Actions

Work Header

Romance of the Age

Work Text:

The Headmaster, in the role of Supreme Mugwump, was speaking with the Minister and the head of the MLE and Mrs. Abernathy-Bowles. She was a citizen concerned with the state of the youth. She felt that the younger generation was beyond control.

“We need more policies,” said the head of the MLE, “I need clearance, Minister.”

The Minister glanced at the Headmaster and took a long swig of his Firewhiskey.

The Headmaster assured Mrs. Abernathy-Bowles, with a twinkle in his eye, that the youth of the wizarding world were showing as much promise as they ever had.

“Do you expect that to comfort me?” demanded Mrs. Abernathy-Bowles.

The Headmaster wore scarlet everywhere today, from the tips of his fantastic curly-toed slippers to the top of his magnificent tall hat. He was very tall himself. He looked like a very long unlit firework. It made the Minister uneasy.

“My dear,” the Headmaster said gently, “The youth of today have a fatal desire for romance, for history. They long for light and dark, for passionate truths, for eternity. There is tremendous good in them, but—”

Unable to contain himself, the Minister said, “What are you getting at, Dumbledore?”

The Headmaster said, “With this war that’s coming—”

“What war?” said the Minister.

“What war?” said the head of the MLE.

“Yes, the war. And?” said Mrs. Abernathy-Bowles.

The Minister and the Head of the MLE stared at her, aghast. The head of the MLE strenuously declared that on his watch there would be no war, thank you very much. The Minister glared at Mrs. Abernathy-Bowles until she excused herself.

The Minister said, “Talk of war feeds it, Dumbledore!”

“Oh no,” said the Headmaster, “I think it’s the other way around.”

-

The wizard in the Granian-drawn carriage was only handsome by a very large stretch of the imagination, supplemented by perhaps some Firewhiskey. He was not by any means a small man. He had, however, a collection of very miniscule attributes – small eyes, a small nose, thin little lips, and a thin little chin – that seemed to suggest he had been sketched out on parchment by a child only just learning to use a quill, who’d had very grand ideas to begin with, and who, discovering for the first time the very disagreeable runniness of ink, had splashed on a few dots for the features and then given up.

The witch next to him was very pretty. She was disgusted and calm.

“Too, too aw-ful, MP. It’s dreadful. And to me,” she said, by her words put-out, but otherwise quite all right. Her face was awash with serenity.

“Now, Snidget, you mustn’t be distraught,” MP said firmly.

“I can’t help it, presently,” Snidget said. Noticing that her boots needed polishing, she cast a charm to that effect.

“Oh, darling,” she said, after a moment, “New policies. What is one to do. It makes me sick.”

“I’ve told you,” said MP, “Disgusting!”

But she was not speaking to him, but to the young man in the corner of the carriage, good looking in a general way, who had about him the despairing aura of one who is bored, bored, forever bored; one who would very much like to escape every conversation, as they are all boring; one who is thoroughly dismayed whenever questions (for the answers are boring; bound to be) are shoved beneath his nose.

“I think they came in around the time of old Nott’s fifth,” said the young man, “One thinks around 1703.”

“Vile new blood-traitor policies!” said the large, thin-chinned MP.

Staring longingly at the carriage windows, with a forward-looking desire to perhaps plunge out of them and so escape, the young man said, “Severus Snape lives just over there. Or maybe not. But somewhere.”

No one contested this, because Severus Snape had to live somewhere, and this was in fact why the young man had said it. He often handled conversations like this, with vague and general statements that could lead to no discord. ‘Severus Snape lives somewhere.’ ‘Barty Crouch is bound to feel something at the news.’ ‘Evan Rosier’s woken up by now, or I’ll bet he’s still sleeping. Sure to be awake or sleeping.’

The witch re-formulated his vague and general statement. She said, “Oh, darling, you don’t think Snape—“

“Snape,” said MP, “Merlin, yes. It’ll be Snape! Take us to Snape.”

“Mon Paon, you darling. What a thought.”

“He lives eastward,” said the young man, “Or westward. I can’t say I remember exactly. But he’s bound to live somewhere.”

-

Snape was bound to live somewhere, and did live somewhere, but he was not there at present. He was at Granfalloon’s, which was two doors down from Borgin’s, with almost all the usual sparkling Granfalloon set. Rosier. Mrs. Lestrange, her husband, and his brother. A few Mulcibers, and golden-haired Barty Crouch hanging nervously near the windows. Avery and his sisters. Miss Lectie Carrow. Finally, the beautiful, dark-skinned Mrs. Nonce, who’d been Mrs. Undulous Borgin last month, but who was Mrs. Undulous Borgin no longer, because Undulous Borgin had died and now she had to do something with her share of the shop, darling, something, and also she had to do something with all that money.

Her words were put-out, but she was otherwise merry; the whole company was merry, except for maybe Barty Crouch who had that father of his, and except for Snape. Snape was understood to be miserable, calculating, poor, and a loner.

Alone on the upholstered armchair, which in fact could only seat one, he said, “My life’s work,” very grimly, and gestured at a heap of parchment with his bony, long-fingered, ink-stained hands. He was lying, no doubt. Everyone thought he was lying. There was too much parchment there. Quite a lot of parchment. Snape still had a few spots and was barely out of Hogwarts. Far too much parchment to accumulate in so few years.

He bared his teeth horribly and said, “There were three of them. They laughed at me.”

Avery’s first or second or fifteenth sister shrieked in good-natured horror.

Snape looked gratified.

Barty Crouch said, rather sympathetically, “Must’ve been awful.”

Snape sneered, annoyed.

Mrs. Nonce said, “Do you think you could bring it up with one of the undersecretaries?”

Before Snape’s sneer could deepen, one of the Mulcibers said that he expected Snape couldn’t bring it up with anyone; Snape’s condition was doomed; Snape had no redress; didn’t she understand how things were for Snape? Great pack of fools in the Ministry. They could do nothing for Snape. No one could do anything for Snape. Rough luck, Snape. Rough. And you cleverer than the lot of them, but it hardly gets you anywhere, does it?

Snape looked gratified.

The Mulciber that had spoken was in fact the cleverest of the Mulcibers. The family Mulciber did not set a high bar for cleverness, but he was still just clever enough to understand what Snape was after.

Mrs. Lestrange soon took command of the conversation.

She was terrifically fun: really the best of the sparkling Granfalloon group. She was not a small woman; and she had large, striking, beautiful features; and she had her husband and his brother sitting stiffly at either knee like hounds or house-elves ready to do her bidding. But she did not order them around like she would hounds or house-elves; they were really rather dull and she hated dullness, hated even to speak to Dull-ph and his brother, really; and she put forward, in her sweet, musical, little girl voice: “Darlings, what should we do about it all?”

Something exciting, darlings.

Oh, let’s.

Oh, Snape, who was it? Did you say?

Snape said, “Weasley and Bones. And Cattermole.”

“Weasley? Blood-traitor.”

“Cattermole’s common. Bogus, really.”

“Bones? Oh, every last one of them is dim. Plodding talk of politics. Imagine.”

“Best of all,” said Mrs. Lestrange, among all the chatter, “All three of them have been so utterly sick and vile about HIM.”

HE doesn’t like them at all.

This decided it. Up rose the sparkling group. Even Snape, who’d had a seat to himself. And out they trooped into the cold and muddy street, pulling on gloves and casting warming charms and ignoring all the hideous moving adverts for newish things like magic-compatible wirelesses and chewing gum packed Muggle-style and trousers.

“Rubbishy. Sickening. Like a muddy pestilence,” said Rosier confidentially to an Avery sister, but also loudly enough for the whole group to hear.

Suddenly, who should troop up behind them but Auror Moody. Clonk-clonk from his wooden leg. Terrible swiveling eye, greying strands of hair and greying beard: a hodgepodge man, hardly human from the look of him, with a constant droning litany of ‘Who said that?’ ‘We can arrest straightaway!’ ‘Muddy, did you say?’ Got a problem with Muggles, do you?’

“Constant! Vigilance!” sing-songed someone, probably Barty Crouch.

A laughing murmur from the Avery sisters.

‘Who said that?’ ‘Arrest straightaway!’ ‘Your own father’s policies!’ ‘What will he say?’ ‘He ought to have been vigilant with you!’

Arrest straightaway for Barty Crouch.

“I’ve the most tremendous problem with Muggles,” reflected Mrs. Lestrange, midway through this first arrest, “Muddy. And I’ve a passionate hate for Muds, you know. Muds are too horrible, really.”

Arrest straightaway for Mrs. Lestrange.

She was thrilled at the excitement of it. Dull protests from her husband and his brother, who could not believe that these new policies permitted clonking, hideous patchwork men to seize people’s wives, people’s sisters-in-law, permitted them to make a mockery of sparkling and striking and merry people, not to mention what had been done to Snape, which they could not remember exactly, but which had been something. Bound to be something.

“My life’s work,” Snape said grimly at this point, more for dramatic effect than for anything else.

‘Looks Dark!’ ‘Vigilance!’ ‘Arrest straightaway!’

And so to the Ministry were clonk-clonked three of the Granfalloon set. Barty Crouch looked nervous. Mrs. Lestrange looked thrilled. Snape of course looked nothing of the sort, as he was calculating and sneering and miserable and Had It Rough.

But the cleverest of the Mulcibers thought, for a moment, that he seemed gratified.

-

The group was clonk-clonked to a mundane little closet with diamond-shaped windows. After a few Undersecretaries had been shooed out and forced to leave their tea behind. No bowels of the Ministry for the sparkling ones, no cells, not even under the new policies. And no fantastic contraband in the banal offices of the enemy, except for here and there a confiscated copy of the Pure-Blood Directory, Valorous Purity Calls (a Pamphlet for Our Youth), Dark Magic: A Compendium.

Snape’s life’s work was hastily thrown on the table, upsetting the tea. Snape himself stood above it, sneering and defiant and gratified. Here he was. Here his life’s work was, drawing the attention of the Auror force.

Here was Barty Crouch’s father, berating him in rather a common and silly way, and Barty Crouch looking nervous about it. Here Mrs. Lestrange wished desperately that in would troop someone worth fighting, someone exciting. She thought it was so typical of the Ministry, so boring and inane of them. If it were her, they would have been subjected to Veritaserum and torture.

But instead there was only the dull little room and Auror Moody rifling through Snape’s life’s work. It was demoralizing, really.

“What does this mean?” Moody said, seizing on a particularly sinister scribble.

“Try it,” Snape said, sneering.

“Do, it would be so exciting,” said Mrs. Lestrange.

“Do you think I’m a fool?” Moody said.

“Yes.”

“Yes.”

“Soon enough,” cut in Barty Crouch’s father severely, “We’ll have clearance to do something about these cavalier attitudes.”

Barty Crouch looked nervous and said nothing.

Snape sneered.

Mrs. Lestrange said, “Thrilling,” in a rather mild way.

Confiscation of Snape’s life’s work. Mrs. Lestrange asked that they hurry with it, then, as she had somewhere to be, and was seized by Auror Moody and transported to a real, proper questioning chamber. (How exciting!) Barty Crouch was seized by his father. To be made to watch. He could learn a great deal from Auror Moody. He ought to imitate Auror Moody, if he knew what was good for him.

Snape was left alone, forgotten and scowling.

Snape reflected that he did, in fact, have it very rough. He could not take back his life’s work, as Moody had swept out with it tucked under his arm, and he had no interest in reading about the sacred twenty-eight (knowing at least fifty-two of them personally), and he’d already read Valorous Purity Calls. He helped himself to Dark Magic: A Compendium and went out to the atrium. He skirted past all the bumbling and smiling and pathetic types that laughed so easily, and then nearly tripped over the love of his life.

She had an assortment of proper clothing and Muggle: a cloak and a long skirt and trainers and a bowler hat. Her toad croaked from the depths of her bag. She was filling out a form under the careful eye of a Junior undersecretary. This was unexpected. Snape held an image of her always in his mind (he liked to tell himself this, grimly, very often), but the image, unlike the real thing, obliged his miserable and poor and forgotten and alone nature by always wearing the apropos Gryffindor tie, her head-girl badge, a clean and neat school kit, and one James Potter draped over her arm like a preening and ill-groomed pet.

The love of his life, looking rather miserable herself, though thankfully still very pretty, was unconcerned with all this and didn’t seem to know what Snape was after. She was officially Not Speaking to him, anyway, and had been for some time. Still, she did not lapse into highly tragic and romantic silence. She only said, “Oh, it’s you,” which was worse.

Wounded by this blow to tragedy and romance, Snape said, rather cuttingly, “Of course you’ve come to laugh at me for being taken in by the Aurors. You would.”

“Come nowhere near the MLE, you’ll note; come without the slightest thought to you; and come to mind my own business, as yours isn’t that interesting.”

“You haven’t filled out the second line correctly,” put in the Junior undersecretary, “You’ll have to pay for another form.”

The love of Snape’s life scowled, and dutifully produced three Galleons, two sickles. She had probably received them from James Potter. Snape said as much, sneering.

“The principle of minding your own business is one to live by,” noted the love of Snape’s life, “Please do try it.”

And then, as though she couldn’t resist, she added, “Besides, it’s nowhere near as awful as lazing about on Lucius Malfoy’s Galleon.”

A common theme with the love of his life, who did not understand the ways of the sparkling Granfalloon set, many mostly hard on their luck thanks to all these new policies, or perhaps thanks merely to awful fathers who wouldn’t snuff it and leave behind the keys to the Gringotts vaults. The Granfalloon group got by with the incorporation of one or two benevolent patrons to provide Galleons, food, grimoires, parchment, broomsticks, houses, or owls; all in exchange for a few well-crafted curses, or an Occlumency lesson or two. It was very modern and forward-thinking with them.

“It’s not about lazing,” Snape said. Because he was eager to mend fences; besotted and in love; possessed of a devotion to her that she didn’t understand; and because he placed her far above all other human beings on the planet, really, not that she was grateful for it, he attempted to explain. “It’s not about not wanting work.”

“I want work,” snapped the love of Snape’s life, “What do you think I’m doing?”

Snape examined the form. Like most Ministry forms, it expanded as you went down, so that what began at fifteen lines was soon fifteen-hundred because the Ministry was always churning out new regulations and requirements. When it seemed like an old regulation or requirement was no longer useful the Ministry would generate a new one without bothering to strike the original from the books. Striking the original seemed to signal that sometimes regulations and requirements were not appropriate solutions. Witches and wizards naturally had to comply with all possible regulations anyway, even when they conflicted, and to prove compliance before the watchful eye of the Junior undersecretary.

