Villain of the Piece
Part 2 Youthful Indiscretions
- Chapter 34 -
Chapter 34 Wychenden Hall
Very early in 1981 Severus gave up his
He also had a new contract – Doreen’s cryptic hints had
been true. Not only did Severus receive
the promised overtime for the New Year move, and the relocation bonus, he also
received a six per cent pay rise. And
that, coupled with relinquishing his
His trips to
In all of the time Severus had been dating Honor he never brought her home, nor spoken about her. Many times Eileen was on the point of asking about her, because it was clear to her that Severus had a girlfriend. But she never actually put the question; her worsening relationship with her gentleman friend made her wary of raising the subject of romance.
* * *
July arrived, hot and sultry, Honor said she was thinking of going on holiday with Gloria, and Severus paid little attention. His mind was focussed on Hogwarts because now that the academic year had finished he hoped to hear details of his long-awaited teaching appointment.
But the first owl of the month was not an invitation from Hogwarts, nor a picture postcard from Honor. It was from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and it was a summons to attend court. As he opened the Ministry envelope and realised what it was, Severus’s first reaction was to assume that one of his patients was suing him. But it was nothing of the kind – the summons spoke of suspected Death Eater activities. The document arrived as he was in the middle of breakfast at Snarebeck so he had no choice but to show it to his mother at once. She was terrified, and more than terrified – deeply ashamed – and over the next few days emotions ran high at Spinner’s End. The ensuing contretemps finally caused Eileen to break with her wizard friend from Obscurus Books, so Severus felt even worse.
‘To answer charges of Death Eater activities’ the summons said but, as Severus tried to explain to his mother, he did not know why he had had been selected for trial. All he could presume was that one of the other Death Eaters had let slip or deliberately given his name. He had not been arrested, so the details of the supposed crimes could not be very serious; and fortunately because there was no arrest there was also no press report about him.
Privately he wondered who might have given his name to the authorities. He did not know all of the Death Eaters – not by sight, nor by name – and although nowadays he read every issue of the newspapers he could not be sure that all the trials were reported. This might even have been a behind-the-scenes deal that never came to the floor of the court.
Nor did Severus know that Horace Slughorn had retired and gone into hiding; there was much that year that happened outside of his knowledge. But understandably he panicked when he received the court summons and he went to Dumbledore, who promised to sort matters out for him.
Dumbledore, who of recent times did little else but attend trials, spoke vigorously in Severus’s defence at the very next meeting of the Wizengamot, so Severus was not actually called before the court, but it had been a close run thing.
Towards the end of July Dumbledore issued a different summons. He called Severus to Hogwarts and gave him details of his new job – Professor of Potions and Head of Slytherin House. Severus could hardly believe it – his fortunes had totally changed!
“There is also the matter of your mother” Dumbledore said. “You wanted a job for her. I suggest this…”
He had created a position of Assistant Librarian for Eileen, working alongside Hilary Caldecott; his only stipulation being that Eileen Snape should change her name to Irma Pince. Severus was also keen for that to happen; he would do anything to redress the havoc he had caused in their private life.
“We are hardly on speaking terms since my brush with the law” he admitted. “But Mother was badly shaken by the possibility of my going to prison, and of course I could no longer hide the fact that I had joined the Death Eaters. And the constant disappearances over the years have finally impressed upon her how dangerous these times are. So, yes, she will come to Hogwarts, and she will change her name. She is keen, at last, to effect her own disappearance.”
“Then she can move in at once” Dumbledore said. “And, if you wish, so can you. But you will not be in hiding. On the contrary, I think your appointment as my new Head of Slytherin will be a public demonstration of my trust in you.”
Severus owled Honor at once, wanting to share the good news. Receiving no reply he panicked and Apparated to her flat. All its doors and windows were secured, there was no food in the fridge and even the owl was not at home – Honor must be on holiday. “Either that, or ‘disappeared’ ” he murmured darkly. “Or perhaps she got wind of my summons and is avoiding me – perhaps my secret is out.”
