The Sugar Quill
Author: Murasaki99 (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Stars In the River  Chapter: A-Souling
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Stars In the River 1. A-Souling

Stars In the River

A Harry Potter Fan Fiction

by Murasaki99

Sequel to Clouds Over Snow

Any Harry Potter character you recognise belongs to J.K. Rowling

1. A-Souling

"I'll never live it down." Severus Snape's voice held weary resignation. He stood before the ranked shelves of preserved ingredients in his office, selecting boxes and piling them on the desk. Eregion of Hollin, currently Hogwarts' Chirurgeon and resident elf, listened as he carried on. Severus added two boxes to the small pyramid he was building. "Here, cinnamon bark and whole nutmeg. It's bad enough that every member of the Quidditch teams and certain…other people… feel they had a personal stake in saving my worthless life." He glared at the shelves and pulled out another box. "Cardamom seeds. But to just faint like a weakling in front of everyone over a silly award!" He huffed in annoyance and shook himself all over like a wet crow ruffling its feathers. "Even the ghosts saw it! Whole clove buds." He glared at a row of glass jars. "You had to carry me off to bed. Mortifying. Whole dried vanilla beans." He plopped a jar down beside the boxes.

"You were scarcely recovered from a terrible injury," Eregion said with deliberately maddening reasonableness. "Only a week before, I was half-expecting to be attending your funeral. It takes time to regain strength lost from such an ordeal. The Headmaster did not consult me regarding his intentions to give you a public acknowledgement. I would have cautioned him against it. I am glad to see a day of rest has restored some of your strength." She looked at him calmly, her eyes holding the inner light that Severus had begun to realize was linked to her elvish physiology. "That award said you deserved the accolades of your fellow-warriors. You truly are a hero Severus. Did you not know?"

"No! How can you say that? I'm a– . He stopped, looking at the closed door of his office and continued in a somewhat quieter voice. "You know what I am."

"What you were." Eregion corrected mildly.

"What I still must be, until Voldemort is defeated." Jaw tense, he turned back to his stores to peer at the labels. "What will he make of all this? And be under no illusions, I'm sure he knows everything that happened last night." His mouth formed a grim line as he placed another box precisely on the stack. "Mustard seed. You yourself could well be in terrible danger, after that…"

"Distraction? I thought it worked relatively well. As for danger, I would gladly cut my way through an army of Voldemorts to repeat the procedure." Eregion's mouth quirked as she sought to control a smile at his expression.

"You meant that?!"

"Severus, I thought tunnel vision was purely the purview of Gryffindor House." She shook her head. "Of course I meant it. I mean everything I say or do. It is in my–"

"Nature. Right. I should know that by now." He stared blindly at the shelves, as if he could somehow divine the future by peering at the labels on the boxes. He frowned, thinking. "How long have you cared about…?" he stopped himself, as he mentally reviewed the events of the past half-year at high speed. Eregion was watching him with an expression frighteningly similar to that of Albus Dumbledore when he was being patient. He stared at her in something like shock. "All this time? I mean, you never said…"

"Severus, by now, you have some idea of how old I am. I have learned patience, if nothing else in my long life. If I had said anything before now, what would your reaction have been?"

"I wouldn't have believed it!" He scowled fiercely at her. "I still don't…"

Eregion held up a hand. "I believe the appropriate quote is: quod erat demonstrandum." [1]

He growled in frustration. "You cannot want- "

"Be careful. I am not accustomed to being disbelieved by my friends and comrades." Her eyes had the look of stars viewed through pale aquamarines. "Shall I show you my mind? I could, if that is what you require."

Severus turned pale and shook his head in defeat. "No. That is not necessary. I saw you in your life before, when you died at the sword of Gobardon Agnen. I touched your spirit. No. There are no lies in you. None." He sighed deeply and plucked three more boxes from the shelves. "Black Pepper. Coriander. Ginger." Pulling up his chair he sank down beside her and carefully added the boxes to the stack. "I would have done anything to save you, then." He propped his head in his hands, screening his eyes with his long fingers and snorted in self-derision. "I think I'm an idiot."

