The Sugar Quill
Author: PirateQueen (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Bookseller's Daughter  Chapter: Chapter Two: Elizabeth
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Untitled Document Chapter Two: Elizabeth

"Do you have Where There's a Witch, There's a Way, by Mildred Ferretby, dear?"

Liz got up from her chair. "Hello, Madam Hildebrande. Yes, I think we've got a copy here somewhere." She reached up to the bookshelves behind the counter and retrieved a small red book from the top shelf. Smiling, she presented it to the elderly witch. "There you are. That'll be three Galleons. Would you like it wrapped?"

"No, thank you, dear, it'll be fine in my bag here," replied Madam Hildebrande. "Save your packaging. I'm doing my bit for the environment, you know. And say hello to your mother. I'll see her tonight at the Witches' Institute meeting, no doubt. You should come along yourself sometime, now you're back home. Last week we had a talk from Araminta Allectus about making patchwork quilts from old robes. Most enlightening."

Liz smiled politely. "Sounds lovely. One day, perhaps. I'll give Mum your regards, anyway."

She put the coins in the till and said goodbye. The bell over the front door jingled as it closed behind the old lady, and the shop sank back into silence once more. As Liz sat down again, the early afternoon sunshine streamed in through the mullioned windows, casting a dancing pattern of light on the worn, dark-stained floorboards. Before she picked up her book, she paused and looked around at her peaceful, familiar surroundings. Her cat Horatio stretched sleepily on a pile of invoices at the end of the counter, and Liz reached over and stroked his head, feeling the softness of his tabby fur between her fingers. It had been four weeks since she'd come home, and her injuries had long since healed. London, and everything associated with it, seemed a million miles away. A noise from the reading room made her look round, and she watched Severus Snape for a minute or two as he shifted in his chair, brow furrowed in deep concentration over the book on his lap. It occurred to her that he was a fairly constant visitor these days; he seemed to spend most afternoons in the shop, and nearly all day on Saturdays. He was an odd character, with a cold, taciturn manner, but sometimes Liz thought she glimpsed something warmer underneath. Despite his usual marked lack of patience, he was always courteous to her mother, even when faced with the worst fussing, to the point that Liz had a sneaking suspicion he might actually be rather fond of the old girl. She observed him for a moment longer. There was something different about him these past couple of weeks, but she just couldn't think what. Eventually, she gave up trying and turned back to her book.

Minutes later, still unable to settle, Liz stretched back in her seat and surveyed the tall rows of shelves around the walls, piled high with books of every hue, size and texture. Everett's Antiquarian Books. Orders and rarities a speciality. Dad's heart and soul. A smile spread across her face as she remembered her father, and she chuckled as she recalled his expression the day he had caught her, his beloved sixteen-year-old daughter and pride of the Everett family, closeted in the furthest corner of the Herbology section, roundly snogging Sirius Black. How long ago it all seems, she thought. The sun moved behind a cloud and Liz's mood darkened along with the room.

Sirius Black. She thought of the handsome, mercurial seventeen-year-old who had taken her to the Midwinter Dance. She'd gone out with him for a few weeks afterwards, but had learnt the hard way that Sirius never took anything too seriously. She hadn't been able to stay annoyed with him for long though, and they were soon at ease with each other again, remaining friends until he left school a year ahead of her and their lives moved on.

Liz shivered and rubbed her arms. She had been a third-year trainee Auror when, in the midst of the mass euphoria that followed the defeat of the darkest wizard of all, the news of Sirius's arrest had stopped her in her tracks. Everyone swore he was guilty, and that was hard enough to take, but something felt completely wrong about the whole sorry business. Liz had watched in horror as he was taken off to Azkaban, still protesting his innocence. Feeling shocked and helpless, she could only wonder why there had been no trial. Eventually, the furore died down, and like everyone else, she gradually put it out of her mind and got on with her life. Maybe he was guilty; after all, in the course of her work she saw at first hand what seemingly reasonable people could do to each other. From time to time however, when she worked on a particularly grim case and encountered the worst of human cruelty and depravity, she would remember Sirius Black, and feel desperately sad for the boy he had once been.

Liz got up and walked over to the window, eager to recapture the sun's warmth. Even after a month of rest and recuperation she still felt tired, but by now it was more weariness at the world than anything physical. Suddenly, the doorbell jangled again and forced her back to the present.

