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Professor Snape’s Mystery Guest
A brief aside to his normal teaching duties gives the Potions Master a tempting challenge - Professor Snape is asked by the Headmaster to help unravel an old and baffling mystery. But can Snape do so?  And how might he do so? Will the key to the mystery lie with the Keeper of the Bookes? Or will it be found from the Enchantress of Robinwood? Or does fate have something quite different in store for this most enigmatic of J. K. Rowling’s inspired and inspiring characters? 

Bookmarks

Introduction & Disclaimer

Part 1 - Chapter 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7

Part 2 - Chapter 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14

Author's Notes

Review

 


Introduction

 

Disclaimer

The inspirational basis of this fan fiction is J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories, and Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films. Undisputedly, J. K. Rowling owns the world of Harry Potter.  No copyright infringement or disrespect is intended. I make no money from my fan fiction, nor do I intend to.

Censorship Rating – PG

In accordance with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) criteria I rate this story as appropriate for reading with Parental Guidance.  It contains no explicit descriptions of sexual activity, no violence, and no bad language.  It does however allude to sex, and slightly to magical drugs (mind-altering potions), although quite discretely.  It also contains adult themes and complex relationships, so children will probably not find it particularly entertaining.

What My Story Covers

This is my fourth piece of fan fiction.  It’s a short story (about two-thirds the length of A Measure of Equanimity), so it’s not novel-length; and the chapters are short so it should be much easier to read on screen.  Like all my other fics it is completely independent – this is a different Snape from my others.

I wrote it after reading Order of the Phoenix, so this time Snape’s character is consistent with J. K. Rowling’s first five books, and it assumes you know the contents of those stories.  Also, unlike my other fics, this is far less of a love story and more of a story about MAGIC.  It got a riddling puzzle and poems too, as Ms Rowling often treats us to these in the ‘real’ world of Harry Potter.

My fic starts with a brief glimpse into the Dark Ages, and has an important scene in 1972, but it mainly covers the years 1981-82 (from when Snape starts teaching at Hogwarts), and the turn of the century, and a bit beyond.  Also please note – adult Harry Potter meets Snape, but other students do not feature in the story.  This tale is about particular magical events and the unravelling of some old mysteries – the teaching staff and their adult associates do the unravelling, not the students.

SPOILER ALERT:   This story will not be too readily understandable by persons who have not read those first five Rowling novels, and it contains spoilers for those novels – especially Order of the Phoenix.

And finally, I’ll be delighted if you read my Author’s Notes, but promise me you’ll only do so after you have finished the actual story.

Well, here it is … enjoy!

Afictionado
Sussex, England
January 2004


Part One

Chapter One - Dark Age Legacy

It was in the time of the Bronze Age that much of the fens of East Anglia were covered by shallow seas and the Isle of Udimore (pronounced oo-di-more) was truly an island.  Where its name came from no one was sure, but a wizard built a granite tower on that lonely isle and kept watch there on incursions from the mainland of Europe.  East Anglian Muggles feared the wizard for he was a powerful mage who came ashore at times and plundered what he pleased.  Bliant was the name he gave himself, in token of the white seabirds who called to him in a mournful tongue no Muggle could interpret.

The mage and his offspring lived long; past many lives of Muggles, and by the time his great-great-grandson’s great-great-grandson was master of the granite tower, the seas had receded and the land was brackish marsh.  And so it was that Bryn Bliant appointed himself first Marsh Warden of Udimore; and being kindlier than his ancestors toward non-magic folk, he in time took to helping local tribes as they struggled to master the crafts of working with sedge, reed and rush.  By the time of Bryn’s son’s wardenship the spinach-like plant woad was flourishing in places where the sea once stood and from that plant the Marsh Wardens developed a superior blue ink.

The Marsh Wardens were in touch with many wizard folk across Britain, for in a land of Muggles the mage families were a lonesome elite.  In those distant times the Bliant clan were great lore-masters; but more knowledgeable and powerful still were Magnin Vortigern of Torren, and Merlin of the West.  Merlin’s power was so outstanding his name even leaked into the non-magical community.

Meanwhile tribes of Saxons, Angles and Jutes raided Britain and on occasions made settlements in the east, harrying the Celts and pushing them ever further west, but never ousting the descendents of Bliant who stood resolute in their tower.

In the year AD595 Norse raiders shattered the tower fortress of Torren, and Vortigern disappeared.  Some said he died and some said he merely fled.  Merlin could not discover the truth but the Scottish island tower was broken and empty, and Vortigern’s body never found.  This sad event decided Merlin upon his next course.  He surmised that many marvels had been lost to the world for all time with the demise of Vortigern, and he was conscious too of his increasing age.  He had no children of his own so he must make other arrangements to pass on his knowledge and his craft, and he needed to do so without delay.  And so he visited the mage families he knew and handed on his utmost treasures – works of wonder that must not be destroyed or fall into the hands of the unlearnéd.  He saved for last, two most curious Bookes and a strange black quill to entrust to the tough Marsh Wardens of Udimore, for being so wary of invaders they had impregnated their tower’s granite veins with many a powerful spell.

Thus it was that on an inauspicious night Merlin set out on a dangerous journey to the eastern fens for this express objective.  Once safe in the Tower of Bliant he managed to outline the purpose of the Bookes, but he made no progress with explaining how they functioned.  At that precise moment old age overtook him and he died, leaving the Marsh Wardens to strive alone with another task and another title – Custos Biblia – Keeper of the Bookes.

And so the Bliant family took up the challenge of keeping the Bookes in safe custody, watching the black swan feather making entries of its own accord, producing an ink blacker than night whose formula they could not discover.

In the 10th century, and owing much to repeated Viking raids, the male line of Bliant was wiped out, but a daughter, Elfreda, survived.  She married a mage called Mordecai Raegan, a red haired man from the Welsh marches.  And that is why that to this day the Keepers at the Tower of Bliant now bear the surname Raegan…

Review

 

Chapter Two - The Chamber of The Bookes

In the December of 1956 Minerva McGonagall was appointed to the Deputy Headship of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  She also took on the rôles of Transfiguration teacher, Head of Gryffindor House and the task of corresponding with the students’ families.

Dutifully, every spring, before the pressure of exams and end of term arrangements robbed her of what little ‘spare’ time she had, McGonagall visited the Tower of Bliant to update her list of names of new students destined for Hogwarts.  Naturally she also kept a record of everyone she one-day expected to see at Hogwarts, but it rarely produced an exact match with each year’s finalised list of new entrants.  Over the years between birth and the age of eleven circumstances could change radically for a wizard-child; some parents opted to send their children to magical schools abroad and occasionally Hogwarts gained an overseas student; but for the most part, and excluding infant mortality, it was witches and wizards born in the British Isles that attended Hogwarts.

***

As she made a copy of the names on that pleasant April day in 1972 McGonagall’s mind turned, as it invariably did during this task, to a mystery that had occurred over a quarter of a century earlier.  In the December of 1946 a name had been deleted from the Booke of Birth, and Cael Raegan, the Keeper of the Bookes, had owled Armando Dippett in something of a panic, asking if the Deputy Head could be spared to assist him to mend matters.  Dumbledore had gone at once to the Isle of Udimore where he and Cael had tried every revealing and restorative spell they could think of, but all to no avail.  The then Deputy Head had even broached a phial of disclosing solution, specially prepared by Hogwarts Potions Professor, but when the moment came he quailed at the thought of pouring it onto the Booke.  No one knew the full extent of the magic Merlin had woven into this masterpiece, nor even for sure if he was the true author.  No one had discovered the ink’s exact composition, nor how the black swan’s feather produced it.  What if the potion had some unexpected result?  What if the Booke disintegrated, or the strange black ink was washed away?  Dumbledore decided that there were just too many unknowns.

Ministry of Magic specialists who attended the following day fared no better, and they agreed with the decision not to put the Booke at undue risk.

And so the mystery had never been solved, and McGonagall had found no way of knowing which child to contact, so presumably that witch or wizard had never received his or her magical education.  In an effort to mend matters she had many times worked with Cael, comparing The Booke of Birth with The Booke of Death, but every name had cross-checked; there was no British or Irish death that had not been preceded by a properly recorded birth.

*

Eventually McGonagall completed her Summer ’72 List, thanked Cael for his hospitality and set off for Hogwarts.  Once there she began to prepare her letters which would be kept in store until the summer recess and only despatched once she had received the Keeper’s final update of any last minute deaths.  (In the days of Voldemort’s reign of terror this sad adjustment was to become a matter of increasing significance.)

“How is Cael?” Dumbledore asked, settling himself in his Deputy’s visitor’s chair.

McGonagall flashed him a piercing look over the frame of her spectacles.  “Not very well” she confessed.  “He is already looking forward to handing over the job to his son.  He never really recovered from the shock of the deleted name, did he.”

Dumbledore nodded gravely.  “No, he didn’t” he agreed.  “No, we never solved that, and not for want of trying.  Even using my Pensieve, Cael couldn’t extract the exact memory.  Most probably because the memory didn’t exist – he didn’t ‘see’ the name on that fateful day.  Not see it to read it.  And he would never let me examine any of Kieren’s thoughts, even though the boy was there at the time.  Refused point blank to let me do anything to his mind.  Well, I suppose I could not gainsay the commands of a parent – he had his son’s wellbeing at heart.  Kieren was only seven.”

They talked over the mystery for some time as McGonagall assembled her parchment, and set her quill to work, copying from her list of names and addresses, and from her draft of the letter’s main text.  As the charmed quill flew across the parchment she and Dumbledore sat in armchairs by a long low coffee table, where they sipped tea and discussed plans for the forthcoming year.  They were deeply immersed in Gryffindor’s chances of winning the Quidditch Cup when a herring gull arrived and swooped back and forth outside the window calling ‘Blee-ant!  Hi!  Hee-ya!  Hee-ya!  Hi, Bliant!’ in piercing cries that were impossible to ignore.

“That is Cael’s bird” Dumbledore said anxiously.

He flung the window wide and the gull swooped in, heading for the table where it crash-landed amid the teacups, its outstretched wings clearing a pathway like a snow plough.  The Headmaster resumed his seat and the gull, apparently very pleased with itself, strutted up to Dumbledore and held out a leg.  McGonagall clucked her tongue in disapproval and began to repair the china.  As she cleared away the tea the bird had spilled Dumbledore carefully detached the note from the gull’s leg and the bird then galloped along the table’s length and took flight, zooming out of the open window with hardly a beat of its wide wings.

