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Villain of the Piece

Part 3  Waiting Games

- Chapter  42 -

 Chapter 42:   Headlines

10th to 11th November 1981

The week ground on and by Tuesday Igor Karkaroff was brought from Azkaban, where he had languished for months, because he kept insisting that he had information to give to the court which he had not felt able to disclose fully at his trial.  A day later a version of his allegations was plastered across the Daily Prophet’s front page.  Dumbledore was furious about it and didn’t even appear for breakfast.

“He’s gone to London again” Minerva said; talking, as was her habit, across the Headmaster’s chair to Filius.  “Says he has to see a man about a pledge.”

“I wonder what that means” Filius squeaked.  “Anyway they’re rounding them up wonderfully now; the Death Eaters.  Albus’ll have his work cut out with all the trials.  We won’t see him much this side of Christmas.  But, talking of Death Eaters, what about that ‘dungeon shadows’ comment?  It was obvious it’s our dun–” but the word died on his lips because at that point Severus, the man from the shadows, arrived.

An awkward silence descended on the High Table.  Severus could guess why; he had read the paper before coming upstairs.  And so too had his mother and Argus.

“You could have breakfast with us, Severus” Irma had suggested.

“Yes, why not, Professor?” Argus had agreed.  “We don’ ’ave any truck with this newspaper rubbish!  We’ll stick by yer.”

Tempting as that was, Severus had decided against it, and now as he took his accustomed place he felt his decision was best.  He might have to put up with overhearing embarrassing discussions about what was meant by ‘Was Dumbledore Duped by Dark-Eyed Deceiver’ but if he was cold-shouldered he would brazen out the silence.  Either his colleagues would have to say something or they would have to put up with his presence.  He had a right to breakfast in the Hall and he would not be shamed into withdrawing.

Eventually Wilbert spoke – Severus had been correct in his guess; Slinkhard could bear the silence no longer and he was the first to crack.  “Think I might try and get to the England match in December” he murmured.

England match?” Severus murmured back.  “What England match?”

England versus Turkey” Wilbert said.  “Mid December.  It’s just after school breaks up.  Couldn’t be better.”  He glanced nervously towards Severus, wondering why there was no response.  “Not a Quidditch fan then?” he asked.  “Thought you might be, seeing how well Slytherin did last weekend.  Well, it’s a home game – the England game – so I think I’ll give it a go.”

“Where do we play?”

“At the Arrows’ pitch.  You never been to an international? … Now … decisions – decisions…  Do I go for the Spanish omelette or do I have the full house?”

He spent the rest of the mealtime wolfing down an omelette.  And Severus spent the rest of the day putting up with the stares of suspicious colleagues and frightened children, but some of his Slytherin students looked at him adoringly.  Dumbledore spoke to him after dinner, inviting him to take coffee in his office.

“Well, Karkaroff’s allegations are said to be wild, but the cat is somewhat out of the bag” he sighed.  “We cannot recall the Prophet and modify thousands of memories.  But just because Karkaroff made an accusation that doesn’t mean it’s the literal truth.  Some people, fortunately, are taking that view.”

“Do you mean I won’t necessarily be called for trial again?”

“That is exactly what I mean; you will not be called for trial.  And eventually the point about truth versus allegations will sink in.  Talking of which, did the staff have much to say about the newspaper article?”

“Not to my face.  I was given a wide berth by some.  Others tried to act naturally.”

“Is it a problem?”

“No, Headmaster.”

“Are you … alright, Severus?  If you need to take a break I will understand.”

Severus thought it over.  “I think it would make matters worse for me if I took a long break” he decided.  “I think I’d like to carry on as normally as possible, until the end of the term.  But I could do with taking a day immediately.  Just a day.  I’ve not heard from Honor and I’m worried.”

“You owled her?”

“I did.  I know you said not to, but that was before … before–”

It was not easy for him to say ‘before Voldemort died’ and to have said ‘before Lily died’ was a complete impossibility.

