The Sugar Quill
Author: ivy & Gracie (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Where the Light is  Chapter: Chapter 2: New Friends...And Old
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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.

A/N: A Knacker's yard is a place where dead farm animals are brought for inspection and disposal. Thanks to our friends at the "All Things British" threads for this gem of information; long may it enrich your lives.

Fred and George Apparated onto the sidewalk in front of their flat.

“This is where I leave you,” George said to his brother, popping an Everest‘s Everlasting Breath Mint into his mouth. “On to better-looking company.” With an airy wave, he set off down the street.

“Hey!” Fred called after him. “You might keep me in mind and ask her about that sister of hers.”

George strode along jauntily until he rounded the corner. When he looked back Fred was out of sight. He was beginning to feel decidedly jittery, as though he’d had too many cups of coffee with dessert. Leaning against the brick wall of Madame Mayo’s Café he let out a long, slow breath.

It was going to be Rachel Burke all over again, he knew it. He closed his eyes, seeing her again as though it had been yesterday; Rachel, the blond-haired, blue-eyed Muggle goddess from Ottery St. Catchpole, the first girl he had ever loved. He had been thirteen then, and he had saved all his pocket money for three months to buy her a locket from the jeweler's shop in Hogsmeade. On Christmas Eve he'd wrapped the little box carefully, and charmed the stars on the paper so they twinkled. He'd carried it, in his pocket, to her house where his family had been invited for her family's Christmas party. And he'd waited, half-breathless all night, for the right moment, when he would draw her aside and tell her how he felt about her.

And then he'd heard her talking, behind the curve of the staircase, with her friend Lisa.

"I think George Weasley fancies you," Lisa had said, a smirk in her voice.

"Oh puh-lease," Rachel had retorted. "Can you imagine us together? With his orange hair and all those freckles--and that awful house he lives in! I wouldn't go out with him if he were the last boy in Ottery St. Catchpole. Although, if it were a contest between him and Fred, I think they'd tie for last place."

And she had laughed.

And he had thrown the locket into the river on his way home and never told anyone about her, not even Fred. And he had never fancied another girl again. Until now.

He made himself start walking again. It wasn’t as though he had never been out with a girl though, he reminded himself. He’d met girls--well, all right, He and Fred and Lee had met groups of girls--for drinks in Hogsmeade now and then, and he‘d never been nervous about that.

He’d also taken Alicia to the Yule Ball; that had been a date. He hadn't quite got up the balls to ask her in front of everyone, the way Fred had asked Angelina, but he'd managed to get her alone, after Quidditch practice one evening and, to his enormous relief, she'd said yes. They’d danced together and everything. Touching. And he hadn‘t felt the slightest twinge of anything nerve-related.

But Alicia wasn't Ainsley. Beyond the Yule Ball and the Quidditch pitch, he'd never given a second thought to Alicia. And yet, twice this week, he had taken the long way to the Leaky Cauldron, just in the hope of catching sight of Ainsley through the front windows of Madam Malkin's as he passed. He’d considered doing his Christmas shopping six months early, and making Ginny’s gift a new set of dress robes. And every time the door of his own shop opened he’d looked up, too quickly, hoping it would be her.

Fred had noticed. “Great Morgana, George!” he’d exclaimed Thursday morning when George had, twice, made the wrong change for a customer. “Get yourself over to Madam Malkin’s and ask her out then. A great, fit bloke like yourself should have no trouble. No girl in her right mind is going to turn you down.”

Fred was right of course. It was ridiculous to go moping around like this. She wasn’t a dragon, for Pete’s sake; she wasn’t going to bite his head off. He would just go over there and just…ask her.

So he’d pulled off his work robes and strode resolutely down the street to her aunt’s shop. He’d stepped through the shop door with unwavering resolve, a man on a mission, a man who did not expect to be refused.

