One Day at a Time
Epilogue—Five Years Later
"Has the sun always been this bright?" I stupidly asked, stumbling slightly as I awkwardly strode out of the holding cell enclosure.
"Last I checked," Tarazet grinned at me.
Crowds went bustling past us as we stood on the dusty grey sidewalk, the drab metal and concrete buildings soaring over our heads. To me, though, it seemed as though the world was exploding with color. A golden sun, a rich cerulean sky, even the different colors of the outfits of the people bustling past us. In contrast to Azkaban, everything was rich, alive, changing. I felt as though I had been born again, as though I could have stood there for hours simply staring at the world.
"You'll probably want to be careful about casting spells at first, seeing as you haven't used your wand in five years," my brother interrupted my thoughts with more practical sentiments than my sheer awe.
"Yeah, good point," I distractedly replied, still trying to tear my focus away from things as ordinary as the sky, while reminding myself that it would still be there tomorrow and the day after and the day after that and every day after that.
With an annoyed sigh, I threw the Daily Prophet's classified section at the kitchen table. Nothing. Again. Then again, what had I been expecting? "Wanted: tutor or teacher who is a convicted ex-Death Eater."
"Yeah, like that's going to happen," I followed my spoken sentence with a derisive snort at such a ridiculous idea, before glancing around the kitchen out of an attempt to distract myself. I could still easily distract myself by looking around the rooms of this house—whether it was still "Mother's and Father's" house or whether it had become "Tarazet's" house in my mind I still wasn't quite sure, and perhaps it was the change in décor over the years that intrigued me. No longer filled with small magical trinkets lining every shelf in the house, as it had been during my childhood, it was instead overflowing with folders of neatly scribbled Arithmancy calculations and endless stacks of books.
Whatever the house was like, it was where I was living until I had enough money for my own apartment and I was quite thankful that Tarazet, who could more than sympathize with an endless job search following a prison sentence, didn't mind me staying at his house.
"Really, talking to yourself after only five years in prison?" My brother made reproaching noises as he strolled into the kitchen. "It's supposed to take longer than that for one to go insane."
I gave him a sarcastic look before replying, "If I say something aloud it doesn't mean I'm insane. It's only if I expect a response."
"Ah, but I gave you a response, so does that mean you're insane, now?" he rhetorically asked in a rather light-hearted manner.
I rolled my eyes before allowing a small laugh to escape, "You know very well what I meant."
He flashed a grin in my direction before turning his attention towards the kitchen cupboards, presumably looking for something edible to eat. "Did I tell you who I ran into at work today?"
"Who? A psychiatrist?" I assumed my response was fitting, considering our previous topic of conversation.
"No, unrelated." After successfully finding a box of crackers, he took a seat at the same table I was at and continued his answer, "Your old friend stopped by. Snape."
My eyes opened wide with surprise before I quickly reminded myself that Severus had essentially broken off our friendship (or more-than-friendship, as our case may have been) after my arrest. "What'd he want?" I asked in as disinterested of a tone as I could manage, even pretending to be more interested in the nearby Daily Prophet's classified section than my brother's response.
"He wanted about two dozen quills to be treated with an anti-cheating charm. Seems a bit silly to me, because they can be bought from manufacturers pre-charmed like that," he spoke as though this topic of conversation was only mildly interesting to him.
"Did you point that out to him?" I followed my words with the sound of rearranging the newspaper, just to show how little I cared about Severus, and whatever he was doing.
Tarazet shrugged his narrow shoulders. "No. Business is business. By the way," he accompanied his next words with a smirk, "Your newspaper is upside-down."
A creeping, embarrassment-pink tide crept over my face. "Well, maybe I like the challenge of having to read upside-down," I attempted to cover with a haughty tone, before giving myself away with my next words. "Did Snape say anything else?"
He started balancing on the back two legs of his chair before casually replying, "He asked about you."
