Villain of the Piece
Part 3 Waiting Games
- Chapter 39 -
Chapter 39: A Message from the King
September had given way to October and Severus was trying to set his mind on the delights of the Hallowe’en Feast and the Quidditch season, but the first week of October had hardly passed when there was panic within the ranks of the Death Eaters. Two Death Eaters, Travers and Mulciber, were captured, and as Severus’s classes ended for the day, Dumbledore called him to an urgent meeting. On his desk was a pile of parchment.
“Volker Mulciber was involved in that Dr Hooke business” he
said. “A Dutch colleague of
Severus looked at the Ministry photographs Dumbledore had laid on the desk. Taken after arrest and in the security of the cells, full colour and fully moving, they were a hundred times better than the clandestine shots of Feodor Carrow.
“I might have run across Travers once” he said. “I really can’t be sure. I think he might have been at a Walpurgis-Eve feast at Lucius’s, but all the guests were masked so I’m almost playing a hunch. Mulciber I don’t know at all – I’m sure I’d recognise that big, square-shouldered frame. Sorry, Headmaster; I can’t add anything to this.”
“Well, that’s not the only reason for calling you up here” Dumbledore admitted. “I have received a letter. It was delivered by hand to a friend of mine. I am happy for you to read it, provided you abide by what the writer requests. Here it is.”
Severus glanced at the single sheet of parchment.
Dear Headmaster, (he read)
Word may reach you that I have gone missing, because news tends to reach you eventually. I do not intend to say where I am, and I especially do not want any of my family to know, so please do not be tempted to get in touch with any of them – not even my mother. But if by some lucky chance you hear from Honor Wigworthy would you kindly just say this for me – say I’m sorry for what I did. Just that – she’ll understand. And please warn her not to say anything about me to any of my family, because I don’t want her to be pestered by them.
I hope we will one day meet again, and in happier times.
I don’t know how to sign this – I’m tempted to put ‘the once and future prat’ but I’m hoping I’ve at last leaned a little wisdom and won’t be such a fool in future.
“Unsigned” Severus observed, “But I agree it’s obvious who it is from. So Regulus is alright?”
“He looked in good shape when he handed in this missive.”
“You saw him?”
“The recipient saw him.”
“I cannot imagine what his message to Honor means. The last part is obvious, but what is this about being sorry?”
“I think I can shed light on that” Dumbledore said sadly. “He won’t be proud of it, but I’m going to tell you what I know. It was a sorry tale of events, and it went like this. Regulus invited Honor out for a drink – some weeks ago this must have been. But when Honor arrived, Ferdinand Jugson was there. Regulus had arranged a blind date.”
“Blind date?!” Severus barked, half annoyed and half amazed.
“Something like that” the Headmaster continued mildly. “Not a big, romantic occasion, but a meeting. Jugson said he wanted to be friends. What he really wanted was for Honor to obtain certain items from the hospital stores and archives. The dregs of a dementation draught that was once fed to a witch – about the time that your unfortunate shenanigans were discovered. Naturally Honor told him to – err – get lost. And she was furious with Regulus because she said he had led her into danger. We now suspect that Jugson was involved in the capture of Benjy Fenwick, and certainly of the capture of Fenwick’s replacement. Because Fenwick’s replacement has gone missing – he is the man in your photograph! And an item similar to that dementation sample is missing from the Ministry’s stores. There isn’t much evidence on Jugson – apart from your evidence – but he is the link. He is the liaison between the Ministry forensic team – of which Benjy was a member – and the hospital laboratories.”
“Then Honor is at risk” Severus said quickly.
“She has taken steps to keep herself safe.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Are you really sure, Headmaster–”
“I know what I am about, Severus” Dumbledore replied coldly. “I have played these games before.”
“Yes… Of course … And Regulus has run away.”
“Alas, yes” the Headmaster said gravely. “But it looks as though he might have renounced the Dark Side. I can only hope.”
“If so, the Dark Lord will never forgive that” Severus murmured. “Particularly from a high-born wizard. He would take it badly enough from one of the poorer families. How do you know all of this, Headmaster?”
“Well your photograph was the biggest piece of the jigsaw” Dumbledore replied. “Aside from that I can piece it together from things Honor told me and things I have learned from other sources, mainly from the Ministry. The Dark Side clearly wanted the remains of that potion, and – very importantly – the laboratory and medical reports that go with it. Honor has blocked that, but they got their hands on the Ministry sample, although not the paperwork. But they now have a new clinical observation – the one you made for them. I fear they want that potion perfected, and I’m sorry to say I still think it will be your next task.”
“Maybe so” Severus agreed, thinking furiously. “I think I ought to owl Honor.”
“I think you ought not” Dumbledore said crisply.
“Why?” Severus asked, surprised at the Headmaster’s attitude.
