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Villain of the Piece

Part 2  Youthful Indiscretions

- Chapter  20 -

Chapter 20:   Euphoria Unsurpassed

Early June 1978

Number ninety-three Diagon Alley was an empty shop but through the grimy window Severus could see stacks of crates and boxes.  He tried the shop door but it was locked.  Then he checked the time.  It was 8:55 on a morning that was at once both bright and dull; the daylight was glaring but the sky almost yellow and with a hint of fume – the metropolis was at its summer worst.

Along the Alley shops were being opened, and as he waited there was a sudden squelching sound as if he had pulled his foot out of a swamp.  Looking for the source of the noise he noticed that between number 93 and 95 a narrow doorway had appeared.  On it was a brass plate that said

Nobody’s Perfect

until we’ve weaved our spell

Above the door was the number 93A and beyond it, for it was unlocked, he found a zigzag flight of stairs.

One flight up the creaking staircase sat a receptionist who greeted him and asked him to wait, so he took a seat on a hard chair and looked around and up – up to a distant skylight light from which a sound of cooing pigeons could be heard.  Meanwhile the receptionist witch spoke into a speaking tube to communicate with another office and minutes later a ginger haired witch appeared.  The newcomer had a white coat like a Muggle surgeon and a rich Irish accent.

“Corrine Butler, Chief Mediwitch” she said, shaking his hand.  “Please come this way, Mr Snape.”

Her office was narrow and cramped, but unlike the reception area it was cool.  Cooled by an air conditioning spell.  Serious magic was at work in this office.  As she began the interview Severus had the impression that he had seen Corrine before.

“Pardon me, but don’t I know you?” he asked.

“It’s my sister, Sheilagh, you’ll be thinkin’ of” Corrine explained.  “She works at St Mungo’s.  And speakin’ of St Mungo’s … tell me why yer left.”  Her blue eyes, sad but watchful, peered at him carefully as he answered.

“We, err, had a difference of opinion” Severus began, settling more firmly into his chair.  “They said I was not cut out for Healership.  I disagree.  I have already performed many healing techniques and administered a variety of potions without ever injuring anyone.  In fact my treatments provided nothing but good.”

Corinne waited, but clearly Severus had said all he intended to say.  She nodded gently, almost imperceptibly, as if answering a question in her own mind, gazing at him all the time from those sad blue eyes.

“Is that all y’have ter say?” she asked finally, as if she was waiting for a good deal more.  “Okay.  ‘Without ever injurin’ anyone’ – I think those were your words.  Nor have yer ever lost a patient.  Not that serious cases would ever have been your sole responsibility – not as a first year.  But y’have, on occasions, delayed treatment.  And in so doing put patients at risk.  And y’have, on occasions, used mental procedures such as Legilimency.  I happen to know, Mr Snape, that such invasive magic is far outside the brief of a St Mungo’s first-year trainee.”

The extent of her knowledge was disturbing.  It was like being hit by a Bludger.

“I was not aware” Severus hissed quietly “That the details of my dismissal had become common knowledge–”

“Oh, not common knowledge” Corinne cut in.  “Not public knowledge.  Quoite the reverse.  Nobody’s Perfect is an organisation that relies on discretion, and we know how to keep secrets.  But we also have to know what we’re dealin’ with … Did yer like St Mungo’s?”

“Of course–”

“Whoiy?”

She had cut across him again; and with a seemingly odd question.

“W-what finer thing can there be but to heal people?” he replied.  Caught off guard, his stuttered answer sounded painfully unconvincing.

“What foiner thing indeed” Corinne agreed.  “Do y’know what we do here, Mr Snape?”

“No” Severus admitted, even more annoyed now.  “All I know is that I was recommended for this job and so presumably it must be related to Healership or to potions.  If you don’t want to employ me, I’d rather not waste my time sitting here.  A friend of mine, Lucius, Malfoy – you may have heard of him – said there might be a position here to interest me, but if that is not the case–”

He stopped short.  Corrine Butler was trying to suppress a laugh.

“Yeah, we do have somethin’ for yer” she sneered.  “Probably we do.  But I need to give yer some thought, Mr Snape.  I’m not gonna rush into employin’ the likes o’ you.  Now … let me show yer our brochure.  And while you’re lookin’ at that, let’s have some tea.  Tea okay fer yer?  There’s coffee if you’d prefer.”

He asked for coffee just to be awkward.  Corrine called through her speaking tube and while Doreen the receptionist made tea and coffee, and trotted in with a tray, he leafed through the glossy full-colour brochure.  Corrine took a sip of tea, grinning at his face over her bone china mug.

“So you re-build people” he observed, reaching for his coffee cup and trying not to sound intrigued.

