"Voldie, old chap," Wormtail told me one bright July morn, "Voldie, old chap, I need your help."
Wormtail was an awkward kind of wizard, you understand. We'd been in school together - back in Hogwarts he used to breed Crumpled-Haired Snorkacks in his locker, hence the nickname we still gave him over at the Death Eating club, referring to an incident at the yearly welcoming speech where he's let on of the accursed animals wander all over his person, thus giving old Dumbly the wholly mistaken impression that he had grown a caudal appendage during the summer months. Now, while Wormtail never properly was a friend of mine – I usually prefer the company of Crumpled-Haired Snorkacks-free individuals, you understand – the Code of the Riddles is strict. When an old school friend is in the jam, there is nothing old Voldie wouldn't do to rush to his help, and all that sort of thing.
"What ho!" said I, thus conveying the impression that the fraternal ear was here for the Hogwarts mate in distress.
"I have a problem," said he while twiddling his hat in his hands like a Crumpled-Haired Snorkack in possession of a juicy bug whose exact species it cannot determine.
"Say no more, say no more," I replied, "The Voldemort ear is always there to offer support!"
"Well aren't I glad you don't offer to support me with your nose," he said with, dare I say, an edge of concern to his voice. "But aren't you going to call your man Snape? The matter is a serious one, you see."
Now I am more than grateful to my wizard's personal wizard, really, I am. Snape has saved the Riddle hide more than once, and I often wonder what I would do without him to press my robes, polish my wand, and provide the thousand small services that render the Riddle existence as smooth as a quiet lake one calm evening. There are nonetheless times where I get a tad distressed that my nearest and dearest visit me for the sole purpose of plucking my manservant's brain. I am the one who invented Dark Marks and no one wears black robes better than I do, after all. Every now and then I felt compelled to remind the all and sundry that the old Tom Marvolo had a few brain cells to rub together as well.
"Snape is out," I said in a martial tone, "but I am here, and my grey matter is no worse than Snape's, you know!"
"Well, it is about Bellatrix," he informed me with the voice of a man climbing up to the gallows.
A shiver travelled down the Riddle spine. I am no coward, certainly not, but in front of certain natural catastrophes even the hardest, weather-beaten souls shrink down, scared to their utmost retrenchments by a holy sense of preservation.
"Bellatrix?" I managed to stammer, reaching for another brandy in a desperate attempt to conjure the idea the name brought up.
The poor fellow nodded, looking forlorn. The horrendous female must have declared them engaged, I concluded, and he came straight to the old headquarters for a spot of manly advice on how to extricate himself from such a dire situation.
"Say no more." I stood up, brandy still in hand, and placed a manly hand over the poor chap's shoulder. "The Riddle brain is yours, all yours, to pick at your convenience. Leave me a day – nay, one morning – and I shall have the solution!"
He looked up at me with the desperate air of a drowning man hanging to dear life with one hand and to the life buoy with the other. We agreed on meeting over at the Death Eaters' for supper, and parted good friends.
I poured myself another brandy, waiting for Snape to return from his morning errands. Not that I needed the chap or anything, you understand, but I find myself more attuned to my own thoughts in the presence of another. It made it more convenient to bounce ideas on, not unlike the walls of the Death Eaters', whose mere presence strongly encourages bread loaves to bounce off in flashes of greenish mold.
"Snape, old fellow," I said as he arrived to replenish the brandy supply, "Wormtail was here earlier."
Snape whisked around, dusting this and righting that, in the mute fashion of the person who would love to learn all of his master's private business to go repeat straight to the likes of Dumbledore, but who knows better than to interrupt.
"He's engaged to Bellatrix," quoth I.
"May I present my congratulations…" he ventured.
"No, you may most decidedly not!" I answered, appalled. "Engaged to Bellatrix, my dear fellow! That is a fate worse than death! As a matter of fact, it is a fate that can lead to death!"
"The eldest Miss Black does carry the reputation of being somewhat impulsive, Sir."
