The Bella and Voldy Show
Bellatrix Lestrange stepped into the phone box opposite the Kwiky Mart in Paddleboat-on-Thames at approximately 4:57 in the afternoon. After dialing a number in (appropriately) Phoenix, Arizona, she crossed her arms over her chest and felt herself drop into the ultra-secret headquarters of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Of course, that was going to change soon. For weeks the former Thomas Marvolo Riddle, aka Lord Voldemort, had been toying with the name Maxwell Smart, a change which would permit everyone to name him again. And about time, too, thought Bella. As it is, every time I mention him to my hairdresser, she thinks I'm talking about the landlord.
"There you are, Bella!" cried H-W-M-N-B-N. "How have you been serving my greatness this afternoon?"
"Flying hither and yon, Dark Lord, attempting to defeat your nemesis, the one foretold by prophecy who will destroy you."
"Are you still on about that prophecy? I gave up on that weeks ago. A crock, if you ask me, just like that washed up charlatan Trelawney. We found out she took medium lessons from 'Seers R Us' just to fool Dumbledore with her mumbo-jumbo. Not a syllable of truth in it."
"But I thought the Potter brat almost killed you at the age of one. Wasn't that part of the prophecy?"
"Well, about that. It seems there was a little tag on the wand that said, 'Do not dryclean.' It doesn't matter. I got a new one."
Bella looked puzzled. "If I'm not supposed to go after Potter anymore, who do I go after."
"Has anyone been keeping a file on students who already graduated? Like 'Class of '95, Where Are They Now'? I heard from several sources that Angelina Johnson was quite attractive. Athletic, too. Now if you could go after her… No? Bad idea, I guess."
"There was the little matter of taking over the world. And even if you no longer think the Potter boy is a menace, he still considers himself 'The Chosen One,' and he's trying to kill you."
"A mere trifle. I hear the boy couldn't analyze himself out of a paper bag. We could go down to one of those shops that sells kinky toys, buy an inflatable doll, hang a sign around its neck that says 'You-Know-Who' and that would keep him busy for what, six weeks? It's a good thing for him they don't teach rocket science at Hogwarts."
"He found out about the Philosopher's Stone, didn't he?"
"No, he didn't. We were twenty minutes into the conversation before he figured out Snape wasn't there. I don't think it's hit him even yet that Snape was never there. Ah, to be young and obsessed again."
Bella smiled. "The good old days. So we're back to my second question. Who do I go after?"
"Do you think the Johnson girl has a twin sister?"
By the time the Dark Lord worked his way down to Milicent Bulstrode's cat's former owner, Bella was in need of air. Promising to locate and interrogate the cat later in the evening, she escaped into the corridor. It's dinnertime. If I go to the employee cafeteria, I may find someone who's good for a few laughs. Or at least a mild case of the hiccups.
In fact, Severus Snape was there. He was reading a modest pamphlet entitled 101 Ways to Revive Old Dudes Who Fall from Towers, which he'd cleverly disguised by replacing its cover with one from an old Mad Magazine. The virtue of this was that the few people who glanced at it thought it was a new biography of the Dark Lord and immediately lost interest.
Bella sat at the table opposite Snape. He quickly closed the pamphlet, but not before Bella saw the face on the cover.
"Is that the new biography of the Dark Lord? Let's see."
"This is the Hungarian version. The English is being released in two weeks."
"Drat. I've been looking forward to it for some time."
Snape shook his head as he slipped the pamphlet into a pocket in his robe. In the battle of wits, I may not have an AK-47, but Bella isn't even armed.
"Have you noticed anything 'different' about the Dark Lord lately?" Bella asked.
"Is this about the aftershave, because I swear I had a cold that day and the salesgirl said..."
"No, no. I mean different in the way he's… That's aftershave? Have you been contemplating a career change?"
"He won't notice if you don't tell him. Now, tell me what's bothering you."
A half an hour later, Snape was tapping gently on the Dark Lord's door. "Did you send for me, sir?"
"No, at least I don't think I did. Did you feel me call you?"
"The Mark started to itch. I thought it might be you." That or a mosquito bite. There's not much to distinguish them.
"It probably was. I surprise myself sometimes. What did you want?"
"You sent for me."
"Well, then, what did I want?"
"I'm sure I don't know."
"What do I pay you for if not to be able to help me when I've forgotten something?"
"Sir, you don't pay us."
"No? Would you like a raise? Say, fifteen percent over the next six months. How does that sound?"
"Your Lordship is too kind."
"Now, what did I want? Oh, yes! Did you get that spell I sent you? I'd like to try it."
"Sir, that was a spell to grow hair on a billiard ball."
"In order to use it, I'd first have to change your head…"
"Did anyone ever tell you what a party-pooper you are, Snape?"
Bella met Snape again in the employee cafeteria. "What did I tell you?'
"He is a little delusional. How do you plan to handle it?"
"You're his favorite. That's what you're always telling me."
Bella thought for a moment. "I may have been mistaken about that."
"Maybe you could protect him from himself. Shield him from the petty cares of daily life. Be his mouthpiece to the rest of the organization."