“You’ve said you were born in a Muggle town to Muggles, all surrounded by mostly Muggles,” said the Junior undersecretary.

“Yes, well, the form requires me to say so,” said the love of Snape’s life.

“Well, but then you’ve said that you grew up knowing the proper ways of young witches and wizards.”

“I did.”

“She did,” put in Snape magnanimously.

“Anyway, I’ve got to say it. These old policies. You said yourself I can’t apply for the potions position without—what was it? Proving ‘a careful understanding of the traditions and morals to be instilled in young magical minds.’”

“Really?” said Snape. How senseless. He knew someone who’d applied for the astronomy position and had to do nothing of the sort. Then again, those were the policies. Senseless. Old policies and new policies alike. They ought to snuff out the whole Ministry, really. That was the only thing for it.

“If,” said the Junior undersecretary, sniffing, “She was born in a Muggle town to Muggles, all surrounded by mostly Muggles, I think it makes sense. Because then she might sneak in filth. She doesn’t know our ways, see.”

“I do,” snapped the love of Snape’s life.

“She does.”

“How will I explain that to the Intermediate undersecretary? Do you expect the Intermediate undersecretary to believe that?”

“Yes!”

“He ought to. Anyway, I taught her our ways. I wasn’t born to Muggles.”

“Just one.”

“How rough,” said the Junior undersecretary to Snape, rather sympathetically.

The love of Snape’s life scowled.

“If you want to take that approach, it’ll be six Galleons, three sickles. For an explanations form. You’ll have to sign an explanations form. He will, too. Can’t expect the Intermediate undersecretary to believe your story without an explanations form. I couldn’t hand it to him without one, in any case, because he almost certainly wouldn’t believe it.”

Snape nodded his assent. The Junior undersecretary bustled away with James Potter’s six Galleons, three sickles.

“Slugs is resigning, then?” Snape said.

It was hardly a surprise. Slugs was a fat, clever man whose natural inclination was to resign. Resigned himself to helping you out, my boy, even though it seems your life is rough and you haven’t a hope. Resigned himself to giving you a leg up, my girl, as you’re so terribly clever for someone born to Muggles. Oh, most persons wouldn’t resign themselves to helping either of you. Most persons would fight your course, your charted rise to greatness.

Not Slughorn. Slughorn resigns. Do remember him when you’re up there, will you?

Snape frequently told people that he despised Slugs, but nearly shook with glee when demonstrating some clever hex or counter-hex to the indulgent old walrus. The love of Snape’s life always dutifully said that she owed Slugs a great deal, and in the private company of one James Potter referred to the man by the filthiest of Muggle epithets.

“He’s thinking about retiring. Wrote me twelve inches on it. Told me to remember all twelve when I’ve brewed something great.”

“Then I’ll sign the explanations form.”

“Don’t put yourself out!”

“Hardly. You’re talking to me again.”

Thanks to their tragic and romantic Not Speaking policy, the love of Snape’s life frequently wasn’t. Sensible. Easier for the both of them. When they did speak the topic was inevitably Muggle birth, Lucius Malfoy’s Galleon, the foibles of Snape’s sparkling friends, senseless policies, or one James Potter. Neither was inclined to agree regarding any of these things. So Snape would take to it in a sneering and magnanimous fashion, and the love of his life would take to it in a snapping and scowling fashion, and at some point she would no longer be speaking to him.

Then she’d come back again, as though she saw something worth regarding there.

Again Snape would sneer.

Again she wouldn’t speak to him.

Snape felt, privately, that this was flighty. The love in his mind was superior, self-righteous in her Gryffindor tie and head girl badge. She had perhaps never loved Snape like he loved her. She certainly could never love him the way she loved one James Potter. She, blindly, did not know what Snape was after, but it was only because she was so naïve and she worried about things like Muggle birth and Lucius Malfoy’s Galleon and the Granfalloon set. So Snape’s love for her was doomed. Snape had no redress. She simply didn’t understand how things were for Snape.

The person in the bowler hat with the croaking toad might perhaps understand.

Snape generally forgot that person in favor of the one who draped James Potter over her arm or maybe kept him tucked in her bag with the toad, or who, at any rate, was sure to have him lurking about somewhere, ready to do violence to Snape.

“I’ve changed my mind,” said the love of Snape’s life, “Let’s not talk.”

“I said I’d sign it!”

“Save your breath and your ink,” said the love of Snape’s life. Because she was flighty, she continued. She said: “I suppose you were with Rosier or Avery or some Mulcibers, and you were taken in by the Aurors, and you were let go—“

“Not officially let go,” Snape put in.

“Who cares? You were swanning about. With them. You’ve hardly got anything in common with them, not really. You’re a sham. You probably don’t even like them beyond what they can do for you.”

You swan about. With James Potter!”

“I’m not speaking to you,” said the love of Snape’s life, perhaps because she knew she could never win that argument.

This was not pure and noble and righteous and beatific of her. She was not being obliging in that respect. Snape left her at the Junior undersecretary’s desk, and considered that she had never meant to speak to him anyway and that effectively she hadn’t properly spoken to him since that incident in fifth-year, when she’d been obligingly righteous and the break in their friendship had been grand and ideological and tragic and very rough for him. He resolved to promptly forget this incident, which was really rather dull, in favor of that one.

The Junior undersecretary bustled back, and said that if the love of Snape’s life was cleared she would receive an owl with a blood-red ‘P’ (for ‘pass’), and if she was not cleared she would receive one with a rather muddy brown ‘M.’

“Muddy brown!”

“Oh, don’t be so sensitive. It’s only because of the policies. And it’s ‘M’ for ‘misconceiving and mundane,’ not ‘M’ for—“

“Yes, I’m well aware of what else it could be for.”

“Well—oh? Where did he go?”

“Straight out of existence for all I care.”

(How cruel! Snape’s life was awfully rough.)

“Well, I can’t hand the explanations form to the Intermediate undersecretary without his signature. How can I hand the explanations form to the Intermediate undersecretary without his signature? The Intermediate undersecretary will never believe it.”

-

In fact what stretched the bounds of belief was that Granian-drawn carriage in the very common and filthy and rough neighborhood where poor, miserable Snape lived.

Snidget did not seem to notice or mind the roughness. She slid into the street and distractedly tapped at Snape’s wards. This left MP scowling in a manner calculated to make his small chin quiver. He very much minded the neighborhood. He cast a glance at the young wizard, as though hoping to convince him to pitch a fit and demand retreat, but the young wizard only avoided his gaze and followed after Snidget, saying, “I did say he lived somewhere,” in a vague and dutiful fashion.

“He’s not in,” said MP, “Let’s go! Filthy neighborhood.”

“Darling, it is a trial. It’s bound to call for Obliviation of everyone here, and imagine. Imagine wasting all that time on Muggles.”

“I’ll have the elves do it!”

“Oh, Mon Paon, that’s the answer. You always have the answer.”

“Well, somebody’s bound to,” said the young man.

“Snape won’t,” said MP irritably, “The damn fool isn’t in.”

“MP, it is rude of him.”

The young wizard seemed to perk up at this, and said, quite suddenly, “Hang on, Snape has it rough.”

Such a definite proclamation from such a vague young man. How odd. Snidget fixed her very blue gaze on him.

“Darling, what in wizardry does that have to do with anything?”

The young man, who until now had been very uncommonly poised for someone so teenaged, began to fidget, and only said, “Well, naturally your problem is that you don’t want it. But what if it were the other way around and it wasn’t you but someone else – someone muddy? And it were extraordinary. Well, they wouldn’t want it either. Look at Severus. Snape, I mean. Awfully rough, Snape has it.”

“It is not Snidget’s problem,” MP said firmly and gallantly, “It is everyone’s. It is an outrage. A parasite, an infestation, a—”

“Darling,” Snidget said, addressing the young wizard, “I’m completely in agreement. Poor, poor Severus. Not that he isn’t terribly clever and funny, in his way, and so interesting. And so of course there’s a kind of romance to it all.”

The young wizard brightened. “Exactly. I mean—“

“But, darling, it’s too sickening, because of course you’re entirely correct. For my part, naturally I think a muddy baby would be sweet. No one’s saying it wouldn’t be, except maybe your mother. But the whole point, dear, is that the muddy ones ought to stick to muddy parents, and ours ought to stick with us, don’t you think?”

“Quite right!” said MP, who liked always to have the last word.

The young man said that naturally he supposed so, and reflected that conversations with MP always ended on the dullest note possible, and then dutifully said that he expected Snape was somewhere else at present, though. Snape wasn’t here. But when he arrived here, he wouldn’t be there, so there was that.

This prediction was bound to come true. Snape Apparated into view. Here. No longer there. Snidget patted the young wizard appreciatively. The young wizard sighed, adjusted his tie, and said, “Hello. We’ve a problem. Or I suppose some people wouldn’t think of it as a problem. But others might.”

“A complete problem. Snidget’s distraught!”

“Too, too much so,” said Snidget calmly.

Down came the wards, and as an afterthought Snape charmed the Granian-drawn carriage and the Granians themselves invisible, which was sensible and so hadn’t occurred to any of the Granian-drawn carriage party. They entered his miserable little house with its books and parchment strewn everywhere. Snape gestured at it all and said, “My life’s work,” very grimly.

“Bound to be,” said the younger wizard.

“Yes, what is one to do,” said Snidget.

“Look. She’s come down with a parasite. An infestation. It happened to my mother, of course, but she took three drops of Ridgeback Venom in her tea. We can’t do that. The fool of a Minister’s come to stay and it’s against these Slytherin-damned new policies.”

“That policy came in around 1703,” said Snape.

“Well, it’s a new policy or an old one, at any rate,” sighed the young wizard.

“Either way, too awful. MP and I can hardly go against it with the Minister there.”

“You’ve plenty of Ridgeback Venom, don’t you? HE said you were good at finding things like that!”

“Did he?” Snape said, interested, “He’s never even met me properly.”

“Someone was bound to have said it.”

“It was HIM.”

“Too likely. Darling, he likes you.”

Snape sat back in his moth-eaten armchair, gratified. But naturally he didn’t have the venom. These clonking Aurors were always raiding the usual places, you see. And taking one in for questioning. They took him in just today.

“It’s just the same for us, isn’t it Mon Paon?”

“Fools!” said Son Paon.

“Rather exhausting. Too exhausting.”

“Dreadful for lots of people,” said the young wizard, “Or some people. Rough. Bound to be.”

“You’re ill?” Snape said, knowing that if he did not cut off this line of conversation then Snidget, MP, and the young wizard were likely to go on in this vein for some time.

“Not ill, Severus. Infected. Terribly infected.”

The young wizard, who was inclined to be more forthcoming when Snape was added to the party (and thus MP’s chances of monopolizing the conversation were reduced), said, “With a caretaker or a barmaid or an accountant or a fellytone operator or—”

“That’s enough,” MP said, rather annoyed.

“Well, it’s bound to be something. Could even work on the Knight Bus, I think.”

“Oh. I see,” Snape said.

“We played Quidditch,” said MP, “Very rough. You know, how she used to when she won us the house cup. Bludgers to and fro. We think it’s still there.”

“Of course I die for motherhood. But the thing is, Severus, it does seem like supporting the other side,” said Snidget, “On account of how my ancestors only put that silly policy in place to ensure plenty of proper babies, and now we’re trapped with little muddy ones instead.”

“Your ancestors were responsible for banning Ridgeback venom?” Snape said, momentarily thrown off, “I thought it was a Weasley or something. A Potter. Some kind of blood-traitor.”

“Oh no, imagine them getting anything done,” said Snidget, “No, it was one of us, wasn’t it, darling?”

“It was Pictor,” said the young wizard, “Or maybe Polaris. Someone did it, though.”

“Either way, darling, they didn’t think it would trap us into children who were nearly Squibs.”

The dreaded word said at last. Snidget was regarded as someone who was straightforward with her opinion at all times, a witch of uncommon honesty. Quite like her to come out with it. Besides this, she was a witch of uncommon birth and wealth. Snape was inclined to help her, but of course most of his methods were terribly dangerous, and that might do for a common witch, but never for Snidget, the wife of a genuine Peacock.

As though to buy him time, something inside Snidget’s handbag began to chime. She regarded the sound calmly for a moment and then pulled out a small hand mirror.

“Darling,” said the mirror in a sing-song little girl voice, “YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE THE EXCITEMENT!”

It was Mrs. Lestrange. She had been genuinely questioned, darling. They’d tried to take her wand. They’d asked her all sorts of intrusive things and even tried to make her take Veritaserum. Oh, darling, she’d told Risky Skeeter the whole thing. Just wait until tomorrow’s Prophet, Cissy, darling. Just wait.

“Bella, dear, it’s sickening.”

“Someone ought to bring it up with the Minister!” said MP.

“Someone’s bound to,” said the young wizard.

“Oh, hello you two,” said the mirror, “I’ve had the most brilliant notion. Little Sheik? Hello, Sheik. Your mother. Sure to fund tonight’s operation, I think? I’m heading over to her presently. I expect she isn’t good for much, but she’s always good for Galleons!”

Then there was another small chime and Snidget put the mirror in her bag.

She calmly told the young wizard, “For them to do that to Bella puts me in a rage.”

“Veritable Crucios don’t shake Bella,” MP said, “Why she should run off after money, I can’t guess—”

“MP, it’s too obvious. Dolph’s parents are still so alive, and so are ours, and it’s a chore because they aren’t as aw-fully sweet as yours and so they won’t just give the money, you know. But to ask—”

“Oh yes,” said the young wizard, “To ask my mother. I can’t think anything will come of it. Things have to come out of something, but they rarely come out of anything with her.”

Something had come out of the mirror-call. Snape had an idea.

“His mother,” he said, “Why didn’t you ask her? She’ll have venom. A woman of her health, but only two children.”

“Darling, I couldn’t,” said Snidget, “The male might be decent about this, but her?”

Here MP made a very loud clearing-his-throat kind of noise. He was the sort of wizard who couldn’t abide not being in charge of every conversation, who despised not being named the mastermind of every scheme, and who had in fact sabotaged many a nearly-successful plot by being far too sneering, preening, and obvious about the whole thing – he simply couldn’t help it. If there was credit to be had, he regarded it as his due, and so now that Snape had made a suggestion he wanted only to commandeer it for himself.

