The Sugar Quill
Author: Hecate (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Words Beguile Him  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.

Disclaimer: Hogwarts, its world, its faculty and students are all the creations of J. K. Rowling. Fidelis belongs to Catherine Cook, who kindly lent him for my adventurings. Letitia Martin, Dean of Shrewsbury College, Oxford, contributed one line (my thanks to Dorothy L. Sayers).

***

The voices hadn't bothered him at first, for they came only in dreams. When he awoke, he brushed them aside and let them fade, going sternly about his business. His world was too much in turmoil to attend to such silly effervescences.

But on the first night after the winter holiday had begun and the students had largely departed (except for damnable Potter, two second-year Hufflepuffs and a dark haired, seventh year Ravenclaw girl who could not be convinced to leave the Astronomy Tower), sleep evaded him. The sudden emptying of the school had created a void that these apparitions raced to fill whether he slept or no. He had to confess that two or three were particularly intriguing, as though his own dreams had been finely shaped by the hand of another and returned to him in a fuller and more sumptuous form. These he did not dismiss. They burrowed into the corners of his room, wove themselves through the maze of bottles on his shelves, and would even wind themselves around his neck like scarves, tickling his ear, if he would only let them. And he did. And then he slept.

Only later did he realize that having admitted a selected few, he had invited them all. When he finally awoke the next morning, he was forced to wade through a sea of sighs to even reach the door. Returning to the dungeons after a late and solitary breakfast, he was confronted by a cacophonous echoing chorus. Worse still, words were beginning to spontaneously emerge on the parchments covering his desk. They then spilled onto the burnished wood and began to run off onto the floor. A few sentences began to climb up the edge of his fireplace and one was even infiltrating the blank wall above. The house-elves would be furious. And while they kept their master's secrets, the only master the Hogwarts house-elves recognized was Albus Dumbledore. With some effort against the tide, the Potions master slammed the door and stalked back up the corridor.

Minutes later, Snape presented himself to the gargoyle overseeing the entrance to Dumbledore's office. "Red licorice," he snarled, and the door opened soundlessly, revealing the circular stair. Dumbledore had been enjoying a well-deserved nap as the morning sun streamed through his windows. He awoke when he sensed the guardian at his door admit the Potions master. Dumbledore was always glad to see Severus; he thought it did the Potions master good to spend more time above ground.

"To what do I owe this pleasure, Severus? I expected that you would be replenishing your stores today, now that the students have left us."

Snape slouched before the fire, shifting his feet miserably. He wasn't sure how to even broach the subject of the apparitions that had possessed his rooms. All he knew for certain was that he wanted to raise the subject with the Headmaster before Dumbledore learned of it from another source.

"Please, sit down, Severus. I like that carpet and the students are wearing holes in it faster than I care to see," Dumbledore said kindly.

Snape sat. And groaned, inwardly, as he framed his query in what he hoped was the least embarrassing fashion possible.

"Headmaster, I am concerned that the security of the castle has been breached. Over the last few days, I have sensed . . . voices . . . in the dungeons and I have not been able to discern their origins. Have you noticed any such phenomena?"

"Well, Severus, that depends" said Dumbledore. "What are the voices saying?"

Snape groaned again. "They can be . . . difficult to make out. They were faint, at first, but last night and this morning I have been overrun not only with voices floating through the air, but with words crawling on every surface in my rooms like . . . like ants." Snape shuddered; he hated ants.

Dumbledore chuckled softly. "So they've come after you, too, Severus? I am sorry."

"I'm not the only one, you mean?"

"No, of course you're not. Throughout this entire term, I have been erecting wards to guard the students against these apparitions. They are harmless enough, I'm sure, but the young people would find them so confusing. The students are confounded enough by what we do here without this sort of outside assistance."

Snape was grateful that the Headmaster was not pursuing the subject of what the voices actually said.

"But where are they coming from, Dumbledore? How do you know that this isn't a new dark art attempting to infiltrate the castle?"

"Maybe I shouldn't say that the voices are harmless, Severus, although I believe them to be so. This is a variety of magic I have not seen before. I call them harmless only because they do not originate from the forces of our known enemies. Far from it. These voices - these stories, if you will - are emanating from Muggles."

"Muggles!" Snape exclaimed.

"Just because most Muggles remain oblivious to the wizarding world does not mean that all of them must be so. These 'stories' that have been pelting the castle in stronger and stronger waves as of late are carried by a force all their own. Their power doesn't arise from wizardry as we know it, but from the collective will of what must now be quite a large number of Muggles who are observing us from without."

"Have any of the rest of the staff reported such happenings?"