Hastily scrawled in an unsteady hand, in the woad-based ink the Keepers always used, was a note of less than a dozen words

Albus,

Please come at once.  It has happened again!

Cael

*

Dumbledore flew by Thestral and landed almost a hundred yards from the tower, allowing the winged horse to walk the last stretch of the journey.  He was admitted immediately and conducted to the Chamber of the Bookes.  Cael’s explanation of what happened was identical to the previous occasion.

“There was a ripple through the air, just as before” he explained breathlessly.  “A shimmer, like heat-haze in summer.  And all the names slid upwards on the page.”

“So this is just like last time.”

“Exactly.  And again I don’t know what name is missing, I only know that an entry has been removed because this page has more free space than it did this morning.  What does it mean, Albus?  What can this possibly mean?”

“He would be a wizard, indeed, who could answer that” Dumbledore sighed sadly.  “Who is this?” he added, as a knock sounded at the door.

Three Ministry experts were shown into the Chamber, and together the five wizards puzzled long and hard as they tried once again to restore the Booke or at least to discover the mechanism of its corruption.  Eventually Dumbledore was forced to admit defeat and he returned, as before, in some despair to Hogwarts.

And so the matter rested yet again … if rested is the term, for no one was easy in their mind about it.

***

In the early part of 1981 Cael died at the relatively young age of 139, and his son inherited the titles of Marsh Warden of Udimore and Keeper of the Bookes.  The young Keeper presented Dumbledore with a small portrait of Cael, as his father and the Headmaster had become close friends over the years, and Dumbledore had always admired Cael’s huge portrait that hung on the second-floor landing with its commanding view up and down the broad staircase of Bliant Tower.  For a while Dumbledore thought about hanging the gift in his sitting room at Hogwarts but finally he found room for it in his office.

It was only a few weeks later, on a day in mid July, that Kieren called upon Dumbledore’s assistance, and as well as a letter he sent the Headmaster a small package marked ‘please read letter before opening this’.  His letter was just as anxious in tone as his late father’s correspondence had been, but the hand was clearly that of a much younger and stronger man.  His message was strange…

Professor Dumbledore,

We have suffered another inexplicable event.  This time the names seem to be intact, but for no apparent reason the quill jumped from the Booke of Birth to a scrap of parchment and began to write.  But whatever it wrote is illegible.

I desperately need your advice and I need you to see this curious parchment.  I have therefore taken the liberty of enclosing two Portkeys that will transport you to my tower’s roof.  Inside the red wrapper is a red silk cord and it is timed for 6:00pm.  Inside the blue wrapper is a blue cord set for midnight.  Please use whichever is most convenient and return the other to me when you arrive, because your urgent presence at Bliant Tower would be greatly appreciated!

Yours in haste,

Kieren

Dumbledore would have liked to take some of his other staff along with him, but as the holidays had begun and the school was almost empty of faculty staff, it was only the Headmaster and the Deputy Head who made the six o’clock journey to Bliant Tower.

Kieren was waiting for them on the windswept rooftop.  “Thank goodness you’ve come” he spluttered, “and early too.  You must stay to dinner, and stay the night if you wish.  I intend to alert the Ministry once you’ve had a look at this, so hopefully their experts will be here tomorrow.  Anyway, to business…”

The three of them descended quickly to the Chamber of the Bookes and there, on the table reserved for the Booke of Birth, was what the Keeper insisted was a piece of parchment.  It was hard to tell it had ever been parchment – the once ivory sheet was totally black and it had a strangely gaseous, insubstantial feel as if it had been aerated.  It felt as light as air.

“How do you know there is writing on this?” Dumbledore asked.

“I saw the letters being formed” the young Keeper replied.  “I was checking the latest deaths and had made a copy of some data to cross-check.  I happened to leave a spare scrap of parchment by the births as I moved to the other Booke.  Here, you can see where I got to; I’d ticked off a few names.  Then again there was that strange disturbance throughout the room – that ripple effect – just as my father described.  As I looked up the quill jumped from the Booke of Birth to that blank scrap and began to write.”

“And did you manage to read any of it?”

“No.  That was impossible.  I ran towards it but the parchment didn’t want to be seen.  It took off and flew around the room.  It wouldn’t come to a summoning spell and it hovered well out of reach.”

“The quill writing all the time?”

“Yes, Minerva.  The quill writing all the time.”

“A name?  Or list of names?”

“Neither I think.  The shape of the text was wrong.  More like a recipe.”

“More like a recipe” Dumbledore repeated slowly.  “A list of instructions, perhaps?”

“Perhaps.”

“And then what?”

“The quill stopped and returned to the Birth Booke.  The ink spread all over the parchment like blood soaking a bandage.  Then, when it was completely black, the parchment fluttered down to where you see it now.  Saturated with ink, but bone dry.  Illegible.”

Eventually the witch and wizards confessed themselves beaten for the time being and agreed to settle down to dinner.  Dumbledore also decided that he would take up Kieren’s offer of staying the night.  He wanted to see what the Ministry staff might make of this latest event.  McGonagall stayed as well; she was both too fascinated and too concerned to miss out on the Ministry’s input.

However the Ministry specialists were, as ever, as much in the dark about this latest conundrum as Dumbledore, McGonagall and Kieren Raegan had been.  For a time there was some pressure to make the Keeper remove the Bookes from the Tower to a new home at the Ministry.  But Kieren pointed out, and Dumbledore felt inclined to agree, that on this occasion no Booke had been corrupted and Dark Arts specialists had checked Bliant Tower with a fine-toothed comb after the last two events and found nothing wanting.  They were at liberty to do so again if they wished, Kieren insisted, in fact he would prefer it.  On hearing this, the Ministry staff reconsidered – the ancient Tower of Bliant was as well protected as Hogwarts was.  Little was to be gained from moving the Bookes and making Kieren work at the Ministry.  And the Keeper’s integrity was not, and never had been, in question.

But this time Dumbledore had a further plan forming in his mind.  It was not quite fully formed and if he decided to press ahead with it, it would involved the aid of his new Potions Master – a young former Hogwarts pupil who had not yet taken up his teaching duties at the school, and who was very probably enjoying a quiet holiday somewhere, hoping not to be disturbed or recognised.  Since the end of his school career his life had degenerated into dark turmoil and he now lived in danger.  Consequently, he often travelled incognito these days and had taken to becoming increasingly secret in his ways.

Review

Chapter Three - Duality

The village of Steeple Wellow is, to the fury of most tour operators, set just a little too far to the west.  Whereas half-timbered Stratford-on-Avon, the honey-stone Cotswold villages and the many-spired city of Oxford line up into a compact and reasonable tourist circuit, remote and snooty Steeple Wellow has to be omitted from busy itineraries.

The Muggle inhabitants of Steeple Wellow do not mind this in the least.  They are happy to keep their gothic church, bow-windowed shops, half-timbered inns and ancient stone market house to themselves, and not share their space with hoards of visitors.  A few determined walkers seek out the village when visiting the surrounding hills, and curious Cleedon Hill a few miles to the south-west often attracts archaeologists as well as walkers, but for the most part Steeple Wellow is left undisturbed.

This arrangement also suits the wizard inhabitants who live at the south-west end of the village.  They do not even want to share their space with Muggles, and they have become very adept at hiding their existence.  Hogsmeade may be the only non-Muggle settlement in Britain but Steeple Wellow is the most successfully discrete dual community.

The main route through Steeple Wellow runs north-west / south-east, roughly from Hay-on-Wye to Abbey Dore.  From the crossroads near the market house a road heads south-west and soon narrows to a cart track that peters out into fields.  Or so it seems to Muggle eyes, though they never question why one arm of a crossroads leads to nothing much at all.  In reality this insignificant lane is the highroad of the wizarding end of the village and it is lined with the most interesting shops, inns and private houses.

Most wizard parents patronise The Golden Foal, a friendly tavern that welcomes families and even has a play area in its spacious garden.  By contrast The Three Cups has never let a child across its threshold.  Its clientele is mostly male and of that type that stand around the bar conversing in knowing looks as much as words and striking business deals.  The Three Cups is also an hotel.  No questions are asked if a guest signs in under an assumed name – indeed it is almost expected – and so long as the house rules are obeyed, no eyebrows are raised if a guest takes a companion to his or her room for private entertainment.

The young wizard who flew in under the arch and pulled his Nimbus 1500 to a halt in the stable yard in the August of 1981 was about to discover what the house rules are.

He was a tall, graceful, black clad young man and he had pre-booked a week’s accommodation on the recommendation of a friend, a wizard by the name of Marcus Avery.  Now he wiped the drizzle from his face and looked for some assistance.  Within seconds an ostler appeared and showed the young wizard where to secure his broom.  He took charge of the luggage, conducted the guest to the reception area and watched as he signed in.

“Thank you, Mr Fallon” he said.  “Now if you will step into the office the proprietor always likes to run through the house rules.”

Adrian Fallon allowed himself to be conducted into a neat and tidy office and sat in the visitors chair at the far side of a carved oak desk.  He assumed the proprietor would be an astute wizard, much in the mould of Lucius Malfoy, so it was something of a shock when a blonde female of thirty-something and dressed in Muggle clothes walked into the room.  She might have been aware of his black eyes carefully watching her but she paid him little heed.  Slowly she took her seat opposite him, running a manicured fingernail down his registration form.  A heavy gold ring glittered on her finger – it bore a tangerine cabochon of hessionite.  At length she looked up, smiling a cynical smile.

“My name is Coral Patterson” she said.  “I see you have not stayed here before, Mr Fallon.  Very well.  I like my guests to have an enjoyable stay, but … I have three rules they must abide by.  One – every guest must conduct himself or herself with circumspection.  I will not tolerate unduly boisterous behaviour, mainly because it intrudes upon the privacy of other guests.  Two – no under-age ‘companions’ are to be taken to the bedrooms.”  She watched as Mr Fallon slowly inclined his head in acknowledgement, and then continued.  “And three – no Class-X substances are to be consumed within this hotel or its grounds.”  Mr Fallon had by now arched an eyebrow so she added a short explanation.  “The first rule is merely a matter of good manners.  The second exists simply because breaching it would offend me.  The third rule exists because I do not want anyone poisoned.  Don’t think I’m sentimental about my guests – I just don’t want them dying on the premises.  I’m sure you’ll understand.”

An ironic smile rippled across Fallon’s pale face.  “Your rules seem very reasonable” he murmured.

“Excellent” she smiled.  “We do serve Honeydew, Milk of Paradise, and Elixir-O.  So … if you should want chemical entertainment … I’m sure we can provide something to your taste.”

