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Villain of the Piece

Part 2  Youthful Indiscretions

- Chapter  31 -

Chapter 31:   A Glint of Metal

Later on 9th June to 10th June 1980

Severus Apparated to Snarebeck at once.  His mother had gone to bed so he called goodnight through her bedroom door.

“Wait!” she called back.  “Come in.”

He poked his head around the door as she waved her wand to light the lamp.  She looked scared.

“I’ve been to see Dumbledore” he whispered.  “He’ll give me a teaching job when he can.  There’s no vacancy at the moment but he’s put me on the list.”

Eileen looked very relieved.  “A teaching job” she said as she sat up.  “A proper job again.  A good career.  Thank goodness!”

“And” he swaggered, stepping into the room, “If things get bad, as I predict they might, you too can move to Hogwarts.  And live there and work there in safety.  But be sure not to tell anyone about that possibility–”

“Safety – if things get bad?”  She looked puzzled.

“If the political situation deteriorates.”

“You really do believe it will, then?”  She gazed in awe at her son; he was such an independent young man now.  “How have you managed this?” she asked.

“How does anyone get a job?  I went for an interview.”

“But you haven’t got a job yet … and you say there might be a job for me?  But I haven’t had an interview – haven’t been appointed to anything–”

“Assistant Librarian” he said, walking over to her.  “How would that suit you?”

She still looked dazed and puzzled.  “It doesn’t make sense.  And it’s all too fast for me.  What would happen to this house?  I’d have to give it up.  I don’t want t–”

“We’ll see about that” Severus said kindly.  “Don’t worry about that now, Mother.  I just want you to know that if the need arises there is a refuge.”  He placed a kiss on her forehead and said goodnight.

“Goodnight, Severus” she called to his retreating back.  “You’re a good boy, really.”

He lay awake in his old bed at home, thinking about the special role that Dumbledore had outlined to him.  ‘Secret agent’ had a certain sexy appeal; the old man knew that and had played upon it.  And it was truly perilous.  And hadn’t he just lived through a mere few days of such fear in trying to get that message to Lily?  Why was he contemplating a lifetime of that level of risk?  And for no monetary reward other than a teaching salary – eventually – and no public recognition, except perhaps at the end, if he survived to the end?  And he would have to Vow to follow Dumbledore’s orders – what if the old man turned out to be a crackpot?

But he would have a reputable career again – he would be a teacher.  The Dark Lord could not deny that!  And he would have manoeuvred his mother to safety, put far behind him the wreckage of his dishonourable dismissal from St Mungo’s, and brought to an end his hand-to-mouth existence in London.

But would he keep this new job or make a mess of it?  He wasn’t going to like teaching, deep inside he knew it!  Some young version of Sirius Black would trigger his bitching switch and the old man would carpet him for mental cruelty to a pupil.  Or even for physical cruelty to a pupil!  And Dumbledore knew too well his penchant for sarcasm and disdain.  The old man wanted team spirit amongst the staff.  I’m just not a team player, Severus admitted.  I tolerate a few people, but usually prefer to be alone.  Flitwick’s incessant geniality will drive me round the bend.  Kettleburn’s as bad.  I’ll goad McGonagall just for the hell of it.  Sprout?  No, I may be alright with Sprout.  And who will be doing Defence Against the Dark Arts while I look on in envy?  Some useless idiot whom I could out-perform with one hand tied behind my back!”

He sighed and turned over, still thinking.  How did I come to shackled myself to a psychopath?  Because I thought he was the greatest wizard of the age.  Which he probably is.  But the Dark Lord is capricious and immeasurably cruel, and can wipe me out in a second if I displease him.  And I cannot defeat him.  Not yet.

A Hogwarts job would provide me with a respite as well as giving me the semblance of fulfilling my master’s wishes.  And, in time, Dumbledore may yet provide the removal of my ‘master’.  Yes, Dumbledore will take care of the Dark Lord for me.

I must not make a mess of teaching; I must be good enough!  I can never be a Flitwick but I can perhaps be something like McGonagall.  And Dumbledore has made her Deputy Head.  If reserved, frosty McGonagall is good enough for that, then why not me in some similarly high position?  Why not?

But if Dumbledore fails – if the Dark Lord defeats him?