"Yes, they have, Severus. Minerva told me two days ago that the house-elves are having difficulty keeping the Gryffindor common room entirely free of scribbles, although they are restricting the invaders to the spaces underneath the armchairs. She may have to disconnect Gryffindor tower from the Floo network altogether as we think they are coming in through the fires." Dumbledore sighed. "And Flitwick was quite discombobulated at breakfast this morning. I gather he had a rather disturbing dream last night. He wouldn't tell me about it in any detail, but from what he did say, I surmise it had something to do with being locked in one of the greenhouses."

Snape had no patience for the Charms teacher's trials.

"If you can stop the voices from reaching the students themselves, Headmaster, how is it that they are still finding the staff?"

"I am only one person, Severus, and I have a great deal to do. The students should be shielded from distractions while they work; it is only fair to them that this should be so. But the fully qualified wizards at this school must each deal with these intruders as best they can."

Leave it to Dumbledore, Snape thought, to force us all do sort out our own difficulties.

"From what I've surmised, Severus" Dumbledore continued, "the voices are presenting themselves much differently to each person who hears them. Hagrid has been tearing off into the forest in search of creatures unknown. Madam Hooch has developed a sudden interest in a developing Quidditch league in, of all places, America. And Madam Pince was asking me only this morning about the possibilities of a newfangled sort of catalog for the library. What about you, Severus? What do you hear?"

Snape gripped the carved arm of the battered brocaded chair. "Well, Headmaster, I really . . . that is, I couldn't say. . . ." Dumbledore waited. "I've been trying hard to focus on the tasks at hand, Dumbledore, and the preparations for next term's N.E.W.T.s have been very strenuous. Until last night, I gave the voices no thought at all, but then one made itself so . . . compelling, I lowered my guard against it. Now I can hardly walk across the floor, my chambers are so dense with words."

"Relax, my friend. I think I understand."

Snape was appalled. "You what!"

"I understand. Just this morning I myself awoke to a whispering tale about the time that Poppy and I . . . well, never mind. You'll have to take my word for it. Truth may be preferable to lies, but some things need not be fully explained."


Snape shook his head slightly, as though to clear his mind of the image Dumbledore had just introduced there. "What must we do?" he asked.

"I am not sure, Severus. You will think of something, I know, and isn't it lucky that you will have a few uninterrupted weeks to do so."

"Grrr," said the Potions master.

That evening at dinner, Snape could not help but notice that his fellow teachers seemed somehow preoccupied. Madam Hooch was sketching odd diagrams on her napkin with the point of her knife. Minerva McGonagall arrived uncharacteristically late, trailing a faint odor of Mrs. Skower's All-Purpose Magical Mess Remover from the hems of her robe sleeves, one of which was damp and smoking. And Filius Flitwick fidgeted on his tall stool, blushing furiously every time Professor Sprout glanced in his direction. Given the presence of Potter and the stray Hufflepuffs, Snape remained resolutely silent and grim throughout the meal, but he was relieved when Dumbledore requested the presence of the Heads in the staff room after dinner.

"I gather that we may all benefit from a brief chat about certain technical issues that would bore our young friends here," said Dumbledore, looking fondly over the heads of the three students clustered at the end of the table. "I'm sure that the house-elves will be happy to send our coffee and cordials ahead of us, and I will meet you there shortly. I have a few things to attend to first." As the Headmaster rose and left the table, Snape forced himself to stare resolutely out the window. The temptation to leer unpleasantly at Potter, who doubtlessly was trying to figure out what was going on, was, with difficulty, surmountable.

None of the Heads seemed interested in the evening's selection of puddings, although Snape observed Flitwick filching a small handful of mints, which he shoved into his pocket as he left the table. Sprout and McGonagall nearly tripped each other in their rush to leave their chairs at what they saw as the earliest permissible opportunity.

"Minerva! Watch your elbows, woman!" said Professor Sprout, eyeing McGonagall's still-steaming robes.

"So sorry," McGonagall stammered. "Please, go ahead."

When they were all assembled, Dumbledore shut the staff room door softly.

"Well! It seems we have quite a challenge on our hands."

McGonagall launched right in. "Albus, I hope you left dinner early to prepare some sort of solution to this mess. I don't know how much longer I'll be able to keep Gryffindor tower free from this . . . this scourge. And Potter is getting suspicious."

"Ah, yes. Potter. Well, this should have nothing to do with him, but it would be best if we could send him away for a bit, all the same. Minerva, once we are done here, would you send an owl to Arthur and Molly to ask if they can take Harry for the remainder of the holiday? That should give us a freer hand."

"Of course, Albus. I shall see to it at once." McGonagall replied.

