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Villain of the Piece

Part 2  Youthful Indiscretions

- Chapter  33 -

Chapter 33:   The Dragon and the Fwooper

28th June 1980 to 2nd January 1981

Just as the summer seemed to be whispering to Severus of leisure time, there was an unexpected flurry of activity.  Igor Karkaroff was captured by Ministry Aurors, and then shortly afterwards so was Antonin Dolohov.

And a message arrived for Severus, carried by a bedraggled owl.  Was it a message or was it a shopping list?  It was a meaningless list of words:

draco

solus

sunset

sissy

special day

dinner

What did it mean?  Why wasn’t it signed?  Why was there not one sentence?  Was it someone’s idea of a joke dinner invitation?  Severus couldn’t quite believe it was, because everyone he knew that might ask him to dine would hardly write a cryptic note like this.  So it might be a trap.

Or it might be nonsense.

Or it might be a plea for a meeting from someone who feared to write more plainly.  Who did he know who might fear such a thing?

A few ideas flashed through his mind but he set them aside, preferring to believer that the note was designed to lead him into a trap.

He read the few words over again, rephrasing them, building them into sentences; “The dragon is alone at sunset…”  No, it was hopeless.

No, don’t give up, he said to himself.  Draco solus.  Draco might mean Draco Malfoy.  Has little Draco been left alone – was he in danger?  If so, what did dinner mean – was he going to be devoured by a monster at sunset on some particular day?  But the words draco solus together meant solitary dragon, so surely it pointed to the Lone Dragon Inn.  Were the Malfoys having a special dinner at the inn, in honour of Draco?

Sunset – did that signify death?  A waning.  The end of something?  More prosaically it was a time of day.  So perhaps he had discovered a place and a time of day in this riddle.  But which day?  Sissy special day – was that the day?  What could be sissy about a day?  Or does the day relate to a sissy person?  I don’t know anyone whose sissy, he mused.  I know someone who’s ‘Cissy’ – that’s what Narcissa Malfoy is sometimes called!  Special day were the only two words written together so they must belong together.  Was her special day the day that Draco was born?  Or might it be her wedding anniversary.  Well, that was the nearest date so why ignore it?  But if they want to invite me to dinner on the sixteenth of August why send a note like this?  Not their style at all.

Dinner.  What if that was the signature?  Daft idea, but then again it was the last word.  Suddenly a phrase of Regulus’s echoed in his mind – if Evan had to think of a secret password it would be ‘Quidditch’ or ‘Beater’ or ‘dinner’  They had been discussing passwords.  It was the day that he ran into Honor and Regulus lunching at the Leaky Cauldron, and Honor had told him about St Mungo’s … Could this note be from Evan?  He was in hiding, so yes it could be.  But if anyone wanted to lure him into a trap this was surely what they would do – fake a note from one of his friends.

Despite the risk Severus found himself approaching the Lone Dragon Inn at sunset on August 16th.  For a Saturday night the pub was not over-full, but it was miles from holiday areas and this was a fine day in the height of the holiday season, so perhaps that explained it.  The door stood open, faint blue pipe smoke drifting lazily through it.  He made his Animagus transformation, crept inside, found a good place to survey the main bar and looked around.

He could not see a face he knew.  Two wizards stood at the bar laughing over a joke; four more sat playing some card game; two were playing chess, grim faced and silent; and a witch and wizard at a table for two were eating turkey drumsticks.  And at the end of the bar a cloaked wizard sat sideways on his stool, his back against the wall and his hood still up even though the evening was warm.  What little of his face that could be seen looked thin and pale, but as he studied it eventually Severus realised that he knew that haggard face – it must surely belong to Evan Rosier.

He crept away to a place where he could re-transform and then entered the room again.  Strolling up to the bar he asked for a pint of mead.  He did not know whether to speak to Evan, or whether it was best to let Evan speak first so he waited for the barman to be occupied with the next customer and decided to say something then, but at that moment Evan muttered a question.

“Would the gentleman care for a game of cards?”

“For money?”

“Of course.”

“Rummy?”

“If you like.”

Coolly Severus looked around for a free table, indicated the one that was furthest from everyone else and strolled across to it with Evan slouching after him.

Evan handed a pack of cards to Severus, asked him to shuffle them and then began to deal.  “How are you?” he enquired softly.

“Blooming” Severus whispered back with mock earnestness, “But I rather think the point is how are you?”

“Holding together” Evan replied.  His appearance belied it – his tubby frame had dropped pounds of flesh and his rosy face was hollow-cheeked and wan.

“Finding it tough going?” Severus asked, trying to pick his words with care.

“You could say that” Evan hissed.  “Those Aurors; they’re unbelievable!  The Prewetts nearly did for me – Dolohov saved my bacon.”

“The word was you’d gone to ground.”

“Very diplomatic!  Truth is I legged it, as everyone knows.  I got shit scared and ran for my life, and left Dolohov in a jam.”

“So, why are you back?  Did he find you?”

They both knew whom Severus meant by ‘he’.  Evan shook his head, making the folds of his hood quiver.  “Not exactly” he said, “But you read the papers – you must’ve seen Dolohov and Karkaroff got nabbed.  There’s a delicate job on; it’s down to me now.”