“That’s precisely why Snape will do the asking!” he said triumphantly.

That thought had not occurred to Snape, and a very brief look of dismay fell over his sharp features. If Snidget caught it, she was honest enough to permit the inference that she simply didn’t care. She said, “Oh, MP, what a thought.”

And MP said, “Come along then, Snape.”

As Snape was on his Galleon, he went.

“How rough, Severus,” the young wizard said. Snape’s life was awful: a muddy father, a love who could never love him, a miserable house, all that life’s work. But it did make Snape rather interesting. No one else was interesting these days.

The young wizard’s ancestors had probably introduced a policy against it.

-

The young wizard’s mother – like the young wizard himself – liked Snape. She either liked someone or hated them and she never altered her opinion on this account. She also either liked one’s parentage and heritage and home, or utterly despised these things; and she never altered her opinion on that account, either. While one could do little to predict whether she’d like them, the latter question of ancestry and birth was always easily answered. This was because the witch’s own home held helpful signposts: here a framed portrait of Boris the Goblin-Butcherer who the old witch felt had been a very charming houseguest and was terribly misaligned; there a stuffed infant centaur; on the wall in the study a carefully delineated map of Britain which she’d made herself for old Nott’s committee of ’25, helpfully identifying certain areas as the homes of fine old families and all other areas as sweltering hells of mud and degradation.

Snape’s home, wherever it happened to be, almost certainly fell into the latter group. The young wizard’s mother had made it a point to say so when she’d first met Snape. Snape had made it a point to outline – with a hint through clenched teeth there, a shuddering and sneering demeanor here – the very uselessness of his neighbors, the mundane frivolity of their lives, the utter void he’d been raised in, the great lack of intelligence and brilliance and worth thrust upon him, the sheer hideousness and banality of his muddy father, and other such things that agreed with the old witch’s notion of how someone like Snape should live. This was obliging of Snape.

“I’ve always said,” she’d told her son loftily, “That pathetic, filthy witches who consort with Muggles create rough lives for their children. Haven’t I always said that?”

Her son had said something in response that was not the least bit contradictory.

She said, “What a horrible, common, unlucky little friend you have. He can come to tea on Sunday.”

-

The old woman was not home. She was at a conference for the Mago-Scientific Improvement of the Wizarding Race. Mrs. Lestrange answered the door, screeching at the house-elf to either get out from underfoot or go iron his ears.

“He’s not your house-elf,” said the young wizard, miraculously startled into voicing a genuine opinion twice that day.

“Hello, it’s the Sheik,” she told him breathlessly. Then she proceeded to ignore him in favor of Snidget. Snidget’s peacock had such a grand amount of money. Just like that horrible old Aunt of theirs, who had dashed out just as Mrs. Lestrange had popped her head through the Floo. Imagine. Thankfully, the male was home and the male was so very obliging and opposed to discord that they could almost certainly wheedle some Galleons out of him.

And, with this lofty aim in mind, she hustled Snidget and MP up the stair. Snape and the young wizard were left in the hall, staring up at the elf heads.

“The Sheik?” Snape said.

“Of R.A.B.,” said the young wizard.

Snape was quite sure that was a Muggle song.

“Oh no,” said the young wizard, who always seemed to come into himself when he was in Snape’s presence, who adored conversing with Snape, who found Snape frightfully interesting, and who longed to hoist Snape up from his rough and miserable state and perhaps interest him in the great wealth of knowledge he himself had been raised with. “No, I don’t think they have real music, poor things.”

-

Four merry pranksters were at the Mago-Scientific Improvement of the Wizarding Race conference. Ignatius Prewett had the podium. Laughing and cheering each-other on, they set his robes on fire, turned his hair into something resembling a mass of poached eggs, suspended him over the crowd, and revealed to the world his rather old-fashioned underpants.

The crowd began to scream.

“I have to do it. It’s for the love of my life, you know,” said the prankster with the glasses.

“I’m sure she’ll appreciate it, Prongs,” said the fat prankster, “I appreciate it.”

“What does he care if you appreciate it, Wormtail?” said the handsome prankster.

“Padfoot,” said the unremarkable prankster with the remarkable collection of scars, “Don’t look now, but I’m sure there’s a woman over there who can tell we’re here.”

This last prankster, christened ‘Moony’ (which was the best nickname of the bunch, the least ridiculous nickname Padfoot had ever come up with, and almost certainly the least ridiculous nickname of their generation), was very quickly shot down. Moony had failed to note the tremendous power of Prongs’s Invisibility Cloak. Moony pointed out that they were all rather large for the Invisibility Cloak these days, though.

“Damn,” said Padfoot, “She’s horrible. She can tell I’m here. Dreadful, evil, heartless, malicious—”

“She’s the worst, Padfoot,” chimed in Wormtail.

“She is the worst. As a matter of fact, she’s my mother.”

The admission was enough to make the merry pranksters drop Ignatius Prewett on his red, balding head and beat a hasty retreat out of the conference hall. On the street outside they came across Benjy Fenwick and Marlene McKinnon and Mary Macdonald and Bert Cattermole, who were protesting the conference in that rather dull and normal way of theirs. It involved signs and picketing and voice amplification charms.

What do we want? An Appreciation for Muggles if Not Their Physical Presence! When do we want it? Sometime Soon!

Bert Cattermole’s mum was there, arguing with Bert. She heartily approved of the conference because of that Muggle Bert’s brother had married.

“And you should see,” she was telling Bert furiously, “What your little friends did to That Dear Girl.”

The evening Prophet had come out by now. It detailed Mrs. Lestrange’s treatment at the hands of the Aurors and was full of photographs documenting her terrific carriage, winsome smile, and large, sparkling eyes. There was also a full-page advert she’d purchased from Risky Skeeter on the spot (fees to be taken from Dolph’s parents’ Gringotts account) that proclaimed her hatred for Mudbloods rather vociferously.

Readers across the wizarding world were in the process of becoming incensed at either the article or the advert. It was terribly exciting.

“I love That Girl like my own daughter,” said Bert Cattermole’s mum, “That Girl is a beauty. I’ve never seen such a sweet-looking witch. And these horrible Auror types—”

“Hang on, do we mean ‘if’ not their physical presence?” said Benjy Fenwick, ignoring the family argument, “Shouldn’t we say, ‘though perhaps not’ their physical presence? Otherwise we’re advocating for their physical presence.”

“Aren’t we?” said Marlene McKinnon. She was something of a radical.

“—Molesting That Dear Sweet Girl, whose only crime was to be born the daughter of that Fine Mr. Black, who was the Form and Figure of our generation, and—“

Mary Macdonald was the only person still loyally bearing her sign. But then she caught sight of several pairs of ankles attempting to scurry away. She said, “Potter, for Merlin’s sake,” and with one quick motion ripped off part of the Invisibility Cloak.

“Hello,” Prongs said.

“Just passing through,” said Moony.

Benjy and Marlene came over at this point, as they were never going to come to an agreement over desirability of actually meeting Muggles. They urged the other two to take off the rest of the cloak. They knew perfectly well Pettigrew and Black were there, too. They were always with Lupin and Potter. Also, Pettigrew was visible up to his thighs and Black up to his shins, Pettigrew being comically short and Black comically tall.

“What were you doing?” Marlene asked suspiciously.

“The thing is, the love of my life—”

“Just passing through!”

“Sometimes I go places to see my mother. Can’t I see my mother?”

“Just because she’s the worst doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be allowed to see her!”

“Well, don’t look now, but I think there’s Bert over there with his mother. Are you going to give old Bert some Veritaserum-level questioning as well?”

“I do feel like you don’t appreciate our attempts to maintain family unity.”

I appreciate your attempts.”

“What does he care if you appreciate them?”

And so on, an incoherent quartet, each merry prankster in his turn. Less with the desire to convey information than with the desire to muddle stupid, questioning buggers until the buggers could no longer tell up from down. Benjy, Mary, and Marlene had been their housemates. This made them the long-suffering targets of seven or so years now. They refused to be muddled.

“I’ll never understand why Dumbledore thinks you lot are worth anything—” said Benjy.

Marlene said, “Oh, yes, it’s not worth protesting if you can’t cause a great lot of trouble at the same time, is it, Potter?”

And Mary said, “Just think of what you’re doing to the Cause!”

So really it was an incoherent septet.

Avery, who had a fine ear for music, came out of the conference hall and interrupted the proceedings. Some Mulcibers were with him and so was Rosier. Rosier immediately spotted Cattermole and Cattermole’s mum, and made a gentlemanly show of taking the mum’s side and escorting her away from that rude, protesting son of hers. This caught the attention of the merry pranksters, who decided that these starry buffoons in the Granfalloon group had a problem with their valiantly giving the love of Prongs’s life something to appreciate.

A brief fight ensued, the particulars of which were very boring. Half of the participants had no magical talent to speak of (Wormtail, most of the Mulcibers), a few others were concerned about making too much of a scene in broad daylight (Lupin, Avery, the sole Mulciber with a brain in his cranium), and the remainder (Prongs, Padfoot, Rosier) were excessively showy for the benefit of the young ladies and therefore underperformed.

On the Granfalloon side it was determined that the fight made a good cover for knocking Cattermole out and dragging him away without too many persons noticing. This was accomplished. On the pranksters’ side it was determined that the fight made a good excuse for their behavior and was an opportunity to make sport of cowards. This seemed to go off well. Both sides departed, rejoicing.

Benjy Fenwick, Marlene McKinnon, and Mary Macdonald were blamed for everything that happened at the conference hall, as their signs were very easy to read and their affection for Muggles was slightly perverse. They spent the evening being questioned by Barty Crouch’s father.

-

The male was a vague little person. He worried about contradicting people. To avoid this, he never said anything the slightest bit contradictory. He was very like the young wizard. In fact, he was his father.

His name was Orion, but no one had ever called him that except for his elder son, who’d been in the early stages of extreme rebellion and had assumed that using his father’s first name would be gratifyingly disrespectful. It had been the first time any member of the younger generation had named the male. The male was very affected by it. He had tremendous fondness for his sons and nieces and had always privately entertained the notion that one day they might return his filial love. It seemed to him that ‘Orion’ was only a stepping-stone to the far more hallowed title of ‘Dad.’

Disgusted, his elder son had never called him anything ever again.

Mrs. Lestrange dragged the male downstairs and deposited him on a sofa. She said, “Sheik, I adore Aunt Burgie’s male.”

“Oh, darling, you mustn’t call the male that,” said Snidget.

“Well, he’s lending us that darling pile of rocks he’s got in County Galway.”

“A house?” Snape guessed.

“Just the teensiest, dearest castle. It was gifted to our great-great-great-great-grand-something by Rowena Ravenclaw, but it’s such an awful little hole. Imagine,” said Snidget.

She always liked to be honest about how her family’s impressive wealth and history very much unimpressed her. This was because she was an uncommonly modest witch.

“I only wish I knew where the Ridgeback venom was,” sighed the male, “Who knows where Walburga keeps it. Someone must know. She’s bound to keep it somewhere.”

“It’s for Snape,” MP said quickly.

Another look of dismay from Snape. Snape could Occlude these away. He didn’t like to. The modern and forward-thinking practice of being on MP’s Galleon had certain drawbacks. One couldn’t voice objections. Objections were an affront to forward-thinking modernity.

The male eyed Snape with some confusion and reflected that Snape appeared as male as – well, as the male himself – and so Snape’s sudden preoccupation with Ridgeback venom was concerning. But perhaps Snape was procuring it for a young lady and in that case it was very gentlemanly of him. The male said this.

Snape regarded him with disgust.

“He only needs a vial or two,” said MP, “Perhaps the house elf—”

“Oh, you clever, clever darling, Mon Paon,” said his Snidget, “Get the elf to procure it.”

She and MP shared an adoring look.

“Perhaps we should wait. House elves are likely to get in trouble for that sort of thing,” said the young wizard, “Through no fault of their own.”

“Oh yes,” said his father noncommittally, “Made to iron their ears.”

“It’s very likely,” said the young wizard.

“I don’t like to say anything is likely,” said his father, “I’d rather count it a mere possibility.”

The young wizard and his father rarely spoke to each other. Conversations between them were always cordial and circular and vague and dull. Far too dull for Mrs. Lestrange, who said that she certainly wouldn’t wait around to see that horrible old Aunt Burgie because there were more exciting things to do. Snidget said that they did need that Ridgeback venom, though, darling, or the consequences were likely to be dire. Best to summon Kreacher. And MP said that anyway it would only take a vial or two.

“That’s quite enough to make poor Kreacher look suspect!” said the young wizard.

His father did not think they knew this for sure. His cousins and MP did not care very much. The young wizard appealed to Snape.

“Kreacher has it awfully rough, you know,” he said, “Imagine being born an elf. Terribly low. And having such a great lack of worth thrust upon one, and being devoid of any value independent of association with a great house, and having to dance to the wishes of everyone, and still persevering. There’s a kind of romance to it. Imagine. And so even a small injustice like being forced to sneak away one or two vials is, I think—”

But Snape could not imagine.

“One or two vials? I need buckets of the stuff,” Snape said, “More than the eye can see. As much as you can give me.”

“Do you?” said Mrs. Lestrange, interested.

“You most certainly don’t!” said MP.

“He doesn’t,” Snidget said calmly.

“Oh, now, I don’t like to say that he does or he doesn’t, either way,” said the male.

“I need all you can give me,” said Snape, “You don’t even want to know what I’ve been up to.”

“Heavens,” said the male.

Visions of second-generation half-blood Squib children began to dance in the male’s head. These were vague and dull visions, but they were unsettling all the same. The house elf was summoned and made to provide the Ridgeback venom. Masses of the stuff. As much as Snape could carry. Snape was good with shrinking charms, so that was rather a lot.

The young wizard was very uncharacteristically fixed and despairing about the whole thing. Snape found this troublesome.

“Regulus Black, champion of the downtrodden,” he said, “I had no idea you harbored such Dumbledorian sentiments. What would your housemates think? And the rest of the Quidditch team?”

The young wizard began to feel that he’d mis-stepped. He’d offended Snape, who had it rough and who certainly didn’t need anyone making it rougher.

“Of course I don’t mean to say—”

“You presume to lecture me on injustice?”

“No, no. I only meant to say—”

“How very like your brother you are.”

“I’m not!”

Snape finished shrinking the vials of Ridgeback venom.

