Chapter 6 – Gildory Lockhart

It was a skill he'd acquired during the war and one that had been quickly honed once he'd turned spy. The ability to determine an identity from just a few quiet words spoken from behind a grotesque death eater mask had been useful enough to identify supposed comrades but as a double agent it had become invaluable when passing information to the Order. And it was a habit that had never died. Because of this, even as Snape stalked from Dumbledore's office, his mind mainly occupied with his visit from Lucius Malfoy, the seven very expensive brooms currently locked away in his office and the conflict it would cause with his Godson, it didn't stop the instant recognition of the two unexpected voices resonating from the entrance hall below. His eyes narrowed, what was his wife doing with the ridiculously coiffured, deeply annoying and patently incompetent latest addition to the Hogwarts staff.

Without pausing his face morphed into his practiced bored sneer as he rounded the corner and swept towards them in his most intimidating manner. He tried not to notice the way the blonde buffoon had puffed out his chest as they spoke or the way his hand brushed Bella's arm lightly as he laughed at his own joke.

Ignoring Lockhart completely, he bore down on Bella in a menacing fashion,

"There you are!" He exclaimed in a cold voice. "Madame Pomfrey was expecting you over half an hour ago." He looked her up and down with contempt. "I assume you are the medi witch sent from St Mungo's for the samples."

He waited for Bella to nod her head so that he could quickly extract her but Lockhart had other ideas.

"Now, now Severus don't be too hard on the young lady, it's entirely my fault, after all it's almost impossible to say no to witch weekly's most charming smile!" Lockhart flashed what he thought was his most winning beam.

Snape tried not to vomit as he placed a firm hand on the small of Bella's back.

"And.. yet ..so.. many.. of.. us.. do!" He provoked silkily. "I will escort you to the hospital wing to prevent any further delays." He instructed as he applied a small amount of pressure with his hand.

But Bella did her best to smile politely as she subtlety extracted herself. "Thank you …..Professor, that won't be necessary, I am very familiar with the castle. Goodbye Gildory, it was lovely to meet you." And without looking at her husband once she headed off in the direction of the infirmary.

"I'm glad we've got this chance to have a little chat, I was wondering about starting a …?" But Lockhart's jovial voice faltered slightly as Snape's lips twisted in disgust.

"Not now Lockhart!" He snarled in contempt as he stalked away, seemingly in the opposite direction to his wife.

"Anyone would think you're jealous Severus Snape!" Bella's voice reverberated incredulously off the stone walls of the Slytherins chambers as she sashayed into the gloom of the living room.

A few paces behind, Snape made a disapproving noise in the back of his throat as he wordlessly drew his wand and lit the candles.

"Do not be ridiculous." He sneered as he took his customary seat and accioed his new timetable from the desk, the new school year was less than one week in and already he wished it was over. With a mental groan he saw the dreaded Slytherin/Gryffindor class scheduled for first period on Monday, he was convinced Minerva McGonagal did it on purpose.

"What were you doing wandering round the castle, anyone could have seen you. You need to be more vigilant, even that preening idiot will get suspicious eventually." Snape questioned waspishly.

From the direction of the kitchen, the clattering of pots stopped as a fully laden tea tray floated through the air and came to rest on the coffee table with a slightly defiant thud, Bella followed and dropped down onto the sofa, discarding her wand casually next to her.

"I was doing what you asked." She retorted tartly, still smarting over his earlier behaviour.

"I asked you to advertise your presence to everyone in the castle!"

Bella ignored his snide remark, "You asked me to talk to Harry about the car incident."

Snape poured himself a coffee, "I meant write to him not parade around Hogwarts."

Bella took a delicate sip of her own tea and sank back into the cushions. "Next you'll be wanting me to send him a howler like Molly!"

"Stop being absurd, you know that would not be suitable given the image we wish to portray of his home life." He answered predictably. "I felt for the boy when it arrived ….." The words fell out of his mouth before he could stop them and his brow furrowed as Bella started to smile at him in a knowing way.