"Impulsive is not the word, Snape! The witch waves her wand around like an enraged Nimue and breeds despair and desolation all around. Just the last time she entered the Death Eaters'…"
"Is the club not strictly male-only, Sir?"
"It is, it is! But no doorman in their right mind would get into her way." I paused, reflecting gloomily on the sad consequences of her incursion in the holy of holies. I am no prude, you understand, many an Auror's hat has been plucked off their owner's head by yours truly in the good old days, and my Aunt Agatha tells anyone and everyone that my affinity for dark entertainment spells of all sorts is a disgrace, but neither am I by any stretch of the imagination as wild as Bellatrix. No, Wormtail definitely needed some rescuing.
An owl tapped against the window and Snape presented the letter it was carrying to me.
Voldie old chap,
Am invited by Mr. and Mrs Black to visit Grimmauld Place for supper. Am nervous. Send help.
Hogwarts raises its sons well. When eight o'clock ticked its way around the corner, I summoned my coat without as much as a shiver and set off to Grimmaud Place myself. This, I recognised, was a problem that could only be tackled in person, and the Code of the Riddles would let me send no one but myself. Joining the Black family for supper would also provide me with the ideal opportunity to snoop around a bit and, perhaps, find a loophole or three from which old Wormtail could escape his dreadful fate.
"I shall be back before long," said I in the tone Nelson could have used when heading for Trafalgar.
"Surely, Sir, you do not intend to go out dressed like this?"
I turned around, eyebrows shooting skywards, and cast a cursory glance to the black-clad figure of my valet.
"Are you objecting to my robes, perhaps?"
"Not to the robes, no." The wizard coughed discreetly. "But black masks are no proper headwear for wizards of the world," he went on, looking pointedly at the garment Lucius had distributed at our last meeting over at the Death Eaters'. Great chap, Lucius, great sense of fashion – had a good deal of success last season with that pimp cane of his.
"This black mask," I said with all the warmth of an icicle in its natural, arctic environment, "is the latest trend, and I shall wear it."
"I was given to understand that only those gentlewizards whose features are distorted beyond recognition take to wearing masks…"
"Well, you were mistaken." I walked to the door in a huff. "While I'm away, do go to Wormtail's digs, will you? His Crumple-Haired Snorkacks need feeding!"
And I left, closing the door with proud majesty upon this Parthian whatsit.
"Whom may Fizzy announce, Sir?" the Grimmaud Place butler elf asked.
"Oh Tom! You should never have come here!" Andromeda Black interrupted before I could even begin to answer. She had somehow emerged from nowhere as some witches are wont to do when they start out on the hunt for an eligible wizard to devour. This peculiar witch, you see, labours under the delusion that I am madly in love with her – an impression that pertains to a certain incident at the Black family home a couple of years ago involving hot water bottles and broomsticks with needles attached to them. No one, you see, had warned me that these were magical broomsticks and the old self was therefore thrust in the air in a most unwizardly fashion whilst Miss Black the youngest fell from the staircase right in my direction, landing squarely in the Riddle lap. For reasons known only to Nimue, and perhaps not even to her, Andromeda had thus concluded that, I quote, "for all my clumsiness I had the gentle heart of another Merlin," and that such a fine quality would be lost to the world were I not attached to her in the tight bonds of holy matrimony. Since then, she has been a walking, talking menace. Not that's she's a bad girl, you understand, but she has a certain propensity to refer to the night sky as "Nimue's trail" and to Hippogriffs as "the fuzzy bunny-rabbits of the equine world" that makes the perspective of spending a lifetime of listening to her over one's morning bacon and e. something of a shudder-worthy nightmare.
I summoned all my strength to paste a smile on my lips.
"I, er, I know I haven't been invited…"
"It's not that!" she cut me. "You should try to forget me, Tom! I'm dreadfully, dreadfully sorry I had to break our engagement, but trust me, I wouldn't have made you happy… You deserve a better witch than me, really…"
She proceeded to scrutinise me with eyes reminiscent of a cob past its prime as it sits on a fishmonger's stall.
