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Villain of the Piece

Part 2  Youthful Indiscretions

- Chapter  27 -

Chapter 27:   Dark Wine

30th  March to 3rd May 1980

After that first night with Honor a pattern began to develop.  She invited him home to dinner on the Saturday following the Easter weekend and he again stayed the night.  The following Friday night he took her out to dinner.  Honor decided upon the venue – a famous and popular public house in Rotherhithe, called The Mayflower – and they spent the whole of Friday night and Saturday morning together, without any interruptions from Gloria.  At the end of the morning, after a walk across Hampstead Heath, Severus Apparated to Snarebeck because he had a lunch date with his mother and her boyfriend.  He still didn’t say anything about Honor to his mother, but Eileen sensed that something new had occurred in his life.  Having allowed a decent interval after lunch, he hurried back to his lodgings because he had a batch of Shrinking Solution to finish for Monday morning.  He also checked his bank statement and counted his cash.

Financially, he was managing to keep his head above water, but he realised he would have to be careful.  Honor was not extravagant but would she be content simply with dinner and the occasional bouquet of flowers?  There was also the matter of birthdays to consider.  And what else, besides?  Christmas?  Valentine’s Day?  And where might this relationship be heading?

She’s just treating it as fun, Severus mused; fun and companionship.  As I am.  I hope she won’t start to get serious about it.  I don’t actually know a lot about Honor – I don’t know what her ambitions might be.  Perhaps I should ask … but then she might think I’m hoping to get serious.  No … no, I don’t want that.  And what are my ambitions?  Well, to move from here as soon as possible, but I am a long way from being able to afford a home of my own.  I have no rich uncle to help me with the deposit.  Hello, what’s this?

A handsome owl had arrived at the window sill; it was unmistakable – Lucius’s eagle owl.

The note that it carried from Lucius was short:

Dear Severus,

Narcissa is very near her time, now.  I know it is impossible for you to be here during the week, but if you are free at the weekend would you again be our guest?  Cissy has such confidence in you.

Regards,

Lucius

It was gratifying to be well thought of.  The eagle owl was waiting for a reply and Severus wrote one immediately, promising to arrive on Friday evening and stay until Sunday evening.  He then wrote a note to Honor and put it in his pocket to send the following day.

He spent a boring weekend at the Malfoys’.  Narcissa did not go into labour and there was nothing he needed to do for her.  There were no other house guests apart from Bellatrix whom he had never liked, and he began to miss his weekend routine with Honor.  “Merlin’s beard, I’m missing the girl” he exclaimed to the bathroom mirror, and then regretted uttering it aloud.  He chose not to stay for dinner on Sunday.  He was sacrificing a fine meal but it was necessary to get back to his room in London to ensure his potions were ready for work on Monday.

By Wednesday afternoon, as he was working on a breast reshaping, Severus was beginning to wonder if he should arrange to see Honor on Friday night.  I could see her Friday, and then leave for Wiltshire on Saturday, he mused.  I could have the best of all possible worlds.

But when he went home at five o’clock Lucius’s owl was again waiting, and the note was again short:

Dear Severus,

Narcissa has given birth to a boy.  Mother and son both alright.  Come as soon as you are able.  Many friends will be attending tonight for a party, but if you cannot be with us during the week do try to get here for Saturday evening.

Regards, an exhausted but overjoyed,

Lucius

 

He also received an owl from Regulus the following night:

Hi Sev,

I have a new second cousin.  His name’s Draco.  (I thought my name was bad enough!)  I saw him yesterday – just briefly.  He’s okay, but very pale – oddly so for a newborn I think, but then I’m no expert in babies.  Lucius and Narcissa are over-the-moon, naturally, but I think they are concerned that the baby is frail.

See you soon – in Wiltshire, maybe?

Cheers,

Regulus

 

Severus decided to spend the whole of the weekend with the Malfoys.  He did not tell Honor why he could not see her.  Instead he owled her to arrange to see her the following Friday, realising that it would be smarter to focus on the positive than concoct excuses for the negative.  He then arrived at Wiltshire on Friday night and found the dinner table thronged with faces he knew – Abraxas, the Lestrange brothers, Bellatrix, Regulus, and Ferdy Jugson.

“There’s another guest, too” Regulus whispered.  “You might meet him later.”

“Will he not be at dinner?” Severus asked.