She stood up and extended her hand, so Fallon, realising the interview was over, did likewise and found that although her fingernails were painted scarlet, her handshake was firm and businesslike.  “Have a pleasant stay, Mr Fallon” she said.  “Hugh will show you to your room.  If there is anything you need, there are plenty of staff and the bar is open all day.  You will find my staff well trained.  They can answer all manner of questions and expedite all sorts of requests.  Should you encounter a problem they cannot solve I am here in my office every morning from 9:00am to 12:00noon.  Hugh, show Mr Fallon to his room please.”

The bedchamber, which was above the dining room and overlooked the stable yard, turned out to be a handsome en-suite room of rough whitewashed plaster between dark oak beams.  The furniture was richly carved, and the upholstery and soft furnishings were of wine red velvet and silks.  The king-size four-poster bed was very comfortable.

The bar, which Fallon explored a short time later, served him with strong local cider and half a French loaf liberally spread with rosemary butter and laden with roast lamb.  A bowl of mixed salad and a platter of fresh fruit were also carried to the table of his choice.  Fallon took a seat near the window and divided his silent attention between the customers at the bar and the rain pattering on the leaded lights.  It was a dull day, and reflected in the little diamond panes were the yellow lights of candles and lanterns that lit the dim room.  A fire of fragrant apple-wood logs smouldered in the hearth.  The barman noticed when Fallon drained his flagon and asked with nothing more than a surreptitious tilt of the head if a refilled was required.  Fallon nodded and in no time at all the barman was walking over with a freshly filled pewter tankard.  He also slipped a scrap of parchment onto the table as he set the cider down.

“In case you want company tonight, sir” he murmured discretely.

“One moment.”  Fallon glanced at the parchment which contained a list of names.  His face was inscrutable and half hidden by curtains of greasy black hair.

“If you have particular requirements I can organise what you want, sir” the barman offered.

Fallon’s glittering eyes narrowed as he looked up and probed the barman’s mind.  The man seemed genuine and Fallon’s reply when it came was uttered in a series of staccato instructions.  “Male.  Twenty-five or younger.  Of wizard blood, but Squib!  That last point must be guaranteed.”

“No problem, sir.  Dark or fair?”

Fallon hesitated, on the verge of saying ‘dark and clean-shaven’.  “No preference” he decided.

“And from what time tonight?”

“Let us say … from half-past-nine” Fallon replied softly, as he made up his mind to dine alone.

“Consider it done, sir” the barman replied, as he picked up the empty flagon.  Moments later he was back behind the counter and handing a note to a colleague.  The group of drinkers standing by the bar were still deep in their quiet conversation and Fallon returned to his lunch.  The rain was easing and pale sunlight reflected wetly from the young unicorn on The Golden Foal’s inn sign.  It was going to be a fine afternoon.

*

The following morning dawned sparkling bright, and the witch who served him breakfast informed Fallon that it would be a lovely day.  He ordered a packed lunch, dressed in casual Muggle clothes and spent the morning walking alone on the hills, his possessions stowed in a hotel back-pack.  At about one o’clock he breasted the top of the 320 meter-high Cleedon Hill, and felt a tremor beneath his feet.  But earth tremors are rare in Britain and usually never strong enough to cause concern.  Fallon feared no aftershocks.  After admiring the fine view he found a sheltered spot just below the crest of the hill to sit and eat his lunch, gazing west towards the Black Mountains and with the wind plucking gently at his hair.  His meal finished, he lay back and dozed for a while thinking this was as fine a spot as man could wish for, the sun burning in the sapphire sky, the cooling breeze curling around the steep conical hill and the tiny clouds forming and evaporating high above.

By mid afternoon he returned to the village and wandered through its entire length, browsing the Muggle shops.  He thought about having a drink at the inn by the Apple Market but the Muggle tavern was shut.  Nearby however was The Wellow Buttery and through its bullioned windows Fallon could see Lloyd Loom cane furniture, potted palms and bone china.  A group of women occupied one of the window tables, and the tea and pastries they were consuming looked very inviting.

Fallon stepped inside.  The cool teashop was a welcome relief from the sunny street.  Restrained chatter and the clink of cutlery broke upon his ears - the teashop was populated by a sprinkling of customers who had the appearance of retired colonels, country parsons and elderly ladies of independent means.  Sitting in the most favourably shady seat and yet with a view of the picturesque village centre, Coral Patterson was one of the all-female window-group of four – she was unmistakable in her bright colours of coral and hot sand.  She inclined her honey-blonde head fractionally in his direction but gave no other sign of recognition and continued her lively conversation with her Muggle friends.

Fallon found a secluded table and ordered tea, buttered crumpets and a slice of home made fruit cake.  The well-mannered Muggles paid him no attention and he felt curiously secure amid the fine china, polished accents and uninteresting small talk of the English taking tea.

*

And so the week continued.  Fallon took day trips to the Abbey and museum at Tewkesbury, and the cathedrals of Hereford and Gloucester.  He was not a religious man but he had a fondness for gothic splendour and old, beamed buildings.  He also spent a day ferreting in Hay-on-Wye’s captivating bookshops; and visited Ledbury, deciding it was something like a town-sized version of Steeple Wellow.  He spent most nights with Squib company but the last two alone, imbibing the hotel’s renown Elixir-O and letting that powerful potion provide the burst of relaxing pleasure that on the past few nights had been provided by young, pure-blood rent-boys.

Squibs were mandatory for Fallon – even at his relatively young age he was far too world-weary and suspicious of nature to risk being hexed or cursed.  Muggle companionship was out of the question – Fallon was even inclined to look down his hooked nose at half-blood wizards, he would have scorned a Muggle relationship.  Anyhow, he was by nature a solitary man.  Human company was alright up to a point, but chemical stimulation had the advantages of easy certainty of success and was not burdened by emotional baggage relating to stirrings of love and unspoken questions of possible longer term commitment.

During the last evening of his holiday he overindulged in an excellent Three Cups dinner – fan of melon with gingered berries and redcurrant coulis was followed by lobster à la Grecque and then by game pie with seasonal vegetables.  Fallon also said ‘yes’ to a further sliver of pie to go with the last of his vegetables, and still found room for a small portion of the hot mango tart.  It was all, unsurprisingly, superb!  The pretty waitress who usually attended Fallon’s table seemed to think he needed fattening up and had served him rather generous portions all week.  He had enjoyed the overindulgence – Fallon was about to embark on a new career and knew that from now on, holidays excepted, he could rely on plentiful and wholesome fare but for the most part not fantastic cuisine.

With his waistband tighter than is should be Fallon decided on a walk before settling down for the night, and took a long meandering stroll around the darkening village lanes.  The night was not particularly cool but it was thundery so he wore his cloak, fortunately as it happened because shortly after ten o’clock there was a sudden dazzling lightening flash, an enormous clap of thunder and rain clattered down in a torrent.

Hastily Fallon returned to The Three Cups and sought a shadowy corner of the bar in which to enjoy a last tot of Ogden’s before turning in.  As he peered from under his hood at the late night crowd smoking by the bar counter, two wizards entered.  One was richly dressed in black and silver and the lowering of a dripping hood revealed white blond hair tied with effortless flair into a low pony tail.  Fallon did not need to hear the ice cool tones to recognise Lucius Malfoy.  He didn’t recognise Malfoy’s companion but he finished his drink and slipped upstairs before either wizard had a chance to spot him.

He knew the wiser course would be to stay and try to eavesdrop on them, but he may be noticed and he didn’t particularly want to run into Malfoy at this precise moment.  He had played the spy for quite a while and had badly needed this holiday to give himself a complete, anonymous, change of routine.  Besides, Malfoy belonged to the past and Fallon was looking to the future.  The following day he would check out of The Three Cups and head for Scotland where he was about to start a teaching job at his old school.  It was an important job and carried with it the Headship of his old House, so he looked forward quite eagerly to the challenge.

For all of his life Fallon had anticipated the future with doubt and at times with trepidation, but he now had a certain, possibly unjustified, measure of optimism.  He didn’t want anything to spoil it.

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Chapter Four - The Enchantress of The Wood of Repulse

In the September of 1981 Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry gained a new Potions Master and Head of Slytherin House.  The former incumbent retired and a young wizard by the name of Severus Snape took over the rôle.

Snape, acknowledged as a gifted maker of potions to existing recipes, was also keen to experiment and improve formulations wherever he could.  Privately he also had one or two weak areas he was determined to remedy.  After letting him have sufficient time to settle into the routine of teaching and of managing his House, Dumbledore spoke to him of the longstanding mysteries of the Booke.  These had never been solved and to this day the illegible parchment lay alongside the Booke of Birth in the Tower of Bliant, calmly withstanding all attempts by Ministry and other specialists to reveal its secret.  The Headmaster was pleased to confide in Snape because aside from his skill with potions the dark Slytherin had another special gift that might be brought to bear in solving these enduring puzzles.  Thus it was that on a cool spring evening shortly before nine o’clock they sat by the fire in the Headmaster’s office drinking Kildonnan Liqueur Scotch Whisky, while Dumbledore related the order of events and the history of the strange black parchment.

“To this day nothing has ever been visible on it” he said in conclusion, “except that around the time of the full moon it sparkles with a faint silver dust.  A speckling effect.”

“But you said yourself that you never dared try a disclosing solution on the Booke, Headmaster” Snape simpered in his silky voice.  “Do you wish me to try such a thing on the parchment?”

“No, Severus.  Not to begin with.  Possibly not at all.”  Dumbledore stopped and considered his words carefully.  “Cael never saw clearly what was on the Booke’s page on that first occasion.  He said he had looked in the direction of that first name that was later deleted – he just wasn’t paying attention.  Didn’t ‘read’ it, to quote his exact words to me.  I lent him my Pensieve but he failed to extract the memory from his mind, he couldn’t get hold of it – if it ever existed as he described.  But that is all too late now.  As you know, Cael is dead, but his son, Kieren may have seen the page although Cael always maintained that Kieren would have been too young to read the name.  Yet it could be there in his mind, stored as an image, and if he could recall the image you could read it perhaps…  Perhaps…  Yes, I know it’s a long shot, Severus, but I want you to use your gift to read the thing yourself from his mind.  I want to know what the Booke said, even part of what it said … as a prelude to sorting out all three mysteries – the missing names and the sparkling parchment.”

Snape lowered his head and studied his drink, the thoughtful expression on his face almost hidden by the curtains of his hair.  “And does he agree to this?” he asked at length.

“He does agree to it, and he also agrees to taking a potion to boost the clarity of his mind or to sharpen his memory.”

“Why would he consent so readily to such chemical interference?”

