Chapter 19 : TENDER BEGINNING
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Nobody watched Leonor leaving the feast. She removed the spell from the transfigured transparent veil. The festive cape protected her against the chill in the Entrance Hall, but the outside frostiness bit ruthless into the skin. The lovebirds were all gone, not unlikely that Severus scared them away with his foul temper. It was almost midnight, cold and wintry. The fairy fountains and the rose bushes shimmered gracefully in the courtyard. Leonor casted a heating spell. She glanced around. The cloisters lay quiet and abandoned in the darkness, dimly lit by the magical lights.
Leonor took a deep breath before exiting the yard with hurried steps. She knew not much of Severus’ habits, neither his favourite places, nor the favourite walks. The taverns in Hogsmeade would be closed by now. She entered the covered bridge. Severus could be everywhere. Thin layers of snow drifted through the open parts of the railing. The lake froze with the persistent cold; a white frame around a mirror of still water. The full moon sent a pale shimmering light across the landscape, scenic and sinister at once. Leonor slowed down, the end of the bridge invisible in the darkness. An owl hooted and drowned a distant howl. She walked the way daily to Hogsmeade, often after sunset, but tonight it was creepy. She sensed to be in company, but likely she was only a lonely faintheart at witching hour. Leonor decided to walk until she could see Hagrid’s hut and got a good view across the grounds and the way to Hogsmeade. She doubted to see a dark clad person in the pitch-black night. It would take a few minutes to go there, look around and return to the castle before the heavy oak gates closed soon after the feast was finished. The new tracks in the fresh powdery snow could be from everybody.
Severus rested his hands on the wooden handrail. Everything was quiet and peaceful, except his own breath. How often had he wished to change the Hogwarts House in his youth? More than once until he gave up and followed the ‘rules’, because nothing was left to win in Gryffindor. It had been so endless difficult to talk or do anything with Lily. Slytherins never did something with other Houses, a mutual mistrust till today, but so much worse while Voldemort’s upturn to power. He had turned a spy already years ago; spying to catch Lily alone, to avoid the humiliations in his own house, to beware Lily from the hatred of the Marauders and all the vicious remarks for Severus’ pure presence. To be a Slytherin was never enough. Nothing could be changed anymore; his path in life was signed. Lily will not have died in vain; he swore it to Dumbledore and to himself years ago. Lily promised at this place to be friends despite the rivalry. He had been happy and soon after everything resolved into ashes. He clenched his teeth in mental pain until it hurt.
Severus exhaled the fresh air when steps approached from the other side of the bridge. The distant noise felt like waiting for Lily again. The flaming red hair jumped lively in the sun and the green eyes scolded him for startling her. He stood watching behind a wooden pillar and moved only inches to hide completely in the darkness. It was a long-trained move. Leonor walked slowly, and the wood creaked slightly under her steps. Her sight wiped all the heavy thoughts from his mind. A daring whim and instincts took over. Leonor looked like freezing again, the arms wrapped around her body and no wand to defend herself. He wondered why she was out here. She didn’t look like in a rush to a medical emergency. Severus grinned impishly and pressed his back against the pillar. The steps drew nearer, and the sound told him her exact position. He closed his eyes, counted and captured Leonor noiseless in his arms. A hand covered her mouth and he gave in to the temptation and replaced it with his lips breaking Leonor’s resistance with a longing kiss. He held her cheeks in his hands and couldn’t stop to kiss her passionately. She trembled, and he wrapped his arms around her waist to hold her close. His pulse quickened when Leonor responded to his desire. After an undefined long moment, they both gasped for breath and Severus let go. She took a step back, leaned against the railing and looked at him confused. Severus moved his hands through his hair, it could not be undone. He likely had frightened her to death.
“I’m sorry”, he said quietly without knowing what answer to expect, the excuse too simple in a loss of better words.
“Please can you do that again?”, she said after a long silence with a shy smile.
Suddenly Severus felt vindicated. He gave vent to his emotions and once in his life he was not rejected. He took a step towards Leonor and his hands moved under her cloak. He felt the soft body under the thin lace and closed his eyes. She stood on tiptoes to place a chaste kiss on his lips with her hands around his neck. He kissed her gentle and patient until the bell tower announced midnight.