"I thought I said that."
"In place of the Dark Lord, you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! All shall love me and despair!"
"Don't bury yourself in the part."
The biggest and most obvious change was the window treatment in the outer waiting room, which suddenly acquired both a valance and a swag in a chartreuse and magenta plaid. This was to complement the already existing crimson and gold taffeta curtains.
"Tell me again, Snape. This is from…"
"The Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, my Lord. It was a favorite color combination of the Emperor Peter III."
"Well, I guess Bella knows what she's doing."
"She has only your best interests at heart."
"Explain to me again why I never see anyone anymore except you and Bella."
"Your loyal followers have expressed a need for a more metaphysical experience of your presence. You were too accessible to them, and you know what they say about familiarity. They crave a mystical relationship and wish to commune with your greatness from a more respectful distance."
"So they're not just avoiding me?"
"None of us would ever dream of avoiding you. Think of it as pre-mortem deification. Like the pharaohs of Egypt."
"Oh, does that mean I get a pyramid?"
"We were thinking of something more British, like a megalithic stone circle, but if you'd rather have a pyramid…"
"No, no. Stonehenge will do. But Snape…"
"Yes, my Lord?"
"Being deified is a dreadful bore."
"You'll get used to it, my Lord."
Minerva McGonagall put the last touches onto a herbal face mask and was tweezing her eyebrows when she heard a yelp from the fireplace. They always call just when I'm busy. This'd better not be a request for a donation to Wizard Olympics, or a public opinion poll. She held her mouth immobile so as not to crack the mask, turned around, and asked, "Who is it?"
"Minerva, what's happened to your fire? It's burning, and… Omigosh! Are you all right? I can call a doctor!"
"Don't be silly, you silly boy," McGonagall muttered through pursed lips. "And don't you dare pretend you've never had a facial. And you can't tell me you don't shave your legs either."
"Yes I can," said Snape. "You want to hear me? I don't shave…" He yelped again, vanished, and was back a moment later with an icepack strapped to his head. "Minerva, there's something wrong with your fire. It's red."
"Well of course it's red. You don't think now that I'm Headmistress that I'm going to have a fireplace with Slytherin colors, do you? So I changed it to red and gold. Pretty, isn't it?"
"Let me guess. You've had a sudden drop in the number of friends who call to chat, and you don't understand why."
"Actually, Severus, that's true. Nymphadora used to call and gossip for hours. She dropped by Thursday last week, barely said hello, and hasn't been back since. Was it something I said? Severus?"
Snape had gone, but was soon back with a chunk of block ice, three electric fans, and an entire case of Klondike bars. "Minerva, red fires are hot."
"That's what I thought, too, and I've always wanted to be in the fashion forefront. Now that I have this wonderful office and the extra pay that goes with an administrative position, I've been doing a little redecorating, not much you understand, just a little here and…"
"Minerva! You're roasting me! Humor me, please! Change the fire back to green!"
"Well, alright. If you're going to be so sensitive about a little color change… Now what's so important that you can't just send an owl?"
Snape waited until the flames turned a cool, comfortable green. "I need to pass on word that the Dark Lord has been neutralized."
"Isn't that a bit drastic? I mean, I know he's our enemy, and most of us want him dead, but still, it seems cruel and unusual… sort of adding insult to injury…"
"Not neutered! Neutralized! No longer a threat. Out of the arena of battle."
"Well why didn't you say so, instead of hinting at unpleasant little operations…"
"Well I wouldn't call it exactly 'little'… Wait a minute! I did no such thing"
"You certainly did!"
"Minerva! I need to pass on word that the Dark Lord is not going to bother us for a while."
"Bella Lestrange has set herself up as the power behind the throne. She controls things now. The Dark Lord is a figurehead."
"Like on a ship? I didn't know he fancied sea travel."
Snape shook his head This is why that evening we were all discussing the allegory in British literature we ended up having to call 'Reptile Control.' "More like a puppet, with Bella working the strings."
"Is that wise? Bella can get a little, well, 'cranky.'"
"But she's not a fast thinker, and by the time she's figured out what's happening, it could be all over."
"What is happening, Snape dear?"
"I need to get a message to Dumbledore."
"Oh. I'm sorry. Hadn't you heard? Dumbledore's dead."
Snape cupped his forehead in his hands. There were days when it wasn't worth getting out of bed. "Minerva, I know the official line is that he's dead, but I'm a member of the Order, and I'm in on the secret. Now this message…"
"Oh, but I'm sure he's dead. I certainly hope he's dead. I mean after the funeral and burying him and all."
"You buried Dumbledore? I guess maybe now he is dead. How could you bury him?"
"It seemed like the decent thing to do, much better than leaving him out for the crows. And ants. We're having such a problem with ants… Wait a minute. The Potter boy says you're the one who killed him… Severus, do you think it's wise to call me on this line?"
"The Potter boy will believe anything. There's this bridge in Brooklyn I've been trying to interest him in…"
"That's not important now. Listen, Minerva, Dumbledore wasn't supposed to be dead. He may not have been dead. Where did you bury him?"
