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Villain of the Piece

Part 3  Waiting Games

- Chapter  45 -

 Chapter 45:   Bells and Formulae

25th December 1981 to 3rd January 1982

Severus was sorry that Aurora was leaving the school for the Christmas holiday, and that she was going away so soon, but he had to admit it was convenient.  He returned to the Goblin caves the following day and bought a sapphire version of the teardrop earrings for his mother and a cravat pin for Argus, and as he headed for Diagon Alley to buy Christmas cards and sit writing them over lunch at the Leaky Cauldron, he pondered the fact that over the last two days he had spent more money than the cost of a year’s rent at Flora McGonagall’s boarding house.

Aurora’s comments about the party turned out to be quite accurate.  On Boxing Day Severus, Irma and Argus made their way to the Great Hall’s anteroom and found it bedecked with paper Christmas decorations of a style that had gone out of fashion in the Muggle world twenty years earlier, and in a corner a group of stringed instruments had been charmed into playing chamber music.

“I like these decorations” his mother said.  “It reminds me of home.  The little houses of – well, never mind.  But yes, I like these.”

“Nice dress robes, Irma” Minerva observed, sweeping across the room to greet them.  “And what lovely earrings.  And Argus, you look very smart.  New cravat?”

“A present from Irma.  Real silk.”

“And, Severus–”

“–Yes, I look very smart too” he said smoothly.

He said it to tease her but it was true.  Severus was wearing bottle green velvet, trimmed with silver braid and with the Slytherin coat-of-arms.  Many of the teachers had robes with family crests, but as Severus came from a humble family, and as he now headed Slytherin House, he felt entitled to sport the Slytherin device on his dress robes.  The only people without emblems on their robes were Dumbledore who was wearing purple velvet embroidered with gold stars and moons, Aurora who had just come in wearing black lurex, and Horace Slughorn who looked as if he had been shoehorned into his emerald suit.  He was saying something to Aurora, and she was looking amused – Severus suspected she thought he looked like a Leprechaun.  Severus watched her for a moment and then turned to say something to his mother, but she had disappeared.

“Ladies room” Argus whispered.  “I’m gonna see if the Vectors are arrivin’ ”

“Save yourself the bother” Severus said.  “Here they are.  Minerva’s looking after them.”

Minerva was holding open the door as Septima glided in, escorted by her grand-niece and accompanied by half-a-dozen very elderly witches.  There was a round of applause, Dumbledore made a little speech of welcome, and many of the presents were handed over.  Wilbert manoeuvred himself among the Vector witches, holding out platters of snacks, and Horace helped too, as if he still belonged at Hogwarts.  Severus took a glass of red wine and turned to watch him, smiling slightly.  Wherever the centre of attention was, so too was Horace.  And Wilbert was becoming quite like him.

Aurora had presented her gift to Septima and was now chatting to the young witch who had escorted her, and after a few minutes Aurora seemed to find a pretext to leave.

Slughorn by then had given up playing waiter, and Wilbert had copied him and gone in search of drinks.

“Where’s Aurora got to?” Wilbert asked crossly, perambulating the room with a glass in each hand.

“Flitted off” Severus smirked.  “I see you’ve been hob-knobbing with the main players right from the off.”

“Well, I know them” Wilbert said casually.  “Old Emily – she was my tutor.  Come on, I’ll introduce you.”

He handed Irma Pince the glass of Corregan’s he had intended for Aurora and kept the dry sherry for himself.  Then swaggering over, he introduced Severus to Emily Vector.

“I had to tutor this miscreant” Emily said to Severus, raising her voice above the mounting hubbub.  “I could never get him to work.  Head in the clouds all day.  Have you met my sisters…?”

It was a bevy of names – Agnes, Leticia, Charlotte  Severus knew he would never remember them, and he wasn’t particularly concerned to try.  He left Wilbert chatting to Emily and handed his present to Septima, wishing her a happy birthday.  She opened the box at once.

“Oh!” she exclaimed.  “I must try this on.  Thank you, Severus.  Carol dear, give me a hand with this.”

