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Villain of the Piece

Part 3  Waiting Games

- Chapter  43 -

 Chapter 43:   The Fox and the Hare

12th to 23rd November 1981

Having gone into denial about the Godric’s Hollow tragedy, the Head of Slytherin appeared to be coping very well.  He was still smarting about Honor but he was confident that she could normally be found at work, and on balance he was in good spirits because Dumbledore had sung his praises.  And although he was concerned that the other senior staff knew of his special role, he was not too concerned because they were people of great power and long years of faithful service; they would not thoughtlessly put him at risk now that they knew the truth.  He could rely on them – up to a point.

“You can only ever rely on anyone up to a point” he murmured, as he ambled down towards the Entrance Hall, and a witch suckling a baby in a German medieval portrait, answered “Yes indeed.”

As the week continued the reaction of the staff was curious.  Wilbert Slinkhard appeared to distance himself because of fear that Severus was still an active Death Eater.  Filius Flitwick was more inclined to pay attention to anything Severus said, and Pomona and Septima were as open and friendly as they had ever been.  And Aurora just as cool as ever, but no more so.

On Thursday morning his spirits lifted a little higher because an owl came from Honor.  But it was a very short note and that in itself warned him that not all was well.

‘Can you be in Hogsmeade on Saturday?’ it asked.  ‘I’ll wait for you in Madam Puddifoot’s.  I’ll be there from eleven o’clock through to the end of lunchtime, so as to give you a chance to meet me.  Don’t owl me back.  I’ve moved and I’m not saying where.  Hope to see you Saturday, but if not perhaps another time?  But come if you can.’

 

The grounds were deserted, dissolving in a mist of cold drizzle, as Severus set off shortly before eleven.  It was a week before the first Hogsmeade weekend and that plus the miserable weather meant that Madam Puddifoot’s was almost empty.  Honor sat at the table in the window – the very one he had sat at with Regulus years ago.  He hung his wet cloak on the coat stand.  He could tell by the look on Honor’s face that Tuesday’s press article had not passed her by.

“Hello” she said guardedly.

“At last!” he sighed.  “I was beginning to think you’d deserted me.”  He looked at what she was having and ordered the same.

“Hold on” said Honor.  “This is a pecan Danish.  Wouldn’t you prefer apple?”

“You still remember my preferences” he observed as Madam Puddifoot set off to get him coffee and an apple and cinnamon Danish pastry.

“I still remember” Honor agreed.

There was no point in evading it so he added “I suppose you are fully conversant with the media’s ‘Dumbledore’s Dark-Eyed Deceiver’?”

“If you mean the ‘What of the Man in the Shadows’ little titbit, yes, I’m fully conversant with that” Honor said shortly.  “I’m not – as you can imagine – totally comfortable with the notion of a dark-eyed ‘deceiver’ lurking in the Hogwarts dungeons.”

“Please don’t” Severus whispered back.  “Sarcasm doesn’t suit you.”

“Sarcasm is the only weapon I have left.”

His food and drink arrived and they lapsed into silence, resuming only when they were alone again.

“You don’t need any weapons against me, Honor” Severus insisted.

“Yes I do!” she said firmly.  “Oh yes I do.  I’ve always feared you had a predilection for the dark.  You always kept in with people like the Malfoys.  There’s something behind these allegations.  You did what Regulus did, didn’t you.  Tell me the truth for once – the whole truth.  You did what he did.”

“Do you–?”

“–Yes, I do know what he did!  I know how he regrets it now, and what a mess he’s in.  You’ll end up the same if you carry on like this.”

“You don’t know what I do” Severus insisted quietly.  “It couldn’t be bandied about in the press.  Trust me.  Why do you think I’m here, at Hogwarts?  Why do you think Dumbledore employs me?  Ask him – ask him about me if you feel you cannot trust my answers.  But don’t ask me to explain everything.  It’s too secret.  Too dangerous.  I shouldn’t even be saying this now.”

“Then don’t say it” she whispered angrily.  “Keep stumm, like you always have.  But don’t assume that being the girlfriend of a spy is much more fun than being the girlfriend of a criminal, because it isn’t!”

She finished her coffee, giving him time to think over what she had said.  She seemed in no hurry to leave, but she could not be overawed.  Quietly Severus finished his pastry and poured more coffee.  He realised that Honor had changed; she wasn’t prepared to be there for him any more.

