Chapter 21 : NEW YEAR
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It was much too early to visit Rosmerta. Leonor met the headmasters, Professor McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey in the staff room. The other staff members left to have a short vacation, visiting family and friends. She hoped to see Severus, but his study was closed and the usual dim orange glow in the crack under the door was missing. Leonor killed the time with lingering over memories.
She reviewed the past year, staring into the direction of the hidden cove with the single birch tree. A small smile curled her lips. The first day at Hogwarts felt like years ago. So much had happened in the past twelve months. She graduated as healer and soon after escaped barely a serious threat with the Gringotts assignment. The oppressive dream of a dark couple in a cottage woke her still occasionally; she still sensed danger even though the sandy surroundings with the barren grass looked rather pleasant and peaceful. She had been poised and rescued gloriously. She bought the apothecary. The house in London was leased out to a young couple of muggle students. Her business run well, Hogwarts needed her again, the guild trusted with some secret and even St. Mungo’s engaged her frequently. There was nothing to complain about that, it just made her life stable. The working situation developed much better than expected.
Richard and Brian asked on every possible occasion if Leonor would like to join the South America research sometime in the new year. Brian needed a potions expert. The idea of returning to Argentina for a visit tempted; searching a trace of her grandmother’s house was still on Leonor’s worklist. Unfortunately, Juan still lived his criminal life. The old contact at MACUSA wrote the regular seasonal greeting and hinted that there were tracks of him down to Colombia. Leonor withheld any answer to St. Mungo’s. There would likely be enough applicants in case the fears of a darker future became public. Leonor sketched circles in the snow. She sensed the life in England was close to home now; no reason to risk travelling to Brazil.
The row about Severus at the opening party strained the relationship to the Romano’s. Maria and Matteo spoke overenthusiastic about the muggle girlfriend from the neighbourhood to eliminate the awkward silence. The girl would celebrate tonight at the restaurant together with the whole family. Maria eyed Leonor’s shiny diamond several times, but said nothing. Hogwarts was not mentioned once. Leonor took soon a place behind the bar to uncork the wine for the celebration with Severus’ knife. Francesco watched the smooth rotations of the wizard’s gadget before asking Leonor curiously about the ‘development’ with the dark-haired wizard. It was good to speak about it. Leonor confided in him about the dance and that they would meet later in the tavern. She beamed, and Francesco patted her fatherly. He would be happy if Leonor found a partner. However, his attempts to convince her about a ‘temporary’ resentment in the women’s friendship were feeble. Leonor appreciated the small comfort, but the uncordial mood of Maria had something final. Francesco escorted Leonor into the backyard and the conversation made her feel uneasy recapping the exact words.
“Leonor, do you think it will be fine if Matteo marries a normal person, a muggle as you call it?” Francesco hesitated and fidgeted with the tealights on the tables.
“You’re married to a witch and it works well”, answered Leonor hesitatingly.
“Maria doesn’t work in the magic world; it is easy for us. She never wanted anything else then to use the cooking and cleaning spells. But Matteo and his duty at the hospital ... he’ll never be able to invite friends or to share his success. Isn’t it difficult to wander in between the worlds?”
“You know it can work, but I would be dishonest to say it’s easy. Matteo will need to give up a lot of the wizarding life. There are constant secrets, things he either cannot do or will need to explain in the muggle way. He’s still very young and I hope he knows what it means if it’s not just a flirt.”
“I hope so too”, sighted Francesco and they watched the little twitching flames of the tealights. Leonor thought of Peter and his muggle wife, Severus parents and few other examples where the balancing act performed poorly. She wouldn’t like to marry a muggle, not anymore. It had nothing to do with the pure-blood phantasies, but Leonor’s skills had been hidden all her live and with a muggle at her side the self-abnegation would increase. Everything she won since moving to Europe would crumble into dust.
“Do you remember a certain dark wizard from about fifteen years ago?”, said Leonor cautiously interrupting the silence. She had to warn the Matteo’s at least. Their family would be in grave danger if the fears of some people became true.
“The one without a name?” Francesco looked surprised about the mention of it.
“Yes. Do you have family in Italy? A place to hide?”
“We lived in Sicily when Matteo was born. Maria agreed to return to England only after that wizard was gone. She wasn’t happy in Italy with all the muggles of my family and the baby’s strange behaviours. Unfortunately, London was no option with our son that time.”