"Do not imagine some sentimental meaning behind it, I merely wish there had been another method of misdirecting our real thoughts about the car situation – Ronald does blush so!"

"What do you mean – misdirection? Are you saying Molly didn't send it?" It was Bella's turn to frown now.

Snape deliberately put down his cup and took the time to precisely cross his legs and straighten his trouser creases as he gathered his thoughts before beginning to talk. "If closing the barrier was a prank then the howler proved to whoever was behind it that it worked and that should be the end of it. But if it is, as we suspect, something more sinister then ….."

Bella interrupted him with a sigh of resignation, she was beginning to understand where this was going, "….hopefully the person gets the message that we think it was a stunt which gives you more time to find out what is really going on."

"Indeed."

Once again children were being used in a battle of good versus' evil and Bella didn't like it, or where it could lead. "And Molly agreed to this?"

Snape raised his eyebrow, "Albus is very …. Persuasive. They had already agreed that Arthur would take the public blame and anyone that know's Mrs Weasley would expect an explosive reaction when it comes to her children's behaviour."

Bella felt quite indignant on her friend's behalf but she knew there was nothing she could do, apart from the offer she'd already made, which brought her neatly back to the start if their conversation.

"That's why I'm here. Harry wrote to me about how guilty he felt over Ron and Mr Weasley getting into trouble, especially when they'd all been so nice over the summer about letting him stay at The Burrow. When I told Minevra how he was feeling, she said I could use her office to speak to him, that way no-one would see us together. But you weren't in for me to open the floo so I could come back here so I had to walk through the castle."

"So how was Potter?" Snape shifted a little uncomfortably as his wife frowned at him. "I mean, Harry." He amended quickly, it was always so much easier for the boy to be 'Potter' within the walls of the castle but he knew he had to tread carefully with Bella, last years disaster still lingered in the recesses of his mind.

"He feels responsible. I told him that the Weasleys don't blame him but I did hammer home what a stupid choice it was and he mumbled something about Minevra saying the same thing and that they should have used Hedwig to contact us instead. He is sorry but I think it makes it worse that he had to sit with Ron while he got in to trouble. As silly as it sounds, it would probably help his conscience if he'd had a howler too! Molly told me yesterday that Arthur's been fined by the enquiry at work, I know they can't afford it so I've asked if she would help me with a wedding at the weekend, that way I can give her some money without her thinking it's charity."

Snape was taking a sip of coffee as Bella announced the last part and nearly spluttered it back out, the mere idea of someone as magical as the Weasley matriarch in the middle of a muggle wedding breakfast was inconceivable.

Using a handkerchief, he meticulously wiped his mouth. "Is that such a good idea?" He knew how protective Bella was of her business and reputation.

"It'll be fine," Bella tried to sound convinced, "I'll do the serving and Molly can stay in kitchen, at least I know she can cook. I thought about just giving her the money, after all we know this is all to do with Harry, but I know she wouldn't take it. I had to tell her I'd been let down or there's no way she would have agreed."

Bella finished her tea and curled her legs under her. "Molly's been raving about the new defence teacher ever since that day in Diagon Alley, she's shown me a couple of his books, seems like he knows what he's doing." She didn't need to sneak a look from under her eyelashes, Snape's reaction was verbally derisive.

"He is a fraud, nothing more. A fraud who hides behind a pretty face and a simpering smile!"

"So why did Dumbledore employ him then?"

"He has his reasons, I believe he caused some ….issues for one of Dumbledore's many friends and as the muggles say – keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Also, he was the only other applicant and Dumbledore has no intention of allowing the ministry to interfere here."

Snape forcibly returned his mug to the table, rose abruptly and began to pace. That he was repeatedly bypassed by morons such as Lockhart was a bitter pill.

"Minevra doesn't seem to like him either, he stopped by to see her while I was waiting for Harry to come from the common room, they were outside the office door and I could hear him asking her to let him take Harry's detention. She wasn't too pleased when he'd said he'd already asked the Headmaster. You don't think he's got something to do with this House Elf business, do you?"