Feeling rather deflated, he returned home to help his
mother prepare for her move to
The postcard was a scenic view of The Long Mynd and hardly had he finished reading it when their owl returned home carrying a letter. That too was from Honor and it included two photographs, one of a scowling Gloria hiding behind sunglasses, and one of a gleeful Honor who was clearly delighted at dragging her cousin up and down the hills. He read it at breakneck speed, fearing what it might say:
Just got your letter. Great news – congratulations!
Well, as you see
I managed to talk Gloria into doing this walking holiday and she’s loving every
minute of it. I just sent you a postcard,
but I thought you’d like these piccys too.
Gloria’s finally twigged that you can’t do hill walking in high
heels. The weather is gorgeous and so is
the countryside. But we are taking a
break from it tomorrow – we are off to Ironbridge – me for the iron smelting history
and Gloria for the pottery and tiles.
Anyway, if ever you fancy hill walking I can recommend
We must have a
catch-up before you go to
“Who are these girls?” his mother demanded, scowling at the photographs.
“Honor’s and old school friend, and Gloria is her cousin” Severus said shortly.
“Anything else I should know?”
“I shouldn’t think so, Mother” he replied smoothly. “Not if I want to spare your blushes.”
Eileen didn’t press him and Severus didn’t volunteer any more information. Instead he pondered the irony of the fact that Honor was on holiday not so very many miles from where he worked. He even wondered if she knew about Nobody’s Perfect and was teasing him.
Two days later Eileen moved to
“You’re almost right on the line” Rackharrow growled irritably as he read the letter on the Thursday morning.”
Severus knew that and it pleased him immensely. His contract stipulated one calendar month’s notice and he was giving them a month and a day.
“So, you’re giving us up to teach Potions?” Rackharrow continued, clearly unable to understand why anyone would want to give up cosmetic mediwizardry.
“And to be Head of Slytherin House” Severus pointed out silkily.
“Pity, as we’ve not long moved, giving up this fine country house.”
“But in return I get a castle” Severus reminded him. “Not a bad swap – a mansion for a castle.”
Rackharrow glared at him, then pointed his wand at the door to close it. “Do you realise, Snape” he hissed, “That you are the highest paid mediwizard here? Only Corrine clears more than you, and she’s the Chief. Your rise, this year, was bigger than anyone else’s. You get more than some of our trainers, and thank god they don’t know it. You have quite a future here.”
“Well, I did not realise the pay situation” Severus pointed out, “Because everything is conducted in such secrecy. But as for my future, I appreciate what you say; but, as you know, I work extremely hard – I take great pride in my work – so I would hope that one day that effort would be recognised. But I can hardly give up the offer to head a Hogwarts House. Particularly Slytherin, my old House. I’m sure you understand, being an ex-Slytherin yourself.”
“If it’s a matter of teaching, we could give you that here” Rackharrow offered. “You’re ready for that now – you can coach our new trainees.” His voice tailed away.
It was a difficult moment.
Severus suddenly sensed that Rackharrow wanted to keep him, but had no
detailed promises to lay on the table.
And whatever those promises could be, they could not be acceptable. Nothing could compare with the special
situation at Hogwarts – the possibility of Dumbledore’s protection from
Voldemort, the special agent role for which Dumbledore needed him, let alone
the kudos of heading a House in the most prestigious magical school in
No, in that light Nobody’s Perfect was a non-starter. And clearly Rackharrow knew it was. Severus barely had to mumble a refusal – the look on Rackharrow’s face spoke volumes.
“Very well, Snape. Do as you wish” Rackharrow said dismissively, placing the letter in his filing tray and consigning Mediwizard Snape to history. “Good luck to you.”
He hardly meant it.
And Severus didn’t care.
During the last month Severus took on as much of the difficult work as he could, knowing that on his last day he would probably be limited to simple cases that could definitely be completed in one day. As a result he hardly got time to see Honor – one snatched Saturday night was all they could manage. She couldn’t get used to the idea that he was going to be a teacher.
“Not just a teacher” he pointed out, “Head of Slytherin, Honor.”
“But I thought you did something important. Secret. This is just – teaching.”