"Afternoon, miss!" A portly wizard dressed in green livery from head to toe strode in, levitating several large boxes in front of him. "This week's order for you. Shall I put 'em behind the counter as normal?"

"Thanks, Ernie," replied Liz, smiling despite herself. "Looks like Mum's been working you lot at the warehouse hard!" She signed the parchment he handed her. "Very prompt delivery, too," she continued, and gave him a couple of Galleons. "Much appreciated. Here, buy yourself a Butterbeer."

Ernie beamed. "Thanks a lot! Always like to make a special effort for you gorgeous Everett girls!"

Liz chuckled and shooed him towards the door. "Go on, Ernie, off you go, you silver-tongued devil!"

Laughing, he waved at her as he left. "See you next week, then! Give my best to Mrs. E.!

She returned to her chair and sat down. I'll unpack them in a minute, she thought, surveying the boxes. She stretched and moved her head from side to side, trying to ease the knot of tension that lingered in her neck and shoulders. The temporary relief of Ernie's cheerful demeanour was gone, and although she knew she shouldn't let it, her mind wandered back to her troubles again. She picked up her book and sighed, gloomy and dispirited.

For too long now, Liz had worked day and night at the Ministry, trying to solve the most hideous of crimes, and professional success had come at a hefty price. Sometimes the older Aurors would warn the younger ones to beware of the one case that would drag them down and make them lose their edge. Such cases were cursed, they said, and though she had scoffed at the time, Liz knew now that their tales held a grain of truth. The night that Sirius Black had escaped from Azkaban had been the start of it. Summoned back to the office just before dawn to help lead the investigation, Liz had sat down at her desk, stomach clenching with a sudden, cold foreboding.

The months wore on, full of fruitless leads and mistaken sightings. It was enough to confound the best of detectives. Finally, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Liz's boss, had noticed that she had grown pale and withdrawn. He called her into his office, concern apparent in his deep brown eyes.

"It just doesn't add up. I've reviewed the evidence over and over again. I just don't think he did it," she had said.

Kingsley had placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I'll let you into a little secret, Lizzie. Nor do I. But until we find him, how do we know for sure? And in the meantime, it's draining you. You need a rest. You're off the case."

Oblivious to her protests, he had promised her that she could come back to it later with fresh eyes, but in the meantime something new had come up, and he needed his best senior officer on it. How she wished now that he'd saved that accolade for someone else.

Hot tears suddenly welled in Liz's eyes as she reflected on the disaster that had followed. It had almost been the end of her. And now, here she was, just a month later, home in self-imposed disgrace, sitting in the shop that had been her father's life. Dad had been so proud of his clever Auror daughter, and she had so thoroughly failed him. She could only be glad he hadn't lived to see it. A bitter tear of shame slipped out from under her lashes and made its way slowly down her cheek.

"Miss Everett."

The low, smooth voice startled Liz out of her thoughts. She hastily wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and looked up, mortified. "Oh, Professor Snape. I didn't hear you come up to the counter."

"Evidently." He glanced at the book she was holding and raised an eyebrow. "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. One of the more entertaining Muggle authors, Conan Doyle. Though I can't say he has ever moved me to tears."

Liz blushed scarlet. She took a deep breath and forced coolness into her voice. "What can I do for you?"

"Well, I shan't require any Mildred Ferretby, for a start," he replied tartly. "But your esteemed mother promised this morning to find me a copy of Perpetua's Perfidiously Poisonous Plants from your stockroom. Do you have it?"

Liz could feel Snape's exasperation increasing by the minute as she fruitlessly searched the counter shelves. Eventually she turned back to him, and watched his expression darken as she spoke. "I'm sorry, it's not here. She must have forgotten. She was in a rush to get off to the hairdressers."

Snape curled his lip. "You may wish to know that I worked through my lunch hour in order to reach a suitable point in my research to utilise that book this afternoon." He drummed his fingers on the counter. "However, it now seems that was a complete waste of time. How gratifying to learn that customer service comes second to personal vanity."

"That is quite uncalled for, thank you!" snapped Liz, annoyed at his sourness. "Save your sarcasm for someone who deserves it. I am sorry you've been inconvenienced, but I can assure you Mum wouldn't have done it on purpose."