"Next to the lake. It was a lovely service. Everyone…"
"In the mud?"
"Well no, of course not. Aside from the crayfish and worms, it turned out we didn't have to. This marvelous white tomb just appeared from…"
"A tomb? He made a tomb?"
"I wish you would stop interrupting me. I used to rap your knuckles in Transfiguration class, and I can do it again."
"Hold on, Minerva. I think I have some floo powder around here somewhere. The maid threw the last batch out, and it took me six weeks to convince her I don't smoke. Ah, here it is. Minerva, if you would be so kind as to lower the shields, I'll come over right away."
"I've always wanted to hear someone say 'Beam me up, Scots Lady.'"
"Funny about the shields. I'm never sure if they're up or down. If you accidentally ran into one on your way through you'd be squished like road kill under a steamroller, wouldn't you?"
"Beam me up, Scots Lady…"
"Welcome aboard, Mr. Sp… uh, Snape."
Snape stepped gingerly into what had once been Dumbledore's office. He had to be careful because the size of the hearth was reduced by half due to new black marble facing decorated with egg plaster motifs of vines, acanthus, and stylized pineapples. The rest of the room had been redone as well in early Victoria and Albert 'Balmoral.' One entire wall was covered with a hideously familiar chartreuse and magenta plaid.
"What do you think?" McGonagall asked.
"Charming, I'm sure."
"Do you like it? I know it's a bit 'ethnic' for some people's taste."
"It is unique. I can think of only a couple of people in the world with your vision."
"I am so pleased. Now, why are you here?"
"I need to see Dumbledore's tomb. It's very important."
"It is quite a walk down to the lake, and we wouldn't want the rest of the staff and students to see you. You're not exactly Mr. Popularity right now. Besides, the weather's terrible. Why don't I just show you the pictures from the funeral?" McGonagall crossed over to her desk, casually drawing the curtains across the window as she did so, to block out the brilliant sunshine.
"I'd rather see the real thing, but you do have a point about being seen. Maybe I could look at the pictures now, and go down to the lake after dark."
"That would be so much more sensible. Meanwhile we can chat and catch up with each other's news. I haven't had a chance to talk to you since… well, since. Tea?"
"A cup of tea would be very nice."
"Queen Victoria always took tea with her tenants when she visited the Highlands. She used to remark to one how good it tasted and finally asked what was in the tea. 'Whisky, Ma'am' was the reply. Would you like some of Vicky's favorite flavor?"
"We have a long day ahead of us. Why not?"
McGonagall poured from a dark flask, and watched sweetly while Snape drank his tea, sipping her own from time to time. She had taken none of the whisky. After his head sank onto his folded arms on the table, she rose and went to the fireplace to make a call. A woman with long black hair appeared in the flames.
"We are 'Go' for launch," McGonagall said. The other woman nodded.
McGonagall then rang for a couple of house Elves who lifted the sleeping Snape onto a cot in the corner of the office, where McGonagall cast a few restraining spells.
"Nighty-night," she said, and blew him a kiss as she left the room.
Later that afternoon, McGonagall was perusing an enormous tome replete with the knowledge of one and a half thousand years of development and two centuries of academic codification.
"Let's see, D comes after G, so it should be… no, this is H. I'm sure I know it – A, B, G, D, E, Z… but this is completely different. Who would trust Americans anyway, especially Americans who would call something Funk and Wagnall's? Nasty sounding name. Why couldn't Albus have the Oxford one, even if you do need a magnifying glass to read it? Ah! here are the Ds. Dram…dram… liquid measure equal to one-eighth of a fluid ounce… No, that's wrong, I'm sure. It's equal to four fluid ounces… see weight table… ounce equals eight drams… gill equals four ounces… at six hours per dram…" She glanced over at the still-sleeping Snape. "I really would like to talk to you earlier than a week from tomorrow."
Desperate times require drastic measures, and McGonagall sacrificed an ostrich feather from a beloved hat to tickle Snape's nose with.
After about five minutes, Snape sneezed. Progress, thought McGonagall, and continued tickling.
Another sneeze, a fit of coughing, and Snape was awake, wheezing and spitting out bits of feather. "What are you doing with that thing, woman?"
"You should learn to be more polite to a person who can leave you tied up like a Christmas turkey for the next five years."
"You wouldn't dare."
"Wouldn't I?" McGonagall rose and went to her desk, bringing back some sheets of paper with rectangles cut from them. "Coupons," she explained, "for disposable diapers. I've been trying to decide what size you need."
Snape blanched. "I'm sure we can discuss this like mature adults."
"One of whom will be wearing diapers. I'm sure we can."
Surrender in the face of overwhelming odds is no disgrace. "What do you want me to do?"
"Vow to obey me, whatever I may require of you." McGonagall paused for dramatic effect. "Pinkie Swear."
"Not that! Anything but that! I'll be your slave for a sabbath of years, but not…"
McGonagall was adamant. "Pinkie Swear," she intoned in a voice fierce as a panther's growl. She held out her little finger. "Well?" she said.