“I don’t want to return”, said Leonor and snuggled to his chest.
“We have to … I need to check the dungeons”, he answered sadly, and they walked hand in hand back to the fairy fountain in the courtyard.
“The music is still playing.”
“It’s the last dance. It’s over.”
“Severus, I don’t want to be alone tonight”, she said with a shining wet glance in her eyes. Severus frowned, but nodded.
“Are you alright?”, he asked sternly waiting for her consent. “Use a Disillusionment Charm, it’s better we are not seen together now.” Severus kissed her to the forehead and disappeared into the Entrance Hall.
Leonor chose the long way, masterly blended into the surroundings. The Great Hall stood deserted with the remains of the party, glistening confetti everywhere. The castle was already quiet, only the Weasley twins snogged some girls in a half-hidden edge. The boys were inseparable even with a girlfriend in their arms. Leonor released the charm moving through the upper empty corridors. It was much easier to climb the stairs to the seventh floor with visible feet.
Leonor watched the Thestrals through the open window while holding the little diamond enclosed with her fingers. The cold breeze blew soothingly into her glowing cheeks. For a split second, she believed herself death on the bridge, but the woody scent and the dry hot lips convinced her from the contrary. She was more alive than ever before. The passionate kisses still tickled her face. All those party girls fancied Daniel, but Leonor learned about Daniel’s pathetic dance and kisses today. She was happy and the simple thought of Severus’ gentle touch made her blush again. She swallowed the lump in her throat when a dark figure spun in the green flames and Severus exited the fireplace. He shoved Leonor aside and closed the window, before kneeling on the hearthstone and putting more wood to the fire.
“It’s freezing in here, and you complain about the breeze in the dungeons!” He scowled. His frock coat was already open, and he put it together with his wand aside before embracing Leonor tightly.
“You are like ice”, he said softly.
“You will fix it, won’t you?”
“Is it what you want?”, he said and pushed her a little away. When she didn’t answer, he bored deeper. “What about you and Peter?”
Leonor looked at him; the jealous undertone was blended with anger and worry, a strange mix of emotions.
“Nothing. Peter and myself are at the most friends.”
“Are you sure?”
“He is a married man and a happy father of twins. Maybe I know more personal issues about him than I like, but he’s clueless about me except the work in Romania. I was never interested in dragon-keepers if that’s your concern”, snapped Leonor and it was enough of an answer.
“I don’t read your mind.” There was something apologetic in Severus’ voice. “Your defences are strong. It’s only possible to break them with force. I noted that already a year ago. I never tried again. Most students and teachers have no clue how eye contact can be used.”
“I know, it was a daft joke. I didn’t mean what I said. Could we keep it our secret, just to use if there’s a need?” They agreed silently.
“Why did you not tell it to me at the ball already?”
“Your eyes, you looked at me … so concentrated …”
“What would I have discovered?”
“Something egoistic”, he said flatly, and the pale cheeks coloured like earlier at the ball.
Severus stood tall before Leonor in the white shirt which was always invisible below the thick overcoat. Leonor motioned her hand over the buttons and they yielded to the magic easily. He did not object when Leonor removed shirt and belt. He was lean and wonderful warm. Leonor put her hand through his lank hair. It was soft and smelled of mint like the storage cupboards in his office. He closed his eyes and his hands rested on her hips as if asking for permission. Leonor kissed him. Severus responded kissing her lips and neck fiercely. The grey lace dress fell abandoned to the floor when he carried her to the bedroom. His lips discovered her skin until he pressed his body hard against hers. They kissed passionately, and Leonor tried to remove his pants, but he abruptly sat straight on the edge of the bed.
“What’s wrong”, she said stroking and kissing his back softly.
“I cannot”, he said harshly.
“It felt different to me”, she smiled ruffling his lanky hair. Severus dark eyes gazed at her intently when she repeated her wish. “Don’t go now, let’s sleep.”
Leonor rested in Severus’ arm bend. Both wanted, but couldn’t fall asleep. Leonor felt the intimate situation thrilling; she was surprised about herself. She had not expected to go that far. Severus lay motionless, creases appeared between his eyes and vanished again into unspoken thoughts.
