A/N: So, I was reading SS/HG fanfiction while listening to Meatloaf, and this happened. It'll be seven chapters, with titles taken from the tracks on the Bat Out of Hell album (cheers, Jim Steinman!). Many thanks to my wonderfully encouraging and efficient beta, peskipiksi. Disclaimer: Any characters you recognise belong to JKR, and I'm not making a penny from them.
Chapter 1: Bat Out of Hell
The cauldron's contents exploded in a shower of red sparks, and a cloud of pink fumes rose to envelop its unfortunate owner. "McBride!" roared a voice, and from the other side of the dungeon a dark figure loomed, trailing his black robes behind him. Professor Snape closed in on the hapless McBride, who was now coughing uncontrollably as he emerged from the smoke.
"How much pomegranate juice did you add, McBride?"
"Two spoonfuls, Professor."
"And what do the instructions on the blackboard say?"
McBride tried to focus his now streaming eyes through the pink vapour.
"Oh... two drops, Professor."
"So while you have undoubtedly improved the flavour of your Throat-Ease Potion, it will have been rendered utterly ineffective. Rather like you. Evanesco!" Snape vanished the offending mixture with a contemptuous flick of his wand. "And ten points from Gryffindor for being an irredeemable idiot."
Snape stalked away from the desk, shoulders hunched over and trailing his robes like the bat of his nickname.
"Merlin, that bloke never bloody changes!" muttered McBride.
If, however, McBride had been looking at the Professor's eyes as he strode away he would have noticed a mischievous twinkle that was rarely there during Snape's first tenure as Hogwarts' Potions master.
Oh, he was still as irascible as ever with the younger and stupider pupils, but there was a persistent rumour that with his more talented NEWT students he could be a patient and encouraging teacher with (whisper it) a dry sense of humour. Truth was that in the ten years since his near-death at Voldemort's hands, Snape had mellowed. He'd had a lot of time to think during his long period of recovery at St Mungo's and his even longer convalescence at Hogwarts.
It had turned out that while the anti-venom he had formulated had been totally successful at saving his life, the side effects of taking it for two years had been rather severe. He emerged from St Mungo's after six months with a weakened heart and scarred lungs, and an admonishment to "Get plenty of fresh air and gentle exercise!" echoing in his ears. While he was nowhere near fit enough to teach again, his erstwhile colleagues had welcomed him back to Hogwarts to complete his recovery. Well, Minerva had welcomed him back, anyway. The others had tiptoed around him (physically and metaphorically) until they had established that he was probably no longer dangerous – and that even his tongue was used rather less as a deadly weapon than it had been previously.
The gentle exercise element of the prescription had been achieved through walking, firstly through the Hogwarts grounds, then further afield. Within six months, he was often out of the castle all day, walking for miles through the wild hills. On one hot day during the summer holidays, he arrived back at the castle desperate to cool down, and on a sudden impulse stripped off and jumped into the lake. The instantly invigorating cold water was a revelation, and from that day on he added a morning swim to his slowly increasing exercise routine. At the end of his first year back at Hogwarts, the healers at St Mungo's pronounced themselves delighted at the improvement to his health. He felt fitter than he had done in years, and the outdoor air had even brought some colour to his sallow cheeks.
But more important to him than the physical recovery were the changes to his mental state wrought by his lonely wanderings. It took him a little while to adjust to the fact that he was free – to leave the castle, not to tell anyone where he was going, not to be responsible to any master. And that freedom brought with it a peace of mind he couldn't remember ever feeling before.
When Minerva asked him to resume his position as Potions master and Head of Slytherin House when Horace Slughorn retired (again), he'd agreed with only slight reluctance. Teaching idiots was a minor irritant compared with what he'd suffered in the previous decades, and he felt ready to live a quiet life. And for seven years he managed just that.
"P-p-p... Professor Snape!"
Snape spun round as he left the Great Hall after breakfast to see a terrified-looking first year brandishing a piece of parchment as if it was on fire.
The boy continued in a rapid, high pitched squeak. "Excuse me, Professor, but the Headmistress asked you to give me this!" He showed no sign of actually handing the parchment over, so Snape snatched it from his shaking hand.
"Thank you, Davison. Is a reply needed?"
The small boy looked at him in abject horror. "She... she didn't say, sir."