“I think Kieren sees it as a gift for his father.  He would like to find the missing entries even though the Booke itself can never be repaired, and his father can never now see matters put right – he could only announce the good news to the portrait on the landing.  But Kieren would also like to know about the parchment, although that is of lesser importance to him – he sees that as something added, albeit useless, whereas data was lost from the Booke.”

“Hmmmm.”  Snape took a long pull at his Scotch as he thought the matter over.  It was an almost hopeless task, and that made it all the more interesting.  A near impossible challenge that many illustrious wizards had battled with, without a shred of success.  However, the use of a memory potion was a sticking point, because that was one of the weaker areas Snape had planned to work on in his spare time.  Dumbledore meanwhile was broaching the liqueur bottle.

“Will you accept a little more chemical interference, Severus?” he chuckled.

“Indeed.  Thank you, I will, Headmaster” Snape replied and proffered his glass for a top-up.  “I, err, would like a short space of time to attend to a matter before I see Kieren.”

“A short space of time.  Interesting concept.  How long do you want?”

“A month should do.  Will that be possible?”

“Yes, I suppose so” Dumbledore said thoughtfully.  “As this has waited some nine years I think I can allow you a few weeks.  I trust your month will be profitably spent.  Will it advance this issue?”

Snape’s eyes narrowed; did Dumbledore suspect he felt he needed to brush up his skills?  Yes, probably he did, the old man missed little.  “It bears directly on the matter” Snape admitted, and was cordially allowed to take the time he needed.

When, a short while later, he went to the library, Irma Pince was still working there despite the lateness of the hour, and on balance Snape was pleased to see her.  The thin, vulture-like librarian was always helpful to staff, and usually unearthed what they wanted if they couldn’t be bothered to do their own searching.  Essentially Snape wanted the UK Atlas Guide to Apparating, but it was easier to ask Pince for all the information he needed.

“Where are you going?” she enquired, and was shocked to hear him mention an area of deciduous forest in Norfolk.  “Robinwood?  That’s slap-bang in a hot spot, Professor” she cautioned.  “We’re always getting warnings from the Accidental Magical Reversal Squad about that.  It’s right in the midst of Muggle military activity. It’s –”

Snape almost snapped ‘I know that’ but he controlled his temper with an effort.  “I appreciate your concern, Irma” he replied smoothly, “but rather than seek to dissuade me, just give me all the information you have.  Then I will be armed and forewarned, and you can set your mind at rest.”

Pince coloured slightly at his sarcastic purr, then she summoned a very old Atlas and several bundles of Ministry reports, and guided the floating documents to a table for Snape to peruse.  She returned to her desk and resumed her cataloguing, occasionally flashing furtive glances at the Potions Master.  Snape tried to ignore her; he couldn’t help but be aware of her anger and of something else – a faint enthralment perhaps?  The reluctant dawnings of a fascination for him?  Ye gods, no, he implored the fates.  Don’t let the scrawny hag start to fancy me.  I can understand it when witches loath the sight of me, but when some begin to develop a curious compulsion against their better judgement…?  A quiet smile twitched the corners of his mouth as he leafed through the Ministry reports of aircraft activity, weapons testing, near collisions with broomsticks and Muggle-induced splinches.  The reports were stacked with the most recent addition on top.  It was headed Surviving Pressure Wave Peaks and Electromagnetic Congestions.  He picked it up and began to read.  She’ll soon realise her error, he smirked with a savage satisfaction.

***

The following day dawned cold but bright.  Snape breakfasted early and set off for Robinwood.  He had formed a good appreciation of the risks and was still determined to Apparate.  Arriving on the edge of a small forest, he made his way towards the stream named Fallowmere.  All his intelligence-gathering about his ultimate goal told him to make for the stream, and to be wary – the creature who lived by its banks was dangerous.

The spring foliage of hazel and ash was full of the twittering of robins.  The birds were shy and difficult to see but their song had a gentle, echoing quality.  The forest was much lighter than the Forbidden Forest; young leaves of lime and beech filled the air with a pale green haze, and in some places the trees were so thinly spaced that at ground level Snape found himself swishing through wet grass.  Nevertheless he felt vulnerable and wondered about making his Animagus transformation to traverse the woodland in a less obvious form.  He also felt the forest’s persistent repulsion.  Whoever lived here had filled the land with Muggle-repelling charms that were designed to induce a sense of needing to be somewhere else.  Muggles, of course, weren’t conscious of the spells as spells, nor indeed as distinct force fields, they simply grew to feel that they were wasting their time admiring the forest and would be much better entertained elsewhere.  However those of magical mind could sense the charms as deliberate enchantments, and had renamed Robinwood The Wood of Repulse.

Snape didn’t bother to transform, he merely pressed on, walking slowly and with a lofty determination, turning at times to look about.  When he judged he was near to his destination he halted and lent his back against a large, solid oak as his eyes continued to scan the gaps between the trees.  Subconsciously his fingers gripped the gnarled trunk of the oak tree, their curling tips digging the nails into the bark.  A drop of dew fell, hitting his cheek and making him start.  He looked up through the tangle of branches and smiled grimly.

No sign of anyone, above or round-about.  No sign of a dwelling either he realise sadly, but of course it might be hidden even from wizard view.

He couldn’t stay here all day…  Cautiously he pushed off from the tree.

FLUMP!  Something landed on the back of his head and gripped his forehead in a band of iron.  Strong hands scrabbled across his face.  Snape screwed his eyes as tightly shut as was possible, to protect them from probing, little fingers.  He swore and struggled, trying to fling the creature off and at the same time draw his wand.

“Stupefy.”

A stunning spell hit him and he knew no more until he was revived a few seconds later.  He came to lying on the ground, smells of earth, ground elder, and unwashed feet filling his nostrils.  Inches from his face, bare legs stood fore-square in front of him.  The toenails of the smelly feet were misshapen and grimed with filth.  Tufts of hair sprouted from the tops of the larger toes.  The skin was tanned, rough, and leathery-looking as if the person lived mostly out of doors and had little use for shoes.  Snape realised that the creature that had attacked him was still perched on the back of his head, and he sensed his wand had been taken.  The sharp fingers of the attacker made another grab for his eyes.  Snape clamped them shut, and pressed his face into the ground.

“That’s enough, Blogg! … Good boy.  Back to your tree, now.  Here...”

Was the voice a woman’s?  It was hard to tell but, unseen by Snape, she handed the Bowtruckle a handful of woodlice.  The little tree guardian looked up at her with faithful, brown eyes, took the wood lice and scampered back into the oak.  He sat amongst the branches, looking like a mass of twigs and bark, perfectly camouflaged in his favourite tree.  Snape meanwhile, stayed flat on the ground but he had raised his head just high enough to be able to see the ragged hem of a calf-length brown suede robe.  Suddenly a foot was thrust under his chin and the big toe jerked up, lifting his face into clearer view.  Cunning eyes sought his.

“And what brings a young and handsome wizard into my lonely forest?” a cold voice asked.  “Speak, wizard, and be quick about it.”

‘Handsome’ was pronounced with a deep irony.  Snape felt his mind probed; this witch had some skill in that technique and, as ever, he was glad of his custom of smearing his forehead and temples with Tebo grease.  It made a mess of his hair and was not a total shield, but it backed up his ability to shut out mental intrusion.  He closed his eyes.

“I seek the Mistress of Potions” he replied softly.  The Enchantress of Robinwood.  I want her help…  And I can pay.”

“And who are you, that asks for help?”

“I am a master at Hogwarts.”

“A master?  Not much of a master, if he needs help.  Get up, Master Wizard, and come with me.”

Snape stood, spat out a mouthful of earth, hastily brushed his hands across his face and the front of his robes, and realised that he could now see a hut between the trees and a glimpse of a stream beyond it.  It was a poor hovel, nowhere near as grand as Hagrid’s cabin, and Hagrid’s cabin was in Snape’s opinion very nearly a hovel.  Most probably the Enchantress used some form of Disillusionment charm to keep her humble lair well hidden.

The hideous witch conducted Snape inside and offered him a bitter drink of herbs.  He took the steaming goblet and sipped it carefully as she laughed at his caution.  Its contents tasted wholesome and refreshing; time would tell if it was at it appeared.

The small log cabin of a room contained only one chair, so when she invited him to sit Snape rolled out a wide log from the firewood stacked against the chimney, and sat uncomfortably low near to the hearth.  He kept a careful eye on the witch but at the same time his glance flicked around the room.

In the middle was a crudely-made scrubbed wooden table that was obviously used as a work bench.  A single bed stood in one corner and around the rest of the walls sacks slumped on the floor beneath banks of deep shelves crammed pell-mell with books, rolls of parchment, quills, candles, ink bottles and one or two boxes.  In the centre of the bed a large Kneazle lay curled up, cat-like, and apparently asleep.  As Snape’s glance fell on it, it opened its eyes, gave him a lingering stare, and then resumed its snoozing.  Snape felt as if he had passed a test.

The chair in which the witch now sat was a rocking chair, bare of upholstery, and emitting a grating rumble as it rolled on the rough brick floor.  She sat at an angle before the fire.  A pot-holder could be swung over the fire so that a kettle or cauldron could be suspended above the flames that fluttered at the base of the stone chimney – the only bit of the building that looked reassuringly solid.  The wooden ceiling above them was part larder and part herb store.  From it hung cups and jugs, utensils, hams, nets of root vegetables, and bundles of drying herbs.  Not an inch of the room was wasted and nothing seemed to be there merely for luxury or for decoration.  Every cubic foot of space had to pay its way.  What she did about sanitation and water supply Snape hardy dared to think, but the Fallowmere flowed by at the back of the hovel and he supposed he would find a simple cross-pole latrine if he cared to search among the bushes at its bank.  When she needed a bath she probably swam in the icy mere upstream of her latrine.  Perhaps that explained her lack of attention to personal hygiene.

Carefully Snape turned his gaze fully upon the witch.  Could this be the person he had come to see?  Could this old crone really be the Enchantress?

She was obviously far from young and certainly hideous.  Stick-thin and virtually toothless, she had a cackling laugh and masses of grey, tangled hair.  She gave the impression of being a crazed lune and looked as though she might quite possibly poison him or curse him before their business was concluded.  Her eyes were as treacly-brown as her Bowtruckle’s.  He could not penetrate her mind and she smiled at his surreptitious attempt.

“Severus Snape” she chortled, in a flat, sarcastic voice.  “Potions Master and Head of Slytherin House.  Dumbledore’s new pet spook.  A shrewd mixer of sarcasm and spite.”