“What did you do at the bridge tonight?”, he asked suddenly.
“I was looking for you.”
“Dumbledore could have sent me on a mission.”
“Does he do that sometimes?”
“Not anymore. You should not walk alone without having your wand at the ready. It’s dangerous.”
“Igor won’t do anything to me. He’s afraid of you.” Leonor smiled and cuddled closer.
“Karkaroff isn’t frightened by me, he plans to escape.”
“… to escape from what?”
“… from a shrew casting painful blended body-bind curses …”, Severus grinned into Leonor’s quizzical expression, a hopeless try to distract her from the truth and keep the moment of innocence.
“He deserved the pain. Shrew, is what he calls me now? It’s an improvement if I consider the words at the ship lately.”
“What did he say?” Severus sat upright alarmed.
“I don’t mind, Severus. It is over. Literally he called me a slut for the things we have not even done. He disgusts me.” Leonor brushed over the faint greyish Dark Mark on Severus’s forearm. “Does he flee because of that? It is more visible than in February.”
He withdrew quickly and hissed: “Don’t touch it!”
“I don’t care. It’s a part of you, the part I barely know.”
“… and it should stay that way … “, snarled Severus.
“Did you speak to Dumbledore about the Dark Mark, Karkaroff’s Dark Mark?”
“You looked stricken with whatever Dumbledore told you …”, Leonor pressed further.
“What did he say? Dumbledore surely knew about the growing intensity of the skull already.”
“No, he didn’t. I could have told him already in summer”, spluttered Severus, “… but apparently the more valuable sources didn’t know.”
“Don’t scold me”, she said stroking his cheeks gently, swallowing the dawning dread in her throat. “Will you return in the service of the Dark Lord?”
“There’s no other way. Karkaroff won’t survive very long. He panics. It will be hopeless, if he hasn’t a save place by now. His steps are too easy to track …”
“Doesn’t Dumbledore agree to your plan? I mean, he should be happy to have a spy again.”
“I’m a Slytherin …”, said Severus, his voice full of resentment.
“… and what has Slytherin got to do with risking your life to bring Voldemort down?”
“Never say that name!”, shot Severus at her furiously. “It may just be save for Dumbledore! The Dark Lord planned to put the word under a taboo hex, you never know when he does or one of his faithful followers.”
“So, what did Dumbledore say, apparently not ‘thank you’?” Leonor became angry about the stubborn, unresponsive and bitter man next to her, the tense undertone barely hidden. Severus waited to answer as if undecided about his next action, but finally placed himself into the soft pillows once more.
“Dumbledore said that I’m braver then Igor, and thinks we sometimes Sort too soon …”, a long heavy silence followed, and both indulged in their own thoughts. After a while Leonor spoke quietly holding on to the strong body next to her, hoping he would not go and run.
“You are a Slytherin. You are cunning, resourceful, ambitious, brave, shrewd. Who says you cannot distinguish right from wrong with those abilities? If Dumbledore cannot acknowledge those traits, then he has some blind spots and he puts the politics above the neutrality required to raise children. The world’s not black and white. One day he will be grateful to have a Slytherin on his side. Forgive yourself the mistakes of your past and the whole Sorting becomes less important.”
“I cannot …”, moaned Severus like in pain. Her words did not evoke the intended relief. How could she suggest it, if not even Dumbledore forgot the disgrace of his decisions of about fifteen years ago?
“I know, I cannot accept myself for what others did to me. I still feel as dirty as Karkaroff told me to be. I’m grateful if you don’t mind it. Let’s get some sleep now.”
Leonor woke up and blinked into the dim light of the early morning. She still wore the black underwear and Severus his unzipped pants. It made her smile. The blanket covered them completely, it was comfortable warm. Severus breathed steadily. She put some light kisses to his chest. He didn’t move, and Leonor continued to caress his body to wake him finally. He groaned, and a victorious smile appeared on Severus’ face before he pressed her back into the pillows snogging until he stopped abruptly to place some chaste kisses down her body to stop at the Horntail’s gash.