Snape coughed apologetically. "Ahem. I don't want to be pedantic or anything, not having been conscious when it happened, but I seem to be immobilized."
"Oh. Right." McGonagall hooked her right little finger around Snape's. "You promise to obey me, whatever I ask. Pinkie Swear."
"Pinkie Swear," replied Snape, and his bonds were removed.
"Tea?" suggested McGonagall cheerfully.
Snape sniffed suspiciously at his cup of tea. "I'm not sure," he said. "I'm still groggy from the last one."
"But I didn't give you grog. It was good Scots whisky. Well, no, it was a sedative, but you thought it was whisky, so why you're talking about grog…"
"May I have some coffee?"
McGonagall frowned. "You're interrupting again. Don't interrupt," and she twitched her little finger in a menacing way.
Snape was silent.
"Now you have to tell me how you got What's-His-Name to give that Lestrange person so much power, since I would never have expected him to agree to such conditions seeing as he's always been so secretive and, well face it, protective of his own position, though that's really understandable because once you start delegating power it does tend to disappear… Why aren't you answering me?"
"I'm not supposed to interrupt."
"Oh. Well, let me see. You may interrupt, but only when I want you to."
"That's what I like. Explicit instructions."
"I never used bad language and you know it!"
"I wasn't insinuating…"
"I should certainly hope not! This is a refined school for well-brought-up students, and we don't need your evil influences…"
"I'm sorry. You wanted me to tell you something."
"Don't…!" They glared at each other for a moment. The clock ticked in the silence. "We need to establish some ground rules," McGonagall said.
"What's this?" asked H-W-M-N-B-N.
"Your supper. I thought you might like a change."
Bella peered at the plate. "Maybe that means it's fresh."
"It doesn't smell fresh. What good is it having house Elves if they can't cook?"
"About that. Have you signed any papers in say, the last month?"
"Just a book contract from my publisher. For an autobiography."
"Did it have strange words in it, like 'lot' and 'square footage' and 'escrow?"
"Now that you mention it…"
"Sneegy says it 'went through' yesterday, and won't take orders anymore. Are you sure you don't want to eat that?"
"He's tied up with someone… uh, something else at the moment. I'll tell him you were asking."
"Oh, and Bella…"
The ground rules were fairly simple. Snape was allowed to interrupt freely on alternate Tuesdays before 3:30pm. At all other times he had to raise his right index finger and say, "Je me leve le doigt," an incantation McGonagall had learned in her youth when she attended an exclusive convent school outside Porcherie-sur-Marne, an experience that left her with an abiding sense of proprieties and a permanent dislike of penguins.
By this time it was evening.
Snape raised his index finger. "I thought that was only when I had to interrupt."
"I've amended it. What did you want now?"
"About the tomb?"
"I see one must be one hundred fifty years old, have a beard and be dead to get attention around here."
"Are you feeling isolated up in this Tower?"
"What did you have in mind?"
Snape thought fast. "It's a warm evening. Tombstones can be quite cool. What do you say to a little lobster bisque, some pâté de foie gras, a bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild '73, and a picnic supper down by the lake?"
"How about a flask of Drambuie and a haggis?"
The 'flask' turned out to made of an entire sheep's stomach, just like the haggis, and as Snape monitored its contents he began to wonder just how much a Scotswoman could drink and still pick up a seven-ten split for a spare.
To make matters worse, McGonagall was beginning to get – affectionate.
"Ye were the cutest wee bairn I ever did see traipsing down that aisle for the Sorting. Knee-high to a stand of heather, and pale as an Irish banshee, ye were. And clever? Och, I never had a bairn so quick to pick up changing topaz to toads. If I'd ever had a bairn of my own, I'd've wished it to be like you, laddie."
It was near midnight before she drifted off to sleep and Snape, in desperation, finally took a slug of the Drambuie. "Gad! It's made of Scotch whisky!" he sputtered as he spit the stuff out. Some of it sprayed the sides of the tomb, which immediately glowed with an eerie fluorescence.
"Since before your sun burnt hot in space," the tomb intoned, "and before your race began, I have awaited… Drambuie? No, that cannot be right. Minerva, is that you? You know I respect your people and your culture, but we have had this conversation about Drambuie before and…"
"Sir, it's Snape."
"No, no. I know Snape. A pousse cafe or an Amaretto maybe, but never…"
"I'm with McGonagall. She's just gone to sleep."
"Ah, that explains it. Well, I am only programmed to respond to initial contact. You will have to find the communication slot."
"What do I do when I find it?"
"I do not know. I have never been dead before."
Snape searched the tomb carefully and located a narrow vertical slit in the side facing the lake. Unless it's just a crack in the marble. Now what? He tried speaking into it, peering into it, blowing into it, sticking his finger into it, tickling it with a blade of grass, splashing it with Drambuie, feeding it haggis, and shining a Lumos spell into it, none of which worked except the spell singed his eyebrows.
Discouraged, he sat down next to McGonagall, then contemplated the voluminous pockets in her robes. Maybe she has something I can use.
