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Villain of the Piece

Part 3  Waiting Games

- Chapter  44 -

 Chapter 44:   A Further Trial

23rd November to 25th December 1981

After having mistrusted him and received Dumbledore’s admonition, the staff were rather anxious to help Severus by covering his lessons.  He made the most of it, deciding not returning to work until Wednesday at the earliest.  On the first morning he was awoken by a house-elf popping into his room with a rather loud crack.

“Who are you?” he asked crossly.  “Don’t arrive so loudly, next time.  What do you want?”

“I is Jotto, sir” the elf replied.

“Giotto?”

“No, sir.  Jotto.  Professor Dumbledore has assigned me to look after you.  What you like for breakfast?”

Jotto turned out to be a godsend!  He could do all the fetching and carrying, help Severus to and from the bathroom, and admit staff to the suite without the need for Severus to disclose the password.  It was normal practice for the House Heads to know all the passwords but Dumbledore did not want them released any wider, in view of the fact that a Death Eater had got into the school or at least into the grounds.  After breakfast Severus instructed Jotto to remake his bed and put the pillows at the bottom of it.

“Yes, that’s exactly what I want” he said, pleased with how it looked.  “I’m going to lay the other way around.  I want to read, and it’s too painful to sit up.  And too uncomfortable lying on my back.”

“You could try cushioning charm, sir?”

“And then I’ll have to levitate my book.  No.  First I’m going to try this.  It’s simpler.  If it doesn’t work then I’ll resort to charms.”

Severus tried out his laying-the-other-way-around plan and pronounced it very comfortable.

“Now, bring the coffee table to the foot of the bed” he said, “And bring me the book that’s on it.”

“You mean the Dickens, sir?  The David Copperfield on sitting room table?”

“That is exactly what I mean.”

“Very well, sir.  But you has a visitor waiting.”

“Who?”

“Professor McGonagall.”

“Blast … Show her in.”

So much for a quiet read, Severus thought, propping his chin on a balled fist as Jotto returned with his visitor.  The elf placed a chair near the foot of the bed and Minerva sat down.

“That’s an odd way to lie in bed” she observed, as she watched Jotto manoeuvring the table.  “Ah, I think I understand.  You’re going to read, lying face down.  Most ingenious.  Well?  Are you feeling better?”

“A good deal better” Severus replied.  “Once I can put weight on this leg properly, I’ll be happy.  Did you want to discuss tomorrow’s second-years?  The others should be alright.”

“No, it’s all under control” she assured him.  “I only came to tell you about the party invitations.  I’m sending them out now.  They’re for Septima’s ninetieth.  Her birthday is on Boxing Day.”

“Oh!” Severus said.  “I see.”

“We’re going to have a bit of a do” Minerva continued.  “Probably in the anteroom to the Great Hall.  It depends on numbers.  I’m doing the invitations early so that people can sort out their Christmas arrangements.  I want as many staff as possible to attend.  And of course people need time to think of suitable gifts.”

“Merlin’s beard!  Yes” he replied.  “What sort of thing does she like?  I’m not very experienced in present-buying, not for witches of Septima’s age.”

“Yes, it’s tricky” Minerva agreed.  “She, like me, probably has just about everything.  She likes books – all the classics – wizard and Muggle.  She likes the theatre, opera, and ballet – she and Pomona often go.  She quite likes jewellery – nothing flashy, just the odd nice piece like I do.”  She fingered the silver broach at the throat of her silk sweater.  “Anyway, you’ve got a month to get yourself organised, Severus” she said briskly.  “I just wanted to forewarn you.”

“Yes.  Thank you, Minerva” Severus said, thinking quickly.  “That’s kind of you.”

When she left Severus instructed Jotto to ask Professor Sinistra if she could spare him five minutes.  He didn’t think she’d be in any hurry to see him but Jotto returned in a surprisingly short time, a worried professor trotting at his heels.

“I heard you’d had an accident” she said.  “Are you orright?”

“I’m recovering well” he smirked.  “Don’t look so concerned or I’ll think you really mean it.”

She smiled, realising that he really was alright.  “You’d better want something important” she said, with a return to her usual caustic manner.  “I interrupted my breakfast for you.”

“The lengths some witches will go to, to gain access to my bedroom, never ceases to amaze me” Severus sneered in reply.  “No, only joking, Aurora” he added hastily as she started to go.  “Wait, please.  I do need your help.  Please sit down.”

“What is it about?”