Her grand-niece smiled as she helped to put the broach in place.  “Oh!  You don’t need to pin it” she exclaimed.  “It’s got a placement charm.”  She gave Severus an appraising look and when Septima went to show off her broach to Minerva, Carol didn’t follow.

“You must be Professor Snape” she said to Severus.  “Head of my son’s House.”

“So you are the mother of Phoebe King” Severus said.  “Oh, forgive me, we are all in the habit of calling him ‘Phoebe’.”

“He’s used to it” Carol replied.  “Difficult names run in the family.  I’m not really Carol – that’s only for convenience.  My real name is Carillon.”

“Carillon?  A peal of bells?”

“Yes” she said, rather proudly.  “I come from a long line of Wokingham metal charmers.”

“You mean the Rastwalds?” Severus asked.

“Oh, dear” Carol replied, laughing nervously.  “It seems you know of them.  I suppose, being a Potions Master, I shouldn’t be surprised.”

“Well I do understand now why Phoebus is so good whenever he lays hands on a cauldron” Severus said.  “Shall we find ourselves some refreshments?  I want to hear all about your illustrious ancestors.”

“Very well, Professor” Carol agreed, pretending to give in gracefully although she was clearly pleased to find herself the centre of attention.  “Search me out a Gillywater and then I promise you we’ll talk cauldrons.”

“And bells?” he added.

“If you like” she said, “But that’ll cost you a double Gillywater.”

 

“Good party?” Dumbledore asked him, some time later as things were beginning to wind down

“Very interesting” Severus admitted.  “I was chatting to Mrs King.”

“Yes, we noticed you’d monopolised her” Dumbledore replied.  “A very handsome woman.”

“A very interesting lineage.”

“You’re beginning to sound like Horace.”

“Horace?  I saw him here – I meant to have a word with him.”

Dumbledore looked around the room.  “I don’t know where he’s gone” he admitted.  “Back to Minerva’s office, possibly, to raid the selection of treats she gets from her relatives.  He won’t be so lucky this year, though.  Her cousin Rupert sent her a book about the meaning of Scottish place names instead of the monster tin of home-made shortbread she’s come to expect.”

“I suppose she already knows what those unpronounceable jaw-breakers mean.”

“I suppose she does.  Well, what did you think of your first Christmas…?”

 

As he lay in bed that night, too full of wine and sausage rolls to be able to sleep Severus decided that Christmas had been surprisingly enjoyable.  The only odd thing about it was that he had not heard from anyone outside the school.  He had not expected to hear from Honor, and nor from Regulus, but he had been surprised that the Malfoys had not sent a Christmas card.

But Christmas within the castle was excellent.  The food had been superb, there had been no students to bother about, and despite his general dislike of children five of his Slytherins had given him Christmas presents and several more had sent him cards.  It had been touching to open the envelopes and packages on Christmas morning.  He had guessed correctly that one gift was bath salts.  The others had been a tin of clotted cream fudge, a box of Chocolate Cauldrons, a bottle of aftershave, and a box of crystallised fruits.  At lunchtime he’d mentioned it to Minerva and she had admitted that she received half a dozen gifts each year, and that most teachers got something.

“We are all somebody’s favourite” Filius had chipped in.  “I once jokingly said I like big books.  Well I do – they’re handy to stand on.  Now, each year, Nymphadora gives me the biggest book she can find.  She gave me a Muggle atlas this time.  A maritime one – it shows all the creeks and bays – all the details.”

After lunch Severus had played a good game of chess with Wilbert, and on Boxing Day he’d enjoyed Septima’s party.  It was a pity that Aurora had hardy been present for any of the celebrations but it had meant that his mother had been able to wear her new jewellery to the party as well as her velvet robes, and very fine they looked together.  And even Argus had looked his best with a cravat that Irma had given him, set off by the gold pin from Severus.

It’s good having money, Severus said to himself in the darkness of the dungeon bedroom.  I must eventually find better uses for my salary than expensive gifts, but oddly enough this Christmas has probably been the best I’ve ever known.  And that is remarkable, in view of the events of the autumn!  Filius and Minerva are not so hostile now.  Perhaps life will settle down after all.  Perhaps I’ll get used to teaching and learn to float above the day-to-day irritations, and enjoy life’s comforts.  Merlin’s beard – I am getting like Horace!  It that what being a Potions Master does for one?  But a humdrum life surely has its compensations.  Last autumn was – very turbulent.  Here’s to a quieter 1982.  I’ll find myself some small challenges – manageable challenges.  Just under a week to the New Year.  Let 1982 be a year of tranquillity.