With a sudden stab of fear it occurred to him that she had a point. He had led her to believe that his job was secret. Could that one day put him in danger? What if – in months or years to come – the Dark Side became suspicious of him, and started to make enquiries among his friends and associates? What a fool he was to have led anyone to believe that he was involved in something clandestine. He needed to be ordinary!
“It’s over” he said simply. “It was a project, and it’s done. Finished. Forgotten. And I am looking toward a new role. A professorship at Hogwarts is no mean feat. I thought you’d be pleased for me.”
“Well, I am if it’s what you want” she replied. “But it seems a bit ordinary for you.”
“But I am ordinary” he chuckled. “I know you look upon me as Mr Wonderful, and I can quite understand why, but you must get used to the fact that I have always been a perfectly, straightforwardly ordinary man!”
* * *
“How do you fancy a nice, tricky, buttocks ’n’ abdomen, this afternoon?” Derek asked him as Severus collected his caseload for the twenty-seventh. “You can finish off tomorrow if it runs over – the client’s rich – forking out for an overnight stay.”
It was the Thursday of his final week at Wychenden Hall so Severus consulted the case notes. “Wizard. Nineteen stone. Eighty-two” he observed. “I might get it finished tonight. I expect it will overrun a bit. Hope the dinner’ll be worth it. What have I got this morning? Dental whitening, dental straightening, and some noses. Witches, witches, all the way until lunch. Yes, okay. Send them all my way. What is tonight’s dinner?”
“Lamb casserole with herb dumplings” Tanya said, giving him a wry smile.
“On a hot day like this?” Severus exclaimed. “Casserole? Those house-elves are taking the piss.”
“Does that mean you’re changing your mind about the buttocks?” Tanya asked.
“I’d rather work on yours” he smirked.
“Mine are perfect!” Tanya flared.
“Exactly” he sneered. “I noticed.” And he gathered up his case notes and flounced away.
The afternoon session was quite difficult so he was forced to stay late to complete it, and then tolerate the unseasonably hot but tasty meal.
After that he tidied up his treatment room and took a walk around the building to let the dumplings settle before Apparating home. The clinic was silent. All the medical staff had gone. Somewhere no doubt, a young hopeful was beavering away at making potions, trying to follow in his footsteps, and a few house-elves were cleaning; but he passed almost no one as he prowled the corridors. He descended the marble staircase into the entrance hall. It was not a straight staircase like Hogwarts, it clung to a curved outer wall, flowing down in a long sweep. Beneath it was a Pembroke table, on which was spread the clinic’s brochures and literature. A witch was looking at them, straightening them, and admiring them. She glanced up, straight into his eyes, and Severus saw a pert little face and two sparkling blue eyes that he recognised.
She had short, blonde hair, styled to sweep around her face in a sleek curve. Subtle changes had been made to the cheekbones, and the nose although still slightly upturned was less so than when he had seen it all those years ago. When they had been at Hogwarts together, in a time that seemed like another life.
“I’m sorry you’re leaving us, Severus” she said, giving him a little smile. “You’re the best I’ve had, so far.”
He stared at her. “Cheryl?” he whispered finally. “Cheryl Stevens?”
“Charmian Steel” Cheryl said by way of correction, as he descended into the hall. “I changed my name when I left St Mungo’s. When I started this.” Proudly she waved a hand, indicating their surroundings and quietly Severus began to chuckle. “Got time for one last drink, Mediwizard Snape?” Charmian asked him. “I suppose I owe you a drink after all the work you’ve done for me.”
She led him through the west wing to the conservatory, the doors of which were fully open, and there they sat, sipping Buck’s Fizz, enjoying the perfumes of the garden in the soft evening light and watching bats flitting among the griselinia bushes. He looked again at the subtly changed face and the gold-encrusted summer dress. Charmian – the former Cheryl – had not given her face a complete makeover. She hadn’t made herself tall. She had not fallen prey to vanity and yet it was hard to recognise the little Muggle-born schoolgirl who had always looked so swamped by Hogwarts robes when he now beheld this self-assured woman in her cool, classical, Greek-style gown.
