Authors Notes: Ooookay let's try this again. This story has under complete re-write in the wake of Deathly Hallows, it's not *utterly, utterly* different, but given the big bits regarding Snape in DH, well, changes must be made. From this point on you might be a bit lost plotwise without a re-read. All revised chapters will be marked as such in the Authors notes. First and Fore mostly a HUGE thanks to Whimsy my beta of supreme beta-ness who hath skillz and patience to surpass all others. A huge thanks to my first SQ Beta Shellebelle, my pre submission 'Alpha' reader Crossbow who once upon a time helped me get this ready for submission! And of course JK Rowling for writing the books to begin with! (Naturally Harry Potter, his pals, his enemies, and his magical world are all JK Rowlings, I make no money off this!)
This story follows the events in Order of the Phoenix according to the timeline figured out by the brilliant folks at the Harry Potter Lexicon.
Awake, arise, or be for ever fall'n.
-Satan, Paradise Lost, Book 1, line 330
Severus Snape was not the happiest of men at the moment. As he sat in the Headmaster's office watching Dumbledore pace behind the desk, Severus busied himself by picking the sticky evergreen needles and purple blossoms out of his hair. If the Ministry hadn’t started monitoring both ends of Floo transfers he wouldn’t have had to bother with running to and from the Apparation boundary at all. Earlier evening during his run through the Forbidden Forest, he'd been spotted by a herd of angry Centaurs and had to take cover in a stand of flowering evergreen shrubs, which left him itchy, sticky and more irritable than usual.
The Dark Lord had called him again that evening, just to see how fast Severus would come when called - this time. No one had said anything particularly useful at the meeting, either. Instead he'd stood through forty five minutes of Lucius Malfoy detailing everything he'd done for the Dark Lord since his rebirth (which ranged from tossing sacks of gold at the Ministry to preparing the Dark Lord's safe house with the finest appointments).
Considering the circumstances, Severus' reintegration with the Death Eaters had gone rather smoothly - at first. The moment Dumbledore gave the word on the night of the Dark Lord's rebirth, Severus went through the forest like a shot towards the Apparition boundary, not knowing whether he would even live through the night. It was a slim chance that the Dark Lord would take his apologies into consideration - you came when you were called, not when it was convenient.
Or so he had thought.
Projecting more confidence than he'd ever thought possible, and concealing every trace of fear so completely that he nearly believed his own lie, Severus groveled at the Dark Lord's feet and spilled a well constructed apology. Two hours, it had only been two hours, and because of that small delay he could remain in his position at Hogwarts.
Now Severus had information for him, fifteen years' worth.
At later meetings, Severus began laying the groundwork for his own downfall, starting with excuses for his oblivious behavior when the Dark Lord had been right under his nose and apologies for having doubted his power. Despite testimony from other Death Eaters that Severus had stayed the course during his time at Hogwarts, he was being watched far too closely. Even with the evidence in his favor, all those years under Albus Dumbledore's wing made Severus as much a figure of much suspicion as he was a potentially valuable informant. Then there was the little matter of the incomplete prophecy that had played a large part in the Dark Lord's demise…
Dumbledore was playing with fire this time. He'd sent Severus off to tell the Dark Lord that the prophecy he'd delivered all those years ago was incomplete, and that he'd only just discovered there was more to it. Albus was hoping to scatter the Dark Lord's forces, drawing them out in the open by convincing them to make attacks on the Ministry headquarters where the prophecies were housed.
Naturally, the Dark Lord took the bait; but when Severus reluctantly delivered the revelation about the prophecy, he dropped in favor just as quickly as he'd been taken back into the fold. Now, compared to Lucius' grand gestures and the absolutely over-the-top toadying of several other Death Eaters, fifteen years of Slytherin favoritism and reports on the niggling details of Albus Dumbledore's personal life did not seem so impressive.
Severus needed to make a gesture, or deliver a token of some sort to cement the Dark Lord's trust. With the sheer number of betrayals and disappointments, the Death Eaters had all started on a more or less even playing field, and they were all taking advantage of this new-found opportunity. Severus would have to move quickly and give the Dark Lord a reason to take him back into a closer circle.
For all the frantic suggestions, from faux Hesperide apple seeds to some exotic Dark creature, not a single member of the Order could find something that might do. Not when what the Dark Lord really wanted right now was the full content of the prophecy, Potter's head on a platter, and more followers - stronger, smarter followers than he'd had last time.