Snape considered it briefly but it didn't make sense. "The man is puffed up with his own importance, I think he sees Po.. Harry as another way to get himself in the papers – advisor to the 'Boy who Lived'! Make my words, he's writing his memoirs as we speak – My year with the 'Chosen One'. He tried to tell Pomona how to take care of the damaged branches on the whomping willow the other day and his first lesson involved a test on his achievements, the students will learn nothing this year."

"The girls seem to like him, Hermione wrote and told me how well she did on his test, how he praised her for how much she knew about him."

Snape felt an uncomfortable twist in his gut that made his next words thick with bile. "Of course, the resident Know-It-All would be impressed, if it's recorded in a book it must be true."

"Severus! That's unfair." Bella looked at her husband with horror and then she realised that she'd been right earlier, "You are jealous aren't you." She shook her head at the outrage on his face. "I'm not talking about me, I think the man comes across as a flake, but the children have a connection with him that they can't have with you. Hermione admires him, and he's taken Harry under his wing."

Not waiting for him to try and argue with her, she stood and laid her hands on his arms to stop the restless pacing. "It's ok, I feel jealous sometimes too when Harry talks about Molly and it was my idea to send him to the Weasleys in the first place. They know how to play the part we made for them at school but we'll always be their Uncle Severus and Aunty Bella, no-one can take that away from us or them. It's still Prince Manor they call home and where they want to come back to."

She saw the stubborn set of his jaw, the slight twitch of tension in his temple and recognised he needed time to process what she'd said. Raising on her tiptoes, she dropped a gentle kiss on his check. "I'm going to bed, I've got an early start. Is it ok if I stay?"

"Of course." Snape nodded curtly, glad that Bella was not forcing him to delve further into the ideas she'd presented him with. "Goodnight."

She could feel his eyes on her as she moved towards the bedroom door and she felt the need to leave him one last thought "Just remember they think the world of Uncle Severus, Professor Snape will just have to work out how to deal with what he sees at Hogwarts just like the kids had to last year. 'Night."

Snape heard the bedroom door close softly and mentally shook himself, he had other pressing matters at hand. Settling himself at his desk he carefully considered the wording before penning a short statement and dashing off his unmistakable signature. He briefly considered rousing Flint but thought better of it, twelve hours was far too much notice to give his snakes, who knew what unsanctioned additions to his plan they could create in that time. No…. it was best to wait.

He thought about going to bed but he found his mind and body too restless, instead he decided to patrol the corridors, the little brats had been back nearly a week, surely someone would be up to mischief.

But instead of students out of bed, he found something else that recently raised his hackles more than recalcitrant children. Banging around in a cupboard on the second floor corridor he came across an electric blue Cornish pixie, being encouraged by Peeves, to create an obstacle course out of the caretakers paraphernalia and block the corridor. The whole school had heard about Lockhart's disastrous 2nd year 'defence' lesson especially after McGonagall had been called in to rescue Longbottom from the chandelier and so he was in doubt who the annoying creature belonged to. Filled with irritation he swiftly dispatched with Peeves, immobilised the pixie (not in a dis-similar way to Hermione) and stuffed it in a conjured bag before returning the mops and buckets to the cupboard and stalking off in the direction the guest quarters.

After casting a 'point me' spell, his wand directed him towards Lockharts home for the year. It was only as he approached the door that he realised the man was staying in the same rooms that Bella had once occupied. He tried not to remember the last time he'd been here, knocking on this very door, demanding it be opened and yet not wanting to face what was on the other side.

The pixie started to wriggle in the bag as the spell began to wear off, sharpening Snape's focus as to why he'd been forced down memory lane. With a scowl he knocked on the door, hard and long, undeterred by the lateness of the hour. His keen ears heard movement, but the door remained shut, he knocked again and ground out, "Lockhart open up, I have something of yours."

Finally, the door opened a crack and Lockharts blue eyes blinked out, his expression confused as he tried to shake the sleep from his brain. "Uhm …. ah…. Severus, what can ….I uhm do for you."

