards Severus. Her wand issued a flash of sparks. They stood face to face eying each other intensively only separated by their wands.
“Who cares? Dumbledore?”
“Come on, you need to sleep”, Severus said defiantly.
“Save your breath! Why should I go up there? Nobody will miss me. Not even you!”, Leonor yelled.
Severus was taken aback. The top of Leonor’s head hardly reached his shoulders. The rain dipped her hair into a waxy shine; her expression agonized. He stowed his wand into the cloak and enclosed her cold hand moving down her wand slowly.
“You are neither listening nor talking to me!”, Leonor panted.
“I listened. I didn’t know what to say”, Severus said softly, regret in his voice.
“I don’t care what Dumbledore wants me to do”, defied Leonor.
“I want you to come. You’ll need something against the hangover …”, Severus averted his gaze to the path and almost swallowed the words, “… I care, Leonor.”
She put her wand into her sleeve moving closer to Severus; her hands hidden in her pockets. She placed her head to his chest and closed her eyes.
“Please, would you hold me for a while?”, Leonor said calmly; heavy tears under the eyelids.
There was a flatter in Severus’ stomach. He closed his eyes and fought against the fear to do it wrong. He had expected Leonor to march away like Lily would have done. But Leonor was still here and very near. She was everything at that moment; strong and vulnerable; warm and soft. He knew he had hurt her, but she had forgiven. He was grateful, but it took all his courage to place one hand to her back; the other started to stroke Leonor’s wet hair until the tears were washed away by the mild rain.
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