Chapter Five: In which Evan does a job and the location of darkness is murky at best
In a familiar spidery script, the words "Tea, next Saturday at four?" and a slanted signature belonging to Severus Snape made the note a priceless gift to Albus.
The sun rose far too early in the morning, and Evan wanted nothing better than to pull the blinds down and sleep. He let out a groan and kicked the covers off, willing his body to rise and prepare for the day. He had a job to complete, one that would hopefully pay well.
He took a quick shower, barely taking the time to even rinse the suds from his hair before drying off and dressing. He ran his fingers through his hair a few times and pulled the longer strands into a ponytail.
Snape was already sitting in the kitchen, sipping a cup of tea by the time Evan arrived downstairs.
"I have a job to do today. Will you be all right staying here by yourself? The pantry is fully stocked and the floo is open in case of an emergency."
"I assure you that I am quite capable of taking care of myself," Snape sniped before going back to drinking his tea.
Evan grabbed a couple of snack bars from the pantry and shoved them in his pockets before heading over to the fireplace. He threw a handful of floo powder into the fire and carefully pronounced the address the customer had written in her letter.
Severus finished his tea and placed the empty cup in the sink. He had just placed the kettle back on the stove, intent on making another cup of tea when the owl he had sent out the day before appeared, pecking at the back door. Severus opened the door briskly and took the letter from the owl's leg. He took the letter to the table and dropped it as though it were burning his hands. He would open it after he had a bit to eat.
Severus returned to the kettle, reaching to turn on the stove and noticing that his fingers were shaking. He damned his cowardice and emptied his mind.
He returned to the table with his second cup of tea. The letter lay face down innocuously.
An hour later, he was on his sixth cup of tea and the letter was still on the table unopened.
Severus picked up the letter and turned it over in his hands. He had no reason to hesitate, and yet he was faltering and delaying anyway he could, digging his heels in like a tenacious hippogriff. Better to open the letter and face the disappointment all at once like a severing hex to the arm. Long, pale fingers worked their way under the flap and broke the wax seal, opening the letter. Somehow, a five word letter invitation had warranted a full page response.
"Professor Severus Snape," the letter began.
"It would be a boon to have tea with you next Saturday. I will be there at four o'clock promptly.
I would like to apologize, but I do not think my words are nearly enough. All I have at the moment seem to be empty words. We are doing everything in our power to reverse what the ministry has done. We are doing everything in our power to free you. This means little as we have failed you so many times before, but if you are ever in need of help, know that you are not alone; we are there for you.
Minerva would like to mention that your office remains untouched as the Ministry officials were denied admittance to your private chambers by the castle. The rooms are still yours and are open for your use should you every desire to return to us.
I have a great many matters on which I would like to speak with you about. Unfortunately, many of them are much too sensitive to write about in a letter that may fall prey to wandering eyes. Perhaps you could have tea here at Hogwarts? Poppy misses you something dreadful, and could use your help with a few pet projects of hers.
I do suppose you have better things to do with your time than read an old man's ramblings. I hope someday you may be able to forgive me and find someone whom you can trust unconditionally.
Severus placed the letter down on the table and got up to make another cup of tea. He found himself wishing that Lilison was around so that he had someone to berate, someone to take his mind off of everything that was going on outside of the small, isolated house.
Mimsy Minster paced back and forth in front of her fireplace, stumbling over tilting floorboards and rugs that hadn't been there moments before. She ducked as a book went sailing towards her head. The man she had called in to help her had stated in his letter that he would arrive early in the morning, but some people got up at noon and considered that to be early. Mimsy hoped he would arrive soon. She ducked and dodged as another book went flying at her. There was an air to her movements that suggested that she had gone through them all many times before. The fire flashed green, and a good-looking young man tumbled out. Mimsy let out a heartfelt sigh of relief.
"Mr. Lilison, right? Thank you for coming so quickly, but it really is a dreadful problem, and I simply don't know what to do. I've been out of my mind with frustration and I swear this house is trying to kill me. Why, I was pushed down the stairs just this morning, and my knee is bruising something awful," Mimsy said, her mouth going a mile a minute as it often did when she was feeling stressed. Her girlfriends always told her to slow down, but it was like telling a smoker to just quit cold turkey.
