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Villain of the Piece

Part 2  Youthful Indiscretions

- Chapter  21 -

Chapter 21:   Chinks in the Armour

Friday 23rd June 1978

The café was almost empty on that June afternoon.  It was a lovely day but the Hogwarts students were completing their exams and no one from the school had time to visit Hogsmeade.  Madam Puddifoot was surprised that the pale young wizard ordered a cream tea at the back end of lunchtime that is neither midday nor afternoon, but she bustled about and soon set before him a pot of tea, a plate of scones, and butter, cream and jam.

Severus raised an eyebrow.  Wholemeal scones as well as white?  And blackcurrant jam as well as strawberry?  Madam Puddifoot was departing from tradition.

He buttered a white scone and spread it with strawberry jam and clotted Cornish cream – he was in a mood for tradition, not for innovation – and stared out of the window as he ate, remembering a Saturday some three and a half years earlier when he had brought a witch to this very teashop and she had asked for an English cream tea.

He poured a cup of tea.  Inches from him and yet a world away, a young witch dressed in blue hurried along the street outside.

Yes, she wore blue that day, he mused.  It was her favourite colour.  Was?  Still is, probably.  Where is she now?  Maybe living abroad in The Hague or Brussels with that Dirac fellow.  Can’t blame her, really.  Let’s face it, Severus; you’re not the marrying kind.  Delia knew that.  And Lily probably sensed it, too.  You don’t even know what you want.  Do you really want a witch clinging to your arm, and trailing a line of offspring?  Little mouths to feed.  The cosy domesticity of a mortgage and school fees.  No.  Surely life has more to offer than that.

The jingle of the shop doorbell started him out of his dark daydreams.  A young wizard entered, his anxious face splitting into a smile at the sight of Severus munching scones.

“Severus, old man” he exclaimed with joy, and he pulled out the opposite chair.  “Mind if I join you?”  He moved Severus’s shopping to another seat and sat down as, seconds later, Madam Puddifoot arrived.

“What can I get you, m’dear?”

Regulus eyed Severus’s cream tea but decided against copying him, and said “I’ll have a toasted sandwich, please.  Ham ’n’ cheese.  Better make it two rounds.  And tea.”

“Brown or white?”

“Oh, definitely brown tea, please.”

“No, young sir” she replied with a laugh, “I meant brown or white bread, as you very well know?”

“White please, Madam Puddifoot … Well, how’s the world treating you” he added to Severus as Madam Puddifoot trotted away.  “You don’t look so ecstatic for someone taking a holiday.”

“A holiday?”

“From work.”

“Oh, I see … Mmm?  I’m not on holiday.  I’ve left St Mungo’s.”

“But I thought you really liked it.”

“Not my cup of tea” Severus said darkly.  “Brown or white” he added with a smirk.  “Anyway how’s the world treating you?  Haven’t you got an exam this afternoon?”

“Not likely!  Muggle Studies this afternoon” Regulus explained.  “I’m not doing that.  All mine are done for this year.  Let’s not talk about it – I’m just glad they’re all over.”

“So Hogwarts is an out of bounds topic” Severus observed, “Just as you are out of bounds this afternoon.”

“Oh, I don’t mind talking about Hogwarts” Regulus assured him.  “Just don’t want to give a blow-by-blow account of what a trial each exam question was … No, Hogwarts is a good topic!  Lots going on at the moment.”

“Really?”  Severus raised his eyebrows quizzically and added “Such as?”

“Such as Slughorn wants to retire and Dumbledore doesn’t want him to.”

“Why?”

“Well, Sluggy’s pretty good isn’t he … Oh, you mean why does he want to go?  He’s not been very well this last term.  We even had a supply teacher to cover for a while.  Professor Payne’s sister.  She did a good job.  Professor Payne has also hinted about giving up–”

“To be perfectly honest she should have gone years ago–”

“Yes, but we think she was hoping that her sister could take over – sort of slip into her shoes.  The sister’s younger you see.”

“What’s the sister’s name?”

“Deiphoebe Payne.  The two have a cottage in the village, here.”

“So is that what will happen?” Severus asked in a bored voice, “Amalthea will go, and Deiphoebe will replace her; or Slughorn will go, and–”

“No!  It’s all to cock, now.  Deiphoebe’s ill.  She’s been in St Mungo’s for over a week.  The word is it’s very serious.  I was going to ask if you’d seen her.”

“What’s wrong with her?”

“A Dementor attack.”

Severus suppressed a bitter smile, thinking of the witch whom he had been caught photographing.  Regulus chatted on in that innocent, excited way he had and Severus watched him pouring tea and tucking into his sandwiches.  He has a schoolboy appetite to go with his schoolboy mind, Severus observed.  But why was that witch poisoned?  To stop her going to Hogwarts?  And if so who had done such a thing?  And why?

“So, what you’re saying” Severus concluded, when he felt the need to cut through Regulus’s long explanations, “Is that Dumbledore has staff problems.  Several vacancies.”

“Yes.  Hey, Severus!” Regulus exclaimed again, as if a light bulb had lit up in his head, “How about teaching?  You need a job.”

“Did I say I did?”

“Well … no … but you said … Have you found something else, then?”

Severus decided not to tell Regulus about ‘Nobody’s Perfect’.  “Let’s just say I’ve got irons in the fire.  Not sure that I’m desperate enough to join Hogwarts” he responded with a chuckle.

“Ohrr, shame.  You’d be good as a teacher.  Anyway, enough of school and work ’n’ stuff.  Have you seen much of Xavier?  Or Amycus…?”

No Severus had not seen anything of his old school friends.  Not recently.  He didn’t feel any constant need to socialise, and often preferred to be on his own.  Not wanting to discuss his doings, Severus manoeuvred the conversation onto Regulus’s family and was surprised to learn that Sirius had long ago left home, and for a while had lived at the home of James Potter’s parents.

“Three years ago, almost” Regulus explained.  “He stormed out after a big row – took his bike ’n’ everything!  Father was furious.  I didn’t know how to tell people, so I didn’t mention it at school.  Don’t know where he is now.”

“Not still with James?”

“Hardly.  James and Lily are married.  Didn’t you know?”

The news, so casually given, was like a tiny stab in the heart.  But why can it hurt me, Severus asked?  Haven’t I steeled myself against such feelings?  Haven’t I just said the conventions of marriage and family life are not for me?

The rest of the conversation was a blur but seemed to concern a visit that Regulus had made to an inn where he had listened to a strolling player telling a story.  Severus guessed that he continued to say ‘How charming’ and ‘Very nice’ in all the right places because Regulus showed no sign that anything was wrong.  But he was glad when they left the teashop and parted, and he could be on his own.

He watched Regulus set off up the lane back to school.  Then he looked about him.  Where to go?  Not back to Wiltshire yet.  Nor home to Snarebeck because he would then have to tell his mother about being sacked from St Mungo’s.  To the lodging house?  To pay his rent for the coming week and ensure his room was secured?  At that precise moment Severus wished he could follow Regulus back to school; browse the library, and feast in the Hall.  Or even just sit at home in Snarebeck on the sofa, and drink a glass of wine, and read…

When it’s my home, he decided, I’ll not hide the books with concealment charms like Mother does.  I’ll have them in plain view.  And even more of them – books everywhere.  And I’ll never let a Muggle into the house, so there’ll be no need to conceal anything inside it!