Mad-Eye Moody and Sirius Black had taken that last idea and run with it, pushing to insert a second operative, to strike while the iron was hot. Black himself had volunteered, but even Moody had to agree that someone who had just spent thirteen years in prison was not exactly prepared to plunge into the Dark Lord's service. Dumbledore approved of the general idea, but had to point out that there was no one present who could make a convincing entrance and also lie effectively.
Severus always stiffened and scowled when the suggestion was made. Another operative was a sensible proposition, and surely Dumbledore did not indulge the idea to spite him. He probably thought it would be helpful, but Severus could never quite get over the feeling that he wasn't being completely trusted…
Quite suddenly, Dumbledore stopped pacing and moved closer, squinting a bit. "Severus, hold still a moment; you have something in your hair."
Severus plucked a small, battered gray moth from a lock of hair on the side of his head, and held it up. As Dumbledore watched the moth flap its wings furiously to attempt an escape, a curious expression came over his face, as if someone had just been kind enough to turn on a light for him.
"Ah…" was all he said.
A thick haze of heat hung over Istanbul that night, diffusing the neon lights and lending to the dreamy atmosphere of mingled antique tile and cold concrete in the city's sprawling Grand Bazaar. On this particular evening, the place to be, if you were in the know, was the Old Book Bazaar branch. Its crumbling plastered walls sheltered thirty shops, packed with wealthy oafs with more money than taste, all dressed up and brandishing their auction paddles at each other as they jockeyed for position.
One after another, beautiful leather-bound volumes and carefully preserved scrolls had gone up on the block at the annual "Occult and Oddities" auction. But the evening's second to last item for auction was still wrapped in chamois, and the arms of Lourdes Mezarci. Who happened to be standing in the darkest corner she could find, with a cigarette clamped between her teeth. She was tall for a woman, gaunt with unnaturally precise posture and the hallmarks of Central Asian nomadic ancestry - a long straight nose, tawny skin, and prominent cheekbones. One got the impression that she'd been attractive in a sharp, wintery sort of way. But now her face was half-hidden behind a swath of dark fringe, intended to hide a web of scars on her left cheek, so that only one of her narrow eyes and the black script tattoo beneath it could be seen.
Despite the damp and the heat of the stuffy bazaar, she seemed perfectly comfortable, as if her hauteur produced a sort of personal air conditioning. Though the effect was dampened by the slightly pathetic and unnatural air of a caged predator about her, like a tiger in a zoo being forced to eat meals out of a trough. In old fashioned gray robes, with the rest of her hair separated into a traditional number of tiny braids and bound into a knot at the nape of her neck, she just managed to pass for an antiquarian book dealer...
Lourdes had dearly wanted to avoid the whole business of a public auction, but this one would serve her purposes nicely. To avoid taking thirty more phone calls from two persistent clients who were both attempting to purchase her copy of the Baal-Peor Key, she'd decided to put the damn thing up on the block and let the pushy bastards fight each other here.
Bloody pigs. Not an ounce of respect for the books, they just want to show off how much money they've got, she thought, curling her lip up at a client who had spotted her and was staring eagerly; obviously looking for an opportunity to approach her and make a scalp offer on the bundle in her arms.
The client, some businessman whose name she could never remember, looked momentarily offended by her sneering, but was wise enough not to act on it. While most of her customers weren't particularly fond of her on a social level, they were usually more than willing to put up with her exorbitant prices and unpleasant personality. For good reason, of course; in her year and a half as the book dealer of last resort Lourdes had never once failed to deliver. And she famously refused to sell to anyone who annoyed her.
Of course, her clients had no idea their 'best kept secret' of a book dealer had a slightly more interesting past - and a rather good hand for forgery…
"SOLD!" the auctioneer cried ending her reverie and the bidding on an unremarkable book of local herbs.
That thing isn't even two centuries old, Lourdes thought spitefully, pressing herself against the leather-bound spines of shelved books with a shiver. It wasn't just the forced socialization that was irritating her. For the past few days, Lourdes was aware that she was being followed - hunted, even. She hadn't been home for a week in an effort to throw whoever was following her off the scent.