Colour flared in Snape's cheeks, and suddenly it was his turn to look uncomfortable. Liz noted with a tiny hint of glee that whilst he was happy to point out the failings of others, he was obviously less comfortable on the receiving end. Intrigued, she quietly stored the thought away for future use. It wasn't one of her better qualities, but she was good at spotting potential weakness, and her talent had served her well in the interrogation room over the years. She smiled forgivingly at him. "Low blood sugar often makes one irritable. I'll bring you something to eat."

Snape narrowed his eyes, but his voice was even. "I must apologise if I appeared rude. And please, just a sandwich and a small slice of cake this time. I fear your mother is determined to make me buy a larger set of clothes." A corner of his mouth twitched.

Liz suppressed a giggle. "Ah. Force-feeding has long been her speciality, I'm afraid. Dad and I used to give most of it to the dog when her back was turned."

Snape smiled, and Liz noticed how much it softened his harsh features and warmed his glittering black eyes. She couldn't help but smile back at him. As she did so, a curious shiver washed over her, and her heart quickened. Unnerved, she realised that it had been a long time since anyone had made her feel like that. A very long time indeed. Suddenly anxious, she turned away and went through the door into the house, leaving him standing at the counter.

He had returned to the reading room when Liz came back with the tea-tray. She carried it through and placed it carefully on the table next to his chair. Snape looked up at her and nodded his thanks. They stared at each other for a second, and then Liz started and looked away. "Excuse me. I have work to do," she muttered, feeling strangely eager for the safety of the counter.

His voice held an almost imperceptible tremor. "Of course, Miss Everett. Thank you for the tea."

Liz walked back to the counter and sat down, stomach tied in knots. Oh, for Merlin's sake get a grip, girl, she told herself. Not him. Definitely not him. Unable to resist, she sat up and turned her eyes towards to the reading room - and met Snape's gaze full on. They both looked down hurriedly, and Liz's insides twisted anew. Ashamed, she began to chastise herself again. It's just because you've got nothing better to think about. Another small, unwelcome voice joined the jangle of her thoughts. Perhaps it's time you went back to face the music, then. You can't hide forever. Disconsolate, she pulled angrily at the pile of invoices under Horatio, who climbed resentfully to his feet, stretched and gave her a filthy look.

The afternoon wore on quietly, punctuated only by the occasional customer and the soft scratching of quill on parchment, as Liz concentrated on her invoices and Snape immersed himself in his research. As the clock struck five, in walked Delilah Everett, sporting a tight, perfectly-lacquered helmet of blue-rinsed curls, humming a tune under her breath.

Glad to see another friendly face, Liz smiled. "Hello, Mum. Nice hairdo, very glamorous!"

Mrs. Everett preened and patted the back of her head, then twirled round in a cloud of scented hairspray to show her daughter the back view of her coiffure.

Liz nodded appreciation. "Lovely! You'll have all those old frumps in fits of envy tonight at the W.I.!"

Mrs. Everett pursed her lips. "Lizzie, my love, they are not 'old frumps'. Some of them are almost the same age as you, you know."

Liz sighed. "Well, that doesn't really preclude them from frumphood, does it?"

"Stuff and nonsense!" With a wicked look in her eye, Mrs. Everett turned briskly to the reading room, where Snape had risen and was busy packing his books away. "Professor Snape, do you think my daughter is an old frump?"

He turned as red as a beetroot. "Erm - er, no, those are not the terms I would choose." He bent almost low enough over his briefcase to bury his head in it. Mrs. Everett chuckled like a cheeky schoolgirl as her daughter looked on aghast.

"Mum, stop it!" Liz vainly tried to restore some dignity to the situation amid her mother's giggles. "Don't say things like that to our customers! See, you've made Professor Snape leave now."

Walking very precisely, and with his face set hard enough to ward off any further attempts at levity, Snape approached the counter and set down his armful of books.

"I didn't embarrass you, did I, Professor?" enquired Mrs. Everett, still seemingly unable to wipe the smirk from her face. "You mustn't mind me. It's just a bit of banter, you know."

"No harm done on this occasion, but on the whole I have little time for jokes." Snape sounded for all the world as if he had just dealt with a rather tiresome but ultimately harmless pupil. He turned to Liz, his voice achingly polite. "Would you be kind enough to put these on my account? And may I leave them here overnight if it's not too much trouble? I may have cause to refer to them again tomorrow."