“Septima’s birthday.”

“What?!”

“Septima’s ninetieth birthday.  It’s on Boxing Day.  We’ll all be invited to the party.  Minerva’s doing the invitations as we speak.  I need to get Septima a gift and–”

“And you want me to get it!  You’ve got a nerve!  You’ll be quite capable of doing your own shopping–”

“No, you misunderstand” Severus said, grinning.  “I’m not expecting you to buy it for me, but I need some advice.  I’m thinking of getting her a piece of jewellery.  But apart from Diagon Alley I don’t know any really good jewellers.  I hoped – seeing that beautiful ring that you wear – that you might know of somewhere more exclusive.”

“Oh!”  Aurora looked taken aback.  She blushed and her hand flew to cover the ring.

“That obviously means something special” Severus ventured.  “Someone special.”

“Err, yes” she replied, “It is to do with someone special, yes.  Err … yes, I can recommend a jeweller.  Do you know the Blood Rock Caves near Moraverh?  The Cornish Goblin Mines?  They will make you anything you want.  Or they have a catalogue of ready-made pieces.  Vairy beautiful.  I suggest you take a look.”

“Can you show me where it is?”

“I can show you on a map.  It’s a long way to Apparate.”

“I can do long distances.”

She smiled.  “So can I” she said.  “Then, when you are better, I will take you there and leave you to do your shopping.  I will take you, maybe, when term has ended?”

“That will be nice.”

“Orright.  I must go now.”

“I’m sorry I interrupted your breakfast–”

“Is no problem.  I must go now though.”

She was determined to go.  He watched her get up to leave.  Short of hexing her there was no way of making her stay.  She was at the bedroom door.  Jotto was opening it for her.

Aurora” he called out, “Are you going to see him at Christmas?”

“Who?”

“The special someone.”

A shy little smile crossed her face.  “It’s not that easy” she whispered, almost speaking to herself.  “I’ve got to be a bit more patient than that.”

“And you will wait?  And wait?”

“Of course.”

“Then he is a lucky man” Severus sighed, trying not to sound too bitter.

He’s married, he said grimly, when he was alone again.  That’s the problem – she’s chasing after someone who’s married!  So all this flirting with Slinkhard is just a blind.  Poor old Slinkhard – I wonder if he knows he’s wasting his time?

 

In the late afternoon Poppy Pomfrey re-examined Severus.  “The bruises are dispersing” she said happily.  “And I see the scorches have healed.  That armour-plated skull of yours has virtually mended itself.  Your fractured arm needs another day.  When are you planning to return to classes?”

“Wednesday I think.  Not before.”

“Well the arm will be alright, but I might have to re-splint that ankle and review it next weekend.  Problem?”

“Could be” Severus admitted.  “I have a predominance of practicals and of younger children towards the end of the week.  I might have to use magic on the third-years if they play me up.  And on the firsts of they do anything stupid.  Normally I can walk around and intervene, but if I’m handicapped–”

“I’m sure you’ll loath having to hex them” Poppy said with a wry smile.  “Well, that’s it for today.  I’ll see you tomorrow.  I think you’ll be quite mobile by the time of the match.”

“The match?”

“Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw.  Next Saturday.”

As she left Jotto came in with a pile of freshly laundered clothes and two get-well cards from girls in the Slytherin second year.  Severus didn’t know whether to be annoyed or pleased, but he had the cards propped on the coffee table.  And when she looked in on him on Tuesday Poppy caught him glancing at them again when he though she wasn’t watching.  He was smiling in his usual grim fashion.

 

After that the rest of November proceeded uneventfully and Severus, now fully recovered from his accident, was looking forward to the start of the Christmas break.  He had the Shakespeare play to attend with Septima, and Pomona and her husband; and he would be free of students and lessons for almost three blissful weeks.  And he had the trip with Aurora to the Goblin mines to look forward to.  But December didn’t go as smoothly as everyone hoped.  Frank and Alice Longbottom were kidnapped and tortured.  The story broke on the first Monday of December.  It made horrific breakfast-time reading.

“I can’t bear this” Septima said, folding up her newspaper.  “I think I’ll give breakfast a miss.  See you later, everyone.”

She left the High Table and the other staff watched her go.

“I’ll pop in on her later on” Pomona whispered, looking along the table to Minerva.  “I can nip up at break time.  See if she’s okay.  I hope she’ll be back to normal by Christmas, by the time of the do.”