After quickly wiping the surprised expression off my face I incredulously replied, "You're toying with me."
A shake of the head. "Nope. He said 'Tell Liseli that purple mountain goats leap at sunrise.'"
I blinked. What on earth? My thoughts quickly formed into a similar spoken word: "What?"
A creeping grin and a stifled laugh gave away his next words, "Okay, that last part was toying with you, but he did ask about you." I gave him a quick glare to remind him that I was quite capable of murder, before he replied in a slightly more serious tone, "He said, and I quote, 'How's your sister?'"
After a few second gap in which Tarazet didn't add anything, I expectantly replied, "And?"
"Really, I imagine you know the answer to that yourself. If you mean what I said, I said, quote, 'She's fine.'"
"And?" I expectantly repeated my word, hoping there was something more to the conversation.
"And he said he would stop by tomorrow to pick up the charmed quills." Tarazet was still rocking on the back two legs of his chair and I was seized with a sudden urge to slam all four of the legs down, just to keep him from looking as though this was all such a casual, light matter. "Want me to tell him anything for you?"
"No," I said stubbornly, "Because according to Snape, at least, we're not friends anymore."
"Oh?" An invitation talk more, if I wanted to. That, or at least inform him what exactly he was standing in the middle of.
"I don't want to talk about it," I mumbled, picking up the newspaper again and, this time, making sure it was right-side up.
Next evening, the characteristic crack of an apparition rang out in the living room and, as nonchalantly as I could, I strolled by to see that Tarazet had appeared. "How was work?" I casually asked.
He seemed mildly surprised that I had appeared in the living room mere seconds after he had and briefly replied, "It was fine. Your non-friend stop by again."
"Did you make a good profit off the quills?" I decided to pretend that I didn't care about my "non-friend", and that hearing about him was certainly not my motive in asking about my brother's work day.
"More a shining sickle than a glittering galleon, but business is business." He gave me an amused look before adding, "And I'm sure your deep fascination with Dunkel and Finster's profit margin is what prompted your inquiry, and nothing else, right?"
"Er—of course," I lied rather non-smoothly, knowing that my brother would have been able to see through my words, anyway.
"So I'm sure you won't care if I mention that Snape asked where you were working," he said, his casual tone perfectly mimicking mine. I winced and squeezed the bridge of my nose with two of my fingers; "unemployed" had such a bad ring to it. "And I'm sure you won't care that he asked if you ever stop by Dunkel and Finster's," Tarazet continued.
"What was Snape's tone?" I asked, almost suspicious. Derisive? Avoidant? He certainly hadn't cared about seeing me before my prison sentence, so it wouldn't surprise me if he wanted to avoid me.
A shrug in response. "I don't know. It was his neutral tone."
"How does he seem? I mean, uh, does he seem like he's doing okay?" I asked in what I hope came off as a disinterested manner. It made no sense for me to still care about Severus, and I stubbornly insisted on telling myself that, as such, I did not care about him.
"He looked the same as when I saw him however many years ago," his tone was a cross between amusement and impatience, "Really, if you care about how he is you could always just owl him."
"I don't care," I snapped. "Besides, I can't just owl him after five years; it's been a long time. He probably barely remembers me." And what if he's with someone else, now? I unwillingly thought. My heart gave a pang, which I quickly scolded myself for.
Another few days of scouring the classifieds and debating whether I could be an independent tutor again led me to a day where Tarazet started a conversation with the words, "I think soon Hogwarts is going to have the most secure testing environment in existence."
A bit taken aback by the lack of context, I inquired, "What do you mean?"
"Your friend—sorry, non-friend—stopped by to have some potions' tests charmed with anti-cheating charms," he nonchalantly replied.
"Snape?" I whipped all of my attention towards my brother.
"As far as I gather, he's still the only potions professor at Hogwarts so, yes, him," he replied nonchalantly.
"How is he?" my mouth said, seemingly of its own volition.