"Then probably not. That will be all. Run along, now." He flapped his hand at the boy, who didn't need telling twice and dashed away down the corridor as if pursued by the Headless Hunt.
Snape sighed as he opened the message. What thankless task was Minerva about to saddle him with? At least there were only ten days left until the end of the summer term. He read the immaculate copperplate: "Please come to my office at 3 p.m. today to meet with Anton Fletcher."
What did the Head of the Auror Office want with him? Snape wondered as he headed back to his rooms. He had not met Fletcher since his promotion to Head of the Office a couple of years ago, but as a rank and file Auror he'd had a reputation for dogged determination rather than brilliance. Determination had its place, though, and Snape knew Fletcher had been instrumental in apprehending many of the numerous Death Eaters who had gone underground after Voldemort's defeat. Even after ten years the Aurors were kept very busy.
At 3 p.m. prompt, Snape entered McGonagall's office. It had changed considerably since Dumbledore's – or indeed his own – day. There were rather fewer exotic magical instruments and rather more comfortable chairs, and the decor inclined towards the Caledonian. To Snape's surprise, the Headmistress was not in the room, but a tall, stooped man in his late fifties was standing looking out of the window. He turned as Snape entered and held out a hand, smiling.
"Good to see you looking so well, Severus," Fletcher said as they shook hands. "And thank you for sparing the time to speak with me."
"My pleasure," replied Snape, "although I will admit to a certain curiosity as to what the Auror Office wants with a humble Potions teacher."
"Enough of the false modesty, now. Take a seat and I'll explain." The two men sat down next to the Headmistress's desk, and Fletcher continued.
"Minerva will be with us shortly. She's showing my colleague some of the recent changes to the school and receiving her own briefing on the reasons for our visit. Now, of course you are aware that we are still tracking down the last of Voldemort's supporters. The information you have given us in the past has proved invaluable in identifying and convicting many of them."
Snape inclined his head briefly in acknowledgement.
"Unfortunately, some have proved rather elusive. We have become aware in the last few years that a number have sought refuge in the Muggle world."
"The same thing happened after Voldemort's first defeat," interjected Snape.
"It did, indeed, but this time around we find ourselves in a rather more complicated situation. Twenty or so years ago it was relatively easy to swoop in and seize a Dark wizard from his Muggle hideout, Obliviate a couple of Muggle neighbours or police officers or whoever, and no one was any the wiser. Unfortunately, since then the Muggles have undergone something of a communications revolution. I don't know if you know anything of their computers or something called the Internet?" He looked at Snape enquiringly.
"A little," admitted Snape.
"Well, without going into details – although I don't really understand it myself – they can pass on messages instantaneously, send photographs and moving pictures, and get access to all sorts of information very quickly on these computer machines. The upshot is that it is now extremely difficult to control who knows what.
"We seized an ex-Death Eater called Filmore about three years ago. He was living a very quiet life in a Muggle town, but fortunately was spotted by a passing wizard. Anyway, we did the usual – took him in the early hours of the morning, no witnesses, Obliviated his neighbours and the owner of the local corner shop, and thought that was that. Next thing we knew, his disappearance was all over the Muggle press – a Muggle boy had been passing, delivering newspapers, and had used his mobile telephone to take moving pictures of Filmore being bundled out of his house. He went to the Muggle police, put the pictures on this internet thing so everyone could see them, and the Muggles began investigating a kidnap! It took us months to get it all sorted out, and apparently Muggles are still coming up with all sorts of far-fetched conspiracy theories about the whole affair."
Snape raised an eyebrow. "Although I suspect none of their theories are nearly as far-fetched as the truth," he observed drily.
"Quite," Fletcher agreed. "In the wake of that debacle, a Muggle-born member of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement suggested it might be a good idea to set up some sort of small unit to work with the Muggle police. As far as the police are concerned, they are a special anti-terrorist unit, which gives them all sorts of rights to act rather outside ordinary Muggle law. It means that we have perfect cover to seize Dark wizards openly in front of Muggles, and they don't ask awkward questions."
"Except if they see magic performed in front of them, I imagine," said Snape.
"We try to avoid that wherever possible," replied Fletcher, smoothly. "We have certain alternative methods available to us. The personnel recruited to the unit have all been trained in Muggle laws and law enforcement techniques, as well as obviously being some of our most gifted wizards and witches."