He, Snidget, MP, and Mrs. Lestrange had no further reasons to stay and so they left.

“I suppose I was bound to offend him,” said the young wizard.

“Someone was bound to,” his father said, “Passionate fellow.”

He reflected that Snape had to be fairly passionate to need all that venom. And who knew why Walburga kept it? They certainly didn’t need it.

Soon enough Walburga returned from the conference and set the house-elf to ironing its ears. The male was banished to the study. The young wizard was given a hasty dressing down for failing to prevent his cousins from absconding with the venom, and later some absentminded approval for having graciously bestowed the venom on Snape, who was nasty and common and who certainly didn’t need to have any children.

“Do invite him to tea on Sunday,” she added.

“He might not come,” said the young wizard miserably, “I might have offended him. Or maybe I didn’t. But probably I did.”

“Whining about Kreacher again,” said his mother disapprovingly.

Snape frequently intimated that the young wizard and his ilk had been brought up with a great many advantages they hardly deserved and that they were fortunate beyond belief, and that they knew nothing of true wrongs, the wrongs forced upon the rough and worthless. This was probably true. But then maybe it wasn’t.

Ever since the young wizard’s brother had run away, his mother had begun to throw on him the yoke of long-held family opinion. A belief in the mago-scientific improvement of the wizarding race. A horror of interesting and rough and filthy and common places. She would quiz him on these points until she was sure he’d obtained them and occasionally she would display him in front of interesting houseguests – MP or Boris the Goblin-Butcherer or HIM – and make him recite what he’d learned.

She was like her elder son. She immediately filled any frame, dominated the line of vision, and gloriously captured the attention of her audience. But now she would thrust the younger son into the picture.

He didn’t have it rough. He was very fortunate. No murky or muddy fate lay in wait for him. He was to be pushed before the grand family name, like a hostage.

-

The Minister met with the Headmaster one morning. The Headmaster wore brilliant indigo robes with coral stars. The Minister imagined that the coral stars were the heads of children drowning in a vast ocean. It made him queasy.

“I’ve been talking to Abraxas and I think they’re all just bored,” said the Minister, “Flighty and bored.”

Through this the Headmaster was to note that there was no problem and no impending war. The youth of the wizarding world needed only to be taken firmly in hand and made to apply themselves. The Minister hoped desperately that the Headmaster might recommend some new policy to this effect.

“Oh dear,” the Headmaster said, “Do you think it’s as bad as that?”

-

The County Galway party was going to be exciting. Mrs. Lestrange had decreed it. The theme was historical. But exciting history. Or no history at all. Mrs. Lestrange would be Araminta Meliflua, and Dolph and Rab would be her attendant Muggle-hunters.

MP was his own great-great-great grandfather, that renowned centaur-catcher. Snidget was the life of the party as a charming, entirely bipedal lady-centaur who contrived to be caught at every available opportunity.

Avery was Kilgarten, Destroyer of Mermaids.

Rosier was Jacobus ‘Jack’ the Giant Killer.

Boris came as himself.

Snape hadn’t bothered to dress up, but then he wasn’t expected to. He wasn’t the type and anyway he probably couldn’t afford to.

“Nice for you to come as Grindelwald,” he told Barty Crouch, “You think so highly of yourself because of your father and family, don’t you? Backwards little fool. You’re pathetic. You waste all your Galleons on costumes and parties.”

Barty Crouch had come as himself. He couldn’t afford a costume either. He was on his father’s Galleon. The old Tartar wouldn’t snuff it and leave behind the vault key. It was only that Barty happened to share Grindelwald’s hair color exactly, to the shade. At a costume party he was bound to pass as that esteemed figure, even if unintentionally. But he didn’t correct Snape.

“It does seem rough,” he said amiably, “Your father’s a Muggle, isn’t he? But your mum’s one of us? Either way, I simply can’t imagine.”

“You can’t,” Snape agreed, and grimly made his way to the refreshment table.

He was avoiding MP, who was sure to be displeased. Three or four vials of the Ridgeback venom had fallen into Snidget’s possession. She’d downed one calmly, bled a bit, had the house-elves help her into her costume, and then promptly decided to forget the whole thing. The rest of the venom stayed with Snape.

Snape felt that this was the modern and forward-thinking way of handling the situation.

Soon enough he found himself in conversation with a dark-haired man who was also not in costume.

“They can’t possibly understand how this will impact my life’s work,” Snape said, holding a vial of Ridgeback venom aloft.

“You’re a researcher, are you? A scientific type? I’d thought you might be. What did you think of the conference?”

“I have nothing against the aims,” Snape said, “But Prewett’s methods are unforgivably outdated and Burke spews drivel at every opportunity.”

“Ah. Still, improvement of the race is the only possible path for the wizarding world—”

“Do you think to tell me that?” Snape said, “Me, of all people?”

“Is there a reason you should know it better than anyone else here?”

Snape spat. It lodged itself in the antique Veela-hair carpet. Across the room, an Avery sister remarked that it was bound to happen sometime: Snape was terribly low and his life had been miserable, and no one had ever taught the poor fellow any better, probably. Another Avery sister, in an entirely different part of the room, said that Snape should know better, but now he revealed how low and common he really was. He probably couldn’t help it.

His immediate audience found the spitting very unexpected and interesting, if a bit coarse. It was clear that Snape was frustrated.

“Had some rough experiences with Muds, have you?”

“If you are seeking to make me admit to the existence of my misbegotten father—”

“Was I? I had no idea. Muggle-born?”

“Worse,” Snape said, sneering.

“Yes, yes, he’s properly a Muggle,” said Rosier, cutting into the conversation very suddenly, “I thought we all knew that. Listen, Snape, we’ve got one.”

“One what?” said Snape.

“One what?” said Snape’s immediate audience.

“One of them,” Rosier said, “Weasley was with his wife and she’s rather quick with the hexes for such a little frump, and Bones was with his sister, who’s MLE, but Cattermole was only with his mother.”

“Cattermole?” said the dark-haired man.

“Who?” said Snape.

Rosier turned and beckoned to them over his shoulder. Snape and the dark-haired man followed him across the great expanse of Veela-hair carpet, through several antechambers, and into what Snidget often described as ‘The foulest’ and ‘the most sickening’ and ‘the teensiest’ and ‘the too old-fashioned’ and ‘the ballroom.’

Bert Cattermole was there.

“That’s him, right?” said Rosier, “The one that laughed at you?”

Snape remembered the events of the morning.

In fact, this wasn’t him at all.

It had been someone else. Perhaps his brother? Or maybe not. The truth was, the name Cattermole had come to him for some reason. He’d known one was Weasley and the other Bones. He hadn’t known the third man at all. But it hadn’t been Cattermole.

“Snape!” said Cattermole, “We were in Arithmancy together. Remember? Me and you and Evans, in fifth year?”

The cleverest of the Mulcibers (cunningly disguised as Leopold the Lobalug-Eviscerator) said, “Now, don’t try to make it up to him. We all know perfectly well you laughed at him. You don’t even take him seriously, do you?”

Snape reflected that probably Cattermole didn’t. If they’d been at school together, he almost certainly didn’t.

“How dare you mention Evans to me?” he told Cattermole, sneering.

It seemed appropriate. Also, it made the Avery sisters gasp appreciatively. Also, it nicely deflected the question of who, exactly, had laughed at Snape that morning.

“Evans?” said the man Snape had been speaking to earlier.

Snape sighed and made a great show of distress that he could have hidden easily with Occlumency. He managed, through halting phrases, to convey the tremendous affection he had for the flighty and disobliging Evans.

“Another half-blood.”

“Oh, no,” Snape said, “No, she’s Muggle-born.”

“Mud,” said the man, “Not good enough for you, I think.”

Snape did not correct him. But he did say, “I must stress that she was raised knowing our ways. I made sure of that. From childhood, you see, our lives were inextricably intertwined. This is the failure of Prewett’s method. There is no accounting for the circumstances, for the incredible worthlessness and the great lack of knowledge which plagues people like us—”

“Oh no,” said the man, “Oh no, no. I think you must be a cut above her. Surely she doesn’t even consider the importance of improving the race.”

This was true. She did not.

Cattermole began to scream.

“Perhaps another room?” said the man, “I think I’ll hear out your method. You do have one, don’t you? It’s terribly short-sighted to criticize Prewett without bothering to form your own answer to the problem first, don’t you think?”

Snape did not have a method, exactly. But he did have a lot of ideas. The ideas were his life’s work.

They removed themselves to a room that was ‘too drafty’ and ‘too horrible’ and ‘also the library.’ It was quieter there. Snape outlined the spell that made disemboweling easy and also the spell that sliced flesh like butter.

“Naturally, I invented them for potions purposes,” he said quickly.

“Naturally,” said his audience, “But why think small? In a fight like ours, the uses are broader.”

Snape thought about the people who hadn’t taken him seriously at school and said, “Yes. That’s just what I was thinking.”

The dark-haired man cast a silencing spell because all the noise from the ballroom was rather distracting. He helped Snape make some refinements, and then asked about potions. Snape had many ideas. They incorporated the cleverly-acquired Ridgeback venom into some of these. It was all very productive, but midway through the exercise Snidget appeared and calmly explained that she was incredibly distraught because she was excruciatingly bored and also that Cattermole had ruined the carpet.

“I think Bella’s the only person having a good time at this point,” she said, “She always does, the darling. But it’s all too boring, really.”

“You poor dear,” said the dark-haired man, “Let’s find your peacock.”

“Let’s,” she said.

They left Snape grimly applying himself to his life’s work. On the way back to the ballroom, a very drunk someone chanced to ask the dark-haired man if he really had dared to arrive in costume as Lord Voldemort. The dark-haired man Crucio-ed this someone. Snidget looked on in vague disgust.

“So sorry, my dear,” said the dark-haired man, “There goes more of the carpet. But how stupid. I’m not in costume at all. And I think I’ve been very specific on the topic of my name.”

“Too clear,” said Snidget.

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about the Mark,” said the dark-haired man.

Snidget, the uncommonly honest witch, looked into his reddened eyes and said, “Oh, I wouldn’t be any use at all. We’re still trying so hard on that little matter MP mentioned to you last week.”

“Still? With this war coming?”

“Of course. It’s tremendously patriotic to have babies in wartime.”

-

“Very soon,” said Barty Crouch’s father, “I will have clearance to do something about all the mischief caused by your generation.”

“I have to wonder what Lily sees in Potter,” Benjy said.

“Well, she’s so terribly nice,” said Mary, “She sees good in everyone. Probably even when they can’t see it themselves.”

“What does that have to do with it?” demanded Barty Crouch’s father.

He wished desperately that he could use Veritaserum to keep them on topic. Alas, the Minister read the Prophet and was for the moment firmly on Mrs. Lestrange’s side.

Mary said, “What I mean to say is: she’s always liked remorseless, unthinking little twats.”

“True,” said Benjy.

“Where’s Bert?” said Marlene.

Bert was discovered the following morning. There were strands of Veela hair on him. Barty Crouch’s father determined that the killers must have been the sole pair of Veela in Britain (elderly pensioners living in Brighton) and asked for a policy that might permit him to send them to Azkaban post-haste.

Mrs. Lestrange took the opportunity to write a public letter to the Prophet in which she declared her hatred of Veela and other magical creatures.

The staff of the Prophet found the whole story very exciting. They binned all those sad and uninspiring articles on opposition to mago-scientific improvement and the plight of unemployed half-breeds and Muggle-borns. Rita ‘Risky’ Skeeter was commissioned to write an obituary for the deceased. She made sure to mention his loud opposition to science and perverse fascination for Muggles. She found him a likely suspect for the public humiliation of dear old Ignatius Prewett. She said that he’d last been seen arguing with his own mother.

-

Snape became known as the next candidate for the Mark. Everyone made a show of being surprised because of his rough background and filthy neighborhood and common, muddy blood.

But they weren’t surprised. Not really.

“Naturally, I knew the whole time it was him,” he told Walburga at tea on Sunday.

“You’re rising incomparably above your station,” she noted.

She didn’t approve of this. It was a matter of rule.

But then Snape gratified her by snarling and saying, “Was there anything to do but rise? For someone of my situation, which you can never understand, madame—“

“True,” said Walburga, “Thank Slytherin.”

“Was there anywhere to go but up?”

Walburga decided that she could make an exception for Snape.

“Well, he can’t select our little Sheik until graduation anyway,” she said.

“He might not,” put in her son, “I might not join. There’s always a possibility.”

“You’re bound to join,” said his mother.

-

Moony was half in love with the love of Prongs’s life. This made things awkward.

Moony always told people that Prongs belonged with Lily Evans, because Prongs had matured so dramatically, cured himself of those dangerous and monstrous aspects of his personality, and done it purely for her. This was not strictly true. But it made a nice story. Moony often wished that people could cure themselves in that fashion.

He’d tried. But it never really worked.

“You’re an uncommonly kind person, Lily Evans,” he said, “Never forget that. It helps to think of it. And if life were a story, you’d be the heroine. You’d have the romance, the great ending, the—”

“I’d rather have a job,” she said.

Moony longed to reassure her. He worried that this might overstep their boundaries and upset Prongs. So he said nothing.

Moony was a champion at not saying whatever needed to be said.

-

Bones continued to elude the Granfalloon set. Weasley persisted in marriage to a frump who was quick with hexes.

There was a great mania in those who assembled at Granfalloon’s, two doors down from Borgin’s. It was to fix people like Bones and Weasley. This was not really because Bones and Weasley had laughed at Snape. In fact, it had to do with the political climate and recent social and cultural evolutions. But this explanation was murky and boring.

So everyone said that it was because of Snape that Bones and Weasley deserved whatever was coming to them.

Snape took this in stride. Sometimes, on particularly dull evenings, he made impassioned speeches regarding the tiny minds and pathetic, groveling lives that produced such creatures as Boneses and Weasleys. Everyone found these speeches very gratifying. Snape’s rough life had crafted him into a modern thinker, a fervent supporter of change. Out of a grimy and worthless childhood, he had risen.

What a story.

He could not remain un-avenged. Lectie Carrow and some others soon came across Weasley’s brothers-in-law, and set the whole thing to rights.

“We didn’t kill them. Only some maiming,” she said, “But we used your own spells. Aren’t you just thrilled?”

“Which spells?”

She outlined positively the best ones.