"Well, jolly annoying and all that," said I, mindful as ever of the witch's feelings. One wouldn't want to pass as ungentlemanly. "But I wondered if I could just pop by for dinner – I heard old Wormtail is here as well…?"
"Wormtail?" she echoed, uncomprehending.
"Pettigrew, Peter Pettigrew – we were together at Hogwarts – Wormtail we used to call him-"
I was saved by the gong in the form of Fizzy who came to bid us to the dining room.
"Is that this Riddle fellow again?" pronounced the elder Mrs. Walpurga Black, peering over her glasses. "Up to no good, I presume. Whoever invited him here?"
"Oh, but Tom needs no invitation," Andromeda chirped in. "He is always welcome under this roof, isn't he?"
"No!" bellowed Mr. Black Sr. from the armchair I'd presumed he'd been buried in.
"Well, I suppose he is somewhat preferable to that young whippersnapper with the common name you spend so much time with these days, how do you call him?"
"Ted Tonks," Narcissa answered, unbidden.
"That's the chap. Why do you spend all your time with good-for-nothing layabouts I shall never know…"
"Ted is not like Tom!" the culprit yelped, "he has a respectable job!"
Walpurga ignored the response and merely pointed her wand in her husband's direction. His armchair started to wobble at an alarming rate; he then stood up and extended a weary elbow in her direction. They led the way to the dining-room.
"I want to have a word with you after the meal," Narcissa whispered to the old self as we followed our elders. "Wait for me in the garden, in front of the statue of Nimue!"
There was no sense in contesting Narcissa's direct orders, and I thus found myself partaking one of the most dismal dinners of my entire existence. Walpurga eyed me with barely veiled contempt and delighted the company with tales of how degenerate today's youth was becoming. Narcissa's gaze was not different from that of a hungry fox, currently standing before the chicken house and wondering when the farmer will see fit to retire and leave him alone with the prey. Wormtail shot shy glances outwards every now and then, forsaken cries for help leaving their desperate imprints on his desolate pupils. And Bellatrix saw fit to cackle wildly at random intervals, as if to announce to the world at large that she had found a fresh, tender male to savour.
To my short-timed relief, it ended at last, and while Wormtail was held captive by a still mirthful Bellatrix who intended to read her last play to him, I headed for the gardens.
"Here you are, Tommy," Narcissa cried out as she saw me. "I thought you would be late!"
"Hardly, old egg, hardly," I answered. "What's the matter?"
"The matter," she said with a purposeful glance, "is that the old cow doesn't approve of Lucius."
By that ill-advised yet adequate metaphor, I inferred that she was referring to the formidable Mrs. Black.
"Doesn't approve of Lucius? But he's a right chap, always well-dressed, has quite the independent income…"
"Independent, ha! He gambles, you know."
"But surely he can't have lost that much…"
"Of course he hasn't lost! Lucius never loses money. No, he won it, last time he played with her, and she won't forgive him for it! That's why I have a favour to ask of you."
I stepped backwards instinctively.
"Don't be such a coward! It's just a little favour, really."
I lifted an eyebrow. Where Narcissa was concerned, there were no such things as little favours.
"I'm afraid I'll have to back off, old girl, see, I'm already on a mission and-"
"Andromeda still loves you," she interrupted.
"What has it got to do with…?"
"Well, I could tell her that you just confided your own flame in me. She wouldn't want to break your heart, so she'd leave Tonks and…"
"Say no more!"
The Riddle brain was functioning at full speed. I couldn't afford to have my engagement to Andromeda renewed: the last one had brought us perilously close to the altar, and I would be insane to risk it again. Don't mistake me, Narcissa's younger sister was not a bad egg per se, but the perspective of watching her devour her toast every morning over the morning paper was something that couldn't help but make the strongest of fellows shiver.
No, I had no choice but to acquiesce to whatever hare-brained scheme Narcissa would come up with.
"Good!" she said. "I knew you'd see reason. Now all I want you to do is to pinch Tonks' hat – isn't that just routine to you?"
My eyebrows shot up skywards.
"No buts. Tonks will get angry, and he'll start searching the house. You know how many Dark artefacts there are around here – my mother will have a fit."