A minute later the surrounding grass was covered with a brush, a comb, two tubes of lipstick, a book of matches, a receipt for nicotine gum, a corkscrew, half a pack of breath mints, several used handkerchiefs, a racing form for the next day at Ascot, the keys to a Honda Civic, a quill, a bottle of ink, and a small roll of parchment.
Tearing off a narrow strip of parchment and dipping the quill into the ink, Snape wrote in tiny, cramped letters 'Are you in there?' and stuck the paper into the slot.
A long, thin piece of paper unrolled from the bottom of the slot like tickertape. Snape tore it off and read 'It depends on who you are and what you want.'
Snape inserted another piece of parchment. 'It's Severus. I'm going to get you out of there.'
'Right now? It is rather inconvenient.'
'I'm trying to save the world from the Dark Lord.'
'Moldy Vort? He can wait. We just ordered and the floor show is starting in ten minutes.'
'We? How many of you are there?'
'Well, since Trixie left… What business is it of yours anyway?'
'We have to save the world!'
'Has anyone ever told you what a party-pooper you are, Snape?'
Snape paused fifteen seconds to indulge himself with the image of Dumbledore and Voldemort together at last in 'Rage in the Cage' complete with a year's supply of Acme Best Theatrical break-away chairs, then scanned around for something to use.
Desperate times require drastic measures. Snape pocketed the book of matches and began tearing up dry grass and piling it on the tomb. The tickertape clicked like a mad thing.
'Snape, why are you turning a perfectly respectable tomb into a feed lot for every deer in the forest?'
'There are no deer in the forest.' Snape alternated working and writing notes.
'There could be if you want some. What are you doing?'
'A little home improvement project I've been dreaming of for a while.' Snape started emptying the rest of the flask of Drambuie onto the grass.
'Now, now. You know how I feel about Drambuie. And I can assure you almost 85% that no deer, not even Scottish deer…'
'It's not a feed lot. It's a barbeque.'
'That shows how much you know. The alcoholic content of Drambuie is not sufficient…'
WHOOSH! Snape watched with satisfaction as the flames leapt into the air and the intoxicating smell of burning grass and charred Scotch wafted over the lake. Poor Dumbledore had forgotten that it was McGonagall's Drambuie.
The tomb was blackened and its marble cracked in five places. Snape settled himself by the slot with his quill and parchment.
'Did that liven up the floor show?'
The tickertape whirred again in the slot. 'I hope you are satisfied. That was the most fun I have had since 1873 and you had to spoil it.'
'What happened in 1873?'
'Well if you are going to get technical… I do not remember'
'Look, it's late. It's cold. How do I get you out of there?'
'What is in it for me?'
'The eternal gratitude of the whole wizarding world.'
'Sure. That and a nickel will buy me a pack of gum.'
'Gum is a quarter now. Besides, we're British. We use pounds.'
'I use a five-finger discount. It saves having to count change.'
'I thought you were the moral one and I was the evil git.'
'Propaganda. Do not tell me you never noticed.'
'I never noticed.'
'I asked you not to tell me that.'
'Have you been contemplating a name change?'
Bella Lestrange stared into the popping flashbulbs like a deer into headlights. "And that is why the Dark Lord has asked me to speak for him henceforth. Any questions?"
"No, ma'am, none at all."
Bella glared at the reporter in the second row. "Who asked you?" she said.
"No I didn't. That was a general question for the group."
"Then why did you say my name?"
"I didn't say your name."
"Yes you did."
"What's your name?"
"Hensforth McGillicuddy. Daily Prophet."
"Oh. Well. Yes. I'll remember it next time. Does anyone else have any questions?"
"Magical Enquirer. Is it true you've actually chopped the Dark Lord into little pieces and are slowly feeding him to the staff disguised as chicken salad sandwiches?"
"Can we ask him to confirm that himself?"
"Witch Weekly. Would you like to comment on your ranking in our 'The Person I'd Like to Be the Last Person on Earth With' poll?"
"I don't know. How did I do?"
"You were 6,483,055,102nd, right after Abu, the noseless leper who sits in front of the Mumbai fish market."
"It looks like there are no more questions. This press briefing is over."
Bella Lestrange entered the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Dark Lord. "You rang?"
H-W-M-N-B-N peered at a panel of ropes behind his desk. "Has someone been messing with these bell-pulls again? I thought I rang for Snape."
"Snape is, uh, indisposed."
"Maybe something he ate last night. As soon as he's finished, tell him…"
"No, I mean he can't come. He isn't here."
"Not here? I don't recall giving him permission to go somewhere."
"He said he didn't need it. He's renting you a movie."
"I didn't ask for…What movie?"
"He said he figured out your name is an anagram: Loves Dial M To Murder. He thought it must mean you, so he went to get it. How's that for loyalty?"
"There's no S in my name. Come to think of it, there's no U either. And I thought it was 'Dial M for Murder.'"
"Isn't your name 'Tom Marvelous Riddle?'"
"Drat. I could've sworn…"
"Petrificus Totalus!" Bella sat down to think. Then she went to the fireplace. As green flames sprang up, she said, "Hogwarts, we have a problem."