“Those are flawed,” Snape said irritably, “My life’s work is never at an end. It’s the pitiable old Arithmantic method. There’s no possible intersection with these withering, ancient thaumo-scientific—“

Everyone tuned him out. That was just Snape. Snape had it awfully rough.

-

By and by, Prongs’s parents died. The cause of death was not terribly exciting. Old age. They’d had heaps of money. Prongs soon discovered the Gringotts key.

Padfoot was either passionately devoted to people or utterly despised them, and he rarely altered his opinion on this account. He’d been devoted to the deceased, needing maternal and paternal stand-ins for his own hated relations. When he heard the news, he was beside himself with grief.

Moony expressed an appropriate amount of sadness over their passing.

Wormtail rather overdid the condolences.

Everyone else was envious, because of the Gringotts key.

Prongs was resigned. Thanks to the advanced age of his parents, he’d always had a sneaking suspicion that they might keel over and leave him rolling in Galleons. In fact, his story charted a clear trajectory from spoiled child to Quidditch star to head boy to millionaire. So he treated everyone to drinks and then attempted to decide what to do next.

There was sure to be a war soon. He Floo-called the Headmaster about it. In those days, as in all days, it was no use consulting the Minister about the political state of the world (although, being a millionaire, Prongs could have done that). It was better to go straight to Dumbledore.

Prongs felt very keenly that he was well-equipped for the role of war hero. He outlined this to Dumbledore. In the first place, he could fund things. He knew how to do that. It involved handing over one’s Galleons and was only difficult if one had no Galleons. This was not a problem for him.

In the second place, he was quick with disarming, and he was quite physically fit, and he strongly disliked Dark magic, and he strongly disliked the Granfalloon set, and he was very charitable to Muggle-borns. He did not have to be charitable to Muggle-borns, but he was.

Don’t you have to be?” said Dumbledore, who was dressed from head-to-toe in scarlet and gold and looked like a cheerful explosion.

“Oh, everyone has to be,” said Prongs, “But, you know, no one makes me. And I do it anyway.”

The Headmaster blinked at him.

Prongs added knowingly, “Ask Lily.”

“I’ve just finished speaking to her, actually,” said the Headmaster, “I made her an invitation. It would be strange to call on her right away.”

“Well, what’s happening to her is an injustice, in any case,” Prongs said, “And I’m prepared to fight it.”

This was another point in his favor: he was always prepared to fight things. He made sure to tell the Headmaster how much he loved fighting things. He fought things all the time. He and the rest of the pranksters upended whatever they could find, poked fun at it, shoved it around, and sometimes even set it afire. And why?

No reason. They were fighters; that was all.

“A remarkable argument, James,” said the Headmaster.

“I thought so,” said Prongs.

He was really and truly convinced. The only thing for him was to become the hero of the age. He could not conceive of anyone else who could possibly be up to the task.

“Since you mention Lily,” the Headmaster said, “I suppose that if she takes you on, I will as well.”

Prongs did not know what to make of this, but after some minutes thinking on it he decided that the Headmaster was urging marriage. Lily Evans was the love of his life. Marrying her seemed as good a way as any to pass the time.

-

In fact, the deaths of the Potters, those known blood-traitors, left the Granfalloon crowd terribly dismayed. The dismay was because the Potters had died of perfectly natural causes.

“How boring,” said Mrs. Lestrange, very put out.

“I think they were old,” said Barty Crouch.

“When’s the funeral?” said Avery.

Snape sneered. Who cared? He hated the deceased by extension. Their son had been horrible to him at school. But everyone consulted the Prophet. The Prophet put the funeral of the Muggle-worshipping geriatrics on Tuesday.

“We ought to do something,” said Avery, “A little party. The deaths of blood-traitors are occasions to be celebrated. You know, that sort of thing.”

Avery was a natural party-planner. He and Mrs. Lestrange spent the rest of the week contemplating the feasibility of using Inferi as party decorations, and Owling HIM about the Slytherin seventh-years. The seventh-years posed a dilemma. If invited, they might make good recruits. If snubbed, there was no chance they might alert the Headmaster.

In the end they compromised by inviting only Mrs. Lestrange’s cousin.

Of course an opportunity to finally mingle with the Defeaters causes me some emotion.

What emotion he did not say.

But it is not unlikely that one or two people are using alternate spelling.

It was hard to contradict anything phrased that vaguely and inanely.

Which might lead one or two more people to suppose that you are all a band of risk-taking gourmands.

In fact, at this point one fifth of the wizarding world assumed that the Death Eaters were just that. The name lacked the old-fashioned grandeur of the Knights of Walpurgis. And the Prophet was not being terribly clear about the whole thing.

Mother says to say I will attend.

His mother almost certainly did say that.

-

Snape and Lectie Carrow took the Mark together. Lots of people thought this was significant. They said it was like a story.

Snape said the experience was like an eternity of cleansing fire that threatened to engulf one’s very soul. Lectie Carrow said the experience was like a sharp and unending and thoroughly erotic kiss. In fact it was nothing like any of that. It only took a few moments. HE had an event he was planning. No one dared to be late.

The event was in the teensiest, too dreadful, too sickeningly Muggle village. It was called Little Hangleton. MP declared that just looking at the place made Snidget distraught. Snidget looked disgusted, but was otherwise calm. Mrs. Lestrange shrieked that this was a terribly exciting way to find party decorations.

Alas, the Inferi they produced did not do anything beyond tearing at themselves and trying to eat Snape’s skin.

“How disappointing,” said Mrs. Lestrange.

“That’s quite all right,” HE said, “I think I have a use for them anyway.”

-

The way that Prongs proposed was like this:

He fluffed up his hair.

He borrowed Padfoot’s rakish leather jacket.

He purchased a new Nimbus just for the occasion.

He flew to Lily Evans’s rather filthy and backwards Muggle town and rang her doorbell.

“Hello, let’s get married,” he said.

It did not occur to him that Lily Evans might say no. She was very pretty and had been Head Girl and was the one true love of lots of people’s lives. She made a natural heroine of the story.

Also, she’d always secretly liked him.

He’d hoped to find her wearing slim-cut and revealing Muggle clothing, a natural complement to her exotic heritage. Or perhaps just her Gryffindor scarf.

She was wearing rather bedraggled green robes. It looked like she’d been sleeping in them. This was not obliging of her.

“Hello to you too, James,” she said, “I’m rather busy right now, so that’s not possible at present. I’ll think about it for the long-term.”

Her cat slipped out just before she closed the door. Prongs ended up stepping on it.

-

They tried for an Inferi party, but it was extraordinarily dull and only Rookwood enjoyed it. Rookwood was known to be odd.

There were more death parties for blood-traitors and there were parties in the Ministry atrium after dark. There were parties that left behind blood-red graffiti (DIE MUDS DIE in Dolph Lestrange’s distinctive handwriting; he’d been trying to impress his wife) and there were parties that left behind no traces at all, on account of the newer MLE policies. There were more parties on the ruined Veela-hair carpet and a few parties in the homes of persons who hadn’t realized they would be hosting parties. These persons were often given the option of joining the party-throwing set. Most accepted. A few ran away.

There were parties to hunt them down.

There were parties with Greyback and his followers, which were awful but thrilling, and parties with trolls, which were not strictly a success. There were parties to discuss high-minded topics like breaching Azkaban and Nurmengard. There were parties with interesting foreigners from Albania and Bulgaria. There was a party in a Gringotts vault, to celebrate the passing of someone’s parents. There were parties on Quidditch pitches and in alleys and in castles and in townhouses and in fact there were parties almost everywhere, and almost everyone was invited, and quite a few people were discovered the morning after in a state which enflamed and aroused the obituary writers at the Prophet. There were Dark balls and Legilimentic revels. Night after night they had parties in the air, on the Knight Bus, in Granian-drawn carriages. Every life was a rough one, and every scene was too sickening and too filthy and too dull. The starry crowd was desperate for excitement.

-

Barty Crouch’s father received clearance.

-

It soon came out that the Headmaster had not meant marriage. Having invited Lily Evans to join the Order, he left it up to her to determine whether James Potter (who everyone knew was the love of her life) would make a suitable addition to that organization.

She did not say yes to the marriage proposal, but she did agree to bring James on. She determined that he had nothing better to do. He was a millionaire and had no need for traditional employment. He’d also apologized about her cat.

She saw the good in everyone. In this case, seeing it was rather easy because James often Floo-called her purely to outline his very best qualities.

-

One day, Padfoot saw his brother in curious company. It was Snape and Barty Crouch and Avery and all the younger members of the Granfalloon crowd.

They were not at Granfalloon’s. They were in Hogsmeade. The school year had begun again for most of them.

And actually it wasn’t Padfoot who saw them first. It was Moony. But Moony didn’t say anything. He simply let Padfoot discover them on his own.

Padfoot and his brother had a peculiar history. Padfoot had cast off the yoke of family opinion. He had a hatred of rules and requirements. He despised those careful delineations that suggested some persons were thrilling and others rough filth. He had run off and confounded all such rules. He had friends who were rough and others who were filthy. He was devoted to all of them.

People always noticed that Padfoot was not small, common filth himself. He was rather large and very handsome and positively starry. People could not help noticing him. People knew instinctively that he’d handed over his exciting and worthy birthright.

He was slumming it: a sham.

It was widely understood that Padfoot could not be relied upon.

The worst of Padfoot’s brother was that he was often bored. He had such good fortune, being born so incomparably far above all the rest, that he could hardly be otherwise. There was nowhere to go but down for him, after all. But he never went down. He never went anywhere. He was so vague and compromising. He always did what people expected of him. He trailed family opinion behind him and, when pressed, gathered it up and presented it in such a comfortable way. No one could disagree with him. He made it seem inevitable, bound to be, gathered from on high. Or at least gathered from his mother.

He was a very loyal son. He was fairly handsome, not overbearing, and not over-large. People felt instinctively that they could trust him.

These characteristics in the brothers meant that every interaction was one-sided and a bit dull.

Padfoot always cornered his brother. His brother stood by and did nothing much in response. Padfoot had so much to say and a passionate way of saying it. Padfoot’s brother never had anything to say at all. Padfoot would confront him, begin a fight, maintain the fight, and conclude the fight. Padfoot’s brother would look on rather disinterestedly.

Padfoot seemed to be carrying on one terrific half of a magical duel for the future eradication of all vile and old-fashioned rules, all unfair and unnecessary policies.

Padfoot’s brother seemed to be watching from the audience.

“You soft little idiot!”

“That is certainly one way to begin a conversation.”

“I suppose you’re a fan of all their trash? Valorous Purity? The Struggle of the Blood?”

“I’m bound to have read it.”

“You think it makes you so superior—”

“Well, it makes me something, in any case.”

“You think it makes you important!“

“Importance is probably relative.”

“It doesn’t! You’re a weak little fool. They’ve painted a grand story for you, haven’t they? Snivellus and all the rest of them. You think you’re a part of something magnificent—“

“I don’t know that I’ve assessed the grandeur of it all. But perhaps I’ve been thinking on it without meaning to. I don’t know.”

“It’s not magnificent! It’s rotten! All your Dark little friends, with those curses they’ve known practically from birth—“

“Now, I don’t like to say people know curses from birth. It does seem that people in the process of being born are too busy to learn many curses. I’m not positively sure of it. But I think the whole thing is an unlikely possibility.”

“I can see I’m not going to convince you,” snapped Padfoot.

Padfoot firmly believed that his brother’s vague pronouncements were a sneaky way of carrying on the fight. They were, sometimes.

But sometimes they weren’t. Padfoot’s brother hated fighting. He had known, practically from birth, that Padfoot was a fighter and that their mother was a fighter and that their cousins were terrific fighters. But he was not a fighter. He had not been born in a heroic mold.

He rarely fought. He wasn’t good at fighting. He wasn’t good at anything, much, except for flying. He knew, deep down inside, that he was an absent-minded person and a silly person and a boring person. He suspected that birth and fortune had very little to do with whether one was exciting and heroic. He was nothing of the sort. He hated reading books, even very thrilling curse books. He often forgot where he’d put his wand. He relied on his house-elf for nearly everything.

His house-elf was not present, but Snape and Avery and the rest of them were not far off. After a few moments had passed, they realized that the young wizard was not with them. It always took a few moments to notice that he was gone because he never added much to the conversation. But he was such an inoffensive, loyal, lucky little fellow that they had to search for him. They found Padfoot.

A proper fight ensued. Wormtail and Moony (otherwise not worth mentioning in the day’s events, because Wormtail was never worth mentioning and Moony never bothered mentioning himself) joined in.

Padfoot was easily perceived as the best fighter, but everyone understood that Snape had risen to match him. Snape had clawed his way up. Padfoot’s brother found this terribly interesting and longed to give Snape the approval that Snape rather deserved for it. So he cheered them both on in his own agreeable way.

Padfoot hurled insults at Snape. He said that Snape had known Dark magic practically from birth.

That really was a very unlikely possibility. Snape had been too busy being born.

But Snape always bared his teeth and sneered and did everything in his power to suggest that it was in fact true. The actual circumstances of his birth had been much like everyone else’s. This was far less interesting than the blighted, rough, cursed, foul, wicked event Padfoot always made it out to be.

Snape hated Padfoot, but Padfoot had crafted for him such a very tragic beginnings. Snape never liked to deal blows to grand tragedy.

The Death Eaters won. The merry pranksters limped off. Padfoot shouted back that they were all evil and pathetic. Even their name was pathetic. Like a bunch of risk-taking gourmands.

“People think we’re evil,” Avery said delightedly.

“People always think that, when they see such unified strength,” Snape noted.

They decided that their strength and unity had won the fight for them. In fact, most of them were shoddy wizards and none of them was particularly devoted to the others. It had been a question of greater numbers. This was fair, since the merry pranksters always used numbers in their favor.

For their part, Padfoot and Wormtail and Moony retreated to plan revenge. Padfoot did not consider that this was what they were doing, because only sneaky people planned revenge. But revenge was exactly it.

Padfoot could not help loving his brother. He’d been devoted to his brother, in his own way, and he could not alter that devotion. But his brother had been spirited away by Snape and Barty Crouch and Avery, those wicked fairies spinning magnificent and malevolent lies.

Padfoot’s brother was sure to take the Mark soon, the imbecile.

The whole thing was heartbreaking.

“It’s dreadful, Padfoot,” said Wormtail.

“What do you know?” said Padfoot miserably.

Wormtail was always saying things to make him feel better. But he tried too hard. Padfoot believed that he didn’t need anyone trying to make him feel better and so he always suppressed Wormtail’s speech. He crushed Wormtail into silence.

