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Villain of the Piece

Part 2  Youthful Indiscretions

- Chapter  23 -

Chapter 23:   The Unnamed Wizard

23rd December 1979

Severus awoke hours later in a candlelit bedroom that he didn’t recognise.  Through the bars of the brass bedstead he could see a chest of drawers and next to it was a seated figure.  Soft light came from a candelabrum on top of the chest, and beside it stood a silver goblet draped with a napkin.  Regulus, who had been patiently watching over Severus, raised himself from the chair and picked up the goblet, and a snooty-looking wizard in a portrait who was also looking down on them, stifled a yawn of boredom.

“You’re back with us again” Regulus observed.  “Better have this.  It’ll help your head to clear.”

“What happened?” Severus asked as he sat up to drink the calming draught.  Where am I?  Ouch.”  His fingertips touched his head, feeling blood matted in the hair.

“It’s not too bad” Regulus said comfortingly.  “Just a bit of a gash.  Don’t touch the wound; it’s been dressed.  There was some horseplay when that broom-maker wouldn’t shut up, and somehow you got in the way of a spell.  You’re in my parents’ house.  We’re in London.  Islington – well, the edge of it.”

“Are we safe?”

Regulus laughed.  “This place is like Gringotts ” he chuckled.

“Is your brother here?”

“No!  He moved out years ago, remember?  He won’t come back here” Regulus assured him, seeing Severus’s worried face.  “There’s just my mum, and my dad, and our house-elf.  No one comes here but family and friends.  And Sirius, unfortunately, doesn’t count as either these days … How do you feel?”

“A bit groggy.  Not too terrible” Severus replied.  “Whoever made this potion knew his job.”  He thought back to the events at The Lone Dragon.  “Regulus” he said, “That wizard – the one who took over from the tale-teller – do you know who he is?”

“Yes” said Regulus, choosing his words with care.  “Lucius knows him and so do some of the others – the Lestrange brothers and my cousin Bella.  And most of the others have seen him before – Evan, Johnny – all our old crowd.  The Dark Lord’s got some radical ideas.  My dad’s really impressed, because living in London we’re surrounded by Muggles.  Dad’s put almost every known safety measure on this house – and maybe one or two unknown ones.  That’s how fearful he is of Muggle intrusion!  Yes, the Dark Lord understands exactly how threatened we are.”

“The Dark Lord?”

“That’s what we call him.”

“Does he not have a name?”

“He does, but–” Regulus stopped and looked awkward.  “When you get to know him, Sev, you’ll understand how special he is” he continued.  “He’s a powerful wizard.  Sometimes saying his name is … well it’s, err, tricky.”

He halted again, unable to say that even to call Lord Voldemort ‘Lord Voldemort’ seemed too presumptuous; and even dangerous – as if the name itself could summon up the Dark Lord’s anger.  Like some fearful incantation, stirring up the wrath of a demon that time had forgot.

Severus drained the goblet and handed it back with thanks.  “You say I will meet this Dark Lord” he murmured.

“Oh yes” Regulus insisted.  “He’ll be interested to meet you, especially given your knowledge of potions and powerful spells.  He’s very pro-learning.  Says it’s the key to power.  He likes knowledgeable people, and he can also teach you a lot.”

“Teach me a lot?”

“Teach all of us a lot, is what I mean” Regulus explained.  “He was a great pupil at Hogwarts.  It would have been wonderful to be there in those days … Well, I’d better let you rest.  Err, arrangements … my room is just across the landing, and the bathroom is next door to this room, down the passage, that way.  (He jabbed a thumb towards the wall behind the portrait.)  If there’s anything you need, just come and find me.  Will you be okay?”

“Of course he’ll be alright, you snotty youth” the portrait grumbled.  “Now for pity’s sake go to bed and leave us in peace.”  And with another cavernous yawn Phineas Nigellus strolled out of his picture frame in search of a comfortable armchair in someone else’s portrait.

