The front door opened into a small sitting room which was, as Evelyn expected, identical to the the sitting room of her own house in dimensions and just as dingy. Unlike her oddly well-decorated sitting room, howeve, the dreary atmosphere at the Snapes´ house was compounded by the rather drab choice of furniture and colours. Everything was brown and sepia, and the scant décor seemed to be right out of a low-budget late 50s early 60s movie, with lots of odd trinkets scattered about. An old darn green damask armchair in front of the cast iron fireplace fireplace was in dire need of reupholstering, as was the small dark russet leather couch in the middle of the room; the rug was in even worst condition.
What did strike her was the overwhelming amount of books. They covered every single wall from top to bottom, leaving no space empty. There were so many of them it felt as if they had sprouted about like overgrown plants in an unkept garden. The shelves were full to the point of looking ready to collapse at any given moment; there were even books in the spaces in between the shelves, and other shelves mounted on the back of the doors in what looked like a conscious effort to make as many books as possible fit any tiny space available; those that didn´t fit the shelves piled up on the floor, on top of a couple of wobbly chairs and wherever else they could go. But chaotic organization notwithstanding, they were all in excellent condition, particularly the many leather-bound volumes.
Evelyn had spent most of her life in libraries, churches, abbeys and other morosely silent locations. It came with the job, really. But as she walked past Severus Snape and into his sitting room, the sound of her heels onto the floorboards cut through the heavy quietude inside in an almost otherworldly manner. Mr. Snape´s house had the atmosphere of a monastery, but conspicuously lacking the same feeling of beatific contemplation often found in them. His house just felt...sinister, somehow.
The door closed behind her with a dry thud. Completely ignoring the usual rituality most civilized people tend to observe when receiving a guest, Severus Snape merely walked around her, almost as if she wasn´t there, or was nothing but a little obstacle on his way, and headed the kitchen.
"Tea?" He asked, not even bothering to look her way.
"Sure, thank you... Do you need any help?"
"No." came the laconic answer from beyond the door.
Evelyn puffed heavily, renouncing to any hope of having some form of normal interaction with him.
Sighing , she hung her coat on a wall hook by the door, noticing there were a couple of coats already there, all pitch black, and laid her purse on the couch. As she waited for her unwilling host to come back with the tea, and against her better judgement, she decided to look around. It was probably not wise to snoop around, but those magnificent rows of leather-bound books were too tantalizing to ignore. She quickly looked through some of the titles...Classics of Medieval literature she knew all too well...Chauncer, Dante, Mallory, Thomas Aquinas... Evelyn was overcome with amazement: it looked as if Mr. Snape had an exact replica of her own personal library. But there were lots of others she couldn´t recognize, authors she had never heard of gracing the spines of bizarrely titled books: "A History of Magic" by Bathilda Bangshot, "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them" by Newt Scamander, "A guide to Medieval Sorcery"
It was just too strange...Evelyn had spend most of her academic life writing about European pagan religions, medieval chritianity and witchcraft, and yet she didn´t know any of these books. She wondered what Mr. Severus Snape did for a living; judging from the books he could very easily be a fellow historian.
Above the fireplace there were some framed diplomas, so she approached curiously, hoping to get a glimpse at his professional credentials. But instead her eyes were drawn to the picture frames on top of the mantle. There were just three of them. In the first one, a teenage girl with long dark hair, thick eyebrows and a sullen expression posed for what seemed to be an official school photo, faded golden calligraphic letters at the bottom of the photo read "Eileen Prince".
Finally a face for the name. The sharp features, the deep black eyes, the thin lips...If Evelyn had any doubt that Severus Snape was Eileen´s son it vanished as soon as she saw that portrait. Nose aside, he was the spit image of his mother. On the picture frame next to it, a very similar school photo, only this time of a boy. Evelyn didn´t have to read the golden letters on the bottom to know it was Severus Snape as a young lad.
The third picture frame was slightly set apart from the others, almost as if purposely placed in such a way as to give it more prominence. In it, a scrawny dark-haired boy, around nine or ten years old , whom Evelyn assumed was Snape, smiled brightly. He was holding hands with a beautiful red-haired little girl who smiled just as cheerfully, glowing in a flowered white and yellow dress. Resting against the elegant wooden picture frame, there was torn photo, with no frame, missing one half. A young woman with red hair, smiled the exact same sweet smile of the little girl in the other photo. Only now Evelyn noticed a small glass vase with a solitary white lily in it, sitting right beside the photos of the red-haired child and woman...
Her train of thought was cut short by a loud coughing sound coming from behind her back. Startled, Evelyn yelped and spun around to see Severus Snape standing a mere couple of feet away from her, holding two steaming cups of tea. How the hell had the man just snuck up on her like that? She didn´t hear any footsteps; had the bloody bastard just materialized out of thin air?
"Your tea" he said handing her one cup, an unabashed cavalier expression on his face "I only had Hassam. I hope it´s not to strong for you"
She took the cup, an elegant porcelain piece with a dainty green pattern of leaves around the edge, matching the saucer. Something that most likely had belonged to Eileen. The fragrant scent of good quality camellia sinensis reached her nostrils, soothing her somewhat as she tried to catch her breath.