“I think you ought to let her make the next move.”
“But Regulus’s message–”
“I will convey that” Dumbledore insisted. “That simple task is mine. It was given to me to do, and you can rely on me to carry it out, and to warn her to steer clear of dealings with elements of the Black family.”
“What do you mean by ‘elements’ of the Black family?”
Dumbledore gave him a long, searching look. “Let’s go for a walk” he said.
They set off at a brisk pace, Dumbledore saying no more until
he came to a halt by a stretch of empty wall near the base of a tower in the
west corner of the castle. He spoke a
password and the wall rolled back, revealing a doorway to a narrow stair. The doorway closed behind them and they lit
their wands, climbing the stairs which led upwards through the wall of the
tower. It reminded Severus of the spiral
stairway to the Astronomy platform. At
the top was a wooden door and beyond that was the roof of the tower itself – small,
round, and set with tubs of geraniums.
It was another hidden garden, smaller and higher than the teachers’ one,
although not as high as the
“It is very late for these geraniums to be in bloom” Severus observed. “So you have a roof garden too.”
“Yes” Dumbledore agreed.
“I thought all the portraits were reliable” Severus commented, as they seated themselves on a stone bench.
“They are all bound by an oath of loyalty to the Headmaster or Headmistress of the day.”
“But you don’t trust them.”
“Some I trust. But I do not know all the people. Some I have doubts about so I prefer to limit the risks.”
“You do not trust the power of the oath.”
“I should” the Headmaster said with a rueful smile. “It was a spell first laid in place by Rowena Ravenclaw herself! But – we must never forget that portraits have family ties.”
“Ah yes, family ties” Severus said. “You were going to explain your phrase ‘elements’ of the Black family.”
“I mean simply this” said Dumbledore, “That some are bad apples – Bellatrix, Orion and Walburga, and possibly Narcissa. Others are unquestionably good.”
“Do you mean Regulus? If so, we cannot be sure–”
“I do not only mean Regulus.”
Severus almost exploded. “May I remind you, Headmaster” he hissed, “That I spent seven years of torture at the hands of Sirius Black and his friends.”
“I seem to remember that you gave as good as you got” Dumbledore replied, his eyes twinkling, “Ably assisted, on most occasions, by your friends.”
“It was very lucky that I had friends to stand by me” Severus countered. “Very lucky!”
“Well, that is the point of friendship” Dumbledore said, an edge of impatience creeping into his voice. “But we are straying off the point now. The point is that Sirius Black is loyal to our side. He can be trusted–”
“That’s lunacy–! You haven’t – (Severus looked aghast) – you haven’t enrolled him in the Order?”
Dumbledore looked straight into his eyes – never had Severus seen him look so angry. “You are forgetting our agreement” he said softly. “I do not intend to answer that, and if you reflect on it you will realise why. We were simply discussing the Black family in general. All that I mean is that Sirius and James are working together. Sirius is James’s oldest friend. James trusts him absolutely. You can rest assured–”
“This is sounding worse and worse, Headmaster” Severus ventured. “The Potters are at risk. And they are putting their trust in Sirius? It would be safer to rely on Regulus, and he’s a naïve fool–!”
“That was unkind, Severus” Dumbledore cut in. “An unworthy thing to say. Particularly in view of your own past doings, and in view of the fact that Regulus might well have renounced the Dark Side of his own accord.”
“As did I”
Dumbledore ignored that and added “And in view of the fact that you describe Regulus as your friend.”
“Yes, Headmaster. I apologise” Severus said softly. “It was an unkind comment. I only meant that Regulus – yes he is a friend. He has – I’m sure – never intended being a bad friend to me. But I have always been aware that he is somewhat ingenuous. He trusts, too easily, his family and their associates. You knew Regulus at school – would you, in all honesty, have expected him to become a Death Eater?”
Dumbledore thought it over and finally admitted “No.”
“No” Severus agreed. “It happened simply because he was born into it. Born into wealth. Protected from life’s harsh realities. Cosseted within a family who happen to hold certain prejudices, and who have a certain fondness for the Dark. Regulus is always happy to go with the flow. Not seeing things for what they are. Until it is too late.”
“That is your view of Regulus Black?”
“So that is why you describe him as naïve?”
“I believe he is fundamentally a good person who is occasionally led astray by lack of judgement” Severus said soberly.
“And his brother?”
“I believe Sirius is capable of anything!”
“And James’s trust in Sirius?” Dumbledore added.
“Blindness!” Severus spat. “Born of arrogance. Sirius Black proved he was capable of murder at the age of sixteen.”
“He didn’t intend to murder you, Severus” Dumbledore said wearily. “He intended to frighten you for trying to get him expelled.”
“You’re very sure of him, aren’t you, Headmaster” Severus retorted. “Let’s hope you’re right, because if James Potter is putting his trust in the likes of Sirius Black, he is risking not only his own life but those of Lily and–?”