“It’s still visible.”
“Yes, but it’s only the fresh skin. It will go away soon.”
He moved further to find the other long scar partially hidden by the knickers. He removed the black lace to stroke his fingers along the old cut.
“Am I hurting you?”, he asked.
“It doesn’t hurt anymore.” He nodded, and they rested for another while.
Leonor took a quick shower before she dressed for the day. She put the evening dresses carefully to an overnight bag together with some other clothes and vanished them to Hogsmeade. Alma had had a fine nose in selecting the appropriate gowns. She would need the red dress later this week and walked back to the small living room rubbing her head with a towel. She almost knocked the little creature over.
“Mistress …”, squeaked the little elf and jumped out of the way.
“Hattie, sorry. I didn’t see you.”
“Mistress looks good”, remarked the elf questioningly.
“I am”, Leonor beamed, and she already knew what was next. Hattie tilted her head and stared nervously to the floorboards.
“Master was not in his room tonight. It’s always dangerous if he’s away over the night and does not return.” Hattie blushed.
“Knock it off, Hattie. You know exactly where he slept tonight.”
“Hattie doesn’t know nothing …” The elf shook his head, the large ears flapped against the wobbling cheeks.
“You cleaned the fireplace tonight, didn’t you?”, Leonor smiled and was convinced Hattie glanced into the bedroom too. “Hattie, it doesn’t matter, just keep it to yourself, alright?”
Hattie wrinkled her little nose. “Master and Mistress need to be careful. Professor Moody is asking other house elves too.”
“What is he asking?”
“Professor Moody wanted to know about the spells for the potion cupboards and the place of the school stocks. Professor Moody said it is for Harry Potter, but no elf does know. Elves don’t need to break the wards to get into the rooms for cleaning.”
Leonor kneeled to be level with Hattie. “You are very judicious, thank you. Tell it to Severus too. And Professor Moody can always ask me or Severus if he needs something for potions. There’s Dobby, Harry’s friend. I believe Dobby would do everything for Harry to win the tournament. Tell it to Professor Moody if he asks again”, replied Leonor thoughtfully and Hattie agreed.
“Would Mistress like something for breakfast?”
“No, I will meet Severus at the Great Hall”, said Leonor proudly.
“Hattie would be very delighted to serve breakfast to Master and Mistress together.”
“I understand that.” Leonor patted gently Hattie’s hands. “One day you will do that, I promise! But what about you? Do you have a partner?”
Hattie blushed and glanced to the floor again. “He works at the kitchen. He always does the cakes. The creamy cakes are his favourites.”
“My favourite is the strawberry yoghurt cream, but also lemon and egg flip. Promise me to tell him how delicious everything is? But I need to hurry now, maybe some students feel sick from yesterday and I’m hungry.” Leonor blinked and continued to dress her hair. Hattie nodded and disappeared smiling shyly.
The students paid tribute to the ball. Severus sneered about the ashen faces and the yawns when entering the Great Hall. The staff table was deserted too, only Leonor sat at the usual place. He would prefer every meal to be like this, noiseless students and good company. His fingers combed the damp hair remembering vividly every detail of her appearance last night. He took a deep breath to cool off.
“You’ve sent Hattie to me?”, he said scowling at Leonor for no reason.
“Yes, did she block-pass you? You are late, and your hair is still wet.” Leonor grinned cheekily about his gloomy expression before speaking in earnest. “Is Hattie bound to tell Dumbledore everything if he asks about it?”
Severus shrugged. “We cannot find out, can we? Maybe Hattie tells that you look very relaxed after a short night and Dumbledore won’t be too hard on me for disturbing your sleep.” The dark eyes flashed following Leonor’s moves until they both smiled at each other.
“The grey strands in your hair are gone together with the sad little wrinkles around your eyes”, added Severus softly and Leonor blushed. He continued to eat, surprised about her emotional reaction.
“Is my fireplace only connected to your office?”, she asked to distract herself, even though the topic was not distracting at all.
“It is also linked to my private room and the hospital wing. I wanted to make sure to bring you to the matron if needed. It can be disconnected if you don’t want it that way”, he added hesitantly as if rather reluctant to change the arrangement.
