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Villain of the Piece

Part 2  Youthful Indiscretions

- Chapter  30 -

Chapter 30:   Eloquence

9th June 1980

Severus never found out whether the Headmaster had been playing games with him but the agčd Professor made time to see him on the evening of his arrival at the school.  Dumbledore was a little less courteous than was customary and Severus assumed it was because of his behaviour at the Hog’s Head.  Even so he called Severus to his office, motioned him to the chair across the desk from his own, and poured out two large glasses of burgundy.  If this was going to be an interview it was going to be a civilised one.

“Now, what can I do for you?” he enquired.  “Over the past weeks you have sent me a barrage of owls, asking to see me.  Well, here we are at last.  What do you want?”

“I won’t waste your time, Headmaster” Severus began.  “I’m here because I understand that you have teaching vacancies to fill and I wish to offer my services.”

“I see.”  Dumbledore sat down heavily, looking a little taken aback.  “Have you any particular appointment in mind?”

“Defence Against the Dark Arts.”

“And why do you think I would want you on my staff?”

Such an all-embracing question and so bluntly put was unexpectedly unfriendly; it was now Severus’s turn to feel taken aback but he pressed on manfully.  “Well, you may remember that I achieved top grades in my OWLs and NEWTs.  You know that I was put forward for, and secured, a nationally recognised Potions Award.  You know that I care about the highest standards of work in the classroom.  When, Headmaster, have I ever shown anything less than one hundred per cent application?”

“Yes, yes, this is all very well Severus” Dumbledore replied in an irritated voice “But it may shock you to know that I feel you lack some very important qualities that I value in my teaching staff.”

“Such as?”

The Headmaster took a deep draught of wine and marshalled his thoughts.  When he spoke it was without bitterness.  “Such as the ability to motivate pupils other than the high flyers.  The ability to care for pupils, irrespective of their House or background.  The ability to act impartially, and to be a constructive member of the faculty.  I fear you would be a destructive element here, rather than a constructive one.  Possibly, it is an issue of lack of maturity.”

Severus now drank deeply from his glass.  It seemed he had lost the job before the interview had begun.  A breeze from the open window fanned his face.  Numerous thoughts chased through his head, numerous arguments and recriminations.  He did his utmost to mask his petulance and finally said “Lack of maturity?  Or is it because I listened at that door?”

Above Dumbledore’s head one of the portraits sniggered and a few other occupants sat up in their frames.  Severus glared at them.

“That breech of confidentiality was indeed a mark against you” Dumbledore admitted, “Although it also demonstrated nerve, determination, and ingenuity.”

“Ingenuity is essential when combating the Dark Arts” Severus said softly.  “Then, Headmaster, if you won’t give me a job will you consider giving my mother a job?”

“A teaching job?”

“No.  Well, not necessarily.  She is very skilled with books and documents–”

“Does she want a job?”

“No” Severus admitted.  “She has no idea that I have asked such a thing.  But – there might come (he hesitated and had to begin again) there might come a time when she needs a refuge, and if that ever happens I wondered if you could find her a place here.  If necessary.  But it may not be necessary.  I just want to know, in principle, whether you could find her a place.”  He knew he was rambling.  He couldn’t help it.  He had said more than he intended, and yet feared he had not made his point.

Dumbledore’s blue eyes bored into Severus but he had lowered his gaze to the desk between them.  Again he took up his glass and this time drained it.  Dumbledore refilled it – the interview was not yet over.

“You must tell me the truth” Dumbledore said.  “You are babbling and not making much sense.  I accept that you are in need of a job – I know that you lost the job at St Mungo’s.  ‘Not temperamentally suited’ was the reason Vance gave, as I understand it.  Sorry” he added, seeing Severus’s surprised look, “I have my sources.  It seems I’m saying the same tonight.  If you want me to understand you, Severus, you have to be more frank about your motivations.”

Severus thought for a while and glanced out at the darkening sky.

“Take your time” Dumbledore said kindly.  “We have all night if you want it.  I know that I am asking you to act against your natural inclinations.  Enjoy my best burgundy and have a good long think.  Then say what you have to say … Or not.”

A bitter smile rippled across Severus’s face.  The truth; what a paradox that was.  He took a further mouthful of wine, put down the glass and slowly raised his left sleeve until the Dark Mark was in full view.  It was clear from Dumbledore’s face that he knew the meaning of the Mark.

“You’ve seen it before” he said.

“Alas, yes” Dumbledore replied.  “Are you telling me that Lord Voldemort sent you knocking on my door?”