“I would never have guessed – about you – about this” he said. “I couldn’t understand why you left the hospital, but I would never have made this connection.”
“Well, to be fair, you never really knew me” Charmian said reasonably. “And I made a few tiny tweaks to my face so that it’s not so easy for people to see Healer Stevens when they look at the Miss Steel of today. I don’t particularly want them to see Healer Stevens.”
“Why? What was wrong with Healer Stevens?”
“Nothing. Except that the job at St Mungo’s was only ever a means to an end” Charmian explained. “I’m a businesswoman, Severus. Always intended to be. Business first, Healership second – that’s me. Sorry if it doesn’t sound very laudable.”
“It sounds … understandable. Lucius would take his hat off to you.”
“Ha! I seriously doubt that!” Ice tinkled in her glass as she added “Ah, dear Lucius! I don’t suppose you remember, but I said I’d never let the Malfoys of this world come between me and what I wanted. Well, it was the same with the hospital. Got qualified – left. Got a start-up loan with Gringotts.”
“With the aid of Maura Butler–”
“Yes, indeed.” Charmian agreed, taking a sip of her drink. “All above board though. No backhanders. Gringotts have packages to kick-start small businesses. I worked alone at first. Then I took on Corrine, and then a few others. Bertie was a particular prize.” She grinned and drainer her glass.
“Bertie” Severus pointed out, “is a Malfoy in all but name!”
“Exactly!” she agreed happily, topping up both their drinks. “All of my staff are pure-blood. I love pure-bloods. Nothing could suit me better than to see them slaving away for me. Griping about the pay, and never daring to leave. Never daring to challenge me. Bertie Rackharrow doing my dirty work for me, keeping me at arms length. It’s wonderful! It was wonderful. I felt a bit different when your name cropped up. But I’m sure it will feel wonderful again.” Noticing his downcast face she added “I didn’t mean to do it to you, Sev. But what choice did I have? I couldn’t give you special treatment, could I! Except to take you on – you got snapped up immediately when Malfoy alerted Bertie to the fact that you were in the job market. I told Bertie that Corrine could dispense with the usual long-winded checks. I knew what a tricky bastard you were – why you’d left St Mungo’s et cet’ra. But I knew that wouldn’t be a problem for us – nothing we couldn’t handle. And I wanted to have you. So here you are. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, some of the time. It gave you a job.”
“Yes” he agreed. “That’s true. It gave me a job. I wish you had taken me into your confidence, though.”
“I couldn’t risk that” Charmian insisted. “Pure-bloods tend to stick together. I shouldn’t really be saying any of this, now. Wouldn’t be, only that you’re leaving tomorrow. Letting my mask slip is pure impulse, and I hope I won’t regret it – I rarely act on impulse. Against my nature.”
He nodded his head thoughtfully, said “And whenever I do likewise, fate turns around and bites me” and they both laughed. It occurred to him that he could give away her secrets – blow her cover. Why shouldn’t he? She had used him. But somehow he didn’t want to do that. She had started from nothing and built herself something – he had to admire her for that. “It must have been difficult starting from scratch” he added.
“Yeah. It was.”
“Never cut any corners? Never tempted by the odd undocumented complete works, for example?”
“Me? As if!” She looked suitably scandalised but he didn’t quite believe her. She forbade her staff to undertake complete body makeovers because without proper documentation such radical changes of identity were against the law. But in those early days had she perhaps been tempted? Her blue eyes twinkled back at him. Perhaps she was telling him yes without voicing it.
“It would have been worth a fortune” he ventured.
“It would. Had I done such a thing.”
“Why do you forbid them? The legitimate ones, I mean.”
“Too much paperwork. Too much chance of legal tangles. Don’t want the Ministry on my back, even if we’re in the right. Yes, I know they’re a money-spinner, Sev, but there are limits even for me. I prefer a quiet life. ’Nuther drink?”
He looked at the tiny drop left in his glass. “Better not” he decided. “I prefer not to be over full when I Apparate.”
“Fair enough” Charmian said. “I remember the first time I tried to Apparate. We had the lesson too soon after breakfast and I’d gone a bit overboard with the fried bread that morning. Felt awful – like my stomach had a brick in it. Aaah, school breakfasts – they were wonderful! And awful! I never touch fried bread now.”
