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Villain of the Piece

Part 2  Youthful Indiscretions

- Chapter  22 -

Chapter 22:   Stage Shows

7th to 23rd December 1979

By the time that the Diagon Alley shops were putting up their Christmas decorations Severus was already starting to feel bored with his new job.

And one year on from then – when Christmas was approaching yet again – he was wondering how he was going to last a lifetime as a cosmetic mediwizard.  Cosmetic mediwizardry was dull.  There were too many nose, teeth, and hair jobs, and not enough of the more interesting and challenging areas.  Yet he had little choice but to stick it out, and the money that he made from brewing potions in the evenings was quite good.  His mother had been furious at the loss of the St Mungo’s job so he could hardly walk away from this unless he had something much better to turn to.  He had never told her what he was doing; she only knew he had a steady source of income.

Severus had also grown weary of the sight of the human form in all its intimate detail.  During that first interminable year, whenever he didn’t have his own case work, he had sat in with more senior staff, watching and assisting with their operations.  As a consequence he had seen so many beer bellies, obese buttocks, and stretch marks, that the human body – even the female human body – held far less appeal for him than it would do to the average twenty year old wizard.  Few young and beautiful witches patronised Nobody’s Perfect, or if they did they only wanted their teeth straightened or their hair made permanently blonde.  The most memorable event of the year was nothing to do with work; it was that his mother had split up with her Sheffield metal-charmer and was again living entirely alone.  And he, meanwhile, had no girlfriend in his life.  Each Snape was living a solitary life.

 

Fortunately for Severus working life at Nobody’s Perfect was not all bad.  Many of the staff were friendly; there wasn’t the air of ruthless competition that he had feared.  There were only two people he particularly disliked, smug Corinne Butler, and supercilious Bertrand Rackharrow.  And, as with Corinne Butler, had formed the distinct impression that he knew Rackharrow from somewhere.

Before collecting his case details for the day, Severus deposited a box of Skele-Grow on Doreen’s desk and handed her an invoice, letting his mind wander back months to when he had first met the illusive Rackharrow.  It was at this very desk, he mused, on a morning when Doreen was late and Rackharrow was sorting out his post…

“Good morning.  I’m Severus Snape” he had said politely.  “Would you be Mr Rackharrow?”

“I have that honour” the wizard murmured.  He had short, curly, greying hair, and spectacles with dark red frames.  He looked more like a magazine editor than a mediwizard.  “I hope you’re liking it here, Snape” he added in a bored-sounding voice.  “How are you getting on?”

“I’m liking it very much” Severus replied smoothly.  “Everyone is most kind.  Erm … sorry, but I know your face from … somewhere–”

Rackharrow eyed him sharply.  “Lucius’s wedding, probably” he said shortly.  “Three years ago.”

“Ah, yes!  You and Lucius are…?”

“Cousins.  In a very distant sense.”

Severus couldn’t help it; his eyes flicked around the shabby premises of Nobody’s Perfect, noting a contrast with Lucius’s habitual surroundings.  Rackharrow read his glance; his dark blue eyes were very sharp.

“We don’t all live in country mansions” he observed acidly.  “Well, not yet.”

And with that, Rackharrow had gathered up his post and headed for his office.  And he had hardly ever spoken to Severus again.

The day was another tedious one, but by lunchtime Severus had completed three noses and an eye colour, and Roydon Macnair, a mediwizard with whom he got on quite well, suggested they pop out to the Cauldron for some lunch.  As they walked across the road, two ginger-headed witches passed them, their arms full of shopping bags.

“Hi, boys” one of the witches called out.

“Corinne” Roydon grumbled quietly to Severus.  “And her innumerable sisters.  Have you ever met them?”

“Well, I seem to remember one of them at St Mungo’s.”

“You would.  There everywhere.  The hospital, the bank, the Ministry.  There are two at the hospital, if I remember rightly – Emmiline and Sheilagh.  There’s Maura at the bank, and somebody totally unpronounceable at the Ministry – See-o-ban, or something.”

“How many sisters are there?”

“About seven I think.”

“And do they all look so alike?”

