The Sugar Quill
Author: ivy & Gracie (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Gift  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

The Gift

A/N: You will not understand this outtake unless you first read Where the Light Is, through Chapter 3. Once again, thank you to our marvelous Brit-picker andy33, who never lets our characters eat cookies, wear sweaters, or call their mothers "Mom." We'd also like to gently suggest to readers that our Remus Lupin looks nothing like David Thewlis.

A midsummer thunderstorm was threatening as Remus Lupin stepped from the hansom cab at the gates of Hogwarts and, setting a large Flourish and Blotts shopping bag on the ground, paid the driver. He had decided that it would look suspicious for Severus Snape, who was supposed to be already in residence at the castle, to arrive carrying luggage, so in the bag, neatly tucked away under the assorted Potions books, were a few changes of clothes, his shaving kit and a battered history of Robert the Bruce. He looked at the castle, looming on the hilltop before him. The turrets and battlements were dark, and backlit with gold from the setting sun that was trying to push apart the gathering storm clouds. From his first glimpse of it as a boy, he had loved the sight of the old fortress. Today, though, the sight of it made him feel uneasy, and somehow, very much alone.

Remus straightened his new black robes self-consciously, and pushed a long, lank strand of dark hair out of his eyes. Under his robes, the flask of Polyjuice Potion pressing against his hip felt heavier than it was. A crack of thunder split the evening, and the first, fat drops of rain began to fall. Over the castle, a bright arrow of lightning streaked downward. Remus picked up his bag and hurried toward the front doors.

Just inside the entrance foyer he stopped, realizing all at once that he had no idea where Snape's rooms were located. Somewhere near the Potions dungeon, he imagined, though that was of little help. At that moment, Dumbledore stepped out of the Great Hall, polishing his spectacles on a red, paisley handkerchief. He hooked them carefully behind his ears, then caught sight of Remus standing there.

"Professor Snape!" he exclaimed warmly. "Just the man I was hoping to see. There are one or two items of business I'd like to discuss with you about your summer class. Come, I'll walk with you to your rooms."

"Thank you, sir." Remus fell into step with him as Dumbledore headed in the direction of the dungeons. The corridor sloped steadily downward for some distance before it leveled out and branched into two directions. To the left, Remus remembered, were the Potions classroom and Snape's office. Imperceptibly, Dumbledore steered him to the right.

"How was your journey?" the Headmaster was asking him.

"Just fine. I stopped for a bit in Hogsmeade, and got reacquainted with the town before I came on here."

"Good, good," Dumbledore answered. "I've often been grateful that the Weasley twins chose to set up shop in London. Had they settled in Hogsmeade instead, I'm not certain it would still be the peaceful little village we all love." He chuckled ruefully, and stopped before a door at the end of the corridor, which Remus realized must lead to Snape's rooms.

Dumbledore was still speaking. "I look forward to teaching your class on Thursday and Friday of next week, Professor. Also, I have a good quantity of various potions that you may find yourself in need of throughout the summer. They are stored in my office at present, but if you will come tomorrow morning and collect them we can perhaps have a chat then. I imagine you are tired now, and want to settle in."

"Thank you, I am tired," said Remus. "I shall look forward to meeting with you tomorrow, though."

Dumbledore bowed briefly, and walked away.

Remus put his hand on the knob, and hesitated. There was no putting it off, though. For good or ill, he was stuck in Snape's skin for most of the next six weeks, and he might as well get used to it. Reluctantly, he pushed the door open.

The sitting room, though chilly and austere, was at least furnished. Two red, wing-backed chairs and a low table were grouped on a rug before the fireplace. Most of one wall was taken up with bookshelves, and Remus noted with interest that many of the titles were in foreign languages: German, and French, Latin, and what looked like Portuguese. A dresser and several shelves at the back of the room held a teakettle and some dishes. Remus was amused to see that there was nothing remotely edible in the room. Snape had not left him so much as a teabag. The message was clear.

He carried his bag into the next room, which was as spartan and cheerless as he'd anticipated. A narrow bed stood against the far wall. The gray army blanket and thin pillow promised little in the way of comfort. There was a small oak bureau and a matching wardrobe, both empty. A nightstand stood by the bed. Everything was bare, and painfully clean. Remus recalled from his year of teaching at Hogwarts that his own rooms had been quite comfortably appointed. Either Snape had stripped them of all warmth for Remus' benefit, or he enjoyed living like a monk.

He set his bag on the bed and began, slowly, to unpack. He hung his extra set of robes in the wardrobe and arranged the rest of his clothing in the bureau drawers. The Potions texts and Robert the Bruce went on the night table, his shaving kit, in the bathroom.

At the bottom of the bag, he found the present from Tonks. He pulled it out carefully. The yellow paper was looking scuffed around the edges, and the lurid bow was wrinkled and singed. He felt a sudden surge of something akin to homesickness, and the image sprang unbidden to his mind of a dreadlocked witch in army boots, her face smudged with flour, smiling at him over a shower of green sparks as she handed him the box in the kitchen of Number Twelve.

He ran his hand over the wrapping for a moment, then carried it into the sitting room. He lit a fire in the grate with his wand just as someone knocked. Remus set the box on the table and went to the door. Two house-elves stood beaming up at him. The first bore a tray with a steaming tea pot, and a plate of sandwiches and cakes. The second carried a basket covered in a cloth napkin.

The elves came in, bobbing and bowing. The first one set the tea tray on the coffee table and the second carried her basket over to the dresser in the corner.

"Professor Dumbledore sends his compliments sir!" one of them shrilled. "He is thinking that Professor Snape may have missed dinner tonight."