*

On the last morning of the holiday Aurora returned to the castle.

“She’s back” Wilbert said.  “Just saw her fly in.”

“Who’s back?”

Aurora.”

“Is that why you’ve been gawping out of the window every five minutes?”

Wilbert gave Minerva a sour look and set off for the Astronomy Tower.

“Aren’t you going to beat him to it?” Ted Kettleburn mumbled, chewing on the end of his pipe.

Severus arched his eyebrows.  “I will see Aurora in good time” he said.  “This staff room is nice and warm, and I expect her room is cold.”

“You’re letting the grass grow, old boy” Ted muttered again.  “Willy’s always up in that tower.  And he took her to the Quidditch match, end o’ last term.”

“Quidditch?  I went to the theatre.”

“Ohrr, yes.  Bit of a culture vulture aren’t you.  I don’t reckon Aurora is.”

“No she isn’t” Minerva agreed.  Pomona asked her if she wanted to go to some Shakespeare play and she declined.  Well – perhaps it’s no surprise.  She is a foreigner.”

Ted began to chuckle, hiding his head behind his morning paper.

“What is so funny?” Minerva demanded.

“Foreigner” he chuckled, lowering the newspaper.  “You coming out with that.  Shakespeare’s English – right?”

“You know perfectly well–”

“And you’re a Scot.”

Minerva looked flustered.  “Oh, don’t be so stupid, Ted!” she snapped.

“I’m not” he insisted, still chuckling away.  “You’re all the same, you Scots.  Scottish when it suits you – bagpipes, and cabers, and Burns Night Suppers.  But you’re English, too, when it suits.”

“British!”

“British, then.  But you know what I mean.”

“I think you’re being a little unfair on the Deputy Headmistress” Severus mused.

“Oh?  Why?” Ted asked suspiciously.

“Well, I’ve known Minerva for – what?  Almost a decade?” Severus replied coolly, “And I’ve never once caught her playing the bagpipes.”

The staff room collapsed into laughter.  Even Minerva had to laugh.

 

Aurora and Wilbert did not appear for lunch, and feeling annoyed about it Severus picked moodily at his turkey croquettes.  He took a walk in the grounds in the afternoon, admiring the snow and knowing that in just over twenty-four hours it would be trampled and spoilt by hundreds of feet.  As the sky began to grow dark he mounted the icy steps to the front door.

“Lovely, isn’t it” a voice said.

He looked up.  It was Septima Vector.

“Lovely, but cold” Severus said.  “Time for tea, I think.  Septima!  Tea?  And perhaps a toasted crumpet?  Care to risk the wild delights of my dungeons?”

“I hope that room of yours is warm.”

“I expect it is” Severus said.  “Albus leant me one of the elves when I was ill, and he’s latched onto me.  Keeps my fires going and my rooms tidy.”

“Perhaps he’s a spy.”

“Perhaps he’s Titcha’s brother.”

“You know we witches and wizards think we run Hogwarts” she said sagely, “But there is a theory that the elves are the ones really in charge, and we are just here as specimens.  We’re part of a giant experiment they’re conducting…”

When they reached the dungeons Jotto prepared a pot of Lady Grey tea and Severus sat on a stool by the hearth, toasting crumpets on a long fork.  “I see you’re still wearing my broach” he observed, turning briefly to look at her.

“I wear it most days” Septima said.  “It goes well with most of my clothes.  It was lovely having that surprise party.  Really took me out of myself.  I needed cheering up.  I wonder what I’ll do for my one hundredth birthday.”

“Oh, I expect Albus will arrange something.”

“I wasn’t on the scrounge for another party” she said.  “I was wondering about bungee jumping or sky-diving.  You know – the sort of things crazy Muggles do.”

“I expect Albus could arrange even that” Severus said, as he buttered the crumpets.  “He might even accompany you.”

“I don’t think he’ll be here then.”