Mr. Lilison brushed the soot off of his robes, and Mimsy took the time to wonder whether he was married or not. There wasn't a ring on his finger, but some couples didn't hold with such traditions. He cleared his throat, and Mimsy looked up to meet his eyes, blushing from the roots of her hair to the tips of her toes. Her previous husband had thought it was endearing; Mimsy certainly hoped so.
"Mrs. Minster, I would appreciate if you could explain to me precisely what has been going on in your house over these past few days. Please don't leave anything out. Even the smallest detail could tell us what's going wrong."
"Oh! None of that Mrs. nonsense! I'm not married, or rather, I'm a widow. My husband died a few months ago. This is his house actually. We had been planning on moving into it just before he died. It's been in his family for decades. Isn't it just darling? Are you married Evan? Can I call you Evan?" Mimsy properly simpered and preened.
"Ms. Minster, I would appreciate it if we focused on the problem at hand."
Mimsy stuck her lower lip out just the slightest bit and crossed her arms in front of her chest. Evan was too stiff. He needed to loosen up a bit. Never the less, Mimsy didn't hesitate to launch into her tale of woe about the dreadfully mean house. She told Evan of the shifting floorboards, the dropping ceiling panels, the moving furniture, the awful smells, and the strange sounds. She told him of sleepless nights, of escalating injuries, and of fear. She told him all of this, barely pausing to breath, and he listened, nodding his head at times and looking apologetic at others. Mimsy thought she was falling in love again. She needed a guy who knew how to properly listen.
Evan kept his arms stiffly at his sides, resisting the urge to cast a silencing charm, or a stunning spell, or worse. The customer simpered, whined, and never gave him the chance to get a word in edgewise to actually get the details he really needed. Finally, Evan had had enough.
"Ms. Minster," he said.
"-and the fuchsia comforter was on the floor in a puddle-"
"-and my aunt had a cat like that once, but a cat is hardly a house and-"
"Yes?" She looked startled, as though she had completely missed Evan saying her name the past two times. Evan felt the need for a strong drink and maybe something for the headache brewing behind his eyes.
"It's not that I don't appreciate how detail oriented you are, but I think I have enough information to at least start. Is it alright if I walk the perimeter of the house for now?"
"Oh certainly! I just have to show you my agapanthus! I got them all the way from Africa and they are just the most darling little things. They're the flower of love, you know." She batted her eyes tilted her head to the right.
Evan considered if the job was worth the reward, but damn it, his bank accounts were low. "Ms. Minster, I think it would be better if I went alone. This is delicate work, and I might miss something important if I were distracted."
"Of course! I've been told I can be quite the distraction sometimes. My mother always used to say that I drove her to distraction, but I'm sure she was just teasing me. I always-"
The woman was still chattering as Evan walked out the front door.
Evan slowly walked around the house, relishing in the silence while doing his job. He had his wand out, and every few steps, he stopped to send out a detection charm for foreign magical signatures and malicious magic. He kept his sense open, wary for any impulses or distortions in perception that could be caused by curses, hexes, or cursed objects. He made his way entirely around the house, finding nothing but a few surly garden gnomes. One of the little blighters had taken to following him around and making rude gestures. Evan cast a mild stinging hex at the gnome and walked back into the house, not nearly prepared enough for another storm of chatter. The floor boards shifted beneath his feet, and he heard shouting from in the other room, followed by a loud crack and a scream. Evan broke into a run.
Mimsy's voice was shrill and loud as she screamed. "You vile little creature! You awful beast! Get away from me! Get away!"
"You is not being Mistress. You is not being part of house and you is not being connected to master. You is being bad girl and you is not being Gingly's Mistress!"
Evan slid to a stop in the doorway of the parlor to see Mimsy being backed into a corner by a rather irate house elf. Its big, bat-like ears were erect and the long, twig-like fingers on one hand were outstretched towards Mimsy.