“Well, what do you want us to do?” he asked eventually.

“I think we should maybe stop seeing each other” she murmured.  “You have a life here, now.  That’s clear to me.  And my life is elsewhere.”

“I didn’t want it to end like this” he replied, annoyed but trying not to sound angry.

“No.  Well, neither did I” Honor admitted, “But I think our situation has run its course.”

“Run its course?  You sound like you expected this.”

“No, that’s not fair” Honor hissed.  “I didn’t have any expectations.  But I began to realise that I never got to know you.  You never let me in to your life, and to the real you.  I don’t actually know anything about you, Severus!  Not your family, or where you grew up – anything!  That – that just isn’t right.  You said you had some secret job – well, okay.  I suppose there are things you can’t talk about.  And yes, I suppose you must be legit if Dumbledore’s given you such a senior position.  But that doesn’t alter the fact that you’re too shielded for me.  Too anonymous.  I can’t cope with the isolation of it.  I feel too much on the outside–”

“I’m sorry I work so far away” Severus said gently, trying his best to coax some warmth into the situation.  “But we get long holidays.  It won’t be like that once term–”

“Don’t say once term ends” Honor hissed again.  “That’s dodging the issue and you know it – it’s not the distance that isolates me.  I felt the same even when we were in London.”

“You never said so.”

“No.  I was too stupid to be able to pin down what was wrong” she muttered.  “But now we’ve seen a bit less of each other – now I know.  We were still apart even when we were closer.  And I know that that sort of relationship is not what I want.”

“Then it’s goodbye.”

“Yes, it’s goodbye” Honor agreed, sorting out some money and leaving it on the table.  “Stay lucky, Sev.  I mean that!”

She got up and gave his shoulder a squeeze as she slipped past him, out into the rain.  The blur of her cloak showed for a moment against the steamy window and then she was gone.

After a moment’s hesitation Severus stepped out after her but Honor was nowhere too be seen and he guessed she had Apparated across the village to hail the Knight Bus in privacy.  He settled the bill, Apparated back to the castle, and remained in a grim mood all day.

He couldn’t sleep that night so rather than take a potion he prowled the castle, trying to walk off his anger.  Peeves tried to water-bomb him with a balloon he had filled from the fountain in the courtyard but Severus cursed him, making him zoom away, his bow-tie drawing him forward like a propeller.

“The bitch!  The bloody bitch!” he snarled, watching Peeves zoom up the Charms corridor.

“Who’s a bitch?” a portrait asked.

Severus glared at him.  “No one” he growled back to the startled old wizard.  “Only a skinny young witch I used to sleep with – when it suited us both!” and he stomped away; the portraits gasping in outrage at what he had said.

 

The next week idled by, slower than the previous one, and in billows of squally rain.  Wilbert had said no more about the Quidditch international and Severus didn’t mind too much because he didn’t feel in a mood for Quidditch, so when Pomona asked him if he’d like to go to a play at the Buxton Opera House he accepted.

“It’s on the first Saturday of the holidays” she said.  “Me and Dughall and Septima and you could make up a foursome if you like.  We’re off to see Othello.  How do you fancy it?”

“Yes, that would be nice” he agreed.  “Thank you.  Let me know what I owe for the ticket.”

He wondered about asking Aurora, but it didn’t seem quite the thing to do.  Pomona had said a foursome – would it seem too pushy if he brought Aurora along?  He didn’t want to lose the few friends he had among the staff.

I must admit I’ve disgraced myself, he conceded as he wandered out of the Great Hall.  All things considered, Pomona’s doing her best.  It seems I do still have some friends here – Septima and Pomona.  Even Aurora has never actually been cruel.  She’s cool towards everyone.  Except perhaps, Rolanda.  Ted Kettleburn’s okay.  Rolanda’s okay.  Wilbert’s okay.  Who seriously dislikes me?  Filius and Minerva?  Well, I’ll survive their displeasure.

He realised that he was getting life into some kind of order again.  He had withstood the pain of Lily’s death, and the anger at losing Honor, and the worry of his damaged reputation caused by the press.  The loss of the Dark Lord was also a wrench to be considered.  In many respects it was a huge relief, and yet it was still a loss – it still required, on Severus’s part, an emotional adjustment.  The greatest wizard of all time had gone from the world.  And as a result he could no longer be Voldemort’s colleague; nor his pupil.

