He watched her arrival from his classroom window. As always, Lady Estella Prince immediately filled up the entire schoolyard with her presence. The Potions Master knew that he struck terror into the hearts of all Hogwarts students – but the aura that his Welsh aunt exuded was, if possible, even more terrifying. At her arrival, gaggles of curious students circled around at what they considered a safe distance.
Approaching eighty, she still looked dashing. Her cool, greyish blue eyes observed the world proudly and rather scornfully; the movements of her straight, slender body were precise and economic. A black velvet snake appeared to writhe its way up through the locks of her luxurious, silver-grey hair, piled high on her head. Its eyes were glittering emeralds. Her black dress was reminiscent of her nephew's black robes, but a closer look would show it to be sophisticated silk brocade woven in a cobweb pattern, black on black. At her neck the cobwebs turned into a high, translucent lace collar.
She never once bothered to look at the house elf that was accompanying her, only pointed her elegant ebony cane at her carriage. At once, the elf bowed meekly and drove the carriage away.
Severus Snape met Lady Estella at the door. With his usual inscrutable
expression he approached his aunt and lightly brushed his lips against her
‘You look tired, Severus,’ Lady Estella remarked.
‘It’s been a busy term’.
‘Should we go inside?’ His aunt glanced disapprovingly at the students who were hovering about, stealthily observing the Potions Master and his impressive relative.
‘What’s that?’ Lady Estella said with an oblique look at a shock of red hair. ‘The hair reminds me of that ridiculous man at the Ministry, the one who thinks Muggles are equal to pure-blood wizards.’
‘How very astute, Aunt Estella,’ Snape remarked. ‘Indeed, it’s one of Weasley’s sons.’ He cast Ron a withering glance and led his aunt inside, like a true prince escorting the Queen Mother.
‘Cor, what a shrew,’ he overheard Ron say after he had passed. ‘She reminds me of that dragon in the tournament, Harry, the one you slaughtered.’
‘Ten points from Gryffindor,’ the potions master said in a seemingly careless, monotonous tone, just before the door closed behind him.
Snape received his aunt in the staff visitors’ room, where they had tea. With an elegant gesture she made the teapot hover and pour two cups of tea. She was one of the few witches who could perform magic without a wand. Severus’ magical talent obviously came from her side of the family.
They were alone, and for a moment her face appeared to lose some of its
severity. Briefly she touched his cheek. ‘You always look so pale…’ Snape's
expression remained impassive. He did not respond to her touch, but did not shy
away from it either. His aunt was the spitting image of his mother.
‘This is not simply a courtesy visit,’ she quickly said, strictly and collected again. ‘I came to tell you that I’ve had that dreadful house of yours spruced up, before you go there in summer.’
‘What do you mean by “spruced up”, Aunt Estella? I sincerely hope my belongings haven’t been tampered with. I hate it when people touch my belongings.’
‘It’s bad enough you’re living in your father’s old dump out of stubbornness and negligence, but at least I want your visitors to know you’re well-connected.’
‘I never have visitors, Aunt Estella.’
‘Yes, you’ve just brought up the second thing I want to talk to you about…’ Lady Estella began, and she put down her cup. ‘You’re forty-five already, my boy…’
‘Forty-six, Aunt Estella.’
‘Well, there you have it, even older than I thought. And you’re still single.’
Severus sprang up now, like he was stung by a wasp, but he composed himself and sat down again.
‘Really, Aunt Estella, do we have to keep talking about this whenever we meet? I’ve told you so many times: I shall remain single. I've no intention of marrying.’
‘But, people are beginning to think…’
‘Oh, that’s what it’s
about, isn’t it, what people think,’ Severus said with a vicious sting to his voice.
‘Anyway…,’ Lady Estella continued unperturbed. ‘I’ve
had your house renovated and prepared a surprise for you.’
Severus did not pay her cryptic utterance a lot of attention, but got up and stood in front of the window, sulking.
Quietly, his aunt came up and stood behind him. She made so as to touch
his hair, but thought better of it. Softly, she said: ‘Darling boy, please.
Don’t be so stubborn all the time. I do want what’s best for you. It hurts me
to see you so lonely. You’re neglecting yourself too much…’
‘I act as I’ve been taught,’ Snape said bitterly.
She recoiled, hurt. ‘I know my sister and her Muggle husband were never good parents, Severus. But you’re behaving like a small child that doesn’t want to grow up and get on with life.’
Snape thought back to the lesson he had once wanted to teach Harry Potter: ‘You and Sirius are two of a kind, forever complaining about how unfair life is. Life is unfair, Potter!’