As she spoke Snape felt as if he had been holding a private conversation in his head and she had eavesdropped on every word of it, even though he had been as careful as ever to keep his mind closed.  Clearly she was very skilled, and, like him, could deduce and guess what she could not read directly.  She was reputed to be tricky and dangerous, but she had never, to anyone’s knowledge, been a supporter of Voldemort.

“So what troubles the learnéd Professor?” she continued.  “Doesn’t he yet know everything?  And I believe you said something about paying me.”

“Memory potions” Snape explained, coming straight to the point.  “Elixirs to foster accurate recall.  I should like to know your formulation.  Will you show me?”

“First show me yours.”

There was no saying ‘no’ to this dangerous, cackling hag, so Snape fished about in an inside pocket of his robes and pulled out a roll of parchment which she took eagerly.  Watching her warily he continued to sip his drink as she tilted it towards the firelight to read his spiky writing.  She seemed pleased.

“Mmm, yes, Jobberknoll feathers.  Yes, Runespoor egg.  Yes, yes, there is little amiss here.  Wait… where do your Jobberknoll feathers come from?  Mainland Europe?  If you want the best result try to get feathers from birds raised in North America.  They have a more varied diet; the European birds are often intensively reared and fed far too many crane flies and house flies.”

Snape nodded his thanks.

“Now, the Runespoor” she continued.  A sly look crept over her face.  “Let’s see the colour of your money.”

Snape again fished in his pockets and drew out a small bag of gold.  He tipped its contents onto the table and arranged the Galleons in a row.  The hag looked pleased.  She selected a scroll of parchment and spread that on the table, weighting the corners with three candlesticks and the top left-hand corner with a tiny shallow dish of fish oil in which rested a single rush stem.  It was an ancient style of lamp Snape was shortly to see often in use in the Tower of Bliant.  The crone set the rush tip alight, and the room was filled with a powerful silvery light.  Then she gathered up the coins and sat down.

Snape read the parchment avidly and pulling ink, quill and a parchment scrap from his robes he began to make notes.

“You use Runespoor brain” he remarked in amazement.  “Brain, as well as egg.”

“Sometimes” the Enchantress replied.  “Never from the centre head.  The right-head brain is best, but it is hard to get.  The left-head brain will do.  Never use the head that dreams, Wizard, or you will be treated to a babble of arrant nonsense.  Visions and imaginings will cloud the recall.  Now, have you seen enough?”

They concluded their business and the crone saw him off, walking a few yards with him in the company of her pet Kneazle whose name it transpired was Fischer.  Finally they halted and she returned Snape’s wand.  As he took it and said goodbye, he saw that her hovel had vanished from view and her faithful Bowtruckle was keeping careful watch on him from a silver birch.  His last view was of an ugly, cunning and lonely ‘hag’ in some sort of self-imposed exile in her enchanted forest.

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Chapter Five - The Minder of his Mind

Concerned at the apparent extent of the old crone’s knowledge of his name and his rôle at Hogwarts, but delighted with what he had learned from her, Snape set about assembling the ingredients for a new Memory Potion.  He had exaggerated the time he needed when he asked Dumbledore for a month’s grace.  All of the ingredients could be used immediately.  The trouble was to find them.

Snape had long and sometimes heated discussions in several apothecary shops in London and eventually the apothecary in Diagon Alley agreed to arrange for a special delivery of Jobberknoll feathers.  The Runespoor brains were more difficult; no retailer was prepared to guarantee to obtain the right head of the rare 3-headed serpent, and Snape could not find anyone who would admit to dealing in the lives snakes.  Professor Kettleburn’s advice was that Snape should seek the aid of Roger Leeland in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.  Leeland contacted his opposite number at the Ministry of Magic of the African state of Burkina Faso and they sent over a crate of the livid orange and black snakes.  Kettleburn took charge of them, delivering freshly killed snakes to Snape as required and letting Hagrid help with the care of the live ones; Hagrid, of course, was thrilled.

Meanwhile, by careful pre-arrangement a witch from Little Falls, Minnesota arrived at the apothecary shop in Diagon Alley and Snape saw her in person to clinch the deal on the Jobberknoll feathers.  Less than three weeks had passed since his trip to Robinwood and his potion was ready.  It was a very proud Potions Master who informed Dumbledore of this.

“Excellent, Severus.  Then we go on Saturday” Dumbledore said, as McGonagall bustled about his office, collecting up scrolls of parchment for him.

“Where exactly are we going, Headmaster?” Snape enquired.

“Udimore” Dumbledore replied.  “Now, you must excuse me.  I’m wanted at the Ministry.”

“What did he say?” Snape asked McGonagall as they descended the spiral staircase.

“He’s off to the Ministry.  You know what they’re –”

“No, no.  He said something like Ooo-di-more.”

“Yes, that’s right.  Udimore” she repeated.  “It’s not the village in Sussex – you won’t find this on any Muggle map.  It’s the unplottable hill in the fenland on the borders of Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire.  Its name probably has the same origin as the Sussex village – above the mere – because it was above the waters.”

“Sounds like you know it well, Minerva.”

As she wandered along to her office McGonagall explained that it was to the Isle of Udimore that she went every year to update her list of student names.  “Kieren Raegan lives there in a tower built by his ancestor Bryn Bliant” she continued, rather pompously and not quite accurately.  “Albus told me all about it.  He knows the family quite well.  It seems a descendent of a friend of this Bliant, a wizard of the Hengist family, was involved in the naming of the Sussex village.  That was much later of course.  I don’t know the full story but it was something to do with playing a trick on Muggles – moving the stones of the church they were building to another spot, or something.  You know how some wizards can’t help bating Muggles.  Anyway, going much further back, in the Dark Ages the Bliant, Hengist and Vortigern families were close colleagues, and had a good deal to do with Merlin.  I suppose it was of some comfort to them to be friends in a world full of mistrustful Muggles.  Kieren Raegan seems to be continuing this Raegan / Hengist connection.  Last year, after years of trying to find a witch he considered high-born enough for him, he married a lady by the name of Rowen Hengist, a beautiful witch who a year earlier had secretly born him a baby girl.  I remember Kieren being quite moved to see his own daughter’s name written in the Booke of Birth.  But they kept their relationship a strict secret and only married once You-Know-Who had vanished.”

She halted in her narrative, her hand on the door handle to her office.  She was wondering, as Dumbledore, Snape, and many others had done, just how ‘vanished’ Voldemort really was.  Kieren and Rowen had not been the only ones to live in cloistered fear – many couples had delayed their weddings or worked hard to keep a low profile.

“But you must know of this, Severus” she continued at last.  “The wedding was quite a society do and reported in The Prophet.  A photograph of the happy couple hangs beneath Cael’s portrait in Albus’s office.  Haven’t you seen it?”

Snape had never paid much attention to the wedding photograph of the son of Dumbledore’s friend.  He thought he could remember something of the press coverage but as the people concerned had nothing to do with Voldemort he had given it scant attention.  He had no genuine interest in such matters, he only liked to know who was involved with who, if it was of potential use or threat to him.  As he was now about to visit this high-ranking pureblood family he looked up the articles in back issues of the newspapers and magazines stored in the library.  Pince paid him no attention.  Halfway through his researches she got up and left him to it.

According to the magazine photographs Rowen Hengist was indeed very beautiful.  Masses of pale gold hair tumbled about her head and shoulders in luxurious waves, and her eyes were like living sapphires.  She and Kieren made a very attractive couple.  Kieren Raegan was handsome, square-jawed and strong-looking.  It was quite clear from the way they stood side by side and slightly turned towards one-another that they were head-over-heels in love.

Ah well, Snape mused, I’ll meet them and their grizzling offspring in a couple of day’s time.  No doubt their mutual devotion will be quite nauseating.

***

It was with some surprise that Snape learned at lunchtime on Saturday that he and the Headmaster were not going to Apparate directly to Udimore, but were travelling firstly by Portkey to Regellous Farm near Tydd St Giles.  They arrived in a farmyard and it appeared that they were expected.

“You got my latest owl, then” Dumbledore said to the wizard who awaited them.

“Yes, Professor.  Of course” the young man replied.  He disappeared into a stable and came out with two tall horses on leading reins.  Between them walked a strange creature the like of which Snape had never seen.  It was two feet high, covered in shaggy fur and had hind legs ending in cloven hooves.  It wore a leather belt from which hung a small pouch.  Snape and the creature regarded each other carefully with an expression of mutual distrust.  “Snap to it, Baudwyn” the stable master ordered, thrusting the leading-reins into the creature’s stubby hands.  “These are the wizards who are going to Udimore.  Guard them well.”

Dumbledore mounted the heavier of the two horses, a pale grey Irish Draught – a very solid horse, a little taller than the typical height of 17 hands.  Snape was given an even taller but less weighty horse of an unusual colour – an Oldenburg, which he mounted with extreme caution, fanning out his robes over the beast’s iron grey hind-quarters and momentarily clutching at its mane as a fear of falling rocked him.  He recovered his composure and sat back, trying to look unconcerned, though his knuckles were starkly white as his hands clenched the leather reins.

“I didn’t realise this would be necessary” he remarked irritably.  “I think I’d rather go by broom.”

“I thought you hated flying, Severus” Dumbledore chuckled.  “And it is such a lovely afternoon for a gentle ride.  Kieren is not much in favour of folk whizzing up on broomsticks.  Like his father, he has been known to have them shot down.  I always find that sauntering up on a horse is much safer, unless I have a Portkey to arrive at a specified time.  Many centuries of persecution have made the family quite paranoid of approaching visitors.  But don’t worry, this way we can arrive slowly and in plain view.  The horses will keep us safe from the Dugbogs, and Baudwyn, the Porlock, will guard the horses.”

“And who will guard the Porlock?” Snape grumbled, but one look at the fierce horse-guardian left him in no doubt that the little creature could take very good care of itself.

The stable master bade them goodbye and the two Professors set off, the horses walking slowly away and turning north-east.  As they walked, Baudwyn fastened the long leading reins to his belt and pulled a piccolo out of his pouch.  He then piped a cheery, twittering tune as the party ambled on its way.

The afternoon was sunny and the wander across the fenland was very pleasant except for occasional attacks from small clouds of buzzing midges that tried to get into their ears.  After an hour they passed a patch of low, scrubby woodland, turned due north and could see in the distance a lonely tower of brown brick raised up out of the fenland on a little hill.

“Behold, the Isle of Udimore” Dumbledore said.  “Once long ago, it was literally an island upon which the first Bliant built that fortified tower.  His descendants clung on, determined Celts in an area that gradually turned more and more Saxon and Angle.”