"Then are not we all?" His temporary blindfold could not block out the warmth of her voice. "The mantle of wisdom sits nicely upon your shoulders, Severus."

"Wisdom!" He parted several fingers to glare at her through the aperture, the deep shadows turning his topaz-striped eyes darker.

"Indeed. You learn very fast for one so young." She grinned at him, her solemn mood evaporated in moments.

"Our timing is dreadful. There is the little matter of Voldemort. And Gobardon Agnen. What about him?"

"You may not yet appreciate it, but we have time. All the time we will need." She rose, gathering up the collection of items in her arms. "I will help you in any way you wish. And… when you think the time is finally right to discuss, or do, other things, I will be here for them as well."

He nodded at her simple statement, unable to say anything further. Instead, he focused on the stack of ingredients she carried. "Before you go, tell me why you wanted those particular items?"

"Some of the students and I will be making soul-cakes tomorrow. An old and honorable tradition for this time of the year. The small folk will give us the loan of the kitchens for our experiments."

"Soul-cakes?" Severus blinked. "Something to feed Dementors?"

"Mercy, no, although those creatures might benefit from them. But they are not meant to feed the dead. These are something to feed the living during the season of darkness."

"You wanted those ingredients for food?" He braced his hands on his narrow hips to scowl at her. "You could have gotten them in Hogsmeade, or from the house-elves for that matter." He pulled the door open for her.

"I know, but then I would not have had your good company." Smiling happily Eregion walked out into the dungeon hall. It being a Saturday, the hall was empty. "Besides, your stocks are always fresher."

She moved silently away, leaving Severus shaking his head and muttering. "Do all Elves belong to Gryffindor?"

The forest was ancient. Great oaks soared so high above his head they blocked the daylight, reducing the late fall sunlight to a soft gloom. Much of this new land had been shorn nearly naked by the human population, who seemed to take an orcish delight in covering the sad remnant with buildings and roads of harsh, smooth stone. This was the one place he had encountered in his travels that reminded him of the lands of his youth.

To be sure, the dark wood was inhabited by beings and creatures that an ordinary human might have found perilous. Even the fiercest of them gave Gobardon Agnen, once king of a prosperous nation, a wide berth. Not even the giant spiders considered the un-flesh of the ringwraith edible.

Gobardon drew rein and his mighty charger, black as midnight and the best that Rohan could breed, halted in the clearing. The ringwraith looked around with approval. This place will do nicely for my purposes. Dismounting, he unfastened the harness and girth and pulled the saddle from the stallion, piling the tack neatly on a fallen log. The horse watched him, but made no attempt to run off. Returning to his mount, he removed the black bridle. The animal perked his ears, watching the actions of his master carefully.

For the first time in almost a week, Gobardon spoke aloud. "Go thou. I will bide here for a time. I will summon thee at need. Go." He pointed into the forest with a black-armored hand.

The black horse looked at him for several long moments, then spun on his haunches and sprang into a gallop. The muffled thunder of his hooves faded away and soon enough Gobardon was entirely alone. Turning to the saddlebags, he opened one and drew out a folded sheaf of paper, covered with columns of close print. With care he opened the fragile-seeming document and began to read.

The London Times
Middle East Envoy Set to Begin Negotiations
Cairo. The U.S. envoy began another round of "shuttle diplomacy" today…

The old woman claimed her spell would enable me to read this language. It seems to work, although the subject matter is… curious. Settling himself beside his horse's harness he continued reading.

Weekends meant Severus did not have to attend dinner in the Great Hall, which enabled him to throw himself into his neglected Potions projects without any guilt. He had spent part of Saturday and all of Sunday both brewing and experimenting.

