â€˜The Apprentice and the Necromancerâ€™ by JunoMagic
The Absurdity of Street Corners
â€˜Very well. Where do you suggest we start thisâ€¦exploration?â€™
â€˜Why not right here?â€™
They were standing at what had once been a shadowy street corner at the beginning of Spinner’s End. Now it was not precisely shadowy anymore, but at least lost in the glittering lights of a giantâ€¦Yule tree, a sign informed them.
The tradition of Yule trees, the explanation continued, dated back to the Pagan patron trees of Germanic tribes, such as Yggdrasil or Thor’s Oak. This particular tree had to be cut down in the course of regular forest management and was donated by the Forestry Commission. And they needn’t have a bad conscience about its illumination either because it was lit by energy saving lamps (donated as well, by the local electricity supplier).
â€˜At any street corner the absurdity of existence can strike a man in the face,â€™ Severus murmured. â€˜Albert Camus.â€™
The wistfulness in his voice made her heart ache. She dared to press herself closer against him. The coarse fabric of his duffle coat lightly scratched her cheek, and its smoky scent tickled her nose.
â€˜Life’s a bitch, and then it has puppies,â€™ Hermione muttered. â€˜If we make it out of this one, my efforts in life will be dedicated to achieving the most boring existence humanlyâ€”and magicallyâ€”possible.â€™
Together they turned to the house on the opposite corner.
With its newly sand-blasted bricks, windows and door trimmed with white paint, the Victorian-style iron-wrought fence intertwined with sprigs of holly, it could have been an illustration in a nostalgic picture book. But it was a shop, and the illuminated bay windows served as showcases.
Hermione and Severus noticed the hand-painted sign next to the door at the same time. Both of them gasped; Hermione with stifled laughter, Severus with shock.
â€˜Be-Witched,â€™ the sign read, â€˜Wiccan and Pagan Supplies for Magick & Witchcraft. Est. in 1999.â€™
â€˜There is no wizards’ shop in Spinner’s End,â€™ Severus hissed, when her gasp turned into a giggle. â€˜And I’d have heard if someone had opened one here!â€™
â€˜Oh, Severus, that’s not a wizards’ shop. It’s Muggle! An esoteric shopâ€”you know, for Muggles who are trying to find magic in their world.â€™
When he just stared at her, she couldn’t suppress an amused snort. â€˜Surely growing up in the wild Seventies, you got some of that crowd even here! You know, magic mushrooms? Rock music? Changing the world? Sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, and all that?â€™
â€˜Sharing mushrooms maybe, but not selling them!â€™ Severus retorted, but he appeared to relax. â€˜Actually, I never had money for drugs or rock music. A few pints in the pub was the wildest I got during my summer holidays. As for changing the worldâ€¦all I ever wanted was to change my position in it. To get out of here, and at school to get out of the clutches ofâ€”â€™ He stopped. â€˜You know how well that turned out.â€™
Hermione could taste the bitterness of his words. She linked her arm with his and leant against him. â€˜You don’t have to talk about it. But I would like to know how it was. Here. Then.â€™
He stared at the display window in silence. Hermione followed his gaze and took in the strange mixture of Muggle and magical items. Real runes and real tarot cards, a big candle in the shape of a black cat, the statue of the Indian elephant god Ganesha, a pink dream catcher. Incense sticks and perfume oils. Celtic jewellery. Muggle books on witchcraft and self-improvement that made Hermione bite her tongue to keep from laughing. And another hand-painted sign with a rather pretty calligraphy of the words â€˜Blessed Beâ€™ on it.
â€˜Come,â€™ she said at last and tugged a little at his arm to clarify that she wasn’t about to insist on an uncomfortable conversation in the damp dusk of a December day. â€˜Let’s see what else has changed.â€™
The house next door was now a Montessori nursery school.
â€˜I’m not really convinced of that educational method,â€™ Hermione finished her rudimentary explanation, â€˜at least not for older children. But I suppose it’s nice for the little ones, especially if they are special needs children.â€™
Again she felt that keen stab of regret at the thought of how likely it was that she would never get to see what happened if you mixed the genes of a brilliant, temperamental Potions Master and a smart, slightly more easy-going, bushy-haired Potions apprentice.
â€˜They’ve torn down the chimney,â€™ Severus observed as they crossed the street again to take a look at the old mill. â€˜That’s definitely an improvement.â€™
â€˜The Old Millâ€™, as another sign informed them, was now an award-winning model-project for sustainable urban development and regeneration.
A busy shopping centre with stores and galleries took up the ground floor. Hermione noticed a small supermarket that advertised organic and regional products, an outlet centre for handmade woollens, and a tiny â€˜Arts & Crafts Shoppeâ€™.
On the first floor, offices were located. The name tags showed a diverse mixture: the environmental agency of the city council, a solicitor, the local Greenpeace office, and a dentist among others.
Flats took up the floor above the offices. A poster praised the opportunity to save money and the environment by doing without a car. The benefits: reduced fees on utilities and the public transport system. Another poster advertised time-sharing of cars (â€˜Cut costs and reduce emissionsâ€™). Hermione reflected how much better it was for the environment to be a witch. Flooing produced very little smoke, broomsticks relied on renewable resources, and Apparition was the most environmentally friendly mode of transportation imaginable.
â€˜It looks really nice,â€™ Hermione commented. â€˜I’ll have to take a closer look at some of the shops.â€™ She noticed Severus’ stiff posture, the way he kept flinching ever so slightly as people hurried past them. â€˜Not now, don’t worry. Why don’t we go back outside? I think I’ve seen a little park on the other side of the street. It won’t be as busy there.â€™