Make your own free website on Tripod.com

Villain of the Piece

Part 2  Youthful Indiscretions

- Chapter  26 -

Chapter 26:   A Nautical Prospect

22nd March to 30th March 1980

Severus had no idea where to take Honor on a dinner date.

“Where do you usually take girls on dinner dates?” he murmured to Jimmy at breakfast time a few days later.

“Me?” Jimmy asked, incredulously.  “Lucky if they get a packet o’ Dirty Dick’s pork scratchings if they come out wi’ me!”

“Hence the desert in your romantic Eden” Severus said pointedly.  “Come on.  This is a serious question.  I’m counting on you to think of somewhere good.”

“Err…”  Jimmy dipped half a fat pork sausage in his egg and ate it in one go while he thought.  “I usually go to the Cauldron” he explained.  “There’s also that tavern near the hospital – wassit called – The Fwooper ’n’ Quill.  That’s about the same as the Cauldron, price-wise.  I do go ter Dirty Dicks, but only for a drink.  It’s Muggle, but not bad.  I don’t go anywhere really up-market.  Were you thinkin’ of somethin’ posh ’n’ pricey?”

“Not particularly.”

“You could try The Chicken Inn.  It’s Muggle but it’s okay.”

“Where is that?”

“Near Tottenham Court Road.  Jus’ walk along Oxford Street.  In the Holborn direction.  You’ll find it.”

Severus took a look at The Chicken Inn after work but it didn’t appeal to him.  It looked too ordinary and too modern.  He had also asked two people at work, but Roydon’s suggestions were much like Jimmy Hardcastle’s, and the witch mediwizard he asked had reeled off a string of names of smart West End restaurants, all outside his price bracket.

Well we could Apparate anywhere, he said to himself.  If all else fails, I could take her to The Lone Dragon, or even to Hogsmeade.  Maybe I shouldn’t leave it too long before asking her out – not with that Benjy sniffing around.  Must sort something out.

He wrote a note asking her out on the last Saturday in March and he despatched it by Post Office owl.  Honor owled back a ‘yes’ so he was all set to pick her up at seven o’clock on Saturday night and he still had nowhere to take her.  This is madness, he said to himself.  If this was exam revision I’d have a plan!  If this was a long homework essay I’d have it done by now, or at least roughed out.  Then he laughed – ‘homework’ was how Jimmy often described his rare romantic adventures with witches.

Feeling very stupid holding a bunch of roses, Severus Apparated at Honor’s door on Saturday night.  The flowers had been the idea of the witch at work – “You must always take flowers” – she insisted – “Freesias, or roses.  But never red roses, not unless you want to show you are really committed” – so he had chosen pink roses and white gypsophila, and now wished he had not chosen pink because what he had seen of Honor’s colour scheming didn’t include pink.

“Hello” he said.  “You look very nice.”  She did look nice; she wore a maroon velvet pinafore dress and long, dark brown suede boots.  He would have preferred her to wear wizard robes but he could hardly insist on it as he had not definitely chosen a wizard destination.  “These are for you” he added.

Honor was pleased with the roses.

“Where are we going?” she asked, as she arranged them in a vase.  “Will I be okay like this?  I was only teasing when I said about going somewhere posh.”

A Muggle coat that she obviously intended to bring was lying across a dining chair.

“Where would you like to go?” he asked, sounding as casual as he could.

“You mean you haven’t booked anything?” she exclaimed, horrified.  “On Saturday night?  In London?  Honestly, Severus!”  She thought furiously.  “Well, I know where I’d like to go. And we might be able to squeeze in.  Okay.  We’ll try it.  It’s a pub.”

“The Cauldron?  The Fwooper?”

“No!  A Muggle pub.  I’ll call a taxi.”

It was pleasant to rattle through London in a black cab.  They headed south and east, down to the banks of the Thames in the East End.  The public house that Honor had chosen was interesting.  It had a nautical name – The Prospect of Whitby – and the nautical theme continued inside; the bar was made of old ships timbers.  They sat at the bar for a while, drinking gin-and-tonics and hoping that a table would become free, but none did so Severus eased his wand out of his sleeve.

“What are you going to do?”

“Where would you like to sit?”

“Severus, no” she hissed.  “You’re not supposed to–”

“Doctor the odds?  What’s the point of being a wizard if you can’t ease life’s little irritations?”

A pleasant corner table was suddenly vacated and he slid into it before any other Muggles had noticed.

