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A More Merciful Man by Berkana [Reviews - 5]

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The Fig and Marrow looked like a converted pub from the outside, and was pressed disconcertingly close to the narrow London street in a neighborhood that seemed to be the gentrifying remnants of an old meat packing district.

Snape pushed his way in through the plain door to find a large room with a low, beamed ceiling, and unobtrusive sorts of abstract art decorating the neutral walls. There were about seven tables in the smallish room, all of them occupied by people other than Roland Gash. For a moment, Snape was confused. Then almost immediately, one of the Muggles that appeared to work at the establishment appeared at his elbow, and led him to a private dining room in the back, where Roland Gash waited.

“Ah, Snape!” Gash greeted him, standing. “Good to see you again! I’ve ordered a whiskey sour before dinner. Will you have one?”

Snape nodded. He had never tasted such a thing in his life, but if Gash approved, it couldn’t be that bad.

“Extra cherries for me, and a bit more sour than usual for the Professor,” Gash told the waiter, who nodded noiselessly and disappeared.

“Cherries?” Snape asked, raising an eyebrow and giving Gash a hint of a smile. For a moment he thought of the beer that Lupin favored, Netherworld Cocoa Cream.

Gash looked at him apologetically, motioning for him to sit. “The cherries are not those horrid things you find in Muggle bars, mushy and red as a callbox. These are marinated in 100-year-old port.”

“I’ll look forward to them,” Snape said, easing himself into his chair. He had forgotten how much he enjoyed Gash’s company, and the understated restaurant pleased him as well.

“I’ve spoken to the chef…and we’ll be enjoying one of his special tasting menus tonight. Don’t let the size of the food fool you. The servings will be small, but there will be many of them.”

And indeed, as soon as they had finished their whiskey sours (which were excellent, as Gash had predicted), the courses started arriving, paired with equally fine wines.

There was an oyster with passion fruit jelly, with lavender flowers trapped in shards of sugar. Mustard sorbet, with cabbage gazpacho. Foie gras atop quail jelly and langoustine cream. Snail porridge with ham and shaved fennel. More foie gras with sweet corn cream and a vinegar reduction. Salmon in licorice jelly with flecks of grapefruit and asparagus cream. Slices of rare pigeon breast crusted with pistachio. For dessert? An utterly ridiculous concoction—ice cream made out of duck’s eggs. But it was oddly delicious.

Well, it was the strangest meal Snape had ever experienced, mostly because he had never heard of anything he was putting in his mouth, but every taste was new, and exquisite.

As was typical of him, Gash said little material during the meal itself, save to explain to Snape what they were eating, and to talk about it, and to thank the wait staff for their careful attention. But as the bowls which had been filled with duck’s egg ice cream were cleared, and the waiter returned with coffee and petit fours, Gash ordered brandy, and he began to talk.

“I hear you have been seeing the Runes professor…” he said.

Snape remained motionless for a moment. The question itself was curious, indicating that not only did Gash know he had been seeing Jane, but that he thought he was still seeing her.

“How did you know?” Snape asked. He had already been able to discern that Gash was not angry. Snape would have figured that out almost immediately. But now to discover how he found out, and why he was bringing it up.

Gash raised an eyebrow. “My mistress told me,” he said. “I’ve mentioned her before, I believe. She happens to be a woman of your acquaintance.”

Snape quickly ran through the list of remotely desirable women under sixty in his “acquaintance.”

Nymphadora Tonks? Preposterous. Narcissa? That would surely explain at least part of Gash’s animus against Malfoy. But somehow Snape thought not.

Then, all of a sudden, it hit him. Snape’s mouth dropped open. He was a difficult man to surprise, but Gash had succeeded.

“Eva Pellarin…” Snape whispered.

Gash nodded, chuckling. “Remarkable woman, isn’t she? A bit young for me, I suppose. She’s not quite fifty.”

“She did not mention you,” Snape said. The wine seemed to hit him all of a sudden, and he set down his brandy glass.