“He’s not that old.  He’ll still be around.”

“No, I didn’t mean he’ll be dead” she chuckled.  “I meant he might have moved on.  There are calls for him to be made Minister for Magic.”

“Why?” Severus gasped.

Septima munched her crumpet happily, making him wait for the answer.  “Millicent Bagnold is in a lot of hot water over the handling of the war” she said eventually.  “And Barty Crouch is catching a cold over it too.  At one time he was tipped to walk into old Millie’s shoes when she retires, but it’s starting to look as though the day is over for both of them.  They’re both tarnished over the way the Death Eater trials were managed, and the emergency powers that were given to Law Enforcement.  And a lot of people are talking-up Albus as the ideal person to be Minister.  They think he’d be strong enough to keep people like Barty in check.  Even Minerva disapproves of Barty and she’s a staunch supporter of law and order, and making the punishment fit the crime.”

“Perhaps she wants Albus to become Minister so that…”  He left the sentence unfinished deliberately.  Septima knew exactly what he meant.

“So that she can walk into the Head’s job?  Perhaps” Septima said thoughtfully.  “It’s possible, I grant you.  But it’s not my favourite theory.  I think she genuinely feels that Barty has done a bad job and doesn’t deserve the promotion.  And Albus would make a much better Minister.  But I think she’d be sorry to see him leave Hogwarts, even if it meant promotion for herself … It could mean promotion for you too, Severus.”

“For me?  I’ve blotted my copy book too much” Severus said with a bitter smile.  “Minerva and Filius barely tolerate me.  I’m sure they think I’m a young jack-a-napes on the make.  No, if Albus left it wouldn’t mean promotion for me.  The Headship would go to Minerva and the Deputy’s post to Filius.  They’ve been here ages.  They have the track record.  And, no doubt, the support of the Governors … Do you think there’d be anything in it for you?”

“For me?”  Septima looked frankly surprised.  “I hope not” she retorted.  “I’m looking to do fewer hours, not have more responsibilities.  Give it – say fifteen years, twenty at most – and I’m off.  Retirement.”

“Fifteen years is a long time.”

“Not at my age.  You wait till you turn sixty – you’ll see how time speeds up.”

 

As he changed his robes and got ready for dinner Severus pondered the possibility that Dumbledore might leave Hogwarts.  What will it mean for me, he wondered?  I think my chances of being Headmaster are literally decades off!  Perhaps I could go with Dumbledore to the Ministry.  If he’s right about the Dark Lord, we are only living through an interlude.  We will have to face … whatever we have to face – and I might still have a role to play alongside Dumbledore.  Or alongside…?  No, I don’t know.  But perhaps this year will not be so tranquil after all.  I wonder what Aurora will think of me if I become ‘something at the Ministry’.

 

Thankfully Aurora was at dinner.

“Ohrr, steak and mushroom pie” she said.  “Stodge, stodge, stodge – I’ll be lucky if I can get airborne after tall this.”

“You like flying don’t you.”

“Love it!” she agreed.  “You should fly more, Severus.  You’d improve.”

“I can fly perfectly well, thank you.”

“Bet you can’t.  Orright, then – how about tomorrow morning you, Willy, Rolanda and I have a knock-about on the Quidditch pitch?”

“What?” Wilbert said nervously.

“A knock-about” she repeated.  “Tennis-style doubles with a ping-pong ball and Beaters’ bats.  Whoever fails to return the ball loses a point for their side.  First side to get fifty points is the winner.”

“A ping-pong ball?” Severus exclaimed.  “It’ll either disintegrate, or go into orbit.”

“No, no, silly!  We won’t lose it.  You have a wand in one hand and summon it back if you miss it.  Is good fun.  Rolanda and me against you two – girls against boys.”

“No!” Severus said.  “I want you on my side or I’m not playing!  Rolanda is a Quidditch professional – you’ll wipe the floor with us!”

“Are you saying I’m a rubbish player?” Willy asked, turning on him.

“Can you fly as well as Aurora?” Severus challenged.

“Well, no but–”

“Do you agree that Rolanda is a professional?”

“I won’t argue with that – seeing as she’s umpir–”

“Do you agree that – being ambidextrous – Aurora will do remarkably well with a bat in one hand and a wand in the other?”