“It’s cosmetic, mostly” Corinne explained.  “Noses, chins, teeth, fat removal, hair treatment, breast reshapin’.  Occasionally we get scars and pock marks to remove.  It’s soft tissue work mainly.  Rarely is it skeletal apart from chins ’n’ teeth.  Sometimes it’s eye colour.  Mostly we get reasonable-lookin’ people wantin’ to look better.  Ironic isn’t it.  We ought to call ourselves ‘Nobody’s Satisfied’ because thankfully there not!  And that’s why those who can, are prepared to buy our expertise.  And hopefully when the leave here they are satisfied.  They certainly pay enough for it!”  She paused, but Severus said nothing.  Instead he continued to browse the brochure, letting her do the talking and trying not to look too interested.

“So” Corinne continued, “If I was ter offer you the job, that’s what you’ll be doin’.  Rebuildin’ people, as you put it.  You have a foine turn o’ phrase, by the way … Our owner has four golden rules.  Make sure they have the means ter pay.  Make sure they give consent.  Don’t run foul o’ the law.  Don’t mess up the treatment – send ’em home happy.  Payment – consent – satisfaction – no comebacks.  Naturally discretion is a byword – we can’t go boastin’ about who just got a new facelift from us.  But some of our business arises from personal recommendation, so we must be doin’ somethin’ right ter be gettin’ talked about.  So … are yer attracted to the notion of bein’ a cosmetic mediwizard?”

“Would my job be strictly medical” Severus enquired, “Or would I have to deal with payment of fees?”

“Entirely treatment-based” Corinne assured him.  “Money – credit status – not your concern.  Derek’ll handle that.  Derek and Tanya handle the admin.  They deal with clients’ contracts and they distribute the work ter the mediwizards.  Yer muss realise ‘Healership’ earnings, here, can vary – for example, noses ’n’ teeth are cheap, breasts are expensive.  And so are eye colour and height.  When you’re new you’ll get a lot of noses, and so you’ll not earn much.  When you’ve proved yourself you’ll get your share of the better-paid work.  So the key is ter prove yourself.  Do I take it you’re still interested?”

“Perhaps, yes” Severus replied carefully.  “What about potions?  Do you not use those?”

“We have potion-makers” she said coldly.

“I, too, am a potion-maker–”

“Yes, of course – you’d not get on old Vance’s Healer programme if yer didn’t have your Potions NEWT” Corrine began dismissively.

“I’m a St Mungo’s prize-winner.”  He dropped the fact into the conversation; it fell like a trump card face up on a table.

“Are yer, indeed” Corrine said, halted in her tracks.  “What year?”

“Nineteen seventy six.”

The blue eyes appraised him again.  Then she wrote a note on a piece of parchment, called the receptionist and handed it to her.

“We could perhaps give yer some potions work, too” she continued, sounding rather off-hand about it.  “But when it comes to the mediwizardry, do yer think yer can do the job?  Repair and reshape tissue.  And bone.  I’m not talkin’ about run-o’-the-mill Charmwork, Mr Snape.  I’m talkin’ about permanent physical alterations – magic that’ll last.”

“I assure you” Severus sneered in reply “That I can manage magic that will last.  But I’m not familiar with these particular techniques.  Will I receive specific training?”

“Most certainly” Corinne assured him.  “On-the-job trainin’ and supervision.  You’ll be partnered by a mediwizard.  Sometimes even by me.  You’ll not be allowed to work alone for several months, and in the case of eyes and height you’ll not fly solo for a year.  And even when you do, we have ways of observin’ treatments.  So, err, don’t think you can play games like at St Mungo’s.”

She seemed definite about employing him so Severus let that remark pass.

“Do we work here?” he asked.  “Here in Diagon Alley?”  He looked around at the poky premises.  It was a far cry from St Mungo’s.

“Yes.  For now” Corinne replied.  “We – as you can see – are very confined here, but the owner has a development plan.  Eventually, if the profits hold up, we’ll be moving out o’ London.  Will that matter to yer?”

“Where will we go?”

“It’s not decided, but it will be in England.  The owner doesn’t discuss that – this isn’t a democratic organisation, Mr Snape.  But Mr Rackharrow keeps us informed.”

“Mr Rackharrow?”

“Bertrand Rackharrow, the Chief Executive.”  She was studying him again; weighing him up as if he was a pound of apples, making sure she didn’t receive short weight.  A turning point had been reached.  “Well, normally I’d need ter make further enquiries” she said, “But as it happens I’m in a position ter make yer an offer today.  So let’s move on ter discuss pay and working conditions in more detail…”

She explained the rates of pay and Severus felt he had no choice but to accept them, but when she mentioned the hourly rate they would pay him for potions preparation, he interrupted with a single, soft negative.

“No.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I said ‘no’.  I have no wish to prepare potions as an employee.”

“But … you said you could…  One moment please.”  Trying not to show her annoyance, Corinne lent towards the speaking tube and called “Doreen, have you got anythin’ for me?”

The receptionist came in with a piece of parchment which she was careful not to let Severus see.  Corrine stared at it for several seconds, thinking fiercely.  She did not explain what it said but by then Severus had caught a glimpse of it and could read the few words, even upside-down.  It simply said ‘1976 – Euphoria – unsurpassed’.

