Severus scowled at the mirror. As
usual, it reflected his pale face, framed in black. Black hair, black robes; there were even
black drapes behind him. He did not
frown at the unfashionable cut of his clothes or the dullness of his shoes, not
even at the sickly look of the inevitably greasy hair that accentuated a pronounced
nose, both of which had drawn teasing all his life.
No, it was the mirror itself that earned Severus’ glare. It was a rickety old thing. Age spots marred the surface and the frame
listed from an inexpertly applied Reparo
charm to the cracked leg.
‘Don’t know why I keep it,’ he muttered as he turned his back on the
In fact, he did know why; he just hated the evidence of his own
sentimentality. The mirror used to stand
in his mother’s room. She had not been a
beautiful woman – he had realised this at a very young age – but once a year
she dressed in an elegant Muggle gown and took the time to inspect herself in
this mirror. Severus remembered the
sequins and silver trim that lent their charm to the plain woman she was the
rest of the year. The occasion for this
annual transformation was his father’s office Christmas party. After the elder Snape had gone, the mirror
sat neglected until Severus brought it to his own flat and put it to a similar
Rather than host a Christmas party, Severus’ employer – a respected
purveyor of scores of potions – insisted that his staff attend the Burns Supper
hosted by his good friend Archie Burns. No
one actually believed Archie’s claim to be descended from the celebrated bard
but on Burns Night the truth of it did not matter. It was an honour to be invited, as Severus
was often reminded at work in the days preceding the event. It was also a tacit condition of his
employment or he would have spurned the favour.
Severus snatched his wand from the bedside table as he strode into the
hallway. He tucked the wand into his
robes before donning a black winter cloak.
He turned down the lamp that stood on the narrow table by the door and
picked up the bottle of whisky that sat beside it along with the embossed
invitation. Together they would allow
him entrance to the dreaded festivities.
Cradling the bottle in the crook of his left arm, he left the flat
looking as if he were going to a funeral rather than a party.
Severus blended so well with the shadows that only the crunch of his boots
on the gravel path warned of his approach.
He could see a puzzled doorman peering into the dark winter night with a
cautious grip on the wand in his pocket. By the time Severus finally entered the weak
lamplight of the doorway, he was convinced that the doorman was more than he
seemed. A gust of chilly wind lifted the
man’s lapel enough to expose his Magical Law Enforcement badge under the dull
‘Cutting it a bit fine tonight,’ the ersatz doorman commented in casual
tones that belied the alertness Severus detected in his manner.
These gatherings must be a
nightmare for the Ministry, Severus smirked to himself, while handing over his
invitation and responding aloud with a terse, ‘Perhaps.’
The invitation passed the officer’s intense scrutiny and he returned it
with a pleasant, ‘Enjoy yourself,’ which clashed with the keen stare accompanying
it. It was a passable attempt at Legilimency
– clearly the reason this particular officer took the post – but the attempt
had been so predictable that Severus easily evaded the probe with the bit of
poetry he had inadvertently memorized through repeated attendance at this very
Some hae meat and canna eat.
And some wad eat that want it:
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
Beyond the age-blackened door, a modest entrance hall brought relief from
the cold. Dark-panelled walls that held
portraits of Archie’s more recent (and believable) ancestors flanked a small
fireplace on the left side of the room.
A padded bench leaned against a carpeted staircase across the room. An old man sat staring into the fire until
the draft from the door alerted him to the latest arrival. Severus could almost hear the creaking of his
old bones as he stood and shuffled over to receive the cloak. Without need, the servant pointed to the open
doors by the foot of the stairs.
The cacophony coming from the parlour could not be missed – unless you
were as deaf as the old man. Severus
steeled himself for the ordeal and passed through the doorway. He had the misfortune to step right into the
path of his boss who was turning away from the bar with a drink in each
hand. Alcohol splashed over them both
and onto the carpet.
‘Severus, my boy,’ Mr Milne enthused.
‘So glad you could make it. I’d
about given up on you.’
It was evident that the spilled drink would not have not been the man’s
first. He seemed not to notice his
dripping sleeve or the small puddle at his feet. Severus pulled out his wand and cleared the
mess, ignoring the patronising tone in Mr Milne’s welcome.
‘Get yourself a drink and come on over.’
He jerked his head toward the front window where Severus saw his co-workers
nursing their glasses. ‘They’ll be
announcing supper at any moment.’
Setting the bottle of whisky on the bar but eschewing a glass of his own,
Severus followed his employer to the knot of potion-makers. A couple of curt nods and a listlessly raised
glass acknowledged the completion of their company as announced by Mr Milne, ‘Look
who I found at the bar.’