“And Kieren is Bliant’s descendant?” Snape remarked, although he had checked matters out very carefully for himself.

“Yes, Kieren is his descendant, through the female line” Dumbledore confirmed.

As they drew closer Snape saw that the tower was in fact made not of brick but of a strange brownish stone.  A herring gull flew out to take a look at them.  It said nothing to them but flew back at once and circled around, calling “How, how, how” in rapid cries to a figure leaning on a parapet surrounding the flat roof.  By the time they were a short distance from the main door, servants were waiting to show them in and to attend to the horses.

They were allowed to freshen up and offered food and drink.  Dumbledore accepted a goblet of wine but both Professors declined food, as Snape was anxious to get to work and Dumbledore wanted no delay.  Minutes later they were ushered into a third-floor room where a richly dressed wizard paced about in a state of agitation.  Dumbledore introduced his new Potions Master.

Kieren Raegan seemed nervous.  He was suitably courteous but said little of any importance and appeared distracted.  Dumbledore looked concerned, this was not the wizard he remembered from his meetings in 1981, he wondered whether a sudden fear of what was to be done to his mind could really account for such a profound change in a young man he thought he knew.

Finally Kieren calmed down a little, took Snape’s potion, and the Potions Master got to work.  They toiled for almost two hours by which time Snape was tired and Kieren was close to overwrought.  Dumbledore said they both should rest and perhaps it would be as well to take a break and have dinner.  Kieren took this advice and disappeared, mumbling something about ensuring all the preparations were as he wanted.

“This is not good, Headmaster” Snape confided once they were alone.  “He is not co-operating at all.  At times he is most definitely blocking me, and for the rest of the time his mind is full of … dross!”  The last word was almost spat out in a scornful hiss.

“What do you mean, Severus?” Dumbledore asked.

“I received one flashback of the Booke, I think a half-second or so after it was altered” Snape fumed.  “I also at some point picked up what I think is an earlier memory.  He was running into the room, a typical little boy, happy and keen to see his father.”  Snape paused, wishing he had such carefree memories of his own childhood.

“And in between those moments?” Dumbledore pressed.

“In between, nothing.”

“You mean there is a gap in his memory.”

“Possibly.  I really cannot be sure.  He is very emotional, so penetration is easy, but clear images are rare.  The over-riding impression comes from the emotions – bitter resentment, anger, fear for his child’s safety.  It seems to be making him panic and shut me out – impressions of shame and embarrassment.  But fear for the daughter’s welfare seems to be the most resurgent theme.  To be perfectly frank I wonder whether the memory we hope for simply doesn’t exist and we are putting Kieren through this for noth –”

He broke off as the Keeper reappeared.  Soon the three of them sat down to dinner.  Dumbledore’s gaze flicked around the room, but he said nothing.  However Kieren responded to his meaningful glance.

“I suppose you are looking for Rowen” he ventured.  “She is not here.  She has left.”

“I’m sorry to hear that” Dumbledore replied gently.  “And what of your daughter Lorin?”

In reply Kieren instructed a servant to fetch the infant.  A witch appeared five minutes later and was introduced to the Professors.  She was an Irish witch by the name of Orla Qwin and she carried in her arms a bonny toddler.  The child was clearly growing fast and had black curly hair, brown eyes and an expression of total serenity.  As Orla held the child for them to see Snape glared guardedly at it, intrigued by the child’s hair and eye colour and making a comparison with the parents.  Lorin stared thoughtfully back at Snape but she reached out readily to Dumbledore and stroked his beard as if it was fur.  She smiled.  Finally Orla took her back to the nursery and the wizards continued with their meal.

“As you see, Lorin flourishes” Kieren stated carefully.  “I have engaged Qwin as her nanny and Meliodas Vye to be her tutor.  She will be educated here until she is eleven and then I am going to send her to Durmstrang.”

“And what of her mother?” Dumbledore asked softly.

“I asked Rowen to leave my house” Kieren replied, “and to have nothing to do with Lorin.  She has now agreed to my terms.  She has gone back to her old home, and that is all I intend to say about this.”

Dinner continued in a subdued atmosphere, and Dumbledore and Snape were both relieved to return to Hogwarts.

“Well, that’s it!” Snape remarked when they were once again in the privacy of the school.  “That’s what kept distracting him, and causing him such embarrassment.  I got a strong message of ‘Lorin must be protected’, ‘Rowen must go’, ‘Rowen – deceiver’.  Oh, it was such a fragmented mess.  I suppose Lorin isn’t Kieren’s child.  She doesn’t have his hair and eye colour.  But then neither does she resemble those of his wife.  And although he’s thrown the wife out, he’s keeping the child.  In fact two themes stand out loud and clear in his mind – he is fiercely angry about ‘Rowen the deceiver’ and he is determined to move heaven and earth to ‘protect Lorin’.  I think I’ve run aground with this, Headmaster.  Unless you wish me to try again when Kieren is less wound up about his personal affairs.”

Dumbledore thought this over and decided against it.  He was reluctantly beginning to accept that as a boy of seven Kieren had seen nothing of significance that day, and also that even if he had, for Snape to ‘read’ text from a picture in Kieren’s mind was a total impossibility.  The lost name would have to stay lost.

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Chapter Six -Harry’s Prophecy

And so the years rolled by, and momentous years they were!  Harry Potter arrived at Hogwarts.  Voldemort was reborn and war raged again between the Death Eaters and Dumbledore’s Order.  Snape played his desperate game of Death Eater Spy for Dumbledore.  Harry finally defeated Voldemort.

And, amazingly Snape survived!

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

The world kept turning.  Life was moving on…

By 1998 Harry Potter was leaving Hogwarts to start his career as an Auror, whilst the magical world in general was starting to relax and trust that life was now truly post-Voldemort, and there would be no further aftershocks.  Snape was still by nature a fairly secret individual – that was inevitable in view of his innate cunning – but even he, at times, took a fraction less care than he used to and appreciated a new sense of freedom.  Although he would never say so, he was reasonably content with teaching Potions and certainly happy to be Head of Slytherin.  At times he mused vaguely about his future, wondering if he would continue with Potions forever or would one day get the chance to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts.  Dumbledore had reinstated Remus Lupin to that post and Snape reluctantly felt there was some justice in the appointment.  Lupin had proved to be a steadfast colleague in the Order, and Snape could never resent him as much as he had resented Sirius Black and James Potter.

In the December of 1998 when the school had broken up for the Christmas holidays Snape travelled to London.  He had appointments to keep with two young wizards at two different taverns, and he had agreed to meet the first at The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a gothicly dark inn in Knockturn Alley.

Harry Potter got to the tavern ahead of Snape.  He ordered a goblet of mulled wine and took it to one of the private booths.  He glanced at his watch and took a small sip of the spicy carmine beverage – he did not want to be too far ahead of Snape in terms of numbers of drinks.  Not if they were in for an evening session – Snape’s head was clearer than his at the best of times.

Snape.  What an enigma!  Harry remembered how during those first few years he had simply loathed him.  Hated him because he was unfair, sarcastic and mean-spirited.  And then because he had tried to get Sirius Black recaptured – an innocent man on the run, and facing the irreversible horror of the Dementors’ kiss if he was caught.  And then because he taunted Black about being of little use within the Order, and implied that he was a coward.  Then…

Then I began to grow up, Harry realised, and it began to get complicated.

When Black died at the start of the Second Voldemort War Harry recalled how he had wasted a lot of mental effort trying to blame Snape for the death, and hating him for taunting Black in those last difficult months.  But it had been no use – Harry finally had to admit to himself that Snape, although a master at wounding by words, had nevertheless always told the truth about both his godfather and his father.  In their youth they had mounted a campaign of bullying at school – their target Snape.  And why?  Because Snape, although not fully understanding nor wanting to admit his true feelings, was drawn to James Potter like iron to a magnet.  As was Black – he and Snape were rivals.

But the faint hopes and secret fears, harassment battles and manoeuvrings were all a complete waste of time – James didn’t share their inclinations; it was pretty witch Lily Evans who would win his heart, not handsome Sirius Black or unprepossessing Severus Snape.  In James’s eyes talented, reckless Black was just a devoted but platonic friend.  And learnéd, cunning Snape?  Snape was less than nothing.

Which was to have a catastrophic affect on his feelings for any son of James, Harry realised, although Snape persists in kidding us both that he’s such a master of his emotions.  From Day One I thought I saw hatred in the famous fathomless eyes, but it was tension.  Here was a James Potter look-alike, staring him in the face.  A pupil who would be like James in many ways, and living proof of the object of James’s true love.  And a dreadful reminder of all the taunts, humiliations and rejections of Snape’s own school years.  Was I potentially Snape’s Dudley Dursley?  Perhaps it was far worse than that.  Ah!  Here he is.

Snape had just entered and was talking to the barman, while taking a glance towards Harry’s booth.  Then he rummaged for coins and picked up two goblets of mulled wine.  He walked slowly over.

“I brought you a top-up” he said softly, setting the drinks down.  “You’re ahead of me.”  He slid into the opposite seat.

“Good evening, Professor” Harry said quietly.

“Really, Harry” Snape smiled cryptically, “I think after all we’ve been through together you might call me Severus.”

Harry nodded his agreement, smiling as he remembered a time when Snape had insisted most vehemently that he be addressed as Sir or Professor.  It wasn’t so long ago and yet already those days seemed to belong to an earlier age of the world.

They talked for a while about how Harry was progressing with his Auror training, how he liked working at the Ministry, and how things were going at the school.  Gryffindor had won the first Quidditch match of the season against Hufflepuff, news which made Harry quite gleeful.  Snape gently retaliated by pointing out that clearly Harry was not as essential to the Gryffindor team as he had fondly supposed.  There was a dark smile underlining the Potions Master’s words, naturally he wanted Slytherin to win the Cup, but his habitual taunting of Harry had evolved from bitchy hatred to good natured bantering.  He grudgingly admitted that Michael Corner was an adequate Head Boy and Ginny Weasley was proving to be excellent as Head Girl.

“Did it ever cross your mind to be an Auror, Severus?” Harry asked suddenly.

“What, in my schoolboy career dreams?  Why?  Do you think I’d be any good?” Snape countered carefully.

Harry gave him a sceptical ‘you’re pulling my string’ look – how could the Potions Master not be good at such a thing, he’d spent years playing a double-bluff game – an act portrayed with consummate skill and deadly attention to detail as Snape fought to keep his credibility with dangerous associates such as the Malfoys.  “Well, you’d be brilliant at long-term covert operation” Harry pointed out.  “And you’re a natural at stealth and concealment.  Yeah, I’d say you’d be good.”