"And how will that benefit you?"
"Well I'll call in Lucius, you'll hand him the hat, he'll give it to Tonks in my mother's presence, giving her some tale about having rescued it from the very jaws of death or somesuch, and will get to be the hero of the story. She'll forgive him his winnings, I'll marry him, Andromeda will marry Tonks, end of story."
"I said no buts. Be here tomorrow at lunchtime!"
And she whirled back into the house, leaving the old self slightly confused. This situation, I felt, was stumbling out of control like an inebriated Death Eater would stumble out of the club after one of our worst binges.
"Toodlepip!" I shouted dejectedly to the assembly in the living room as a means of conveying to their attention my upcoming departure from their presence.
Wormtail was two fingers short of sitting on Bellatrix's lap and was looking up to her with the enraptured stare of a snake-charmer who'd somehow let himself become hypnotised by the snake. She didn't acknowledge my absence, and so I left without further ado.
"Snape," I told my man the next morning, after the life-saving cup of tea had been lodged into my grateful hand, "Snape, you are a godsend."
The wizard oozed around the room, seemingly engrossed in smallish acts of domestic care. I went on.
"If one were… hypothetically… in the situation of…"
I stopped and looked at him, hoping for a hint of a helpful lift of the eyebrow or something similar. I waited in vain.
"If, say, one had to rescue Wormtail from that Bellatrix female, and at the same time steal Tonks' hat – what would you think would the best course of action?"
"I take it that Mr. Tonks is an Auror, sir?"
"Indeed he is," said I, "I'd hardly be supposed to steal his hat otherwise, now would I? I haven't made a habit out of stealing civilians' hats, now have I?"
"Not to the best of my knowledge, Sir. In this case, may I remind you that you already have some experience in the matter? One could hardly add any theoretical advice to the face such a level of expertise."
I blinked. The fellow was showing a definite lack of feudal spirit there. One could almost feel the reluctance to help in the tone of his voice. It came to me suddenly – the mask. He must be resenting the mask still. Well, we Riddles are made of sterner stuff than the likes of the Snapes. I'd survive this, I'd even survive it alone if I must.
I brought my teacup back onto the breakfast tray and stood up in a huff.
"I shall spend the day at the Death Eaters'," I said with an Olympian calm. "You need not wait up."
And upon these parting words I left for milder climates.
The plan was late in coming, but come to me it did.
I was in the middle of a game of darts against Pongo Lestrange when a masked stranger came to us, stole one of Pongo's darts, and shot it straight to the middle of the middle of the target.
"What ho!" Pongo cried out. "I wish that had been me! Say, do the points count, seeing that it's my dart and all?"
"Not in a million abradacadabras," I answered. That would have brought my own point average down, and I had fifteen Galleons set on this game. "Who are you anyway?" I asked the stranger.
He took the mask off and I realised with shock that he was in fact a she, and that this peculiar she was none other than Bellatrix Black.
"I say! Nobody recognised me under this mask, the porter didn't even give me the usual trash about not being a wizard or anything. This is a dashed good costume! Where's Lucius? I have to thank him for inventing it. See you, old chap!" she concluded, hitting me on the back with the kind of strength that usually brings grown men down to their knees.
"Oh, and you?" she told Pongo. "Of course you can keep the points… it was all my pleasure."
And with a wink that would have put a blush on the nether cheeks of old Dumbles himself, she took off in the general direction of the games room, leaving us still under the shock.
"Now that is some witch," Pongo said.
"Some witch indeed," I answered. "I think I need another brandy now."
"So do I," he replied, and we headed to the bar in companionable silence, inasmuch as one can qualify the evening atmosphere of the Drones' of 'silent'.
It was then that the plan hit me.
If I wore my mask during the hat-stealing activities, no one would recognise me. I would be safe! I couldn't wait to expose the plan to Snape.
"I sense a feeling of disapproval emanating from your general direction," I said a couple of hours afterwards, upon finishing the retelling of the Cunning Plan.
"It is not for me to say, Sir," was the only answer I got.