It was getting towards dawn, and Snape was getting nowhere with Dumbledore. Despite the fire damage to the stage and bar, and the flight of Agnes, Serendipity, and Gale ('Are you sure Gale Storm is her real name, sir.') in the wake of the vanished Trixie, Dumbledore wouldn't budge. Snape was getting tired and just a tad cranky. To make matters worse, McGonagall was stirring, or at least beginning to snore.
Quite suddenly, in seeming thin air, a tinny and unidentifiable instrument began trilling the melodic line to the "Ode to Joy" from the Ninth Symphony. Just to prove how cranky he was, Snape ignored it.
'That is Beethoven, Snape.'
'Beethoven is dead.'
'So am I, but it does not stop me from having a good time.'
'Wait a minute! I thought you couldn't hear in there!'
'I… well… It must be the cracks you put in the marble with your shenanigans, you pyromaniac!'
'You mean you couldn't hear my conversation with McGonagall?'
'Not a word of it. Not even the bit about traipsing down the aisle with a face as pale as an Irish banshee.'
Snape stood, trembling with fury. Or maybe it was the cold. Or the Drambuie. "I've got ink stains all over my fingers, and I've gone through half a page of parchment, and you can HEAR!"
The tickertape stopped, clicked a few times, then started again. 'All right, I just cannot talk. I wanted us to be on the same level.'
The "Ode to Joy" started up again, and Snape took a small, thin, rectangular box from his pocket, opened it, and held it to the side of his head. "Hello? – I asked you not to call me at this number. – There is nothing so urgent that you can't fax it. – Do you have any idea what time it is in Britain? – I'm a little busy…" Snape turned away from the tomb and lowered his voice. "All right, I'm thinking of you. I think of you every day. And I wish you sugar-plum dreams as you lay your sweet head on your satin pillow. Hugs and kisses from me, too. Wuv you."
Snape closed the little box as he turned back to the tomb. "Gad," he muttered, "the things you have to do to keep good help these days."
Clickety-click-whirr. 'Snape, what was that?'
'You were talking to someone.'
"Just my cell phone."
'A Self-Own? Strange name. What does it do?'
"It's a Muggle form of Floo powder communication. Except you can carry it with you."
'No wonder Arthur likes Muggles. Can you talk to anyone?'
Snape looked thoughtful. "I can. You can't talk." He pulled the cell phone out again. There was a series of faint beeps as he punched in a number. "I'm calling someone now."
'This is fun.'
"Hello, Trixie. You don't know me, but I'm calling on behalf of a friend of yours. – Let's see… tall, long white hair and beard… – No, this one has a pointy hat. – Albikins? Yes, I guess it's Albikins."
'Severus, ask her if she's free tonight.'
"She's never free, but she says she could give you a discount."
'Tell her I shall have everything ready for her.'
"She says she's not slumming any more. She's left that dump for good and has a nice, up-scale apartment. There's an opening at 7:30 if you want it but otherwise…"
There was a hiss, a snap, a pop, and the crackle of electricity, and Dumbledore was standing next to Snape, looking fine except for some minor singeing around the beard. "Give me that thing, Severus. I want to talk to Trixie myself."
Snape handed him the phone. As Dumbledore put it to his ear, he could hear a soft, elegant, female voice saying: "At the tone, the time will be – four twenty-seven and ten seconds. beep"
"That is not Trixie, Snape."
"I lied. So I'm wicked and evil. So sue me."
"I am not going to play this game. I am going back…"
"Into the tomb? Go ahead. I'll just call the Acme Move-A-Tomb company and relocate you. Maybe to be the new base for Nelson's statue."
"That might not be so bad. It is in central London, no? Trafalgar Square?"
"Do you know how many pigeons there are in Trafalgar Square?"
Dumbledore eyed Snape. Snape eyed Dumbledore. Dumbledore caved first. The pigeons were too much. He tried to change the subject.
"Snape, why is McGonagall lying on the grass?"
"She was trying to drink me under the table."
"And she lost? I do not believe it."
"Well no, she won. I gave up before the first drink. I just didn't tell her."
"I… uh… yes… well… We should get her up to the Castle before anyone sees her like this."
"Do you want to get her head or her feet?"
"I want to get Hagrid. Do you think he's awake yet?
There was a light on in Hagrid's hut.
"You go first," said Dumbledore.
"Well, I am dead. Or at least I am supposed to be dead. If he sees me, he will think I am a ghost. I do not wish to shock him."
Snape started forward, then stopped and turned. "How thick do you think I am?" he asked. "You're trying to get me killed."
"Moi?" Dumbledore smiled and spread his hands in mock innocence. "What tipped you off?"
"If he thinks you're dead, then he thinks I killed you. How could you let poor Hagrid think you were really dead?"
"It was the only way to get him to bury me."
"You wanted to be dead?"
"You have no idea how long I have been planning this. It was not just the nightclub. There was a sauna, a gym, a massage parlor, a four-star restaurant, a movie theater, tennis courts, and a nine-hole golf course. All I needed was someone dumb enough to think he could throw me off the Astronomy Tower without killing me. No offense."