Mimsy saw Evan in the door way, and she let out another screech. "Get this disgusting bug away from me!"
"Ms. Minster, were you ever integrated into the wards of this house? Are you positive that you are the rightful owner of this place?"
The house elf answered for Mimsy. "She is not being rightful owner! Master was wanting house to be Master Neddy's. She is tricking Master into giving her house and Gingly."
"Don't talk with the ugly little thing! Get rid of it," yelled Mimsy.
"I think I know what the problem is Ms. Minster," said Evan, his amusement seeping into his voice. He was doing his best not to chuckle. "You're a muggle born, right?"
"What does that have to do with anything? I'm just as good a witch as anyone!"
"This house was in your deceased husband's family for generations. You said so earlier. After years of being exposed to magic both intentional and not, the house adopts a personality. It's not sentient, but it knows the family it belongs to and it knows who doesn't belong, and you, Ms. Minster, obviously don't belong. You were never integrated into the wards, and the house sees you as a foreign invader; a pest to get rid of. If you want peace, either leave the house, or get a member of your late husband's bloodline to put you into the wards."
"But it's my house! He left it to me! I gave him everything, and all I have left of him is this little house and that disgusting creature! Look at me! I need company, I need love, but no one sticks around, no one gives me what I need! I want my Danny boy!" Mimsy was sobbing now, her eyes turning red.
"Ms. Minster, I understand that you're upset, but the only way to get the house and the elf to accept you is to become part of the wards around the house. Is there anyone I can contact for you?"
Mimsy sniffled and rubbed the tears out of her eyes. "Yes. Danny, my husband, had a cousin, Ned. He could help me. C-can you get this creature away from me now?"
Evan looked down at the house elf, taking in it's dirty appearance and the determination in its large brown eyes. "Gingly, right?"
"I is being Gingly."
"Do you wish to serve Ms. Minster?" Evan squatted down on the floor so that he was almost level with the elf.
"Gingly is having to punish himself, but Gingly is not seeing her as Gingly's Mistress. Master never ordered it."
"If it is alright with Ms. Minster, would you like to come with me?"
"You would be being Gingly's new Master?" The elf's eyes were wide.
"Is that alright?"
"Gingly is being willing."
"Is that alright Ms. Minster?"
"As long as you get that horrible thing away from me, anything is fine. I just want things to be the way they used to be! I want my Danny back," Mimsy sniffled, her voice changing from whiney to heartbreakingly sad.
Evan thought he would never understand women.
"Ms. Minster," Evan said, "I need you to give a piece of clothing to Gingly, and I promise he will never bother you again. Do you need me to contact Ned for you?"
Mimsy shook her head and pulled the pink cardigan off her shoulders. She balled the cardigan up and tossed it at Gingly who snatched it out of the air. "So how do we go about changing the wards?"
A few hours later, Ned had come, Gingly had gone, and the wards had been set to accept Mimsy as the new owner of the house. They had settled on 50 galleons as the price, and Mimsy sent off a letter to Gringotts to send the payment directly to Evan's account.
When Evan left, Ned and Mimsy had been sitting in the parlor, sipping coffee. Mimsy had been talking a mile a minute, and Ned had a grimace on his face, his eyes followed Evan longingly as Evan excused himself.
Severus Snape was staring unblinkingly into large brown eyes, determined to not be the one who looked away first. The house elf had appeared with a crack earlier, and it froze in place when it noticed Severus.
A few moments later, the sound of the floo flaring to life came from the other room, followed by the sound of Lilison cursing as he undoubtedly stumbled into the coffee table.
Lilison was still cursing as he made his way into the kitchen where Severus and the elf were having their stare down.
"I see you've met Gingly. He'll be living with us for a while. What would you like for dinner?"
Severus tore his eyes away from the elf's, and looked at Lilison with incredulity. "I was led to believe that you were going to do a job. Do you often get paid in servants?"
A smiled formed on Lilison's face. "This is a first for me, but I also got enough money to pay for a fair amount of potions ingredients. Did you make a list of what you need?
