The Sugar Quill
Author: Calanthe (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Vignettes 1: Under Siege  Chapter: I
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Disclaimer: The setting of this story and all of its main characters belong to their inventor J.K. Rowling; I have no claim on them in any way whatsoever. However, the characters of Sorensen Jones, Aethelric Graven and Miles Walsingham (mentioned only: you’ll hear more of this one later) are my own inventions, as are the Foundation Stone, the Porticus Spell, Merlin’s Breath and the system of offices and investitures (appearing in later chapters).

This story was initially a writing exercise intended to develop two different skills: the simultaneous development of two plots (an action plot and an emotional plot); and the technique of entering into a character’s thoughts by staying out of his or her head, as practiced, and eloquently argued for, by Mary Gentle. You be the judge of how well it succeeded…

Many thanks to Jedi Boadicea, for beta-reading and encouraging comments, and also to KannaOphelia of Diversion Tactics and elsewhere, for getting me into this lark in the first place. Fanfic addiction is a catching disease…

I.

The world beyond the window was still, snow-muffled, edged with light from the last cold crescent of a waning moon. The gallery behind him was empty, of students, teachers, ghosts—even the paintings were quiet in their frames. Only shadows drifted against the walls, flickering as the torches guttered and crackled quietly to themselves. He turned his back on the window sharply, saw his own shadow flit away from him, sidle close, crouch and tremble and stretch out into another shape—another human shape—a tall, thin shape in a close-wrapped cloak, with long hair floating about stooped shoulders…

You.’

And the shadow stepped into the light and became a man.

‘I didn’t think you’d ever have the gall to come back here.’

Fingers white as naked bone lifted to thin lips. He heard a quick puff of breath; then the hands dropped, folded themselves back into wide sleeves, and the mouth curved into a bland smile.

‘Hello, Severus—’

‘How did you get into the castle?’

‘Oh…’ Torchlight danced over one high cheekbone as the intruder glanced over his shoulder. ‘I used a back door—’

‘There are no back doors at Hogwarts.’ —arts—the walls whispered back to him, the sharp edge in his voice blunted by stone.

‘Actually, there are several. You just never found out about them…’

The husky voice trailed off; pale eyes watched, unblinking, as Snape stalked out of the shadows.

‘Why are you here, Lupin?’

Lupin did not turn to keep Snape in sight as he brushed past one grey-cloaked shoulder; but as Snape paced behind him, his back straightened from its usual stoop, and his head lifted. ‘I need to speak with Professor Dumbledore,’ he said to the length of the gallery.

Snape showed his teeth in a smile. ‘What a pity. He’s not here.’ He came to a halt by Lupin’s shoulder, and stood with arms folded, watching, as a small intent frown etched lines between the other wizard’s brows.

‘So that’s what’s different,’ Lupin murmured after a moment. His shoulders hunched again as he dug his hands into the pockets of his robes. ‘In that case,’ he said slowly, ‘I need to speak with Professor McGonagall.’

‘Do you.’ One step, and Snape was close enough to feel the winter chill that had seeped into Lupin’s snow-dampened robes and skin. ‘Leave, Lupin,’ he said, and let the words echo with the power a master could command within the fabric of the school. ‘Now.’

But Lupin did not move. ‘It’s important, Severus,’ he said, and waited.

For a moment Snape glared at him, narrow-eyed; then he spun on his heel and stalked away. The hems of his robes whipped savagely about his calves.

Halfway along the gallery he stopped. Waited. Turned back with exaggerated patience to the man who stood huddled in his meticulously darned cloak precisely where Snape had left him.

‘Well?’

Lupin looked at him for a long moment before he moved. ‘The command had no power,’ he said at last as he came down the gallery, ‘because the school is aware that I am acting in its interest.’

‘I know.’ Snape’s teeth snapped shut on the words. The frown deepened on Lupin’s face.

‘You should know more than that, given the Office you hold. Severus—’

Heat flared suddenly over Snape’s cheekbones; before Lupin could come up beside him, he wheeled about and walked away, out of the gallery, toward Gryffindor Tower. Lupin followed him silently all the way to Minerva McGonagall’s door.

‘Really, Professor Snape—’ the title snapped out sharp as a slap in the face ‘—what could possibly be important enough to warrant disturbing me at this hour?’ The tall witch folded her arms across the belt of her dressing-gown and regarded him impatiently. The light from her wand-tip made her face a pallid mask.

‘The Headmaster’s tame werewolf has turned up, Professor,’ Snape said loudly. ‘He claims—’

‘Remus Lupin?’ McGonagall lifted her wand until the light touched the tall figure waiting behind Snape’s shoulder. ‘Whatever’s the matter?’

Lupin looked up, his eyes half-lidded, shadowy in the wand’s glow. ‘You might not know—Professor Dumbledore asked me to keep watch on the outcast ones for him—the hags, the vampires, ghouls, werewolves, all the ones who go easily to the Dark Lord—’

‘Yes, he told me that,’ said McGonagall. Snape looked at her sharply from under his brows. His fingers drummed against his elbow.

‘Well—not long ago—three days, maybe four?—a call passed among them: Come to the Castle. They think I’m one of them, so it came to me too… I don’t know what they plan, but I think you’ll find yourselves under attack by Twelfth Night.’

The light dipped, then flared and glowed steady again as McGonagall’s fingers tightened around her wand. ‘I see,’ was all she said; but her mouth was grim. ‘Well. Thank you for the warning—’

‘Professor—’ The rough voice stumbled and broke on the word; Snape snorted. After a moment, Lupin took a breath and spoke again. ‘How long has the Headmaster been away from the school?’

McGonagall huffed a sigh, lifted a hand and pulled her dressing-gown closer about her throat. ‘A little over a month. Though he informed me he would only be gone for ten days…’

Lupin nodded. ‘Have the Headmaster’s Wards been deteriorating steadily over that time?’

McGonagall shook her head. ‘Most of it has only happened in the last few days.’

‘…Ah,’ said Lupin, and McGonagall’s hand froze with the fingers still twisted in cloth.

Eventually she said, ‘Are they just taking advantage of the situation, or did they create it?’

Lupin shrugged. ‘I don’t know. It could be coincidence. But—’ The thin shoulders slumped again as Lupin turned away from the light. ‘Well, good luck, Professor McGonagall—Severus—’

‘Where are you going?’ The tart inquiry halted Lupin mid-step. Snape swung around and glared at McGonagall, but she ignored him.

Lupin shrugged again. ‘If I join the outcasts now, I might be able to learn what their plans are—and how they knew to attack the school at such a time.’

‘Tonight? Don’t be ridiculous. You look exhausted. Find yourself an empty room and get some sleep! You can leave in the morning, if you must,’ McGonagall added over her shoulder as she turned back into her room.

‘Thank you, Professor—’ Lupin turned away with a smile as McGonagall’s door swung shut behind her. Snape glared at him narrow-eyed, and hunched himself deeper into his robes.

‘Do you really believe that you can worm your way back into Professor Dumbledore’s good graces with this display of concern? I will see you off the grounds in the morning,’ he said curtly, and sneered as Lupin turned to him, still smiling.

‘As you please,’ he said. ‘Good night, Severus.’ And he padded away, wolf-silent, into the half-lit halls.

//
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