In fact earlier that evening, while she was having her pre-auction tea and smoke, she'd caught a glimpse here and there of richly patterned robes and a beard too long and too white to belong to any Muggle tourist or local. They only served to confirm her suspicion as to the identity of her stalker, and if it was who she suspected, she was in no mood to deal with him…
As she closed her eyes briefly, to enjoy the last dizzying drag of the cigarette, her ears caught the familiar rustling sound of many layers of velvet approaching on her left side.
"Lourdes! How very serendipitous that we should run in to one another like this," said a familiar voice, like water over rocks. A hand came down on her shoulder like a bear trap snapping around the leg of an animal.
"Albus," Lourdes murmured, eyes darting around the crowd automatically, searching for the fastest escape route. "Here for the auction?"
"As striking as some of this evening's goods are," Dumbledore said cheerfully, "I must confess I haven't come for an evening of excitement and manuscripts. I wonder if I might have a moment alone with you."
"Why don't we go to a café elsewhere? This isn't the best place."
Lourdes had only taken a moment to hand her bundle off to the auctioneer's assistant before she led him out of the bazaar at a rapid clip. After following her through a dizzy maze of crooked streets and sinking, tilted buildings, Albus found himself near one of the city's most famous Mosques.
When he paused to admire the effect of the domes and minarets against the night sky, Lourdes drew a filmy gray scarf out of her pocket and draped it over her head to draw attention away from her face. She sighed and grabbed Albus by the arm to drag him into a tiny building, down a flight of slippery stairs, and into an underground cistern that resembled a basilica with hundreds of columns half immersed in water and a grand vaulted ceiling.
Albus recognized this as the transitory space between Muggle Istanbul and the Wizarding community, which was hidden underground in the old tunnel system. Lourdes seemed to be doing her best not to be spotted by anyone and Albus discovered why very quickly. While the Muggles took little notice of Lourdes, witches and wizards, cloaked in burnooses and old fashioned clothes, paused to glare, point, and hiss to one another.
She took him to the very back corner of the cistern where a green column with a Medusa head base rose out of a pool of water so dark it seemed bottomless. Several stone slabs floated on the surface like lily pads, paving the way to the shadowy gap between column and wall. As they crossed, the stones seemed to register their "right" to enter, and did not sink an inch.
"If the Muggles manage to find it by accident, the paving flips and dumps them out in the main waterway by the sister column. There was a huge fuss when they converted this to a tourist area but they've worked everything out now," Lourdes confided as they slipped into the dark gap at the end of the path and re-emerged in a tunnel covered in decorative mosaics and lit with innumerable, brilliantly colored glass lamps hanging from chains. The lamps changed from golden, orange and white to eerie green and blue as they made their way further into the tunnels, clattering across one wrought iron canal bridge after another.
After passing what must have been the Istanbul equivalent of Knockturn Alley, they took one last left turn into a dank, litter strewn tunnel lit with murky red lamps. There was a lone red door without a knob or handle at the very end, and the battered wooden sign with its poppy-crowned skull emblem, identified the establishment as "O! Morphos." Lourdes rapped on the door three times, and the heavy iron viewing slit slid open with a bang. Shifty looking eyes and an illuminated wand tip scrutinized the two visitors before the door slid in to the wall.
Once they passed through a series of rotting, flimsy curtains and his eyes adjusted to the gloom, Albus could see the miasmic interior thick with swirling, spicy blue smoke. The room appeared to be filled with dingy Chinese lanterns, each one big enough for at least two people. Some hung from the ceiling and others were settled on the ground in clusters to make the most of the fairly small space. As Lourdes removed her headscarf, the shifty-eyed proprietress emerged from behind another set of curtains and greeted Lourdes in Turkish, before lavishing her with a kiss on each cheek and leaning in conspiratorially as Lourdes whispered in her ear. A moment later they were off again, down a few steps and a narrow, winding path.
Along the way Albus dodged pipe tenders and waitresses followed by their trays, and enjoyed the spectacle which was rather amusing. The occupied cubicles were like silhouette plays of people, smoke shadows rolling out of their mouths and pipes as they conversed in low, droning tones.
"Coffee or tea?" Lourdes asked him coolly when they arrived at a vacant cluster of cubicle-lanterns in the back corner. "Or they have lotos if you fancy doing a bit of forgetting…"
"I'll take tea, please." Albus watched the proprietress give him one last sidelong look, as if she couldn't decide whether he was trustworthy, before she vanished.