“Think about it, maybe you can visit them again for a longer time. Dumbledore is concerned about You-Know-Who’s return. Maria will not listen to me, but to you or Richard.” The worry in Leonor’s voice did not go unnoticed and Francesco promised to be observant. The goodbye was somewhat sad; like a déjà vu. Loosing friends in England, because of a stupid argument, felt especially painful. Maria would have been out here under different circumstances.
The roasted pork smelled still delicious, even though there were no remains in the pan. Four women sat alone in the tavern; the front door firmly closed. A white table cloth covered the sticky pub table. The flames of some candles danced shakily from the frequent laughs and cheers. Leonor grinned about the stories of the long-standing Hogsmeade inhabitants. It strengthened the homelike feeling. It was good to go out and to meet other people. Everybody was subtle enough not to question about Leonor’s patients. It did not matter that she had not much to tell; she felt welcome. Madam Rosmerta toasted proudly to the round of babbling women.
“Alma, Helen, Leonor - I’m glad to have you all here tonight, even though I know Alma and Helen will fall asleep on the couch before midnight, a luxury I cannot devote myself with a well running pub. Leonor might not be as unmated as she tells us to be, but I’m thankful she joined my round of single women tonight. Happy New Year!” Helen snorted with laughter, Leonor and Alma grinned.
“Rosmerta, we don’t miss a thing”, smiled Helen, the sturdy witch with the liking of black dogs. “I’m more than relieved that the bloke of a husband is gone. Alma will agree. It’s better to be alone than to wash the bad smelling socks of a muppet.” Helen and Alma nodded in unison to underline the statement before they broke into another tipsy giggle.
“Leonor, could you tell us about the ball at the school? At least we like to hear about the other love lives. Leonor was so sexy, even Ashley liked it and you know Ashley is just engaged with wedding gowns currently. Who was the lucky man, Leonor?”, joked Alma.
“Nobody”, Leonor pressed the lips together and stared into her glass counting the bubbles in the sparkling wine.
“I heard Professor Snape saved you from some poison. He danced with you and it looked intimate … so don’t tell me there’s nobody. There are some teachers who tell a lot for a tankard full of my homemade mead”, questioned Rosmerta with a light accusing voice.
“He’s about my age. The other staff is at least as old as my parents or worse”, Leonor shrugged and tried to end the conversation sounding unemotional.
“Well, not sure how Snape is today. I only remember the trouble with Black and Potter. I cannot deny that I was happy when he stopped visiting the pub. Snape used to sit at the far end of the bar. He was always alone. Potter and Black couldn’t stand that, especially if pretty redhead Lily and the Gryffindor girls were in. But not even a Slytherin dared to affront a muggle born in the tavern. May God bless them for saving us from You-Know-Who!”
“What else do you know about him?”, asked Leonor lost in thoughts.
“Not much, he was one of the quiet students. This type orders a drink, pays and is gone without much fuss. The boy was gloomy, with a trace of neglect. He had something dangerous, not that he did something to anybody. It is natural to keep an eye on the Slytherins. His pure presence was enough for Potter’s gang to start an argument. I don’t have a clue what made them so furious. Black got regularly hot-headed by Snape’s remarks. I throw him out twice. It was for his own good or they would have mashed him to pudding. Black didn’t care to use his wand in the tavern if Snape or a Slytherin was concerned.” Rosmerta still grinned widely and bopped Leonor in the rips. “You are interested in the fellow?”
“He helped me with a couple of things, just to mention the antidote for the dragon’s venom. I owe him my life.” Leonor didn’t colour this time. The matter-of-fact voice even stopped the overexcited witches. It was a point they all understood; only Leonor knew that the dangerous situations were not the reason she felt about Severus the way she did. She would feel the same even if neither the Dementors, Gringotts or the Horntail had happened; likely she loved the first time in life and there was no rational explanation to it. It just happened and after a year of hesitation she had to admit that the attraction wasn’t only about his knowledge. She wanted to go on.
“Well, I assume Dumbledore made once again a wise decision! Ashley learned a lot despite the torture of lessons.” Alma drowned the sparkling wine in one go with a grave expression. “I need to tell you something”, she continued subdued. Rosmerta and Helen exchanged glances as if expecting the worst.
“I will become a grandmother, in July!” Alma suddenly stood and hopped around the table in excitement, the deathly grimace vanished. The mischief dripped from her eyes goofing on her friends. There was instantly a heap of giggling and laughing witches embracing each other. “Leonor, you are asked to help with the birth. Ashley will see you soon. You’ve done so well with her schoolfriend last Christmas.”