“Yes, well…discretion is necessary, as you might well understand. Her daughter does not even know, and I’d appreciate it if you kept it to yourself. Eva knows quite a bit about you, however, as you might guess. Did her research when she suspected the two of you were involved.”

“But I only met her not two months ago,” Snape said, still in shock.

At this Gash smiled wryly. “Oh, she had her suspicions far before that. Nothing gets past Eva. Not even you, Professor Snape.”

“Not even me…” Snape echoed.

“Over Christmas, she deduced that her daughter was seeing someone, though her daughter refused to reveal who. It was obviously someone at Hogwarts, or in the immediate vicinity. Eva discovered that the only eligible and even remotely desirable males at Hogwarts for a woman of Jane’s age and species (and Snape assumed that Gash was referring to Flitwick here) were you and Remus Lupin.

“Lupin, of course, is a homosexual. So she directly questioned her daughter, and asked her quite pointedly if she was seeing you. Apparently she refused to answer, but looked away and promptly changed the subject. Eva’s no Legilimens, but…”

“Mothers do not need Legilimency…” Snape finished for him.

“She still could not be sure, of course. And until Easter she did not inform me of her suspicions. But of course her visit to Professor Flintrammel’s cottage…”

Gash trailed off then, but Snape could see a twinkle in his eye before the man looked down. “She told me quite an amusing story about how the two of you met…”

Gods, Snape thought. He knows everything!

Snape’s face reddened at the mere memory of the incident in front of Jane’s hearth.

Seeing this, Gash did laugh then, a hearty laugh, and Snape began to squirm a bit in his chair.

“Apologies, old fellow,” Gash said, clapping Snape good-naturedly on the arm. “But Eva…well she’s got a flair for telling a good tale. Often I’m not sure what’s real and what she’s inventing just to amuse me. I didn’t believe half of her story about you until I saw your face. But I like it even better now that I know it’s true.” And Gash continued chuckling for awhile.

Snape laughed grimly. “And did you approve her plan to seduce me?”

At that Gash laughed again. “Of course! Because I knew she wouldn’t succeed!”

For some reason Snape found himself feeling vaguely insulted. He poked distractedly at a petit-four. “What made you so sure?”

But Gash only looked at him knowingly. “A man who refuses to sign a marriage contract citing ‘impropriety’ and concerns for his reputation is not going to rut hedonistically with his lover’s mother, no matter how irresistible that mother might be...”

Then Gash cleared his throat, and paused for a moment. “Of course that wasn’t the only reason you would not sign the contract, was it?” he observed.

Snape shook his head.

No.

“Her daughter…I’ve met her twice now, at Princilla’s yearly conferences. Nothing like her mother, is she?”

Snape thought for a moment. “Not at first glance,” Snape said, “but on second thought I’m not entirely sure.”

“Her mother finds her beyond praise,” Gash continued. “It speaks well of Eva, I think. She is not one of those women that wishes her daughter to be a younger version of herself. Poor girls, burdened with their mother’s insecurities.”

“Most definitely Eva Pellarin is not insecure,” Snape agreed.

“You know, what I couldn’t understand at first is why she told me about your relationship with Professor Flintrammel at all. It was as if she informed me because she expected me to put pressure on you to sever your bond with her, and sign the contract. At first I thought her disloyal to her daughter, favoring me over her own child. I must tell you that as a father I would not have appreciated such loyalty. But then I realized something…”

Snape nodded, knowingly. “The revelation was not about you. It was about Jane. She wanted you to tell me to sign the contract because she wished to test me.”

Gash nodded. “Indeed. She’s a woman of flawless logic. Eva has rather strict standards of worthiness. She expects a man to be willing to give up everything for her offspring. That is a mother’s right. But it’s not very realistic, is it?”

Snape thought ruefully that it was not.

