The Sugar Quill
Author: Suburban House Elf (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Harry Potter and the Brotherhood of the Besotted  Chapter: Chapter 1: The Last Item on the Agenda
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Chapter 1: The Last Item on the Agenda

[Authors Note:  Thank you to J.K. Rowling for creating all the characters in this story, except for two (I’ll let you find out which ones they are) and for imagining Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where this story is set.

 

Thank you also to Jedi Boadicea, a gifted horticulturalist. She first grew python flowers in her story “Memories of Tomorrow”.  I like python flowers so much that I have awarded them a blue ribbon at the Chelsea flower show.

 

As a staunch supporter of elf rights, I would also like to thank the author who gave me the idea for Hermione’s little fan in Chapter 5.  I read a story on the Sugar Quill once with a very similar character in it, but cannot remember the story’s name, the name of the author or even the name of the adoring elf.  If anybody can help me here, please let me know in your reviews and I’ll credit the author properly in a later posting.

 

Finally, thanks to Elanor Gamgee, my beta-reader.   This is my first attempt at fan fiction, indeed my first attempt at anything approaching fiction.   Of all my editors, she is the most knowledgeable, patient and efficient.

 

This story is for Mary, who is nine and who likes stories that are silly.  I hope you do too.]

 

 

 

Chapter 1:  The Last Item on the Agenda

 

A single piece of gilt edged parchment lifted slowly from the centre of the staff room table and floated into the outstretched right hand of Hogwarts’ acting headmistress, Professor McGonagall.  The parchment was headed “Agenda - Staff Meeting, Wednesday 9 February” and there followed a long list of apologies from the numerous non-attendees.  Rubeus Hagrid continued to be on leave of absence somewhere in France, engaged in what the Ministry of Magic euphemistically described as “negotiations” of a fairly bloodthirsty nature with the recalcitrant giant factions in the Pyrenees.  Professor Dumbledore, together with the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Moody, had rarely been seen at Hogwarts since the Ministry enlisted their help to banish the dementors from Azkaban.  Professor Sprout was attending a flower show in Cheslea, and had sent back a cheery note to tell everyone that her Python Flowers had been awarded another blue ribbon this year. Her photograph grinned and waved from the tabletop, as it held a writhing, beribboned plant aloft.

 

“And so we reach the last item on the agenda,” Professor McGonagall observed in her stern Celtic brogue as she peered over her spectacles.  The agenda shimmered as the penultimate item crossed itself off with a glowing line of silver light.  McGonagall continued,  “Our last item is, not surprisingly, the same last item carried forward from each of our previous five weekly staff meetings.  Professor Snape, perhaps you would like to let us know what progress has been made?”

 

“I am still awaiting the Ministry’s reply to my most recent letter, requesting a special exemption,” the Potions Master replied in his familiar, silky drawl.

 

“But really Severus, why on earth would you believe that their reply would be any different to their reply to your nine earlier letters?” McGonagall scolded. “Surely they’ll say no.  They’ve said no nine times.  Parents are beginning to ask me when our students will be able to start taking their O.W.L.s, and, as you well know, we can’t begin our scheduling until the Potions Practical Assessment Task is out of the way.  I can’t say that I like the task set by the Magic Educational Standards Board any better than you do. But I think we may have now reached the stage where we’ll have to simply admit defeat and get on with it.”

 

Severus Snape was never one to happily admit defeat, even though he seemed of late to have had more than his share of doing so.  Dumbledore had insisted he stay behind at Hogwarts, despite Snape’s own belief that he could have been of greater use in the fight against Voldemort.  The Headmaster had assured him that, when the time was right, all the Order of the Phoenix would play their part.  In the meantime, Snape was able to terrify Moody’s classes by filling in as the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, a task which, if truth be known, he quite enjoyed.

 

However, sitting across the table from an exasperated Minerva McGonagall, Snape would have gladly traded places with anybody battling a giant or a dementor. What was more, he fervently believed that to admit defeat to the Magical Educational Standards Board could potentially wreak greater havoc on the school than a horde of Death Eaters.  But he knew better than to betray his fears to his acting headmistress. A muscle twitched unpleasantly in the corner of the Potions Masters’ thin mouth. “It is just such a fall from our usual academic standards.  I think we need to consider our options,” Snape stated.  “If the reputation of this school is to be preserved, we should inform the Ministry that we are prepared to boycott the task.”

 

“Boycott the task?” McGonagall exploded. “Boycott an assessment task worth thirty-two and five-eighth percent of the final Potions mark for our students’ O.W.Ls? Might I remind you, Professor, that a Hogwarts student has gained top marks in the O.W.L.s in these British Isles for the last three hundred and forty seven years!  Am I correct in assuming you are prepared to let that proud tradition die because you are personally uncomfortable…”

 

“There’s nothing personal about it at all,” Snape retorted, his tone exposing increasing panic.  Collecting himself, he continued in what he hoped was a less emotional voice.  “It is simply a matter of making the Board understand that a task of that nature, while eminently suitable to the students attending other, more vocationally directed centres of learning, is beneath a Hogwarts student.  I can see no intellectual benefit to our classes in concocting a potion of that nature.”