“Nah!  You wanna see Orla!” Roydon drooled.  “A dark-haired beauty.  The sultry, smouldery type.  Wow!  She’s married, unfortunately.”

As they lunched, Severus for the umpteenth time turned over in his mind the fact that Corinne had known in detail about his sacking from the hospital and the fact that two of her sisters worked at St Mungo’s.  He knew that one worked with Honor in the laboratories and now he thought he had discovered where the other one was based.  The thought pleased him not at all.

“Bored yet?” Roydon asked, assuming Severus was thinking over the morning’s work.  “Don’t worry” he added, “You’ve been here – what – eighteen months?  You can admit it’s boring.  We only do it for the money.”

“I just wish we got a better cut” Severus sighed, thinking again of the fat-cat who creamed off the profits.

“Yeah, don’t we all” Roydon agreed.  “But you try and get anything done about it.  Hopeless!  When I’d been here a while and cottoned on to how it worked, I tried to form a union.  I thought if we all stood together, the owner ’d not want us all to ‘down tools’ as Muggles say, and would be prepared to negotiate a fairer share out.”

“I never heard anything about that” Severus said.  “I take it you were unsuccessful.”

“Worst thing I ever tried” Roydon admitted.  “Firstly, the owner won’t even meet us.  Everything is filtered through Rackharrow, and you know what a stone wall he is!  Secondly, none of the mediwizards would back me.  We all feel shat upon, but no one’ll stand beside yer.  Suddenly everyone has a reason why it can’t be them – oh I’ve got a mortgage to pay, oh I’ve got Hogwarts fees due, oh I’ve got this, I’ve got that…  Who hasn’t got commitments?”

“So what did you do?  Fight alone?”

Roydon gave him a sour look.  “No, it didn’t even get to that” he sighed.  “Rackharrow got wind of what I was up to and called me in immediately.  He came on strong a bit, long enough and strong enough so that I thought I was getting the boot.  Then he threw a bone to this starving dog, and off I went back to work.”

Severus didn’t pursue the point but it was clear that Rackharrow had either bought him off or knew of some detail he could use as a lever.  As he studied Roydon, Severus gained the impression that it was the former, and that Roydon felt quite guilty about it.

“I’m no hero, Sev” Roydon said sadly.  “Roydon Macnair sold out; didn’t even have the courage of his convictions.  Another drink?”

“My round” Severus said.  “Same again?”  He went to the bar and came back with two tankards.  “So, he’s tough, this owner” he added, picking up the conversation once again.

“Yeah, he’s tough.  Must be” Roydon agreed.  “Built this business up from nothing.  All on his own at first – did all the treatments single-handed, they say.  And when we move out of London we will be better off; Rackharrow’s definite about that – more dosh as the client base expands, and more space to work in, and finer surroundings.  Much finer!  And sour git he may be, but I’ve never known Rackharrow to go back on his word.  Not when he’s made a definite promise.”

Knowing he was not alone in his dissatisfaction with Nobody’s Perfect somehow made Severus feel better about working there.  But he decided that one day he must look for something better.  He didn’t know if he could return to St Mungo’s but maybe a way would emerge.  Or maybe a better opportunity would present itself.

 

A week before Christmas Severus received two owls.  One was from his mother to say that there would be a new face at the dinner table at Christmas, because there was a new wizard-friend in her life.  And the second owl was from Lucius.

Some of us lads are having an evening out (he wrote).  Narcissa won’t be coming – the baby is due in April and she is being ultra careful all the way through this pregnancy.  So we are allowed out on our own more than ever these days.

On Saturday night we are going to The Lone Dragon.  I know the landlord and I know that he has booked Simple Simon to perform there.  He’s a tale-teller.

If you’d like to come and don’t know your way to that inn, be at my house at 7 o’clock and I’ll guide you there.

Owl me back to let me know what you’re doing.

Regards,

Lucius

The owl was waiting for a reply so Severus immediately sent an acceptance, and by half past seven on Saturday evening he had arrived with Lucius at a lonely country tavern.  And there, propping up the bar were his old school friends Evan Rosier, Amycus Carrow, Xavier Yaxley, and Regulus Black.