She’d been kneeling on the floor, pinning up a customer’s robe with her wand. When she heard the shop bell, she’d looked up with a polite, questioning smile that had bloomed into a glow of real pleasure at seeing him. His heart had missed two beats entirely then, racing to catch up with itself, taking his breath with it. He had turned to flee the shop, certain that anyone with a smile like that should never have to go out with someone as ordinary as himself. Fortunately, the doorway was blocked, just then, by the vast bulk of Marjorie Higgle and George had been trapped.

So he had waited until Ainsley was finished with her customer, then managed to suggest that they might spend Sunday afternoon together. It hadn’t been difficult at all, once he‘d got going.

But that had been four days ago and all the confidence from his success had vanished like hair in a Headless Hat. What if she had changed her mind? She could, even now, be sitting at home knocking herself in the head because she’d said “yes.” What if she had a really awful time with him today? What if--here, he stopped mid-stride--what if she thought he was ugly?

He wasn’t ugly, was he? He glanced at himself in Florian Fortescue’s window. Fred had called him 'fit,' but then Fred would say that, as they looked exactly alike.

He gave himself a mental shaking. He’d only asked her to spend the afternoon with him; there was nothing to get worked up about. Even if his mouth was dry and his palms moist, and it was taking twice the usual number of breaths to feel he was getting enough air.

Madam Malkin’s was a prominent storefront in the High Street. Its wide bow windows boasted a display of summer robes cut in the latest fashions though, today being Sunday, the shop was dark inside, the door locked.

George stepped into the narrow alley to the left of the shop and climbed the set of wooden steps that led to the flat above. He caught sight of himself in the glass window set into the door. He brushed his fingers through his red shock of hair and swallowed the breath mint. Then, taking a deep breath, he knocked.

She opened the door.

He stared. Her long, brown hair hung over one shoulder and behind her glasses, her dark eyes were luminous.

“Hi George,” she said softly.

He opened his mouth and he suddenly couldn‘t remember any of the words he had ever learned.

"Hi," he managed, his voice cracking like a thirteen-year-old. He flushed and looked around for a hole to crawl into.

“Shall we go, then?” She was smiling, so maybe she hadn‘t noticed.

“Right. So," he cleared his throat. "Do you like to fly?”

“I love to fly.” She was wearing shorts and her legs were very tanned.

“Do you--” It was hard to keep a train of thought while he was looking at those legs. “Do you have a broom?”

“Yes, it’s in my room. Shall I get it?”

Suddenly, he realized that, although he’d been planning to take her flying, he’d forgotten to bring his own broom along.

“Yes. Good,” he said, trying to sound masterful, as though he had planned it just like this.

“And we can stop by my place and get mine on the way.”

“Good. I’ll be right back.”

While she was gone, he surreptitiously breathed on his hand. Was his breath bad? He wished he'd had time to clean his teeth; he hoped he didn't have food stuck in them.

When she returned with her broom she was pulling back her hair. “So it doesn’t get in my face,” she said. She looked different that way, he thought. Older. More serious.

He followed her down the stairs trying, conscientiously, to keep his eyes on her plait. At the sidewalk she stopped and, pulling out her wand, gave her glasses a little tap. The lenses turned dark.

"Sun-blocker Charm," she explained.

He raised his eyebrows. "Using magic during the summer holidays?"

"I'm allowed to use simple magic in the robe shop, for my job. Can I help it if my wand slips once in awhile, outside of business hours?"

"That's the spirit!" he said with a grin. He turned in the direction of his flat and she fell into step beside him.

“A Mercury 5,” he said, gesturing toward her broomstick. “How do you like it?”

She shrugged. “It’s about right for me. I don’t get to do a lot of flying, and I don’t play Quidditch so it’s really all the broom I need. And it’s reliable. I’ve had it for three years and never had to have it balanced. Where are we flying?” she asked.

“There’s a place I found one day, by accident, when I took a wrong turn from Liverpool. I thought I'd show it to you.”

“What were you doing in Liverpool?”

“Buying supplies.” He grinned. “For a line of Air Un-Fresheners we were working on at the time.”

“Air Un-Fresheners? Do I dare ask…?”