Snape rolled his eyes as he watched the idiot pat at his hairnet nervously, and proceeded to wave the bag menacingly in Lockharts face, "I believe this belongs to you…." He began in his lowest, silkest, deadliest voice. "I found it causing havoc on the second floor. You set any more pests loose in this school and you will never have cause to smile again. I trust we understand each other Lockhart!"

With a final thrust he pushed the bag into the man's chest and strode away without waiting for a response – he'd already wasted too much time in the guest quarters.

The next morning Snape felt Bella leave his bed and tried hard to feign sleep as she tiptoed around the room collecting her clothes. He waited half an hour until he could be sure she'd left his quarters, cursing himself for not spelling the floo to let him know when she'd gone, before dressing and emerging from the bedroom.

He allowed himself the nearest thing to a smile his face could achieve at Hogwarts – a slight twitching of the lips – as he saw the brewing coffee and a plateful of scrambled eggs on toast under a stasis charm, sat invitingly on the dining table. He quickly cast a 'tempus' spell and reasoned that he still had a small amount of time before he needed to put his plan into motion. He already knew from the whispered conversations between Wood and Spinnet during study hall that the Gryffinndor team planned on being up at the crack of dawn to discuss tactics before taking to the skies to practice. He also knew he had to get the timing just right to make the desired impact, Uncle Severus only hoped it wasn't too subtle for the rather oblivious boy while Professor Snape wondered, in a rather bored tone, why they were even bothering.

After the coffee was drunk and the breakfast savoured, Snape headed to the Slytherin common room with purpose where he exploded through the door. He paused in the doorway long enough to take a fleeting, perverse pleasure in the panic that flashes across his snakes faces, if he had to be up at this ungodly hour then they could suffer too. His eyes briskly scanned the room and settled on a group of older students in the far corner of the room.

"Flint, my office in five minutes. Bring the rest of the Quidditch team except your seeker and … Mr Malfoy." Snape had no need to project his voice, his mere appearance had brought the room to compete silence. Without pausing to explain further or to see if his instructions were being obeyed, he always demanded instant obedience from his house, he strode away, knowing the moment he left speculation would start flying.

While he waited, he carefully laid the seven pristine broomsticks across his desk, painstakingly positioning the handles so that the gold lettering identifying them left no doubt as to their prestige. The whole idea made Snape slightly nauseous, he abhorred this type of nepotism and he felt a rare moment of regret for Bancuss who had been unceremoniously replaced without reason or warning. But he was shaken from his dark thoughts by the respectful knock on his door.

He moved himself behind his desk before answering and secreted his note within one of the deep pockets of his frock coat.

"Enter."

Appraisingly he watched the seven boys enter, six looked hungrily at the broom as they lined up in front of the desk, hands clasped behind their backs in a deferential stance, while Malfoy lingered at the rear, an undisguised look of superior arrogance etched across his smug features. There was now no doubt in Snapes mind that the boy knew the arrangement his father had brokered. But he buried the ire he felt, at least now he recognised Potter hadn't been complicit last year.

Wordlessly he magicked the door shut behind them and cast a privacy spell before turning his attention to the boys.

Unaware of how close he was to parroting McGonagall, Snape announced in clipped tones, "Flint I have found you a seeker."

Malfoy stepped forward, his chest puffed out with self-importance. The older boys glanced at him briefly before their eyes were drawn back to the array of brooms.

"And a ….. sponsor. Mr Malfoy has kindly donated new brooms to his son's team as he wishes the Inter House cup to remain in this office as much as we do."

For a moment they all turned as one towards the silver, four handled cup that occupied one end of Snape's mantel piece, the other side looking strangely forlorn without the House Cup to balance it out. It hadn't escaped the Head of Slytherin House's notice that the rest of the boys were now viewing Malfoy in a much more favourable light.