Snape could not suppress a smile.  “I didn’t seriously consider it” he replied smoothly, “because I prefer to display my talents in front of a larger audience.  Not the selfless unseen hero rôle for me!”

“But that’s precisely what you did become” Harry insisted.

“Well, it wasn’t intentional and it did not appeal as a way of life” Snape admitted.  “No, I had always had a foolish fancy to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts.”  He dropped his voice still lower.  “Also, as you know, I joined the Inner Circle, and you can imagine how delighted the Dark Lord would have been to have yet another of his devoted followers embedded at the Ministry – particularly amongst the Aurors.  I would have been used most ruthlessly, Harry.”  He took a further mouthful of wine.  “I don’t deny that the vision of myself as an Auror was tempting in its way, but I am pleased to say that whatever courage I have, has always been balanced by good sense.  There comes a point where I will opt to save my neck rather than make the ultimate sacrifice.”

They chatted on, drained their goblets and Harry went to the bar for two more.  As he returned the cryptic smile was still playing about Snape’s thin mouth.

Harry knew he could never return Snape’s deeper feelings – not emotionally and physically – but he had come to realise that Snape, beneath his unavoidable air of treachery, had a bedrock of reliability upon which he could trust.  Unsurprisingly the bedrock had been carefully concealed with superficial attitudes much more readily understandable, and which were easy for the Potions Master to act out because they had an origin in truth – jealousy, resentment, hatred, impatience of imperfection.

Perhaps the key to acting any part well is the truth you can bring to it.

Chatting over several drinks the two wizards had an enjoyable evening reminiscing and it was with some reluctance that they drew the proceedings to a close.  Surreptitiously Snape glanced at his watch – he knew someone else would now be waiting for him.

“We must do this again sometime” Harry said.

“Yes, I would like that” Snape agreed.  “You can always owl me.  You know my routine – I don’t intend to give up teaching.  It is you, I think, who will be the one with the more varied timetable.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s true.  Do you often come to London, Severus?”

“Oh yes.  Whenever I can.  In the summer certainly, and at Christmas if work permits.”  Snape gave Harry a shrewd, narrow-eyed look.  “I, err, don’t pursue the physical side of my life in the environs of the school, Harry.  These may be liberated times but it is still necessary for me to be discreet, and to risk no accusation of involvement with minors.”

Harry nodded.  “There’s never been anyone special for you then” he said carefully.  “You like variety.”

A cruel ripple of a smile crossed Snape’s face.  “Indeed” he agreed.  “Well, I have done so up to now.  I suppose it might be different as I grow older.  What about you?  Anyone special in your life yet?”

“Mmmm?  Not yet” Harry admitted.  “There have been moments, but, no, not yet.”

“Not the pretty Miss Chang?”

“Nah.  That was over before it got started.”

“And Miss Granger?”

“Hermione’s always been a good friend.  Nothing more.  It’s Ron she’s fond of.  No.  I’m going out with Susan Bones at the moment, but – it’s early days.”

“Ah yes, another Ministry worker.”

“Yeah, trainee Obliviator…  Funny, this” Harry said thoughtfully, “talking to you like this.  I used to wish I could talk over this stuff with Sirius.  Thought he’d understand and be able to advise me.  Put me right about how girls’ minds worked.  Ha!  He wouldn’t ’ve had a clue, would he.”

“No more than I” Snape admitted with a half-shy grin.

Harry drained his goblet.  “Well, I really must be heading home” he said.  “Goodnight, Severus.”  He stood up and held out his hand.

Snape stood too.  “Goodnight, Harry” he murmured.  They shook hands, then Harry slipped out of the booth and fastened his cloak.

“I reckon you will find someone special one day” Harry said cryptically.  “ ’Night.”  He raised his hand in a brief wave of farewell, turned on his heel and left the tavern.

Harry Potter hurried through Knockturn Alley and walked the length of Diagon Alley towards The Leaky Cauldron.  Outside it a young, well dressed Squib, who had been waiting for almost ten minutes, was kicking his heels.  He looked up as Harry approached and then immediately resumed his slow ambling about.  Too young – this was not the wizard he waited for.  Harry glanced at him in casual curiosity – the Squib had a handsome face and the top of his blond hair was drawn back and lay in a neat plat down the back of his head.  He was carefully groomed.  Harry paid him no further attention, instead he slipped through The Leaky Cauldron and headed for Grimmauld Place.

Meanwhile Snape had sat back down to finish his drink, and left a few minutes later, lazily pondering Harry’s parting words.  At that stage neither of them could know how accurate Harry’s prophecy would prove to be, nor just how special would be the nature of Snape’s special relationship, nor what bizarre event the Potions Master would have to undergo to meet the person in question.  It was not the Squib who was currently waiting for him outside The Leaky Cauldron.  This strange event lay in a future larger than either Snape or Harry realised…

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Chapter Seven - The Charms Professor’s Surprise

In the summer of 1999 Lorin Hengist completed her studies at the Durmstrang Institute; and at Hogwarts, Professors Vector and Sinistra made public their intention to retire.  Dumbledore had of course been aware of this for months and had been planning who he would get to replace them.  The successful candidate for the Professorship of Astronomy was Lorin Hengist.  For Arithmancy and Ancient Runes Dumbledore decided to appoint a Russian wizard from the ranching countryside of Kazakhstan – a man by the name of Borisovich Stanislav Zamyatin, who had spent the last five years teaching at Durmstrang.

Neither appointment went unquestioned by the existing faculty staff.  Lorin was only eighteen years old, and inexperienced, although the House Heads had to admit that at her interview she had shown herself to be reliable, competent and level-headed, if a little lacking in sparkle.  Flamboyant Zamyatin was quite the opposite.  He was twenty-nine years of age, and an experienced and energising if erratic teacher.  Very gifted in his understanding of the magical properties of numbers, and in reading and interpreting runes.  McGonagall’s main concern was that he and Hagrid may slip off to the Hog’s Head whenever an opportunity presented itself!

In the privacy of the staff room the other staff occasionally heard Snape refer disparagingly to Zamyatin as ‘Kazzak Stan’ but the Potions Master really had little interest in either new appointment other than his amusement at seeing Lorin again.  He found it hard to believe that the seventeen-month old toddler he and Dumbledore had glimpsed in 1982 – the offspring, supposedly, of Kieren Raegan and Rowen Hengist – was this lump of a young witch who had adopted her mother’s surname and calmly turned up for a job interview in the spring of ’99.  She had quite pretty features but set in the middle of a rather round face – she looked nothing like her handsome red-headed, green eyed father, nor her golden-blonde, blue eyed mother.  Lorin was an inch shorter than McGonagall, but almost twice as plump.  Her moonlike face was framed with black ‘crazy Einstein’ hair, and her eyes were as brown as a Bowtruckle’s.  She was a quiet, well-mannered witch, anxious to do well but decidedly uninspiring.  What Dumbledore saw in her Snape found hard to tell, yet the old man had been determined to appoint her.

Lorin Hengist moved in a week before the start of the new academic year, settled herself into her rooms and began conscientiously to find her way around the castle.  She soon adopted the customary practice of arriving in the staff room a half-hour before dinner, and proved to be sociable but unpretentious…

***

“That Mella chappie gets everywhere these days” Flitwick murmured, as he lent forward and turned to the centre pages of The Independent, following its leader from the front page.  The newspaper was spread before him on a low table, as he found the large pages difficult to manoeuvre unless he used a charm to suspend them.

Snape made no comment.  He did not share Dumbledore’s and Flitwick’s perennial interest in matters in the Muggle press, but McGonagall went over and stood by the wing of the Head of Ravenclaw’s chair, looking over his shoulder at the flattering write-up about multi-millionaire businessman Archibald Mella, who was often in the press and had on this occasion even managed to eclipse The Spice Girls and Charles Kennedy, the new leader of the Liberal Democrat Party.  Mella was a good-looking man who had gone grey before his time.  In fact his collar-length hair was an attractive shade of oyster-white rather like Dumbledore’s, and his complexion was tanned as if he lived abroad for much of the year.  He was pictured at the gates of a Derbyshire mansion he had just bought at a knock-down price from former pop idol Mad Madrigal who had run into serious financial problems and needed a quick sale.  Mella, understandably, looked smugly satisfied.  On the opposite page was an article about an archaeological dig he was funding in Herefordshire near to the Welsh border.  It was a difficult site that had been examined several times but without success – serious mishaps and cash-flow problems had caused past explorations to be abandoned.  The year before last a geophysics team from Liverpool University had voiced suspicions of a deeply buried electromagnetic anomaly but their investigations had come to an abrupt halt when the team leader was killed in a freak accident.

“He only does things like that to save himself some income tax” McGonagall observed.  “I can’t believe a man like that would sink money into a non-profit making venture out of the goodness of his heart.”

“Archaeology might be an interest of his” Flitwick pointed out.  “Anyway, just because Mella’s rich doesn’t mean he’s crooked.”

McGonagall disagreed.  “No one makes that amount of money without cutting a few corners” she replied sourly.

Their argument moved on as Flitwick read out a paragraph about the public health debate over the use of mobile phones.  Snape worked to block his mind to the chatter so as to concentrate on his Evening Prophet.  He couldn’t care less if Muggles were in danger of micro-waving their brains (in his opinion it could hardly make them less gifted).  Easier to shut out was Lorin’s conversation with Professor Sprout about lunar tidal effects on Gillyweed colonies.  He suddenly realised things would probably be far worse once Boris Zamyatin turned up.  A fleeting vision of a dancing Cossack crossed his mind and he smiled his cruel smile.  Zamyatin was small for a Russian, a neat dapper and energetic man with a goatee beard and fierce grey-blue eyes.

Snape looked up, abandoning his train of thought about the ostentatious Russian.  Again he tuned into Flitwick and McGonagall who were now talking about Millennium celebrations.  McGonagall agreed they would have to organise celebrations at the castle and Flitwick was talking eagerly about fireworks.  He was determined to have the subject fully discussed at the next staff meeting.  As dinnertime approached they all wandered down to the Great Hall, Snape in silence and Flitwick walking just in front of him, now explaining to McGonagall some of the Muggle plans he had read about for the London celebrations and his determination to ride on the London Eye sometime in the following summer.

***

The autumn term passed uneventfully.  Ravenclaw lost the first Quidditch match of the season to Slytherin so Snape was in what could almost be termed a good mood in the latter part of the term.  Zamyatin was an irritation, but unlike the famous charlatan Gilderoy Lockhart, he really did seem to know his subject and to have genuine talent.  Lorin Hengist was an adequate teacher.