Dumbledore understood.  “You won’t find Honor at home” he admitted.  “She has gone into hiding.”

“But she might return now the Dark Lord has gone.”

“Not with Death Eaters still at large.  Well, you may be right of course.  Yes, by all means have a look, but I think you’ll find she is still away.”

“I wish you’d told me this before.  Do you know where she is?”

“No.”  Severus looked very hard at Dumbledore but he could tell the answer was true.  “I’m sorry, Severus” Dumbledore added, “But Honor asked me not to tell.  She is still at work – as far as I know.  Maybe you can see her at the hospital.  What is your timetable tomorrow?”

“First-years, and then a single period of thirds, and then I’m free until half past one.”

“Time enough to get to London.  Shall I warn Minerva that you will be away?”

“Err, yes.  Thank you, Headmaster.”

Severus took the opportunity and Apparated to London as soon after his morning classes as possible.  He tried Honor’s flat first of all and when he got no answer at the door he Apparated inside.  It was as Dumbledore had warned.  It was empty and smelled slightly musty as if it had been uninhabited for weeks.

He made the hospital his next point of call.

“You look diabolical!” the Welcomewitch said before he could state his business.  “Vampire bite is it?  First Fl–”

“I’m here to see one of the laboratory staff” Severus interrupted.  “Miss Wigworthy”

“Oh … Not ill then?”  She sounded disappointed.

“Would you just hurry up, please” Severus added threateningly.  “This is urgent.”

With a sour look she summoned the Watchwizard who told Severus to wait in the foyer and shuffled off in the direction of the stairs.  Severus paced about nervously, steering clear of anyone who was coughing or sneezing, and minutes later a lab worker came up to him but it was not Honor.  It was Sheilagh Butler.

“Severus!” she exclaimed.  “Long time, no see.  You’ve done well for yerself, after yer little spot o’ bother here.  You want ter see Honor – she’s not here; she taken terday off.”

“Is she at home?” he asked hopefully, ignoring Sheilagh’s blunt references to the circumstances of his dismissal.

“I wouldn’t know” Sheilagh said flatly.  “We never chit-chat; Honor’s not the talkative type.”

“I wrote her address down but I stupidly can’t find it” Severus lied, trying to sound disorganised.  “The name of the road – would you–?”

But Sheilagh was not to be fooled into giving anything away.  “I know she moved, but I don’t even know the new address, meself” she insisted.

“But your sister might.”

“Emmeline?  She’s on maternity leave.  Been away for ages!  You’re really outta touch aren’t yer.”

“Your sister’s married?”

“Yeah!  Married Elton’s son.  An’ she’s not the only one” Sheilagh added proudly, flashing an engagement ring under his nose.  “Remember Osbert?  We’re tyin’ the knot next month; now You-Know-Who’s gone an’ all that.”

It was hopeless; he was stumped at every turn, and he didn’t totally believe her about Honor.  Sheilagh, Emmeline, they were all alike; and now one of them was marrying into Vance’s family.

“Just wait till their brats come to Hogwarts” he muttered, as minutes later he emerged onto the street.  “I’ll give then a hard time!”

He returned to school in despair, and was all set to give Dumbledore a piece of his mind for making him delay in getting in touch with Honor.  But the Headmaster foiled that by doing something totally unexpected; as he left the Great Hall after lunch he asked Severus to call at his office at half past nine for an evening meeting.  And when Severus arrived for the meeting the other House Heads were waiting, all grouped around the table and with a chair left ready for him at Dumbledore’s side.

“Sit down, Severus” Dumbledore said, “I am about to make a statement about you.  And I just want you to know that before you arrived, I swore the other House Heads to secrecy.  They are among my most trusted colleagues so do not be too anxious about what follows.”

It was unnerving and yet intriguing.  Severus formed his face into a mask of inscrutability and waited for what was to come.