“You can ask, but you may not like the answer. One of our best sellers is called Knacker's Yard.”

She groaned appreciatively.

“There’s also Locker Room, inspired by our years of playing Quidditch; and Low Tide, guaranteed to make any room smell like a fish market. But our favorite is one we like to call After the Beans.”

She laughed aloud. “You must be an icon among the ten-year-old boys of the world,” she said.

“Not just the ten-year-olds. You’ll be shocked and saddened to know that forty percent of our business is done among Overage wizards.” He leaned in close to her and lowered his voice to a confidential whisper. “And more than a few of them are in high Ministry positions.”

“Oh dear,” she said. “Doesn’t bode well for the future of our country, does it?”

She smelled like fresh air and shampoo and for a moment, he was dizzy with it. Air Un-Fresheners seemed suddenly, embarrassingly inconsequential. Someday soon, he thought, he would tell her about the Mini-Wands; an invention that mattered. But not just now; he didn’t want to come off sounding like Lockhart. He wanted to have one of the Mini-Wands with him when he told her. Maybe he’d transfigure something into a bouquet of flowers for her first. He'd tell her why they'd invented the Wands, and those beautiful eyes would shine with admiration. And maybe then he'd kiss her.... George narrowly missed walking into a lamppost.

“I don’t know where you live,” she was saying. “Is it far?”

He shook himself back to the present. “Just around the corner and down…this street.”

At the door to his building, he hesitated. “Do you want to come up? It’s a right mess, and Fred’s at home. He’ll give you a hard time, but if you don’t mind that…”

She smiled at him and looked a little shy. “Why don’t I just wait here for you?” She had a small dimple above the corner of her mouth. He was having trouble breathing again.

“Right,” he managed.

He dashed up the stairs, through the front door, past a startled Fred, and into the bathroom.

Accio broom!” he gasped, and reached for his toothbrush.

*********************************

They flew to the ruin of the stone farmhouse he had found on the way home from Liverpool that day. The house had long since crumbled away, leaving only the stone foundation and the high chimney wall to testify that it had been there at all. Around it the grasses grew waist-high, the overgrown fields stretching away for acres in three directions. Behind the house the grasses subsided to the edge of a wide, shallow river shaded by oak trees.

They stood under the trees, on the riverbank, and searched for stones to skip. She was appallingly bad at it, skipping her stones only once, if at all, before they sank.

"Like this," he said, demonstrating the underarm flick of the wrist just before he threw.

She watched his stone skip five times across the surface. "It's your Beater's arms," she said regretfully. She touched him on one thick forearm, heedless of what it did to his pulse rate. "I'll never be able to do that, unless I spend the next seven years swinging a bat on the Quidditch pitch. Come on--let's see if we can climb the wall instead."

So they climbed the chimney wall, side by side, finding footholds in the holes left over from the days when wooden beams had supported a ceiling in the old house. George reached the top of the wall first and straddled it, leaning down to pull her up.

When they were both sitting on top, they looked around themselves.

"It can't be more than twenty feet up, but it feels like miles," she said, "like we've broken free from gravity." She stretched out her arms. "Like we could fly if we wanted to." They were silent for several moments, then she went on.

"My sister would like this: She always wanted to fly. She thought that, if she were an Animagus, she'd be a bird."

George suddenly wanted to kick himself for being such a self-absorbed prat. He had been with her twice; the first day he had met her, and one other day when she had caught up with him in the street and walked with him to the Post Office, and both times they had talked about him; his life, his interests. He knew almost nothing about her.

But he wanted to know about her. The more he was with her the more he wanted to know.

So he asked, "Where is your sister? Why isn't she at Hogwarts?" He wasn't sure he was allowed to ask, but as she was the one who had brought it up, he figured he had permission.

Ainsley smiled, a sad little smile. For a long moment she did not say anything, only looked into the branches of an old apple tree that grew beyond the wall. George could tell she wasn't really seeing them.

"She was at Hogwarts," she said at last. "We started there together. We did everything together. But Anne never went farther than her fifth year.