“He seems to prefer to be alone” Regulus explained.  “Lu’s given him the whole attic as a kind of penthouse.  He comes down to the study, sometimes, but he spends a lot of time alone.  And he walks in the woods – he likes the woods.”

Regulus was right – Lucius and the guests gathered in the study after dinner and Lord Voldemort appeared and took a seat by the fire.  Lucius made the introductions.

“I have heard of you” Voldemort said to Severus.  “Something of a potioneer, Lucius says, and a lover of the most complex aspects of magic.  The techniques that some choose to call the Dark Arts.  Their study has always fascinated me.  That was my one regret at Hogwarts – that the Esoterics were never given sufficient prominence.”

Severus was conscious that the others had withdrawn; he was on his own with Voldemort and the others had formed a group a discrete distance away.  Was that because that was what Voldemort had instructed?

“Dumbledore only wants us coached in defence” he said in reply.  “He fears we will get carried away.”

“Then he fears knowledge itself” Voldemort hissed.  “Such a pity – such a lost opportunity.  But I do not fear knowledge.  And nor, if my information is correct, do you.  Ah, if only we were teaching there, young Snape, and not the spineless wimps who kow-tow to Dumbledore’s cowardice.  If I were teaching the Dark Arts and you were teaching Potions then would not Hogwarts have a chance of being great again?”

Severus didn’t know how to respond; was Voldemort teasing him?

“Are you considering being a teacher?” he asked tentatively.

“It has crossed my mind” Voldemort admitted.  “For I have much knowledge to share.  But at the Hogwarts of today I would be friendless, and it is so nice to work among friends.  Do you not agree?  One needs the stimulus of like-minded people.”

“Well, you are surrounded by friends, here” Severus said, not knowing what else to say to this powerful wizard under whose spell he felt in danger of falling.

“Yes, indeed” Voldemort chuckled softly.  “But I should also like to number you among my friends.”

“I would be honoured if you did” Severus replied.  He heard the words coming out of his mouth and wasn’t sure if he had said them voluntarily.  And yet a part of his brain was shrieking ‘yes, yes, this is what I want – don’t let it slip away’.  He felt slightly dazed, as he had in the upper room of The Lone Dragon when the tale-teller had held spellbound a different audience.

“We are a select brotherhood” Voldemort was saying in a confidential whisper.  “To join it you must take my Mark.  I will not press you about that now.  It is only right that you think it over.  One day, Severus, we will work together, and we will achieve great things together.  You need not waste all your life in cosmetic Healership.  You are fitted for greater things.  But for now, let us drink a toast to that and be content.”

At his silent command two goblets appeared from nowhere and Voldemort handed one to Severus.  They were full of blood red wine, more invigorating than the finest Invigoration Draught.  Even more bracing than the best Invigoration Draught ever produced in the long and colourful history of the Most Extraordinary Society of Potioneers.

 

When Severus awoke the next morning his meeting with Voldemort seemed like a dream.  After breakfast he looked in on Narcissa and Draco, glad to discover that Bella was not with them.  Then, despite the drizzly weather he took a turn around the park, feeling in need of exercise and fresh air.  Regulus walked with him.

“Well, what do you think of the latest Malfoy?” he asked Severus.

“If you want my honest opinion” Severus said gravely, “He’s a pretty child, but he looks weak.  I’ve made some suggestions to Narcissa, as to how he might gain strength.  He’s on breast milk at the moment, but as soon as she can supplement that – well, Narcissa knows what to do if she wants to follow my advice.”

Regulus thought this over and nodded.

“They think the world of him” he said.  “You should have been here on Wednesday night – it was such a party!  And shortly before midnight the Dark Lord arrived.  It turned out – very special.”

“Lucius always celebrates Walpurgis Eve, does he not?” Severus pointed out.

“Yes, but this was extra special” Regulus said fervently.  “What did you think of the Dark Lord?  I saw you talking together, and heard the odd word.  Magical, isn’t he.  You feel that everything’s possible when you’re with him.  Bella adores him.  Worships him.”

“But she’s engaged to Rhodolphus” Severus replied.  “You told me so yourself.  You turned down Honor’s party because of their celebrations.”

“Yeah, Bella’s always liked Rhodolphus” Regulus admitted.  “But she had hopes of the Dark Lord.  Stupid really – he’s not the type to bother with women.  But they’ve all taken service under the Mark – Rhodolphus, Rabastan, Bella.  So have Evan and Amycus, and even Johnny.  And Balantyne.  You’d feel at home if you joined – all your old Hogwarts cronies would be there for you.  I’m going to join as well, when I’m old enough.”