He did not need to do this with Moony.

Now, Moony had a very tragic story. Compared to Moony’s story, Padfoot’s was nothing. Moony was far too polite to say this.

-

Lily Evans’s parents had been in a bus and the bus had veered off of the road and then it had exploded. The whole affair was very mysterious and made for a terrifying, electrifying story when the constabulary finally got to the bottom of it.

But no one would have believed her if she’d told them this. Her parents were Muggles. Muggle deaths, like Muggle lives, were bound to be tedious and common and not at all exciting.

The prevailing belief in those days was that excitement was reserved for wizards.

Anyway, there wasn’t much of Lily Evans’s parents left.

The hospital called her to come identify them anyway.

The hospital was filled up with charred remains and some living people. The morgue had overflowed. It had been a very crowded bus.

She managed to locate them and she pointed them out to the appropriate authorities, and then she went to a stairwell to be by herself for a moment. She was very distraught. She looked it.

Snape happened to be in the same hospital. His father was a Muggle and had a rather tedious Muggle condition that was called liver failure. Muggles had a sensible, ordinary tendency to go to the hospital for things like this. They were not like wizards. They did not decide to brew a cure themselves. They did not tend to accidentally turn themselves into animals or wallpaper or rocks in the process. They did not tend to blow themselves up.

Very boring.

Snape went to the stairwell to smoke, and, seeing Lily, he determined that grand fate had caused the liver failure and also whatever happened to bring her here. Lily was the love of his life.

“Hello,” he said.

Immediately, he could have kicked himself for beginning with something so ordinary and usual. But Lily was beatific and kind above all others and truly the gem of their generation and also very pretty. She found no fault in ‘Hello.’ This was why Snape raised her up and cherished her like no other.

“Severus, they’re dead,” she said, which was a thrilling way of starting the conversation.

Then she poured out the sordid and mysterious tale of the bus accident, which most persons would not have believed. Snape believed it. He made an exception for Lily and some of Lily’s relations, because Lily was so exceptional and he, Snape, so forward-thinking.

Also, it was a very interesting story.

Snape did his best to comfort her. He did not want to do this in the usual and boring way, which was sure to leave her limp and un-excited. He saw an opportunity to enflame and arouse her. So, instead of assuring her that her parents had not suffered and were probably in a better place, he ended up delivering a passionate and truly stirring oratory on the insignificance of Muggle transportation and the worthless, banal horror of hospital authorities who hungered for identification. It involved a great deal of sneering.

This was not what Lily really wanted.

She was rather desperately hoping for some assurance that her parents were in a better place.

Although she was not in a condition to be kind to anyone, she decided to give Snape the benefit of the doubt. He’d never been very good at comforting people. He’d always preferred to craft exciting stories.

“Why are you here?” she asked, after a bit.

“Tobias is dying,” he said.

She expressed some dismay and began to comfort him. He deflected every possible attempt. She decided that he was being very brave about it all, and she admired his stiff upper lip. For as long as she’d known him, he’d never quite managed detached courage. She wondered if she hadn’t properly seen the good in him before.

Really, he only thought the whole thing was low and common and dull. He wasn’t sure how to make liver failure exciting. So he didn’t want to talk about it.

“It’s funny that James Potter isn’t here with you,” he finally said, cutting her off before she could offer well wishes to the tedious Muggle parent.

“Why do you always bring that up?”

Sneering, Snape intimated that everyone believed James Potter was the love of her life.

“I’m nineteen! I don’t have a love of my life!”

“Still,” Snape said, “You let him drive us apart, didn’t you? You always think he’s so funny, and clever, and you like him—“

“I’m terribly sorry that sometimes I like people who aren’t you!”

“You stopped speaking to me. Because of him!”

“Good God, I’m speaking to you now.”

She clearly did not remember the grand, tragic, romantic, ideological break in their friendship. Fifth year. Snape hurled aloft, a victim to callous circumstance. Her beautiful, self-righteous response. James Potter and all those pranksters ringed around them, like animals ready for a fight.

Snape had always known she would forget. She didn’t love him like he loved her. She could never understand him. He cherished even her cruelest moments. He adored her. He preserved her in his mind, an ideal in her Head Girl badge and Gryffindor tie. He’d hoped to find her wearing them, but she was only in common Muggle denim.

“I think you mean,” he said, after a few minutes, “Good Merlin.”

“What?”

“Not good God,” said Snape, who from earliest youth had magnanimously devoted himself to one Lily Evans, “Good Merlin.”

Lily Evans blinked at him.

“I’m not speaking to you!” she said.

Snape let her go. She hadn’t properly spoken to him since fifth year, anyway.

He went back to his father’s room and the doctors sketched out a rough plan of how his father would die. Snape had no affection for his father. In fact, he had no affection for either of his parents. They hadn’t been very good parents. They’d been self-absorbed and plainly unsuited to the task. His father had added insult to injury by, sometime in Snape’s sixth year, discovering sobriety and a twelve-step program and wishing desperately to mend fences that he’d never bothered to erect in the first place.

By then, Snape was committed to the story of his wicked and rather tragic beginnings. He had conveyed to a great many people the roughness of it, and the terrible lack of worth. He hadn’t really been interested in reconciliation. What a dull little ending that was.

Snape didn’t really want to be here now.

“You’ll have to let me die,” said his father, attempting to be brave, “In a few months now, I’ll be—”

“Do you think it’ll take that long?” Snape said.

“I suppose it could come sooner. You heard them. It will be painful. It will be—”

“Look, let’s make it painless and quick,” said Snape.

There was a party tonight. Snape did not want to miss it.

His father died within the hour. He went convinced that Snape had finally forgiven him with that one final, merciful, kind act. Snape went home and changed into robes. He spent the rest of the night conveying, through a snarl here, a well-placed Occlumency shield there, that he’d murdered his old man in cold blood.

Everyone was very impressed. Avery’s sisters shrieked in good-natured horror.

-

Mrs. Abernathy-Bowles continued writing to the Headmaster and the Minister. Her letters made the Minister drink.

“It’s your job to deal with the youth,” he told the Headmaster, “It’s not my job. My job’s completely different.”

“But some might say that you must wear many hats,” said the Headmaster, eyes twinkling.

The Minister did have to wear many hats. He was balding. He was very insecure about it. He thought the Headmaster was making fun of him. The Headmaster wore bright green robes hung with sharp green crowns. The Minister thought he looked like a walking Avada Kedavra.

“What are you planning to do, Dumbledore?” said the Minister, “You must make them stop this nonsense! Tell them we can give them what they want, if they only calm down.”

“Can we do that?” said the Headmaster.

“Of course not!”

“Ah,” said the Headmaster, “Then it’s only a story. Do you know? I think they make enough stories for themselves.”

-

The Headmaster’s Order was not very large and it was not very merry.

They were fighting a war. Most of them could not obtain employment. They frequently showed up in the Prophet’s obituary section. None of them particularly cared for grand tragedy and romance. They’d all had quite enough of that kind of excitement.

Then Prongs walked in.

“Oh, come on,” said Marlene McKinnon, “Seriously?”

Many people had assumed that Prongs would have been in it from the beginning, or that he’d rushed off and founded an Order of his own – a carefree, far more unthinking, far merrier Order. Prongs seemed like the type. He’d been Head Boy. The Headmaster, recalling an incident in sixth year in which Prongs had courageously rushed to the rescue of a fellow classmate, had personally affixed that hallowed badge to his chest and had expected to welcome Prongs to the Order in a years’ time.

(Prongs could have been killed, you see. He could have been ripped limb from limb. There was no possible way he could have escaped the jaws of death, and yet he had rushed grimly and seriously to his fate.

Or so the Headmaster had believed.)

But Prongs had persisted in being as callous and carefree and merry as ever. So the Headmaster had revoked his invitation before the year was out.

Now Lily determined that he must have a second chance. Everyone found this very tiresome. They supposed that Lily had only done it because she was so in love with him.

“Is she obsessed with him or something?” said Benjy Fenwick.

“She likes the most awful people,” said Mary Macdonald, “She probably only likes him because he’s so popular.”

Everyone always pointed out how popular Prongs was. Prongs seemed terrifically popular. Prongs was always laughing and flinging Galleons at people. That sort of behavior indicated popularity.

“He has precisely three friends,” grumbled Benjy Fenwick.

No one listened to him. Padfoot had just entered the room. Everyone noticed Padfoot right away. And in his shadow was Wormtail. Everyone was very surprised, but they ought not have been. Where Prongs went, so did the other pranksters.

Moony was also there, but no one was surprised to see him. Moony had been a member of the Order since graduation. He’d just never bothered to say anything to his friends about it.

-

Padfoot’s brother, that positively exalted Sheik, fortunate from birth, was Marked at tea on Sunday. It only took a few moments.

“Darling, wasn’t it thrilling?” said his cousin, Mrs. Lestrange.

“Was it?” said Snidget.

“Of course it was,” said MP.

It hadn’t been thrilling. It hadn’t been like anything at all, really. But he didn’t say anything to contradict them.

He went upstairs with his house-elf. He felt a bit sick. His mother was entertaining the Dark Lord, but it wasn’t a proper party, because his mother and the male were present. They couldn’t really have a proper party with the older generation there.

“Darling,” Snidget called, as he went up the stair, “I’ve Owled your friend.”

“Who?”

“Severus, darling. Too obvious.”

“Why?”

“Another one, darling. So Squibby. No sign of magic yet.”

“Been a while?”

“Two whole weeks! And MP’s gone and misplaced the venom we had. Imagine.”

“Are you terribly sure that you long for motherhood?”

“Darling, I die for it,” said Snidget, “But I’ve told him to come directly to you. I couldn’t bear it if that horrible Aunt Burgie knew.”

So presently Snape arrived, ostensibly to congratulate the young wizard, and they found themselves in one of the upstairs bedrooms. It was the bedroom with the forbidding sign on the door. The young wizard hadn’t been sure he should put it up. It hinted at such a definite opinion: Do Not Enter Without the Express Permission of Regulus Arcturus Black.

But his mother seemed to approve. She was always trying to get him to bar the way for other people. He always disappointed her. His natural inclination was to step aside.

Also, somewhere inside him, he rather liked the romance of Express Permission. His life was a pale and uninteresting contrast to his brother’s. His brother flew about, on brooms or motorcycles or simply propelled by self-righteous indignation, and laid waste to all Express Permissions in a grand fashion. Not being born in a heroic mold, the young wizard could not do this. He could only modestly affix Express Permission to his door.

But that was something.

Snape unpacked the Ridgeback venom. The young wizard stared at the newspaper clippings, which detailed all those dead persons and wonderful parties.

“I can go to all the parties from now on, I suppose.”

“I suppose you can,” said Snape. He noticed the clippings. “You’re devoted to the Cause, aren’t you?”

“I’m bound to be,” said the young wizard.

Really he’d put them up because his brother had stuck all the walls in his room with Gryffindor banners and pictures of Muggles and Dumbledorian manifestos. This expressed such a definite opinion. The young wizard couldn’t bear it. He thought there ought to be some balance.

And the newspaper clippings pleased his mother.

“Your mother pushed you into a rough life, didn’t she?” said the young wizard.

“My mother was careless and foolish in the extreme,” said Snape, “And mine was a childhood of neglect, stranded among the Muggles, worthless and unloved. Do you know what that means, Regulus Black?”

“I suppose I might,” offered the young wizard.

“You don’t.”

The young wizard reflected that probably he really didn’t. That was certainly a possibility.

“Severus,” he said, “Severus, I think you’re awfully brave. I mean, you turned on everything you knew and you forced your way up in life. And I expect it was terribly hard. I don’t know anyone else like that. Passionate and devoted and brilliant in spite of everything. You’re frightfully interesting.”

This pronouncement left Snape very gratified. That was exactly what he’d been going for.

But actually the young wizard did know someone like that. His brother was like that. It was only that his mother had explained to him, in very clear terms, that his brother’s story was one of banal betrayal.

The young wizard tried not to look past this explanation. It would have upset her.

He also tried not to look past the rough grandeur of Snape. The young wizard’s life was very fortunate and full of worth and possessed absolutely no contradictions. It was boring and a bit empty. He hungered for some rough grandeur.

His mother came upstairs and dragged him back to tea, depositing him right next to the Dark Lord.

“I’ve been meaning to borrow your elf for something,” said the Dark Lord.

“Oh,” said the young wizard.

“How thrilling,” said Mrs. Lestrange, “Little Sheik, he never bothers our elves for anything. Darling, I wish you would.”

The Dark Lord chuckled indulgently. He was a very charming houseguest. Everyone believed that he was actually very easy about most things. Apart from the business of his name. He preferred people to hold his name in awe. He liked to make them devise silly nicknames.

You-Know-Who.

He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Like a party game.

The Dark Lord might have thought this gave him some power. But actually almost everyone had a silly nickname in those days.

-

“Now, I think I deserve an answer,” said Prongs, provider of Galleons.

“Snivellus always covers up his forearm, did you notice?” said Prongs, the hero of the age.

“I think you’ve been speaking to him, which is a bit flighty. You did say you wouldn’t,” said Prongs, the love of Lily Evans’s life.

“I wish you would fucking shut up,” said Lily Evans.

-

Snidget’s baby produced some magic at the eleventh hour. They threw a party. They found some Bones to provide the entertainment. They made him drink all the remaining Ridgeback venom. Snape alone protested. He protested because he thought it was a waste of perfectly good Ridgeback venom.

It killed Bones and ruined the carpet.

The party was otherwise a complete success. Snidget was an uncommonly good hostess.

-

The thing was, she did rather like Prongs.

He was kind to his friends and he was funny and he was clever and he was quite physically fit.

The only problem was that everyone was convinced they made a grand hero and heroine of the story.

Lily Evans hated stories. Once, she’d believed quite passionately in a world in which being Muggle-born did not make a difference. Reality had quashed that rather quickly.

She’d been very confident that princes existed. Princes magnanimously tossed her into the mud.

She’d felt very strongly that talented and righteous Head Girls with shiny badges could and would obtain employment. The wizarding world’s employers sent her dun little envelopes of rejection.

Prongs had never been let down by a story. It was annoying.

“You said you’d think about it for the long-term,” said Prongs.

“I’m still nineteen.”

“Do you keep me around for fun?”

“Everyone keeps you around for fun. That’s practically what you’re for.”

