The Sugar Quill
Author: Suburban House Elf (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Harry Potter and the Flowers of Mimas  Chapter: Chapter 1: An Inaccessible Room
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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.

Author’s Note: A house-elf is always happiest when busy.  And so, after some months of fervid imaginings, I have decided to write another longish story.  How longish?  I cannot say.  I’m still getting it all down.  I have planned and plotted, but my plots have a tendency to pick me up, drag me around by my bat-like ears and then fling me in the air.  Suffice to say, this story will take a while.


This is the first story I have written which takes into account the events of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  For this reason, it cannot represent any sort of continuation of my two Fifth year stories, Harry Potter and the Brotherhood of the Besotted and Harry Potter and the Sticking Broom.  While I am (somewhat foolishly) sorry to say goodbye to the Hogwarts of my earlier tales, I would be a far greater fool if I did not embrace the fascinating new characters and locations that J.K. Rowling has now placed at my disposal.


Mrs Rowling is not the only person who has inspired me in my folly.  I would like to thank John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia, for convincing me that we can rid the world of untold evil if everybody has enough fridge magnets.  And of course, thank you to my intrepid beta reader, Elanor Gamgee, who is the inventor of the Mobilihippus spell . Equally, thanks to my alpha reader, Mary, who is ten.





Chapter 1: An Inaccessible Room


“Swish and flick, Severus,” Filius Flitwick’s cheerful voice squeaked from near the top of the stairs.  “You need a good, smooth wand action.  Swish and flick.”


As though it was obeying the Charms teacher’s instructions, the pale strands of a horse’s tail suddenly swished and flicked across Snape’s face.  Snape spat out a stray, sticky hair, stabbed with his wand and snarled, “Mobilihippus.”  He was gratified when a set of palomino haunches, which had been hovering uncertainly in front of his nose, jerked roughly into the air.  Firenze uttered a sound of surprise that was somewhere between a gasp and a whinny.


“No, no, no!” Flitwick’s voice was becoming less reassuring and more desperate.  “Keep your end steady. Mobilihippus!  We’re almost there.”


With much swishing and flicking, the three professors made an ungainly progress up the first flight of stairs.  They paused on the landing to wait for the next tier of steps to move into its proper position.  As the marble staircase swept into place, Snape noticed that Flitwick was red in the face from his exertion.  Firenze’s startlingly blue eyes fixed a disdainful look on the wizards as he floated back down to the floor.


“This practice is as preposterous as it is unnecessary,” the centaur pronounced gravely.  “Noble creatures were never intended to inhabit such a foul cave, hiding their heads from the stars.  For what reason am I required to meet with humans in an inaccessible room?”  He flicked his tail peevishly before declaring, “The staff room must be moved to the ground floor.”


“I think we’ll be discussing that at the meeting,” Flitwick replied, making a valiant effort to remain polite.  Firenze snorted derisively. The Potions Master thought of a much less polite response, but at that moment a pair of students squeezed past them on the landing.  Snape did not wish to give Miss Granger or Ron Weasley any clue to the indignity he was feeling, so he seethed in silence.


“And, you know, we don’t have to do it this way,” Flitwick continued.  “We could enchant a hoist to take you up.  You’d just need to slip on a harness -”


At that, Firenze reared furiously.  Snape hoped he would overbalance and tumble back down to the Entrance Hall.  Unfortunately, after his display of temper, Firenze’s four hooves remained on the landing.  But, his right front hoof tapped on the stone floor in an agitated fashion.  Snape recollected that certain words should never be used in the presence of a centaur. “Harness” was definitely one of them.


Weasley and Granger had left the Entrance Hall and Snape felt no further need for restraint.  “If the facilities of this castle are not to your liking,” Snape suggested in a sneering tone, “perhaps you should reconsider your employment here.  We seem to have a surfeit of Divination teachers at present.  And, whatever the shortcomings of Sybill Trelawney, at least she has never saddled her colleagues with the task of carting her upstairs.”


Snape’s thin lips twisted into a vicious smile while he watched his speech create the desired effect.  Pressing his gaunt body against a tapestry, he narrowly avoided a flashing hoof.  Firenze bucked again, causing the portraits on the stairwell to cower and Professor Flitwick to hide his head in his hands.  A painting of a rotund friar on a donkey shouted, “Whoa there, Dobbin!” Luckily, the incensed Divination teacher seemed not to hear.  Eventually Firenze regained his composure, although his hoof tapped the floor even more insistently.