“We were certainly well fed at Hogwarts” Severus
agreed. “In that respect it must be the
best boarding school in
“Yes, it had its good points” Charmian said, thinking back fondly. “Remember those work experience courses old Sluggy got us on? You told me about healing cursed wounds.”
“And you told me about the Inocculoso spell.”
“I tried out that wound spell. Even before I started at St Mungo’s.”
“Really?” Severus said in surprise. “And here you are fussing about staying legal.”
“I didn’t carve anyone up to do it” Charmian insisted “I helped someone who was cut. That’s what started me off on wounds. I knew they’d become my speciality. Did you ever try Innoculoso, Sev?”
“Oh, yes” Severus said darkly, thinking of the Corrigan’s Gold bottles he had inoculated with Amortentia. “I got better at it, though” he added, smiling mysteriously. He drained his glass and said no more of past triumphs and failures.
“You’re late tonight” Charmian observed. “Thinking about it, you’re very late.”
“I had a difficult lower torso” he explained. “And then dinner. Then I fancied a last look around.”
“Yes, this is when I often take a look at my empire” she agreed. “When you’ve all gone. Not that anyone recognises me, or knows I’m actually the owner. Ha-ha! I don’t think even Malfoy would spot the old Cheryl Stevens if he walked through here. But I’m trusting, Severus, that you won’t give away my old identity. Can I trust you?”
Briefly Severus thought it over again before replying. “Yes. You can” he said. “But since there is so little risk of you being recognised, why do you hide?”
“My mother lives here with me.”
Her Muggle mother. He understood the situation only too well.
“And what of Mr Steel?” he ventured.
“Mr Steel? There is no Mr Steel.”
“No husband. No children” she said flatly. “I’ve no interest in those complications.” He must have shown surprise because she added “I don’t lack male attention when I want it. But I’m not one for ‘involvement’. You seem surprised.”
“I am surprised. You are so successful. You could have everything.”
“I have all that I need. I don’t live by the rules of others. I have my own rules. I’ve spent too many years being poor, Sev. And being despised for being poor! I’m never gonna be poor again. And nor is my old mum. Wealth. Security. That’s all I need. All I want. Why are you laughing?”
“Because I was so wrong about you” he admitted. “So wide of the mark. It seems I have a lot to learn about people. Thank you for this drink. Thank you for taking me into your confidence. You can trust me, Charmian.” He pondered the fact that troubled times might lie ahead and added “If ever– This is going to sound odd, but … Well, let me just say that if ever you get into any kind of serious difficulty, you could always turn to Dumbledore.”
Charmian was puzzled; what did he mean. “Bit melodramatic” she said warily.
“Yes. Sorry” he replied. “It’s not a threat or anything. Just a piece of advice. A long-stop. Although somehow, I don’t think you’ll ever need one.”
“Just a bit of advice?” she checked. “One friend to another?”
“One friend to another” he confirmed.
“Then, thanks for that” she replied, “And I hope the teaching works out for you.”
* * *
Severus’s last day at Nobody’s Perfect passed very quickly, even though he decided to take no cases. Having no incomplete treatments to hand over and few personal possessions to pack away, he spent the better part of the first hour looking down towards the Victorian conservatory whose finial could just be seen above the trees and bushes that screened the owner’s garden. He wondered about the witch who resided in the west wing. So now he knew the foundation of Cheryl Stevens’s self-sufficiency – of her air of ‘other agenda’ as Honor had once described it. He had never recognised it – never guessed what Cheryl intended to become, nor how single-minded she would be.
I was too immature, he realised. I pigeon-holed her – witches get married, witches have babies. Perhaps I should have known better. Bellatrix is a fine example of a witch with her sights set higher. But I put that down to pure-blood fanaticism. I underestimated Cheryl – Charmian, I should say – because she was Muggle-born and penniless. And Charmian thinks I’m pure-blood – how ironic! Could I risk telling her the truth? No. Not now the Dark Lord’s Muggle hatred is unleashed. But this whole episode goes to show that my pure-blood credentials are solid. That is a useful fact to know. And this also goes to show that ruthless Charmian, even with her hatred of pure-bloods, began at last to reward me properly. Ah, Charmian – if the circumstances were different, might our paths have run parallel? I wonder. But my destiny lies elsewhere. With Hogwarts. With teaching. And with my special assignment. And beyond that? Who knows? Beyond that – the stars!