“Broken dreams” he murmured, as he climbed the long stone staircase to the fourth floor and headed for the library.  “Past glories; past recalling.  Who said that?”

“Remiglius Ravenclaw in his book entitled ‘Temporal Portkeys’ ” a portrait replied.

“Nice try” Severus said.  “Actually it was Melkeor Slytherin – Portals of Time – 1643, Dust and Mildewe.”

*

On the day of the Hogsmeade weekend Severus had a quick pint of mead with Ted Kettleburn in the Three Broomsticks and then returned to school and caught up with marking.  By nightfall he was weary but far from sleepy.  After a week of foul weather the night was clear, and he walked around the school for the sake of the exercise, enjoying the deep tolling of the clock announcing midnight.

It was on the third floor that he heard it; a faint noise.  Students off to the kitchens, he wondered?  But the source of the noise eluded him and surely no student could move as quietly as that.  He began to stalk it.  Was it moving up the long stairs to the fourth floor?

At the top of the stairs a suit of armour fell, crashing down in metallic echoes, and he took the rest of the steps two or three at a time, jumping the tumbling armour.  But the armour seemed to grab at his legs and he stumbled, landing badly.  Limping on, he reached the corridor.  Wasn’t that a figure ahead?  A tall figure?

He fired a stunning spell, watching it sear the darkness.  It didn’t find its mark; instead there was a blaze of brilliant flame and then he was knocked backwards, over the lip of the staircase.

He came to, feeling grass under his fingers.  Damp grass.  He was in the parkland far from the castle walls.  Dew was soaking the back of his robes and wetting his hair.  It was cold.

A hooded figure stood over him, holding a broomstick in one hand and a wand in the other.  “Is that you, Snape?” it said.

“Bellatrix?”

“Yes.  Are you okay?”

“What do you want, Bella?” Severus asked.  “How did you get in?”

“Secret passage from the Shack” she said.  “I’m glad I ran into you out here.  Very handy – it’s your help I want.”

“Why?”

“Why?”  She sounded exasperated and hissed “It may have escaped your notice, Snape, but the Dark Lord has vanished.  I’m going to find him.”

“He’s gone for good.  Finished, Bella.  It’s over” Severus said sadly, rising to his feet.

Bellatrix didn’t lower her wand.  She edged back, keeping a distance between them; a safety zone.  Severus gripped his wand and eased it forward in his sleeve.  He knew his right ankle was weak – it felt sprained – and he felt slightly dizzy, but otherwise okay.  He didn’t like facing Bellatrix when feeling less than a hundred percent, but fortunately she seemed more taken up with his comment that the Dark Lord was no more.

“No, I will not believe that!” she spat back.  “The Dark Lord cannot be gone for good.  He is the greatest wizard that ever lived.  He cannot just vanish.  He’s out there, somewhere, waiting for us.  It’s a test.  He wants to test our resolve.  And I’ll move heaven and earth to have him back.”

“He’s gone, Bella” Severus insisted softly, almost pityingly as he inched his wand forward.

“People are saying that, yes” she replied.  “I’m surprised you’re taking that line.  I’m surprised you’ve given up hope so easily.  Help me, Severus.  Come with me.”

“I have a job to do.  And would you mind lowering your wand?”

“Don’t be a fool!” she snarled.  “You know what I mean.  You know how to make time for – ah – extramural activities.  What could be more important than this?”

“Where do you propose to start looking?”

“I don’t know.  I’ve tried Mynydd Myddfai.  I drew a blank.  I need inspiration.”

“And I’m to be your inspiration?  How very flattering” he sneered.  “You must like me more than I thought.  But do put that wand away; it rather spoils the effect.”

“I’m not sure I can trust you” she flared angrily.  “You might turn me in.”

“Turn you in?  Who do you think I am?  Igor Karkaroff?”

“Yes, he did rather point the finger at you” she sniggered.  “It might repair the damage if you fed me to the Ministry.  ‘Dumbledore’s Dark-Eyed Deceiver is Good Boy After All; Karkaroff Got it Wrong – Blamed him out of Desperation’ something like that the storyline would be.  It could get you off a hook.”

“Tempting.”

“Look, stop pissing me about!” she hissed, even more angry with him.  “Are you with me or not?”