"And the other house dormitories? Severus, you have no students remaining in Slytherin this holiday, but what about Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw?" the Headmaster asked, looking at Sprout and then Flitwick, who were seated on opposite sides of the room.

"All looks clear in the dormitory, Headmaster" answered Professor Sprout. "I only wish the greenhouses were the same. But I can keep Matthews and Colson out of the greenhouses for the time being. Indeed, they will be glad to be spared the work."

"Very well" said Dumbledore. "Filius?"

"Ravenclaw tower remains unaffected, Dumbledore" Flitwick replied. "And even if that were not the case, O'Halloran hasn't crossed the threshold in days. Sinistra has her making a particularly complex series of observations from the Astronomy tower over the holiday. I told O'Halloran that as long as she confined herself to the Astronomy lab, she needn't return to the tower at all."

"Excellent. At the very least, we won't have to worry about keeping this conundrum under wraps" replied the Headmaster.

"Now, as all of you are aware, we are experiencing a phenomenon the likes of which I have not seen before. These emanations have been clustering around Gryffindor tower for some time, but since the students' departure, they have been popping up all over the school. I have created, and will reinforce, a charm that will keep the students from noticing the effects of this linguistic intrusion as long as the voices do not take on physical forms." Dumbledore glanced over at Flitwick. "Filius, I presume you will be available to assist me in this?"

"Of course, Headmaster."

"Minerva, have Filch and the house-elves made any progress in their efforts to restrain the outpouring of writing on the walls?"

"We're working on it, Albus. Filch burned a hole in the wall on the girls' staircase earlier this afternoon, but the damage has been repaired and I think we have a formula that can be applied without harm to the castle" replied McGonagall.

"Very well, Minerva. If I'm not mistaken, I am sure that Severus would appreciate it if you would share the recipe with him."

Snape grimaced at this, but the Headmaster was right. Far better that he be able to remove the words himself. He hoped that McGonagall's smoking robes were artifacts of an earlier formulation.

"Indeed I would, Dumbledore. If need be, I can set up shop in the Potions classroom and turn the stuff out by the gallon" Snape replied, sneering slightly. "But shouldn't we instead be focusing our efforts on the source of these voices? There must be a way to cut off these . . . intrusions at their origins?"

"I am afraid, Severus, that we cannot pursue that option. As I have told you all individually, it is clear that these stories streaming into the castle are coming from Muggles. To use magic against them directly would be a grave injustice. Misuse of Muggle Artifacts would hardly begin to cover it and I cannot image Arthur Weasley's reaction should we try." Dumbledore sighed. "And besides, we must consider their intentions. They certainly mean no harm. Misguided, some of them may be, but really . . . " Dumbledore paused. "Aren't any of you the least bit flattered? I certainly am."

A slight whimper emerged from Flitwick's corner of the room. McGonagall busied herself brushing the dust from her sleeves, and Sprout simply stared at Dumbledore, gasping softly. Snape forced himself into his best impersonation of rigor mortis.

"Come now" Dumbledore continued. "We are all adults here, and old friends at that. There is no need to carry on as though we can imagine no graver insult. One of the challenges of working with the young is a tendency to see ourselves as the students do. Taken to extremes, this is both narrow minded and dangerous."

A stony silence reverberated off the walls of the staff room. Even the portraits of former teachers, normally somnolent for weeks at a time, were hanging on the Headmaster's every word.

Dumbledore's mustache twitched. The kindliest of men, he was beginning to lose patience with his colleagues' stuffy behavior. "While the students are gone, and as long as the castle is protected, I really do not see what there is to fuss about." Nobody moved. "There can be no harm in letting our hair down once in a while," he quipped, throwing a glance to McGonagall, whose hand immediately flew to the back of her head in search of an imagined errant pin.

"That reminds me, Minerva. You owe me a game of chess. If you have no other plans this evening, once you have sent young Potter on his way, I would very much enjoy a rematch to go along with an excellent cognac Cornelius brought back from his last trip to Paris." Professor McGonagall was evidently perturbed by this suggestion. Dumbledore grinned, expectantly.


"Well . . . of course, Albus, if that's what you wish" McGonagall finally replied, sheepishly. I would like that myself. It has been a very trying term."

"Wonderful" said Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling. "And I heartily recommend that the rest of you take some time off, as well. We will not be able to attend to our duties when the term resumes if we are all worn to the bone over such trifles as these. This meeting is adjourned, and I hope to see you all tomorrow in a more relaxed frame of mind. If anyone is in need of inspiration, there is a particularly clever tale winding its way up the banister between the Charms corridor and the Arthimancy department."

