The Sugar Quill
Author: Calanthe (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Vignettes 1: Under Siege  Chapter: II
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II.

Author’s note: Once again thanks to Jedi Boadicea, who beta-read, made encouraging remarks and caught several points where things got confused. These chapters are much better for her input…

 

It was just past dawn; Hagrid had yet not cleared the paths of snow. The stuff soaked through Snape’s boots and dragged at the hems of his robes and cloak. He struggled along the last stretch of the path with his arms folded tightly over his chest; as he came up before the little wrought-iron gate, still bright with the night’s frost, he stopped and tilted back his head for a moment, and looked at the sky.

No sun to be seen, only dark lowering clouds shifting uneasily over the horizon, promising more snow soon. The air was heavy with the smell of it. He smiled.

‘Good luck with your snooping, Lupin,’ he said; but the snow-silence stole all the irony from his voice and left the words hanging weak in the air.

‘Thank you,’ came an amused reply, from just behind his shoulder. Snape wheeled awkwardly on the spot; Lupin was right there, standing easily in the rumpled snow, as if he were used to the clinging chill of it and the way it weighted his movements. His wand was tucked through his belt, his hands dug comfortably into his sleeves; the first shock of cold air had stung colour into his face and he looked, for a change, almost healthy.

Snape glared at him. ‘Goodbye, Severus,’ Lupin said lightly to the glare. ‘Take ca—’ The word broke off half-spoken. Lupin glanced at the gate with a sudden frown, turned slowly and moved toward it. The bolt slipped with a graunch of cold iron. The gate shuddered, swung open, slow against a drift of built-up snow. ‘Take care, Severus,’ said Lupin again, slowly, and as the gate lurched to a halt only half-open, he stepped into the gap—

Thunder roared from pillar to stone pillar, and the air blazed like lightning. Snape jerked back, threw an arm over his face; heat burned and faded over the palm of his hand. Squinting past the wrought-iron pattern that seared his sight, he made out a shadow sprawled in the middle of the path, making small pained gasps as it struggled to sit up.

‘…knew there was something wrong…’

‘Might I suggest you take your own advice in future, Lupin?’

Lupin braced his hands on his knees and pushed himself upright, his cloak clinging soggily to his back as he moved. His breath curled steamlike in the air for a moment before he spoke. ‘Might I suggest you don’t?’ His tone was mild. Snape gave him a tight smile, and siad loudly,

‘Now, let’s see.’ He stepped in front of Lupin, close to the gate, drew his wand out of his belt and reached out to strike it sharply against stone, once, twice, thrice—

‘Professor Severus Snape, master of this school, commands you to reveal what enchantment has been worked upon you!’

…Nothing happened. After a moment Snape felt his wrist begin to shake; he forced his grip to loosen, shoved his wand back into his belt with a muttered curse—

Somebody chuckled.

He rounded on Lupin in a billow of sodden cloth, but Lupin was looking at the gates, not Snape, and his face was drawn.

‘I think the spell must be set just beyond the wall. To avoid touching the Wards,’ he said slowly. Snape glared.

‘If you have any more statements of the obvious to make, Lupin, by all means, feel free—’

That chuckle again. Lupin lifted his head, a wolf’s slow searching for danger, and Snape followed his gaze past iron and snow to a small figure standing framed in the snow between pillars of stone. A shapeless thing—human perhaps, but bundled in so many layers of robes and rags that he could not make out even face or hands—

‘You.’ He stepped forward, almost to the stone pillars, the curtain wards of Hogwarts—close enough to the lurking thing to catch a sour smell of blood rising from its rags. ‘Who are you and what have you done here?’

‘Ah—ahh—’ An old voice, so frail it cracked and broke in its own attempt to be heard. ‘Arrogant. But you’ll learn,’ it hissed. ‘What is within shall stay within. But what is without…’ The rags began to tremble, to move, creeping closer and closer to the shadow of the gate… ‘What is without shall come within, and then…’

And the gates shuddered, wrenched free of the snow and crashed shut to form a barrier of ice-bright iron. The rags flinched and crumpled, hunkered down in the snow like a tattered boulder; the voice snarled some malevolence too muffled to hear as words.

After a moment, Snape turned, leaned his shoulders against solid stone, and looked Lupin over from his shabby hems to his head.