“Johnny’s here, somewhere” Evan explained.  “And Balantyne.  All the old crowd.”

“Sounds like we’ve commandeered the pub” Severus observed.

“Hardly” Amycus said.  “Simple Simon’s really popular.  Singing or talking.  Wait till we get upstairs.  It’ll be packed!”

It was packed when they found their way up to a first floor meeting room and took their seats.  It was an all-male gathering and already the air was thickening with pipe smoke.  As they sat and waited, the lamps dimmed and perfumes crept into the air, dispelling the smoke.  The landlord of the inn hurried in and placed a three-legged stool on the expanse of floorboards towards which the chairs faced.

Some of the audience began to feel light-headed, and to sharpen his senses Severus curled his long fingers into his palms, digging his nails into his own flesh.

A wizard appeared, a man dressed for travelling and leading a dog on a length of rope.  He walked with light loping strides, his suede boots noiseless on the bare boards.  The only sound was the soft click-click of the dog claws and the clonk of the staff the tale-teller carried.  He bowed to the landlord and to the audience, and there was considerable applause.  He was a young man and yet weather-beaten like a tramp or a hunter.  His floor-length coat was muddy green and damp as if someone has ducked him in a pond; and his lank, greasy hair added to the watery effect.  He took off his hat and placed it on the stool, but he remained standing, leaning slightly on his staff.  Meanwhile the dog sat obediently and listened as the tale-teller started to speak…

“Gentlemen” he began, spreading an arm expansively in welcome.  “Wizards all.  My name is Simon Lambton.  Welcome … to my world.”

One-handed he swung the staff slowly round, dimming the lamps still further.

“Let me take you back” he continued, “To the time of my forefathers … Picture a time before time … in the mild south … where the white cliffs rise in a wall against the sea … and the land behind is dotted with the hamlets of Muggles, and peppered with the secret lairs of magic folk.

That was the time of my ancestors.  Of Jack and of Jill.  And this is the tale of them both.  But it starts with Jack…

 

Jack o’ Lambton was his name.  He’s now a warlock of some fame.

A house he built upon a hill.  A hidden house – it stands there still.

And happy was Jack except when Muggles brought to his door a whole heap o’ troubles.

 

They could not see his pretty garden, so on it they trespassed without asking pardon.

To build a church was their intent.  But old Jack, he would not relent.

He’d not give up his land to them, and not reveal his home to them.

And when he employed wizardry, he’d not beset them openly.

 

Yet he would wield his power!

 

For every day, at close of day, the stones they had dragged up the hill

Old Jack would downward fling again with many an oath and a glower.

 

But Muggles they will not give in; they’ll engines build when muscle fails

Or call more men to lend a hand.

And this they did,

Till Jack felt a trace desp’rate.

 

The fields were sown.  The crops were grows.  The harvest safely gathered home.

And still their church had not been built.  And still Jack’s house stood not revealed.

But nor had Muggles given yield; though they were mighty puzzled.

 

But puzzled or not, they wouldn’t stop

So Jack, he grew more desperate.

 

So north he went and east he went, and called upon a hound of hell,

A Padfoot whom he knew might tell a way to break this stalemate.

 

The Padfoot could not speak in words but wrote with claw on Dunwich Sands –

Take ye the sword of statue’d knight and when full moon is riding night

Carve through the cliffs, through hills of green, a channel.  And do not be seen!

Carve it on your western border.  Cleve right through, a knife through butter.

Do this ’fore dawn, and then the sea will inward rush, and Muggles flee.

And leave their homes and ne’er come back.

And all the land will be for Jack.

 

‘Thank you, Padfoot’ said poor Jack.  ‘Accept from me this coney, bright

I was to have for my supper tonight.  But I’ll not sup till this be done –

It must be all done in one night,

And I am grown quite desperate.’

 

The Padfoot took the coney fair and scribed last warnings with his paw

Within one night!  Before cock crow!  Before the sun begins to show!

Also beware a local girl, a lover o’ Muggles, a witch name o’ Jill.