"This is all very interesting, Anton, but I fail to see where I fit in."
"The head of the unit has accompanied me here today and should be returning any minute with Minerva. She's in charge of the operation we need your help with, so I'll let her explain."
Just then they heard footsteps and laughter coming from the staircase behind them. Fletcher and Snape got to their feet and turned to greet the two witches as they entered the room.
"Perfect timing," said Fletcher. "Severus, I believe you know Miss Granger - the Head of the Muggle Law Enforcement Liaison Unit."
Snape looked at Hermione in shock. He hardly recognised her. Her long, bushy hair was now cropped short, her robes were elegantly cut and draped on her slender figure, and she was still smiling broadly at whatever joke she and Minerva had been sharing. She looked nothing like the intense, gawky student he remembered. She held out her hand for him to shake, directing her smile towards him now.
"Professor Snape. It's so good to see you again. It's been too long."
He could detect nothing but sincerity in her voice. He took her hand briefly and inclined his head.
"Miss Granger. I always thought you would go far."
She fixed him with an impish grin.
"On the contrary, Professor, as I recall you always thought I was an insufferable know-it-all."
"The two thoughts are not necessarily mutually exclusive," he responded acerbically. "I understand you are going to enlighten me as to the reason for my presence here."
Minerva gestured them all to seats, and she took her place behind the desk. A tea tray had appeared, and she gestured for the teapot to pour. Cups floated to land in front of each of them.
"Yes, Miss Granger," the Headmistress said, "I'm interested to know why you need to borrow my Potions master."
Hermione took a deep breath and began to speak.
"Part of our job in the unit is to monitor Muggle news, crime reports and so on for any sign of suspicious, Dark Magic-type activity. It came to our attention late last year that an arms dealer called Yuri Markov was rumoured to be offering a rather unusual new chemical weapon. When applied to the skin this chemical causes agonising burning pain which, apparently, is resistant to any Muggle attempts to alleviate it. It causes a red discolouration to the skin at the application site, but the burning pain rapidly spreads right though the body."
While she had been speaking, Fletcher had removed a folder from his briefcase, from which he now extracted some Muggle photographs which he passed to McGonagall and Snape.
"We were able to obtain some Muggle moving pictures of this chemical in action," he explained, "and here are some still shots."
Hermione spoke again. "The first picture shows the application site, with the distinctive colouration. Any thoughts, Professor?"
Snape examined the picture closely. "It looks somewhat like a Scorpion Sting potion. The effects of that are similarly systemic to what you describe, although the pain is less intense and the application site stains pink rather than red."
Hermione nodded. "That's the conclusion we came to as well – we think it's some sort of enhanced Scorpion Sting." She gestured to the other photos. "These show the application of a second chemical, presumably the antidote, which removes the red stain and halts the pain. We think that Markov plans to sell both. You could effectively hold your enemies to ransom by spraying the potion around and then withholding the antidote until your demands had been met."
"So if you don't need me to identify the potion... ?" Snape left the question hanging.
Hermione looked at him seriously. "We need you to identify Markov. We can't be sure if he's a wizard himself, or if he is acquiring the potion from one, but we suspect the former. He apparently arrived in the UK from Russia five years ago, but we've been able to find out nothing about his life before then. Russian police and security services say they have no files on him, although they don't exactly have a spotless record when it comes to sharing information.
"He's something of a recluse, with just a very close knit circle of friends, family and business associates, and it's notoriously difficult to actually get to meet him. And it's proved impossible to get a photo of him."
Snape leaned forward in his chair, curiosity well and truly piqued. "Impossible to get hold of one, or impossible to take one?"
"Both. I've managed to meet him on three occasions. I've been working undercover as a freelance international trade negotiator, and got an introduction to Markov through one of his associates. My cover has links with some of the more unsavoury regimes in Africa, so Markov thinks I may be useful to help him peddle his wares. On the second and third occasions we met I had a hidden camera, which totally failed to capture any images of him. Pictures of everyone else came out fine, but his face was blurred."
"Some sort of Concealment Charm, I assume?" Snape asked. He was slightly surprised to find himself addressing Granger as an equal rather than an irritating, if talented, pupil.
"We think so," Hermione replied, "and a sophisticated one at that. I find it very hard to recall any details of his appearance either."