 

A delicious smell of bacon and mushrooms coaxed a sleepy Severus out of bed the next morning.  Rain was pelting on the windows and the garden below was lost in billows of murky grey, but the bathroom was spacious and the hot water plentiful.

Regulus waited for Severus to dress, and as the two young men made their way down to breakfast, the door bell jangled.

“I’ll get it” Regulus yelled.

He opened the door and Honor peered carefully in.  She was dressed in grey – a rain-splashed dress covered by a three-quarter length leather coat and matching cap.  Being so thin she looked like a carpenters nail; an impression that brought a smirk to Severus’s face that he fought to hide.  But Honor seemed not to notice and the three of them gathered in the kitchen and sat down.

“Breakfast?” Regulus asked.

“I’ve just come to see how the patient is” Honor said quietly, pulling a wound dressing from her bag.

“You mean me?” Severus asked.

“Yes, you, Severus” Honor said standing up and leaning over him like a string of spaghetti.  “Who do you think dressed that horrible head of yours last night?”

She examined the wound again and began to siphon off some renewed seepage and clean fragments of clots from his hair.

“You’re good at this” Severus observed.  “Did you make the potion?”

“Of course” Honor said sharply.  “What d’you think?  I nicked it from the lab?”

He was about to point out that she must have stolen the dressings, but didn’t want to prolong the thorny subject of St Mungo’s.  But he needn’t have worried because Honor was muttering about something else.

“Brawling in pubs” she grumbled.  “What were you up to, to get a cut like this?  I don’t know which of you is worse?  You, probably, Severus, because you’re the eldest.  You’ll lead poor Regulus astray.”

Regulus laughed.  “Sev had never been to The Lone Dragon before” he chuckled.  “If anything, we lead him astray.  But, no – don’t get the wrong idea – it wasn’t like that.  The injury was entirely an accident – Sev’s head was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Some broom-maker bloke got out of order.”

“And Malfoy and his mates taught him a lesson, I suppose” Honor cut in.  “What makes your hair so greasy, Severus? … I’m going to put the dressing on now.  Don’t wash your hair for a few days, cos when you do the dressing ’ll come off.  And when you finally can wash it, you’ll find a little bald patch.  I had to trim the hair around the cut.”

“How exactly did I get this cut?” Severus asked.

“I’m not totally sure” Regulus admitted.  “The tale-teller swung his staff at one point.  He uses it like a wand.  But it could’ve been Goyle or Crabbe – I can’t tell those two apart.  They’re not the best at aiming spells.”

“Hence my warning about Malfoy’s mates” Honor said darkly.  “You wouldn’t think someone as genteel as Malfoy would want friends like Crabbe or Goyle.  Makes me think he isn’t as genteel as he pretends – he’s just a thug with airs and graces.”

“Hey, that’s my family you’re running down” Regulus warned her.

“Only by marriage” Honor replied.  “I’m sorry Regulus, but I’ve never liked Malfoy.  Remember, I’ve seen him at school a lot longer than even Sev has.  And I’ve watched him gather his cronies – clever ones like the Lestranges, thuggish ones like Crabbe and Goyle.  And Olive Green never liked him, and she’s not the idiot you would think.”

“Ah, but it was Lucius who helped me get Sev home.”

“Least he could do if his heavies started the trouble…”

It was threatening to turn into an argument and Severus was relieved when Honor refused offers of breakfast and decided to go home.  He, meanwhile, stayed for breakfast and Regulus instructed Kreacher to prepare bacon, mushrooms, and sauté potatoes.

“I must thank your parents for putting up with me” Severus said.  “I ought to go after this, but I do appreciate the trouble you have taken on my account.”

“No trouble at all” Regulus assured him.  “Lucius said it would be best to get you back here rather than straight to your digs.  Honor lives very close by and she’ll always help out with anything like this.  She’ll moan about it, but she’ll still come up trumps.  It’s handy, her working at the hospital.”

“Got a bit of a soft spot for her, have you?” Severus murmured with a smirk.