"But I didn't kill you."
"Well, maybe not that dumb, but you do have your moments. Now, thanks to you and saving the world, it is all gone."
"You can always make it again after What's-His-Name is finished off."
"It wasn't insured."
A crossbow bolt and a loud roar interrupted the conversation. Actually, the roar came first, giving Snape just enough time to avoid being skewered by diving behind Dumbledore.
"Come out from behind that memorial statue, you cowardly little refugee from a John Lennon look-alike contest! I'm gonna shish kabob you if it's the last thing I do!" Hagrid was stumping across the lawn, already fitting another bolt into the crossbow.
Dumbledore held up a hand. "Now, now, Hagrid. Let us not be too hasty."
"Stupid ruddy statue. They're always putting these things where they get in the way. If they wasn't so lifelike, I'd chuck 'em in the lake. SNAPE, YOU BLACKGUARD! Come out and face your comeuppance!"
"Hagrid. I assure you I am no statue."
"Well, you ain't no Michelangelo and that's for sure. Nor no Rodin neither. SNAPE! You stand up and take this bolt like a man or I'll kick you into next Sunday!"
"I'd rather study my options if you don't mind," replied Snape, keeping Dumbledore between himself and the formidable bulk of Hagrid.
"I ain't above knocking artwork around to get what I wants to get…"
Dumbledore stepped away from between the two.
"You rat!" Snape screamed. "You absolute rat! Hagrid, listen to me. Would a statue betray someone like that? Who would betray someone like that?"
"Professor Dumbledore?" Hagrid said timidly. "Professor Dumbledore, is that you?"
The three moved into Hagrid's hut where Dumbledore explained, with help from Snape.
"So when Snape threw me off the Astronomy Tower, he was under the impression that it would not kill me."
"It didn't kill you."
"A detail. Besides, it would be a shame to waste such a lovely tomb."
"Well, sir, does that mean you and Professor Snape will be saving the world from You-Know-Who?"
"Sorry, sir. Just Professor Snape, sir?"
"No, I mean call him Snape. He is no longer a professor."
"Wait a minute!" Snape interrupted. "How did I lose my job?"
"You left before exams. It voided the contract. You could be rehired, of course, but you would start at the bottom of the pay scale, lose all your seniority, and be on probation for three years, after which you would qualify for medical and dental insurance."
"But I was just obeying your orders!"
Dumbledore's face lit up with a smile. It was a beatific smile, a gentle and understanding smile, a smile to sooth hurts, heal wounds, and bring peace to discordant families. It was a smile for the ages.
"Prove it," he said.
Snape let the subject drop, making a mental note to dig out a copy of the contract. There had to be a protective clause. Dropping the Headmaster off a tower might come under the section 'Services to the School' or 'Curriculum Improvement.'
Meanwhile Dumbledore finished filling Hagrid in on McGonagall's situation, and the three started back to the lakeshore, Dumbledore and Snape having to trot along smartly to keep up with Hagrid.
McGonagall wasn't there.
"Search the area!" Dumbledore ordered.
Hagrid turned over several rocks.
Snape sighed. "Sir, she must have gone back to the Castle. We'd better go, too. Neither you nor I want to be seen around here yet, and the sun is coming up." Although, Snape thought, if they see him alive and well, they can't be angry with me for killing him. Note to self: Stick to Dumbledore.
They got back to the Castle without incident, except for Peeves in the entrance hall, who took one look at Dumbledore, screamed "A ghost!" and fainted dead away.
The stairway to the Headmaster's office was locked. Dumbledore stood in front of the griffin statue and tried passwords: Fudge Toffee – Cherries Jubilee – Chocolate-covered Baby Bees… Nothing worked.
In frustration and disgust, Snape finally pushed Dumbledore aside. "Sean Connery!" he commanded, and the stairway began to move.
"How did you know that?" Dumbledore asked, peering over the rim of his glasses.
Snape shrugged. "McGonagall has a slightly different view of what constitutes 'candy.'"
The three ascended to the Headmaster's office to find the Headmistress waiting for them with drawn wand. Snape immediately slipped behind Hagrid, reasoning that McGonagall would have to get at least three shots in before Hagrid even felt it, much less reacted. Dumbledore looked at him quizzically.
"You have developed some new habits since I left," he said.
Meanwhile McGonagall was turning several attractive shades of purple and fizzing like a shaken soda can. "You… what're you doing here? You're supposed to be dead!" she gasped, turning the trembling wand on Dumbledore.
"That is precisely what I kept trying to explain to Severus, but he had some kind of mental block about the concept. Pity about the tomb. Maybe you could use it for a planter."
"Psst," said Snape, reaching out and tugging Dumbledore's sleeve. "Fireplace."
"Yes, yes, Severus. I see the fireplace. And the walls and curtains. Minerva, who did you bring in as a decorator…"
"No!" Snape hissed. "Fireplace. Green."
