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Villain of the Piece

Part 3  Waiting Games

- Chapter  41 -

 Chapter 41:   The Heat of the Moment

31st October to 8th November 1981

When he spoke of it afterwards Severus said that it was Hallowe’en that caused the world to crash around his ears.  Not that he spoke of it afterwards – not for days, except to Dumbledore.  And not in depth, except – again – to Dumbledore.

The event itself took place on Hallowe’en.  It was preceded by a warehouse fire in Hartlepool.  The Ministry paid it little attention at first, thinking that it was innocent and had been sparked by some Muggle fireworks.  But the fire persisted and grew, and an hour before midnight the Ministry staff swooped, sure they could catch the culprit this time.  On instructions from the Auror-in-Charge Sturgis Podmore contacted Dumbledore, ostensibly on behalf of the Auror team, and Dumbledore also Apparated to the east coast, calling other Order members to assist as well.

“Thank you for alerting me but personally I’m not stopping long tonight” he said confidentially to Sturgis.  “This is another trick.  A ploy, like Invergarry, three nights ago.  I’ve brought Elphias and Dedalus to help you out, but I doubt you’ll find the culprit.  The perpetrator of this piece of trickery is long gone.”

As he spoke another Auror had just Apparated beside them and was trying to say something.  “You’re dead right!” he cut in.  “This was to draw us off.  The Hog’s Head’s just gone up!  And the house next door to it is well alight!  It looks as though they wanted to get you well away from Scotland.”

Dumbledore didn’t hesitate – he Disapparated at once, desperate to ensure the safety of someone very dear to him.  But suspecting another ruse he sent Fawkes on an errand.  In the heat of the moment it seemed the best he could do.

A short time before that moment, soon after the time that the Ministry had first began to worry about the Hartlepool fire, a black-clad wizard had walked along a path hundreds of miles from the east coast.  He located the house and opened the garden gate.  He met with resistance – fierce, and at first hidden resistance – but he overmastered it.  And so the thin-faced wizard who had stood up to him so well died, fighting bravely, duelling recklessly – a great wizard but pitched against a greater one.  Not even the scarlet bird could help him; the bird arrived too late.

And when the black-clad wizard had blasted through the outer door, and breached many more lines of carefully laid defence, he found upstairs in the nursery the witch and the baby.  And so too the witch died, refusing his request to stand aside, dying instead and falling in a manner that she had no doubt planned if the worst should happen – a direction that would not harm her child.

And there he was. The baby.  Defenceless.  At last.

“Three times they thwarted me” Voldemort told the baby.  “Three times they held me back.  Frustrated my plans.  But they were not defending you then; not hindered by encumbrances such as you.  And they were lucky too, for fate has now made plain to all that I am the greater wizard!  What a pity you’ll not have a chance to see my mastery.  But you must die, Harry Potter, that I might live.  Avada Kedavra!”

*

It was more than a day later that Severus came fully to his senses about the events in Godric’s Hollow.  Together with Filius and Pomona he had, since late on Saturday night, been taking care of the school.  And after patrolling it just one more time he found himself snatching a moment of rest in the Headmaster’s roof garden, with no clear memory of how he got there.  Bit by bit in the quiet of the garden he pieced his memories together…

The Hallowe’en Feast had drawn to a close and Dumbledore had left the Hall.  At some time during the following day he had told Severus what had happened.

“It was late but I wasn’t tired.  I went to my office.  Sometime after eleven Sturgis called through the Floo network.  He asked if I would come to Hartlepool and if any more of the Order could be spared to help.  I was uneasy about it.  I did attend and I summoned the only two Order members I could spare. I also sent word to Hagrid to take a look at Godric’s Hollow and just be there in the village as I had been called elsewhere on urgent business.  Hagrid knew the way but could not Apparate so I knew he would be slow going by broom.  So I sent Fawkes as well, knowing he would get there sooner.  Hartlepool was, as I feared, a trick and I was just about to set off again when news came in about Hogsmeade.  I made a bad decision – I hurried to Hogsmeade on my own.  By the time I realised that the Hog’s Head was not actually being consumed and that all the occupants were safe, the Potters were already dead and Fawkes was searching me out, bearing a note from Hagrid asking what he should do.

“Hagrid had seen the Dark Mark long before he landed, and of course he found the wreckage of the house.  Fawkes was there too, and Hagrid sent him back with the news of Harry’s survival and the request for further orders.