With that, the Headmaster walked the length of the room, opened the door, and disappeared. After a moment, McGonagall rose and followed the Headmaster out of the staff room, leaving the door ajar behind her.

"Ah, well . . ." Professor Sprout began hesitantly. "I really must check on the Devil's Snare in greenhouse three before I turn in for the evening." She rose from her seat and looked toward the door, hesitating.

"Could you use some help, Professor?" Flitwick asked, somewhat flustered.

"As a matter of fact, that would be very useful, Filius. Thank you," Sprout replied.

Sprout and Flitwick left together, although Flitwick had to break into a bit of a run to keep up with the Herbology professor as she strode down the corridor.

Alone among the portraits, Snape sat silently, still disconcerted by Dumbledore's evident recommendation. He drummed his long fingers on the table for a moment, and then he, too, rose from his chair and left the staff room.

Left to his own devices, Snape decided that would prefer not to face the stories running free in his own rooms just yet. Nor did the enigmatic tale winding its way out of the Charms corridor entice him. "Dumbledore is no fool," thought the Potions master, "but he's not much of a critic, either." He shuddered slightly to think of the kind of story that might catch the Headmaster's fancy. Turning into the library, he removed a vial of Floo powder from the inner pocket of his robes and threw a pinch into the fire that was burning low. As the flames changed color, he stepped carefully among the coals. "Hogsmeade," said Snape, and the library disappeared in a rush of warm wind and soot.

After an hour ensconced in the darker recesses of the Three Broomsticks with a glass of Old Ogden's Firewhiskey, he felt much calmer. He never worried about being accosted in the pub; although she took his money, Rosmerta despised him and the regulars knew better than to disturb the surly Potions master with their idle chitchat. While the Three Broomsticks shimmered gently with the centuries' worth of stories that haunt every decent watering hole, none of them featured him as exhibiting anything other than his customarily snarky demeanor, which was a relief. Draining his glass, Snape gathered his cloak and his wits, left the pub, and returned to the castle.

Snape emerged from the library fire and brushed a light coating of ash from his black robes. Closing the door softly behind him, he made his way through the deserted corridors toward the dungeons. As he approached the door to the Slytherin common room, the Bloody Baron, who was just then emerging through the wall, blocked his path. The silent ghost hovered before the Potions master in what Snape, due to his long experience in the Baron's domain, recognized as a state of considerable agitation.

"What is it, Baron?" Snape asked, testily. The Baron shivered slightly, reached up with a dripping silver hand, and tipped off his hat, which he then held before him like a chalice. Snape watched this display with some interest as the Baron rarely interacted with anyone. The ghost paused for a moment, and then, in what seemed to Snape to be an oddly reverent gesture, the Slytherin ghost poured the contents of his hat at the Potions master's feet. Words swarmed around Snape's boots and adhered to the hem of his robes as they feverishly attempted to recreate their original syntax.

Snape sighed wearily and resisted the temptation to stamp on an adjective. "I'm working on it, Baron. Sorry to have disturbed you." The ghost returned his hat to its customary perch, not noticing a prepositional phrase still clinging to the translucent brim. "If you wouldn't mind being of some assistance, however, you might let the house-elves know that I need a few reams of fresh parchment delivered to my office." The Baron nodded almost imperceptibly and promptly disappeared.

Snape continued down the hall until he reached his rooms. Tacked to the door of his office, he found McGonagall's recipe to remove the errant writing. Parchment in hand, he turned back down the corridor to the Potions classroom, unlocked the door, and began to light the fires.

The completed cleansing agent was somewhat sulphurous but not entirely unpleasant. Snape transferred the contents of his largest cauldron to a long row of stoppered bottles, leaving all but one for the house-elves to apply throughout the rest of the castle. The last bottle in hand, he walked with some trepidation to the door behind his teacher's desk, turned the handle, and pushed open the door to his office.

The scene before him was less chaotic than he had feared. The wall around the fireplace was thick with dark paragraphs that heaved and squirmed about the edges, but the floor was largely clear. Snape took up his wand, dipped the end into the bottle, and then began to spray a thin layer of the potion onto the walls. Once he had removed the offending words from his desk, he removed a sheet of parchment from the fresh pile and composed a brief note. Snape then summoned one of the school owls, a little brown scops that seemed annoyed at being pressed into service just as the sun was rising, attached the note to its leg, and sent it off.

Having restored his office to its normal, unlettered condition, Snape gathered up the rest of the parchment and opened the door that led to his bedchamber.