Tarazet gave a small laugh. "You and him seem to both lack creativity when it comes to small talk. He asked how you were again, also."
"Oh," I replied, somewhat embarrassed. Had he really asked about me again? It seemed completely contradictory to his actions five years ago, as though nothing was making sense. "Unrelated, do you, uh, have any need for an extra hand around the store?" I tried to ask disinterestedly, while telling myself that the least I could do was find out what Snape was up to.
A knowing smirk on his face, he responded, "Replying to your completely selfless inquiry to help out, yes, I'm sure there's some stocking you could do."
Shoving item upon item onto the narrow, rickety shelves lining Dunkel and Finster's was, really, quite boring. Besides the occasional challenge of reading the omnipotent, faded spider webs of words which labeled the shelves, and attempting to cram fragile objects onto the already overflowing shelves, the job was quite mindless. I was starting to think that I had gone quite mad to volunteer for this when I heard the jingle of yet another customer entering the store.
Despite my surreptitious peeking between the shelves, I couldn't see who was walking towards the front desk, and I had to satisfy myself with carefully listening while I continued shelving. The slow drawl I heard practically made me drop the continually water-filled flower vase I was shoving onto a shelf.
"Hello, Colburn. I believe I dropped off some items to be charmed yesterday."
"That you did," came my brother's voice, "The sum is, let's see, 2 galleons and 3 sickles for 25 potions tests."
There was the sound of clinking coins and quiet counting. I hadn't been intending to eavesdrop, but somehow I couldn't think of a way to burst out from behind the shelves without seeming terribly awkward. What if Snape didn't even want to see me? I was debating this when I heard his quiet, precise drawl again, "Tell me, Colburn, does your sister still accept owls at her London address?"
A pause. Was Tarazet expecting me to answer his question? The sound of coins being slid into a cash register followed, and then my brother's factual words, "No. No, she doesn't."
"Oh," was the Potion Master's one-word response, only that one word was packed with emotion: disappointed, crestfallen and simultaneously hinting, pushing for a longer response, such as where I could be owled.
"She—er—does except verbal messages, however," I blurt out as I stepped into the area with the front desk.
"Liseli," Severus spoke my name with an expression of mild shock on his face, before quickly recovering a neutral facial expression. "How—how do you do?"
"Er—I'm fine," I awkwardly replied, turning over the object in my hands that I had been about to shelve next. "How are you?"
"I'm fine," came his succinct response.
Tarazet muttered something that sounded like a sarcastic version of "What creative small talk," before disappearing into the storage room.
With a glance towards the object in my hands, Severus smirked, "I see you've done quite the number on poor Yorick."
It struck me then that the charmed object I was turning over in my hands was what looked like a human skull (undoubtedly made out of plaster, I told myself). "I didn't do this," my words spilled out in a rush. Surely he didn't think I was an active murderer?
"I didn't mean that literally," his unperturbed words reached my ear. "It's—oh, Yorick's from Hamlet, not Macbeth. It's Macbeth that you've read, never mind then."
I looked the hopefully fake skull in the eyes, studying its sharp sockets and noseless visage. "Snape," I said, my thoughts finally turning into spoken words, "Why did you call me Liseli at the beginning of this conversation?"
He seemed a bit taken aback and simply replied, "It's your name."
"I'm aware. I just mean the last time I saw you it was 'Colburn' and barely a look in my direction." I continued to focus all of my attention on the skull, as though afraid he would suddenly say, 'Why, you're right! What am I doing being polite to you?'
Instead he gave me an incredulous sort of look that might have normally been reserved for first years who didn't know monkshood and wolfsbane were the same plant. "You never realized why I did that?"
"Er—no," I replied, feeling exactly like a first year who was too unintelligent to know that monkshood and wolfsbane were the same plant.
He placed his hands over mine, which were still grasping the skull. I looked up at his dark eyes, surprised to see such a show of relative tenderness. "I was afraid of invalidating my testimony by showing that I was biased for you. Even when I met with you before your trial, I knew that guards monitored the meeting room."