"Hassam is just fine, thank you" She smiled, feeling herself blush with shame and irritation. Busted like a bloody schoolgirl.
Severus Snape stood there looking at her with that alarmingly arcane aplomb that seemed to come so naturally to him. At such a close distance, Evelyn had the chance to give him a good look. He was tall, probably around 6´or 6´1´´, but more than tall he was intimidating. It wasn´t as much as his height, as it was the way the carried himself. He was certainly imposing, and there was something almost stately about him, bordering on man was oddly angular, and made himself all the more so by standing as up-straight as a sentry during the changing of the Queen´s Guard. His movements were brisk and measured, with an unusual touch of elegance. His black trousers and black turtle-neck combined with his almost mechanical way of moving gave him the appearance of a large crow.
That raven-like quality he exuded was only intensified by his sharp set of black eyes and very prominent hook nose. His dark, unkempt and overlong hair made his sallow skin look dreadfully pale. Quite surprisingly, all these features combined didn´t make him exactly ugly, and although he was far from being good-looking, there was something almost magnetic there. Definitely not one who could be admired for his looks, Severus Snape had something about his appearance that simply commanded attention.
After seemingly satisfying himself with how unconfortable he had just made her, he turned quickly on his heels and walked over to the armchair.
"I´m sorry, I was just..." Evelyn trailed off
"Sit" He cut her mid speech, gesturing the sofa, as he sat on the armchair. Evelyn raised an eyebrow. He was quite clearly doing a little power game here; creeping up behind her, ordering her around, refraining from using the most simple formulas of politeness such as "thank you" or "please", sitting down before she did, purposely placing himself in an armchair that dominated the room, almost like a school headmaster in his office or a lord receiving her in his domain. It was quite clear Severus Snape liked to be in control, and wasn´t the kind of man to be easily confronted. So let´s just humour his ego, she thought to herself...
"Thank you" she forced herself to smile as modestly as possible, as she sat in front of him, sipping her tea. He might be an insufferable sourpuss, but truth to be told he did make excellent tea.
"So..." he started, aiming to control the conversation, as he brought his own cup of tea to his lips. "You were looking for my mother. May I ask where would you know her from?"
"I wouldn´t, actually. Only by name. It´s a long story, really"
"Then make it short" He sneered
"Very well..." she continued, unfazed "The house next to yours. It belonged to my grandfather."
"I don´t recall anyone owning that house...or even living there, for that matter..."
"Precisely. I don´t think he ever did live there. After he passed away we found this among his belongings" Evelyn laid her cup down on the coffee-table and reached into her purse. She got a copy of a house deed and handed it to him. Severus unfolded it and read.
"Marius Black..." a heavy pause "...your grandfather I suppose" His rich baritone had dropped a few octaves.
Severus sat silent for a while, almost as if contemplating something he didn´t care to share with her.
"Anyway." Evelyn carried on "It seems your house was once connected with my grandfather´s house. There were some documents and letters pertaining to a separation of the houses, probably following an inventory. It appears that my family and your mother´s family were related somehow, and the two houses were once a common property which was later divided. I wouldn´t know the details of it, since most of my grandfather´s old papers are to old to be readable..."
"I think you must have gotten something wrong. I would have known if my mother was related to..." he stopped mid-sentence. "I mean, I know my mother´s family and there´s certainly a mistake here... "
He rested his chin on the knuckles of his right hand.
"As far as I can remember, Miss Black...Not a soul has ever lived in the house next door. My mother never told me anything about it belonging to any of her relations"
"Maybe she didn´t know of the house´s history. The two properties were severed in the 20s. But still, she should know that her family was related to mine...You see, there´s a family tree amongst my father´s old documents, with your mother´s name on it. She would have known that, no?"
There was a long silence. For a second Evelyn could have sworn Severus looked apprehensive. But as she looked for a further hint of an expression on his face, he put on his default blank stare. Leaning back on his armchair, he drew in a deep breath.
"Once again, Miss Black I would have known that. But even assuming our families are somehow related, which I find highly unlikely, is not like I can provide you with any information other than what your grandfather´s documents already have. I´m afraid your search has reached a dead end."
She fell silent. It was obvious that, whatever the relationship was between Eileen Snape and her family, Severus Snape knew nothing about it, or wouldn´t tell her if he knew.
"Where are you from Miss Black?"
"Ireland. County Clare." She answered, taken aback by the random question.
"You see, my mother´s family didn´t have any relatives in Ireland"
"My grandfather wasn´t Irish. He was from London."
"Yes...He moved to Ireland when he was young. Which is what makes the existence of this house all the more puzzling. It seems he never left London before moving to Ireland. How could he have a house in Cokeworth?"
"Did he ever talk about any of it?"
"He never talked about anything that happened before he went to Ireland"
"Maybe for a good reason..."
"What do you mean?"
"Did you ever consider the very likely possibility that he never talked about his past precisely because he didn´t want anyone to know about it?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"What I´m trying to say is, Miss Black, I can´t help you. My mother is dead, as is your grandfather. What´s the point of digging up old stories?"
"The point?! Isn´t it obvious enough? It´s my family we´re talking about here..."
"Precisely...Your family... Don´t you fear you might find something that was better left undiscovered?"