Remus almost smiled, before he remembered who he was supposed to be. Steeling himself, he scowled at the house-elf and snapped, "I should think the Headmaster would have a care for the fact that I am extremely tired and would prefer not to be invaded by servants." When the little creature's ears drooped, Remus turned his back on her. "You may come for the tray in the morning," he said, in a bored voice. "I do not wish to be disturbed again tonight."

When they had gone, Remus poured himself a cup of tea. He took an appreciative sip, then paused to pull out the flask of Polyjuice Potion. He took a large swallow, grimacing without reserve. His stomach roiled and he hastily swallowed more tea, and bit into a sandwich. When the nausea had subsided, he sat back and considered again the gift on the table before him. He reached for it and pulled off the ribbon, setting it aside by the tray. Carefully, he loosened the flaps and the paper fell away.

The box underneath was a handsome deep blue, with silver lettering that read, in curly script:

Greasy Git's Hair Tonic.

Bathe regularly and still enjoy that unwashed, greasy feeling. Greasy Git's Hair Tonic guarantees an oily appearance while leaving your hair feeling and smelling springtime-fresh.

Commissioned by N. Tonks for R. Lupin, created by Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes. Limited Edition.

He smiled broadly at the picture on the label. Fred and George stood on either side of Tonks, and all three had their arms slung about each other's shoulders. As he watched, Tonks screwed up her face and took on the likeness of Severus Snape. The Weasley twins stared at her with false amazement, as if they had just seen a movie star. Then, in perfect unison, they both leaned in and kissed Tonks/Snape on either cheek. She smiled lasciviously and morphed back to herself. All three waved at him, clearly highly pleased with themselves.

Remus looked at the picture on the box, while the three clowns went through their routine once again. It was the kind of gift the Marauders would have come up with, he thought, and, for a moment, the silence and isolation of his life seemed too great to bear. An unnamed longing rose in him and receded like a tide, leaving him hollow. He rose and began pacing the room.

Since graduating Hogwarts, he had lived a precarious existence. He had always had James and Peter and Sirius though, and for a few, precious years they had been family to him. Then in one night, in a cruel blow struck out of nowhere, he had lost them all. Since then, he had lived practically as a nomad, travelling where the temporary jobs were, living as best he could, determined to hold on to his dignity; to do more than just survive. The Order of the Phoenix was the first sense of community, of family, that he'd had in a long time. He was surprised by how much he missed them all, already.

Remus, you sentimental fool, he told himself. Get a grip; it's only six weeks. You've done longer assignments, and harder ones at that. Probably none of them even realize you're gone.

They all had families and lives of their own, most of them, at any rate. He knew this well, and did his best never to impose on them. Years ago he had accepted that, because of his… condition, the home and family life would never happen for him, and he had determined to accept the fact cheerfully, refusing any hint of self pity or regret.

But it did get lonely sometimes.

He picked up the box again and studied it. Tonks lounged against the frame and gave a lazy little wave. Fred and George drifted out of sight.

Nymphadora Tonks. He had known her ever since his Hogwarts school days, when Sirius had been stuck playing child-minder to his little cousin during the holidays. They had been friends in a casual way for many years, and had worked closely together for the Order. Funny that he'd seldom given her a second thought. That she'd thought enough of him to commission a gift especially to lighten this task for him surprised him pleasantly. He wondered absently what she was doing right now.

He ran his thumb lightly over the picture and Tonks blinked, looking startled. She smiled up at him, a little uncertainly, and then Fred and George came barreling back into the picture, smirking and winking, nudging one another and Tonks in a most obnoxious way. Hastily, he set the box back on the table, and went to inspect the basket on the sideboard.

He saw with gratitude that Dumbledore had sent a large tin of Darjeeling tea and a bowl of lump sugar. There was also a box of oatcakes, a wedge of stilton and a jar of excellent lemon curd, as well as a tin of ginger biscuits. Remus arranged everything on the dresser and carried the basket back to the coffee table for the house-elves to take in the morning. He steadfastly ignored the box of Greasy Git's Hair Tonic and went to investigate the bookshelves. Amid all of the textbooks and foreign literature he found a battered copy of poems by the Muggle poet T.S. Eliot. He carried it back to his chair by the fire, and settled in with another cup of tea.

He opened the book at random, and read:

Do I dare

Disturb the universe?

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:-

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

I know the voices dying with a dying fall

Beneath the music from a farther room.

So how should I presume?

He shut the book with a snap. He'd be suicidal by dawn, at this rate.

He picked up the box of hair tonic again. Fred and George were wrestling in the foreground while Tonks watched them with amused tolerance, arms crossed. In the picture, she glanced up and caught his eyes. She smiled, a little shyly, and slipped out of the picture. Remus set the box down again, and stood.

The Owlery was cool and musty with the odor of feathers and stale droppings. Remus selected a sturdy-looking barn owl, and pulled a piece of parchment and a quill from the supply shelf in the corner. He poised the quill over the paper and considered a moment before writing: Dear N. Tonks ~ Many thanks for the gift, and the smile it produced, just when most needed. You're brilliant. ~S.S.

He didn't allow himself to think too long or hard about the note. It was just a friendly thank-you, for a friendly gesture, after all. He rolled the parchment and tied it securely to the owl's leg, then carried the bird to the window, where he stood for a moment. The storm had passed over and the last light of the sun made a red halo behind the mountains. The rest of the sky was dark, and cool with the fragrance of rain and evergreen trees. He held the owl up and smiled, at no one in particular. "Nymphadora Tonks, London," he said.

He released the owl and watched as it swooped low once, twice, before it gained altitude, turned sharply south, and was gone.

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