Severus was woken out of his day-dreaming. Roydon had come to call him to Corrine Butler’s office.
“Wake up, Sev” he said. “It’s M E time.”
“M E time?”
“Maximum embarrassment. Come on.”
What ever M E meant it was also coffee break time, and as many staff as were available were crowded into Corrine’s room, prepared to laugh dutifully in the right places when Corrine made her speech.
Corrine stood beside her desk, across which rested a long, straight parcel that looked like a paper-covered post. Severus was ushered forward to stand beside her. Silence fell.
“Well, this is a historic moment” Corinne began, looking around to ensure she had everyone’s attention. “We are here to say goodbye to Mr Snape. And to wish him well in his new career. Yes, a historic moment indeed. When did it all begin? Some three years back, I think. This dark wizard crossed my threshold about three years or so ago, and told me I needed to take him on. I didn’t plan to fall under his spell, but I think he must have slipped me a potion or somethin’ because I found myself offerin’ him a job! And offerin’ to buy potions off him. Not such a bad move, because he turned out – quoit good – at the potions. And now he wants to leave us – to teach Potions – but he won’t part with any of his recipes!
“Well, I don’t blame him” Corrine continued jovially, as she picked up the long parcel which was surprisingly light. “Now, Mr Snape. We clubbed together and made a collection for yer, and we got enough to buy yer a case o’ Budderbeer. But then Father Christmas turned up, so the case somehow grew longer and thinner, and finally became … this!”
“It’s a gatepost!” someone cried.
Severus cut the silver cord that bound the parcel, pulled off the green paper, and found a box inside, which he opened. It held a broomstick; a Twigger 80. But who knew he needed a good broom? He looked at the leaving card but Charmian’s signature was not there. And yet? The new Twigger cost quite a bit – and there were not many staff at Nobody’s Perfect. Charmian must have contributed; probably quite handsomely.
“Well, this is a surprise” he said. “A delightful surprise. Err, I see you are in fact so keen to get rid of me that you will speed my exit; and with this very excellent broom! Well … firstly I’d like to say thank you very much for contributing to this gift. And thank you to Father Christmas who obviously cannot be here at this time of year. I never believed in him … but now I might.
“Err, yes it was three years ago that I came here. I was informed that I had to produce magic that would last. Well I must have managed that, because I never got thrown out.
“Three years – what has happened in that time? I’ve learnt a lot. I have, at times, been seriously bored. I have, at times, been scandalously underpaid. I have, at all times, worked with some great colleagues. And I have lasted long enough to see us move from the Big Smoke to the green hills and to this gracious, spacious house. So, I may not be parting with my recipes, but in a few short years you will be taking on staff who were once my pupils. And I promise you, ladies and gentlemen, they will know a thing or two!”
Laughter had punctuated both speeches and now there was a round of applause. Even Corrine looked genuinely pleased with Severus’s success. Only Bertrand Rackharrow, who had been silent throughout, continued to look sour.
It transpired that Severus did no actual casework that day. Instead he departed in the early afternoon after taking a few turns around the parkland and the woods on his new broomstick.
He was almost sorry to leave Wychenden Hall and yet he was certain that he needed to move on – just as certain as he had felt about leaving his schoolboy days behind. Now, paradoxically, he was returning to Hogwarts – but not as a schoolboy; as a Master.
The dull but cosy world of Nobody’s Perfect could lull him into a false sense of security. It had served its purpose; now was the time to lay it aside like a set of worn-out robes. Because in his heart of hearts – in the darkest recess of his labyrinthine brain – Severus was certain that more trouble was brewing, and there would be times when he would be glad of the powerful patronage of Albus Dumbledore.
- End of Part 2 -