Holding up one finger to ask for patience, Lourdes took hold of a heavy silk cord suspended from the ceiling and stepped onto the plate sized platform threaded to the base. With one firm tug the cord took her up in the air like a lift, allowing Lourdes to step neatly into the cubicle on the upper level through a gap in the fabric. Albus followed suit, as spryly as he could in considerably heavier robes, and discovered the insides > were padded all around with cushions, with a small table and lamp in the center.
Settled in on her side of the table, Lourdes looked strangely ill in the yellow light. "Will you let me read for you?" She flashed a small smile, like a glint of knife in the dark, and held up a battered set of fortune teller's cards. It was less of an inquiry and more of a challenge, as she knew how little store he set in Divination.
"Why not?" he replied serenely, rubbing his fingers over the worn surface of the cards. This set was old, with the elaborate decorations and crowded medieval illustrations of a Visconti deck, and had no doubt seen quite a few owners before being consigned to Lourdes' pocket. He suspected they'd belonged to one of her many 'aunties,' as her father had been something of a traveling mortician, and her mother had been a dancer.
"You know, I got so much better at this once the Ministry sent me off to university for psychology. Taught me all about facial expressions and body language; you wouldn't believe how much information people give you without even realizing it. It's much more effective than anything that old bat at Hogwarts taught us about the great mystical beyond inspiring the cards. You know about the program, don't you? Sending off Squibs and social undesirables to Muggle universities and training camps so we could be…useful?" Lourdes said archly as Albus cut the deck in two.
"I've heard about that; I also heard a great many good things about the work you did for the experimental division. Behavioral Analysis, was it? And you were second in command, with a reputation for bravery, I hear?"
She laughed, but it was a harsh little mewl - not a happy sound at all. "You've really lost your wits in your old age if you can't tell 'ambitious' apart from brave. But you know why they wanted me to work for them. What's the old adage - the best hunters have a bit of the beast in them? Apparently they thought I had a little too much beast, though they certainly didn't shy away from using me when it suited them. Of course when it became a too inconvenient they just chucked me, I didn't even get a trial…"
"It also seems that the Turkish Ministry does not stand behind its agents as firmly as it should," he replied, as he pinched two halves of the deck, watching the cards arc up through the air and shuffle together.
"Would you have, Albus? Considering the circumstances…" Lourdes fixed him with a cold, imperious look.
"I would have never pushed you in the first place," he said simply.
"And yet I have the strangest feeling that's what you've come down here to do," she hissed, reaching up to run a finger over the tattoo under her eye. "It's been impossible to get another job with these marks, you know; nobody's had this script for ages, but people still manage to understand it."
"Were you unable to work for the Muggle police?" Albus asked, pausing to put the deck down on the table as he fiddled discreetly with his wand.
"I'm a Dangerous Citizen and an ex-convict. I'd be lucky to get work scrubbing toilets as it is. I know you," she said particularly scornfully, "don't take politics into account, and believe me when I say I'd rather forget the whole rotten business, but the current Assembly and Cabinet are averse to people like me at the moment. Every time I attempt to work for the Muggles, the Ministry comes around to slap me with the Statute of Secrecy. And there's absolutely no getting me back into the department. So I've been dealing books."
"By 'dealing' I assume you mean passing forgeries on to Muggles?" he said shrewdly; if he knew Lourdes, she was keeping the originals.
"Wouldn't want to violate the Statute, you understand, and its good money. But I don't think I can do it forever," Lourdes sighed as he slid the deck of cards towards her. "It's a bit late for you to be down here looking after my career, mind getting to the point?"
"Let us see if you can discern my motive with your delightful cards." Albus smiled serenely as the petite waitress tumbled through the drapes, directing a heavy tea service and a pipe like those being smoked in other booths before descending in a hurry.
As Albus poured tea, Lourdes clamped her teeth down on her lower lip and managed to lay out two cards before she caught on to his trick. "Very clever," she spat. "I forgot you used to be the Transfiguration teacher."
She held up the Judgment card he'd changed to bear the image of a Phoenix between two fingers and raised an eyebrow. "I've already repaid my life debt, Albus. Did you get the note I sent along?"
