Chapter Nine: Discovery and Evasion
Azalea Sage Parkinson Snape stopped her singing in surprise when her son entered the dining room of the crumbling manor in which she persisted to live. "Home so soon, Severus? Society parties ran until dawn in my day."
Her son had been staying with her since just after the start of the new year, ostensibly to conduct research. But all he really seems to be doing is brooding, the lady thought, wondering again what had so upset her son this time.
"I did not attend the affair, Mother. Such festivities hold little interest for me," Severus said, helping himself to some stew from the tureen on the sideboard.
Azalea did not stand on ceremony, and her one house elf was overworked as it was in his futile attempts to keep the manor habitable.
"Well, it's nice to have you here, even if you won't tell me why you've come."
"I've already explai—"
"—Severus, if you intend to lie to me, at least have the courtesy to make a better go of it."
"I am researching something!"
The lady almost laughed to hear Severus sound like the boy she imagined him to be—almost. "What?"
"I cannot discuss it."
"If you did, I might be inclined to assist you, dear."
Severus looked at his mother, feeling uneasy. He had no doubt that Azalea could help him find Harry, but he was not certain that he could trust her. His mother had never been a supporter of Voldemort, but she had never rejected the wizard outright.
"Of course I didn't, you idiot! Your father would have killed me if I had."
"You're a Legilimans!" Severus exclaimed, thoroughly shocked.
"And you're too trusting, dear."
Azalea sighed. "Darling, how else is it that you imagine I survived Julius?"
"Why did you never tell me?"
"When did you ever provide me with an opportunity to do so? I swear, boy, that I studied Legilimancy in part to decipher what you got up to when you were a child. You were always such a secretive boy, and you never trusted me—going off with that Riddle trash without a word—spying for Albus Dumbledore without telling me that your allegiance had changed—you have not been the best of sons."
And you were the best of mothers?
"Oh, your mind is closed now, but I see the accusation in your eyes. I did what was necessary to keep you safe from your monster of a father. He was always jealous of my love for you. He threatened to kill you when I refused, initially, to employ a nanny for you as other women in our set did. I had wanted, I so desired, to raise you myself, you know. But Julius wouldn't allow it."
"I . . . I never knew, Mother. How could I? And I thought that you approved of Father's work with Lord Vold—"
"—Tom Riddle, boy! Do not dare use that ridiculous title the nasty little narcissistic sadist gave himself in this house! How you could have followed him . . . ."
"But it was you who taught me to believe that we were better—"
"—Severus, I did not teach you that you were inherently superior to Muggles. I taught you that, as a wizard, as a steward of this earth, you were superior to those who neglected their responsibilities to protect the land—anyone who did so, not just Muggles! . . . But tell me, what made you finally decide to leave Riddle's service?"
"Because I quickly concluded that he was a genocidal maniac."
Azalea snorted. "I could have told you that, son."
"Yes," Severus said, suddenly angry. "You could have."
"Oh, well. What's done is done."
"Yes, I'm certain that history will record it as such. Be so good as to tell me why you never left Father if you felt as you did about Lor—about matters."
"Why allow the man to brutalize me, I think you mean, don't you, boy?"
"Better me than you, son, better me than you."
"You could have taken me with you!"
"No, I could not have. Divorcing your father would have meant leaving you in his care. Examine our marital documents if you do not believe me! I am your mother, Severus. I stayed for your sake. I stayed to serve as a target, and spare you your father's wrath."
It was several moments before Severus found himself able to respond.
"Thank you, Mother. I never understood your . . . sacrifice."
"No child ever does," Azalea replied, dabbing her eyes with the edge of a frayed lace napkin. "But I do not blame you for your ignorance, Severus. I never told you anything, either. Can you forgive me, Severus?"
"There is nothing for which to forgive you, Mother."
"I want to hear it, boy."
Severus almost smiled. "I forgive you."
"Good!" Azalea said, rallying at once. "Now, then, would you please tell me what you are doing here?"
After their exchange, Severus found it somewhat easier to unburden himself to his mother.
"That poor, brave girl! We must find her and bring her home at once!"
"I have been attempting to do so for months, Mother."
"And going about it in quite the wrong way, too. Do you really expect that Harry is hiding among her own kind?"
"What do you mean?"
"Your wife is half Muggle, Severus. Surely you've considered the possibility that she's living among Muggles?"
"I have, but there is no way to search for her in the Muggle world."
Azalea shook her head in disbelief. "So short-sighted! You've looked into her finances. Did it never occur to you to extend your search to Muggle financial institutions?"
"Yes, but Gringotts doesn't deal with such concerns."
"Of course they don't, but they employ Squibs who do, Severus, and those people often live as Muggles, which means that they have to change their galleons into pounds. Harry may have done the same."
"Through an intermediary, to avoid detection," Severus replied.
While Severus and Azalea were plotting a new course of action in their search for Harry, a hooded figure was running down a dark Oxfordian alleyway toward the back door of a pastry shoppe into which another person had just fled. The pursuer made quick work of the lock, and followed the quarry inside.
"I know you're in here, girl" the man said. "Make it easy on yourself, and come out where I can see you."
He received no response.
A bell at the front of the shop rang, and the man raised his wand and prepared himself.
As he stepped through the door of the kitchen that led to the main area of the shoppe, he found himself rushing out of the front door of the place.
"Damn!" he yelled, turning to go back into the shoppe.
But when he crossed the threshold of the front door, he found himself entering the kitchen again.
"What the hell?"
Hearing the front bell once more, he repeated the procedure.
Sitting unobserved by the confounded man and watching his "progress" through the illusory loop was the woman he had been chasing. In truth, her pursuer had never left the kitchen. He was being continuously apparated from a point in the kitchen just over the threshold to the outside of the shoppe's back door. What he perceived to be the front of the shoppe was part of the barrier charm his quarry had constructed for just this eventuality.
Any time now, the witch thought, from her position on a stool by the pantry. She knew that soon, the blond, pock-marked wizard would exhaust himself from his "exertions."
When the wizard made what he thought was his seventh dash to the front of the shoppe, he found that it was daylight, and that the store was full of chatting patrons. He quickly stowed his wand, for the pastry cook's was not a wizarding establishment, and took a seat before anyone could notice his unusual behavior.
A mousy looking waitress startled him by asking, "What would you like, Sir?"
"Oh! I . . . I think biscuits—biscuits and tea—thank you."
"Of course," the girl replied easily. "Chocolate biscuits?"
What the hell just happened? Where is she? This is . . . this is . . . odd, the man thought grumpily after his second pot of tea and third plate of what had proved to be uncommonly delicious biscuits. Soon, he found that he was inordinately tired, and couldn't prevent his head from dipping to his chest . . . .
There were brown crumbs stuck to his mouth when he lifted his unkempt head off the bar of the tap of the Hangman's Noose in Knockturn Alley the next morning.
"Drinkin' yer frustrations away?" another bleary eyed patron on the next stool asked, sizing up the other man with a leer.
"Shove off, you perv!" Gordon Macalister said gruffly. Damn. How am I going to tell Mr. Zabini that I'm no closer to finding his niece? he thought before paying his shot and exiting the pub.
The man had hired him to find the girl, who had apparently disobeyed her family's wishes and rejected their choice of husband for her.
Finicky female trouble-maker, is what you are! Macalister thought. Glad I'm not going to have to marry you!
Macalister had no memory of having ever been to Oxford.