"That was the year our father left us. He took up with some woman at work--he's an apothecary-- and he --" She shook her head. "I don't understand it, George: How does a man just pick up and abandon his family?" George didn't have an answer, but she didn't seem to expect one.

She went on. "Of course, we all--Anne and little George and Mum and I--took it hard. You'd think Mum would have had the worst of it but, for some reason, it was really Anne who took it on the chin. She was so angry….

"That summer--we'd turned fifteen in June--she fancied one of the boys in the neighborhood at home, and she started hanging about with his crowd. It turns out it was rather a bad crowd to choose." She turned to look at him but, through the dark lenses of her glasses, he couldn't see her eyes.

"You've heard of the Dark Avengers?" she asked him.

Something stirred in the back of his mind, but he couldn't think just what it was he had heard. "Yeah, I have, but I don't know much about them."

"Death-Eaters-in-Training, some call them. I don't know if that's true or not, but they're a rough lot, teenagers who are out to start trouble. They vandalize property, pick fights with Muggles, deal in IHP's--Illicit Herbs and Potions. That part of it was Anne's downfall.

"Her boyfriend--Geoff was his name--got her started smoking henbane. It's bad stuff; people on henbane forget who they are. They can do some really awful things without realizing what they're doing. Anne got hooked on it. And one night the DA's, as they call themselves, got stoned off their faces and started tormenting some Muggles in the neighborhood. The MLES had to come in and break it up but, in the end, one of the Muggle children died. And Anne--Anne was right there with the group that did it."

A sick feeling was beginning to take hold of George's stomach. He had to work to not let it show on his face.

"When the MLES showed up, things got rough. Anne was hit in the head by a Stunner and, combined with the henbane she was on, it was too much for her brain to take."

George gaped at her. "She…died?"

Ainsley shook her head. "No, she didn't die, but she's never been the same since then. She lives at St. Mungo's now, on the Macy Manning Secure Wing for Dangerous Criminals."

"The what?"

"Well, obviously, they can't send sick people to Azkaban, can they? It wouldn't be ethical to expose them to the Dementors." She shuddered. "So they have a locked wing for people like her, at St. Mungo's.

"The Wizengamot called her an accessory to the child's death. She should have gone to Azkaban, but she's brain-injured, so she lives at the hospital instead. And that's why I'm spending the holidays here, working for my Aunt. I can't be here the rest of the year, because of school, but I can see her, and help take care of her in the summer."

She looked uncommonly fierce, George thought, and he didn't know what to do or what to say. What if his dad had left their family? What if Fred was locked up and brain-damaged, separated from him? There was nothing anyone could say to that. Her hand was resting on the wall between them. Tentatively, he reached out and touched the back of it.

She turned her hand over and gripped his, hard, and they sat there on the wall, without saying anything, together, while she hung on to him.

When the light changed and the shadows grew longer, they climbed down from the wall and flew home. He walked her to the stairs that led up to her flat, and when she turned to face him, he tucked a stray wisp of hair behind her ear without even thinking first.

"I visit Anne a few times a week," she said hesitantly. "Would you like to go with me sometime?"

"Yeah," he said meaning it, "I'd like that."

Her face broke into that radiant smile again. "Good! Would Wednesday night be all right?"

"Wednesday would be great."

And as he walked home he thought that there were entirely too many days crammed into a week, between Sunday and Wednesday.

*********************************************

The Portkey was a large, Christmas fruitcake but Snape barely registered this before the familiar jerking sensation caught him behind his naval. He clutched reflexively at the handle of his trunk and, closing his eyes, whirled away into darkness.