“Eva told me,” Gash was saying, “hoping I would bring the matter to a head and force you to choose. Of course, I had no desire to do this, as I found your stated reason for not signing the contract immediately satisfactory enough…

“She’s a remarkable creature, though. Just dropped the information in my lap, rather as an aside, then never mentioned it again.”

Gash looked at Snape, then, and there was an appreciative twinkle in his eyes. “You know, she’s the very cleverest woman I’ve ever met. Beautiful women are often dull and unremarkable in other areas, you know. Their beauty is enough to draw people to them. Why bother with intelligence? With wit? Not Eva…”

At this thought, Gash began to chuckle softly to himself again, and Snape could only marvel. Something had happened to Gash since Boxing Day. He had fallen in love.

Gash? In love? What on earth was the world coming to?

Snape, however, was forced to interrupt the man’s reverie.

“You may report to her that I have failed her test,” he said tonelessly.

Gash looked up from his brandy. “Pardon?”

“I have failed her test.”

Gash was nonplussed. “But…but you haven’t signed the contract. Which is part of the reason I’ve brought you here, Snape, I…”

“Her daughter and I have parted ways,” Snape interrupted.

At this Gash shook his head, looking distinctly uncomfortable. “This I did not know. Why?”

Snape stared, distracted, at the green curlicues adorning one of the petit-fours. “She was informed about our arrangement,” he said flatly.

Again Gash looked confused, and began talking almost as if to himself. “Eva certainly didn’t tell her about it…she told me she would not bear her the bad news until when and if it became absolutely necessary...and even if Princilla knew about your relationship, your continued affair with the Runes professor only serves her purpose.”

Snape made a low noise in his throat. “Lucius,” he said, his voice heavy with revulsion. “He paid a visit to Jane’s cottage, and made sure to let it slip.”

At this Gash sat straight up. “The cur!” he said, his expression darkening to one of cold fury. “It’s his fault that I am in this mess with Princilla, his and none else’s! He cannot keep his son in check! I warned him! Told him to pull his boy back, but Malfoy is useless, apparently. And he thought to make up for his own shortcomings by meddling in your affairs!”

“It worked.” Snape said this without any emotion at all. Then, hoping to change the subject, he pulled the contract from his pocket and set it on the table between them.

“I loathe the man,” Snape said, taking out a quill as well, “but I am at last free, now, to sign this. Exams are finished. All that is left is the Leaving Feast. Whatever risk there is of my reputation being sullied is minimal…”

This was not exactly true. Princilla would find out almost immediately. An owl would bear her a copy of the contract within the hour, and who knows what the girl might say, and to whom?

Snape found he did not care. She had no more a future with Draco than he did with Jane, if Gash would not abide her choice. Princilla was simply not able to see that yet.

Snape gritted his teeth. Jane was lost to him. He would find no other mate more worthy than Princilla. His only option left was to sign. He put his quill to the parchment.

But then, something very troubling happened. Gash stayed his hand.

“Please, Professor Snape…”

Snape looked into Gash’s eyes, and saw that the man who had once been so eager for his signature was now doubtful.

“You don’t wish me to sign?” Snape asked, thoroughly confused.

“My daughter…” Gash began, a tinge of anguish in his eyes, “she has put me in a rather unfortunate position. She’s a stubborn girl, Snape. I tried, for months I tried. Threatened, cajoled, made every promise I could, told her I would withdraw all of my financial support from her…”

It was then that Gash’s purpose became clear to Snape. He understood now why he had been called to London, before the end of the school year.

“You wish for me to return the contract…” he said.

His face a picture of misery, Gash nodded again. “My daughter told me that she was going to marry him, would marry him, before the summer. The poor girl is under the impression that the boy actually cares for her, as if any Malfoy could care for anyone but themselves!

“My wife seemed to care for me as well, but it was all a phony show to advance her own interests. And even if he does seem to have feelings for her…well it costs him nothing to care for a girl that’s above him, does it?”