I think in the course of one evening, I have had my fill of public attention, he mused as he watched the cauldron simmer. Perhaps a lifetime's worth. If that is what Potter has to live with on a daily basis, then perhaps he has managed better than I thought. His mouth quirked to one side. I believe Albus would be more proud of me for that admission than for any heroic deeds.

Drawing his wand, he quickly levitated the hot potion into bottles and sealed them before they could cool. The potion bubbled gently inside. He followed the sealing spell with a stasis spell and the liquid froze in mid-boil. There. Enough Wolfsbane Potion to keep a certain werewolf healthy and sane for over a year. He looked up from his work to see Eregion setting out dinner atop his desk on the other side of the laboratory.

"When did you come in?"

"Fifteen minutes ago, I would say. You seemed busy with your task, so I thought it best not to interrupt you." She shook out napkins.

"Hmm, you are right in that deduction. The Wolfsbane Potion requires total concentration." Severus gestured at the bottles. "I'm one of the few who can brew it successfully. I'm pleased to see I haven't lost my touch."

"It does not smell like anything one would drink for pleasure, but I am sure it has a good purpose," she commented, sniffing the air delicately.

"Definitely not for casual drinking," Severus smiled briefly as he joined her at the table and eyed the array of food with interest. "As for its good purpose, it is meant to keep a werewolf in his human mind during his period of transformation, and so keep other people from harm."

"Indeed?" Eregion offered him a plate of food, which he accepted. "There are werewolves here?" Her expression was interested rather than frightened.

"Were," he corrected around a mouthful of chicken. "And probably will be again, considering Potter's black dog is here to stay as far as I can tell." His voice contained an odd mixture of old anger and recent acceptance.

"What does a werewolf have to do with Sirius?"

"The werewolf in question is a wizard named Remus Lupin. He is a friend of Black's. He and Black, along with Potter senior and the criminal Peter Pettigrew, servant of Voldemort, attended Hogwarts together during my own time as a student here. They were all in Gryffindor. Together, during their time here at school they called themselves the 'Marauders'."

"I can see there is much more to the story."

He shrugged eloquently. "Far too much to ruin a good dinner over. I'll tell you the entire tale later, if you've the stomach for it."

"I would be happy to hear it, whenever you wish. In the interim, perhaps you will be willing to judge the results of our day in the kitchens?" She nodded at a basket lined with white linen. Severus folded back the cloth and found a tidy cluster of small round cakes, brown from the oven. He breathed in the scent of warm spices. "So you put my ingredients to good use, it seems. These are the 'soul-cakes' you intended to make? I always thought them to be a myth."

Eregion laughed and selected a cake for herself. "This from a man who performs magic on a regular basis."

"That is different. Magic is perfectly real." He lifted a cake and sniffed it carefully. "It smells nontoxic."

"I should hope so!" Eregion bit into her cake and chewed with enthusiasm.

Severus followed her lead, his face thoughtful as he ate. Finishing the cake, he poured them both fresh tea and took another. "Passable, quite passable for a first effort. Rather heavy on the cinnamon and cloves, but the vanilla and orange provide a good counterbalance."

She smiled broadly at his detailed assessment. "You have an excellent palate, but I suppose I should not be surprised, given your vocation."

He tried not to look smug as he ate. "The students did help to make these, correct?"

"They did. Actually, they performed all the mixing, shaping, and baking. I simply read the instructions." Her smile became broader. "My abilities as a physician aside, I can scarcely boil water. The students did a much better job of it than I ever would."

Severus felt his eyebrows climb upward. "You can't cook?"

"Not a bit." Eregion selected another cake from the basket. "This particular batch was made by Neville Longbottom and Seamus Finnegan."

"Ten points to Gryffindor then," he sighed, making a wry face. "You are determined to give me heart trouble, aren't you? Didn't my Slytherins make any as well?"

"Yes indeed, but Draco was not paying attention and his batch was somewhat overdone. Young Millicent and her comrades made a very nice effort, as did the members of the other Houses. After the baking was completed, we shared the cakes around, since you cannot eat the ones you have made."