“Why has she taken it so very badly?”

“It’s an unfortunate coincidence, Severus” Minerva explained, turning to him.  “She’s not fully got over a similar incident in her own family.  It wasn’t torture, but it was a horrible accident.”

“Perhaps I should prepare a calming draught?”

“Yes, that would be a nice gesture” Minerva replied, sounding impressed.  “Maybe at break time you could take her something?  She has our fourth-years until twenty past ten.”

At the mid-morning break Severus ran into Pomona as he made his way to Septima’s classroom so he asked if Pomona would deliver the potion on his behalf, knowing that Septima would still know it was from him and he would avoid intruding on the distress of an elderly lady.

If he was honest about it to himself Severus knew that he too was dreading the Longbottom Torture Trial, because it would rekindle the matter of the Death Eaters in the minds of his colleagues, and that could only be more bad news for his reputation.  Furthermore the details were likely to be shocking; amongst the Dark Side Bellatrix was renowned for her cruelty.  So that too will give me a bad press, he reasoned; unless my colleagues begin to see me as some poor wimp who was pressured into supporting the Dark Side.  No, I hope not – I think that might even be worse!  I think I’d rather my colleagues saw me as an out-and-out bastard, than a helpless poodle.  Oh dear.  When will life settle down?  What a term this has been.  What a woeful, abysmal term.  What did I ever do to deserve a life like this?

*

Hogwarts emptied on 19th December but some parents sought permission to take their children home a day early because they had tickets for the Quidditch international on the following day.  As the rest of his students prepared to leave by carriage on that snowy Saturday Severus was surprised to hear a small delegation gathering outside his office door soon after breakfast.  He could hear their whispers through the door.

“You knock.”

“No.  You knock.”

“I don’t like to.”

“Well, one of us had better do it.  You do it, Doon.  You’re the eldest.”

Annoyed he pointed his wand and silently commanded the door to open.  They watched it, open-mouthed and jumped when Severus barked at them to enter.  He was seated at the desk when they came in.  Nervously they placed an assortment of packages and envelopes onto the desk top.

“Merry Christmas, sir” Doon whispered.

“Yes, Merry Christmas, sir” Maggie Tweddle said excitedly.  “Oh, and that’s from Rachel Wood – she asked me to give it you.”

“Happy New Year, sir” Ruth Van Moebekker murmured.  “I – don’t celebrate Christmas” she added nervously.

“You’d better stay here, then, and do some revision” Severus told her.

Ruth gulped and looked horrified.

But Doon suddenly smiled.  “He doesn’t mean it” she whispered.  “Look, you can see him smiling.”

“Miss Pilliwickle” Severus said, “If you continue to talk about me as if I was not even here – I’ll have to insist that you do likewise.”  Then he gave in and grinned.  “Thank you, ladies” he added.  “Shall I open these now, or keep them for Christmas Day.”

Doon shrugged, not feeling bold enough to know which to suggest.  “Whichever” she said, glancing nervously at the others.

“Then I shall keep them for Christmas” Severus decided.  “And now you had better run along and get aboard the carriages, or the Express will go without you.  And in that unfortunate event you would have to spend the Yuletide with your crusty old House Master, instead of with your families and friends!  Off you go.  Merry Christmas to you.”

They left, giggling and wishing him Merry Christmas.  When the door had closed Severus felt the parcels.  Bath salts, he concluded.  Chocolates – hmm, hope they’re Chocolate Cauldrons.  A tin – shortbread?  And a bottle of something.  At this rate I’ll soon be outdoing Slughorn…

 

By Saturday afternoon the school was eerily quiet and by the evening Severus was off to the theatre.  He liked the Buxton Opera House – it was a splendid Edwardian building, rather grave and bulbous without, but inside as opulent as a jewel box.  He liked the play too – it was well acted, and some of the lines stuck in his mind.  The actress who played Desdemona reminded him of Narcissa, she had the same frail beauty.  He realised that Kingsley Shaklebolt would make a good Othello.

And what of myself, he wondered?  I would have to be Iago – no one would be able to see me in any other role.  But I could not wear my heart on my sleeve for ’daws to peck at.  To act so simple-minded would be wholly out of character for Severus Snape.  I couldn’t even pretend to that degree of unguarded, ingenuousness.  Dark I am, of temperament.  Dark, serious, and secret …

And bored!  What’s next?  Ah yes!  Roll on the trip to Moraverh.