Avoiding personal relationships with these men was one of the easiest
tasks ever set by the Dark Lord. Milne’s
operation was an excellent cover for nefarious brewing. Nearly every employee had been recruited – or
coerced – into serving the Dark Lord in some capacity with Milne himself being
none the wiser. The real beauty of the
situation was that only Severus knew the extent of the infiltration. One or two might realise that they were not
alone but most thought themselves singled out for their skill. Milne had done a good job at collecting
excellent potion-makers and the Dark Lord was taking full advantage of it.
Milne set the second drink on the windowsill, apparently saving it for
himself. Between sips on the half-empty
glass in his hand, the already tipsy man began to regale his employees with
stories of previous Burns Suppers.
Severus was relieved to hear their host call for his guests to join him
at the table.
The dining room had been magically altered for the occasion to accommodate
such a large company. An extra long head
table held place settings for eleven – including Mr Milne – along one
side. At each end, another table ran
perpendicularly to create a U. The
potion-makers were scattered across the four sides of the lower tables. Severus welcomed the separation from his
co-workers but his assigned place was on the inside at the join with the head
table, much too close to where the dreaded haggis would be set.
Archie stood by his place at the center of the head table wearing his best
kilt. He smiled at all and sundry while
his guests found their own places.
‘Tak yer seats,’ Archie boomed in his thickest brogue.
While his host gave his opening address – thanking them all for coming,
appreciating the variety of whiskies they had brought, reminding them of the
Bard’s influence on Scottish culture – Severus continued to observe his dinner
companions. His co-workers were not the
only ones in this room that were being used by the Dark Lord. He was not even the only Death Eater on the
guest list, although it was unlikely that Archie had any idea that he was
hosting such sinister company.
Severus nearly missed the Selkirk Grace (the bit of Burns’ poetry he had pulled
from memory at the front door) when his gaze landed on Minerva McGonagall. It still disconcerted him to see his former teachers
away from school. This was the second
time the Transfiguration professor had turned up here since Severus had
completed his studies at Hogwarts. He
had met her once in Diagon Alley and suffered her inquiries into his
well-being. On two other occasions, he
had been able to alter his path to avoid a direct meeting. If it weren’t for her obvious political
leanings, he might have been more interested in conversation with such a talented
witch. It would be hard to avoid her
following the meal tonight since she sat at the foot of the table between him
and the door.
The whole company stood as pipes began to blow behind the kitchen
door. The wheeze of the piper exploded
into a painful din as the door was opened for pipes, chef and haggis to
enter. Severus closed his eyes, swallowed
hard and tried not to think about the approaching main dish. When the piping stopped, he steeled himself
for the inevitable as he opened his eyes and turned to face the steaming dish
that had been set in front of Archie.
With evident glee, the host launched into another recitation of Burns:
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang's my arm.
Now facing away from his own table, Severus could survey the rest of the
room while the poem droned on. A few
more of the Dark Lord’s pawns sat at the other table besides those in Mr
Milne’s employ. There was a young woman that
Severus thought he recognised from Hogwarts but he had not recollected her name
before Archie boomed the fateful phrase.
An cut you up wi ready slight
With a flourish, Archie drew his dirk and plunged it into the haggis as
the line was uttered. A smattering of
applause and murmured approvals were quickly silenced as the poem continued its
maundering. Severus endured the
remaining stanzas but abstained from the enthusiastic appreciation for Archie’s
annual performance. He was now quite
ready to take up the whisky glass that had appeared beside his place and joined
in the toast, ‘To the haggis.’
The burn of the alcohol prepared his palate for the traditional meal. The cоck-a-leekie soup settled his
stomach but a second glass of whisky was required to choke down a few polite
bites of haggis. Neeps and tatties would
tide him over until he got home. Throughout
the meal, Severus deflected attempts by adjacent diners to engage him in
conversations about ‘Rabbie’ Burns. Other
than Milne’s employees, everyone attending the event either was interested in
Burns himself, his poetry or had a general appreciation for their Scottish
heritage. They were boring.
The dishes vanished at last. Coffee
appeared and great bowls of Typsy Laird.
The trifle was the only part of the evening Severus truly enjoyed. This dessert was so rich he could only take a
small portion but he relished each bite.
Many of the guests were still sipping coffee and nibbling their sweets
while the ‘Immortal Memory’ speech was delivered by some Burns-enthusiast
friend of Archie’s. Severus ignored him.