“I didn’t know she was ambidextrous” Wilbert ended lamely.

Aurora grinned.  But she still insisted playing girls against boys.

 

Severus was right – the two witches won easily, and when challenged to a return match they won again.

“I’m going in for a hot bath” Wilbert snarled, when the four of them finally came to rest after their second game.

“It’s lunchtime.”

“Bugger lunch!” he snarled to Severus.  “I need a bath, and a lie down, and a bloody big Scotch!  I’ll order lunch in my room.”

They wandered back, Rolanda overflowing with advice to Wilbert about how he could improve his game.  Aurora and Severus fell in behind them, walking side by side.

“It was fun, wasn’t it” she said quietly, sounding as if she wasn’t sure that Severus had though the morning profitable.

“Oh yes” he said.  “A morning of whirling round like a lunatic, not knowing which way up I am, is just what I’d planned for today.”

“No, be honest, Severus.  It was good” she insisted.  “It’s very good practice for manoeuvring, and it makes you use your torso and legs.”

“It certainly does.  I almost came off completely once.”

“I know.”

“Is that why you insisted we were not to go above thirty feet?” he asked.  He slowed, letting the others draw away and added quietly “You saved me, didn’t you when I was slipping off.  You held me up.  I felt it.”

“Yes … well, I didn’t want you to fall” she admitted.  “I didn’t suggest the match to get you killed.”

“So you do like me – deep down inside.”

“Of course” Aurora replied, looking embarrassed.  “You are my friend.  You – Willy – Rolanda – all my friends.”

“Then how about coming out to diner with me on Sat–?”

“No!” she said, her eyes flashing dangerously.  “I just explained – I want you all as friends!  And that is what I meant.  Nothing more.”

“Then will you do me a favour – just as a friend?”

“Depends what it is.”

“Show me that spell you used to keep me airborne.  Was it a levitation charm?”

“No, it’s a formula.  It’s in a book.  I’ll let you borrow it.”

 

“What book is that?” Minerva enquired, as Severus sat in the staff room reading after lunch.

“Just one of Aurora’s.”

“Oh, so you have seen her then.”

“Of course” he sneered, without bothering to look up.  “I didn’t break into her room to steal it, if that’s what you mean.”

“Don’t be silly, Severus.”  Minerva continued to eye him carefully.  He was still engrossed in the book.  “You smell of spearmint” she said.  “Did you know?”

“Yes thank you.”

“Why do you smell of spearmint?  I’d just got used to that aftershave.”

Severus heaved a sigh and closed the book with a snap.  “Have I seen Aurora?  What book is that?  Why do I smell of spearmint?  Can’t a chap have a quiet read before the train brings back the teeming hoards?” he pleaded.  “I smell of spearmint because when I took a bath I used Doon Pilliwickle’s bath salts.  She gave me a rather lovely jar of green crystals.  They look very nice – like chips of jade.  They are suffused with tea tree and spearmint oil.  Unfortunately so am I now, because they are rather strong – as I found when I walked up for lunch and turned to find half the cats in the castle following me!  What is it about cats and mint?  You’ll be able to explain it won’t you – being a feline.”

“I’m not sure I approve of your tone.”

He grinned.  “But do you approve of my aroma?  That is the question.”

“I do not wish to discuss it” Minerva said stiffly.

“Then excuse me while I return to my studies” he murmured with mock politeness.

*

Severus chose Friday to take the book back, walking up to Aurora’s room late in the afternoon.  She was sitting by the fire reading the Evening Prophet.

“I just came to return this–” he began, but Aurora grabbed him by the arm and dragged him inside.

“Have you seen the paper?” she asked.

“No, why?”

“Lucius Malfoy’s been arrested.  No, I don’t mean that, but he’s been called to the Ministry for questioning.”

“What’s that to you?”

“I thought it was more a case of what it is to you” she pointed out.  “I thought he was a friend of yours.”

“I do know him, yes” Severus said guardedly.  “We were at school together.  May I see the paper?”  He sat down and read the article, skimming it at first and then re-reading it carefully.  “This says he’s been in hiding since early November.”