“How old does one have to be?”

“Well, when I’m ready” Regulus explained.  “That’s what the Dark Lord said.  He didn’t stipulate and age – he said ‘when you are ready, and I will know when that is’.  He’s got a job for me to do.”

“I thought you worked with your father.”

“No.  He and Amycus’s dad have gone into partnership about something, but he wanted me to keep out of it.  So I’ve never yet had a job.  Not a proper job.  Just done bits and pieces for people.  Dad gives me an allowance.”

Must be nice, thought Severus, being so rich that you don’t have to worry about money.

They climbed up the slope of the bridge and rested at the centre.  Regulus leant on the parapet and bent his head, watching the raindrops drip off the rim of his hood and fall into the water below.  Severus watched them too.  Below them a fat trout gyrated under the bridge in the crystal shallows, showing up clearly even against the gravely stream bed.

“The Dark Lord seems to have you marked out for something as well” Regulus said.  “He’s spoken about joining Hogwarts before.  He does seem keen on teaching.  I don’t know why you never considered it.”

“I thought that was obvious” Severus said darkly.  “Teaching brats like Potter?  I’d rather do a spell in Azkaban!”

“But it wouldn’t be like that with the Dark Lord at Hogwarts, would it” Regulus pointed out.  “Dumbledore’s not going to last long once the Dark Lord is there – he’s much younger, and so much more able.  Dumbledore’s headship’ll be over – you won’t get the problem of the Gryffindor indulgence.  And if you did, you’d be able to stamp on it right from the start.  I expect Dumbledore’ll go out to grass at the Wizengamot once the Dark Lord has got his feet under the Hogwarts table.”

Yes, you’re right, Severus said to himself.  It might well work out like that.  A teaching career – that wouldn’t be so bad if I could really study the Dark Arts.  And really come down hard on anyone who offended me.  The Dark Lord and I could converse, and compare findings.  He wouldn’t complain if I took a photograph of someone enduring Cruciatus or a Dementor attack.  He would understand.  If he’d been running St Mungo’s I’d never have lost my job.

“Is there still a possibility of a vacancy at Hogwarts?” he asked Regulus.

“Oh, yes” Regulus said confidently.  “You see the job adverts from time to time.  I don’t look out for them because I’d be a hopeless teacher, but yes, there are often openings.  Besides, Dumbledore’s never been able to let Slughorn retire, and I bet Sluggy still wants to.  We’ll keep our eyes and ears open, Sev.  Evan and Amycus still gather in the Hog’s Head.  I’ll tip them the wink and if we hear of anything we’ll let you know.  But the Dark Lord will probably let you know anyway.  If he wants this to happen, it will.”

Severus didn’t really expect anything to come of Regulus’s promise.  He couldn’t imagine that his old school friends would know of anything worthwhile, or discover it in time.  His confidence was placed only in Lord Voldemort.  He asked to see Voldemort again and met him alone that evening, in the attic sitting room that Lucius had so thoughtfully provided.  And this time Voldemort told him his name.

“But that means…” Severus said, so taken aback that he hardly dared complete the sentence.

“That means I intend to conquer death itself” Voldemort replied sleekly.  “I have walked far down that path already.  Very far.”

“Then that surely makes you the greatest lord of all” Severus whispered in wonder.

“Yes, surely it does” Voldemort agreed.  “And from now on you must call me ‘Lord’.  Come.  Join my brotherhood.  Open you mind to life’s greatest mysteries.”

The room was hot, the wine was dark.  Severus took the Mark and felt the pain of it.  Voldemort smiled.

“How many in the brotherhood?” Severus asked, again feeling light-headed and not so happy about it.

“You will learn of that by and by” Voldemort replied.  “You will learn much.  That is why my brethren are called the Death Eaters.  They will join me in this the greatest of conquests.  Take some more wine, Severus.”

Severus wasn’t sure that he wanted more wine, but it seemed churlish to refuse.  And the wine, when he drank it, eased the pain of the Mark, and was pleasantly morish.

‘And when you graduate to the Dark, you’re hooked’ he heard Lily say.

He shook his muzzy head.  Why had that memory echoed in his brain?  He looked at the wine glinting blood red in the crystal goblet.

It wasn’t chocolate schnapps.

But it was dark.