His face, momentarily suffused with pain, once again became inscrutable.
‘You’re right, aunt,’ he said listlessly. And they said their goodbyes.
--- --- ---
The final term was over and, reluctantly, Snape put his key in the lock of his rather austere terraced house in town. He entered with some suspicion and stared disapprovingly at the mint green painted hallway.
‘I hate mint green,’ he mumbled. In vain, he looked for the rusty nail that had always served as a coat rack, only to discover a brand new wooden hallstand in the corner of the hallway.
‘Aunt enjoys wasting her money,’ he thought aloud.
To his relief, not a lot had changed in the living room. The formerly
dirty grey walls were a plain off-white colour; the bookcases had been dusted
and polished, the wood displaying its original reddish brown hue. He missed his
old piano stool; the one he never knew where it came from and which he always
used as a side table, whenever he was reading in his chair. Suddenly, he saw
the stool: in the bay window, near a … piano.
‘I’ll be damned…’ He strode towards it and regarded the shining monstrosity with distaste. Throwing away money on a frivolity such as that. He had never shown any interest in music, except for the strict toccata by Bach on the church organ. He could not think of a reason why his aunt should come up with something like this! It was most annoying.
Irritated, he read the note on the piano: ‘The real surprise will turn up at Monday, at half past nine. Aunt Estella.’
Snape looked at his clock. It was twenty-five past nine and it was Monday. Resigned, he walked into the kitchen. He was surprised about the transformation that had taken place there; he no longer recognised his own kitchen. The kitchen cabinets, which had never been cleaned and on which the handles hung loose, were replaced by new ones and on the kitchen work top was a fruit bowl, filled with all kinds of fruit. And yet again a note from his aunt: ‘And vary your diet, Severus, your skin will benefit from it.’
Angrily, he put back the note. Just at that moment, the doorbell rang. He looked at the clock. That would be the surprise. He opened the door and saw a young woman. She was small and well-shaped, had long, black hair and wore a green, silk jersey dress. Under her arm she carried sheet music.
‘Hello, I’m Barbara Christofori and I’m here for the piano lesson’, she said, in a beautiful, low alto voice. Severus completely forgot to shake her hand, which she withdrew again.
‘But… I didn’t know… Well, come in,’ concluded Severus. It was all so surrealistic; one more oddity would not make the slightest bit of difference.
The woman walked in front of him through the hallway and he noticed the fabric clinging to her figure. His eyes were fixed on these lovely curves, which stood out pertly against the shiny fabric.
‘Ah, there it is,’ she said enthusiastically, when she caught sight of the piano. ‘May I?’
‘Be my guest, Miss Christofori,’ Severus said.
‘Oh please, call me Barbara. I may call you Severus, I hope?’
He nodded and saw her settle her silk-clad haunches on his old piano stool, on which he had always put his whiskey glass, so rings appeared on the leather.
First, she played a simple tune to try out the resistance of the keys and then she launched into a Chopin mazurka. Her body moved lithely with the force and emotion of the music. He could not keep his eyes from her. Then, as she played a bit of Bach, he was filled with deep emotion. It reminded him of his childhood, when he heard the muggle music coming out of his grandfather’s old radio. Bach was in fact the only muggle who he considered close to being a magician. No wizard known to him could write that kind of music.
‘What a lovely instrument,’ she said when she had finished, her face alight and a little flushed from the exertion. 'What do you think?'
‘Delightful’, Severus said and noticed – too late –
that his gaze rested unashamedly on her body. ‘I mean… I liked the music.
Especially the last bit. It was like you were searching for something and could
not find it.’
She smiled shyly and said: ‘You heard the Deceptive Cadence. The listener expects the melody to end, but the composer tricks him, by delaying the final chord. You have a receptive ear, Severus. Why don’t you give it a try…? I’ll help you.’
Brusquely, Snape recalled it was all about a piano lesson and he made a dismissive gesture.
‘Sorry, but I… my aunt has arranged this and I’m not at all musical.’
‘But you’re a very good singer, Severus. I’ve heard you sing at a ceremony at Hogwarts, once. You’ve got a beautiful baritone.’
‘At Hogwarts?’ Severus said, perplexed. I’ve never seen you there, Miss… Barbara.’
‘No, I was there with relatives. I was in the row behind you. It was
then I heard that you have a particularly fine voice. So…’ She pulled up a chair for herself and patted the stool with her
hand to persuade him to sit on it. With a sigh, he did as she asked and sat at
‘Look…’ she said and pointed at the central C. ‘This C keeps reappearing on the piano, but either higher or lower. Just strike them all in turn and you’ll get an idea what’s it like.’