“Evans, that’s awfully harsh.”

“You set yourself up for it.”

He had. He made everything a charming prank. He was unrelentingly humorous. Soon enough, he made her laugh and she agreed to some short-term fun, and reality again intervened.

It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t like anything much at all. Well. She supposed it was vaguely uncomfortable.

“It’ll get loads better,” said Prongs.

“You’re assuming a lot there,” said the love of his life.

By and by, she discovered that she was pregnant. The woman at St. Mungo’s, noting her answers to the questionnaire on heritage and medical background, offered her some Ridgeback venom. She declined. She wasn’t quite sure what it was for. Snape had never briefed her on the Purest Infants Policy of 1703.

“So I think I have to marry James,” she told Mary Macdonald later that evening.

“Personally, I think it’s a terrible idea,” said Mary Macdonald, “But you were bound to, weren’t you?”

-

The news of the wedding left poor, miserable Snape reeling. Everyone felt very bad for him.

“Now, now,” said Rosier, “We all know she wasn’t really good enough for you.”

This was exactly what Snape had always managed to convey, with some sneering comments here and some dramatic pauses there.

He found that hearing it didn’t make him feel better.

He Floo-called the young wizard, who had a real talent for never saying the wrong thing because he was always too busy saying inane things.

The young wizard was not home.

He was with his house-elf. He’d tripped, delirious, to the edge of a lake, and from there he looked down at the very muddy and murky depths. A hand reached up for him. Its skin was peeling off and the rough sinews were exposed.

This was alarming. But the young wizard didn’t really believe himself to be cast in a heroic mold. So he didn’t fight it.

Before he vanished beneath the water he had the vague thought that he wouldn’t make it to the next party. He was almost relieved. He’d always suspected that he was a bore at parties.

-

The Headmaster was late to interview the new Divination candidate. He was not looking forward to it. She did not have good credentials. She’d only passed the test set by the junior undersecretary.

The Minister intervened. He still had concerns about the younger generation.

He noticed that the Headmaster was wearing purple robes. These were hung with green orbs and crimson diamonds and sky blue crescent moons and golden pinwheels. The Minister wasn’t sure what this looked like. But it put him in mind of Armageddon.

“You can be such a grim thinker,” observed the Headmaster.

The Minister was very affronted.

“I maintain that there is good in them,” said the Headmaster.

“How?” said the Minister.

To the Minister’s mind, the issue of the youth was hopeless and irresolvable. He’d come around to the position of MLE head. Complete clearance had been granted. Policies were multiplying by the minute.

Most of these new policies conflicted in some fashion.

“You would feed them stories,” said the Headmaster, “But they long for truth, I think. It is only that the reality is so bleak that they cannot face it.”

“Bleak!” said the Minister, “We’ve given them everything. Our policies are made for them.”

The truth was: they’d given many of the best-born youths the promise of an ordinary, comfortable existence. The Headmaster informed the Minister that this was the problem.

“I’m sick of listening to you,” said the Minister, “You manage me, Dumbledore. You treat me like a damned child.”

The Headmaster managed a lot of people. The Minister was not among them. The Minister lived in an insensible world of his own imagining. The Headmaster felt that it wouldn’t have been worth his energy.

-

The shock of losing his son killed the male. Everyone told him it was the Aurors that had done it.

His elder son knew better.

-

HE was tremendously pleased with Snape. It was cause for celebration.

“Making a place for yourself, aren’t you?” said MP, catching up to Snape by the drinks table.

MP wasn’t very happy with Snape. Snape no longer needed his Galleons. Snape, that modern thinker, was now selling curses to all the Granfalloon group. Curses by the yard. Curses sure to impress. Curses that, should the MLE arrive and confiscate wands and begin waving clearance about, could be helpfully explained away as necessary for potions preparation.

MP desperately wished he could claim credit for it all. He always liked to say that he’d discovered Snape. But this made for only a tenuous connection to all of Snape’s accomplishments.

“I’ve had to create a place,” Snape said grimly, “What was I born with? Nothing.”

“Yes, yes,” said MP, “We’ve all heard it.”

Snape said, “Congratulations on the baby, by the way.”

MP was a bit muddled by this. But he accepted the congratulations as his due.

“Boy?” said Snape.

“Sure to be,” said MP.

Snape said, “I do hope he isn’t born in July.”

-

Wormtail’s mother invited the merry pranksters to tea.

Wormtail was the only merry prankster with a worthwhile parent left. Parents dropped left and right these days. The past few years had been a veritable holocaust of parents.

Prongs was coming because Wormtail’s mother always said he was a perfect hero, and Padfoot was coming because Wormtail’s mother was yet another maternal stand-in for his own.

Moony was not coming.

Moony, the pranksters were slowly realizing, came equipped with a serious liability.

Moony rarely told them things. Moony was off doing the Headmaster’s business. Moony would come back and smile tiredly and reveal absolutely nothing. They should have seen it coming. When they were younger and looking for a fight and all ranged around their target like hungry animals, what would Moony say then?

Nothing.

Moony was a champion at saying nothing. Moony always stayed completely silent.

Also, he was a werewolf.

This was why Wormtail’s mother had not invited him.

“But don’t tell them that,” Wormtail pleaded.

“Of course not. Now go on and be sweet to Mummy. Go pick up some of Fortescue’s pumpkin butter. We’re almost out.”

Wormtail’s mother had a horror of welcoming guests without enough of Fortescue’s pumpkin butter ready. Wormtail had a horror of his mother using the words ‘go on and be sweet to Mummy’ in front of his friends. Padfoot would never let him live it down. Padfoot called his own father ‘the male.’

Padfoot always came off as terribly callous, grand, and untrustworthy like that.

Wormtail went, once he’d extracted a promise that Mummy would refrain from calling him sweet.

Wormtail, once one bothered to notice him, did seem sweet. He was short and plump. He had guileless blue eyes. He would run up after the other three pranksters – or mostly after Prongs and Padfoot, at any rate – in a rather humorous fashion.

People always felt, seeing Prongs and Padfoot, that they were watching a grand and heroic opening followed by a swift and brutal punchline. Then tubby little Wormtail would come tumbling after, in the role of Darkly Comedic Effect.

Tubby little Wormtail flew to the store now. The image he presented was rather funny. Thanks to his physique, he was a poor flyer. He was more like a Bludger and instead of soaring aerodynamically he gave the impression that he would soon be knocking into something in a worrisome fashion.

He longed to Apparate. Alas, the new policies restricted this practice.

And he wasn’t really good at that, either.

He saw below the great expanse of Britain. Some parts of it were magical and exciting. Others were Muggle and dull. The view was not like Walburga Black’s map. There were no careful delineations to separate the hellish and boring Muggle sections from the rest. And so all of it seemed hellish and dull. There were many clanking automobiles, and Muggle roads stretched out like sluggish grey worms. Teensy persons moved at an excruciatingly slow pace. Probably they weren’t doing anything worth commenting on, just living and dying and having babies. That sort of thing.

At Fortescue’s, Wormtail found a great many fellow Order members. They were not there on secret Order business of the gravest importance. They were shopping.

Mary Macdonald was there and so were the Weasleys. Weasley was a man who seemed determined to be as boring as possible and his wife was a chubby frump. They had somewhere between three and fifty-nine children. The reasons for their admission to the Order had been a complete mystery to everyone. Everyone supposed it was because Weasley liked dull Muggle things so much and was so open about it, like old Bert Cattermole had been.

Then it was discovered that Weasley’s wife was quick with the hexes. No one had expected that. She didn’t seem like the type. She was pregnant all the time, anyway. She was pregnant now.

Prongs said that they were the dullest family imaginable. Prongs was always rather put-out by the caliber of his heroic Order companions. He’d supposed that the Order would have had more exciting types – MLE and Unspeakables and so on. But the only people of that sort were Moody, who was old and mad; and the Prewetts, who were young and mad; and the Longbottoms, both dull and unattractive trainees; and Kingsley Shacklebolt, who’d been a very ordinary Hufflepuff prefect just a few years ago and so wasn’t fooling anyone.

Generally speaking, the merry pranksters considered themselves a cut above all that.

Wormtail said hello to Mary Macdonald while he was in line. As people went, Mary was adequate.

“Did you hear? The baby’s a boy,” said Mary Macdonald.

At the Weasley table, a great many groans came up.

“Not yours,” said Mary Macdonald, “Well. Maybe yours. I don’t know. Shouldn’t you know by now? But I meant Lily’s. Isn’t it patriotic: having a baby in wartime? But I was hoping it might be a girl. Then I could take godparent. I guess it’ll go to Black? Poor little thing. Black is awfully sinister-seeming, isn’t he? Not like you. You’re quite the opposite. Oh, look, here’s my order.”

With that, she left.

Wormtail was always having encounters like this. Completely normal, boring, run-of-the-mill encounters. He was in fact rather good at them.

On the street outside, several dark-robed and masked figures popped into view, in thrilling defiance of the new policies. The robes and masks were doing wonders. They ensured anonymity at all daytime celebrations. They struck terror into the hearts of blood-traitors. They dispelled all rumors of the wearers being a fashionable new sect of gastronomists.

They’d come for Weasley. Weasley’s wife, pregnant though she was, put up a very good fight, aided by Fortescue and by Kingsley Shacklebolt, who happened to be on patrol nearby. She and Arthur Weasley and the children quickly made off for safety.

The Death Eaters seized Mary Macdonald instead. Wormtail was the only person in all the commotion to notice.

All of this excitement was rather a lot for Wormtail. These were Dark and thrilling times. Wormtail did not cope well.

If only there hadn’t been a war on, Wormtail might have been a useful and functioning and worthwhile human being. As it was, he let them go. He didn’t say or do anything to prevent it.

When he arrived home, Padfoot and Prongs were there.

Padfoot said, “Look at you. Running sweet errands for Mummy?”

Wormtail was always at Mummy’s beck-and-call. He was very comical like that. He seemed perfectly harmless.

-

The daytime attacks meant more clearance for Barty Crouch’s father. Barty Crouch’s father was positively drunk on clearance. Barty would come home and his father would still be at the office, admiring all that clearance. So Barty would often stay out and go to parties instead.

Barty was Marked. He told everyone that it was the greatest experience of his life.

Barty was becoming a real believer.

-

Snidget was not having a baby shower because baby showers were imported from the Muggles. Also, they bored her.

Instead, she had the teensiest little dinner.

The only people there were herself and MP and MP’s parents and her own recently-widowed mother and the Minister and the Lestranges and Snape and Elijah Smith and Wallaby Wickershins and his son and the Flints and Octavia Rowle and Arbor Greengrass and the Avery sisters and the Snodweeds and the Crabbes and Lectie Carrow and Lectie’s brother and Humbert Goyle and Imogen Lieletter from the Prophet and Juniper Parkinson and Gilbert Borgin and Yaxley and forty-seven live peacocks (to admire) and twelve dead peacocks (to eat).

“I understand you are making ripples in the potions world. Some clever new spells of yours,” said the Minister to Snape.

“That’s precisely what I’d like people to understand,” said Snape.

Lectie Carrow felt that he was being a bit arrogant. She elbowed him in the side. Snape ignored her. He felt that she took a lot of liberties.

“Look at them,” said Octavia Rowle to an Avery sister.

“It’s like a story,” the Avery sister said.

Snape’s whole life was worth remarking on. He’d begun so horribly: a low half-blood, well aware of his own worthlessness. And now he was a resounding success, a testament to ambition, and all throughout he was perfectly willing to admit to his muddy background and to the tremendous shame this brought him. He was so honest. And the whole thing was a bit romantic, in a way. This was why he’d been invited to dinner. Snidget felt that he made a wonderful conversation piece.

“Now, how can he continue to reenergize the potions world with all these new policies in place, Minister?” said MP, “That’s what I’d like to know.”

“I’ve always been a fan of less government, myself,” said Yaxley, who was employed by the Ministry.

“You boys don’t know the pressures I face,” sighed the Minister.

“Oh, we’d hate to add to your pressures,” said MP’s father, “But we do think we’re going to have to insist on the matter of the new policies.”

They plied the Minister with roasted peacock and Firewhiskey. Snidget, an uncommonly gifted musician, played him some music. Midway through the meal, an interesting foreigner named Karkaroff arrived.

“I hear he’s actually descended from the purest line in Eastern Europe,” said Imogen Lieletter, “And is a Minister in his country.”

“Alas, no longer,” said Karkaroff, “Now I am a mere headmaster.”

The Minister was very impressed. It pleased him to see that there were people in the world who ranked ministers above headmasters.

Snape and Yaxley and MP disappeared for a bit, but the Minister did not notice because Mrs. Lestrange had changed into her eleventh set of dress robes for the night. Each set was darker and had a more plunging neckline than the last. She found wearing the same old robes so boring. She was the beautiful life and soul of the evening.

“How exciting you are, my dear,” said the Minister, “What a thrill to entertain you.”

Yaxley reappeared at this point and said, rather vaguely, “Oh, people often do. Usually against their will.”

The Minister did not quite get the joke, but he’d had so much Firewhiskey that he laughed along with everyone else.

Magically, doubt had begun to take hold of the Minister. Everyone was always saying that the youth of the wizarding world were a problem. Everyone was always pointing out these daytime attacks and these obituaries and these disappearances and all the blood-red graffiti. But here were some youth and they were a joy to behold. They were sparkling and respectful.

The Minister bemoaned his fate. He was forever plagued by owls from Mrs. Abernathy-Bowles and her sort. He was forever stuck in dull meetings with the Head of the MLE. He was forever managed by the Headmaster.

Oh, to be his own man!

Seizing upon the quill MP’s father graciously provided for him, he immediately struck seventy-three of the more offensive policies from the books. Yaxley was entrusted with the documentation and quickly Apparated away to see that the Ministry jumped to his orders.

The policy against Apparation was thankfully one of the policies that had fallen on this night.

“You’re too wonderful,” said his uncommonly radiant hostess.

The Minister had never felt so pleased with himself. He picked up the quill again to reel back some of the clearance he’d accorded to Barty Crouch’s father.

But suddenly there was a high wail.

The Minister, in the next few moments, realized that it was the ancient morality enshrined in his office, the cry of the public interest.

“Hang on, Abraxas,” said the Minister, “This is damned impudent of you!”

“Oh dear,” said Snidget, “Too inconvenient.”

-

In fact, the wail was Mary Macdonald. She was in the dungeons.