"Now I know you have had a hard night, Severus, but I assure you that the new additions to the fireplace are black and white. Are you sure you were not imbibing a little of the lighter fluid you used on my tomb?"
Dumbledore had turned his back on McGonagall to address Snape, and now she was inching toward the hearth. Snape banged his head against Hagrid in exasperation.
"It's green, you Dunderhead! The fire is green! She's been talking to someone by Floo powder."
"Oh. Yes. I was just getting to that. Minerva…?"
But McGonagall had grabbed the dish of Floo powder, ducked under the new fireplace surround, cried out "Headquarters!" and vanished in a dazzling light display of emerald and chartreuse sparks.
"Now where was she going in such a hurry?" Dumbledore asked.
"Headquarters," replied Snape. "Paddleboat-on-Thames. I have a bad feeling about this."
Dumbledore looked concerned. "Have you tried Tums?" he asked.
"Tell me again about What's-His-Name," Dumbledore said.
"He's losing it. We enter Headquarters through a telephone booth. He keeps saying things like, 'Missed it by that much' and 'Would you believe…' He wants to give us numbers instead of names, and tried to get us all to call Bella '99.' She thought we were referring to her age and turned Rabastan and Alecto into dormice before we could explain. It wouldn't be so bad except he wants me to act like a robot and change my name to 'Hymie.'"
"He may have figured that it is the only way anyone will ever call him 'Smart.' Well, you know what I must ask you to do, Severus. If you are ready. If you are prepared."
"Humph," said Snape. "The last time you said that to me, I ended up being tortured for three hours. So what if I'm not ready? What if I'm not prepared? What if I park my little half-muggle rear end in that chair over there and study how not to be prepared for say… the next six months? What then?"
Dumbledore turned to Hagrid. "Do you see what I mean about new habits? I go away for a couple of months and he's hiding behind people and refusing assignments. You know, Severus, you never used to be so…"
"Intelligent? You're right. I used to be the biggest pushover in Hogwarts."
"Now, now, Severus. This time I really need you."
"You need a barber, too, but I don't see you letting that stop you."
"Any ideas?" Dumbledore asked Hagrid.
"I could sit on him."
Dumbledore wheeled, wand in hand, and cried, "Accio Snape's wand" before either of the other two realized what was happening. "Now," he said to the flabbergasted Snape, "you and I are going to have a heart-to-heart chat."
"It hurts me," said Snape slowly, his hands at shoulder height, palms forward, "when you don't trust me."
"Trust?" responded Dumbledore. "Consider it rather a sign of respect."
"You respect me?"
"I respect your wand." Dumbledore turned to Hagrid. "Stay close," he said. "I may still need you to sit on him." Then he faced Snape again. "Please sit down, Severus. Watching you fidget gives me hives."
Snape sat on the edge of the chair. Hagrid came and stood beside him. Snape jumped up and circled to the other side of the room.
"I wasn't going to sit down yet," said Hagrid.
"You just watch yourself," said Snape. "I like my knees the way they are."
"Both of you sit down!" Dumbledore shouted. "Hagrid, you first."
Hagrid sat heavily on a sturdy side chair. Snape chose an armchair on the other side of the room. Dumbledore perched on his desk where he could watch both of them.
"You know we need someone on the inside, Severus. Getting Hagrid under cover would be like trying to sneak in Mt. Everest. And I could no more disguise myself as a Death Eater than Lou Alcindor could play a Munchkin."
"Kareem Abdul Jabar," said Snape.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Kareem Abdul Jabar. He changed his name."
"No. That would be like Cassius Clay…"
"How long have I been away?"
"Most of your life it would seem. Do you still want me to infiltrate Headquarters?"
"Does summer follow spring," rejoined Dumbledore archly. " Does an elephant have a trunk? Do the Braves play for Boston?"
"Milwaukee," said Hagrid.
"Atlanta," said Snape.
"Is there anything about American sports that has not changed?" cried Dumbledore in frustration.
Snape thought for a moment. "The Yankees?" he suggested.
Dumbledore drummed his fingers on the desk as he eyed Snape. "We still have to figure out a way to get you into Headquarters."
"I still don't want to go."
"We just have to find a way to make here less attractive than there."
"There I'm going to get roasted by Bella and Minerva. You're going to have to be really creative about here."
"How do you feel about Grindylows sucking your toes."
"Love them. Bring them on."
"Lethifolds squeezing the breath out of your body."
"My next favorite, right after toe-sucking Grindylows."
"You are trying to be difficult."
"Moi?" said Snape innocently. "What tipped you off?"
"Now you are being cheeky."
"I don't have a lot to lose."
"What if I give you your job back, with a six percent cost of living raise, two extra weeks vacation, a larger office with a view of the lake, medical, dental, and zero deductable on your wand insurance?"
"Really? That's wonderful! I'll take it."
"Good. Now, infiltrate Headquarters or I fire you."
"Wait a minute!"
"That is not enough to lose? I can add a five hundred galleon Christmas bonus before I fire you."
"Can I get that in writing?"
"Professor Dumbledore, sir. You want I should sit on him now?"
(to be continued)