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Villain of the Piece

Part 2  Youthful Indiscretions

- Chapter  25 -

Chapter 25:   Party Animals

15th to 16th March 1980

Honor’s party invitation arrived on the first day of March, the party being set for a fortnight later.  Jimmy eyed the invitation, trying to read it upside down, but he was not as good at that as Severus was.

“Girlfriend?” he asked.  “On a promise tonight, are we?”

“Girlfriend?” Severus chuckled.  “Don’t rush me.  Anyway, if you saw her, you’d not be envious.  She has poise, but she’s rather on the thin side.”

“I like ’em with a bit of meat on ’em” Jimmy admitted, returning eagerly to his eggs and bacon.

Severus turned his attention to the invitation.  Honor had drawn a map.  She was less than a dozen streets from Grimmauld Place but she had even indicated bus stops and a tube station.  Did she expect him to travel like a Muggle?  Odd girl, he said to himself; I’ll Apparate near to the Blacks’ house and walk from there.  What could be simpler.  Dress – ‘as informal as you like’.  I’ll wear my usual black, no matter what.

 

At nine o’clock on a Saturday evening Severus found himself clutching a carrier bag and standing outside a door to a semi-basement flat in a large end-of-terrace house.  There was no sound from within and he wondered, fleetingly, if Honor had written the wrong date on the invitation.  Then the door opened and a purple-robed wizard clutching a tankard in one hand, extended the other and hauled him inside.

“In here” he said.  “This is where it’s all happening.  Know everyone, d’you?”

Severus wasn’t sure that he knew anyone.  The flat was dark and full of gentle music; it was difficult to see faces, just a throng of anonymous people in jeans and sweaters; very few in robes.  There was little furniture and most of the guests were standing and chatting, looking as though that’s how they spent most of their evenings.

Honor’s main room was part sitting room and part kitchen, divided by a broad kitchen bench upon which was spread the food and drink.  Severus dipped into his carrier bag and added his bottles of mead to the drinks collection as a balding, round-faced wizard said

“I’m Benjy.  Try one of these.  It’s lager.  Ever had lager?”

Severus hadn’t had lager.  It was a Muggle drink.  Benjy opened a can from a six-pack and poured it into a glass that fanned wider at the top than at its base.

“Good girl, Goneril, isn’t she” he added.  “Even got the right glasses … What d’you think?  Like it?”

No, Severus didn’t like it.  It was in his opinion watery, acidic, and lacking in flavour.

“Mm?  Not quite me, I think” he murmured, trying not to be too insulting to one of his host’s guests.  “How did a wizard get a taste for lager?”

Benjy launched into an explanation of a wonderful two month holiday he had spent in Germany the previous summer, and he introduced Severus to a couple of his friends, one of whom wore a dark shirt open almost to the waistband of his jeans.  In the candlelight a glint of metal could be seen on a hairy, suntanned chest.  Medallion Man has come to wizardkind, Severus said to himself.  He looked around, whilst keeping one ear on the conversation.  The guests were of all ages; the conversation mostly of art, music, and holidays.  Some of the women had long skirts and tasselled shawls; none were smartly dressed.

As if to prove him wrong a glamorous red-headed witch, not much older than Severus, appeared and moved fluidly between the party guests, balancing a tray from which she offered a variety of things on sticks.  She wore a figure-hugging black velvet dress and long black boots, and he recognised her as Andromeda Black.  She nodded in recognition.

“Hello” she said.  “Cocktail sausage?”

“Well, I’ve been called a few things in my time” Severus replied, as he helped himself to several different snacks, “And mostly by that horrible cousin of yours, but I don’t recall being addressed as a cocktail sausage.  That’s a first.”

“Well, he’s not here so you can rest easy” she said, chuckling.  “I presume you mean Sirius.”

“The very same!  Certainly not Regulus” Severus said with feeling.  “Though I don’t see him, either.”

“No, he’s also not here” Andromeda admitted.  “He’s at another party.  Family thing.”

“Then pardon me, but shouldn’t you be there too?” Severus asked smoothly.