For she’ll think what you do is ill.

She is quite tender hearted.

Let not your heart be melted.

 

But Jack did not read all these words, he did not see some washed away

By a freak wave.  Nor dare he stay.

He bid goodbye and off did rush to find the sword that he must use.

He prised it from a Crusader whose statue stood in churchyard near.

 

And at next full moon he did start, to draw a line upon the ground.

And from the cliff edge marked a trench that widened and grew down and down.

But Jill espied what he was about and saw the danger of it.

She pitied him in his desperate plight but could not leave him to it.

 

So Jill burgled Jack’s hidden house and found a candle and a sieve.

These humble kitchen things were all she needed to help the Muggles live.

She lit the candle behind the sieve and Charms she placed upon them too.

She raised them to the hen house window and left the light its work to do.

 

And seeing the bright, diffusèd light, the cockerel thought ‘The sun is up and I’ve not made to-do’.

And so he crew and crew and crew.  Over and over, cock-a-doodle-do!

 

The stone sword stopped its magic work.  The land re-healed and shows no maim.

No sign of that deep cut remains; the land is free of swordsman stain.

And poor Jack knew that he was beat.  And by a greater magic feat

Than ever he could muster.

 

‘I’m overwhelmed’ he said to Jill.

‘I cannot counter your powerful Charms, so fall into my waiting arms.

If we two live together, here, I’ll not fall prey to lonely fear.

Together we’ll keep the Muggles confounded with out the need to make ’em drownded.’

 

‘If I’m to be your wife’ said Jill, ‘You’ll have to improve your rhyming skill.’

 

And they did laugh and they did marry, and by the cliff edge made their home.

And never a church did it become, for they did fend the Muggles off.

But now Jack did so carefully.

For now – his heart – was melted.

 

A burst of applause broke out.

Although the story had not been long, it had transported the listeners, partly because scents of the sea had crept into the air, and the mewing cries of gulls; the tale-teller had conjured an impression of the Sussex coast as he wove his tale.

Quietly a barmaid ferried in tankards of Christmas Ale, and money changed hands with hardly a need for words.  Everyone was waiting for the tale-teller’s next story.

He told three in all, getting more applause each time.  At the conclusion of the third he passed his hat around and there was a clinking of coins.

“So, is that where you live?” Evan asked as the tale-teller reached over to take back his hat.  “The cliff-top house of your first story?”

“Nah!” Simon replied.  “No – I wish!  But it is a wizard home even to this day.  It’s not hidden now.  Muggles just don’t realise that the owner’s a wizard.”

“But that hardly solves the problem, does it” said a steely voice from behind them.

Everyone turned.

The wizard who had spoken sat alone at the back of the room.  With the lamps so dim, the back of the room was dark, and his face, shadowed by the hood of his cloak, was barely visible at all.  His voice was high and cold, and somehow it demanded attention.  His garb was black but that did not make him unobtrusive.  Quite the contrary.  It was as if an electric shock had run through Severus as soon as the black-clad wizard had spoken.  His very presence made the hairs on Severus’s neck prickle.

“What do you mean, sir?” Simon asked of the black-clad wizard.

“Why, simply that Muggles continue to be the bane of our lives” Lord Voldemort replied smoothly.  “We still have to hide from them or find surreptitious means to disrupt their plans.  Change their minds for them without their knowing.  It’s so tedious.  And fraught with problems – if we make some mistake in our magic we are held to be entirely in the wrong.  Where is the justice in that, tale-teller?  We are the masters, therefore our needs should be paramount; and they should bow the knee and take what’s left.  We should not have to hide or skulk.  We should be able to walk free and hold our heads high.”

This met with instant applause and so many mumbles of “Here, here” that Voldemort stood up and made a tiny bow.

“Come forward, sir” said Simon.  “I have told my tales, now let’s here yours” and he gave up the centre of the stage to the Dark Lord and dragged his stool off to one side, his dog pattering after him.

“You are very kind, Mr Tale-teller” Voldemort said graciously.