Surreptitiously he glanced at the clock on the wall, it was getting close to the window of opportunity now. "I imagine you would like to practice straight away ….." He knew one of them would mention missing breakfast and was already prepared. "…. I will ask for a late breakfast to be served in the common room once you return." He narrowed his eyes slowly and played his final hand. "I believe Gryffindor are making use of the pitch this morning but this….." He slid the note from his pocket and handed it to his captain. "….. this should encourage them to vacate!"

Flint quickly read the parchment and passed it along the line, one by one the boys started to nod and smile. With a wave of his wand Snape opened his office door with force and watched them march through with purpose.

Now all he had to do was reach the pitch before his team, disillusion himself and hide in plain sight at a safe distance to ensure nothing got too out of hand.

They weren't supposed to be there, but he should have known better. Where one was the other two were sure to follow. He heard Hermione's accusation ring out, pure and true, full of indignant outrage and then that word, the one that had haunted him for so long – mudblood. It had taken a second for it to really register and then he'd found himself on his feet, wand drawn. But he wasn't needed. He would examine how he felt about that later – or rather he imagined Bella would!

He witnessed the lions and snakes scuffle then Weasley fire his curse. He felt a flicker of respect for the boy's indignation on behalf of his friend, quickly followed by disgust as he saw the slugs dribbling out of his mouth.

He expediently accessed the situation, the Slyherins were too busy laughing at Weasleys predicament to retaliate and without their seeker the Gyffindors were no longer going to fight for the pitch, their practice was over. There was no need for him to linger, things may not have worked out exactly as he had envisaged but at least now everyone knew. He would find time to deal with Malfoy later but for the moment he decided to follow the golden trio, after all he had a duty to ensure the youngest male Weasley didn't choke, Potter didn't do anything rash and Miss Granger wasn't …. upset.

He trailed them at a discreet distance, avoiding the slobbery slugs as he went, until he watched them go into Hagrid's hut. Despite his own reservations about the Gamekeeper, he knew they were in capable hands, but he couldn't help remembering the sadness in Hermione's eyes all those years ago when she'd asked if being muggleborn made a difference. He didn't know if she even knew what a mudblood was but knowing her, if she didn't, it wouldn't take long to find out.

He couldn't help himself, instead of turning and leaving, he stood by the open window, watching and listening, until Hagrid did what he could never do, put Hermione's mind at rest about her place in their world.

Contrite he turned to go. Knowing Lockhart was still wandering the grounds he carefully avoided the man as he plotted how best to punish Malfoy without betraying himself.

Despite spending his morning finishing the last few batches of potions for the infirmary he couldn't get the look on Hermione's face out of his mind. Broodingly, he found himself perusing his personal bookshelves looking for something suitable. Then he found it. Before he could change his mind he swept up to the Great Hall. It was lunch time and the trio were sitting apart from the rest of their house mates, probably due to the occasional dribble from Mr Weasley. He stopped behind them like a towering black cloud, arms folded with the book clutched to his chest.

The whole room seemed to take a collective breath when he spoke, "Miss Granger, I believe this is yours….." He made sure to keep the sneer in his voice as the trio turned as one to face him. He thrust the book towards her as if it were contaminated. "…. I found it in the entrance hall, I cannot imagine anyone else would read such a divergent text." He knew he'd made it sound derogatory to anyone else listening, but he also knew from the perceptive look she was giving him that his meaning had been understood.

He watched her play with the necklace, as it warmed gently beneath her top, as she reached out her hand to take the book she'd pestered him to read since an owl had delivered it at the beginning of the summer holidays. He knew, she knew him well enough to read the hidden question in his dark eyes and she gave the briefest of nods to his unspoken question as she took the book with a small, "Yes Sir, it's mine, thank you."

Snape gave her a calculating stare as he turned on his heel and marched back out of the hall. As he left he swore he heard Potter ask what had just happened, adamant that Hermione would never be that careless with a book.

Later that evening, while the rest of the school were at dinner, he instructed a house elf to leave the latest edition of Challenging chess on Weasleys bed along with a note, charmed to only be visible to the boys' magical signature. 'Loyalty is commendable.'