Toasting the lasses was an excuse for another sip of whisky to finish off
the meal. Many of the diners should have
stopped a glass or two ago in Severus’ judgement. The responding toast was offered by
McGonagall, who appeared a bit unsteady as she stood. Although unsettling to see the professor in
that condition, he was impressed that she was able to deliver her repartee with
Severus knew that this was the best time to make an exit. Conversations returned to small groups
clustered around the tables. The babble
would soon drive part of the crowd back into the parlour, so his presence would
not be missed. The difficulty was in departing
without attracting Mr Milne’s notice.
Keeping an eye on his employer, Severus stood when the fellow beside him
did. Following his tablemate – who was
engaged in an animated debate with the woman who had been on his other side at
the table – he thought he would be able to make a clean escape before the whisky
turned all this literary appreciation into sappy singing.
As he approached the foot of the table, however, Professor McGonagall rose
from her place and stumbled into Severus.
The collision knocked the woman back against her chair, tipping it
over. Severus caught her arm just in
time to keep her from falling with it.
‘Oh, my,’ she gasped, reeking of whisky.
‘Are you all right, Professor?’ Severus inquired with a quick glance at
the head table. There would be no
escaping without notice now. Every eye
in the room was turned toward them.
‘I believe so, Mr Snape.’ She
seemed steady enough that he could let go.
Her response sent his memory flying back to his first Transfiguration
class. After closing the classroom door,
the Professor had come up the aisle between the desks and tripped on the strap
of someone’s satchel. McGonagall had nearly
landed on the flagstone floor. She had managed
to grab Severus’ desk to avert the catastrophe and the exact same exchange had
ensued before she turned to berate the negligent student.
During his moment of reminiscence, others helped to right the chair and
inquired if she needed help. She turned
them all away, telling them she was fine.
She turned back to Severus as if there had not been a lull in their
conversation at all.
‘I think I might have had a glass too many,’ she confided in a tone that
would hardly keep her thought a secret. ‘I
had better make it an early night.’
There were a couple of tolerant grins thrown in her direction but most of
the company had returned to their own conversations. Severus noted that Mr Milne was still
watching the little drama. The
professor’s near tumble made a great excuse for leaving early.
‘Shall I walk you out, Professor?’
‘Thank you, Mr Snape. I think I can
make it from here.’
The escape from the Supper had not been quite as clean as Severus had
hoped. Mr Milne had come to the front
hall while they had waited for the old man to retrieve their cloaks.
‘I’m sure you won’t mind seeing the professor back to Hogwarts, Severus.’
The unexpected journey had kept
him from having to endure any more poetry.
Professor McGonagall’s vaguely slurred conversation about the weather as
they had walked down the drive was far better than listening to drunken
recitations of Holy Willie’s Prayer
or Tam o’ Shanter. Above all, standing at the gates of Hogwarts
in the chill winter wind was a small price to pay to avoid the ghastly singing
of Auld Lang Syne without threat of
the boss’s – and, by extension, the Dark Lord’s – displeasure.
‘I should walk you to the doors, Professor. Mr Milne will certainly ask me on Monday.’
As soon as he passed through the gates, Severus got the feeling that
something important was trying to make its way into his consciousness. He knew from experience that such intuition
could not be hurried into rational thought; in fact, it was best to try to
think of something else entirely.
‘Is Professor Slughorn still teaching?’ he inquired, although he already
knew that he was.
Something about her answer prodded the unformed thought into an almost
substantial idea. Rather than pursue it,
Severus switched topics again.
‘How are the Quidditch teams this year?’
This inquiry produced a long-winded response that required very little
participation on his part. He was only
partly listening to the woes and triumphs of the Gryffindor team as they walked
up the lengthy carriageway. The
professor offered significant pauses in her discourse for his own opinions but
he stuck to ‘Really?’ and ‘Indeed’ to encourage her continuing chatter while he
gazed across the grounds looking for whatever had triggered his mental
They reached the imposing front doors of the castle in due course. Talk of Quidditch ceased and Severus returned
his attention to the professor.
‘Again, I thank you, Mr Snape.
You’ll understand that I cannot invite you in. If you need a little something against the
chill, tell Rosemerta to put it on my tab.’
‘I am fine, but thank you. Good
As they each turned to go their separate ways, the nebulous idea suddenly
bloomed into solid existence. Severus
hurried down the steps, eager to get off Hogwarts grounds and Apparate
home. It might take some time to think
it all through and even longer to plan carefully but he knew it could work.
Another big thank you to
Suburban House Elf for the beta comments on this little piece. It was originally a entry for Bewitched Mind’s
Winter Holiday Challenge. I was so busy
that I let Christmas and New Year pass me by.
An off-hand mention of Burns Night at the end of January finally got the
nebulous idea of Snape attending a party onto paper! Thanks to Rella for that mention as well as
her suggested improvements to the story.