"Oh come on, Snape, you do have an opinion on this."
"Well, Sir, if I would be so bold as to voice an opinion, one feels compelled to point out that a number of things, all of them independent from your will and indeed capabilities, could happen to dislodge your mask from its place over your features, thereby exposing your identity to the all and sundry, which might include Mrs. Black, who is not renown for her mercifulness regarding what Her Ladyship usually calls cheap tricks."
"Oh, what rot! All I need to do is keep a hand over the mask and I dare say it'll stay where it's meant to! Now I do understand your having a peculiar aversion to this item of clothing, Snape, but it won't serve you well to deny its usefulness, I warn you. I shall wear it, an Auror's hat shall steal, and all will be well. And what's more," I added, pointing an accusatorial wand in my manservant's direction, "I most certainly shall tell Mrs. Black, and at great lengths too, that old Wormtail is a scoundrel and a rake – she'll forbid him from coming over, and that'll free him from Bella's attentions!"
I waited anxiously from a sign of acknowledgement from him, but nothing came. I expect the awe of realising the sheer extend of my genius was too much for the poor man and that, jealous of the old Riddle brain, he yearned for nothing more than the relative security of the kitchen. I nodded magnanimously for him to attend to the ancillary task of his choice, and leant back to enjoy the feeling of sweet accomplishment that one derives from having completed a tedious bit of hard plotting.
The plan's completion depended on my being present at the Black's residence, and so it was with considerable strength of spirit that I accepted Andromeda's invitation to a fortnight at the family's country residence. "It will be torture for you," she'd said, "to watch me every day with another man. It is folly to allow this! But I don't have it in my heart to deny you this little pleasure…"
I was met by Lucius before I could even get to my room.
"Horcruxes," he said.
"Beg you pardon?"
"Horcruxes," he repeated. "Do you know how to get rid of them?"
"Never heard of them, old fellow," I replied, not remotely interested. Lucius was, it is true, the reknown inventor of pimp canes and fashionable masks. His present tone of concern did, however, do little to impress in one the importance of listening to him. If this had been about a new sartorial trend, he would have brought more enthusiasm into talking about it.
"'Was a mistake," he said. "Thought they would help me with Narcissa… Reconciling me with the old lady in all that… But it didn't work, and now I can't get rid of the dashed things… Anyway, you up for a game of tennis?"
He would not expand on that somewhat oracular pronouncement, so I didn't insist. I was there on a mission, after all, Lucius' affairs could wait. After the tennis game, he did mention that the evening would host a large dinner party.
The reknown Riddle brain did not fail its owner. My plan was hatched as soon as I heard that prediction: as soon as all the guests had been announced, I would don my mask, slip into the cloakroom, and pilfer the dratted helmet, which I would then endeavour to conceal somewhere safe. A good hiding place would, no doubt, offer itself after the deed was done.
This cunning plan, was, however, not to come into operation, as Ted Tonks himself failed to materialise at the dinner. A sniffling Andromeda took me apart shortly before the bell was rung to announce that her engagement to the Auror had come to an end.
"And so I shall be yours," she concluded. "I cannot profess to love you with the same passion I gave Ted, for that would be a base lie – but I can promise you that I will be a caring wife, and, perhaps, with time, I might become reconciled to my fate…"
She sniffled loudly as I shivered. We Riddles are no cowards, but the Damoclean whatsit of a lifetime of listening to Nimue's little daisy chain having just fallen down on one's skull is the sort of thing that drags one's spirits down.
"I can't possibly have dinner," she added. "Our engagement can only be announced this afternoon, after golf."
And she departed for the stairs with one last, vulture-like clutch of my right hand.
Just as I had begun to believe that I had hit the rock bottom of existence, Narcissa appeared.
"I want an Auror's hat," she declared, "and I want it now. Why haven't you pinched one yet? I thought that was your forte."
"Now look there," I replied with the air and conviction of a wizard in his right, "you said that you'd make sure Andromeda got engaged to me if I didn't do your bidding."