“Don’t worry, I didn’t hurt them” he assured her.  “They just think they have another engagement.  Now, what shall we have…”

They ate lasagne with salad and French bread, and drank Chianti from straw-covered bottles, arguing in a light-hearted way about London.

“You don’t know London” Honor said challengingly.  “I was born here.  I grew up here.”

“I know more of it than you think” he replied coolly.  “I’ve spent a day or so nosing around the city.  I’ve toured the Bank of England, and the Stock Exchange, and the Baltic Exchange.”

“I didn’t know you could tour the Baltic Exchange.”

“You can’t.  Not normally.  But that’s the point of being a wizard, isn’t it.  You can slip into places unobserved.  The Baltic tour wasn’t planned – I sneaked in for a look, found a group of Slavs being shown round, and just … tagged on.”

“Slavs?”

“Some Central Europe trade delegation or something.”  He grinned and filled up her glass.

“You are naughty, Severus” Honor whispered, watching him with a look that was half admiration and half concern.  “You’ll get yourself into real trouble one day.  Don’t ever get done for misuse of magic, will you.  I’d die if you got arrested.  So, what have you concluded about this home town of mine?”

“Centre of government.  Financial centre.  Cultural hub.  Prominent business location.  But no longer a major port” he replied coolly.  “What else is there, to any large town, but shops and smart restaurants and theatres?”

His sudden man-about-town smugness was knocking her mentally off balance.  “Well, there’s history – pageantry” she began.

“Ah, yes.  Buckingham Palace and the crown jewels” he conceded.  “Well I did mention culture … Or do you think the monarchy are anything more than Muggle decoration?”

“The monarchy?”  Honor sounded surprised.  “No, certainly not.  But I do enjoy the colourful regalia and the sense of history.”

“Even though it’s Muggle.”

“Even though it’s Muggle.  What about you?”

“I have no time for royalty.  There is no such trivia in the wizarding world.”

“No, I mean, do you not like history?”

Yes, he did like history.  Why else would he cherish so much the trappings of traditional wizarding life; why else would he be so wary of the modern?  And as for ‘the trivia of royalty’ – what would Honor think if she knew he called himself the Half-Blood Prince?

After they had eaten they decided to brave the outside in order to be beside the river.  So they took their last drink to the terrace and sat admiring the lights twinkling across the water and the occasional passing pleasure boat.  He had to admit that for a Muggle establishment, The Prospect of Whitby was an interesting public house.  Honor, bless her, had not let him down.

A short taxi ride later they were home again, back in her Islington flat.

“You’re staying this time, aren’t you” she said.  She had recovered her composure.

“If you’re sure.”

“I’m sure.”

Yes, she was sure; he realised that.  Honor was an adult.  She had been sure about him even on the night of the party.

The bedroom, although spacious, was rather too warm.  On a perch near to the sash window sat a drowsy owl who was beginning to awaken.  Honor opened the window and let him fly into the night.  She left the window open a few inches to allow the room to cool and to enable the bird to come and go without disturbing them.

The room might be big but the single bed was not; Severus looked at it with amusement.

“Lucky we’re both slim” he observed, “If we’re to spend the night here.”

Honor was shedding her clothes.  She had put out the light and her body gleamed pale in the light from a streetlamp.  Sharing a bed was an odd experience; a new experience for Severus.  The long Spring night was full of new experiences.

 

A car going by woke him at sometime after seven.  It was still dark and now the room was cold.  A soft ruffling of feathers told him that the owl was home so he pointed his wand at the top sash and raised it to close the gap, obliterating the endless background hum of London.

Honor was lying tight against him; her breathing even and untroubled.  He smoothed a hand over her stomach.  At one point the skin was riven and rough.  An old scar ran across above the place where her appendix had once been.  She had been seriously ill in the past; her appendix was gone and her gall bladder did not function well.  It was that that had caused the weight loss.  But he now knew that she coped by taking potions.  She had restored her digestive system by her own abilities, and in so doing triggered a lifelong interest in potioneering and analysis.  She was literally a self-made woman, or a self-restored one.  She was talented and brave.

He thought about their lovemaking.  Honor was fun to be with, and he had grown fond of her.  Sex was surely the most ridiculous thing ever invented, and she didn’t mind that he thought it hilarious and laughed about it.

They were late getting up that day and by the time breakfast was ready it had turned half-past ten.  Honor jumped when the Victorian door knocker gave a single clonk.

“Bugger!  That’ll be Gloria.”

She went to the door, while Severus stayed seated at the table.  He buttered a piece of toast and began reading The Sunday Times.