"I have nothing else to do with my time beyond writing and watching the grass grow. I did indeed manage to compile a list of the materials I need organized in order of necessity," Severus said, the corners of his mouth twisting up into a not-quite smile.
"I'll pick up the stuff tomorrow. Is chicken and rice all right for dinner?"
Severus nodded, and Lilison began to busy himself in the kitchen, pulling ingredients and pans from the cabinets.
"Gingly is wanting to know what Master wants Gingly to be doing," said the house elf, bringing attention to itself for the first time since Lilison had returned.
"Whatever you think needs doing is fine. I'll take care of dinner though."
"Gingly is being happy to be serving," it said, and with a crack, it disappeared.
Halfway through cooking, Lilison's movements halted. He stood rigidly for a few seconds, and Severus wondered briefly if the man had been hit by a body binding hex.
"Do you know why I haven't freed you?"
Severus raised an eyebrow. "I suppose it would be because you paid a hefty price for a slave. Or perhaps because, if you freed me, the Ministry would incarcerate me within the hour and you would be out 2,000 galleons and a slave. These are only speculations of course, and I am operating under the assumption that you aren't completely mad."
"That's a pretty big assumption to be making," Lilison joked, his voice lined with failing humor. "I would, you know, free you. I will…when I can. But I can't. Not yet. The Ministry would just sell you to another person or throw you in Azkaban, or kill you. But you are free. Not legally, maybe, but I'm not going to stop you. I just wanted to make sure that you knew. I'd free you if I could, but I can't. So you know…" Lilison's voice was halting and disjointed as he spoke.
All the same, Severus received the message, even if he didn't believe it. Lilison may consider him free, but that didn't change the law or the magic that bound him. It didn't change the fact that he had the dark mark on his arm, the fact that the person he cared the most about wanted him dead, the fact that the majority of the Wizarding World wanted him dead, or the fact that when one person released him, there would always be another waiting to destroy him.
However, Severus would allow Lilison to hold on to his foolish beliefs. He would not be the one to tell Lilison that there was no such thing as freedom. He would not be responsible for hardening the man who still followed a child's dreams. Instead, Severus simply said, "thank you, Harry," and he went upstairs.
Evan sat down as the chicken slowly cooked on the stove top. It had been nearly half a year since anyone had called him by his real name. Hearing Snape call him Harry had brought back is memories of the past. He remembered the events of his past, and he remembered what could become the events of the future.
Evan didn't want to go back. He didn't want to become Harry, to be the one with all of the responsibility. He enjoyed being a nobody, but the knowledge he had was slowly crushing him.
Voldemort would return, and no one knew. Dumbledore and several others probably suspected, but Evan was the only one who knew. He was also the only one who really knew how. Could he sit back and allow someone else to handle it, allow someone else to suffer?
No. He couldn't put someone else in the position he had been in for so long. He couldn't allow anyone to experience the crushing weight of that kind of responsibility, the expectations of thousands. He couldn't allow anyone to die because he was afraid to take action. Evan would once again become Harry, if only in his own mind, and he would hunt down the Horcruxes before Voldemort had the chance to regain his power. He would kill the snake before it had a chance to hatch.
In this universe, Harry Potter would be the one to rise again.
No animal went into the cave. No plant grew within a ten meter radius. The area reeked of abomination. Anything that got near was filled with revulsion.
Inside the cave lay an atrocity. It writhed and thrashed on the floor, letting out dreadful screams. It was a mass of scales and skin and feathers and fur, of bones and teeth and nails and claws. Its form changed constantly, shifting and bubbling from one appalling appearance to the next. The changes began to slow, and over the course of months, they stopped altogether. The monstrosity opened a pair of slit red eyes and let out a horrendous shriek. A clawed, feathered, scaled appendage reached out from the beast and landed upon a stick of yew.
A pulse of malicious intent and hatred flew out across the land, sending shivers down the necks of the sensitive and causing unease in the hearts of millions.
Author's Note: Just because it probably wasn't very clear, Severus is 21 years old and Harry/Evan is 25.