“What?  For Honor?”  Regulus looked surprised.  “Nah!  Nothing like that.  Honor’s just (he shrugged, trying to find the words) the girl next door.  Anyway, let me give you my address because you are now allowed to visit us.  It’s twelve, Grimmauld Place, London, North-One.”

 

Back at Flora McGonagall’s boarding house later that morning Severus munched his way through a second breakfast.  Then, feeling very full, he spent the rest of the day asleep in his room, allowing his head time to heal because he still felt woozy and he was determined to be fit for work on Monday morning even though there was only one day to go before the Christmas break.  He had potions to deliver, for which he wanted to be paid!  Financially, missing work was not an option.

When he had slept enough, he lay awake in bed, sometimes reading but mainly thinking.  Now that he was away from the perfumed dimness of The Lone Dragon, and the novelty of Regulus’s house, and now that his head felt very much on the mend, Severus was able to put his thoughts in order.

Despite the gruesome detail of tinsel on the stuffed elf heads on the wall, he liked the Blacks’ London home.  Even without the wizard embellishments – even if it had been a Muggle house – it would still display a faded gentility.  But the Muggle surroundings were awful; the fine Victorian houses had long fallen into neglect and most were now in multiple occupancy – flats and bedsits – instead of being family homes.  Severus had always assumed that being amongst the poorest of the Slytherins, his home in Spinner’s End would be in every sense the worst, but now he began to think that he should not be so self-conscious or make such assumptions.  London was an interesting city, and an expensive city in which to live, but that didn’t mean it was free of squalor.  Far from it.

He thought back to The Lone Dragon and Simon Lambton the tale-teller.

The Dark Lord had taken over that performance; he too was a performer of sorts.  He had been selective in what he picked out of the tale-teller’s tale.  He had made the points he wanted to make and ignored others.  Unfairly?  Irrationally?

Yet, the Dark Lord had said some things that struck chords deep within Severus.  He had always wanted wizard powers to have recognition.  He had for ages been weary of the need to skulk around the world, denying the most important aspect of his existence because wizarding law demanded it.  And common sense demanded it.  And only because wizards were limited in what they could do to Muggles to protect themselves from harm or to remedy accidental magical disclosure.  But most of all Severus feared the insidious encroachment of Muggle life – the life of the mundane, the values of the unlearnèd, the unstoppable dumbing-down of all that made the world a special place.

Was it so much to ask of life?  The right to be oneself?  The right to walk proudly without fear?

The Dark Lord has been attacking this problem for a while, Severus realised.  That is what’s behind Lucius’s antics in the Wizengamot.  That’s what the CPBS is all about. Lucius likes the sport of stirring things up but I don’t think he’d bother so much on his own account.  No, he’s doing it for someone else.  I can’t believe he is so fascinated by the rustic rhymes of a strolling player; he was there for another purpose.  And so was this Dark Lord.  Maybe Lucius and this Dark Lord have worked together for years.  Surely this was the secret visitor Regulus and I once saw on my first visit to Wiltshire.  He ‘feels’ the same – I can sense it.  Regulus would not name him – he seemed afraid to name him.  Why could we not see his face?  Perhaps he is famous.  Perhaps he is hideous – a hideous nobody.  No, he a wizard of palpable power; he is not, or will not remain a ‘nobody’.  What did he mean when he said he could point to gifted wizards struggling to find employment?  Was he referring to me?  Regulus said he would like to meet me – does he know of me?  Is this the opportunity I need to re-launch my career?

But this Dark Lord’s plans entail, what exactly?  If wizards are to reveal their existence it has to be on a world-wide scale.  Does he mean to make war with the Muggle world?  No, we could not win such a war, or if we did the price would be horrific.  Global mass carnage – no he cannot mean that.  He must have something subtler in mind.  What a pity I didn’t get to hear all that he said.  But I’m sure our paths will cross again.  The Malfoys and the Blacks and the Lestranges – they are part of his circle.  Yes, surely this Dark Lord and I will meet again.