It was late and his eyes ached with tiredness as he reached across his desk for his coffee, only to find the black liquid stone cold. With a mental sigh he returned the mug to its coaster, unable to summon the energy to even cast a warming charm. He looked at the pile of marking on his desk with disgust, trying to remember why he bothered to set holiday homework since all it seemed to do was cause him more work. His bat like ears could hear the constant scrubbing sound from the adjacent storeroom and made him question if he was doing the right thing where Draco Malfoy was concerned. He'd summoned the boy after dinner and berated him for exposing his feelings towards muggleborns in such a public manner, he'd expressed how angry his father would be for putting their family in such a compromising position and cautioned over committing himself to a cause that was not yet ready to expose itself. He hoped the boy would believe the reason for his punishment because, as much as he hated, he needed to be trusted by the Malfoy family when the time, inevitably, came.

He was about to write a not unpleasant comment across the parchment of a 4th year Hufflepuff when his classroom door banged open and McGonagall marched through towards his desk, her lips pinched to invisibility.

"I've just heard what happened to Miss Granger this morning, what are you….."

"It has been dealt with Professor McGonagall."

Snape's voice was cold and biting but he simultaneously rolled his eyes, placed a pale finger against his lips and picked up his wand. Casting a quiet "Aucupet Hyalus", they watched as the solid wall turned to glass and both caught sight of Malfoy on his hands and knees scrubbing the floor of the store room with a muggle toothbrush.

And just as quickly he cancelled it. The eyes of the two Heads of House met briefly in understanding before McGonagall answered.

"Hmmmm…." Her tone portrayed her disapproval, "I may still have to bring this to the Headmasters attention."

While she talked McGonagall moved closer to the desk, picked up the discarded quill and scribbled a quick 'thank you' on a spare piece of parchment.

"As you wish." Responded Snape in a bored voice. "Goodnight Deputy Headmistress." And he returned to his marking, indicating he had no more to say.

"Goodnight." She replied stiffly, playing her part at being dismissed, but as she walked away she gently squeezed the younger man's shoulder in a reassuring and supportive way.

She felt for him, his path was narrowing with his responsibilities dividing day by day. Perhaps she'd floo call Bella before she went to her long standing Saturday night supper with the Headmaster, she knew the Potion Masters wife sometimes visited at a weekend and he looked like he could do with the support of someone who understood him tonight.

Later that night the two stalwart guardians of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry watched from the lounge window of the Headmasters Tower as the shadowy shape of Severus Snape left a flagon of mead outside the Gamekeepers Hut.

McGonagall sighed as she took a deep drink of Gillywater. "Things are changing Albus, I can feel it. It's starting again, like last time, ever since that 'thing' attached itself to Quirrell the school's felt different. And now there's Draco Malfoy, he could have only heard that word at home." She looked at her mentor for some sort of reassurance but for the longest time Dumbledore merely stroked his beard thoughtfully.

"I have warned the Minister about Lucius Malfoy but Cornelius is deaf to his past, all he sees is the money, prestige and tradition the alliance brings him. Perhaps that will change in time. For now I will trust Severus to do his best by the boy."

They lapsed into a silence that only long term friends are comfortable with as they continued to stare out of the window.

"The moon's full tonight." Observed McGonagall finally as she finished the rest of her drink. "I hope Remus is somewhere safe, have you heard from him recently?" She asked with fondness as she left the window and sat down on the deep red velvet sofa.

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled as he joined her. "Funny you should mention our young friend. I had a letter from him recently, he's found a temporary groundsman job in the muggle world."

"I wish there was more we could do for him, it wasn't his fault he was bitten."

"Maybe we can, I think the time might soon be upon us when young Harry might benefit from having one of his fathers old friends in his life." Announced Dumbledore cryptically.

McGonagall shook her head knowing she'd get no more out of her old friend until he was ready. "I'm not sure Severus would agree with you on that!" She retorted as she slowly rose from the sofa. "It's time I was heading to bed, I'll leave you to your plotting." She patted his arm on her way out and tried to push the sense of foreboding away as she walked back to her own quarters.