Leonor smiled, enjoying with the others. She would recommend one of the midwifes of St. Mungo’s and it would be convincing. She started to accept that pregnancy and delivering a woman was asked in her surgery too. She helped as much as she could until it was time to delegate birth to the more experienced midwifes. Leonor choked; it took a lot of effort to make progress in fighting the inner resentment. They toasted to the unborn child and young mother. Alma and Helen returned home, and Leonor helped Rosmerta to do the dishes. The first guests waited outside of the bar in cheerful anticipation of the New Year.
The dining area filled with wizards and witches quickly. The sound of voices mingled with the scraping of the chairs and the clinking of glasses. Rosmerta asked to serve some of the tables and Leonor balanced the tray carefully through the narrow aisles.
Hagrid entered and placed himself in the centre of the tavern below the high part of the joist ceiling. He looked surprised when Leonor gave him the usual tankard full of sweet mead.
“Hello Hagrid!”, Leonor grinned.
“I didn’t know you go out”, he mumbled taking a large gulp of the aromatic beverage. “Sit down or are you in company?” Hagrid glanced round. Leonor got herself a glass of mead too and sat herself at the small table. A place at the bar promised bruises from all the pushing and hustling. She waited for Severus and took the chair facing the door.
“How are the magical creatures? It’s cold now. Do some need help already?” Leonor started the conversation with Hagrid’s favourite topic. His knowledge of the forest and animal population was excellent. Severus harvested rare plants for potions alone in the forest after several years at Hogwarts, but Leonor did not yet know. Hagrid would be perfect to give a round trip.
“I have a nest of young Nifflers. A buzzard killed the mother.”
“Cute! Hope you have no jingle-jangle in their way.” Leonor smiled.
“Na, they just rummage a bit in the cupboards. It’s nothing. I care more about the Unicorns. They won’t find anything to eat under the snow. I need to bring hay to their favourite places.”
“Would you mind if I join you?”, asked Leonor forthright.
“Not at all …”, Hagrid beamed. A cold whiff wafted over from the open door and a shabby clad man shoved himself through the crowd. He walked determinedly to Hagrid’s table and a genuine smile appeared on his sick looking face.
“Remus, I thought you are not coming! Yeah, you look better than Friday.” Hagrid beamed even wider with pleasure shaking Remus’ hands. It appeared as if the half-giant wanted to rip out the arm and Leonor decided to make her way to the bar. Rosmerta would serve her with some priority.
“I get you a drink, Remus. Hagrid another tankard?”, she said grinning. Leonor left resolutely through the chattering guests without waiting for the half-giants answer. She pushed between some elderly couples and despite the privileges it took a while until Leonor returned with the drinks. Remus expressed his gratitude and apologized clumsily for taking the favour.
“Put a stop to the nonsense, Remus. It’s my pleasure”, smiled Leonor. The conversation about the forest creatures, dragons, Black’s untraceable disappearance and other news of Dumbledore’s network continued light-hearted. Short before midnight she excused herself to get a glass of sparkling wine. She had always celebrated the New Year like the muggles. Hagrid had already enough. He stammered, and the sentences formed reluctantly. Remus still sipped on the first glass of mead as if he was too bashful to take a real gulp. He only chuckled quietly about Hagrid’s musing of Black’s whereabouts and glanced furtively at Leonor who watched the entrance brooding.
The cemetery of the industrial town lay quiet in the pale sinking sunlight. In summer, it provided the only green in between the bleak working class settlements; the large trees created a restless change of light and shadow. The graves were small, neatly stringed to endless rows and occasionally interrupted with some flowers or a candle. Dry weeds hid the names on most of the old headstones covered in moss and bird droppings. A man with a long black cloak stood in front of an earthy rectangle conjuring a wreath made from hellebores. The risk of exposing the magic to muggles tended to nil. They all watched television, prepared for a binge or indulged replays of recent football matches at this day of the year and in this area of the town.