“I have called this meeting” Dumbledore continued, “Because I wish to say something about the hints and allegations that appeared in the Daily Prophet this morning.  What I am about to disclose is dangerously secret; you three must appreciate that!  The war with the Dark Side is not over.  And, as you know, I have my doubts that Voldemort has been vanquished for ever.  Therefore what I say, here and now, puts lives at risk if too much is made of it, so be extremely careful of whatever comments you make and to whom.

“As you know, I was at Karkaroff’s trial on Tuesday.  I heard, first hand, what he said.  It was an interesting version of the truth, but I think it was what Karkaroff believed to be true.  Because the fact is that Severus Snape – the man sitting here by my right hand – was once a Death Eater!  (There were gasps, but Dumbledore ignored them and continued.)  However, Severus Snape came over to our side months ago.  Severus has, for long and gruelling months, been my spy amongst the Dark Side.  His personal situation is therefore most perilous.  Even now, even with Voldemort gone, there are key Death Eaters still at large – ruthless killers!  If they knew Severus’s true position his life would be … words fail me, but you appreciate what I’m saying.  So please, when you hear colleagues gossiping or joking – as they will – when you hear people conjecturing – as they will – please think carefully about how you frame a reply – if indeed you reply at all – and be as non-committal as possible.  And do not speak of this – yourselves – openly at all!  Because free speech is not forbidden at Hogwarts, but free speech comes at a price – a price to others.

“This point also applies to Severus’s absences from the school.  Fortunately they should now be few, but they may still be required from time to time, and they are bound to be noticed, and commented upon, especially if staff are asked to cover his lessons.  Let any adverse remarks stand, if they are of a joking or teasing nature, because light banter is normal – it is human nature.  But if ever the observations develop a serious or probing edge, let me know because I wish to deal with it personally.  Is that clear?  Are there any questions?”

The expressions on the faces around the table were interesting; Dumbledore’s portrayed a steely solemnity, Pomona’s a resolute calm, Filius looked excited but tense, and Minerva simply looked embarrassed.  For his part Severus had started off trying not to betray his nervousness and was now finding it hard to suppress a smirk.

There were no questions; anything further that the House Heads had to say, they chose not to say in open forum.  Severus wanted to talk to Dumbledore but Minerva made it difficult by asking for a private word after the meeting had closed.  Dumbledore agreed to it, dismissing the others and letting her say behind.

“I’ll not beat about the bush” Minerva said when the door closed on Severus’s retreating back, “Let’s set aside newspaper gossip.  Let’s talk about the business of running Hogwarts.  The fact is you’ve made us look rather foolish, not taking us properly – fully – into your confidence.  I’m supposed to be your deputy – I feel particularly let down!”

“I think it a great pity that you should feel that way” Dumbledore said, “But I do not intend to apologise for my actions.  Remind me when you joined the school.”

“Nineteen-fifty-six, as you very well know.”

“Yes, nineteen-fifty-six” Dumbledore breathed, thinking back.  “Great days they were!  Things started to look promising in nineteen-fifty-six.  Grindelwald was far behind me–  You didn’t know me in my Grindelwald days–”

“–You know that very well–”

“–I formed an organisation to help bring him down” said Dumbledore.  “Now, many years later I have had to go through that process again.  I have a band of loyal followers who have sworn me dedication.  In return I have promised them safety.  Discretion.  Secrecy.  No one knows anything that he or she does not need to know.  And no one outside the organisation knows of the secrets inside of it.”

“That’s all very well” Minerva pointed out, “But Severus’s absences have an impact on the running of the school.  I began to think you’d made a bad choice of teacher.  And I thought you were indulging him at the expense of the rest of us.  Actually – I’m still not convinced that Severus Snape is a good choice of teacher.”

“Why?”

“That’s obvious!  Blatantly – innately – unfair!  Always has been.  Far too young for such a senior position – clearly immature.  Inclined to bully the younger students.  Kathryn Anderson is afraid of him!”

“And Doon Pilliwickle is in love with him – she told me so herself.”

“A stupid schoolgirl crush!”