“On your own?”

“No.  I’m teamed with one of our old mates.  Don’ wanna say more.”

But there must be something you want to say – you didn’t call me here for nothing, Severus thought furiously, wondering again if this was all some elaborate set-up.  Then he looked afresh at Evan; looked deep into the blue eyes.  And suddenly it struck him that Evan had come to bid him goodbye; he wouldn’t say so aloud, but that was what this was about.  He wanted to see his old school friend just once more, before he faced…?  What?  Severus didn’t know, but if Evan failed maybe he would be the next one to be given ‘the delicate job’.

Severus raised his tankard.  “Well, here’s to it, what ever it is” he said softly.

Quietly Evan raised his tankard in return and bent to the cards once more.

“So no dinner date then” Severus added with a soft chuckle.  “When I got that note I thought I might have been on a promise.”

“Didn’t you guess?”

“Yes, actually I did” he added dryly.  “I suspected what ‘dinner’ really meant.”

Evan grinned, looking suddenly more like his old self.  “It’s the little king I have to thank for that tag” he explained.

“See much of him?” Severus asked, knowing that the little king was a reference to Regulus.

“Sometimes yes, sometimes no” Evan said.  “I’m not – I’ve never been high in the hierarchy.  Not like you.”

“I’m not in any great position of power” Severus hissed.

“You reckon not?” Evan looked almost annoyed.  “Looks to me like he’s got you reserved for special duties.  I reckon you get it cushy.”

Severus was about to contest that point but he didn’t want to draw other people’s attention by starting an argument.  And perhaps it was true; he had certainly been kept out of the battles up to now.  Perhaps the Dark Lord really did have a special role for him.

“So you think I have all the luck?” he asked Evan.  “Well you’re winning this game.”

“Only because you’re not concentrating.”

“Nor are you.”

“I’m not concentrating a tad less than you’re not concentrating” Evan said smugly.  He counted up his tricks and examined Severus’s hand.  “And that’s five Galleons you owe me” he added.

“Another round?”

“If you like.”

“You deal again.  I’ll get the mead.”

They played a further round and Severus still lost.  This time he half suspected that he intended to.

Evan glanced at the clock.  “Gotta go.  Stuff to do” he said crisply, reminding Severus far more of Cheryl Stevens than of the old lackadaisical Evan Rosier of their schooldays.

Severus paid his losses with a good grace and they shook hands.  They didn’t actually say goodbye; it felt unlucky to put it into words.  But the last Severus saw of Evan was his grey cloak weaving out of sight between the late evening drinkers at the Lone Dragon.

 

Two days later it was reported in the papers – Evan Rosier and Jonathan Wilkes killed in a fight with Auror Alastor Moody in an undisclosed section of the Ministry of Magic.  Auror Moody received an injury and is hospitalised.  This was a second attempt by Dark Forces to break into a highly top secret area of the Ministry, a desperate gambit because the security precautions are meticulous...  

Severus had no idea what Evan and Johnny’s mission had been.  He only knew that it seemed to have failed totally, and that although Lucius was loath to admit it the Dark Side was crumbling.  Severus sensed the breath of Azkaban on his own neck ever more strongly, and yet he still had no precise cause for alarm – as he buried himself in his ordinary life, no summons came from the Courts.  And nor from Voldemort – his services were not at present required.

But the constant bad news was a destabilising factor in the wizarding community.  Honor grew increasingly nervous, and Severus took again to seeing less of her, partly because he did not want to put her at risk, and partly because he did not intend to break with the Malfoys, and Honor remained convinced of their culpability.

I’m still riding both horses, he told himself.  Professor Payne would warn against it.  And Honor, would never forgive me for it, not if she really knew me.  I’ll have to re-establish that certain distance again.  I’ll think up some excuse for missing her birthday; and perhaps I’ll see her at Hallowe’en, and then around Christmas time.

In early September he sent her a birthday gift of perfume, and made an excuse about urgent work keeping him from taking her out.  The following day her owl delivered a thank you note, but it was short in length and chilly in tone.  It sent him into a quandary; not wanting to see her except when it suited him, but not wanting her to finish their affair.

When he got another owl in late September his immediate reaction was to hope it was from Honor – clearly it was not her owl, but nor was it Lucius’s.  However it turned out to be a Post Office owl delivering a message from Regulus, and it said ‘Can you be at the Fwooper & Quill at nine tonight?’  Severus wondered why Regulus had not used the family owl.  Did it mean he wanted to keep the meeting secret?

“Thanks for coming” Regulus said when Severus arrived.  “What’s it to be?”

“Mead, please” Severus decided.  “Just a half.”

He looked around.  He knew very few of the faces in the tavern.  Their might be one or two hospital maintenance and security staff that dated from his St Mungo days, but he was not known to the new trainees, and the more senior staff rarely frequented the Fwooper at this hour.

Regulus wouldn’t say what was on his mind.  Barely had they finished their first drink before he was suggesting a stroll.  So they ambled west, buying hotdogs from a stall and looking as though they were two friends out for a nose around the northern borders of the West End.  Not until they got into the network of streets near the Grand Union Canal did Regulus turn to serious matters.