 

Aurora did not appear for meals on Sunday but Wilbert arrived in the Hall at dinnertime.

“Great game last night” he said.  “Ludo Bagman was superb.”

“Oh yes, the Quidditch international” Severus said wearily.  “We won, I take it.”

“Of course!”

“So you had an enjoyable time.”

“Of course!  Not only the match result – I went there with Aurora!”

Severus gave him a withering look.  “You’re wasting your efforts” he murmured.

“I don’t think so, old boy” Wilbert whispered back.

Severus was so incensed he didn’t speak to Wilbert throughout the rest of the meal.  He got a big surprise the following morning when Wilbert did not put in an appearance at breakfast time, but Aurora was sitting there all alone, waiting for the porridge to be served.  When he got to the table at eight o’clock the owls were arriving with their morning newspapers.  Aurora was yawning and pouring herself orange juice.

“I’m beginning to think that you and Wilbert are one and the same person” he said as he slid into Wilbert’s seat.  “When he’s here, you are not, and vice-versa.  Or you’re like the two little people in the weather house – you’re here now, so today must be set fair.  Yes, actually I think that’s right, Aurora – it’s much sunnier seeing you than seeing Wilbert.”

She laughed.  “We don’t plan it so” she insisted.  “Willy took me to the Saturday evening match.  I was tired yesterday and took my meals in my room.”

“And Wilbert?”

“I think he’s off to London today.”  She shook out her Daily Prophet.  “Oh my goodness!” she exclaimed.

Severus flipped over his own copy and took a look at the front page.  The top story was the trial of the Lestranges and Bartemius Crouch Junior.  It was not what Severus wanted to see.  He gave Aurora a desperate look and she read his mind.

Cornwall today, then” she whispered.  “Soon as we can after breakfast.  Agreed?”

Severus gave a grateful smile – he had never been happier to get out of Hogwarts.  He finished his meal in record time and met her by the oak front doors shortly after nine.

“Side-along Apparition suit you?” she asked, extending a strong right arm towards him.  “I’m sure you won’t miss an opportunity to get your hands on me.  Cling on tightly, we’re going a vairy long way!  And you can try getting back on your own.”

It was a long way!  They Apparated onto a stretch of rocky coastline which would have been beautiful if it hadn’t been buffeted by a force nine squally gale.  On the rocks below them the sea boiled and churned, whipping them with spray.

“Is that a whirlpool down there?” Severus yelled, trying to make himself heard above the gale.

“Yes!” Aurora called back.  “Don’t fall down.”

Second by second they were getting soaked.  Severus flipped his hood over his hair.

Water was trickling into Aurora’s eyes as she drew her finger in a circular channel in the granite rock face, muttering something that sounded like ‘may the blood run pure like the gold of Moraverh’.

The cave doors opened and closed, swallowing them into warmth and cosy quietness.  Inside the doors a Goblin was waiting to usher them forward.  The atmospheric transformation was amazing – the sea, the spray, the howling wind, was nothing but a chilly and fast-fading memory.  Severus stood, easing back his hood and realising that a drying spell was caressing his hair and clothes like a warm breath.  He walked forward, looking around him, and glancing back – noticing that their wet footprints were vanishing magically from the deep pile carpet.

The caves were beautiful.  Stretching back into the cliff they sparkled in the light of glimmering torches.  Glass cases twinkled everywhere, inside of which were jewels on velvet cushions.  The Caves of Moraverh were divided into sections like a department store – Raw Gems, Bespoke Designs, and Instant Winners.  Goblins stood at every counter, dressed alike in suits of tan-coloured velvet.  A few early shoppers stood at the counters, but there was no echoing of voices or cave-like dampness to strike a jarring note.

“We need Instant Winners” Aurora said firmly.  “That is … unless you want to commission a new design or buy gems and have them made up elsewhere.  Instant Winners are the ready-made items.”

“I’m going to get you something for bringing me here–”

“No, you must not.”

“But I insist–”

“No!  Promise me you won’t.  You must not give me gifts.”

She seemed very definite about it.

“Why, Aurora?  It’s just a gift” Severus said plaintively.  “Just from one friend to another–”

“No.  Jewels between man and woman mean more than that.  I just want us to be friends, Severus.  Not more.  Do you understand?”

He sighed.  “As you please” he said sadly.  “But you’re making an awful fuss about a little thank you gift–”

“If you are my friend you will let me have my way about this.  No gifts.  No tokens.  Just friends.”

