Disclaimer: The inhabitants of Hogwarts are the property of JK Rowling.
Games of Skill and Chance
Part 11 - Diplomacy
"Thank you for coming, Professor Snape," said the grey-bearded wizard, his terse, clipped English barely revealing its German accent. "We have heard of your activities in Britain."
Oh great, he thought, rejected before I’ve even got a word out. Why bother inviting me for interview at all? Why not just put a line in the advert: ‘No ex-Death Eaters need apply’.
"Mais oui," added the elegant witch to the German’s left, making no such effort to hide her accent. "We ’ave followed the improvements to the Wolfsbane potion with great interest. Such brilliance."
The third member of the interview panel – a dark-skinned, beardless wizard of around Snape’s own age – smiled. "And of course we all know that if you want a potions’ expert these days, you want a Hogwarts’-educated one."
"However, Professor Snape," said the German. "We were surprised that you applied for this position. Why are you planning to leave the noble profession of teaching?"
He had his answers ready. He spoke eloquently of the greater need to educate all of Europe about the importance of high quality potion making. Too long had the wizarding world been forced to accept second-rate products and too often was the subject badly taught because of its difficulty. The panel nodded and scribbled notes. It really wasn’t hard to enthuse about potions or to discuss the current problems in his field of magic. He was almost disappointed when it was over and the panel bid him farewell, assuring him that they would make their decision within the fortnight.
"Have you had any luck finding my replacement," he asked Minerva McGonagall, when he caught up with her in her study the next evening.
"No," she sighed, looking exhausted. "And still no one to take over transfiguration either, although Kingsley’s agreed to start teaching Defence next term. I don’t suppose you’d consider staying on a little longer?"
Eight weeks earlier he would have snapped out a ‘no’ and that would have been that, but a tiny part of him hesitated. This term’s teaching really had been easier. No, you fool, that’s just because you knew it would soon be over.
"I’m sorry, I really won’t." He decided against revealing that he had been for the interview. If the International Confederation called in his references, she would find out then. If they didn’t, no one would have to know about his failure. No one except Lupin, anyway.
"Would you consider Remus Lupin for Transfiguration?" he asked.
McGonagall blinked. "I thought you of all people would be against such an idea. But I rather agree with what you said back then. It isn’t safe to have a werewolf on school premises. Even one as affable as Remus. The risk if anything does go wrong is just too great."
"He wouldn’t have to stay at the school over the full moon. And the truth is that it was the secrecy that was dangerous, not the man. There weren’t enough people who knew about it to enforce any kind of sensible policy." He couldn’t believe he was saying this, but he had given a lot of thought of late to what had happened four years ago. He had been implicated in keeping the dangerous secret; had questioned his role and his later decision over and over.
"So what are you suggesting?"
"I’m not certain, but surely you could come up with something safer."
"I’ll think about it. I certainly can’t keep teaching as well as being headmistress," she said.
"There’s one other thing," added Snape. "There’s a group of students who play board games in the potion lab on Thursday nights. I’d be grateful if you could ensure they still have somewhere to play."
McGonagall gave him a soft, puzzled smile. "Of course, Severus, of course."
The pavement was seething with Muggles, pressing up against him and jostling him until his temper was so frayed that he almost pulled his wand on a woman who was braying into a tiny device she held to her mouth and ear as her elbow jabbed into his ribs.
If he expected to find some relief from the crowds once he had pushed through the massive plate glass doors, he was mistaken. The throng inside the shop seemed louder and certainly shriller than that outdoors. At least a half dozen babies were shrieking as if competing with banshees for volume. The shop was a vast space compared with anywhere in Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade but he couldn’t see what he was looking for. Instead he seemed to have walked into a menagerie of garish toy creatures.
Cuddly rabbits grinned at him inanely from beside a great pile of improbably furry blue octopi and orange lobsters. Monkeys hung from the shelving and snakes curled around the shop displays. Magical creatures were also represented with appallingly cute miniature unicorns.