“I have come to this place, human,” the centaur retorted, “at Professor Dumbledore’s invitation.  On his word alone will I leave.”


“Dumbledore – yes, well, he’ll be here any minute,” Flitwick said nervously.  The little man did not appear to relish the prospect of any further conflicts with centaurs on staircases.  “Why don’t we just move along?  Don’t want to be late. Ready, Severus? Er – Mobilihippus.”


The ascent of the second flight of stairs was just as arduous as the first. Flitwick, who was now panting heavily, even abandoned his practice of interspersing his incantations with friendly words of encouragement.  Snape waved his wand monotonously, all the while reflecting on his unhappy ability to be in the right place at the wrong time.


If he had not been walking up from the dungeons at precisely 4:34 pm last Wednesday, he would never have been behind Flitwick and Firenze on the stairs.  Had he not been behind the pair on the stairs, he would not have noticed how impossible it was for the tiny wizard, despite his great skill in Charms, to keep a fully-grown centaur airborne.  Snape had assisted, not from any sense of duty or compassion, but from the realisation that a large equine was about to fall down the stairs onto him.  It had irritated Snape no end when Flitwick had thanked him profusely at the staff room door.  It has irked him even more when Filius had said, “So, we’ll meet you in the Entrance Hall, same time next week.”


A week had passed.  Snape had dismissed his Wednesday afternoon class five minutes early, with the express purpose of hurrying up to the staff room before Flitwick or Firenze could waylay him.  And yet, when he reached the Entrance Hall, they were both waiting.


Firenze’s front hooves clattered as they scraped against the first floor landing, breaking Snape’s reverie.  They were now just a few paces from the staff room door.  Flitwick lowered his arms with a heavy sigh and said, “We made it.  Thank Merlin!  I’ll see the pair of you inside.”


The responsibility fell to Snape to transport the rest of Firenze up the last few stairs, which he did with a lamentable lack of grace.  As the rear end of the centaur returned to the ground, it lurched backwards, so that Snape’s hooked nose collided with the dock of Firenze’s tail.  Once all four hooves were on the ground, the Divination Teacher trotted through the staff room door, not even turning to thank the Potions Master.  Snape wiped the earthy scent of centaur from his face with a handkerchief and did his best to ignore the gargoyles.  They were still sniggering when Snape entered the room.


Flitwick had already poured himself a fizzy drink and was chatting to Professor Sprout.  Firenze had crossed the room and was standing beside the windows with Hagrid.  The cross expressions on the faces of Professors Sinistra and Vector suggested that they had been unceremoniously moved aside to let the centaur pass.  And, next to the drinks trolley, Sybill Trelawney was caressing the neck of a bottle of sherry while she, too, scowled at the back of Firenze’s white blonde head.


Snape was in no mood for the casual social interaction that normally preceded Hogwarts’ weekly staff meeting.  He pulled up his usual chair at the round table, briefly perused the agenda and waited with mounting impatience for Professor Dumbledore to appear in the fire.


Despite the retirement of Dolores Umbridge, the Ministry of Magic had not entirely relinquished its supervision of Hogwarts.  Most noticeably, the school has been included in the government’s war propaganda campaign.  The castle’s ancient hallways were plastered with the Ministry’s garish posters, which either fueled hysterical fear of the Dark Lord’s minions or promoted anti-Death Eater attitudes.  This feeble crusade to quash centuries of bigotry consisted of daubing every public building with futile warnings, pretty pictures and trite sentiments.  Snape glared resentfully at the enlarged photograph hanging above the fireplace.  A group of little wizards and centaur foals skipped in an open field, above the caption:  LET US CLASP THE HOOF OF FRIENDSHIP.  He returned his gaze to the gilt-edged piece of parchment before him.


The glittering agenda showed that, among other things, they would be discussing Cornelius Fudge’s visit to Hogwarts at the end of the month.  If the Daily Prophet was to be believed, the entire wizarding world was in the grip of turmoil, with Death Eaters lurking behind every lamppost and Lord Thingy hiding under every bed.  Fudge, who had managed in a few short months to reinvent himself as the “people’s politician,” had seized on this mood.  No doubt he was coming to Hogwarts to personally trample unorthodoxy and root out the seeds of sedition.  And while he was about it, he would probably make sure that a certain Housemaster, who wore the Dark Mark, was relieved of his responsibilities.  Snape’s slender fingers drummed the table softly as he mused that his role as Housemaster of Slytherin, in the middle of a war with the Death Eaters, was another sorry example of his being in the right place at the wrong time.