"Why not?"

"They must be shared for the blessing to work. So everyone cooks and everyone shares in the benefits."

Without warning, Hagrid's face appeared in the fire. "Perfessor Snape! Doctor! I'm glad I found yeh!"

"Good evening Hagrid. Is something wrong?" Eregion smiled at the groundskeeper.

"I dunno. But I think it's something yeh ought to see. Could yeh meet me at Nox's paddock?"

"Of course. We'll be down as quickly as we can." Hagrid waved and vanished from the flames. Eregion glanced at Severus. "Do you mind being dragooned into the expedition?"

Severus dusted the crumbs from his hands and sleeves and rose to follow Eregion. "Not at all. I owe Nox a debt for looking after me so well during the race - and afterward. I hope she hasn't taken ill?"

"I do not think so or Hagrid would have said so at once. But I am curious now as to what has happened to make him call us."

They made the trip down to Hagrid's cottage and Nox's paddock in ten minutes. Severus was gratified to find that he was only half as winded by the hike as he had been at the beginning of the week. Hagrid was waiting for them by the paddock fence, a perplexed look on his bearded face.

"Doctor, Perfessor. I'm so glad yeh made it down. If this don't beat all…!"

"What seems to be the problem, Hagrid?" Severus asked. "Is there something wrong with Nox?" He hesitated, and then added. "Or one of your collection of magical creatures?" Although he had brewed potions for sick magical creatures before, the thought of trying to dose an ill and grumpy hippogriff was unappealing and he entertained the hope that Eregion might volunteer to do that particular task.

"No, no, they're all right as rain, they are. But look there! He just showed up this afternoon, hopped in with Nox and made himself right at home!" Hagrid pointed into the paddock.

Severus followed his gesture, his eyes finding first Nox Fortuna's piebald body in the evening gloom. Not too far away from her grazed a dark blot.

"That is another horse." Eregion looked puzzled. "I do not know him."

"He's gotta belong to someone, he's got saddle-marks on his back."

Severus moved up to the fence rails and peered into the dusky air. His vision seemed to clear with a little concentration and suddenly the form of a large black stallion became visible. The animal was grazing peacefully, not too near to Nox, but not too far away either. As if he felt eyes upon him, he raised his head and looked at Severus, switched his long tail, and returned to calmly pulling up mouthfuls of the green grass. The Potions Master felt as if someone had just poured ice water down the collar of his robes.

"I do know him. I saw him during the race." His mouth felt oddly dry.

"He belongs to one of the racers?" Eregion looked confused, as did Hagrid. They continued to watch the horse.

"No. He belongs to Gobardon Agnen."

"I suppose that means he is nearer than we had thought." Her voice was calm, but Severus could see the slight stiffening of her spine.

"Yes," Severus croaked.

"Well, that's all righ' then! If you know his owner, I'll just take care of the big fellow till he shows up and asks fer 'im!"

Both Eregion and Severus turned around to stare at Hagrid with identical expressions of horror.

The groundskeeper returned their gaze with confusion. "What're you lookin' at? He's a friend of yours from the race, right? Any friend of yours is a friend o'mine. It's no trouble a'tall to keep another nice horse." Hagrid grinned at the two horses now occupying the paddock. "Right. I'm off to find more hay." He walked away, whistling cheerfully.

"Any friend of yours…" Eregion murmured.

"Right." Severus drew in a long, steadying breath. "It was a nice bit of rest while it lasted."


1. Quod erat demonstrandum - Latin phrase which is usually translated as: "which was to be demonstrated". Often abbreviated QED.

Next chapter, Severus goes looking for "his friend".

Grateful thank-yous to my beta-readers Judi, and Kat.

Disclaimer: If you recognize the characters as being from the world of Harry Potter, then they belong to J.K. Rowling.
Further disclaimer: This non-profit fan-fiction is not meant to infringe on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, either. All his stuff still belongs to him (and his heirs).
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