“You said you could make potions, Mr Snape” Corinne added, taking up her conversation where she had abandoned it.

“I can” Severus said sleekly.  “I do have some small skill in such matters.  But although I would be delighted to work here as a mediwizard, I do not intend to be employed by you as a potion-maker.  I will supply you as an external supplier.  I will supply you on the same terms as Slugg and Jigger’s.”

“We don’t buy much from Slugg and Jiggers.  We mostly make our own.”

“Mine will outdo anything you can make in-house…”

If Corrine had hooked Severus with her offer of a job, Severus had hooked Corrine with the prospect of the potions he could provide.  Half an hour later Severus was out of Corinne’s clutches and walking down Diagon Alley, a trainee mediwizard for Nobody’s Perfect and with the option to supply potions on a freelance basis.

He didn’t like Corinne Butler.  And he suspected that she would try to ensure that the company bought as little from him as possible, just to spite him.  But he didn’t care.  He had a job – or more precisely, he had a signed contract of employment so the new job was ‘in the bag’ – and his new employers knew about the debacle of his past job so he didn’t have to worry about keeping it secret.  And after a few months his mediwizard pay should be good.  And they would find it hard to turn down his exceptional potions – that alone would provide a useful monetary supplement.  Meanwhile he would be able to afford to continue at the lodging house.  All that remained now was to decide when and how to tell his mother that he was no longer a St Mungo’s Healer.

But first, he said to himself, I’ll have a day in London and then back to Wiltshire for dinner, and put off worrying about admissions to Mother.  Good old Lucius – he’s given me a breathing space.

 

At dinner, after the warm deep fried brie, and the cool cucumber soup, Narcissa picked disinterestedly at her plate of roast pork while Severus spooned a generous helping of apple sauce onto the side of his plate and tucked in eagerly.  He had a hearty appetite that night, and he was also aware of lean times about to return when he would once again be surviving at the boarding house.  His new job began on Monday and Nobody’s Perfect had no canteen so he would have to buy lunches, which in London was an expensive business.

As he munched his way through carrots peas and roast potatoes he reflected how much it galled him that his creative skill would soon be lining the pocket of some fat-cat wizard businessman, and he wasn’t sure how long he would want to stay working for Nobody’s Perfect, but the situation had given him a reprieve.

“That’s what friends are for” Lucius said, waving aside his thanks with mock humility.  “Glad I could be of help.  There are a number of us in that position – I mean we look out for each other and help each other.  You met many of them at my Walpurgis Feast.  You ought to join our little brotherhood, Severus.  Narcissa dear, have you had enough to eat?  Pork was a bad choice – too indigestible.  How about some fish instead, lightly poached?”

“No, don’t worry, Lucius” she replied.  “I’ll be fine with just a pudding.  It’s lemon brulé; very light.  I’m looking forward to it.”

Is she pregnant again, Severus wondered, looking at the pale young witch?  Does she like her life with Lucius – this brood mare existence?

Soon Narcissa left them and went to the sitting room to rest and chat to Abraxas.  Lucius and Severus went to the library and rounded off their meal with coffee and brandy while Lucius showed off his latest purchase from Borgin & Burke’s – an ancient book about poisons entitled simply ‘Tox’.

“What do you actually know about Nobody’s Perfect?” Severus asked.

“Hardly anything at all” Lucius drawled.  “Except that they make a lot of money.  And it’s a perfectly genuine business, dedicated to the goddess profit.  I’ve been tempted, at times, to buy a stake in it.”

“But you haven’t” Severus countered.

“I was told in no uncertain terms that I couldn’t” Lucius said, plainly very annoyed.  “The owner doesn’t want partners – the Chief Executive has made that blisteringly clear!”

 

Severus lay in bed that night listening to the sounds of the country through the open window and mulling over the idea of taking a trip to Hogsmeade on the following afternoon.  Then he might go home for the weekend and then back to the boarding house for Monday morning.  And at some point tomorrow I’d better call in and see McGonagall and pay my rent, he decided.  After that I’ll spend the weekend with Mother.  Find a way to break the news to her.  Anyway, I can’t impose on Lucius and Narcissa indefinitely.

In the darkness he smoothed the blue counterpane beneath his fingers.  He would miss the silk.  And even the frilly-edged pillows.  Owls were hooting in Whispering Wood.  Hunting.  Are they all owls, he wondered.  Is there an Animagus or two?  No, probably not; there are very few Animagi.  Very few registered Animagi.  But I wonder how many there are like myself – illegal ones?

And pondering this he fell asleep and dreamt of owls in the wood, and goats in the paddock, and Corrine Butler as a kingfisher skimming across the lake and under the three-arch bridge, diving to catch a black molly that turned into a pulsating eel and slithered out of her grip into the deep fathomless darkness.