“Yes” Aurora replied.  “He has a bad reputation, you know.  His name has been linked with He-Who-Must-Not–Be-Named.”

“I know … I wonder what will happen.”

“He might get away with it – if there is anything he needs to get away with.”

“How?”

“He might say he was acting against his will.”

“Do you think that likely?”

“I have no idea.  I’m just saying it’s a possible strategy.”

Severus looked at her shrewdly.  “You’ve given this some thought” he said.

“No” she said sadly.  “You misunderstand.  You don’t know much of life, do you, English wizard.  You really piss me off sometimes.”

“What do you mean?”

She gave him a bitter smile.  “There is a rumour that you were mixed up with the Dark Side” she said.  “That you were a follower.  Or maybe you weren’t – maybe you were secret agent–”

“–Get to the point, Aurora.”

“The point is this” she said.  “Whatever you were, Severus Snape – Dark follower, spy for the Light. whatever – it doesn’t mean that only people like you were affected by the war.  Maybe you think the war was only here.  It was not!  All over Europe you can find families marred by it.  Diminished by it.  Look anywhere.  You will find people who ‘know’ – who were ‘involved’ – who were ‘forced to be involved’ – who ‘stood up to the Dark and perished’…  All sorts – all over!  And now, lift any stone and you will find people with defences, excuses, cover stores, lies, strategies…  Do not think that only you, and people like you, have worked out ways to defend themselves.  You say I seem to have given this some thought.  Who hasn’t given it thought!  Who has had the luxury of NOT having to think about it?”

Severus pondered what she had said.  “Yes, very well – I apologise” he said eventually.  “I take it your family was affected by the conflict.”

“You are correct.”

“You’ve lived through bitter times.”

“Yes.”

“Then … forgive me” he added hesitantly “But … shouldn’t you take the chance of happiness when it is offered?  Why wait for something that might never come to pass?”

“You don’t know what you are saying!” she flared angrily.

“I think I do” he murmured, feeling more sure of his ground.  “I don’t want to pry into your affairs, but I think perhaps I know why you are often so unhappy.”

“Unhappy?  What do you mean?”

“I can recognise unhappiness, Aurora.”

“Can you now?  Some things transcend the happiness of the moment” she retorted proudly.  “Sometimes it is necessary to wait.”

“And what precisely are you waiting for?” Severus asked.  “Who are you waiting for?  You try to make us believe you’ve been home for Christmas.  You didn’t go home – not by broom.  You’ve been visiting ‘him’.  This wonderful someone who has you on a string.  You didn’t fly far, did you.  Not as far as the Pyrenees.  Not in winter.”

“Vairy clever, Severus.”

“So he lives nearby.”

“I do not intend to discuss this with you” she said, turning away.

“Is it Wilbert?  It isn’t, is it!”

“I do NOT intend to discuss this!” she snarled, thoroughly angry now.  “This is my personal life – my private life!  My life away from teaching!  In joy – in sorrow – I keep such matters private.  Is my right.”

A stony silence fell, but she did not order him out of the room.

“So you’re still going to wait” he concluded.  “Going to put up with moments of snatched happiness.  And hope that one day he’ll permit you something better.”

She turned back and looked hard at him.  The anger had subsided to a steadfast resolve.  “I have the virtue of patience” she said.  “I have tenacity.”

Severus sighed.  “I thought I was Spartan in my ways” he mumbled gloomily, shaking his head in frank admiration, “But you are far harsher on yourself than I am on myself.”

“I learned life’s lessons in a hard school” she said.  “Let us not quarrel.  Please let us not quarrel.  You are one of my few friends here.  Who can I talk to if not to you?  Only to Wilbert.  Or to Ted … Did you like my book?”

“Yes.  Thank you” he replied.  “Very informative, as it happens.”

“Good” Aurora said, sounding relieved.  “Now if you will excuse me I need to get ready for dinner.”

“Are we still friends?”

“Of course.”

“In that case” Severus said carefully, “As tomorrow is my birthday, and as you won’t let me take you out to dinner, let me buy you a simple, humble drink at the Three Broomsticks.”

She smiled.  “You don’t give up, do you.  Orright.  But I’ll bring Willy as chaperon.”