Even some of Snape’s colleagues had begun to eye him with suspicion.  His being the Lord Voldemort’s spy was the worst kept secret in the staff room – even more widely known than the fact that Madam Pince dyed her hair.  It was expected that he took tea with his former lord and master at regular intervals.  But in fact, the whereabouts of the Dark Lord was unknown to all.  Dumbledore had spent the last two months on diplomatic missions to the wizarding Governments of Europe, trying to ensure that whenever and wherever Britain’s most wanted criminal showed himself, the process of extradition to Azkaban would be swift.  Snape had spent an unpleasant summer holiday loitering in seamy pubs, renewing his loathsome Knockturn Alley acquaintances and dreading a summons that never came.


“Albus said we should start without him if he’s delayed.” Minerva McGonagall’s stern Celtic brogue silenced the hubbub.  She took her seat beside Snape and waited while an agenda floated from the top of a pile to her outstretched hand.


Alastor Moody, who had finally been given the opportunity to accept Dumbledore’s invitation to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts, sat down with his back to the windows. Various other teachers made their way to the table, and the agendas wafted towards them. But Firenze and Hagrid stayed where they were.


“So, will you announce at once that the staff room is to be relocated?” the centaur enquired loudly.


Professor McGonagall peered at Firenze over her wire-rimmed spectacles.  “That’s open to discussion.” She checked her agenda and added, “Item six.  We should get to it later tonight.”


Snape fully expected Firenze to rear up again, but Hagrid’s steadying hand on the centaur’s shoulder prevented it. “I expected,” Firenze shouted, “that this problem would have been given first priority.  The staff room must be moved to the ground floor.”


Moody’s electric-blue, magical eye swiveled backwards to confront the Divination Teacher.  “Now see here,” he growled.  “We can’t just go moving an important room around the castle.  There are security implications.”


“Although in fairness, Alastor,” Professor McGonagall said placatingly, “if You-Know-Who wants to kill us all in the staff room, there’s a lot more than the first floor staircase to prevent him.”  Her lips pursed together to suppress a smile, but she gave Snape a mischievous look.


Professor Sinistra made a habit of saying very little at staff meetings.  Snape suspected that, because she normally taught late into the night, she used Wednesday afternoons to catch up on her sleep.  So, he was surprised when she opined wistfully, “I hope we don’t have to go.”  The astronomer waved a hand in the direction of the enormous windows and continued. “Such a lovely view.  The moon rises in a little while.  And Saturn has been so bright lately. I’ve even been able to map Mimas.”  Her voice trailed away, as though her thoughts had turned inwards once more, possibly following the passage of Saturn’s inner moons for the rest of the discussion.


“Mimas?” Professor Sprout asked with a worried voice.


Nobody paid her any attention, because Flitwick had started to enthusiastically bounce in his chair.  “I’ve just had the most wonderful idea!” he exclaimed with a chuckle. “What about that room on the seventh floor, opposite the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy?”


“The seventh floor?” McGonagall asked.  It was clear that she thought Flitwick was a barmy as Barnabas.


“Yes, yes, but here’s the beauty of it,” Flitwick said excitedly.  “All it seems to be used for at the moment is a lovers’ nook – I’ve caught some senior students.  But, you can make that room into anything you like.  And, you can get anything you want in it.  Jolly useful after a hard day’s teaching – we could put a jacuzzi in there, or a little ice cream parlour or -”


“Is this leading anywhere?” McGonagall asked sternly.


“ – or a lift!” Flitwick concluded triumphantly.


Professor Sprout still seemed to be apprehensive.  She asked quietly, “Could I get a pair of amethyst bladed secateurs from there, do you think?  For highly toxic blooms?”


Professor Moody did not answer her.  Instead, he turned from Flitwick to McGonagall and growled.  “Are you telling me that that room is still able to be opened?  The room that Potter and his followers used for training?”


“We’ve told Argus to lock it, but he says the house-elves just keep opening it again,” she replied.


“Well tell him to put a bloody Imperturbable Charm on the doorknob,” Moody demanded, obviously unaware that Hogwarts’ caretaker was a Squib.  Argus Filch could no more charm the doorknob than eat it.


“Oh, dear.”  Flitwick sounded most disappointed.  “No jacuzzis and ice cream, then?  And my Miss Chang and Mr Corner will need to go elsewhere for their trysts.”


“You really must keep students out of there.” McGonagall’s voice resonated with its customary strictness.