‘Such a pity you couldn’t get here in time for your warning to be at all useful,’ he drawled. Lupin’s eyes left the gate and shifted to his face.

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘isn’t it? We have to speak to Professor McGonagall about this. They’ve laid their cordon just beyond the outer edge of her awareness. And even if I could leave the grounds, I couldn’t go hunting information for her now…’

And he turned and began the long trudge back up the path to the castle as if nothing at all had happened. After a moment, sound floated faintly back over his shoulder.

‘…Severus?’

What?’

‘Could you make sure that all the gates that open onto the grounds are shut, please? Gates are only lesser thresholds, an open gate is an implicit invitation…’

With a narrow glare at Lupin’s retreating grey-clad back, Snape dragged his wand out of his belt again. The cold wood stung his fingers; he set his teeth and raised the wand upright before his face. For a moment his lips moved silently, then:

Claudeportae; consisteserae!’

A frozen, silent instant—a faint trembling of the air and the ground beneath his feet—and then a sudden sense of safety close about him, warm against his skin as the folds of a cloak—

Professor Lupin!’

—that shredded and fell away and left him shivering in the wind in the wake of that distant gleeful yell. Snape scowled and shoved his wand back into his belt, and began to wade through the snow towards the spot where Lupin stood, cloak thrown back, hands shoved into the pockets of his robes, watching three small figures on broomsticks close on him far too fast.

‘Hello, Harry,’ Lupin called to the leading flyer; by the time the words were out of his mouth the broomstick was circling him in a rush of air that made his cloak snap and billow about him. And then the Potter boy was tumbling off his broomstick, a graceless arrogant scramble of cloth, elbows and knees, to stand in the snow and grin stupidly at his former teacher.

‘Professor Lupin!’ he said again as the two broomsticks he had left behind came up, bearing the inevitable Weasley and the Granger girl.

‘…Ron, Hermione, hello…’

They grinned at Lupin too as they slid off their brooms.

‘Are you coming back? Nobody told us!’ Potter’s voice wavered somewhere between hopeful and petulant. Lupin smiled and shook his head.

‘No, sorry, Harry; I’m just here to consult with Professor Figg, that’s all. How are you all? How’s school?’

The boys traded looks and grimaced; but Granger’s face lit like a wand. ‘School’s fantastic, Professor Lupin, we’ve got OWLs this year, you know, so we finally get to do some pretty advanced stuff—‘

Snape’s breath hissed through his teeth as he approached.

‘I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself, Hermione—’

‘I thought you were in a hurry, Lupin,’ Snape said, and the bland smile turned on him.

‘You’re right, Severus, I should get on. Have fun with your OWLs, you three…’ And he set off up the drive again. Snape stayed where he was, eyeing Potter’s Firebolt thoughtfully. His fingers drummed against his arm.

‘If you three insist on flying those things today,’ he snapped, ‘make very certain you stay within bounds. Do I make myself plain?’

Potter shuffled his feet and looked mulish. Weasley coloured. ‘Yes, Professor Snape,’ said Granger the Good Prefect in her patented tone of beleaguered innocence. Snape did not wait to see them make faces at each other and clamber back onto their broomsticks; he marched past them, following Lupin into the castle. His sleeves fluttered faintly behind him as the broomsticks darted away.

He caught up with Lupin half-way down the eastern lower gallery. ‘That was an edifying performance,’ he said sourly. ‘And you wonder why people don’t trust you…’

Lupin only shrugged. ‘Would you rather have a small pack of terrified students on your hands?’ he asked; his tone was too bland. ‘Or, given what those three are likely to get up to around anything remotely dangerous, three dead ones?’

Snape’s lips pressed together in a thin line.

‘Lucky I was here to take care of it for you, really,’ the husky voice went on as they turned out of the gallery towards the staff room. ‘After all—’ very precisely ‘—you couldn’t tell a convincing lie to save your life…’

The taste of blood flooded Snape’s mouth, clotted his throat, choked off his breath mid-step. He stumbled, dragged clean air into his lungs and forced himself to walk on; but one hand crept up to spread protectively across his throat. An old habit—unnecessary. He forced his hand down, lengthened his step to push past Lupin’s shoulder; but he could feel a measuring wolf’s gaze fixed on his back all the way to the staff room door.

//
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