A young man with a forced smile was blowing soap bubbles across the shop, his T-shirt proclaiming him to be a Hamleys employee. Snape asked him where the board games department was and was pointed towards a huge metal staircase and told to try the first floor.
At least moving stairs were familiar, although these Muggle ones seemed designed to facilitate laziness, rather than keeping one on one’s toes as the castle’s stairs did. The first floor was marginally quieter, with most of the racket coming from a corner filled with more sweets than even Dumbledore might have been able to put names too.
In the board games department he quickly managed to find a box of Risk and then began to browse the other boxes on offer. The game with the lettered tiles was there, labelled as Scrabble, as were a number of classics he recognised. Many other games seemed to be completely mindless dice rollers or designed to be especially rowdy. Monopoly looked challenging and a game called Scotland Yard, in which one player’s piece remained invisible to all the others, intrigued him. He picked up a box of each, piling them on top of the Risk box.
"If your kids like Risk, they might like this even better." It took him a moment to realise that the squeaky voice was addressing him, and he looked sideways to see a young teenager holding up a box labelled ‘Diplomacy’.
He was about to silence the boy with a withering stare when he realised that the youthful Muggle’s advice might be useful. Putting the three boxes on the ground he took the proffered game.
"It’s more sneaky than Risk. I like it better although it’s hard to find people clever enough to make an interesting game," went on the boy. Snape warmed to his condescending attitude but rather pitied the boy, who sounded as though his intelligence made it hard for him to have fun.
"It’s a shame you don’t go to the school where I teach," he said. "These are for the games club there – some of our players are fairly clever."
"A games club?" asked the boy. "There’s nothing like that at my school. Probably no one else who would play."
"Oddly enough I found myself playing against a chap I was at school with the other day. We didn’t exactly get on back then so I never knew there was someone who could have given me some properly challenging chess games. Maybe…"
He was cut off mid-suggestion by the arrival of a vast woman whose physical bulk filled most of the shop aisle. "There you are Thomas," she boomed. "Come on, we haven’t all day."
"Bye," called Thomas meekly as he was dragged away.
"Thanks for your help," Snape called back, picking up the four boxes.
He headed back downstairs to pay and joined a long queue, gritting his teeth at the noise of howling children. As he gradually shuffled forwards, feeling more and more claustrophobic and annoyed, his eyes met a very familiar glower.
It was just like looking into a mirror, except that the face reflecting his typical expression was dark brown and furry. The small bear seemed to be appalled at the clamour of the store and the sickeningly cheery and tacky tastelessness of his stuffed toy compatriots. Before he realised what he was doing, Snape reached out and lifted this small kindred spirit off the shelf. The bear was traditionally jointed and stuffed almost solid, so that it barely squished in his hand. However do you bare this place? he pondered, before mentally berating himself for ascribing feelings to a creature with fluff for brains.
Still, we ascribe feelings to Trelawny and her brains are definitely made of fluff. He smirked at the thought and shuffled forward as the queue moved again.
Unexpectedly he found himself at the front of the queue, still holding onto the bear. He could no longer reach the shelf to put it back and the Muggles behind him began to tut and mutter at his hesitation. He dropped the boxes onto the counter and put the bear down beside them. The woman waved a funny-looking wand across the boxes and before Snape could say ‘not the bear’ everything, including the bear, was wrapped in carrier bags and he was handing over a wad of Muggle banknotes. He didn’t want to get into an argument – anything to get out of that noisy and overcrowded shop as quickly as possible.
By the time he reached the Leaky Cauldron, the bear had a name.
Well, Nash, whispered Snape to the glowering bear sitting on his nightstand later that evening. Thank goodness we never have to go there again.
1. Quiz question… why Nash? Points to the house of the first person with the right answer…
2. Just one more chapter to go I think. Hope you’re all still enjoying it.
Return to Archive | next | previous