Snape opened his mouth to speak, but Hermione beat him to it.
"And if you're about to suggest Legilimency, we've already tried that. It seems my memory of him is genuinely blurred. No, the only way for you to see if you can identify Markov is to actually meet him."
Snape didn't bother to ask why they had come to him. He knew his knowledge of Voldemort's circle was unrivalled among those on the "right" side. He had spent weeks at a time during the first few years of his recovery providing the Aurors with names, descriptions, locations – anything that they or he could think of that might help with the huge task of bringing the Death Eater army and their collaborators to justice. He had rather hoped that his role was at an end and he would be allowed to let his memories of that part of his life fade. But it seemed not.
He picked up his replenished tea cup and asked calmly, "And how exactly do you propose I engineer a meeting with this notorious recluse?"
Hermione smiled brightly at him. "Oh, that part's easy. You'll be posing as my husband."
Snape nearly choked as he inhaled a mouthful of tea. He took a moment to regain both breath and composure, then fixed the young witch with his best glare.
"Quite apart from the utter implausibility of that scenario, I work alone. I do not need the distraction of babysitting such an inexperienced dabbler in the art of espionage."
Hermione's eyes flashed with barely suppressed anger. "I wasn't aware I was asking to be babysat, Professor."
Fletcher held up a placatory hand. "Severus, I'm afraid we must insist. It has taken a considerable amount of time and effort for Miss Granger to earn her place among Markov's circle. It would be a waste of our resources to repeat the exercise for you when we already have your cover prepared. Miss Granger has told Markov all about her husband, an eminent research chemist. I understand he is very keen to meet you." Fletcher then played his trump card. "If you refuse to participate, our only other option is for Miss Granger to apprehend Markov alone, without knowing if she is dealing with a Muggle or a dangerous wizard."
Oh, great, Snape thought. Now they were appealing to his better nature. He tried to hide the fact he had one, but it was sometimes unconcealable. It looked like he would have to tolerate working with the young witch briefly.
"Very well." He nodded once, unsmilingly. "Do we have a business meeting set up, or dinner?"
Hermione looked at him with a slightly smug smile. "Oh, it's rather better that. We're spending the weekend at his country house."
Fletcher reached into his briefcase again and pulled out a small packet of papers, which he handed to Snape. "Here is all the information we have on Markov, along with details of your and Miss Granger's cover stories, and the plans we have made for the weekend. Before we commit you totally to this mission, though, I'd like some sort of assessment of your capabilities."
Snape fixed him with a chilly stare. "An assessment?" He said the word with distaste.
Fletcher returned the stare, unintimidated. "We are well aware of your outstanding performance and ability during the war against Voldemort, but you cannot deny that you were gravely ill and have been out of the field of combat for a decade. I am sure you can appreciate that it would be remiss of me to send Miss Granger into a dangerous situation with you without first of all establishing that you are capable of defending yourself adequately."
Snape tried to ignore the rage and humiliation which were fighting for dominance in his head, and spoke calmly. "And what form do you suggest this ... assessment ... take?"
"Oh, I think a quick duel with Miss Granger should suffice."
Snape was gratified to see a shocked look flit across Hermione's face. This was obviously as unexpected to her as it was to him.
"Perhaps you could take yourselves off to an empty classroom now?" Fletcher continued, looking at McGonagall enquiringly.
"Of course," she replied. "The fourth floor Transfiguration room is free."
Snape stood up. "Come along then, Miss Granger. I'm sure you can't wait to put me through my paces." And with that he swept out of the room, leaving her to follow swiftly after him.
Hermione stole a glance at Snape's face as they walked quickly along the fourth floor corridor. She had been pleasantly surprised by the change in his appearance. She had hardly seen him in ten years. He returned to the castle during her seventh year, but had been an infrequently glimpsed presence then, and she'd had little call to return to Hogwarts recently.
While his customary black garb and long black hair were still very much in evidence, his skin colour was much healthier, and he had lost the general air of self-neglect he used to carry. Any doubts about his physical fitness were being dispelled by the speed at which he was walking, though she suspected that was driven by fury. She could well imagine the humiliation and ire Snape felt at being subjected to a test of his abilities by a former student. She took a deep breath.
"I'm sorry about this, Professor; I had no idea..." Words failed her.