There was little in his trunk in the way of personal effects: A few changes of clothing, a book or two, and a pouch each of wizard and Muggle money made up the bulk of his possessions. The rest of his trunk space was taken up with the items outlined in Professor Fitzwilliam's letter. There were three cauldrons: one each of copper, pewter and bronze. The new set of scales was accurate to a hundredth of a gram. Madam Drachm at the Apothecary, who fancied herself something of a wit, had raised her eyebrows when he'd placed the special order, and inquired archly whether he were going into the Love Potion business. Snape's snarl had put an end to that nonsense, and she'd filled the rest of his order in a huffy silence, slopping essence of murtlap into jars, and flinging pouches of Billywig stings onto the counter with an injured air that had been, he thought, most satisfying.

The darkness receded. Something old and faintly familiar was taking hold in his gut. In the second before he landed he identified the sensation: it was anticipation. How long, he wondered fleetingly, had it been since he'd looked forward to something without dread?

He hit the ground with a thud, and was just saved the indignity of falling by bracing himself on his trunk. He blinked in the sudden, hot sun and looked around. His first impression was that the air was very clear and bright, and smelt strongly of oranges. His second was that there must have been some mistake with the Portkey. This certainly was not Germany. He dropped his trunk and made a full, tight circle, surveying his surroundings.

He was standing at the edge of a citrus grove on a high hill, overlooking the sea. Stretching away to the south and east were row upon row of trees, orange fruit peeping out from under glossy, green leaves. Above him gulls wheeled and scolded in a brilliant sky and, far below to the west, the sea sparkled and broke on a white crescent of beach.

Snape reached automatically for his wand, feeling very much wrong-footed. Where was he? He nearly jumped out of his skin when a voice piped up from around his knees.

"Is this Professor Snape, Hogwarts Potions Master then? Sir is welcome, very, very welcome to this island, and to Professor Fitzwilliam's school!"

Snape looked down and saw a house-elf dressed in a neat toga of red calico print, with enormous, silver hoops in her outsized ears. The creature beamed up at him and beckoned.

"Come. Lolly will take sir to the house." She turned and disappeared into the trees.

With a hastily muttered "Locomotor Trunk!" Snape followed, his trunk floating before him.

The house-elf chattered happily as they walked. She had worked at Hogwarts herself, she said, and she missed seeing the great Professor Dumbledore, who was always so kind and never forgot to ask after her mother…. Snape tuned her out, irritated by her prattle. He was already starting to perspire in the sultry climate. All around them, cicadas shrilled, a ceaseless, monotonous buzz that scraped at his nerves and somehow made the heat more unbearable. Surely, on top of all this, he wasn't expected to make conversation with the servant. What kind of a place had he come to, anyway?

The orange grove was terraced, cut into the side of a steep hill that sloped steadily downward and inland. The house elf skipped easily down the narrow path, but Snape found it hard going. There was not the faintest suggestion of a breeze. Silently, he berated himself for choosing his heavy dress robes for travel. He had been thinking of the entrance interview with Nigel Fitzwilliam, and of chilly German university rooms. They were the worst possible choice, he thought sourly, for a midsummer hike through a god-forsaken jungle or orchard, or whatever the hell this was.

His shoes, too, were slippery-soled, chosen for dress rather than function, and it required all of his concentration to levitate his trunk and keep his balance while he slid and stumbled downward from one steep level to the next. Underfoot, fallen fruit made the going doubly treacherous. Twice, he stepped on an overripe orange and wrenched his back. Both times he managed to grab at a branch just in time to save himself from a nasty fall. Sweat trickled between his shoulder blades and pooled in the small of his back; his hair clung to his wet forehead. Mosquitoes whined in his ear and dive-bombed the back of his neck. A twig poked him in the cheek. He slapped it away, and a branch sprang out and smacked him hard on the mouth.

Ahead of him, the beastly little creature that was his guide was yammering on about someone named Dobby.

"Will you shut up!" he snapped, with as much venom as he could muster. His head was beginning to ache. His mouth was cottony with thirst, and his robes were plastered uncomfortably to his back and legs. His shoes were smeared with rotten orange pulp.

The house-elf stopped and looked at him with an aggrieved air.

Snape's wand arm was burning with the effort of keeping his trunk aloft. He pushed his damp hair out of his eyes with his other hand, and stared coldly back at her. "Your noise is making me positively ill," he said nastily, and was pleased to see her flush to the tips of her ridiculous ears.