“If you really knew our family, Severus, you’d know why I’m not there” she replied.  “Do excuse me, I have to hand these out.  Axel?  Benjy?  Any more for you?”

Finally she gyrated away and the three wizards watched her go.

“Know her from school, do you?” Benjy asked.

The chat turned to Hogwarts, and Benjy, who was several years older, explained that he only knew Honor through work and it was Honor who had introduced him to some of the Black family.

“And here she is, our gracious hostess” he said, as Honor came into view.  “Nice dress, eh?”

It was a nice dress – it was dark blue and sparkling, and Severus had to admit that for once Honor looked almost pretty.  She, too, was distributing food but when she got to Severus she halted longer than expected.

“You made it” she said.  “Benjy’s taking care of you I hope.”

“I started him on the lager” Benjy teased.  “He’s not keen, but he’s determined.  Won’t give up.”

Severus grinned politely.  “It’s never wise to mix drinks” he pointed out.  “Besides since crossing this threshold I’ve tasted food from all over Europe, so lager seems appropriate.  I had no idea there were so many different kinds of sausage.”

Axel was only intent upon his drink, but Benjy was eyeing Honor and Severus carefully.

“Would you like me to carry on with those?” he asked, indicating the tray of sausage rolls.

“Oh, would you?  Thank you.”  Gratefully Honor handed the task over and turned back to Severus.  “Sorry I wasn’t here to greet you” she said.  I’ve been using Axel’s kitchen as well as my own.  He’s three floors up.”

“Who lives in between?”

“Muggles” Axel said.  “Harmless.  Do you need that topped-up, Severoos?”

Severus declined so Axel went in search of more beer for himself.

“So … what do you think of my flat?” Honor asked.

“It’s, err … very London” Severus replied carefully, looking again at the high-ceilinged, Victorian room.  “It’s old, yet it’s modern.”

“Meaning you hate it” she chuckled.  “You don’t like the drinks, you’ve had to endure unusual food, and you hate my flat.  Poor man, what a night you’re having!  No snakes-head doorknobs – is that the problem?”

“I must admit I do rather like the Blacks’ house” Severus confessed.  “It has some interesting features.”

“Yes.  Like the heads of dead elves mounted on the wall” Honor replied with a shudder.  “Well, never mind, I’ll survive your disapproval.  So, where is home for you?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Well, I’m a city girl” Honor explained.  “I like being just a stone’s throw from concert halls, wine bars, theatres, museums … What about you?  Given a free choice, where would you set up home?  Where or what is your natural habitat?”

“What do you think I am?” he countered.  “Country-boy?  Back street alley cat?”

“A cat” Honor said thoughtfully.  “Yes, you could literally be a cat.  You move very quietly when it suits you.  But cats are at home in town or country.  They have learnt to survive anywhere.”

“And there you have your answer” he replied.  “I, too, can survive anywhere.”

“No preferences?”

He thought carefully.

“Hogsmeade” he said at last, “If you must press me to a choice.  I would like London if it had more magical alleyways – if it had a vast network of them so that I need never move out of them.  Do all your friends live among Muggles?”

“Yes; s’pose so” Honor replied, looking as though it had never concerned her.  “Yes, I do believe they do.  Old Celia Lovegood, over there – most of her family are country folk; I think they’re a bit remote.  But there are some London Lovegoods; generations of them.  Monty Jiggers – he lives in Kentish Town.”

“I thought I knew that face” Severus cut in, with a sudden pained expression.  “Montague Jiggers.  I’d better say hello in a minute.”

“Then do so now” Honor suggested, “In case he spots you and wonders why you haven’t.”

They threaded their way across the room to where a wizard had just sat down at a table in the bay window.

“Monty, you remember Severus, don’t you” Honor said, by way of introduction.

“Remember him?  He’s a valued client” Monty said fervently, rising from his seat to shake hands.

Looking slightly puzzled, Honor slipped quietly away, leaving them to chat.

“Well, this is like a convention of prize-winners” Monty went on jovially.  “Now let’s see, Honor was 1974, in 75 Hogwarts didn’t get it, 76 was your year, and 77 was Lily Evans.”