In his spare moments Flitwick was starting to bore the other staff with his excited plans for fireworks on the night of the Millennium.  Privately Snape was debating whether to give the Hogwarts celebrations a miss and head for London.  Diagon Alley would surely have more to offer than canapés on the lawn beneath the Charms Professor’s pyrotechnic artwork.  At dinner in early December Zamyatin confided that he had the same notion.

“I go home for Christmas” he said slyly to Snape.  “Der Headmaster, he let me go.  Rubeus is going wid me.  He want to meet all my brozzers.  I got six brozzers.  We get reeeeal Russian-drunk!”

“Will you indeed!” Snape replied irritably.  “So those of us who do not have families to clasp us to their loving bosoms must bear the brunt of looking after the school.  Typical!”

“You will find zat easy” Zamyatin sneered.  “All dee pupils – dey go home.  Only a few staying.  You will have nozzing to do.”  He chuckled.  “A couple o’ Ravenclaws; a few Gryffindors.  How will you take house points?  From your own house?  Ha!  You bedder find somesing else or you go crazy!”

*

Snape was not quite prepared to take ‘Kazzak Stan’s’ word for this, but when he checked with the Deputy Head he found it was true.  Most of the students’ families had their own plans for the Millennium, so it was an almost entirely adult group that gathered in the Quidditch stadium on the mild and damp evening of 31st December.  As well as Hagrid and Zamyatin, Lorin Hengist was also absent.  She had made it clear at her interview that she would wish to spend time with her mother whenever possible, and as there were so few students to supervise, McGonagall had no objections to this.  What the Deputy Head did object to was Dumbledore allowing Zamyatin to abscond with Hagrid.  Her nostrils flared with disgust as she imagined the rowdy, drunken nights the two teachers would have with Zamyatin’s many brothers.  When she had pointed out to Dumbledore that they would probably not be sober between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day the Headmaster had merely smiled.

The remaining staff gathered at half-past eleven, the house-elves provided a Bar-B-Q, and everyone stood around eating and drinking in the scotch mist that periodically threatened to turn into drizzle.  As midnight struck goblets were raised in a toast to the turning of the year, the century and the Millennium.

At that exact second the fireworks began, kicked off by a roaring silver rocket that burst high above, the fragments corkscrewing down towards the edges of the stadium.  It was followed by serried, vibrant pink Catherine wheels, purple tipped and looking like huge, stacked chariot wheels.  A scarlet and roaring Chinese Fireball dragon followed, devouring the Catherine wheels and belching orange fire from its crimson mouth.  The watchers flinched as the dragon blazed by and the fire of its breath mushroomed out towards them.  Professor Sprout actually pulled her wand and prepared to perform a flame freezing charm.

The fire-dragon faded into hissing steam as an explosion produced two beach-ball sized yellow suns, which circled about each other in frenetic interlocked orbits, fighting a duel with long orange and yellow rays.  They fizzled into sunflowers which dropped their petals and faded.

Then the brown trunk of a slender tree began to grow upwards from the centre of the pitch.  It produced twinkling leaves of every shade of green and then rained tangerines, lemons and finally limes onto the spectators.  Unlike the dragon and the suns, the fiery ‘fruit’ were quite cold, and the air was soon full of the scent of citrus as the fake fruits vanished with soft popping sounds.

A dark blue ocean fizzed and swelled suddenly from nowhere and riding the white flecked waves was a turquoise sea-serpent, spitting silver sparks.

His sinuous gyrations were followed by yellow-finned, blue fish as the sea lightened to a sea-green colour.  The sea darkened again through blue to indigo and the fish swam to the surface where they turned into flamingos of every shade of pink from cerise to salmon and even to peach.  They flew up from the ocean surface and the sea swirled away as the soaring flamingos exploded with the twanging thump of grenade launchers.

Another single rocket erupted with a thud so loud that the ground beneath their feet shook as if a giant had hit it with a mallet.  At the top of the rocket’s flight it burst into hundreds of violets, their deep purple and violet blooms filling the air with the real flowers’ perfume as they drifted slowly down.  McGonagall caught one in her hand – it was cold like the citrus fruit, and melted away to nothing.  Then all heads were turned skywards again for the fountain of gold – Flitwick’s masterful conclusion.

A burst of applause sounded as the fountain subsided, but it was quickly followed by screams as there was an unexpected explosion and a fully-grown Acromantula – a giant, Aragog-sized spider – towered over their heads.  It began to walk towards them, black as night but glistening with a metallic sheen.  It seemed to be made of gleaming, solid smoke and although the spectators knew it wasn’t real it was still frighteningly realistic.

“Inverte Umbra” Flitwick shouted, waving his wand to transform the giant spider into his very last surprise.

The menacing monster dissolved into acrid grey smoke particles, which seemed to be sucked into the ground at the very centre of the Quidditch pitch.  Then, from that point a solid rod of pure white light shot into the black sky.  Thin and laser straight, it wrote slowly and carefully like a giant pencil drawing on a ceiling.

Happy New Mil…

Snape didn’t wait for it to complete the word Millennium, he had had enough; he was by now striding determinedly towards the Forest; melting, black-cloaked, into the blackness of the night.

So he never saw the laser complete its message.  He never saw the beam of light collapse for less than a second and then shoot upwards yet again, not writing this time, but drawing.  He would not have stayed to watch – he was actually very jealous of Flitwick’s artistic ability with illusions and did not want to get caught up in the inevitable plaudits about how wonderful tonight’s entertainment had been.

He was bent low and creeping between the first of the forest trees as the rest of the staff watched the laser drawing the outlines of a hollow white cube.  The cube began to rotate and the laser marked one of its faces with a pattern of seven dots.  Then it shrunk back to earth again, leaving the cube rotating and tumbling slowly in all directions for several, eternally long, minutes.  Finally the cube also faded and the sky’s inky blackness was restored.

Apart from Snape who was lost to view, Flitwick whispering ‘What the devil…?’ and the Headmaster muttering three cryptic Latin words, everyone had watched this last apparition in silence.  Now a hubbub of voices broke out.

“What did that mean?”

“It wasn’t the Dark Mark.  Don’t worry.  Those days are over.”

“I thought we were finishing on gold.”

“We were.  Silver – all the colours – gold.  But Filly tricked us with the spider and the laser.”

“But what did the cube mean?”

“Let’s ask him.  Filius?…”

*

Far into the Forest Snape pulled up near to a patch of fluxweed and focussed his mind on London.

He Disapparated, and a split second later he arrived.

But where was he?  This wasn’t London.

Snape gasped as he stared around the empty countryside.  Wide, flat, grassland stretched away into the distance, yellow-green, with a feeling of early September.  On the horizon was a glimpse of hills, and at one point Snape could just discern that they rose high enough to be capped by snow.  And far away behind him was a dark forest nestling beside mountains.  The Forbidden Forest?  No, surely not – not enough conifers.

However, apart from the odd rocky outcrop nearer at hand, these features were miles away.  Essentially he was in the middle of nowhere.

Snape’s first impulse was to Apparate back, so he focussed his mind on the Forbidden Forest and prepared to return.  But nothing happened; he remained in the centre of the vast warm savannah.

Not a breath of wind stirred, indeed the air was curiously empty of scent; yet the grass when he turned and paced out a ragged circle, tugged at his feet, and the schloos, schloos sound of his robes and footsteps imparted a feeling of weariness.

He stopped and looked left and right, unsure of what to do, only sure that he couldn’t stay here in this emptiness indefinitely.  Then he made up his mind, and began to march towards the distant hills, in a direction that he suspected was more or less due south.

After some ten minutes fretful trudge the hills looked as far away as ever so he decided to try to Apparate to them, but again his attempt failed.  Why can’t I Apparate, Snape thought desperately.  And, more to the point, why can’t I Apparate OUT OF HERE?

Then he stopped dead.  There were figures way off in the distance, but coming closer at an alarming rate.  Human figures.  Running figures.  And now there was no outcrop near enough to hide behind.  Anxious attempts to make himself invisible or to transform into a rock proved impossible, so Snape sank to the ground and tried to look inconspicuous, but it didn’t work.  The running men had obviously noticed him, they were making straight for him.  He could already hear their exultant shouts.

With no means of escape Snape had no choice but to face the oncoming figures.  They were all men and they were armed.  As he drew himself up to his full height it crossed his mind that they just might assist him, but they seemed to take no notice of anything he said.  From their style of dress they were clearly not Muggles, yet their robes were not wizard robes.  Unless… was this a foreign land…?

The men shouted to one-another and in English, but anything he said to them might as well have been in an unknown tongue for all the response it got.

“I told you it was Gríma!”

“Surely it can’t be.”

Swords were flashing in the bright air and Snape pulled his wand.  He tried a stunning spell but to no effect except that one of the circling figures laughed.

“What’s this?”

“No idea.  Piece o’ wood.  Hey, he’s real!”

There were cries of amazement and hands were laid upon the Potions Master.  Snape fought back with increasing desperation, but he was overpowered.  The men did not seem to want to hurt him, yet they were determined to take him prisoner.  A blow struck the side of his head and the last thing Snape saw before he passed out was the tobacco-yellow land rippling into a red haze…

He came to in a lofty stone chamber and feeling rather sick.  Cords bound his wrists and ankles, and he was slumped against a wall, while a short distance away three men were lounging around, chatting.  Snape lay motionless, mastering his nausea and listening hard; giving no sign he had regained consciousness.

“What on earth made you hittim?”

“It was an accident.  I didn’t mean t’hurtim.  I didn’t really think ’e was real.”

“Course ’e is!  I said ’e was.”

“Then, where’s ’is jacket?”

“Dunno.”

“Then, how can we score?”

“Dunno.”

“Are you sure ’e’s Gríma?”

“Must be!  Look at ’is clothes.  Long black robe.  White shirt.  Pasty face.  Black ’orrible ’air.  Who else could ’e be.  Don’t lettim go.  He’s worth about twenny Orcs.  Jason’ll know.  Or Marve.”

Snape tried to get inside the minds of the three men and found that in a sense it was easy – he didn’t even need eye contact.  But easy or not, it was of no help – their twittering brains were full of meaningless images, and Snape did not have the energy to probe far.  He could make no sense of their quick-fire banter.

The mindless debate continued and he drifted away half-unconscious, faintly aware that a trickle of blood was taking a meandering route across his forehead and his wand seemed not to be in his sleeve.

End of Part 1 - Read Part 2

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