 

“The apothecary down at Hogsmeade told me that the potion set by the Board is tremendously popular with his customers,” piped in Professor Flitwick. “He said it accounts for nearly half his trade.”

 

“My point exactly,” the Potions Master sneered. “Surely we hope for higher things for our students than careers as mere corner store apothecaries, alchemists and other quacks.”

 

“I’ll pass your opinions on to the Apothecaries and Alchemists Guild if you wish,” Professor McGonagall said, smiling at her colleague’s snobbery.  “But seriously Severus, we’ve been given until mid-February to finish the task.  We need to start soon.  Might I suggest we set aside Friday afternoon for preparation time, the potion can be ingested by the students that night and we’ll let it take effect over the weekend?”

 

“We’d better withhold the fifth years’ weekend Hogsmeade privileges then,” said Madam Hooch with a chortle.

 

“Quite so, keep them on the grounds,” McGonagall continued.  “As I understand it the potion has an active life of forty-eight hours, so Madam Pomfrey and Professor Trelawney, if we could call on you to run the necessary tests on each student on the Sunday afternoon?”

 

“Will the Professor really be needed?” Madam Pomfrey asked hesitantly.  At that Professor Sybill Trelawney raised her face from her clasped, bejewelled hands and intoned mournfully, “Do not forget that we are dealing here with more than minds and bodies, but the deep and quiet recesses of the soul.  Some things are witnessed only by the inner eye.”

 

As the Divination teacher’s head dropped again, McGonagall thought she caught Professor Snape rolling his eyes.  She chose to ignore it and pressed on. “The Board’s marking specifications call quite clearly for an aura reading as well as a physical examination, Poppy. So, it’s settled then.  Meeting adjourned, unless of course anybody has anything further to add.”  She let the parchment waft back towards the centre of the table, a ray of silver crossing out the last item on the list.

 

However, before the agenda had reached its destination, Snape muttered with vehemence,  “There is of course the small matter of the ingredients.”  The agenda remained suspended an inch above the table.

 

Filius Flitwick bounced in his seat excitedly. “Oh yes, yes, we’ll need to clear that up.  I don’t suppose we can really give the students free reign there, can we?”  Madam Hooch laughed quite loudly, and slapped her thigh.

 

“No, absolutely not,” McGonagall agreed tersely.  For the first time in the whole meeting, she looked genuinely worried.  It was one thing to decide that the assessment task must be performed, but quite another thing, in a boarding school with so many young people under one roof, to ensure it was all carried out safely.  An uneasy silence descended, punctuated only by the flying instructor’s giggling.

 

“The potion calls for earwax, toenails or hair,” Professor Snape advised, glaring at Madam Hooch who was now biting her lower lip in an effort to suppress her laughter.  “Hair would be easiest to provide, but the question remains as to who should provide it?”

 

“Well, whoever it is will be in for a jolly weekend!” Flitwick observed, causing Madam Hooch to clap her hand over her mouth and hide her face under the table.

 

“It must be a faculty member, otherwise things could get well out of hand,” McGonagall said decisively. “Two teachers in fact, since we’ll need a male and a female staff member to participate.”

 

“I fear I must decline, Venus will not enter my house until the final lunar phase this month, and I predict catastrophe if I act contrary to the movement of the spheres in this respect,” Professor Trelawney pronounced dolefully.

 

“I thought I would take the female staff member’s role, Sybill.  I’ve taught these students since they were in first year, I think I know them well enough to appreciate what they might be capable of,” Professor McGonagall said, trying to sound brave. “But we still need a male teacher.”

 

“I’ll have a go,” said Flitwick enthusiastically.

 

Minerva McGonagall hesitated.  The Charms Master stood no taller than a metre.  She lowered her eyes in embarrassment and said, as tactfully as she could manage “Well you know, the fifth years have nearly all turned fifteen already.  Some of the girls are quite robust.  We don’t want to put you in a position where you might be, er, injured.”

 

Looking up, she noticed Professor Binns, the History of Magic Master, materialize through the tabletop. “Obviously Professor, your contribution would also be very much appreciated, but for the fact that we do require a corporeal participant,” she said.  The ghost looked somewhat dejected, and floated back to hover by his chair.

 

Professor Snape sat very silent and very still.  So, it has come to this, he thought.  Here I sit, a wizard of the purest blood, a noted academic, embodiment of all the ambitions of Slytherin, reduced to participating in this silly, adolescent and dangerous little game.  He looked imploringly to the corner of the room, where Filch waited to rearrange the chairs.  The caretaker grinned malevolently back at him, and ran his bony hand over his balding head.  Snape involuntarily took a strand of his limp, black locks between his fingers and returned the gaze of his acting headmistress.

 

“I’ll see that all is in readiness by Friday afternoon,” he said quietly.  McGonagall nodded and waved her right hand almost imperceptibly. The gilt edged piece of parchment touched the table and was immediately enveloped in delicate bluebell flames.

 

//
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