"Well, I'll have you know that we are already engaged," I replied with as much good humour as I could muster under the circumstances.
"Well, that's not a problem. I'll convince her not to marry you if you steal that dashed helmet once and for all."
The opportunity was too good to turn down. I didn't know how Narcissa intended to convince her sister, but few people could resist her when she had something in mind, least of all someone as sappy as Andromeda. Time was therefore of the essence. I hastened outside on a desperate quest for an Auror's helmet, with or without a chap in uniform underneath.
Luck was on the side of Riddles that day. I hadn't quite reached the village when I saw just what I was looking for. The Riddle reflexes, were, as always, as sharp as an especially nimble variety of quicksilver. I took my mask and fastened it over my face before approaching the fellow. He looked strangely familiar, which was strange – I don't make a habit of consorting more than was strictly needed with members of the Auror force. In fact, the last representative of the species it had been my misfortune to bump into had been the erstwhile possessor of the very helmet I had nicked.
Without further ado, I approached him from behind, extended a grasping hand, and seized the object of my desire.
He whipped around, bespectacled eyes agog with surprise.
I barely had time to recognise his face before turning around and fleeing the scene of the crime.
"Hey there!" he cried out, tried to stop me in vain.
I was already running back towards the house under the safe cover of my Death Eater's mask. Dashed useful things, these, I'd have to remember to thank Lucius for them. Unfortunately, the young Auror was right behind me, and it was only by running as fast as the old legs could carry me that I made it to the entrance first.
My first concern was of course to hide the corpus delicti, so I was glad I ran into Narcissa. I proudly presented her with my trophy, and started to enquire what kind of progress she had made with her sister.
"What is that?" she interrupted me.
My eyebrows darted upwards. Narcissa had not striken me as the kind of girl liable to sudden losses of memory. I was about to ask whether she felt quite all right when she expanded.
"Oh, that old thing! You can get rid of it. I don't need it any more."
"Lucius brought Mother some ugly thingummies – Horc-somethings – horrid little things. Of course she said they were disgusting, and she's just kicked him out of the house. I'm forbidden to even talk to him."
Some dejection was apparent in her tone of voice. Any girl, no matter formidable, had her match, and Walpurga Black's decisions was more than even Narcissa could safely challenge. The matter was clear to me straight away: my hostess's decision was irrevocable, and there could be no question of recovered Auror's helmets.
"Ah," I said, anxious to convey my sympathy. "Right ho. But, er, did you have a chance to talk to Andromeda?"
"Talk to Andromeda? Don't you see that I have other things on my mind? Oh, you're so selfish, Voldie!"
She turned around and disappeared into the drawing-room.
I was about to go find a hiding place for the helmet when Walpurga herself appeared, followed by the familiar-looking chap in an Auror's uniform whom the helmet rightfully belonged to. I made a manful attempt at dissimulating it behind my back, precariously balancing it between my two hands, but gravity took the better of it and it fell down with a momentous bang.
"You!" said the chap. "You stole my hat!"
"Well, er, I can explain-"
"And what's more, I recognise you. I would know you anywhere!"
He slowly drew his wand out of its holster.
"My name is Harry Potter. You stole my father's helmet. Prepare to die!"
A lightbulb suddenly went alight as braincells furiously connected to each other. The reason he looked so familiar had to be because he was none other than the son of the unfortunate Auror whose helmet I happened to have borrowed so many years ago.
I tried to mitigate his ire with a few well-placed words.
"What a coincidence!" I blabbered. « It's like saying abradacadab-«
"Expelliarmus!" he shouted, and I flew violently back towards the wall as my wand took the opposite direction, towards his outstretched hand in a flash of red light.
"You," Walpurga said in my general direction, "are a disgrace. I have said it and I will repeat it. You are a disgrace to wizarding society." She turned to the Potter character. "You may arrest him now."
Waking up in a holding cell is never a pleasant experience. It usually happens to me after a well-lubricated night out, and the hangover clouds the proceedings in a fuzzy blur, with the perspective of downing on of Snape's famous pick-me ups looming large in the back of my consciousness like a bright beacon of hope amidst a sea of utter gloom.