"Where I come from," he continued in the same tone, "servants do not speak until they are spoken to." He ground his teeth, daring her to talk back to him, spoiling for a fight.

She regarded him thoughtfully. "True, sir," she said at last. "But where Sir comes from, house-elves is all still slaves." She shook her head sorrowfully, sounding for all the world as if he were a naughty child in need of a gentle scolding.

Snape sputtered, red-faced and furious as she turned and found the trail again, this time in silence. How dare she! He would report this at the first possible opportunity. He glared at her back, wishing mightily that he could hex her into next week. Probably, he thought, Professor Fitzwilliam wouldn't take kindly to having his... whatever she was, attacked from behind by a pupil before the class had even commenced. He cursed imaginatively under his breath, and continued the jarring descent.

After what seemed an eternity, the trees thinned. They emerged into a narrow, green valley. In the middle was the house, large, airy, and white-pillared. Surrounding it, an immense herb-garden took the place of a lawn, and seemed to compass the whole of the property. Snape stopped, breathing heavily, and looked around. In spite of himself, he felt a renewed surge of interest in his surroundings. They stepped onto a gravel path, and he had time to register rampant beds of foxglove and yarrow, agrimony, belladonna and hyssop, before they gained the wide, shaded front porch, and Lolly opened the door.

Snape set his trunk down in the entrance hall, a bit harder than he'd meant to, and rubbed his aching shoulder.

"Sir will please wait here," the house-elf said without a trace of animosity. She beamed fondly at him and skipped across the wide hall, disappearing through an open door on the other side.

A moment later, a tall man appeared in the same doorway. He advanced toward Snape, smiling broadly, his hand extended. "Professor Snape! From Hogwarts, isn't it?" He pumped Snape's arm enthusiastically. "It's a pleasure sir, a pleasure. Nigel Fitzwilliam at your service."

Snape made the right responses while studying the man. He was Snape's own age or a little younger, with prematurely gray hair, and deep laugh lines in his tanned face.

"How was your trip?" Fitzwilliam was asking.

"Hot."

"Yes, I imagine it was, in those robes. Well, we've got some lighter summer things for you. I must apologize for the surprise about the location. Have to do what we can to keep these things under wraps though. Dumbledore, incidentally, does know where to find you, if necessary."

Snape smiled thinly, and cast about for something civil to say. "I was most impressed by your herb garden, Professor."

Fitzwilliam beamed. "Isn't it lovely though? And it's laid out by the clock, you know. Hawkweed opens first at six o'clock sharp every morning, followed by the Madwort at seven o'clock, the Scarlet Pimpernel at eight, the mallow at nine, and so forth, right through the day. It was Carl Linnaeus who designed it, of course. Quite a brilliant man he was, for a Muggle."

Snape tried to look interested, and failed. Under his robes, the perspiration drying on his back was beginning to make him itch. He cared less right now about the blooming habits of chicory than about a bath and a change of clothes.

Fitzwilliam seemed to read his mind. "Well, we can't have you standing about in those hot robes all day, can we? If you'll follow me upstairs, I think you'll find a most comfortable arrangement has been made. No, leave your trunk. Lolly can bring it up in a few minutes. She's been assigned to you for the duration of your stay. If there's anything at all you require, from a midnight snack right down to a new cauldron, you have only to ask her."

He started up the stairs that curved away to the left of the hall. Snape followed him, saying after a moment's hesitation, "Talking of the house-elf, she gave me a bit of cheek on the way down here. Talked without drawing breath and, when I asked her to stop, she answered back most inappropriately."

To his annoyance, Fitzwilliam laughed. "Oh, I don't doubt it at all. Isn't she something? Lolly's a free house-elf, as all our household help are. We give them decent clothing, a fair wage, and the respect any free creature is due, and in return we find them to be faithful and obliging companions, who have a great deal of intelligence and help to offer. It's a most satisfactory arrangement for everyone. I tell you, Snape, the rest of the wizarding world is a hundred years behind the times in that respect!"