"Yes, actually. Though I must admit I had a difficult time finding it charming." The last time she'd worked for the Order, she'd made it clear that her interest in assisting extended no further than fulfilling her life debt. On that occasion he'd only had to send a letter reminding her of what she owed. Her proof of a job well done, two heads in a box, wasn't the response he'd expected but it had certainly made her point. This time the request was delicate enough to require an appointment in person - the Order could not afford to fail again.
"Pity, I thought you'd get a kick out of it. Your lot seem to have had a real thing for severed heads in magic in the bad old days. Wreathes of freshly claimed enemy heads on the necks of horses, skull cups for libations, burying your leaders' severed heads outside your major cities? Charming, really," Lourdes muttered. Her hand hovered over the second card while she examined it.
"Let's see… skull and snake, but I thought…" She tapped a card that now bore the Dark Mark with a finger and gave him a wary look. "I thought he was dead, or at least in the wind?"
"Many wizards still think so, but I have reliable first hand accounts that Voldemort has reacquired a corporeal form," Albus replied gravely.
"How very tricky of him," she said slowly, as if she were still trying to digest that concept. "When do you suppose that happened?"
"Three weeks ago, during the Tri-Wizard tournament's last task at Hogwarts. If, after what I have to say, you still require payment, I will see about finding a suitable token. But more importantly, I offer you the chance to change the public's mind about the nature of…people like you." He faltered on those last few words because he had not quite meant for them to come out like that. But their damage had already been done; he saw a little spark in her eye as she put on a predatory smile.
"People like me? Albus, you've lost your touch; I'm disappointed," she said, shaking an admonishing finger at him. "What sort of person, or should I say which aspect of my person, are you referring to? Because there are so many things about me that are entirely socially unacceptable. But to be honest, I've got nothing better to do. I'm sick of doing business with Muggles," Lourdes sighed, her sharp smile fading as she stared into her tea glass, "so, I'll hear you out."
"How are your Occlumency skills now?" Albus asked.
"Worse than my Legilimency, but good enough that you probably shouldn't trust me."
"Then it seems I will need to give you a reason to trust me."
His forced expression of serenity couldn't cover up the smell she'd become well acquainted with. If Lourdes knew anything, it was desperation; and he reeked of it. There must be something powerfully important going on if Albus Dumbledore was going to all this trouble. He wasn't the sort of person to waste time, yet here he'd spent the past week hunting her down. Even stranger was the fact that Albus had resorted to grasping at straws with appeals to her long-vanished sense of social vanity when he ought to know better. If it was to do with Voldemort, Albus must have run out of ideas if he wanted to involve her directly in his little society; most normal wizards fighting something evil seldom wanted to do so alongside someone like her. It was a blessed few people who could see her for who she was, and not what.
People like her, Lourdes thought bitterly, could not generally afford to indulge in weak sentimentality. She'd made that decision in her fourth year of school when she received the news that her entire family had been wiped out, caught up in a Muggle cross fire while traveling through Cyprus. It had been hard to move on under the weight of grief, but it had become easier to bear over time. After their deaths she'd gone out looking for a job, rather than submit to the care of strangers in an orphanage, and by force of sheer luck found another family.
The Hog's Head was home after their deaths, and Aberforth was everything, though there was no blood between them. But Lourdes had spoiled everything with a single spell that nearly killed her, and in the heat of panic Aberforth had allowed Albus to take her – to see what could be done to heal the curse wound.
Not much could have been done for her, certainly not at St Mungo's where a wound of that nature would have taken ages to stabilize, and she would have most certainly been arrested. Albus had put the wound in stasis and was willing to let her go free, back to Turkey, on the condition that she would not give herself away. If she wanted to live he said quietly, while she was writhing on the sofa, her own blood drying on her hands, she had to make the Stygian Oath. Bind herself to silence or lose her life. It was for her own safety, Albus insisted - you know so little about what is out there waiting to take you.
Promise, he'd said, swear to it that you will not attempt to contact Aberforth, or anyone else; it simply cannot be risked. Think of the danger Aberforth would face trying to protect you, he wouldn't let you go if he knew you were alive…
The Stygian oath, the strongest binding force between two parties, needed no Bonder like the Unbreakable Vow, but it was a hateful promise to ask someone to make. A slip of the tongue or pen, no matter how innocent, was all it would take to end your life. She had to swear to make no attempts to contact Aberforth, or anyone else from her life in Britain, until Albus gave the word that it was safe to do so and dissolved the oath. Given the choice between dying and living with some small hope, Lourdes had chosen the lesser of two evils.