Firenze snorted his dissatisfaction and clip-clopped towards the meeting table. He barged through Professor Binns without so much as a by your leave, causing the ghost to react with mild surprise.


“So, you have no solution?” Firenze asked accusingly.  “You are unwilling to admit any but humans to these meetings?”


“And yet, here you are,” Snape drawled nastily.


“Here I am.”  Firenze’s eyes glowed like bright pools of asperity.  “Here I am, human.  You seek allegiance with my kind, and here I am.  You seek to know the portents of the heavens, and so I answer your call.” At this remark, Professor Trelawney made a small, whimpering noise and pulled her shawls tightly around her shoulders.  Firenze disregarded it, and continued.  “Yet, when my loyalty is won, you spurn me.  Such has always been the way between centaurs and wizards.  I shall take my leave of Professor Dumbledore.  If he permits it, I shall return to the forest tonight.”


Snape turned his eyes to Sybill Trelawney, noticing her features had been transformed by the broadest of smiles.  However, her look of satisfaction immediately turned to one of alarm when a sizeable explosion occurred in the staff room fireplace.  Snape’s gaze snapped back around to view the hearth, where the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry stood.


“I cannot give my permission, Firenze,” Dumbledore said firmly as he stepped from the cinders.  He brushed soot from his long, silvery beard and added in a softer tone, “I’m concerned that you feel the need to ask for it.  Have we given any offence?”


“It’s the ongoing matter of accessibility,” McGonagall tersely informed him.


“Oh, is that all?” Dumbledore said brightly.  He was carrying a battered briefcase, which he opened and placed on the floor.  From it, he drew a large bolt of sturdy fabric.  He unrolled the material to reveal an elaborate carpet, decorated with whirling Dervishes.  When Snape looked down at the rug, he found that the spinning of the tiny figures had a hypnotic, but dizzying effect.


“Is that what I think it is, Albus?” McGonagall asked warily.


“It is,” the Headmaster happily answered.  “Firenze, will you stand here, please?”


Moody had risen to his feet and was hobbling towards the fireplace as fast as his wooden leg would allow.  He stood between the centaur and the carpet and pointed a trembling finger at Dumbledore. “Those things are illegal, you know.”  The former Auror’s hoarse voice was full of foreboding.  “Did anyone see you bring it here?  If the Ministry gets wind of this -”


“The Minister was happy to give me his blessing,” Dumbledore countered.  “He signed the importation permit himself.  The carpet, you see, was a gift from the Grand Magus of Assyria.  We’re very keen, at present, to strengthen our ties with the Middle East.” Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled.  “So, in addition to an excellent box of Turkish Delight, I have been able to obtain this most serviceable form of transportation.  Will you let Firenze get through now, Alastor?”


Firenze approached.  He abandoned all his former haughtiness now that he was in Dumbledore’s presence.


“Stand on the mat, just in the centre,” Dumbledore instructed.  The centaur obeyed meekly.  Then, Dumbledore raised his aged hands and clapped once.  The carpet lifted a metre from the ground, but Firenze’s thin legs buckled underneath him and he nearly fell.  Dumbledore gave two quick claps, which sent the carpet back to the floor.


“It might be better if you kneel.  At least, until you’re used to the sensation,” the Headmaster suggested.  Firenze knelt with a wobble, Dumbledore clapped again and the centaur floated from the floor.


“Oh, well done!” Flitwick cheered.


“Your voice commands the direction,” Dumbledore explained as he walked over to the meeting table.  Moody followed him, still shaking his head disapprovingly. Hagrid also joined them at the table, his massive body quaking with laughter at the sight of a flying centaur.


“I can teach you how it works after our meeting,” Dumbledore said, before clapping twice.  Firenze descended gently to the floor, to his visible relief, while the Headmaster took a seat.


“We haven’t really started yet,” McGonagall said apologetically.


“But we seem to have resolved item six,” Dumbledore remarked, tracing a long thin finger down the meeting agenda.  “Perhaps we shall continue our numerical unorthodoxy, and take on item twelve next?”


Snape had not even been aware that an item twelve existed.  He turned over the parchment, which he was certain had only been printed on one side a few moments before.  The words Item 12: Visit by Draco Malfoy to his father, were in the process of appearing in glistening, wet ink on the back of the page.


“I have received no notice of this,” Snape said, in a voice that he hoped did not convey the full force of the annoyance he was feeling.


“Narcissa contacted me while I was abroad, when Lucius asked for Draco to visit him.  Apparently the boy’s seventeenth birthday is coming up, and they thought it might be nice.”  Dumbledore said the words quite matter-of-factly, as though a visit to Azkaban was a perfectly normal and pleasant sort of birthday treat for a teenage boy.