With an awkward, cramped hand he sought out all the C’s.
After he had finished, she took hold of his lower arm.
‘Oh, you’re rather tense,’ she said. ‘You should use as few muscles as possible.’ She stood behind him and massaged the muscles of his neck.
‘Do you feel how tense you are, Severus? We have to get rid of that.’
Timidly, he withdrew from her hands.
‘I hope you don’t mind me touching you?’ she asked, startled. ‘It happens to be part of my profession.’
‘Yes, I know. You’re not the one to blame. It’s me. I don’t care about music. Well, perhaps that bit of Bach.’
‘Bach… Yes, of course, you’re a real Bach person’, she now said, as if everything about Severus became clear to her all of a sudden. ‘If I may ask, why do think that composer is so special?’
‘I don’t really know…’ Severus began. ‘It’s like I understand the entire universe when I listen to his toccata. But it isn’t just the mathematical precision that appeals to me, at the same time it’s full of… emotion, too…’ he concluded and suddenly he noticed how close they sat together, he on that old, decrepit stool, she on her chair close to him. He got up and walked to the drinks cabinet.
‘Something to drink?’ he asked. ‘And tell me: which relative was it, you came to Hogwarts for?’
‘Harry Potter, of course,’ she said. ‘Hasn’t your aunt told you?’
He froze. ‘Potter?’ he repeated through clenched teeth and he looked away to hide his anger. How could his aunt do this to him, saddling him with a relative of that diabolical pain in the backside? How humiliating this all was. Just as he was beginning to like Barbara… Now this.
His composure regained, his face once again a polite mask, he turned around and handed her a glass.
‘Ah. Potter,’ he said coolly.
It was only now he noticed her green eyes. He might have realised, Potter also had green eyes… Lily had green eyes… His own eyes got moist when he thought of Lily. He knew she would never come back, but for a moment he saw her shadow again in the eyes of this enchantingly beautiful, young woman. But the thought of a bloodline with James Potter thoroughly spoiled that. If he imagined his piano teacher with small glasses, he could almost see Harry. Disgusting. He had to end it. No more Deceptive Cadences, this was the final chord. No further piano lessons for him.
‘Yes, I’m related to Harry’s mother, Lily’, she continued. ‘It really surprises me your aunt has never said anything about it.’
‘Yes… no… I mean… I don’t care for Potter very much. That’s why she probably never brought it up’, he concluded. ‘But I’m relieved you are related to… She was in my year at school, you see, and you resemble her so very much... Oh, well, it doesn’t matter anymore.’ He relaxed.
He sat down on the stool again and softly struck a C. He kept staring vacantly at the keyboard as if it had the solution for all his suppressed emotions and he seemed to be entirely unaware of Barbara’s presence.
‘Would you like me to come again next week?’ she asked.
‘Yes, please’, he answered as if he woke up from a deep sleep, and looked at her.
‘See, your arm isn’t so tense anymore’, she said and she lifted his hand off the keyboard. Unintentionally, his finger touched her lap for a moment when he withdrew his arm.
‘It’ll probably take ages, before I‘m ready to play Bach,’ he said dejectedly. ‘I have no musical skills whatsoever.’
“Well, I’m not a witch. But I’m known to do magic on whoever takes lessons from me’, said Barbara. ‘Sometimes things move surprisingly quickly once you get your hand in.’
‘What an enchanting muggle,’ Snape thought, as he watched Barbara leaving his house.
He observed his face in the hall mirror. He concluded that he actually was a bit pale and perhaps should eat some of that fruit in the kitchen.
As he sat in his armchair with a glass of Scotch that evening, his aunt Estella appeared in the fireplace.
‘Well, how did you like my surprise?’ she informed.
Not even bothered to mention he hated the mint wall, Snape replied: ‘Excellent, Aunt Estella. Why have you never told me Lily had such a talented relative?’
‘I thought it better to meet her first, before telling you she’s a muggle,’ said Estella. ‘So have you learned anything?’
‘Yes, I now know what a deceptive cadence is,’ said Snape. ‘It’s an unexpected twist at the end of a tune.’
‘Indeed,’ said Estella. ‘Make most of it.’ She vanished with a secretive smile on her face.
Snape drank and realised there was nothing to put his glass on, now the piano stool stood at the piano. He held the glass in his hand.
Imagining the delightful Barbara on the stool, playing the piano, he noticed how well everything looked in its rightful place.