Snape slowed his pace and turned his head to look at her grimly. "Much as it pains me to admit it, Miss Granger, Fletcher would indeed have been negligent to not confirm my skills are still intact. He is correct in his assumption that I have not fired a spell in anger for ten years."
Reassured by his words, Hermione smiled as she responded, "Not even at know-it-all Gryffindors?"
She was rewarded with a slight quirk of his mouth.
"I have fired many spells in frustration, irritation and total exasperation, but even your house-mates have not merited the heady heights of anger."
They entered the empty Transfiguration classroom, and Snape moved the desks and chairs to one side of the room with a quick flick of his wand. Hermione strolled to the centre of the room with a forced nonchalance. She breathed slowly, trying to still the repeated "Oh my God, I'm going to duel Professor Snape!" reverberating around her brain. Was she going to end up utterly humiliated by the Potions master, as had so often happened during her school career? Or (worse!) was she going to discover that his injuries and long illness had left him a shadow of his former self?
Snape took up a position opposite her. He pushed his long black hair back from his face and gently shook his robe sleeves up his arms to leave his hands totally free. He gave her a slight bow, which she returned.
"Ready, Miss Granger?"
"I suggest we begin with verbal spells only."
"Very well," she replied with a calmness she did not feel.
Snape nodded curtly. "After three, then. One, two ... Expelliarmus!"
They shouted simultaneously on what should have been the count of three.
Snape's curse bounced harmlessly from Hermione's shield. "Cheat!" she exclaimed.
"And your point is, Miss Granger?" Snape drawled as he began to move around her in a slow circle. Hermione mirrored his movements, watching his wand arm closely.
Their simultaneous spells crashed in a shower of sparks between them. Hermione began to relax and enjoy herself. So far they seemed fairly well matched. Again and again their spells clashed as they circled and probed each other for weakness.
Hermione flung up a shield just in time to protect herself from Snape's Stunner. Oh, getting serious now, are we? she thought. Let's see what you can do with this.
Snape's shield was up the instant she cast the Stunning Spell, but in her mind she said, "Finite Incantatem!", and his spell dissipated to leave the remnants of the Stunner through. Snape was thrown backwards onto the hard wooden floor.
He was back on his feet and circling again almost instantly, a slight smile on his face.
"Non-verbal FiniteMiss Granger? Clever."
"Thank you, Professor. Of course it dilutes the power of the Stunner somewhat but it can still be enough to give one the upper hand."
"Briefly, maybe." He gave a slight flick of his wand.
Hermione jumped a little as the lights extinguished and the curtains snapped shut to leave them in total darkness. Blind now, she concentrated on her other senses, straining her ears to pick up any movement. She felt a sudden shift in the air behind her, then there was a red flash and a Stunner shot at her from the opposite corner of the room. She was hit in the chest and stumbled backwards, only to be caught in a tight grip.
"You were saying, Miss Granger?" Snape spoke softly in her ear as he held her against his chest.
Hermione tried to steady her breathing, not sure whether she was more shocked by the Stunner or the sudden close proximity of her ex-teacher.
"How did you manage to Stun me from over there when you're... here?" she asked.
"Relumos!" Snape relit the lamps without relinquishing his hold on her.
"There's a mirror in that corner, Miss Granger," he replied, his breath warm against the sensitive skin of her neck. "I simply reflected my spell off it."
Hermione looked at the mirror on the opposite side of the room.
"I hadn't noticed that."
"Well, there wouldn't be much use in my dropping the lights if I hadn't already planned my move, would there?"
His voice, as soft and melodic as ever, sent shivers down her spine. She moved her arms up to cover his where they wrapped round her body.
"The reflection dilutes the power of the Stunner somewhat but it can still be enough to give one the upper hand," he continued.
Hermione smiled as she recognised her own words and moved her hands down to hold his gently. She turned herself slightly towards him, then gripped his hands more tightly as she bent her knees, braced her shoulder upwards and flung him over to land on his back with a thump.
She looked down at his shocked face. "Briefly, maybe," she said, and walked sedately out of the classroom, trying desperately to stop the bubbles of gleeful laughter that were threatening to rise from her chest.