"Of course," Liz replied with a false air of nonchalance. "I'll just put them to one side here." As she took the pile of books, Snape's hand brushed her arm. Both he and Liz sprang back immediately, mortified. Not daring to look at him, Liz made a purposeful display of piling the books firmly on the counter shelves in order to cover her discomfort. When she turned back, Snape had recovered himself and was busy fending off her mother's offer of afternoon tea.

"Are you sure?" asked Mrs. Everett, crestfallen.

"Sadly, yes," His smile seemed to take a great deal of effort. "Whilst it pains me deeply to have to forgo your considerable culinary achievements, Mrs. Everett, I am needed back at the school in good time for this evening."

Mrs. Everett raised her eyebrows. "Not more of those naughty students in detention again?"

"The third Triwizard task," said Liz.

Snape turned to her. "You are aware of the Tournament?"

"Aunt Ros was telling me about it in the Three Broomsticks the other night," she replied. "And it's been the talk of the Ministry all year, especially since the Potter boy got involved. So this is the last and presumably most dangerous task?"

Snape nodded. "The security arrangements are onerous to say the least. They have taken up a great deal of staff time this year, much to the detriment of many of our other duties. Thank Merlin my teaching hours have been kept to a minimum. The whole business is really very inconvenient indeed!"

Liz put her invoices to one side and looked up at him, her professional curiosity aroused. "Is it true that a student died the last time it was held?"

"Apparently so. In fact, I'm surprised we haven't had a fatality already this year. Live dragons housed in an educational establishment, I ask you. Foolhardy and downright dangerous!" He grew indignant. "What would happen if one of them got hold of a student simply does not bear thinking about!"

"Yes," replied Liz, tongue firmly in cheek. "I can imagine. The paperwork, for a start …"

Snape peered at her for a moment, as if he wasn't sure whether she was joking or not. She felt a slow heat spread through her as she watched his face, and suddenly feeling adventurous, she tried a smile, curious to see what the effect might be. His eyes widened and she saw points of colour appear across his pale cheekbones.

"I must go." His eyes lingered on her, and his voice had an uncharacteristic softness. "I'll see you tomorrow. My sixth year class are on a Herbology field trip, so I plan to spend the afternoon here doing research."

She nodded in return. "Till tomorrow then. I hope it all goes well this evening."

"Thank you." He picked up his briefcase and strode out through the door.

As soon as he'd gone, Mrs. Everett moved behind the counter and sidled up to her daughter. "He likes you."

"Rubbish," replied Liz, eyes firmly on her invoices once more.

"Yes he does," continued Mrs. Everett. "I've seen how he looks at you. And he spends all his free time here since you came home."

Liz frowned. "He's just doing his research. I daresay it's quieter here than at the school."

"And what's more, you like him." Mrs. Everett folded her arms with an air of triumph.

"Even more rubbish!" said Liz, making a great show of carefully scrawling 'Paid' across the top invoice with her quill.

"You do, love. I can tell. You blush whenever he comes near you."

"It's the middle of summer!" Liz was irked by her mother's persistence. "The shop gets really hot. That's why I go red."

Her mother smiled. "It's nothing to be ashamed of, you know. You're a beautiful young woman, and he's - well, he's not unattractive. Especially when he's in one of his better moods. And he seems to be taking a bit more care of his appearance these days."

Liz looked up at her. "Ah. That's what it is. I knew there was something different about him, but I couldn't work out what. His hair's clean."

Mrs. Everett chortled. "Amazing what a bit of shampoo can do. And that robe looks like it's been washed and ironed recently, too. You must have had quite an effect on him."

"Oh, stop it, please. You're so embarrassing. Anyway, even if I was interested, I couldn't go out with him."

"Why ever not, love?"

"I'm an Auror," Liz replied. If I still have a job, that is, she added silently. "I have to be seen to be doing the right thing. Don't forget, there was talk a few years ago that Severus Snape was involved with some very dark wizards indeed when Voldemort was around."

Mrs. Everett winced sharply at the sound of the word, and then shook her head. "But your father said he'd turned away from all that to help Albus Dumbledore. At considerable risk to himself, too. Your dad thought well of Professor Snape, you know. They used to spend hours talking together when he came into the shop."

While Liz found it hard to believe that Severus Snape would ever spend more than a minute talking to anyone if he could possibly avoid it, she remembered her father's talent for drawing people out and gaining their trust. "I know Dad liked him. But it wouldn't look good. An Auror and a wizard with a shady past. Definitely not. Justified or otherwise, people gossip and mud sticks. You know that."