This time, however, I was as sober as the Milky Way – or Nimue's little daisy chain, as I would soon be referring to it myself by dint of matrimonial contagion – and there was nothing to distract me from the nightmare playing round and round in my own head.
Wormtail, the poor, Crumpled-Hair Snorcack loving soul, would be married and in all likelihood eaten alive by Bellatrix.
Narcissa would be forever separated from Lucius, and that would lead to an inevitable drop in the invention of new fashions.
And I would be dragged to the altar by a determined Andromeda if I didn't get deported first for repeated theft of Auror's helmets. I was undecided as to which fate would be the worst.
These dark ideas were floating around my mind like vessels of doom in a sea of grey when Bellatrix came to rescue me.
"What ho, Voldie!" she greeted me with an unusually cheery voice as the warden opened the cell door. "What happened to you – has an orange grown on the back of your head?"
I gingerly lifted my hand to feel for the back of my head.
"I've come to release you," she went on without listening in a way rather representative of her usual manner. "Paid your bail and everything. I'm your biggest fan now, you see!"
I blinked, alarmed. There are some statements of enthusiasm that cannot but evoke rank fear, and that last remark definitely was one of them.
"So, Peter convinced you to make these Horcruxes Lucius has been showing around, did he? We're engaged now!"
I shivered in sympathy for Wormtail.
"Your man Snape told me all about it!"
Anger slowly replaced the dread. One wouldn't call me dictatorial, but there are some things one comes to expect of one's servants, and some kind of feudal spirit is expected. That Snape should go plotting behind my back to deliver one of my friends square onto the lap of a man-eating Gorgon defied comprehension.
I hastened back to my room as soon as we had arrived back to the house, eager to get the inevitable confrontation over.
"Snape," said I in the tone of a wizard who will not take obfuscation for an answer. "I believe you have something to explain!"
"Well, go on. What do I hear? Isn't Wormtail engaged to Bellatrix?"
"News of their matrimonial intentions have indeed reached my ears, Sir."
"Well, then, what do you have to say for yourself? Do you deny you aided and abetted this unnatural plan?"
"No, Sir. It was I who convinced Miss Bellatrix that Mister Pettigrew, whom she held for a wizard unworthy of her attentions, had a true potential for the Dark Arts as I knew that would make him much more interesting in her eye."
I couldn't reply and merely gaped at him in mute horror.
"I should add that the match was violently desired by Mister Pettigrew, who came to seek your help with the sole intention of finding a way to better pursue the object of his desire."
I remained silent a few more moments, digesting the information.
"What are these Horcruxes anyway?"
Snape cleared his throat. "They are Dark objects, Sir, rumoured to contain parts of their owner's soul. More self-respecting witches and wizards hold them in a mixture of contempt and disgust."
"I should think so!"
"Miss Andromeda's maid, a Miss Hermione Granger, reliable informed me that Miss Andromeda had a particular dislike to Horcruxes."
"What does that have to do with anything? And how come you know about this anyway?"
"Miss Granger and I have an agreement, Sir."
I gaped in amazement.
"I am sorry to inform you that Miss Andromeda has broken her engagement to you, Sir, as soon as she heard you were the brains behind the whole Horcrux affair."
A thousand champagne bottles bursting simultaneously wouldn't have been an adequate metaphor for the level of elation I was feeling. Not engaged to Andromeda! Life was worth living after all.
"And Mrs. Black has welcomed Lucius into her family as soon as she heard that you were responsible for the Horcruxes and not him," Snape added.
"Hang on a second," I said, feeling compelled to voice the objection. "With everyone thinking I'm been making Horcruxes right, left and centre, I'll be remembered as the nastiest wizard of all times."
"It seemed inevitable at the time, Sir."
"That mask you disapproved of so much?"
"You may dispose of it."
"I gave it to Fizzy yesterday, Sir. It appears it has now begun a second career as a shoerag."
I paused and considered the situation I would have found myself in had my wizard's personal wizard not intervened.
"Very well, Snape. Very well."