“I’m very sure,” said Avery, “That she was always the one telling Evans you weren’t good enough for her. Wasn’t she?”

Snape said he wasn’t certain. It was quite true. He really had no idea.

“That’s very insolent of her,” said the Dark Lord. He cast Crucio on her.

“Well, go on, Snape,” said MP.

Snape had always conveyed that he was a champion at killing people. This was easy to believe. He had all those curses he’d invented, after all.

He’d invented them by practicing on flies.

It would have been terribly embarrassing to admit this.

He killed her with a simple AK.

“That’s it?” said Rosier.

“You can do better than that!” said the cleverest of the Mulcibers.

“I’m frightfully disappointed,” observed the Dark Lord.

Snape Occluded very hard. He managed to impart that it was only that he hadn’t wanted to waste any time on her. He had his life’s work to get back to. And she was only a minor figure in his story. She wasn’t worth it.

“Merlin,” said Avery, quite impressed, “You are cold-hearted.”

Presently, Snidget’s voice came down the stair.

“Darlings, I think we must do something with the Minister.”

The Dark Lord clapped Snape on the back.

“This one we can take our time with,” he said.

At half past eight the undersecretaries convened in a dank little room for tea and their dull, routine morning meeting. The Minister did not show. He was still not there at half past nine. One of them went into his office to fetch him.

The pieces of him toppled out of the fireplace, like someone had hastily shoved him through the Floo.

He seemed to have been sliced up very carefully by a grand and giant potioneer.

-

Lily Potter’s baby shower was all right, but it would have been better if Mary had been there.

No one knew what happened to Mary. She did not get an obituary. It was simply that no one ever saw her again.

-

Millicent Bagnold was called in to replace the Minister, but not before Barty Crouch’s father had seized as much clearance as he could possibly grasp.

“Now things get really exciting,” he told the MLE.

“I’d just as soon be dull and righteous about it, sir,” said Kingsley Shacklebolt.

Shacklebolt was demoted back to trainee. He deserved it. He was not entering properly into the spirit of the age.

-

Lily was worried that she might not get a chance to see her sister again. There were a lot of attacks happening. And there were also counterattacks, which she was partially responsible for.

The last time she’d seen her sister had been shortly before the wedding. It had not gone well. Lily’s sister had always had a sneaking suspicion that Lily was off doing exciting things. She supposed that Lily’s life was like a story. The thought filled her with jealousy. She was consumed with a need for a story of her own, and by and by she’d found a thick-necked knight in khaki trousers who was prepared to give her one.

He did not like Lily’s husband very much.

People who consider themselves the heroes of their own stories rarely like to meet others with the same delusion.

Tuney, can I see you? Lily wrote.

Tuney wrote: Do not pretend that you have ever had any affection for me. Our entire life, it has seemed that you wanted the spotlight. Admit it: you’ve always wanted to best me. You did not even let me ID Mum and Dad. You had to go and do it yourself. You should know that you come off like a terribly selfish person and Vernon says I had better not talk to you because you fill me with sadness. I am not good enough for you, I think, because you only like freakish people. You hate normalcy and you hate people who are comfortable and ordinary and respectable. You always want to be the center of everything. Please do not write again until my baby is born. I notice that you had to go and have a baby around the same time. You could not even let me have this.

Prongs found the letter first and read it aloud in a shrill and girlish voice, and Lily laughed so hard that she cried. It seemed to everyone who knew them that they were a very happy couple.

A little later, when she was alone in the bathroom, Lily read the letter to herself and cried so hard that she had to tell Prongs, “No, no. I’m laughing. I promise.”

-

The Potter baby was born at the end of July.

There was a matron in St. Mungo’s who noted the birth.

She was a round, dimpled, smiling woman. Lily liked her.

The matron was an avowed partygoer. She’d been given the chance to join in all the starry merriment and had taken it.

She marked down the birth and one other (just down the hall, to a dull and unattractive little pair of MLE trainees), and passed this on to Mrs. Lestrange.

Mrs. Lestrange was a pillar of the community. She was very concerned about babies. She’d welcomed a nephew just last month. She’d given an interview on his incomparable superiority to all other infants. Many people felt that this was her natural maternal instinct speaking. The Prophet published the interview as: SOCIETY BEAUTY WORRIES FOR CHILDREN WITH MUDDY FUTURES.

-

Snape knew, even before HE said anything, which of the two babies made for a better story.

-

Mrs. Abernathy-Bowles was composing yet another letter to the Headmaster when she had a visitor.

“I’ve tried my best,” she told her visitor harshly, “I tried to make up for it all! I offered you a home. I wanted to help you. I know I let you down—“

“You did,” her visitor said shortly.

That she had let him down had become such an incontrovertible part of his identity that he couldn’t bear to let go of it. So he never gave her a chance to make it up. She’d tried very hard to be a good parent, once she’d sorted her life out. But it was too little, too late, really.

Her visitor offered to deliver the letter for her.

Scowling, she let him.

“You be careful,” she said, “The Headmaster’s not like your soft little Minister. The Headmaster will put a stop to it all, mark my words.”

Later, her husband came home. He was her second husband. He was a Muggle, which had always been the sort of thing she liked, as wizards always tried to be so grand and romantic and usually they failed at it.

Her second husband’s name was Eugene. It rhymed with her name. Everyone at the Women’s Auxiliary said it was like a fairy tale. Eugene was very good to her. He had a dull but large house at the end of a long grey road, and the latest clanking automobile. He’d offered to let her son move in.

Severus had refused, point-blank.

-

Prongs wouldn’t think of going into hiding at first. He wanted to be known as someone frightfully courageous.

“It’s not about you,” said his wife.

“I don’t think it’s just about Harry,” said Prongs, “Of course, I love him very much, but he’s only a baby. We can’t toss the whole war away for him. Now, how would that look? He’d think we were a pair of cowards.”

It simply did not occur to him that the danger to Harry might be serious. He’d never, not once in his whole life, been in serious danger of anything. That was not a part of his trajectory. It could hardly be his fate or his son’s.

“Sometimes I think you’re such a privileged little shit,” said his wife.

Theirs was the romance of the age. It would be immortalized in statue and in several very popular Halloween night drinking songs.

-

Snape had always been a champion at deflection. This was a great deal of what Occlumency was, after all.

He began to serve two masters. It was not at all difficult for him. He simply told Dumbledore the useful and dull things he thought Dumbledore liked to hear: dates, names, places, the chosen party entertainment, and so on.

He told Voldemort more interesting things. The Dark Lord expected very grand and thrilling things from him, after all.

Everyone was terribly impressed to learn that Snape had lied his way into the potions position and finally gotten old Slugs to retire. Snape was never done rising in the world. Snape would always continue to shoot upwards, leaving all the misery of his early days behind, like a rocket or a firework.

Or at least that was the story.

-

The Order convened for a photo. Everyone looked very merry in the photo. But Mrs. Weasley was worried for her children and wanted to go home. All of those in the MLE had neck-and-neck patrols in the morning and needed rest. Padfoot had never been quite the same since his brother had died and no one really trusted him anyway. Moony worried that perhaps someone ought to warn him about his increasingly erratic behavior and constant need to start fights. But there was no polite way of doing this.

In the end, Moony said nothing.

Lily didn’t want to appear in the photo. She was concerned about what might happen to the baby if the photo fell into the wrong hands.

“It’ll be good for him,” said Prongs, “He’ll know his parents were heroes.”

“I don’t care if he thinks we’re heroes,” said Lily, “I care about keeping him alive.”

If he hadn’t been her husband, she would have been Not Speaking to him at that point.

-

Snape had to prepare and conduct lessons. It was dull and he hated it.

“Naturally, the position is the first time I’ve ever felt truly appreciated for my capacity in the subject,” he told everyone at Granfalloon’s on Saturday.

“Oh, come off it!” said Avery, slightly offended, “We’ve always appreciated you.”

-

Gradually, the importance of staving off marital discord convinced Prongs. He approached Padfoot about keeping a certain secret.

“Now, Dumbledore offered to do it,” Prongs said, “But it doesn’t seem right to me. He doesn’t know me like you do. Remember how long it took him to invite me into the Order?”

Padfoot was devoted to Prongs and almost jumped at the chance.

But he was the obvious first choice. Everyone knew him. Padfoot had not been anonymous a day in his life; he was always at the center of the frame, dominating the vision. Padfoot was starry and had been from birth.

So that left either Moony or Wormtail.

Prongs had precisely three friends, you see.

Now, who for the secret-keeping task? Who to keep silent? Who to never speak a word? Who to cope with quiet dignity and to maintain his own counsel? Who?

Padfoot selected Wormtail.

Moony never told them anything these days.

Also, he was a werewolf.

-

They threw a party at the McKinnon residence.

The McKinnons hadn’t been expecting it.

-

They threw a party at the Bones residence.

The Boneses had been expecting it, but it didn’t make much of a difference.

-

They went out one day and found Benjy Fenwick.

They made a party of it.

-

Here is what happened to the Granfalloon group:

Rosier, that showy and passionate ladies’ man, fell to the patchwork monster that was Moody. Avery’s sisters were all sad to see him go. Then they each got married and had children.

Avery’s parents never died and so they never left him the key to the Gringotts vault. Eventually, he had to get a job. He worked at the Ministry and hated every minute of it.

Yaxley would come down the hall to see him sometimes, for old time’s sake.

Lectie Carrow and Snape never went anywhere. Lectie did, however, receive eleven concurrent life sentences.

All of the Mulcibers either escaped to the continent or fell to the patchwork man. The only exception was the cleverest. He was something of a disappointment. He received only three life sentences.

Golden-haired Barty Crouch was discovered after a little party with the Longbottoms, now (and presently never again) full-fledged Aurors. The discovery was a shock to his father, who quickly had precious Clearance ripped right from his grasp.

No one felt bad for Barty Crouch’s father. Not even his own wife.

Karkaroff would never again be Minister in his country.

The goblins used a technicality in the new policies to freeze Boris’s assets. He died in miserable poverty.

Mrs. Nonce, who’d had the good sense to distance herself from the group, became Mrs. Selwyn, Mrs. Zabini, Mrs. Lockheed, Mrs. Ipswich, and then Mrs. O’Reilly. She never did figure out what to do with her share of the shop.

Mrs. Lestrange’s husband and brother continued to be dull and uninspiring. Possibly prison did not help them in that respect. But everyone who really knew them could confidently say that they hadn’t had much personality to lose to the Dementors in the first place.

Mrs. Lestrange, for her part, went to prison proudly. She couldn’t have selected a more exciting fate.

Snidget and MP had a quick consult with their solicitors and then claimed Imperio. This ate away at MP. He would never receive credit for all those parties.

Snidget calmly told him, “Yes, darling, it’s too upsetting.”

Then she set herself to watching the elves raise the baby. Snidget was a terrific mother. And their child would chart a clear trajectory from spoiled and adored infant to pampered schoolboy to – who knew? Hero of the age, perhaps. Snidget felt that this was likely.

She was an uncommonly prescient witch.

-

Wormtail was terribly affected by the excitement of the age. That was why he’d let the secret slip.

Padfoot, always looking for a fight, had come after him. And Wormtail, tubby and sweet, had promptly vanished, and his mummy mourned him.

In the meantime, he was living with the Weasleys. They called him Scabbers.

Life was rather dull. This really suited Wormtail.

If only there hadn’t been any war, Wormtail might have made as good a man as he did a rat.

Sometimes he worried that Moony might say something about the fact that he could turn into a rat.

-

Moony never said anything.

-

Padfoot was sent to prison for Wormtail’s death, several other deaths, and for betraying the Potters’ secret. It never occurred to anyone to check that perhaps he had not done this. He dominated the headlines.

His mother was proud. For the first time in her life, her opinion of someone altered. Having hated Padfoot, she now decided that she loved him very much. She adjusted her will to account for it.

Padfoot did not get to enjoy the Gringotts vault when she passed on. He had thirty-nine life sentences.

-

The Potters, those known blood-traitors, had died. This time, they’d been young and their deaths were very exciting. Rita Skeeter filled twelve columns on the whole thing.

Everyone drank to them.

Their son was the hero of the age.

This was funny because Prongs, growing impatient and a little bit mad with confinement, had lain awake in bed at Godric’s Hollow one night. It had occurred to him that he really had been a shit about not going into hiding and that their baby really could die. The notion of something so unpleasant happening to him came as a shock.

Nothing unpleasant had ever happened to him. His life had been one easy victory after another. One clear trajectory that brought him to this point: not to the Heroism of the Age, but to a worried and sleepless night. His life’s trajectory had made him a terrified father.

Then the Dark Lord ended it.

-

The Dark Lord had told Snape he would try to spare Lily Potter.

Actually he just AK-ed her.

This was sparing her, in a sense. He could have been crueler about it. Only he hadn’t wanted to waste any time on her. He had his great triumph to get to. She wasn’t worth the delay.

The Dark Lord would never admit it, but he’d learned an awful lot from Snape.

-

Snape was alone in the Headmaster’s office. The war was over. He had lesson plans to write.

Presently, the Headmaster came in. He was wearing silver robes and a crooked silver hat and he looked like the curved knives Snape used for disemboweling.

He sat at his desk. After several minutes, he said, “Severus, I will not press you to tell me what you endured in that time.”

Snape sneered. Meetings with the Headmaster were fairly dull, so he wanted to leave. He said, “But you will continue to demand my service, I suppose?”

“There is good in you,” the Headmaster said, after a moment.

Snape had given him that impression, you see.

Snape said, “I don’t think that’s it. Didn’t you say it was because the Dark Lord would return? So don’t attempt to convince me of your great magnanimity, Dumbledore!”

“Well, naturally, it’s because Voldemort will return.”

The Headmaster found himself managing more and more people because of the war that was coming. If there hadn’t been a war coming, he wouldn’t have bothered because it would not have been worth his energy in that case.

“There will be another rise, Severus. There will be another war.”

Snape felt, for the first time in months, a spark of excitement at the news.

“Do you think I will turn tail, like a coward?” Snape said, baring his teeth.

Snape seemed to take the whole thing seriously and by and by the Headmaster dismissed him, pleased with his response. Snape always seemed grim, you see. He was very good at that. He could appear very terrible and grand and untrustworthy. It was a talent.

In time, Snape decided to tell the Headmaster the whole story, with a sneer here and a shudder there. In Snape’s hands, the whole thing seemed less banal.

He made it grand and tragic—almost romantic.