They chatted for a while about the annual St Mungo’s Potions Award and Severus enquired whether Montague Jiggers saw many of the old prize winners.

“What, apart from you?” he replied, grinning.  “No.  Used to see Lily Evans at times.  Not in the shop much, but about in the Alley.  Haven’t seen her for months, come to think of it.  Same with that Stevens girl; d’you remember her?  Horace wouldn’t put her in for the award.  She used to buy a lot from me at one time, and then it all stopped…”

A sudden flash of flame came from the gas hob.  They peered around and saw Uncle Willy busy with a frying pan.  A smell of fried onions pervaded the room.

“Great!  Hotdogs soon, unless I’m much mistaken” Monty said, smacking his lips.  “I’m gonna grab some more of that Sussex ale; before that Wigworthy bloke drinks it all.  You should try it – Knots of May it’s called.  It’s very light – a summer drink, really, but it goes down very well.”

“I’m sticking to lager” Severus said firmly.  “Although I might switch from Danish to German.  Let’s see what there is.  And I think I’ll find my way to the bathroom, first…”

 

The evening was winding to a close.  Willy Wigworthy had been mixing his drinks and had disappeared.  As Nat King Cole finished serenading the guests with The Party’s Over many of them took the hint and began to leave.  A blonde witch in a skimpy Zandra Rhodes cocktail dress was wriggling into a fur coat.  Severus had watcher her on and off, as the party had progressed – she had brought a magnum of champagne and spent the evening drinking it.  How she was managing to stay upright on her high heels was a question in itself.

“Lovely party, darling” she said, and gave Honor a lop-sided peck on the cheek.

“I’m surprised you need your coat on to go upstairs.” Honor hissed.

“Shush – mum’s the word” the blonde witch whispered, then she grabbed Axel’s medallion and drew him away like a slave-master claiming a slave.

Finally only Severus was left.  He hunted for used glasses and began to wash up, listening for the front door to close on the last of the guests and the sound of Honor’s returning footsteps.

“You shouldn’t be doing that” Honor exclaimed, but she was obviously pleased.

With the help of some cleaning and vanishing spells the tidying up was soon completed and Honor made a last batch of coffee in a tall black coffee pot.  She extinguished all of the candles except for a group of three at the side of the hearth.  Then she motioned Severus to sit on the sofa and herself took the only armchair, and they sat in a room lit only by firelight and candlelight, sipping coffee and listening to David Soul singing softly from her cassette player.

“Actually” Severus admitted, “It’s not such a bad flat.  These are nice, even though they’re modern” he added, looking at the black cup.  “Are they wizard-made?”

“No.  Portmerion” Honor said, “Their phoenix design.  The whole set was a house warming present from Andromeda.  Very ‘sixties’ – I like them a lot.”

He looked at the bird emblem on the cup.  It glistened red-gold in the firelight, echoing the gold lettering on the candles.

“By the way, is your uncle okay?”  He felt he ought to ask but it sounded like and afterthought.  Which, in a way, it was.

“Oh, yes!” Honor assured him.  “He’ll be up in – what – six hours or so, tucking in to boiled eggs and soldiers.  It’d take more than a few Firewhisky’s to knock Uncle Willy out for long.”

It sounded as though Honor was used to Uncle Willy’s alcoholic indiscretions.  She leant back and closed her eyes, letting her cup slip to a dangerous angle.

Severus also lay back.  The sofa was comfortable.  He looked around briefly, took a draught of coffee and then closed his eyes, thinking about the flat and what it told him about Honor.  She had painted the room in buttermilk yellow and stripped the plaster from the chimney breast to expose the yellow-grey bricks.  She had a bookcase full of books – old school texts, and medical tombes, and books on artist.  She had hung a copy of a Da Vinci cartoon on the wall, and the bathroom had a reproduction Mondrian – one of his yellow and brown rectangle affairs.  Abstract, but oddly pleasing.  Who had bought her the works of art?  Benjy probably – he appeared to be keen on her.  But he hadn’t stayed to do the washing up…

“What made you choose a coat stand for a towel rail?”