Mrs. Everett raised an eyebrow. "Since when have you been so concerned with appearances? And why on earth should it matter what other people think if you know that he's no longer involved with all that?"

Liz looked uncomfortable. "I just can't risk it, Mum. I can't do anything that might be … construed as suspicious."

Mrs. Everett placed a hand on her daughter's arm. "I wish you'd talk to me. I know something's happened at work, love. Why won't you tell me?"

Liz placed her own hand gently over her mother's. "I - I just can't, that's all. I told you, it's … confidential, to do with a case." Mrs. Everett tilted her head to one side, looking thoroughly unconvinced.

Liz swallowed hard. She loved her mum and hated to keep secrets from her, but some things were definitely better left unsaid. "Well, what I can tell you is - and promise me please that you won't spread this round the W.I. - that we think things are starting to happen again. We think that some … bad people … that didn't get put away last time are starting to band together, trying to find a way to bring Voldemort back. Or if not him, then something similar. To start up the pureblood thing again."

Shock and sadness spread so fast across Mrs. Everett's face she didn't seem to register the fearful name this time. She sat down hard on the chair behind the counter. "No! Oh, surely not! It can't be! You don't really think so?"

"I know so."

Mrs. Everett shuddered. "It can't happen again, can it? You were too young to remember, but … those were terrible days. We were so scared, love, all the time. The streets weren't safe. People we knew … disappeared … you just didn't know who you could trust and who was evil …" Her words tailed off.

"I remember just fine, thanks." Liz's voice was almost a whisper.

"Sirius Black." Mrs. Everett seemed to sink further in her chair.

"Yes. Sirius Black."

After a moment's silence, Liz spoke again. "Well, nothing might come of it. Hopefully not. But please don't tell anyone what I've told you. Fudge won't listen to us despite all the evidence and it would only cause trouble at the Ministry if rumours spread. And just be careful, OK? I worry that you're so trusting of people, and … and Dad's not around now to keep you safe."

Mrs. Everett nodded, eyes dark with sadness. "I promise I'll be careful, love. And of course I won't tell anyone what you've said. But if things are so bad, why have they let you take so much time off?"

Liz pointedly ignored the question. "So you see why I couldn't go out with someone like Severus Snape. Not now. It's too much of a risk."

"You don't think he might go back to the dark side, surely?"

Liz sighed. "I don't know. I would hope not - he's been at the school a long time now and he must be pretty settled up there. It's very well-protected, and I'm sure Albus Dumbledore is keeping an eye on him. But if Voldemort's supporters get a chance to threaten him, who knows what he might do? " Dismayed at her mother's expression of pain and terror, she paused. "It's only a word, Mum. There are much worse things to be afraid of on this earth than a word." She placed a comforting hand on her mother's shoulder. "Come on, it's half-past five. Let's close up and go in. I could do with a cup of tea."

Liz locked the shop door, drew the blinds, and activated the night wards with a flick of her wand. She took her mother's arm, and they went through to the house. Sitting down at the kitchen table, she watched her mother busily conjure tea and cakes.

"Are you sure you won't come to the W.I. with me tonight?" asked Mrs. Everett.

"Quite sure, thanks," replied Liz, through a mouthful of cream scone. "I could meet you for a drink in the Three Broomsticks afterwards, though."

"That would be lovely, dear. About nine o'clock?"

"Fine." Liz picked up the Daily Prophet and began to scan the headlines. The sound of fluttering wings, accompanied by a couple of soft hoots, drifted through from the hall. Mrs. Everett picked up a bag of owl treats and bustled away. A moment later she was back. "Afternoon post, love. There's a couple for you."

Liz took a postcard and a white envelope from her mother's outstretched hand. She put the envelope to one side, and turned the postcard over. It was from her London flatmate, the picture on the front showing a merry scene of family antics on a sunny French beach. She smiled, put it down on the table, and then picked up the envelope and examined it. The thick white parchment was of good quality, and it was addressed in black ink, in a neat, masculine hand:

Auror Inspector Everett
c/o Everett's Antiquarian Books

Looks official, she thought. Must be from work. An uneasy tension started to flicker in her chest. Doesn't look like Kingsley's writing, though. Her fingers, chilled and nervous, fumbled as she opened it, and a white card fell out onto the table. Liz's blood froze. She pushed her chair backwards and staggered to her feet in disbelief. One word was written on the card.


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