“I think not on this occasion” said Severus, “As you haven’t got a clue about what you are actually going to do–”

He had barely stopped speaking when his wand was wrenched from his sleeve.  In one flowing movement Bellatrix caught it and mounted her broom, rising in circles higher and higher.  He could see her, a menacing cloaked shape, blotting out the stars.  Suddenly she dropped an object and made off, speeding like a bullet.  A desperate second of scrabbling on the ground won him back his wand and he pointed it towards her, but in vane.  The spell shot across the parkland, but Bella flew at breakneck speed, zig-zaging like a hare avoiding a fox.  She was around a corner of the castle and out of sight in seconds.

He stood ankle deep in the damp grass, running a thumb painfully over the handle of his wand, feeling the royal circles carved in the ebony.  Yes, it was his own wand – he was sure of that.  Bellatrix had given it back, it wasn’t a fake; and it has responded as well as ever.  She was just too fast; that was the problem.

He fired a Patronus and began to walk towards the castle, limping and feeling rather a wreck.  Suddenly he ached everywhere, his wand hand was scorched, and a more definite pain, twanging like a warning bell, was beginning in the triceps muscle of his left arm.  There were two people he needed to see – Dumbledore definitely, and possibly Madam Pomfrey.  But the parkland was dissolving before his eyes.  His head was swimming.  The castle seemed as far off as ever…

He was in his bedroom when he came to again, lying on top of the bed, fully clothed but without shoes.

Dumbledore was standing over him, looking grave.  “Severus” he said.  “I think I ought to call Poppy.  I think she ought to examine you.”

“Yes, I suppose she must” Severus agreed.  “That means–”

“What if I swear her to secrecy, as I did with the House Heads?”

Severus thought it over and decided it was for the best.  He felt ill and in a lot of pain now.  It was either Poppy or St Mungo’s – but he could not expect to escape examination altogether.  ‘Keep it in the family’ Lucius would say, he told himself.  Yes, let it be Poppy.

It was odd stripping off all his clothes in front of Poppy Pomfrey.  It was something he had not done since he was a schoolboy, and certainly not in a bedroom in the dungeons.  He shed his clothes slowly, afraid of toppling over, and then stood with one hand against a bedpost to steady himself as she walked around him, ducking under his arm.  Dumbledore looked on, faintly amused at his slight embarrassment, but concerned at his physical condition.  His right ankle was swollen and the muscle in the shin above had gone into spasm, as had the muscle above his left elbow.  He fought off a wave of nausea and stood there, waiting as Poppy continued her surveillance.  She made no mention of the faint silver Mark on his arm, the only gasp of horror was caused by the sight of his back.

“You’re all bruises, man!”

“It’s my ankle that cripples me” he murmured, keeping his right foot just clear of the floor.  “And I think I’ve banged my head – I feel perpetually nauseous and dizzy.”

“Yes, there’s a lump on the back of your head” she said, running her wand over him as if it was a Muggle scanning device.  “Look at the bruising, Headmaster.  Scapulae, sacrum … heel.”

“Is the ankle broken, Poppy?”

“No, definitely not broken.  It’s more likely a sprain.  But there is skeletal damage” she added sadly.  “There’s a greenstick facture of the left radius not far from the point of the elbow.  Fortunately the bone didn’t puncture the skin.  And there just might possibly be a hair-line fracture to the skull.  Okay, Severus we’ll let you lie down now.”

“Shall we get Severus to St Mungo’s?” Dumbledore asked, as Poppy hunted for a fresh nightshirt for her patient.

“St Mungo’s?” he gasped.  Why St Mungo’s?  Get Severus into his nightclothes and let him lie down.”

Dumbledore ignored him and said softly “Will it be a re-run of last time?”

“No, Headmaster” Poppy assured him.  “Severus is a fit young man and these breaks are small.  Skele-Grow and a couple of days in bed should make all the difference.”

“Two days?”

“Yes and I’ll have to splint that arm, and possibly the ankle” she said severely.  “Burn-paste for your wand-hand, and pennyroyal for the bruises.  This will certainly need a couple of day’s bed rest.”

“But, I have classes tomorrow.”

“Skele-Grow isn’t that fast.  I wish it was.  And don’t underestimate the severity of a sprained ankle!”

“Oh, don’t worry about lessons, Severus.  I can get Minerva to sort out your timetable” Dumbledore said smoothly.  “But when Poppy has patched you up I’d like a word.”