“In a way, yes” Severus admitted.  “He did instruct me to get a teaching job, and if I fail he will probably hunt me down and kill me.  But I do need a job – as you know, Headmaster – and so I might have applied entirely of my own volition.  But that is by-the-by now.  You know what I overheard that night.  What you do not know is what I did about it.  I passed that information to the Dark Lord.  I didn’t know who the prophesy was about.  I do now … But I cannot undo what I have done.  I have warned the people concerned.  I hope and pray that they heed that warning, because there is no hiding place from the Dark Lord.  Except perhaps here.”

“And is that why you might want your mother to come here?”

“Yes” Severus replied quite frankly.  “Because if my warning is traced back to me, or if I fail in the task my Lord has set me, both she and I are in peril.”

Dumbledore stood up and paced about his office, lost in thought.  He also stood by the window for a while, echoing unconsciously the restless perambulations of Lord Voldemort that Severus had witnessed only weeks before in Lucius’s attic.  Severus realised that his arm was still exposed and he pulled his sleeve into place as Dumbledore settled into his chair once more.

The old man was still deep in thought.  “I have already been to too many trials” he said.  “If they call you for trial, Severus, I cannot protect you.  I cannot ignore criminal acts carried out by Death Eaters.  Nor do I have the power to pardon them.  Nor any wish to do so, even if I could.”

“But I have not committed any Death Eater crimes” Severus countered, meeting the Headmaster’s piercing gaze.  “My only task has been to ask you for a job.”

Dumbledore thought about this carefully.  “If you have warned Voldemort’s potential victims” he said, “Does that mean you are prepared to go on acting against your master?  Acting to bring him down?”

“Yes … It has to mean that, yes.”

“Are you saying that you will join forces with me?”

“Yes.  But, do I have to be in open revolt against the Dark Lord?”

“Not necessarily … not necessarily.  Look!  I think we both need a moment to reflect.  I will call a house-elf to take you to the kitchen.  Have a bite to eat.  Refresh yourself.  Let us meet again in, say, half an hour…?”

Severus took the Headmaster’s advice and found Titcha the small elf who had shown him up to the Headmaster’s office, now waiting to conduct him downstairs.  While he was gone Dumbledore wrote a message and sent Fawkes to deliver it.

In less than half an hour Severus returned and found Titcha waiting by the gargoyle.  The door to the spiral staircase was already open and they ascended in silence.  Nervously Severus knocked on the door and was relieved to hear that the voice that called ‘Enter’ sounded in a good mood.  Once again he took the seat opposite the Headmaster and stared at the empty desktop, trying not to be unnerved by the Headmaster’s steady gaze.

Dumbledore smiled.  “I have come to a decision” he said.  “I still doubt your ability to be a teacher – my kind of teacher – but I am prepared to offer you a teaching position if the right sort of subject becomes available in the future.  I can offer you nothing this year – I had a vacancy, and it has been filled, and I would not have given you that job anyway.  But I am going to make you a different sort of offer.  A much more interesting offer.  I want you, Severus Snape, to be my agent among the Death Eaters.”

“Your agent?” Severus asked carefully.  “What does that mean?”

“It means, to all intents and purposes, that you continue to act as a servant of Lord Voldemort” Dumbledore replied.  “I want you to continue to appear to be a Death Eater; indeed, it is vital to your survival that you appear so!  But beneath that mere appearance your true loyalty must be to me.  In this role I might, at times, give you special assignments because I need you to take an appropriate part in the ongoing fight against the menace of Voldemort, always according to my strict instructions.  I will not compromise your Death Eater credentials – I will not send you to your death.  But I am asking, Severus, for your absolute loyalty; your unquestioning and meticulous application to any orders I give you.  I am offering you membership of the brotherhood that I have set up to bring Voldemort down.”

“To kill him?”

“Not necessarily to kill him.  To bring him to justice.  To render him harmless.  It is his evil I want to see ended.  I desire no man’s death … Do you think you could carry out such a role?”

Severus thought carefully and then double checked a vital point.  “You would never compromise me?  Never expose me?”

“If I did, your usefulness to me would be over” Dumbledore replied sadly.  “I do not intend to squander you; I am not a fool.  Nor am I in the habit of forsaking the members of the brotherhood.  Do you think you could act this part?  Would you like to act this part?”

Severus thought frantically.  Yes, he probably could act the part.  What a part!  But what a risk.  It was the sort of role that James Potter and Sirius Black would leap at without a moment’s hesitation.  And of course they would not be able to bring it off, he realised.  They would do something rash and reckless – something typically heroic – and that would be the end of them.  All valour, and no cunning.  No, this called for a Slytherin, not a Gryffindor.  This called for someone truly unique.