“Nothing to say thank you?” he said, trying again.

“No” she replied with a definite shake of the head.

“Nothing for Christmas.”

“No.”

“Nothing for your birthday.”

“I don’t have birthdays” she told him, starting to smile.  “I am – and I always was – and I always will be.”

“Very profound!” he grumbled.  “By the looks of things the one thing you always will be is a stubborn madam!”

“But don’t you just love it” she said grinning.  “I’ll model the jewels for you.  That is all.”

When it came to the actual choosing it was not an easy decision.  Bangles, buckles, necklaces and bracelets dazzled him.  Earring glittered from cone-shaped stands.  Diamond studs and tie pins called to him.  Rings, broaches, scarf slides, hair slides, cloak pins…  It was hopeless!

Eventually he found a pair of garnet teardrop earrings and an antique gold broach set with an oval topaz.  Aurora tried them.

“I believe she will prefer the broach” she said.

“I think so too” Severus agreed.  “Well, if you really won’t take anything for yourself then I think I’m all done.”

He completed his purchase, had the item gift-wrapped, and the Goblin gave him a small embossed business card.  “For your next visit, sir” he said.

“My next visit!” Severus hissed meaningfully, as they sauntered along the cinnamon-coloured carpet towards the entrance doors.  “Assuming I can ever afford to come back here, how do I get in?”

“Look at the card.”

He did as she asked.  On it was inscribed a circular pattern as if it was a trade mark, and beside it, beneath the words ‘The Caves of Moraverh’ were two lines of text.  They were the words that Aurora has whispered to the engraved pattern on the rocks outside.

“You must look for the red blotch” she explained, “Like a splash of blood on the cliff face.  Find that and you’ve found the finger-maze.  Trace it with a fingertip and say those words.  Is that not right, doorkeeper?”

“You are correct, madam” the Goblin said, giving her a little bow.  “The cliffs are known as the Blood Rocks due to iron ore in the granite.  A few Muggles climb here in summertime.  But only an intrepid few – normally we are left undisturbed.  But if ever you see Muggles about, sir, please be sure to whisper the password.  No matter how noisy the sea is a whisper is all that is needed.  Thanks to that no Muggles have ever found the cave doors.  Are you ready to leave?  The storm is still bad outside.”

“Can’t we Apparate from here?”

“No, sir.  Anti-Apparition jinx.  I will open the doors when you are ready.”

They left the foul weather of the Cornish coast as fast as they could.

“It will soon be lunchtime” Severus said, glad to be back in the castle.  “I wonder if the topic of the trial has been exhausted yet?”

“Well, I’m skipping lunch – I’m going to pack my things” Aurora told him.  “I’m going home for Christmas.”

“Home?  What about Septima’s party?”

“I’ll look in on it on Boxing Day, but I’m not stopping long.  It’ll be nothing but a coven of old hags!”

“What makes you say that?”

“You’ve no idea, have you, Severus” Aurora sneered.  “Septima Vector has six sisters – all older than time itself!”

 Author’s Notes

Cornwall, the county in the south-western tip of England, is more famous for Celtic saints and for tin mining than for gold, but there was gold and the mining of it in Cornwall and in Wales, and I believe it was one of the factors that influenced the Roman invasions of the British Isles, in 55 BC etc.

The Blood Rocks and the Goblin’s gold mining Caves of Moraverh of my story are inspired by the little town of Morvah near the Cornish coast and various coastal features and legends.  The coastline is ragged and dangerous, and there is a small whirlpool in the sea to the north of Morvah.  The notion of the blood rocks came to me from this legend of the giant Bolster:

Bolster was a bad tempered and violent brute who terrorised the countryside and struck fear into the hearts of ordinary folk, but he met his match in the pious and chaste St. Agnes.  He fell in love with her and pursued her relentlessly, but St. Agnes wanted none of it.

Sick of his constant attentions, St. Agnes told him to prove his love for her by filling up a hole in the cliff at Chapel Porth with his own blood.  To Bolster that was an easy task.  After all, he'd never miss a few gallons – but St. Agnes knew that the hole was bottomless and led into the sea below!

He stretched out his arm, plunged a knife into it and lay down to wait for the hole to fill up.  It never did of course and eventually Bolster lost so much blood he died.  Thus, St. Agnes was rid of his unwanted attentions but he left his mark behind.  The cliffs at Chapel Porth to this day still bear a red stain, said to be from where his blood ran down into the sea.