“And I knew then that something truly miraculous had happened – Voldemort’s evil will had not prevailed.  He had been there in person – of that Hagrid was convinced!  And I was sure of it too, because of what had taken place there.  Hagrid said there was no sign of Voldemort now – no sign of a body – living or dead.  Voldemort had gone.  I wondered about that, but because Harry was alive and well I was also sure that Hagrid was right about that.  Voldemort had gone – we could feel that he had gone!  The whole magical community could sense it.

“I was certain then that the fires had been diversions.  I sent word to Hagrid to keep Harry safe for a day and to bring him to me, at his aunt’s address, near to midnight on All Saints’ Day.  I asked Minerva to liaise with you, Pomona and Filius in taking care of the school, but she suspected what I was up to.  She organised you three to oversee the school and was waiting for me in Surry when I arrived to meet Hagrid.  So we three foregathered in Surrey this evening.  I mean yesterday evening – I’m losing track of time!  And that is where little Harry resides now – in Surrey – the only one of his family to survive.  And – paradoxically – quite possibly the only one that Voldemort was absolutely determined to kill…”

 

“Severus?”

Someone was shaking him by the arm.  It was Aurora Sinistra, looking small and anxious, and yet dependable.

“How did you get here?” Severus asked.

“Never mind such silly things” she said, almost stamping her foot with impatience at him.  “You weren’t at dinner.  Are you orright?  Are you orright, Severus?”

“Yes … No … I don’t actually know … What day is it?”

“Is Monday.”

“Monday–?”

“Calm yourself.  Is ten past three on Monday morning.”

“Then we have lessons in – six hours time.  Less!”

“Yes.  Well, you have” she said.  “Mine don’t start for another half a day.  Will you be celebrating tonight?”

“Celebrating?”

“The downfall of He-Who-Must-Not-be-Named.  Everyone is starting to say he’s gone for ever.”

“Do you believe that, Aurora?  Dumbledore doesn’t!”

“Did he tell you that?”

“Yes … I think so … It’s all a bit of a blur.”

“I think you’d better get some sleep, Severus.  “The kids ’ll be awful tomorrow with everyone in this party mood.  Moods are infectious.”

He knew that was likely to be true so he took her advice, pulled himself together and got back to the dungeons for a few hours sleep.

He took a mouthful of Draught of Peace and went through the following day in a sort of haze.  Some of the seventh-years even thought he looked drunk.  But he was not.  The idea of blitzing his senses into numbness had occurred to him but he dare not risk it with three practical sessions to oversee.  Only when he shut his door on the last of the fifth-years at three o’clock did Severus pour himself a sleeping potion and slump into oblivion in his sitting room armchair.  His mother found him there at half past six.  She shook him by the arm.

“Are you coming to dinner, Professor?”

He jumped awake, then gazed up at her drunkenly.  “Dinner? … Yes … No … I don’t know.  Have we had this conversation before?”

“No.  We’ve not spoken since … since You-Know-Who died.”

“ ‘Died’ is not a safe assumption to make.”

“Then do we have to continue with the precautions?”

“Yes, Irma” he said firmly, hauling himself to his feet.  “It wouldn’t be wise to undermine what we’ve achieved.”

“Very well” she replied.  “Then if you are coming to dinner I think you should change those robes.  Those smell of hellebore.”

Severus was late for dinner.  Dumbledore looked at him carefully, noting the puffy face, the circles under the eyes, and the badly shaved chin.

“Shall we have a chat later?” he asked kindly.  “There’s a party in the staff room, but we could skip it.”

“Could we make the chat another night, Headmaster” Severus said.  “I didn’t sleep well last night – I just need to catch up on rest.”

But after dinner Severus didn’t go to the dungeons; he went for a walk.  He prowled around the castle, thinking; not about the sadness of Godric’s Hollow – he had locked that away in a room in his mind that he did not intend to open.  No, he had other things to mull over – things less painful and more urgent…

Many of the staff and most of the students were speaking of Voldemort as either dead or vanquished.  And they spoke of baby Harry as The Boy Who Lived, hinting that he must have special powers.  Even Dumbledore, the person most sceptical of Voldemort’s demise, spoke of Harry as being a marvel.

And there lies the problem, Severus thought bitterly.  There lies the problem – if the Dark Lord is truly finished, my Death Eater role is meaningless.  And my special agent role is over.  It leaves me just a teacher.

But if the Dark Lord comes back – do I want that?

It would re-establish my roles.  It would cause war again – war between this boy and the Dark Side.  Unless this boy joins the Dark Side.

Might this boy have special powers?  Might he grow up to be a wizard greater than Dumbledore?  Greater than the Dark Lord?