Severus gave the Headmaster as full an account as he could of his run-in with Bellatrix Lestrange but it made a thin, unconvincing story.  He agreed to use of the Pensieve and Dumbledore fetched it to his bedside.  But even a re-examination of his memory was of no assistance.

“She showed no sign of attacking you” Dumbledore said when he emerged from inspecting the memory.  “She merely disarmed you.  Why were you out in the grounds?”

Severus was beginning to feel more and more confused.  “I walk around when I cannot sleep” he explained.  “I usually stay indoors.”

“Then perhaps you were indoors.  Perhaps you have been made to forget that.”

“She Obliviated me?”

“Quite possibly.  And yet she doesn’t mind you knowing about Mynydd Myddfai.”

“What is Mynydd Myddfai?”

“Where is Mynydd Myddfai is the correct question” Dumbledore said.  “It is near to Godric’s Hollow.  No, that little detail didn’t matter to her.  She says she found you outside.  I wonder.  I wonder what happened before you woke up.  You – and the beautiful Bellatrix – could have been doing anything.”

The possibilities cheered Severus; a cruel smile twisted his mouth.

“Absolutely ‘anything’ ” he repeated.  “How tragic to have had a romantic dalliance with beautiful Bella and not to remember it.  But no, I wonder what really happened in those missing moments.  My clothes are muddy and wet, and that argues a scuffle outside.  But Bella didn’t look as if she’d been in a scuffle.  Perhaps there was a third person – perhaps she watched while I fought someone else.”

“All that is clear is that you got hurt” Dumbledore replied.  “Beaten up, perhaps.  But why would Bellatrix attack you, or allow you to be attacked?  As a punishment?  To defend herself?  No, she would use curses, she wouldn’t choose to defend herself physically.  She loves magic too much to use any other means.  Yes, perhaps someone else attacked you.  Someone else, or something else.  Perhaps Bella really did find you lying in the grounds, having been attacked by someone else.  Perhaps she really did want your help – that plea sounded very genuine.  Remind me again exactly what your last memory was before the encounter with Bella?”

Severus sighed.  “I remember walking up the main staircase” he said.  “The girl with the posy curtsied to me.  She usually does when I’m alone.”

“I will question the portraits” Dumbledore said.  “They can tell me your route.  I should have thought of this sooner.”

The Headmaster hurried away and returned a little while later.  He was able to outline Severus’s journey to the third floor, his stalking of a shadowy figure and his mad dash to the fourth floor.  He had even found the battered suit of armour at the bottom of the staircase.

“I am told that your foot slipped backwards down a stair or two, as you were trying to leap the armour” he said.  “Hence the sprained ankle.  But you got to the top.  You got a few paces along the corridor.”

“And then what did I do?”

“Fired a spell along the corridor.  A spell came back and hit you, and knocked you backwards down the staircase.  You’ve made some lovely dents in the armour.”

“And then?”

“A figure floated you away.  By Mobilicorpus, or some such means.”

Silence fell.

“Is that it?” Severus asked helplessly.  “Is that all they know?”

“Yes” Dumbledore sighed.  “Unfortunately your fall made such a commotion that all the portrait subjects rushed to the staircase to have a look.  I’ve warned them about leaving their frames.  That is how a diversion can be set up.  Ah, well!  Time will tell what was going on.  And perhaps your memory will repair itself.  But I think you were Obliviated very powerfully.  I could say brutally.  That, to me, speaks of Bella; or of her friends.  Silent incantations of course, so there is no overheard speech to help us.  I do not think you were physically beaten, more likely you stunned yourself as your head hit step after step.  In fact I’m amazed you survived this.”

Severus grinned.  “Poppy said I had a thick skull” he said.  “What did she say about the Mark?”

“Nothing” Dumbledore said.  “She swore to keep secret your Death Eater past and knowledge of the Mark on your arm.  She passed no opinion about it.  In that respect Poppy is like Hagrid, she is loyal to me.  And she is a far more worldly woman than Minerva.”

Severus nodded, feeling reassured.  Poppy had certainly done her best for him, she had not held back when he needed treatment, she had offered him every spell and every substance at her disposal.  And he felt better already simply for being cared for.

 Author’s Notes

I am indebted to another friend (Lady Claudia) for the details of Snape’s wand.