Severus could not remember the last date of visiting his mother’s grave. The magic kept it free of grass and clovers. An evergreen pinewood stretched the knobbly branches over the edges of the enclosure. It was also his father’s grave, but the headstone just read Eileen Prince, 1930 to 1982. He felt obliged to tell her wordless about Leonor after such a long time of no contact. The last wish of Eileen had been that he would be lucky, luckier than herself. She said he should look for another woman sensing his black despair, but Severus did not listen nor that he ever considered to be happy again. But Eileen would have liked the news and not objected against giving the necklace away. It must have been the only thing she could hide from his father’s excessive claims to solve the family’s financial problems. He turned, walking swiftly down the dishevelled path to the large iron gate, through some cobbled backstreets until he stopped at the house where he was born. Advertising littered the post box. Severus glanced through the mail. The tax on the ground and building required payment. A flyer announced a phenomenal residential area in Cokeworth just some side streets down from Spinners End. Severus grunted, the stinky river wasn’t mentioned at all. The paper burned in the hearth with colourful flames. It was not warm enough to heat a kettle. Severus spent the evening with repairing some ramshackle windows and looking through some sort out books; the dust everywhere made him sneeze. Cleaning the neglected house appeared senseless. It would be the same dirty place when he returned next term break.
The apparition pressed the clean air through the lungs and the sleazy area was replaced by the warm light falling through the steamed pub windows of ‘The Three Broomsticks’. Severus entered the door and searched Leonor. He pushed along to the far end of the bar. The stool in the edge was free and Rosmerta slid a drink over the polished wood in exchange of some silver sickles. He leaned his back against the wall convinced to spot Leonor soon; and there she was. She balanced two glasses. She wore the beautiful velvet dress with the long straight dark hair across her shoulder. Severus groaned in disappointment to see her stop between Hagrid and the wolf. He waited, but the sight of Leonor laughing and smiling to the other men’s jokes made him jealous. It paralyzed him instead of going forward. The unjustified rage grew sneakily with every passing minute. Rosmerta called for the last order before New Year and Severus ordered something strong. He could not stand the sight nor move himself over to disturb the matey atmosphere. Rosmerta gave him a hard and controlling look; the same she used on him in his youth. The Firewhisky had a note of tar and petrol, but left a warm biting taste in the throat.
Madam Rosmerta filled glasses and tankards, collected the money and smiled as if the stress was the best what could happen to her. A feeling of melancholy crept into Leonor’s heart, watching the couples preparing themselves for the good wishes with light hugs and enamoured chuckles. Rosmerta cut Leonor’s train of thought with a rough accusing voice.
“Somebody is waiting for you.” Rosmerta hinted broadly at the other end of the bar and draw more beer for the waiting guests to have everybody served before midnight.
Leonor swallowed noticing the familiar curtain of black hair. The way to the opposite side seemed to last an eternity jostling against several guests. She put her hand to Severus’ arm stopping him from drowning another refill of whisky. His features hardened, and the mouth opened as if spitting an insult. But he said nothing and averted his gaze locking eyes with the amber liquid as if the truth would evaporate from it. Leonor still held his hand and tiptoed to kiss his cheek tenderly. Words would only do damage; she had no clue how long Severus had been waiting and watching. She moved further and placed soft little kisses to his ear and down Severus’ neck. He turned a little and she used the moment to capture his lips, but he remained impassive, his insides apparently boiling with rage. Leonor stopped the seduction with a sorry smile. Her loving care apparently dripped off him. The tension stretched momentarily until cheers announced the New Year. The tavern filled with laughter and deafening jubilation. Leonor looked quizzical into the ocean grey storm of sad confusion.
Suddenly Severus moved forward; the noise of the falling stool and the splintering wood was drowned by the jolly jumble in the pub. He grasped Leonor’s shoulders and turned her fiercely against the wall behind. She was caught off-guard and the surroundings blurred. There was only a long deep kiss and a dark body holding her tight on the spot. The ban of waiting lifted into a gentle desire until they were both breathless.
“Happy New Year!”, said Severus pressing one more tender kiss to Leonor’s forehead; his expression stern, but relaxed. His controlled old self had returned, and he radiated a self-confidence contrary to the hunched grumpy person from minutes before.
“Happy New Year, Sev!”, Leonor smiled without moving an inch. Severus still held her close. She doubted that anybody could see them or would look to that edge and felt thankful for the privacy. Her lips felt hot and rough, but she couldn’t deny having liked his change of mind. Leonor fished the whiskey from the bar and took a large gulp. She handed the remains to Severus. He grinned and emptied the glass.
The cheers waned, and the first guests took their cloaks leaving into the night. The crowd cleared slowly. Leonor still leaned against the wall, Hagrid and Remus forgotten. Severus held her hands questioning about the day. He was absorbed by the conversation and her dark shining eyes. Leonor spoke agitated about Maria’s sulky behaviour and ranted using some swear words. Her fury made him smile inwardly, she was pretty with the glowing cheeks. But the crushing feeling of guilt crept through him too; he did not want her to suffer because of himself. He opened his mouth to say something about it, when a pain in his back made him wince. Severus retreated unmindfully tripping over the fallen stool and bumping hard into the bar. Remus’ wand pointed threateningly at Severus large nose. The two men were on an equal footing, both slim and lean.