If that happens I will still be seen as a trusted Death Eater.  I must be able to play this both ways!  It is even possible that both wizards will fall in this war, leaving me a survivor.  To do what?  Take over at Hogwarts?  Be the next Greatest Wizard of the Age – the next Dark Lord?

But if Dumbledore falls, Hogwarts will no longer be a sanctuary.  Mother and I may not be safe.  I must always be ready for that.

Very well, I will be ready for that.  I’ll keep my options open.  I’ll be the secret agent.  I’ll obey Dumbledore’s orders.  And if they ever threaten to compromise the secret agent role, I’ll say so – he cannot give me orders that defeat his own purposes.  But to operate in that way I’ll have to speak to him confidentially – no talking in a forum about such matters.

I wonder how many he has on his side.  How many brethren?  How odd that he uses the same terminology as the Dark Lord.  Brethren – join the brethren.  Is that just coincidence?  And does Dumbledore discuss tactics and plans with his supporters?  No, possibly he does not.  He’s a one-man warrior as much as the Dark Lord is.  Not a democrat, not really; although he has an inclusive and naturally fair-minded nature.

Yes, I see it now … I may in time emerge from this as Dumbledore’s most trusted, most valiant and celebrated colleague, perfectly placed to step into his shoes, or to take up some even better appointment.  Why not?

And with his mind settled on that Severus fell into a pleasant sleep in which he walked in marble halls, was pestered with petitions to head the Wizengamot, and a crinolined Honor Wigworthy pinned an Order of Merlin, 1st Class, upon his chest, saying

“Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be what thou art promised.”

“Wrong play, Goneril” Severus sneered in his dream.

“Oh, yes” she said, momentarily dazed.  “But never mind – when you come to choose a queen remember that I bear a royal name.  I’ll change it back to Goneril if you command me to…”

* * *

At ten minutes to nine the following evening Severus Apparated outside the school gates and headed for the oak front doors.  But he saw that others were ahead of him; two figures muffled up unseasonably in cloaks and hoods were already mounting the steps, at the top of which Professor McGonagall and the house-elf Titcha stood waiting.  Who were these people, Severus wondered.  Aurors?  Was Dumbledore going to have him arrested once he set foot in the school?  Was the old man treacherous after all?  Titcha was leading the visitors inside but Professor McGonagall remained, watching Severus leap up the steps two at a time.

“No hurry, Mr Snape” she called.  “Do not make yourself out of breath.”

“Good evening, Professor McGonagall.”

She eyed him warily, distrusting his good manners.  “Professor Dumbledore sends his apologies” she said.  “He has been delayed.  Come to my office, you can wait there.”

This was unsettling.  Surely those two visitors were even now being taken to Dumbledore.  What did they want?  Would they say something that would make the old man change his mind?  Go back on his word?  Nevertheless Severus had no choice but to follow McGonagall to her room.  Even in summer a small fire burned in the hearth and she motioned him to a low-seated button-backed chair beside it.

“A dram?” she said, offering him a tiny but very beautiful glass and preparing to pour liqueur Scotch whiskey into it.

He accepted – it was delicious.  He also accepted a shortbread finger from the red tartan tin she held out.

“I must say Professor, you do yourself rather proud here” he observed as she settled into the chair opposite.

“Thank you” she replied.  “Yes I’ve made theses quarters very cosy, although Horace had the edge on me.  I doubt that anyone can beat his level of luxury.”

“Horace?”

“Horace Slughorn.  You’re old House Master.”

He realised that if – when – he became a teacher he would have to get used to using his old teachers first names.  How odd that would be.  Minerva, Filius, Pomona, Horace, Septima, Cuthbert … what was Kettleburn’s?  He had no idea.  He pulled his mind into focus and concentrated on what Professor McGonagall was saying.

From the little she divulged it was clear that she knew that Dumbledore was thinking about offering him a teaching post at some time in the future, but she would let slip no hint about which job it might be.  Even so, he found that as long as he was cautious it was useful to chat to Professor McGonagall.  She clearly had responsibility for the day-to-day running of the school and when he got a job there he could probably expect his instructions to come from her, and only his special instructions to come from the Headmaster.  He filed away many details for future use and they were into a good discussion about timetabling when a wizard’s head appeared in the fire and called McGonagall by name.  The head also noticed Severus.