“Yes, well, it happens, Minerva” Dumbledore said with a chuckle.  “Some foolish girls even fell for me, at times, in my younger days.  But this is not a new phenomenon.  You wouldn’t mind such a thing if it wasn’t connected with Severus.”

“The man’s a Death Eater!” she spat.  “You don’t deny it.”

“The man was a Death Eater.  There’s a difference!”

“Well, I just hope you’re right because you’ll look pretty silly having spoken up for him twice to the full Council, if he turns out to have pulled the wool over your eyes–”

“Who said I had spoken?  Who said I had spoken in his defence?”

“I heard it” she said.  “Somewhere.”  A frown creased her forehead.

“Heard it from whom?” the Headmaster asked anxiously.  “The Prophet didn’t report that, it only dropped hints about Death Eaters in high places, and made me look a fool along with many others.  I had specifically asked them not to report my statements and I went to check on the bargain I made with them.  Actually a detailed account was written but it was quashed internally at the newspaper offices.  That’s why they limited themselves to speculating about Karkaroff’s allegations.  So where did you hear, verbatim, what I’d said?”

“I, err–”

“From someone here?”

“Oh yes, from here.  I’ve not left the school” she assured him.  “Filius knew.  I think he heard it from Willy.  Several of the staff have connections with the Wizengamot.  You can’t expect an organisation of that size to remain leak-free.  Be realistic!”

Dumbledore sighed, realising she was right.  He had said in open court that Severus was ‘his man’. He had expected the Wizengamot to abide by their usual tight-lipped practices, but with Voldemort gone many were less rigorous than they used to be.  Who could resist a tasty titbit like that, about a House Master at Hogwarts.  Death Eater?  Traitor to Voldemort?  Spy for Dumbledore?  It was all too much.  Someone had wanted to show off and had owled their brother, or sister, or nephew, or niece ‘Do you know you are working with a Death Eater?  Do you know Dumbledore thinks he’s reformed?’

“Are you alright, Albus?”

“Yes” he said, cradling his head in his hands.  “Tired … Pissed off, to use the modern idiom–”

“Headmaster!”

“–But yes.  I’m alright” Dumbledore insisted, raising his head again.  “It’s Severus I’m concerned for.”

“You do trust him, then?” she said wonderingly.  “You really have grounds for believing in him.”

“I most certainly have” said Dumbledore, “An iron-clad reason for trusting him.  I want you to trust him too – I hope one day you will.  I have not brought a mad axe-man into the school, believe me.  I know he’s annoying.  I know he’s unfair.  He is actually very competent in his subject, and some students will learn a lot from him.  I’m sorry if I seemed to have indulged him at times.  Things moved very fast, on occasions, and we had to react accordingly.  I told you what I could, but I dared not say much.  I hope that one day I will be able to be more open about our doings.  But today is not that day … I’m sorry, Minerva … That’s probably inadequate as explanations go, but will that do?”

“Yes, Headmaster” she agreed.  “Hearing this has actually helped a lot.  I have a great respect for you, as I’m sure you know.  But at times you seem to do the most absurd things.”

“Such as leaving Harry Potter to be brought up by Muggles?”

“Exactly.  Well – I have nothing against Muggles, per se” she said with a shrug, “But those particular Muggles?!  You must admit they’re an extraordinary choice.  I assume that – once again – you have your reasons.”

“I do.”

“Very well.  I’ll trust your judgement” she said, sounding resigned rather than convinced.  “I’ll say good night now, if I may.”

“Thank you, Minerva” Dumbledore said softly.  “Good night.”

She slipped quietly away, leaving Dumbledore wondering how the rest of his staff would now react to his newly chosen Head of Slytherin.  And how the Head of Slytherin would continue to cope with his grief.

 Author’s Notes

I am indebted to a friend (Jennifer) for pointing out that Dumbledore’s statement in court was rather extraordinary.  How can Snape be a ‘secret’ agent if Dumbledore has said that he changed sides?  (Jen also gave me the name Tweddle – not intentionally for this story – but I thought it such a funny name that I just had to use it.)