“Yes, Headmaster” he said at last.  “I think I could play the part.  But, given the present circumstances, how do I survive while I play it?  The Dark Lord has told me to get a teaching job.  You have denied me that.  I will therefore appear to him as a failure, and he may give me other, lesser duties; he may sideline me.  And if I am to be available to take orders from you I must not be seen rushing off to sudden secret meetings.  How could I do that?  A teaching job would give me a perfect cover.  Without that I do not see how this secret agent role can be made to work.  The Dark Lord is not easily fooled – if we keep meeting he will get wind of it.  Nor does he readily forgive failure – if I have to say you will not have me at Hogwarts he might not merely dispense with my services, he might dispense with me!”

Dumbledore was smiling.  “Very eloquently put” he said.  “Never before have I heard a candidate explain so persuasively why I should give him a job.  But of course your life depends upon it so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.”  He thought for some minutes, his face growing evermore serious.  “But the fact remains I have no teaching job” he sighed.  “I could create a job for you, but if Lord Voldemort has said ‘be a teacher’ then I think he will not rest content with less.  Let me think…  Let me think…  Very well.  If your answer to being my agent is going to be ‘yes’, you can tell Voldemort some promising news.  I was not going to disclose this but if you are to survive as my agent, I have no choice – next year I will have a job.  A job.  Not an ideal one, but one that you could do.  Provided you are saying ‘yes’ to joining my brotherhood, you can let Lord Voldemort think I have promised that job to you.”

“Are you going to tell me which subject it is?”

“No.”

This was not welcome news; Severus felt desperation returning.  “Will I definitely get a teaching job next year, Headmaster?” he asked.

“If you are my secret agent, and if – in the eyes of the world – you conduct yourself in a way that befits a member of my staff, yes, you will get ‘a’ teaching job.”

“Is it – will it be a mainstream subject?”

“Leave this, Severus!”  The Headmaster sighed, looking at the difficult wizard who faced him across the table.  So able, and so unsuitable.  “I want you to use this year to reflect on matters” he advised.  “Learn to curb that impetuous nature.  Learn to restrain that acid tongue of yours.”

“Switch off my bitching switch” Severus said with an ironic smile.

“Your what?”

“Oh, nothing, Headmaster.  Just something someone once said to me.”

“Well, whatever it means, whatever it takes, do it Severus, because I want to employ you, and not have to dismiss you” Dumbledore warned. “I need an adequate teacher in the classroom and a good team member in the staffroom.  At least I know you will appreciate the need for discipline and security; I have no fears on that score.”

“Thank you, Headmaster.”

“So, you have said an unequivocal ‘yes’ to joining the brotherhood?”

“If I can rely on your protection, yes I am ready to join.”

“Are you ready to make an Unbreakable Vow?”

This was a shock.  For a long moment Severus thought it over.

“Why a Vow?” he asked.  “I gave no such Vow to the Dark Lord.”

“No, but surely in effect you didn’t need to” Dumbledore replied carefully.  “Presumably you swore an oath of allegiance when you took his Mark?  Yes, I thought so” he added, seeing Severus’s nodding head.  “Well, you do refer to him as ‘my Lord’.  And we know that Voldemort tolerates no shred of insubordination.  Unlike him, I could not harry my disobedient servants to their graves, but I too insist upon duty.  Lives depend upon it.  And my plan depends upon it.  Remember, I will not demand that you throw your life away; it is more likely that any ‘unwelcome’ orders of mine will be of the opposite nature.  But they must still be carried out.  No one but I knows the consequence of non-compliance.”

There seemed no way of avoiding this turn of events, so partly to give himself more thinking time Severus asked “And for my mother?  What can she hope for?”

“Sanctuary and employment” the Headmaster confirmed.  “She comes here even if you decide not to; she comes here if she wants to – no compulsion.  I can create a non-teaching job for her – Assistant Librarian or something.  My only stipulation is that she change her name.  For her protection, not mine.”

“That is a very fair offer, Headmaster–”

“But you still have doubts – yes, I understand.  This is no small decision.  It is late now.  Take a day to think it over, because when you make the Vow I want you to be clear about it in your mind.  Return here at nine o’clock tomorrow evening.  Does that sound acceptable?”

Severus gave him a rueful smile and said “We both know it is the best offer I have.”

“Tomorrow night, then?” Dumbledore asked, “Or do you need longer?”

“Tomorrow night, Headmaster” came the firm reply.  Nine o’clock, I believe you said.  Thank you.”