“–Harry. He’d almost do better to rely on some idiot like Pettigrew, than rely on Black!”
“Well, I have heard you out” Dumbledore said. “We must agree to disagree. Peter Pettigrew, I grant you, is not a talented wizard. Sirius Black, on the other hand, is highly talented, loyal, and utterly fearless. So I urge you to set your mind at rest about them. And about Honor Wigworthy. You can leave matters in my hands. Now, what is the time? Almost three hours until dinner. Friday. I wonder what variation on a piscean theme the kitchen elves will have come up with. Let’s go. I have things to do before we eat the fishy feast.”
As he set off for dinner that evening Severus was still angry with the Headmaster for his advice against contacting Honor, and for his intractable attitude towards Sirius Black, but he was sure the old man was right about the dementation draught.
Dumbledore was chatting to Filius Flitwick when Severus slid into his accustomed place just as the soup was about to be served. He said a soft ‘good evening’ to the staff on either side, and Minerva mumbled a reply. She was not openly hostile but relations with her had been difficult since their altercation at the end of September.
With no hope of conversation from Minerva, Severus took a glance along the High Table in the opposite direction. Sitting on the far side of Wilbert, Aurora Sinistra looked quietly gorgeous in robes of slate blue velvet, but even her loveliness could not lift him out of his gloom, and nor did the leek soup that suddenly filled his soup bowl.
After the soup Minerva deftly cut the contents of a pie dish into quarters, took her share and passed the dish on.
“Russian fish pie, Severus!” she announced.
Severus took a further quarter and passed the dish to Wilbert, then carefully he dissected his prize. A few pink hunks showed amongst a sea of white, but the pie was watery and uninteresting.
“The odd prawn flounders amid Atlantic pollacks” Wilbert informed him.
“What did you say?” Severus asked.
Severus couldn’t help it – he began to laugh.
The long expected ‘potions’ summons came the following day. It was a request to visit Lucius on Saturday afternoon so Severus cleared the matter with the Headmaster and set off at ten minutes to two. The final destination was Lucius’s kitchen where an impressive array of potion ingredients awaited him, together with a cauldron of partially made potion.
“We took your advice and found some monarda” Lucius said. “We also got some of that metaborate. And will this do for the alcohol ingredient?” He held out a bottle of a clear liquid.
Severus sniffed it and was reminded of mentholated spirits and beech mast. “Excellent” he said. “You must have read my report very thoroughly. I’ll make a batch of both variations, but I suspect the borax / alcohol will be far superior.” He checked the partially-made potion that Lucius had provided as a base.
“This has half the weight of Streeler compared to the original sample?”
“Half the weight” Lucius said, nodding. “That’s what you recommended so that’s what I prepared for you. That’s why it’s so thin.”
“This is good” Severus said, stirring the runny brew. “It will save me a lot of time. You did this yourself?”
Lucius bowed. “With my own fair hands” he said with mock humility.
“Then you could have been quite a potioneer” Severus observed.
“Yes, I dare say I could” Lucius agreed. “I have always been interested in poisons. As you know. You saw my treasured copy of ‘Tox’. It’s a beautiful book! That’s where I got so much help with this. But, aside from poisons? No, chemistry-set dabbling is not for me. I prefer the wand! Now, Severus, you will need another cauldron. Dobby, wake up – fetch!”
Severus completed the two batches of potion and decanted them into phials. “They need four or five days to mature” he explained. “Five is best for the monarda. That is my recommendation, but please bear in mind I have never actually made this. This is pure research.”
“Well we’ll find out which is best” Lucius replied gleefully, “Because we’ll try them out. That is a good afternoon’s work, Severus. Err, how about staying on for dinner?”
“No, I should get back.”
“The old man not letting you off the leash for long.”
“I simply said I needed a break” Severus explained. “I just said ‘a few hours away from those wretched kids’. I don’t think he’ll expect me to be absent from dinner, he’ll just expect me to have a jar or two in the Cauldron, unwind a bit, and then return.”
“You won’t overplay this will you” Lucius warned. “All this ‘having to have a break from the students’ business. You don’t want the old man to sack you.”
Severus’s eyes glittered dangerously. “No, I won’t overplay it” he murmured. “Too much is riding on this.”
A lot of the names in the Black family are the names of planets, stars and constellations, and therefore they also have secondary meanings: Bellatrix means female warrior, Sirius means scorching, Regulus means little king…
So how might Regulus Black sign himself if he didn’t want to put his name? Hence the Once and Future Prat because he believed himself the worlds biggest fool for joining the Death Eaters.
The ‘Once and Future King’ is a well known reference to King Arthur, so well known that it was used as the title of a book about Arthur.
- Chapter 40 -