And he continued enthusiastically in this vein until they reached the room assigned to Snape, while the Hogwarts Potions Master stared, in horrified amazement, at his back. He wondered how many more well-known rules had been turned upside down in this strange place. He made up his mind. He would stay on his toes, keep to himself, and try to learn what he could. He could put up with anything for six weeks.


*********************************************************


His mood had not improved with a bath and a change of clothes. He found, to his dismay, that all of his own robes were far too heavy for the climate here. Fitzwilliam had pointed out a wardrobe full of light linen robes in various shades of gray and blue. Reluctantly, Snape chose the most conservative of them, and was only a little appeased to find it superior in fit and comfort to anything he owned. Now, dressed in borrowed clothing, wandering through an unfamiliar house, with the prospect before him of meeting a roomful of strangers, Snape was not in any kind of mood for social pleasantries. Had his growling stomach not forced him from his room, he would have skipped the ordeal altogether.

"Tea at four in the Library," Fitzwilliam had said, and it was nearly ten past before Snape managed to find his way through the rambling old house to where the others were seated in the book-lined room.

Fitzwilliam rose at once to greet him. "Professor Snape! Capital, capital. Now our party is complete. Let me introduce you around." He clapped his hands together, and everyone paused in their activities to look up. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I'd like to introduce to you all the last member of our little group. This," he clapped Snape on the shoulder, "is Professor Severus Snape, Potions Master at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and, I might add, a most accomplished man. Why don't we all go around the room and introduce ourselves."

Snape despised this particular manner of introduction. It reminded him of grammar school, and all its attendant horrors. The congregation before him, however, seemed delighted with the idea.

A stout little wizard in shocking pink robes leapt to his feet. "Jean-Claude Aubin, Undersecretary to the Canadian Minister of Magic, and kitchen table potions hobbyist!" he cried, with a smart salute.

Fitzwilliam chuckled. "Don't let him fool you, he's terribly brilliant. Contraceptive and Fertility potions are his specialty, and great strides he's made, too. Lots of little Canadians named after him, I'll wager. Messr Aubin thinks outside of the box, and that's a great strength, be you wizard or Muggle. Next?"

A lanky black wizard who had been setting up a chessboard rose, and shook Snape's hand. "Owen Johnson, Savannah, Georgia. I work for a wizarding hospital."

"Works for a wizarding hospital!" Nigel Fitzwilliam cried indignantly. "Why he's revolutionized their Potions department. Got cures for diseases that haven't even been discovered yet!" He turned happily to the next person.

"Sarah Delainey," the woman said pleasantly. "Resident wise woman, and all-around Healer for the Ixtca tribe in Ecuador. South America," she added further, as if perhaps he might not know where Ecuador was located. She was tall and raw-boned, and exceedingly plain with the look of someone who spent most of her time out of doors. Her skin was a weathered brown, her hair curly and black, streaked with silver. Snape was irked by her choice of the title "wise woman," and he dismissed her with a glance of contempt. Arrogant people always annoyed him.

A tall, silver-haired man unfolded himself from a chair by the empty fireplace. "Pleased to meet you sir. Russ Dixon, Johannesburg, South Africa. Specialty is finding antidotes to the Unforgivables. Having a bit of headway, I'm pleased to say, with the Imperius and the Cruciatus. Can't say I've come along with the Killing Curse though. It's nearly impossible to test with that one, you know." He beamed affably, and Snape shook his hand with a curt nod.

"Last, but never least," Fitzwilliam continued, "is Miss Leah Elton, Doctor of Mythological Herbology, and Head of the Greek Council of Benign Doctrines."

The woman smiled up at him, and Snape felt his knees turn to jelly. She was small, blond, and exquisite, and as familiar to him as his own reflection. He opened his mouth soundlessly and stared down at the serene face of a woman he hadn't seen in fifteen years. A woman who was supposed to be dead.

//
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