In ten years time I’ll be forced to teach him.  Unless I leave.

But if I leave where will I go?  I’ve burned my boats with Healership.  It’s fairly public knowledge – amongst those that matter – that I have had some ‘involvement’ with the Death Eaters.  I carry the Dark Lord’s brand.  I cannot claim credit for vanquishing ‘You-Know-Who’.  So a good Ministry placement isn’t likely.  A good anything isn’t likely in Britain.

A job abroad then – Healing or teaching?  But Britain is my home – Hogwarts is my home.  No, I’ll have to carry on.  I’ll have to face this son of James.

He’s Lily’s son too, of course.

That actually doesn’t make it any easier.

Severus had reached the seventh floor.  He ground to a halt by a tapestry of a wizard trying to teach trolls to dance.  He looked at it without seeing it, and then walked on, making his way gradually down again.

Caught in the light of his wand, his reflection in the fourth floor mirror made him jump.  He studied it for a while – the pale, drawn face, the lank hair – then he wandered on, not stopping until he reached the statue of Gunhilda of Gorsemoor on the floor below.  Peeves had found a stick of chalk and was drawing spectacles on her, making rings round and round the eyes – liking the squeaky sound it made.

“Caldera!” Severus bellowed, turning his lit wand on the poltergeist.

Peeves screamed and shot away, tumbling over and over in a plume of hot air.

“That’s all he is, you know” Dumbledore said softly, “Hot air.  Changed your mind about the sleeping draught, Severus?”

“Yes, Headmaster.”

“Prefer to walk instead?  So do I.  Accio chalk.”

The stick of chalk flew to his hand and after that he said nothing for ages, letting Severus walk beside him, as they wound their way down and up and down again, taking in the hospital wing, the trophy room, and the library.

“Was it instant?” Severus asked finally.  Dumbledore gave him a questioning look and he added “Lily – was it instant?”

“Yes” Dumbledore said.  “Hagrid told me there wasn’t a mark on her … Speaking of marks – how is yours?”

“Very faint now.  Still there, but very faint.  I suppose it will never vanish entirely.”

“Perhaps … perhaps not.”

“Why did you…”  Severus stopped, not knowing how to put the question, but Dumbledore guessed or knew what he wanted to ask.

“Why did I send Hagrid instead of you?”

“Yes.”

“Because to send you would have marked you as my agent” the Headmaster pointed out.  “And you are supposed to be just a teacher.  I could not send a member of my staff into a nest of Death Eaters, armed with instructions to do battle with them.”

“Yes, you’re right, Headmaster. I see that now.  It’s just that Hagrid – I–”

“You question his competence” Dumbledore sighed.  “But he is loyal, immensely strong, and very good at keeping people alive.  What he might lack in finesse he makes up for in hardiness, and sheer practicality.”

Severus nodded mutely, knowing it was true.  Hagrid could camp out on a bare mountainside if need be, for a month or more, and take no hurt, nor heed of discomfort.  And he could nurture anything, from a mouse to a tiger.  “What went wrong?” he murmured at last.  “Potter said he’d done as you asked.  What then went wrong?”

“I cannot tell you” Dumbledore said sadly.  “You will learn something of it soon enough.  I’m surprised the press aren’t onto it already.  All I can say is that I will regret this to the day I die.”

“So will I, Headmaster” Severus whispered.  “If I could re-run time, and not hear the prophesy – not give it to the Dark Lord…  If only!  But time cannot be re-run.  Not on that scale.  I, too, will regret my part in this.  Until the day I die.”

“But you hated James.”

“But I loved his wife.”  He glanced at Dumbledore, feeling startled by what had just slipped out – it was an admission he had never meant to make.  “Please” he added, looking around fearfully, “Never tell anyone I said that.”

“It is no crime to love.”

“It is a weakness…!”

 

The following day the Daily Prophet carried a story about a multiple murder of Muggles and the arrest of Sirius Black.  At breakfast Severus glanced along the table to Dumbledore but resisted the impulse to say ‘I told you so’.  But he did resolve to owl Honor, deciding angrily that there was no longer any need to obey the old man about that.

There was no reply from Honor.  Days slipped by, Saturday’s Quidditch match came and went, and still her owl did not arrive.  Severus barely registered that his House won their match against Gryffindor, and Minerva couldn’t understand it.

“I’m beginning to think he really is ill” she said to Dumbledore.  “I thought I’d never hear the end of that Quidditch victory from Severus.  What do you think, Headmaster?”

“That we should leave him alone and give him some privacy” Dumbledore said mysteriously.