“Morning, darling.  Axel won’t have surfaced yet, so I’ve come to scrounge breakfast” he heard Gloria say.  “Oh, didn’t realise you had company.  Shall I…”

Gloria had checked at the sight of Severus, but it was clear that she had no intention of leaving.  Honor made the introductions and Gloria sat herself at the head of the table, crossing her legs provocatively and rummaging in her handbag.

“Just a bacon sarnie, for me” she said, as she prepared to light a cigarette.

“Don’t worry, that’s all you’re getting” Honor replied firmly.  “We’ve finished our breakfast.  And if you set fire to that thing–”

She left the sentence unfinished.

“I know all too well what she’ll do!” Gloria hissed in a stage whisper, “Make a water jet come out of that rose!  She’s done it to me before.”  She poked the cigarette back into the pack.  “Lovely roses” she added, more loudly.  “Did you buy them, Severus?”

“Naturally.”

“Hey” Gloria exclaimed,  “They’re thornless.  That’s the thing about going out with wizards – so thoughtful…”

It turned out that Gloria was a Squib.  She worked for the Greater London Council and was connected with cultural events and media relations.

“I’d like to buy a little flat like this” she said.  “But Daddy won’t help me.  Daddy says he spoils me enough, already.”

“Well you could save a bit more towards a deposit, instead of buying fur coats” Honor said testily, setting a plate before her cousin with slightly more force than was necessary.

“Prices go up faster than I can save” Gloria moaned.  “So what’s the point?  It’s a nightmare.”

“Even on your outrageous wages?”

“It’s not excessive, Honor.  I’m worth every penny … Mmm, nice sandwich, darling!  Just how I like.  Yes, even on my salary, I’m struggling.  And that’s with Inner London Weighting.  Don’t know how you chaps manage.  Well, I suppose you just magic everything.”

London weighting?” Severus enquired.  “What exactly is that?”

“A salary top-up.  Helps with the high cost of living here.”

“Do all civil servants get it?” he asked, more for the sake of saying something than sitting in silence.

“I’m not a civil servant; but, yes of course” Gloria replied in her annoyingly casual way.  “All local authority staff and central government workers get it.”

“But what is the point?” he wondered aloud, having noticed a flaw in the logic.  “It only adds to inflationary costs.”

Gloria looked at him as if he was an idiot and said “Without it you wouldn’t get enough people to be able to take the jobs.”

“Then, if that was really the case, the capital would become less attractive, causing property prices and costs to come down and find more sensible levels.”

“No … no, Severus” Gloria insisted, shaking her head irritably.  “You don’t understand.  It wouldn’t work that way.”

“But, increasing your company’s costs – by adding more to pay packets, or however it’s done – stokes up the very problem that you’re trying to address.”

“The GLC isn’t a company” Gloria cut in.

“It makes no difference” Severus argued.  “It’s still a self defeating stratagem.”

“Look darling, you’re not an economist” Gloria replied.  “If you lived in the real wor–”

“Now, now, Gloria!”  Honor’s warning voice cut across them.

Severus, who was about to retort that he knew far more about the real world than she could imagine, realised that he had not been very polite in picking a quarrel with Honor’s cousin.  Not in his host’s home.  He should have let Gloria’s stupidities wash over him.  He felt a little guilty.  Gloria made her escape by muttering that she was going to see if Axel was awake, and when she had gone Severus realised that very soon he should also take his leave.

“Sorry” he said to Honor.  “Did I overstep the mark, there?”

“No, no!” Honor assured him.  “Gloria does that to people.  All sorts of people.  I would say she triggers your bitching switch.”

He laughed.  “My what?”

“Your bitching switch.  I remember you at school.  Sometimes you would just launch a verbal attack.  And hang on – never let up.  Like a terrier.  Hey – I think I’ve guessed your Animagus, now.  You’re not a cat after all, you’re a fox terrier!  And I think you’re right – that was a very interesting argument you put forward.  I hope my fruitcake cousin didn’t ruin your breakfast.”

“Does she often drop in like this?”

“Only when it suits her, but that is quite often.  I’ll have to put a stop to that.  Especially if I have you, here, at breakfast time.”

“So I will be invited back for – ah – breakfast?” Severus said carefully

“Mmm!  I think so” Honor said very definitely.

- Author's Notes -

Chapters 26 and 27

‘Dirty Dick’s’, ‘The Prospect of Whitby’ and ‘The Mayflower’ are of course real public houses in London, and very famous ones too!

 - Chapter  27 -