“The matter hardly needs discussion here, then.” Snape peered at Dumbledore keenly, but the old man’s countenance gave nothing away.  Even so, the Potions Master was certain that there was much more to item twelve than met the eye.  He tried to sound nonchalant as he concluded, “Arranging family visits falls within the purview of a Housemaster’s duties.” McGonagall was nodding supportively beside him.


Dumbledore inclined his head and said thoughtfully, “This might be a special case.”


Snape did not need Legilimency to guess what his colleagues were thinking.  This was a special case, because he was a special case.  Or rather, in the space of a few months, the whole of Slytherin House has assumed “special case” status. Mighty Salazar’s successors were now treated as a house of misfits, criminals and Death Eaters.  Nearly half of Slytherin’s pupils had failed to return to the school after the summer holidays.  Many, notably the Crabbe, Goyle and Avery families, had transferred all their children to Durmstrang.  The Sorting Hat had directed only three first years Snape’s way, and they were a sorry lot.  Most galling of all, Dumbledore had neglected to appoint any Slytherin fifth year prefects.  Slytherin was a house in decline.


“What does the Department of Magical Law Enforcement expect us to do?” Moody asked gruffly.  His tone conveyed what many were no doubt thinking.  There was a war on, and in times of war, the niceties of house traditions and loyalties could be dispensed with.


“They have no objection to the visit taking place,” Dumbledore replied.


Mad-Eye Moody cleared his throat noisily and Snape wondered if he was about to choke.  At the end of his dramatic expectoration, Moody snarled, “Damn fools!”


“Well, they’ve managed to keep Lucius under lock and key for nearly three months,” McGonagall argued.


“But they haven’t convicted him!” Moody thumped the table with his gnarled fist.  “How many adjournments has he got? Four? Five? And each time he wheedles out of a trial on a more stupid excuse.  Last time, his lawyer – that Plimpy-witted buffoon – you know -”


“Garfield Barwick.” Dumbledore serenely supplied the name.


“Yes – Barwick – the great Flobberworm,” Moody raged.  “Last time Barwick said Malfoy couldn’t stand trial because he’d developed spattergroit!”


“I, too, suffered from spattergroit in my youth.  It can be most uncomfortable.”  Dumbledore said these words evenly, but his eyes were glinting with merriment.


“Oh, Malfoy’s comfortable enough,” Moody blustered.  “Azkaban without Dementors – it must be like a ruddy holiday camp out there!  And Lucius is just biding his time until he finds a way back home.  Mark my words – this visit is one of his tricks.  We need to be vigilant, Albus!”


“I agree entirely.”  Dumbledore twisted a strand of his beard between his fingers and lowered his eyes.  “That is why I have insisted that Draco be escorted by a representative of this school.”


“What day’s the visit?” Moody asked.  “I’ll need to cancel my classes - ”


“That won’t be necessary.” Dumbledore raised his head and surveyed his staff through his half-moon glasses.  “I believe it will be less awkward for the family if Severus goes along.”  The Headmaster nodded in Snape’s direction and added softly, “If you don’t mind.”


Mind? Snape thought.  Return to Azkaban - that hellhole? The place that still feeds my foulest nightmares? And face Lucius, who by now must realise my treachery?


Slytherin’s Housemaster said silkily, “Not at all.”


Professor Moody had turned a very unattractive shade of scarlet, but knew better than to debate Dumbledore’s decision.  The staff meeting settled into more routine discussions, such as the rescheduling of Potions classes and arranging substitute teachers for Snape’s absence on Friday.  After item twelve on the agenda had thus been dispensed with, Dumbledore capriciously moved onto item four (the house Quidditch practice timetable) before touching on several other minor matters (including preparations for a Gobstones tournament, a visit by a specialist lecturer on Ancient Runes, drafting a teachers’ roster to supervise detentions and settling the teachers’ roster for undoing damage caused by Peeves) in an exceedingly random order.


Luckily, Professor McGonagall was scratching out completed matters as they went along.  So, when the dinner bell rang, she alone knew which issues still required discussion.


“We still need to touch on Cornelius Fudge’s visit,” she read.  “That was item one.  And, the teaching of astrology was going to be discussed as item five.”


“Cornelius’ visit will be a relatively straightforward affair,” Dumbledore said calmly.  “He won’t be staying for more than a day or two.  He just wants to see how we’re all getting on.”


