Yvette Yaxley's eldest daughter was away at Beauxbaton, but her son, Yorick, had just been placed at Hogwarts.
"And by 'placed at'," said Dumbledore over steepled fingers, "I mean to say 'banished to'."
Severus frowned. "What did he do?"
"Certainly nothing so dangerous as to consort with a—"
"Enough," Severus interrupted, holding up a hand. "You won't allow me to raise the boy, and Lily's dea—and I've agreed to teach, but I did not agree to be bullied."
Dumbledore opened his mouth as if to speak, and then he closed it into a thin line for some moments before saying, "Very well."
It was the closest thing to an apology, Severus realised, that he'd ever receive from the man.
"I believe, Severus, that you understand my ang—"
"What did Yaxley do to be removed from Durmstrang to Hogwarts?"
Mercifully, Dumbledore returned to the subject of young Yaxley. "His mother wouldn't say, but I'm given to understand that Yorick . . . enjoys unconventional company."
"He's a poof?"
Now Dumbledore frowned.
Severus managed not to snigger, mostly because he didn't give a damn that the Headmaster clearly didn't enjoy 'conventional' company.
"He is," Dumbledore said, "friendly with heegs."
"There is no such creature."
"A male hag is a he—"
"No," Severus interrupted. "There are no male hags. Their mothers eat them at birth and never claim to have borne them."
Dumbledore cracked his knuckles before reaching for a sweet. He did not, noted Severus, offer him one. "Then how do you explain hags?"
Severus barked a laugh. "Glamours and lust potions and foolish Muggle men."
"We'll agree to disagree on this point," Dumbledore told him.
"As we do on so many others," Severus rejoined, sounding more confident than he felt.
Encounters with Dumbledore made his heart race with fear. What if the bastard sent him away? What if he changed his mind about Severus' position and sacked him—or decided to kill him after all? In spite of that, Severus had determined that he would not show fear to the old man. He couldn't. If he did, he'd never manage his duties. And he had his pride.
"What of Yorick Yaxley, Headmaster?"
"As his Head of House, you'll keep him away from unconventional company. His mother insists upon it—and she's awaiting you in your office to make certain that you understand her position on the matter."
"Yes," Dumbledore said. "Such . . . meetings have their advantages, for the 'conventional'."
Yvette Yaxley, thought Severus, was a Grecian statue come to life—in improbably dowdy robes. "Madam Yaxley."
Madam Yaxley's eyes captured his as they travelled back up her body. "You're barely older than my son, and with less control than he has when playing with his 'friends'. How can I trust him with the likes of you?"
"Ah," Severus rejoined with a calmness that he did not feel, "you read the papers."
"Hardly discreet of you, allowing yourself to be caught. Allowing yourself to testify, to betray!" Madam Yaxley exclaimed, circling Severus. "Are all our men grown so useless, so perverted?"
"It's your son who's the pervert, I believe." Severus caught Madam Yaxley's wrist before she could strike him. "And where were you, madam, when it counted?"
"How dare you!"
Severus pulled Madam Yaxley against himself, not quite believing his cheek. "Because I was here, serving—and who's being indiscreet now?"
"You, I hope."
Suddenly, Severus found himself swallowing Madam Yaxley's tongue before he could choke on it.