As he sat there with the unsigned contract in front of him, Snape wondered if it were possible to actually hear one’s life completely falling apart. There was a dry, cracking noise in his ears, like the sound of plaster disintegrating.

“No. Princilla is making a terrible mistake, a tragic mistake…” Gash continued, “but I have come to the conclusion that she must learn this for herself. My only victory is that I have managed to engage a compromise with her, and that only after much argument and many tears.”

And at this Gash paused, and poured himself some more brandy, for both himself and for Snape. They needed it. Gash took a healthy swallow before he spoke again.

“She knew the contract would be signed presently and she said she would void it herself if I didn’t ask for its return. And in addition that if you did sign it and she was forced to marry you, she would do her duty to you but she would never speak to me again. I looked into her eyes, Snape! She meant it!”

“I’m sure she did,” Snape answered, his voice a near whisper.

“I cannot lose my child, Professor Snape,” Gash told him. “I cannot let that happen. So, in the end I asked her for a compromise. I told her I would attempt to purchase the return of the contract, if she and Draco promised to wait until she was twenty-one to marry. She agreed. Reluctantly, but she agreed.”

“Why did Princilla tell you at all?” Snape asked. “Why not just marry in secret? That would have voided the contract well enough, and accomplished her goal.”

Gash shook his head then, and with a vague horror Snape thought the man was close to tears. “She…she loves me, Snape, and respects me. She wanted my blessing. So she warned me. She would elope with Draco, but only as a last resort.”

The two men sat in silence for a long time, then, each utterly miserable. For Snape, it was as if he was watching himself from outside himself. He had already destroyed his relationship with Jane. Now he was watching as he completely mucked up what had once been something of a bright future, a future he had bought at great cost.

At last, a strange sort of numbness seemed to permeate him, and quietly, Snape pushed the unsigned contract across the table towards Roland Gash.

Gash took it. He then murmured something under his breath, and a quill and check register appeared on the table.

“Of course, I will purchase the contract from you, as per tradition. I insist that you take ten times the standard payment…”

Gash’s pen was moving then on the check, but the sight of this filled Snape with an unfathomable unease. Before he knew it, his hand reached out to touch the older man’s.

“I cannot take your money.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Gash said. “Of course you can!”

Snape shook his head, and Gash saw in his eyes that to try to repay Snape would be useless. The register disappeared.

“I will accept your friendship, however, and consider myself far the wealthier,” Snape told him.

Gash’s face softened. “That you had already,” he said. “And I owe you a debt of gratitude, Professor Snape. One that I hope I may repay, someday.”

Snape stood. “You purchased me a very satisfying supper. Consider it repaid.”

But Snape’s face darkened then. “If you don’t mind, however, I think I will excuse myself a bit early. I feel the need for a bit of a walk.”

Gash nodded sympathetically, and stood. The two men shook hands then, and bowing lightly, Snape turned towards the door. But Gash stopped him.

“Will this improve your lot with Eva’s daughter?”

Snape turned back to Roland gash slowly, and thought for a moment. “I think perhaps it would, if she were not Eva’s daughter. However we have crossed a Rubicon and cannot go back. She will tolerate secrecy no longer. But what way forward is there? She is a Squib, the child of a Muggle and a…”

And at this Snape trailed off, and Gash looked pained. The word “mudblood” hung in the air between them, unspoken but present nonetheless. It seemed outrageous to apply such a term to Eva Pellarin, cool and beautiful and clever as she was. It was outrageous to apply it to anyone. Snape knew this. But he also knew that Slytherin traditions had not changed.

Gash nodded gravely. “I feel that I am somehow to blame in all of this....”

But Severus Snape only shook his head. “There is an old Chinese proverb. If a man chases two hares, both will escape him. The blame, Roland, is my own.”

“I am sorry, Professor Snape…” Gash told him. He meant it.

Snape smiled grimly at him. “As am I…” he replied. And then he bowed again, and was gone.


A More Merciful Man by Berkana [Reviews - 5]

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