Here, sentences flowed through the air like mists. Lines of text migrated up and down the tapestries that surrounded the bed, wrapped themselves around the clawed finials, and floated across the rough stone walls. Paragraphs seeped out of the wardrobe and an entire novel in progress stirred itself gently in the washbasin. At his entrance, the words began to shimmer, and various stories sent tentative tendrils to drape across his shoulders and float down his arms. Snape pulled a chair close to the firelight and laid the pile of parchment on his lap. He drew his hand across the back of his neck, gently removing a sentence that was inching its way up into his hair. Then he guided the words dangling from his fingers to the top of the first page and began to read.

After an hour or so, a loud knock sounded at the outer office door. Snape left his bedchamber, carefully closing the door behind him, and strode across the office to admit the gamekeeper.

"Good morning, Professor," said Hagrid. "Got yer owl, and I've got somethin' else for you, as well."

A hint of a smile crossed Snape's face as Hagrid reached his broad hand into the chest pocket of his moleskin overcoat and removed a tiny brown and white dog wearing a golden collar.

"Good morning to you, too, Fidelis, " Snape said as the little dog jumped into his outstretched hand and commenced licking his fingers. "Thank you for returning him a bit early, Hagrid. I trust the third year Care Of Magical Creatures examination went well?"

"Oh, yes, Professor. The wee dog was a great help both as a demonstration and with the markin'." One of the spaniel's front paws was still besmirched with ink.

"Don't worry about the ink, Hagrid," replied Snape. "We are all about to become experts at removing such stains. Here, " he said, picking the bottle up from his desk with his free hand, "take this. If you're experiencing any random outbreaks of print, this should address the matter."

Hagrid took the bottle and slipped it into one of his many pockets. "Thanks, Professor. I did get to read a lovely bit last night about Charlie Weasley and his doin's down in Romania, but there might be better places for such things than strewn across me front door."

"No doubt," replied the Potions master, somewhat curtly. "I'm sure that Fidelis enjoyed his sojourn with you, but I have need of his help this morning."

"Any time, Professor" said Hagrid. "He's always welcome to visit." The gamekeeper turned and walked through the open door, stooping to avoid hitting his head on the doorframe as he left.

Snape set Fidelis down on his desk and the little dog promptly sat down on the blotter, his golden tag glinting in the firelight. "Well, my friend, we'll see what kind of guardian you make. But have some breakfast, first." Snape drew a small plate from his desk and tapped it with his wand. A tiny mound of finely chopped liver appeared on the edge of the dish and Fidelis turned his attention to this delicacy.


Snape returned to his bedchamber and took up the parchment again. The stories that had previously coated the room had jostled the pile in their rush to take up residence on the clean sheets. A few stray paragraphs were still attempting to squeeze on to the last page, and the Potions master gave them a gentle nudge before settling back in his chair. As Snape had hoped, the leaves of parchment were filled with those words he recognized from his dreams of the night before. These stories he had no intention of obliterating. He flipped through the pages, his eye lingering on intriguing details here and there. The briefest glance told him that among the familiar settings, there were people and events he did not immediately recognize, and some of them. . . . well, some certainly looked to be deserving of further scrutiny.

He stacked the sheets together, and touching his wand to the pile (which was now several inches thick), he bound them together with a length of satin cord. Snape rose from his chair and traced the outline of the fourth stone from the right at the top of the mantel. The stone disappeared, and Snape gently fitted the manuscript into the niche. As he took a step back, the stone façade silently replaced itself.

The Potions master returned to his office where Fidelis was chasing a last bit of liver across the lip of the plate and onto the desk blotter. "I've got a job for you, my friend," he told the dog as Fidelis clambered into the palm of his hand. Snape carried him into his bedchamber and set him down on the mantel. Fidelis sat in front of the fourth stone from the right, looking up at his master expectantly. Snape carefully removed the tag from the golden collar around the spaniel's neck and pressed it to the face of the stone with the tip of his wand.

"Incantio Fidelius," Snape whispered softly. As he removed his wand from the stone, the tag dropped onto the mantel. On the stone's face, a brief, two-line inscription glowed in tiny serif letters: "I belong to Severus Snape. Abuse me at your peril." After a moment, the inscription faded away and Snape returned the minute tag to the tiny spaniel's collar.

"You will be my Secret Keeper, Fidelis" Snape told the dog. "Don't let anyone fool with that tag of yours; I'm going to need it later." Fidelis wagged his tail happily and jumped onto the Potions master's shoulder. "How does a second breakfast sound?" "Rrriifff!" barked Fidelis, licking Snape's ear. "Very well. I wonder if we will have any company in the Great Hall this morning?"

Snape strode out of his rooms, closed the door behind him, and carried his small friend down the corridor, his robes swishing quietly against the stone floor.

~finis~

 

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