“Can it be connected to my house in Hogsmeade?”
“No, it works only inside the castle or with permission of the headmaster” answered Severus with a boyish grin, but his expression changed quickly into an intensive glare.
“Is there something I should know about Burke?” The dark tunnels of the ocean grey eyes bored into Leonor. He had not forgotten about her careless remark at the ball.
“We need to talk about the guild, about Burke and Fawley. There’s also other things I would like to tell, but not here, not now”, she touched Severus’ hand as if asking for patience. It made him only short-tempered and a deep line appeared between his eyes.
Severus growled quietly and more to himself: “I guess the senile pair has some brilliant ideas to keep you busy … at least better than obeying to Malfoy’s recent delicate tasks …”
“Good morning!” The kind and joyful voice startled Leonor visibly. Severus slipped his hand back and buttered the toast with too much force. Dumbledore had appeared from nowhere; Severus hated his sudden apparition. It gave him the unwelcome feeling of being observed.
“You make the impression of the only well rested persons in the whole school. I hope you are not arguing under the bright sky after an eventful evening”, the headmaster winked at Leonor. “What do you think Severus, a stroll in the snow before lunch?”
“The potion stocks need a refill”, grunted Severus and his jaw twitched annoyedly.
“I see, you rather prefer the company of a young lady.” Dumbledore placed himself into the large chair in the middle of the staff table.
Severus did not respond and just watched the colour draining from Leonor’s face. Her notion that the headmaster would know something had been correct.
Dumbledore continued conversationally, ignoring the suddenly tense atmosphere. “Remus is very grateful. He appreciates your help. It will likely bring him back to more strength. He likes your company Leonor.”
“How did you know so quickly? He visited me last Monday only.” Leonor pressed the words into a sentence sounding taken aback.
“He does things for me and we speak occasionally. Merry Christmas, he apparently forgot to tell you”, continued Dumbledore clearly amused.
Severus insides seethed on the mention of Lupin and he knew Dumbledore checked his reaction to it. The nice part of the breakfast was clearly over. He could have done the Wolfsbane Potion for Remus, but he wanted Lupin to ask for it and not Dumbledore to act as an agent. It had not happened. Severus scolded himself to overlook that Leonor was far more pleasing to the wolf. Severus stood up, toast and scrambled eggs unfinished. “If you excuse me … some cauldrons are simmering.”
“See you later …”, said Leonor. She sounded reassuringly, but Severus had not even heard it, slicing the air with the billowing black cloak.
“You are still encouraged to keep our Potions Master in a good mood?”
“Why not?”, snapped Leonor, but Dumbledore ignored her tone masterly.
“He’s not a likeable man in many ways if I credit the gossip of the students and staff. Of course, I suppose he got some ulterior outstanding qualities.” Dumbledore spoke casually like reading the weather forecast and continued to eat with appetite. He didn’t even glance at Leonor while speaking.
“I have not been rated likeable or social by my superiors in the past.”
Leonor sounded grimly; partly because she had planned to tell Severus about Lupin herself and partly because of her past. There were situations in live when isolation did not hurt as much as company. A grumpy and ill-tempered appearance worked almost effortless to shield against questions you did not like to answer. She had no clue if Dumbledore understood that, but concluded the admiration of his person was rather pleasant. He would seek to be alone for other reasons, likely to escape the overfriendly public.
“Your work as a healer is very exposed to a variety of folks. You may want some protection. Harry Potter’s name in the Goblet of Fire forebodes darker times; I assume it did not escape your notice.” The light blue eyes of the headmaster pierced Leonor thoroughly.
“I can protect myself.” She spoke without looking at the headmaster.
“Severus’ role at Hogwarts will not allow to support you as you might like it.” He spoke with a warning undertone.
“I did not expect Severus to guard my home.” Leonor tried to sound polite, but the dislike to speak about the man who left only half a minute before resonated in her voice.
“Well then, if you change your mind, you know where to find me and we can arrange something.” The conversation finished, and Dumbledore continued to enjoy a toast with cheese and loads of strawberry jam. Leonor wrinkled her nose.
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