“Get that thing out of my face!”, hissed Severus barely audible.
“Isn’t it enough that you are more a menace to the students than a teacher? Let her go, Snape!” Leonor never saw Lupin in such a fury; the easy-going temperament was replaced with a dangerous calm voice. Severus paled; his face became white as a sheet. The dark eyes narrowed and spat contempt.
“Severus did nothing to me”, snorted Leonor, smoothing some strands and brushing over the still tickling lips. Her gaze fixed Remus. Her hand squeezed Severus wrist to keep him from drawing his wand too. Remus looked confused between the two faces.
“You’ve been waiting for him? That’s why you watched the door all the time”, realized Remus and put the wand back to his robes, the disappointment obvious. He struggled with understanding the situation. Leonor sensed nobody had told Remus about certain events at the school, but maybe there had just been no opportunity.
“Happy New Year to you too, Remus”, said Leonor reassuringly and gave him a brief hug before searching the tavern carefully. Madam Rosmerta observed them and only shook her head in disapproval. Hagrid rested his head on the small table, his large hands still clutching a last tankard. Leonor intertwined her fingers with Severus hand, smiling at him. The simple touch controlled him better than any words. He straightened, and some colour returned to his cheeks.
“Should we have a nightcap and then bring Hagrid back home?” Leonor gestured to the sleeping bear of a man in the middle of the pub.
“You take a seat, I’ll get us something”, answered Severus with a disgusted side glance at Lupin, repaired the bar stool and went voluntarily into direction of Madam Rosmerta who wiped the sticky bar with a cloth.
“Let’s look after Hagrid and check if we can wake him slowly”, said Leonor conversationally and crossed the room with some swift steps. Remus followed close. Hagrid snored lightly and a cuff on the back made him stir like brushing away some nasty flies. Some more guests exited the door and a breeze of fresh air drifted into the stuffy dining area. Severus discussed with a yawning Rosmerta until she bent down and started to rummage in one of the cupboards. She took a cocktail shaker and ice cubes. Leonor glanced curiously over, but couldn’t see anything apart from Severus black cloak. Remus shot still questioning looks at Leonor, but she was not in the mood to justify herself. After a while he just stared tired to the table top. Severus returned after a seemingly long time. He put a small tray with several glasses into the middle and broke the silence with an amused sneer. “An Irish Whiskey for you. The water makes it even more smooth. Hope it doesn’t lay you low to drink something different from Butterbeer.” Severus hit a sore point. A twisted mischievous smile curled his lips watching an annoyed Remus. Leonor shot Severus a warning look, she didn’t want another fight to begin the year. Leonor directed her attention to the remaining glass, which was apparently hers. Severus handed her a tumbler with a fruity colour, a pair of cocktail cherries and a shining red drinking straw.
“That’s for me?”, asked Leonor curiously.
“Try it!”, said Severus watching her slightly insecure.
“What is it?”, Leonor smiled at him, sucking the sweet cherries avidly.
“It’s called Whiskey Sour. No worries, Rosmerta did it.” Severus glanced again at Remus who circled the cup and felt apparently uncomfortable.
“Let’s drink to the New Year!”, said Leonor quietly and clinked her glass with the two men and Hagrid’s tankard. She tested carefully, and Severus watched sitting at the opposite side of the table. Leonor sipped her drink taking pleasure in the new taste. It was good. Severus leaned back drinking slowly and evidently amused about Remus pulling a disgusted face with every little gulp of whiskey.
The tavern stood almost empty. Leonor returned the glasses and thanked Rosmerta who only smiled crossly before juddering from another wave of tiredness. Remus convinced Hagrid to get up and the half-giant lurched through the door and into direction of Hogwarts. His feet carried him self-acting, like trained dogs finding home.
“I better check the gates”, grunted Severus with a curt nod to Leonor and followed Hagrid straightaway. Remus and Leonor stood unmoving in front of the tavern. They watched the two figures disappear into the darkness.
“I’ll bring you home”, said Remus matter-of-factly.
“It’s not necessary”, answered Leonor tolerating no dissent. “I find my way. Good night!” She turned and walked promptly down the main street into direction of the apothecary. Remus didn’t object nor follow, but watched until Leonor turned into the side street and out of sight.
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