“It’s about Dorcas” he said eventually.  “She’s dead.  The Dark Lord executed her.”

“Why?”

“Because of Evan.  Dorcas told the Dark Lord it was his fault that Evan got killed.”

Although the murder of Dorcas was a shock, Severus deliberately displayed little reaction.  “I wouldn’t have thought he cared two hoots about her blaming him” he said.  “Nor – come to that – would he care about any of us blaming him for anything.  Dorcas’s accusation is true in its way, and so what if it is?  We know the risks of being Death Eaters.  We are soldiers.  Evan died in battle.  How can soldiers complain about battle?”

“But he killed her, Severus!” Regulus hissed, clearly upset that any of his friends and associates had lost their lives because of association with Voldemort.  “He executed her.”

“How do you know?” Severus asked.

“Alecto Carrow told me.”

“Amycus’s sister?  How does she know?”

“She’s one of us.  She was there.”

“That lump of a girl who was in the Quidditch team?  One of us?”

“Yes!  She was there – saw it all – she was delighted.”

“Why?”

“Didn’t like Dorcas; she fancied Evan, you see.  And with Dorcas around … no chance.  Anyway, Alecto said that Dorcas barged in, ranting and raving, and rounded on the Dark Lord.  Totally lost it with him.  Just stood their and abused him.  Called him a crack-brained slave-driver.  He killed her out of pure spite.  He just wasted her life – the death served no purpose but to satisfy his immediate fury.”

They walked along a towpath and under a bridge, their footsteps echoing weirdly under the arch.  Regulus didn’t dare say what he was thinking but he didn’t need to; at times Severus could read him like a book.  The young and normally carefree wizard was beginning to wonder whether the Dark Lord was so wonderful, or whether Dorcas’s foolish description ‘crack-brained slave driver’ might have some merit.

And although he wouldn’t admit it, Severus had for some time already been wondering the same thing.

Crack-brained slave driver, Severus mused.  What made her come out with that?  Very true, but very foolish to say so aloud.  And to say it to his face?  What was she thinking of?  Evan was my friend and I am sorry that he died.  Died young.  And probably attempting something beyond his capabilities.  But I would never tell the Dark Lord that he was to blame for it.  Crazy, foolish girl.  Now she has paid the same price.  And for what?

* * *

The move to Shropshire marched steadily nearer and the model in Rackharrow’s office was supplemented by architect’s drawings of the interior floor plans.  The whole process seemed very thorough; whoever was the brains behind this knew what he was doing and intended to keep disruption to a minimum.  No surgical appointments were booked in the period between Christmas and New Year, and triple time was offered for whoever worked on New Year’s Day.

“Triple time!” Roydon said gleefully.  “TRIPLE time for that Thursday, and average pay for all the other days.  It must be breaking his heart, but he obviously wants us up and running, A.S.A.P, and for none of us to jack it in.  And he wants some of us professionals at the Hall, to make sure the removal men get everything sorted out, okay.  I’m going to work New Year’s Day, just to screw the extra money out o’ the bastard.  How about you?”

“Yes, perhaps” Severus said carefully, “Although I have heard that we are to receive a bonus just for relocating to Shropshire.  Just a one-off, but even so–”

“Yeah, I heard that” Roydon admitted.  “Hope it’s true.  So many rumours fly around this place.  Anyway, bonus or not, I’m going to work that New Year week as well.”

Severus decided that he would do the same.  The extra money would be useful and the work would keep him away from the Death Eaters and from Honor.

He actually enjoyed being part of the team who oversaw the settling-in.  The house was beautiful, in a cold, marble-like way, and because every mediwizard had a treatment room of his own, Severus was on the spot to make a selection, so he had his name inscribed on the door of the room in the western corner of the east wing.

“This is nice” Roydon said, wandering in and surveying the room.  “Good for natural light – you’ll get the sun most of the day.  And a view of the garden.  I think I’ll take that other corner room next to yours.”

Bertrand Rackharrow was also in an unusually good mood, and Severus suddenly realised what Rackharrow must have meant when he had made that cryptic remark about living in a mansion; he had now installed himself in a country house even bigger than Lucius’s.  Doreen the receptionist was also very happy.  She had been made secretary to Rackharrow and there was to be a new receptionist when the clinic became operational once more.  Meanwhile she spent most of the second day of January organising pot plants in her annex to Rackharrow’s office and magically duplicating a stack of parchment which she said were new contracts.

In the late afternoon of that Friday, with the settling-in complete and everything ready for normal operation from the Monday, Severus wandered all the corridors of Wychenden Hall on that dull, snowy day.  The owner’s area was screened and protected by a password, and he saw nothing of the owner or his family.  Suddenly, for a fleeting instant, it crossed Severus’s mind that Lucius might be the owner.  But no, Rackharrow was supposed to know the owner, and he would surely recognise his own cousin, wouldn’t he?  And Lucius had told Severus that he had tried to buy into Nobody’s Perfect and had been refused.  And he hadn’t lied to Severus, had he?