“Well, I’ll tell Filch to prepare the guest suite for that weekend,” McGonagall said without looking up.  She scratched item one from her agenda in a decisive way.


“Oh, and he wants to see how we all like the new curriculum,” Dumbledore went on airily.


“New what?” McGonagall tone of consternation spoke for the whole group.  Snape observed that his fellow teachers had frozen in a tableau of dumbstruck horror.


“The Ministry has decided to change the O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. curriculum,” Dumbledore responded.  Professor Vector gasped loudly, before clapping her hand to her mouth.  “Nothing major,” the Headmaster reassured them all.  “They just thought, given the new philosophy regarding our relations with Muggles, we should make Muggle Studies a compulsory course.”


“Compulsory for O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s?” Professor McGonagall’s quill stabbed through the parchment she was holding.  “But hardly anybody takes Muggle Studies!  We don’t even have a permanent teacher any more. Professors Binns and Flitwick and I have just been sharing the classes out between ourselves for the last two years.”


“Then, we appear to have three eminently qualified teachers.”  Dumbledore smiled indulgently.  “Cornelius will be so pleased.”


“Yes, well,” said McGonagall through gritted teeth. “You and I will need to talk about this later, Headmaster.  At some length.”


“Do we have time to talk about astrology?” Dumbledore asked the group.  Sybill Trelawney made an odd sound.  Snape could not decide if it was a sob or a hiccup.  The rest of the staff remained silent, hoping that their refusal to enter the discussion would enable them to be dismissed in time for the main course downstairs.


“Maybe it can wait until next week,” Dumbledore decided, rising from the table.  “Thank you all.”  He turned to face Firenze, who had been standing beside his carpet during the meeting.  Addressing the centaur, he said jovially, “Come, my friend.  Let us have a flying lesson.”


Snape loitered by the table as his fellow professors filed from the room.  Dumbledore seemed wholly preoccupied with the task of moving Firenze in a balletic figure eight above his head. However, just when the Potions Master had decided to leave, he caught the old man’s eye.


Dumbledore’s lips were still, but his rich voice echoed within Snape’s mind.  Phineas Nigellus will tell you what you need to do.  Snape tilted his head barely perceptibly, to indicate that the message had been received.  He then took his leave of the Headmaster.


*     *     *     *     *     *     *


Professor Snape exited the staff room to find Ron Weasley yelling loudly at a wall.


“Adhaerere! Adhaerere!”  A scroll of parchment kept rolling up again, despite Weasley’s vocal attempts to affix it to the masonry.  “This. Is. Completely. Bloody. Useless!” he fumed.


“The walls in this hallway seem to be able to repel Sticking Charms,” Hermione Granger said in her typical know-it-all, grating manner.  Snape marveled at how such a studious, dutiful girl had the unfailing ability to set his teeth on edge.  Granger continued, “It’s probably some sort of anti-graffiti ward, to stop students putting up rude signs outside the staff room.”


“Well then, what’s the point in trying?”  Weasley appeared to have now placed a Sticking Charm on the palm of his hand, and was clumsily ripping the scroll from his own grasp.


“Padma and Luna will be back with the Spellotape soon,” Granger said.  “That might work better.  If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to finish -”


“After dinner, Miss Granger.” Snape completed the sentence, and quite enjoyed the shock his eavesdropping had caused.  “The dinner bell sounded more than twenty minutes ago.  Why are you not in the Great Hall?”


“Well, sir,” Granger began.  “We needed to get these new posters from the Ministry put up.  All the prefects have been told to help.”  She unrolled the poster she was holding, which bore the heading: CAN YOU TELL IF YOU ARE UNDER IMPERIUS?


Snape sniffed at the twaddle, which the Ministry thought passed for important information. The first line of the poster read: If you are acting under the Imperius Curse, you have probably been instructed not to read this sign.


 He said coldly, “You were required to go directly to the Great Hall when the bell sounded.”


“Well, we’re nearly finished now, sir,” the girl insolently replied.  “In fact, we would have finished in plenty of time, if all the prefects had done their bit.  But I’m afraid Pansy Parkinson and Draco -”


“Miss Parkinson and Mr Malfoy are not the ones flouting school rules by being late for dinner,” the Potions Master snapped.  “Five points from Gryffindor for each of you.  Now, get downstairs.  You can complete this task later.”


He swept down the staircase ahead of the students, deciding that he would forego dinner in the Great Hall that evening.  He was much too keen to hear what Phineas Nigellus had to say.


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