“Who’s that?” it asked.

“Just someone waiting to see the Headmaster” McGonagall replied.

“Well you can tell him Dumbledore’s on his way” the head spluttered.  “Crikey Minerva, what are you burning here?  Old sporrans?  Anyway Dumbledore’s just set off.  Okay?”

“Thank you and goodnight” she said archly and the head disappeared.

Ten minutes later Titcha took Severus to the Headmaster’s office where he found the old wizard seated at his desk, looking particularly tired.  Dumbledore apologised for the delay and Severus presumed that if all was well they would take up the threads of their previous discussion.

“Do I take it then that you have made a decision about my offer?” Dumbledore asked.

“Yes Headmaster.” Severus replied.  “My answer is unchanged from my initial reaction yesterday.  It is still ‘yes’.  I will be your agent.  I will be your agent in return for a teaching position, here; and in return for sanctuary for my mother.”

A gleam of triumph showed in Dumbledore’s eyes.  “Your mother’s situation is already agreed” he reminded Severus.  “You can set that aside from this bargain.  So, you will be my man among the Death Eaters?  Spy for me, report to me, carry out my orders.  Act as though your loyalty is to Lord Voldemort, but let your true loyalty be only to me.”

“Yes, Headmaster.”

“Are you ready to become a member of my brotherhood, and to be encompassed by the protections I have set up for its members?”

“I know nothing of the brotherhood, who the members are, how many there are, or any rules.  You are asking me to buy a pig in a poke.”

“Yes … I suppose I am” Dumbledore agreed.  “There is only one rule – to follow my orders.  Everything is on a need-to-know basis.  Members are not told what they do not need to know.  I will also protect matters pertaining to you in a similar manner.”

“But you are expecting me to take a step into total darkness.”

“Not into the dark I hope” Dumbledore sighed.  “Hasn’t that already been asked of you?  I am asking you to trust me and follow me, blindly perhaps at first, but towards the light … Are you ready to take the Vow?”

“Have the other members of the brotherhood actually made an Unbreakable Vow?” Severus countered.  It looked as though he was playing for time.

“They have all sworn loyalty to me” Dumbledore stated mildly, “But … No, none of them has made a magically binding Unbreakable Vow.”

“Then why must I?”

“None of the others were ever Death Eaters.”

It was hard to be sure but as he said those words there seemed to be a trace of bitterness in the old man’s voice, or perhaps it was disappointment.  He also seemed anxious to proceed.  He sent Fawkes on an errand and told Severus to kneel on the rug by the fireplace.  Then he knelt opposite him.  The time for debate was over, it was now a question of running away or proceeding, and Severus decided not to run.

A tall, hooded wizard came into the room and stood beside them.  He was not introduced.  Severus clasped the Headmaster’s hand and the stranger aimed his wand at them.  Dumbledore said the words of the Vow and Severus replied at the appropriate points:

“Do you, Severus Snape, agree to become a member of the Order of the Phoenix, and to accept the rules that I, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, lay down for that Order, and the special protections I extend to its members?”

“I do.”

“Will you undertake, in detail and in spirit, my each and every order for the overthrow of the evil power of Lord Voldemort?”

“I will.”

“And do you agree to carry through those orders, no matter how objectionable they might at times be to you, nor how meaningless they might at times seem to you?”

“I do.”

On each reply a tongue of flame had shot from the bonder’s wand and wrapped itself around their hands like a red-hot glowing wire.

When the Vow was complete Dumbledore helped Severus to his feet; although far older he was the one who seemed steady and unruffled.  While Severus sat in a chair by the fireplace the Headmaster bade goodbye to his visitor.

“And this was in Fenwick’s hand” Severus heard him murmur.  “If Dearborn’s sure it was Fenwick’s hand.”

“He’s sure” a voice replied.

The door clicked closed.  Dumbledore went back to his chair by the desk and on the desktop he placed a small object which he stared at for a while.  It was difficult to see from where Severus was sitting but he thought it looked like a piece of metal.

“Welcome to the Order of the Phoenix, Severus” Dumbledore said softly.  “Sadly I lost a member of it today.  Perhaps it was mean not to tell you that before asking you to take that final step.  I hope you will not think me an unfair master.”