I’ve borrowed a character directly from JK Rowling with
her kind tolerance and sent him to meet with one of my own. Thanks to Sandra
for the joking that brought this to paper (and the drawing she made to go with
it), to Rella for forcing me to get my roses straight and to Suburban House Elf
who consistently keeps me from making the worst of mechanical errors.
It is a glorious morning! Birds are chirping in
trees that rustle in a gentle breeze. The babble of the river is carried by
the zephyr across a meadow dappled with patches of clover. Two dull-looking
cows graze contentedly under a cloudless sky. A dazzling sun has risen above
the treetops promising to make the day warm—just as it should be in late
The serenity is shattered, however, by a loud crack.
Birds take flight, alarmed by the sound and the sudden appearance of a man
under the canopy of their leafy amphitheatre. One glance through the wire
fence prompts the cows to abandon their breakfast and trot to the far corner of
their pasture. Even the wind and river fall silent as the intruder crunches
his way across the gravel road.
Now, you must realize that the man cannot be
blamed for the disturbance his mode of transportation made amongst the local
animal population. It is only natural that the wind would die away with the
rising sun—you shouldn't assume that it had anything to do with the man's arrival.
On the other hand, the man's appearance is a bit…frightful.
Longish hair hides most of his face behind
black, greasy curtains. As he turns to cast a sneering glance over the road
and meadow, the greatest impression is of a prominent nose hooking out from
beneath eyes as black as his hair. He is dressed entirely in black which,
perhaps, accentuates the pallor of his complexion. His belligerent march
across the road suits his appearance, while both are completely incongruous
with the pastoral scenery.
If you could see him scowling before the gate of
the lonely house surrounded by this meadow, you might think that he has arrived
to do some dastardly deed. Nothing could be further from the truth. You would
need to look closely to see the sigh he indulges in before opening the gate or
discern the steely resolve in his eyes as he lifts the latch to allow himself
into the front garden.
The gate, like the rest of the fence surrounding
the house, is painted a dazzling white. As it swings open and closed under the
stranger's hand, the hinges stridently protest their usage. The man glares at
the hinges then hesitates again as he faces the house from inside the garden. Only
a few strides separate him from the three steps that will take him onto the
front porch—the expression on his face implies that it is the walk of the
He is obviously unimpressed by the multitude
of fading pink roses that flank the path. Prosperous Damasks line the fences,
ramblers fill the corners of the garden, climbers grasp at the porch railings
and the trellises on either side of the parlor window. The less pretentious
shrub roses crowd the pathway. The ground is covered with dropped petals and
the air is still perfumed with the spicy sent of the Damasks which causes the
man to wrinkle his nose as he takes a measured pace into the garden’s embrace.
A plump woman of indeterminate age leaves the
door standing open as she toddles across the porch and down the steps. She is
a portrait of joy. Her eyes dance above a toothy smile while her arms are
spread wide in welcome. Severus manages only a two more strides so they meet
in the very center of the garden. He is resigned to the enthusiastic hug he
‘Aunt Mathilda, you look well,’ he remarks as
she releases him.
Mathilda's joy falters as she scans his face.
‘Oh, Severus,’ she sighs, ‘you look dreadful.’ Reaching
up to cup his face with both hands, she continues to chastise him. ‘What have
I told you about spending your summers locked up indoors? You might as well
spend them still in the dungeons of that drafty old castle for all the good the
holidays do you.’
‘Yes, I know. You're right,’ he replies without
any hint of remorse for disregarding her advice.
‘Well…,’ the delight returns to her face at his
words, ‘You are here now and we will get you a bit of sun today.’
Grabbing her nephew's hand, Mathilda drags him
onto the porch.
‘Have you eaten, Severus?’ she asks, once again
in scolding mode.
‘No, Auntie. I didn't have time.’
Pressing her lips tightly, she points to one of
the two chairs, ‘Sit! I expected as much. How can you work on an empty
No reply seems necessary as she leaves her guest
on the porch and stomps into the house. He sits in stony silence during her
brief absence, making no effort at conversation even when she returns two
minutes later with an overloaded tea tray floating before her wand.
‘You don't take care of yourself, Severus.
Fresh air, sunshine, hearty meals…that's what you need, dear. If I've said it
once, I've said it a hundred times…’
Any observer could tell that Severus is not
listening to his aunt but it does nothing to stem the flow of words. Her
harangue continues as she pours tea and sets it before her nephew. The outpouring
of advice only ceases once he compliments her on the freshly baked scones.
‘Ah…now, I see. You skip your breakfast in
anticipation of Auntie's scones.’ She beams. ‘You always did like my scones.’
Severus finishes three scones, two cups of tea
and a bowl of fruit under a barrage of unwanted reminiscence. It takes a while
for Mathilda to realize that he has finished eating, she is so wrapped up in
memories of his childhood visits with his mother—her niece.
‘Shall we get to it, dear?’ she asks as she
returns the dishes to the tray, levitating it inside without waiting for a
‘Yes, let's,’ he grumbles once she is out of
sight. Another heavy sigh escapes him as he stands to wait for his aunt's
‘Here we go,’ she babbles, once again leaving
the shadowy doorway with a wide-brimmed hat in one hand, pink gardening gloves
and a pruner in the other. She thrusts the hat onto Severus' head, hands him
the gloves and tool, oblivious to the look of disgust on her nephew's face. Leading
the way off the porch and into the bed of roses to the right, she launches into
another monologue, ‘We'll start over here. I've been babying these two all
summer long. First, it was powdery mildew then a bit of a drought …’