"You still could have been a bit nicer," I mumbled, feeling rather stupid, now, "I've spent the last five years thinking you hated me."
"Don't be ridiculous," he scoffed in a very Severus-ish sort of way.
"Do you, uh, want to get a cup of coffee or something?" I hazarded, still focusing my attention on the skull in my hands, and the feeling of his warm hands pressed against mine. "That is—if five years isn't too long for you."
"The past five years have been long," he stated slowly, thoughtfully, "Long, because with every day that passed, there were still so many days left until your sentence ended. And then—the five years were up, and I didn't know what to do. I decided to try and learn about what your life was like now before contacting you, because I thought maybe you would have moved on and forgotten me."
"Don't be ridiculous," I smirked. I made to place the skull down, and his hands moved with mine until the skull found a resting place on a nearby shelf. "There's a nice little café down the street, if you want to go, now," I ventured.
There was something immensely peaceful about strolling down the cobblestone streets of Knockturn alley next to Sev, the afternoon sun reflecting off of the storefronts' windows, only a few people leisurely milling about the narrow street. His fingers lightly brushed against my hand before carefully intertwining with my fingers as we sat down at the café.
"Can I see something?" I ventured, curious.
With a single slightly raised eyebrow he replied, "Go ahead," clearly unsure what I was planning.
I gently unbuttoned his left cuff and pushed the sleeve up a few inches. "Yours has faded, too," I murmured, my index finger softly tracing the curved outline of his Dark Mark.
His quiet response carried a matter-of-fact tone, "The war has been over for several years,"
"I know. But I still find it hard to believe, sometimes. I keep expecting to see it as black as charcoal," my words continued in their hushed tone. Even in Knockturn Alley and with no fear of being arrested, this still didn't seem like the type of conversation to broadcast.
"Do you think it'll ever fade completely?" Sev had now reciprocated my motions and was regarding the Dark Mark emblazoned on my left forearm.
"Completely?" I paused, before pensively continuing, "I almost hope not. It doesn't seem like that'd be very accurate."
"What do you mean by 'accurate'?" he repeated, puzzled.
I gave a slight shrug with my explanation of my word choice, "Whether we like it or not, it's still a part of who we are."
"Just don't go mad thinking about it," he gave a small smirk before taking my hand in his again and gently whispering, "My Lady Macbeth."
A smile burst onto my face as I gazed into his eyes. "Only if you promise the same." I gave a small laugh as a new thought struck me, "You know, I bet if someone walked by and saw our Dark Marks out they'd probably think we were two enthusiastic former Death Eaters, reminiscing about old times."
"People can be dunderheads," he dryly responded.
"Well, I wouldn't use the word dunderheads." He raised one eyebrow in a reproaching way before I continued, "I'd say lazy." He gave an approving smirk at this, which my face quickly mimicked in the form of a smile before I continued my words, "People stop at appearances, at what seems simple, and fail to realize the complexity that is actually behind it."
"Simplicity rarely exists. The word itself is useless," Sev scoffed.
"Yes, I suppose so." I continued softly tracing the outline of his Dark Mark with my index finger. "Perhaps it's for the best, though. A simple world would be awfully boring."
A/N: This is officially the end of "One Day at a Time," but certainly not the end of my writing plans! I encourage everyone to check out my new account (just message me and I'll tell you the name), where I already have 7 stories posted, and where I will eventually be posting a complete re-write of this story.
Thank you so much to everyone who has reviewed (for last chapter, specifically, thanks to tibys, BEN-Beyond-The-Elusive-Nomad, Mark Darcy, Leslie, tat1312 and PollyWantCookie). Thanks also to all of you silent readers—you who have put this story on story or alert or your favorites list, and even to those of you who have just silently been reading along. I'd love to hear from all of you, even just a two word review!