But the word from Albus hadn't come in all those years.
Despite her best efforts over the years to root out sentimentality, to shut down painful but pleasant memories and longings, a few of the heartier ones had remained buried in her heart like persistent termites. One or two of them were gnawing away at her right then, urging her to make the most of this.
"And how is my Aberforth?" she asked softly, shuffling her cards into a neat pile so Albus could set them right.
"Well enough, I'm told. Not quite the same since you left, obviously. He lost one of the Kashmir nanny goats a month ago as well," Albus replied, pouring himself another cup of tea.
"I miss them…" Lourdes said slowly. She felt fifteen years old and angry every time she thought about missing them - her family, Aberforth, everyone. She had to take a deep draught of tea to wash down the sour feeling of resentment trying to creep up her throat before she managed to croak, "I've had a rather lonely life here, you know."
"I know, Lourdes, you said as much in each of your letters. I think, though, that you will understand the danger you might have faced then once you've had a chance to look over the accounts of the first war. I would not have come this far to speak to you unless I thought you capable of what I'd like to ask."
While the rest of him remained as poised and collected as always, his voice -- and for just a moment there, his eyes -- betrayed the amount of strain he was under.
Lourdes felt her chest tighten and her heart skipped a beat at the sight, and she felt uncomfortably young for the second time that day. It was deeply unsettling to see him starting to show his age after always presenting such a vibrant, powerful presence. Her eyelids fluttered wildly and she lost her hard expression as she reached for the burner under the large pipe on the table.
"How exactly am I to assist you this time?" Lourdes turned her focus back on Albus, whose eyes never left her hands as she fiddled with the pipe dials. "Are you looking for me to profile for you, or do you want me to go after stray Death Eaters again?"
Taking a deep pull of blue smoke, Lourdes closed her eyes and waited for his response, enjoying the familiar sensation of her mind drifting just a bit out of synchronization with her body. Voldemort had so very little to do with her; he was no more than newspaper clippings and tragic stories.
"I know you have said you no longer hunt heads, but there is one we are in need of." He eyed the black leather band with the blue eye talisman on her wrist as he spoke, as if he suspected what it contained.
"Well then Albus, I'm sure that can be arranged. And what will you give me in return?" she asked, unable to keep the predatory growl out of her voice.
"Very nearly anything," he began.
"Let me go home, break the oath," she interrupted. It was the thought of somewhere safe, that set her off and left her unable to control the manic edge in her voice. "Break it now, break it right now and I'll do anything."
"You are sure?" Albus asked evenly.
"It's all I have left…"
There was a moment of silence while he watched her, and she held her breath as if somehow it would help the outcome…
"You must let me explain to him first, and when that is done you'll have free reign for letters. Two weeks at the very most is all it will take. Will you accept this?"
She nodded, still not willing to exhale until she was absolutely sure the oath was undone.
"Give me your hand, Lourdes."
She dropped the mouthpiece of her pipe in an instant, and held her left hand over the table as if waiting for Albus to place a ring on it.
With one fluid sweep of his wand over the back of her hand, he exposed the lingering magic left by the Stygian oath – a murky, electric orange ribbon of light wound in a crackling figure of eight around her hand and wrist. As he whispered the dissolving charm, the light wavered, popped and split as a strand broke off and unwound into the air, fizzing madly as Lourdes heard the echo of her voice making the promise - I will, under penalty of death…
When it was gone, the last of the magic evaporating into nothing, she clapped her hand over her heart and fell back into the cushions, feeling a thousand times lighter and freer in a span of seconds. "Now, what do you want?" she asked smoothly, doing her best to contain a sudden burst of giddy, childish hope, which was wildly enhanced by the deep pull she'd taken on her pipe. Blue smoke curled out of the corners of her mouth and for a moment she spiraled into a wonderfully drowsy feeling of infinite patience. Soon, very soon, she was going to see her Aberforth again. And it was going to be as safe and warm as summer evenings in the meadow, knitting while the goats grazed.
It was going to be all right.
"As I said, there is a head we are in need of; but more to the point, what we need most is an Evocator…" That last word made Lourdes choke on her lung-full of smoke.
She hadn't ever dreamt that he would ask