“What?”  Quietly dozing, Honor snapped awake.

“In the bathroom” Severus added, “The coat stand you use to hang up the towels.”

“Oh, that.  I got it in the Portobello Road.  Liked it … Next question.”

“Why does Benjy call you Goneril?”

“Wow, that was unexpected!  Because it’s my name” she said with a rueful grin.  “Don’t know what possessed my parents to give me a name like that.  Well, would you like a name that sounded like gonorrhoea?  That’s why I call myself Honor.  It’s close, but not so embarrassing.  Enough of that.  Next question.”

“How many questions am I allowed?”

“Err – half a dozen.  And that was one of them!  So you have three left.”

“What is written on the candles?”

“It means Any Port in a Storm.  Gloria gave them to me.  It’s only Latin – I thought you’d know Latin.”

“I do, but it’s too dark to read it now … Who is the lady who went off with Axel?”

“That’s no lady – that’s the aforesaid Gloria.  My cousin.  Oops, that was just a bit bitchy, wasn’t it!”

Severus sat up suddenly, gave her a penetrating stare and then drained his coffee cup.

“You and Benjy” he asked awkwardly, “Are you?  I mean – do you have – any special wizard in your life?”

“No” Honor replied with simple firmness.  “You sneaked in two questions, there.  ‘No’ to both of them.  He’s not my boyfriend.  I don’t have a boyfriend.”

The atmosphere was suddenly charged.

“Am I allowed a few questions?” Honor asked, as if to break the awkward silence.

“Just one” came the careful reply.

“Why–?”  She checked, not wanting to waste her question, and then began again.  “Do you have anyone special in your life, Severus?”

He thought for a moment.  “Yes” he replied at length.  “Me.”

Honor could see him smirking, almost grinning.  She wasn’t quite sure if he was actually revealing a deep and important truth, but he appeared to be in a teasing mood.

“Why am I allowed only one question?” she asked.  She had had her quota of one, so nothing would be lost in trying for more.

“To answer that would allow you more than one” he sneered.  “Therefore to answer that, I would have to go back on my word.  I will not break my word.  But perhaps that, in itself, will tell you something … It’s late, and you must be very tired.  I had better go.  But perhaps, we could have dinner sometime?”

He didn’t wait for a reply but stood up, placed the coffee cup in its saucer, and went to find his cloak.

“You can Apparate from here” Honor said as she followed him to the front door.

But Severus fancied a walk in the cool night air.  The stars were bright and he thought he might walk part of the way home.  Or, possibly, even all of it.

“Thank you for a delightful party” he said.  “I’m not much of a party animal, so you’ll no doubt be pleased to know that I found it quite survivable.  About dinner – can I owl you?”

For an answer, Honor took hold of the lapels of his cloak and pulled him into a kiss.

“Of course you can” she said.  “And that other answer did say something about you.  It told me you are innately unfair.  So be warned, when you take me out I’m going to choose the most expensive thing on the menu.  And don’t think that means we’re going to a hotdog stall in Oxford Street!”

Grinning, Severus began his walk back.  In fact he walked all the way to the boarding house; it gave him time to think.

Honor was a nice girl.  He liked her.  She wasn’t beautiful and he was sure that he was not in love with her.  But he felt safe with her, and that was a rare experience.  He also felt valued by her.

Lily had made him feel valued, but Lily had chosen someone else.  And so had Delia.

Cheryl had, up to a point, made him feel valued.  But not so much as had Lily, Delia and Honor.  And anyway Cheryl was gone.  And he suspected that Cheryl had problems in her life – he didn’t want involvement with someone who had problems, he wanted self-assured, capable people, whose lives were running smoothly.

But how far did he want to take things with Honor?

Sex would be nice, he admitted to himself.  But what if she wants involvement?  I don’t want involvement.  I’ll have to tread vary warily with Honor.  I had better not rush to invite her out to dinner – don’t want to seem head-over-heels in love, or anything awful like that.  I’ll leave it a fortnight.  That should show that I’m interested, but not desperate.