“Well, you spoke of freedom” Simon replied, “But that is a puzzle because I consider that I am free – I go where I please and play to any who’ll listen.  So I want to hear your take upon this notion of freedom.”

“You keep hidden your wizard power” Voldemort pointed out.  “You shrink, just as your forefather did, from discovery by lesser folk.  We all hide our wizard power, do we not, gentlemen?  And grow paranoid of discovery.”

“But if we tell the Muggles we exist” said a voice “They’ll more than likely panic.  We don’t need that.  We’re okay as we are.”

“Are we?” Voldemort said sharply.  “Are we well served as things stand?  I could point to many brilliantly gifted wizards struggling in our shrunken world to find suitable employment while these know-nothings live in relative luxury.  Surrounding us.  Squeezing us out.  Hemming us in.  The world is standing on its head, gentlemen!  And getting worse, while Muggle-lovers run the Ministry.”

There were more mumbles of support but also a further dissenting voice.

“No, that’s codswallop if yer don’t mind my sayin’ ” the voice piped up.  “My sons – they both got jobs, okay.  I got no worries on that score.”

“No.  Nor have I” said another.  “I grows me own food – I sells me surplus.  No one can take that from me.”

“And do the Muggles know you are there?” Lucius asked, screwing his head round to face the dissenter.

“Well, no.  I keeps meself ter meself, like” came the reply.  “I’m self-sufficient, see?”

“And there is the nub of the problem!” Voldemort said triumphantly.  “You dare not reveal your true identity – indeed none of us are allowed to – and therefore you are at risk from blundering Muggle interference!  Yet you say all is well!  You – most estimable but inattentive farmer – have not been listening to the tale-teller.  You have missed the point of his first story.  What if the local Muggles want to redevelop your land?  What if their government decides to run a motorway through it?  Or what if they build some factory that pollutes it?”

The farmer looked bemused, but merely shook his head, setting his jowls quivering, so Voldemort pressed on with his argument.

“Who do you think takes constant care of such things?” he asked the audience.  “Monitoring the Muggle plans and making subtle adjustments?  We are living on a knife edge.  Being kept safe by the goodwill of the Ministry, and with no say in how they do it.  But how much can we rely upon it?  How much, and for how long?  Will tomorrow be the day of our rude awakening?  Let too many Muggle-lovers get a grip on the Ministry and one day we will find they do not assist us.  They will take the side of the Muggles and we will find ourselves the losers.  The losers in our own land.  Us!  The cream of mankind!”

In the smoky gloom the debate hotted up.  Gradually the mood of the room changed; fear was seeping across it, fear that wizard interests were not as safe as they had supposed.  Not safe while those in power did not acknowledge the innate supremacy of wizard blood.  The fat farmer remained silent but the original dissenter, a broom-maker from Hull, continued to stand his ground and as he spoke a large man by the name of Goyle moved into a vacant seat behind him.

And minutes later Goyle’s friend Crabbe also moved close.

Lucius caught their eye and gave a discrete nod…

Severus never saw the nod, but for a time that moment was the last thing he could remember.

- Author's Notes -

Chapter 22

The inspiration for Simple Simon’s poem comes from many places:

For example J R R Tolkien was not afraid to re-write nursery rhymes to fit them into the ancient times in which he set his stories, such as the Cat and the Fiddle song in The Lord of the Rings.

But mainly I must pay tribute to Ralph Whitlock for his book In Search of Lost GodsA Guide to British Folklore.  In that book you will find mention of Boggarts, Padfoots, etc, etc, and the numerous legends about interrupted church building – the usual culprit being the Devil who is said to throw down the stones each night.  Also the ‘Devil’s Dyke’ in Sussex is said to be an ancient attempt by the Devil to dig a trench to let in the sea and drown all the churches being built in central Sussex.  This trench-digging had to be completed in one night, and one version of the legend talks of the Devil being defeated by an old woman who lit a candle behind a sieve to deceive him into thinking that the sun was rising and he was therefore out of time.

For the rest it is inspired by places I know on or near the Sussex coast such as the Jack and Jill windmills at Clayton.


 - Chapter  23 -