Snape pushed himself up into a sitting position, wincing slightly as he straightened his back. He'd be in need of some Bruise Paste later. But Merlin, that had been... fun, he admitted, slightly surprised. He'd initially thought defeating his ex-student would be easy, but she'd quickly disabused him of that notion, repelling his early curses with a speed and aplomb that had impressed him. She'd certainly been well trained, and she was young and fit enough to use the training effectively. Unlike himself, he thought, ruefully. OK, he was still fit, but his reflexes weren't quite what they were. And that bit of trickery in the dark hadn't worked out as planned either.
He climbed painfully to his feet, trying to decide which hurt more, his pride or his arse. Arse, definitely. This was just the opening skirmish, and if the cocky little Gryffindor thought she'd beaten the bat of the dungeons into submission, she was very much mistaken. He was rather looking forward to their next duel. Though as he hobbled towards the door he thought verbal sparring might be preferable for round two.
Snape arrived back in the Head's office to find the others waiting for him. Minerva noticed his slight limp and asked sweetly, "Would you like another cushion for your chair, Severus?"
"That won't be necessary, thank you Minerva," he replied smoothly as he sat down and tried to find a comfortable position.
Hermione glanced over at him. "I was just reporting to Mr Fletcher that you seem fully fit and your magical skills are as effective as ever." She looked back at Fletcher. "Although a little training in Muggle unarmed combat might be useful."
"I am familiar with that primitive fighting style, thank you. Your use of it during a wizarding duel was just ... unexpected," Snape replied, lightly.
"Well you had just cast a Stupefyat me," retorted Hermione.
McGonagall raised an eyebrow. "Professor! Please tell me you didn't Stun Miss Granger!"
"Merely a reflected one, Headmistress. And not even full strength. At the risk of sounding like a whining first year, she Stunned me first. At least I had the manners to catch her when she fell."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Who says chivalry is dead?"
Snape glared at her.
McGonagall's second eyebrow rose as well. "I think we should count our blessings that you two are fighting on the same side!"
Later that afternoon, the four walked down to the entrance hall for Hermione and Fletcher to depart.
Snape and Hermione paused by the front door, discussing final details. They were to meet for a few days' preparation before their weekend away.
"I'll arrange Muggle clothing for you, Professor," said Hermione. "I assume Madame Malkin has your measurements on file?"
Snape bristled slightly. "I can assure you, Miss Granger, that I am perfectly capable of procuring suitable attire." And he dreaded to think of the type of costume she might deem appropriate.
Hermione put her hands on her hips. "I don't doubt it, Professor, but you may as well utilise the Ministry's resources. Don't you trust me not to dress you in purple tartan and a fuchsia cravat?"
"Not really, no," he responded bluntly.
Hermione huffed. "Honestly! This is part of my job – let me do it. I promise everything will be dark-coloured and tasteful, and you'll be free to Transfigure anything you don't like, anyway."
"Very well, then," he conceded, reluctantly. He had to admit Muggle fashion was not exactly his area of expertise. He raised a warning finger at her. "But the slightest hint of Gryffindor colours and the deal's off."
"Marvellous! We'll need to do something with your hair, though. That's hardly a Muggle style, even in academic circles."
"You are not cutting my hair, Miss Granger. It's an essential part of my image as the malevolent Potions master. Just because you've decided to cut off your crowning glory I see no reason to do the same."
Hermione's hand went to her cropped curls. "Don't you like my hair, Professor? It's a lot easier to manage this way, and I thought it rather suited me."
Snape snorted. "Your hair is absolutely fine, but it is not a style I am in a hurry to imitate."
In fact, he thought her short hair emphasised her eyes and bone structure and made her look like a fallen angel, but there was no way in hell he was going to tell her that.
Hermione put her head on one side. "Hmm, I wonder, is it long enough to be tied back?" And before he realised what she was doing, she'd moved to stand beside him and was running her fingers gently through his hair. She swept it back from his face and gathered it in one hand at the base of his neck, leaning round to look at him from the front. "Oh, that's fine. You'll look every inch the trendy professor."
Snape raised an eyebrow. "Marvellous. Now would you be kind enough as to unhand me?"
Hermione released his hair and stepped away from him rapidly, looking slightly flustered. "Sorry. Your hair feels gorgeous – really soft. What do you wash it in?"
"The lake. Now if you don't mind, some of us have work to do. I look forward to receiving your owl with the time and date of our meeting."
And he abruptly swept off in a flurry of black robes, back to his dungeon to contemplate what the hell he had just let himself in for.