The Sugar Quill
Author: Rabbit (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Yet Another Snape Meets the Dursleys Story  Chapter: Chapter One: The Owl
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Chapter 1: The Owl

Summary: Snape gets a desperate summons to Privet Drive, but he doesn’t find what he’s expecting to find.

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

The mountaintop was meant to be desolate.

It had been desolate in February, when he’d first found this place. But now the snow and ice had melted away, revealing wind-flattened trees, scrubby grass, and obstinately blossoming flowers. The wind wasn’t nearly as brisk as it had been, and in February he hadn’t been treated to the contented grunting of a marmot, grubbing for whatever food it could find so high above tree line.

The man in the black cloak stood on the narrow ledge above the steepest drop on the mountain and wished that he’d stayed down among the thunderstorms in the south of the country. At least in Wales there hadn’t been any Muggles coming up the mountainside bedecked in anoraks and clutterboots and hauling more equipment than they’d need for an afternoon in the Himalayas. By the sound of it, they’d be coming around the shoulder of the mountain in five minutes more, and he’d have to decide whether to bespell himself not to be noticed or find somewhere bleaker.

It would have to be the Orkneys.

He grimaced. He hated the Orkneys. Too much salt spray, leaving his cloak sodden and rimed with white stains. And it was too close to Azkaban for comfort.

The spell, then. He pulled out his wand, preparing to cast the spell that would make the Muggles look right past him, when he noticed a small gray patch of feathers laboring its way up the mountain.

He froze. No one knew he was here. Not even Albus Dumbledore. And as many places as he’d Apparated over the last three days, it would take a very powerful wizard to direct an owl to find him. Powerful…

…or desperate.

The tiny owl pumped its wings all the harder when it realized that he was waiting for it, and came to the hand he reluctantly extended, depositing a twist of paper into it before clutching gratefully onto his sleeve and panting. He untwisted the paper.

It was the title page of a book: Puck of Pook’s Hill inscribed to “Our precious Duddykins.” He remembered reading the book as a child, but it had no significance for him now. Confused, he turned the page over.

The message was in faint pencil, written with an unsteady hand.

“Professor Snape, please send a poison antidote with this owl. Urgent. And a bezoar. Please. I can pay when I get to Hogwarts.

Harry Potter.”

When the Muggles came around the mountain, the marmot was the only one to see them.

******

Vernon Dursley sat in his most comfortable chair, ignoring the pattering of the rain outside, and perused the security catalog again, toying with a large golden coin. Window bars, alarm systems; it had everything he needed to keep Potter in and the rest of the freaks out. And the best thing about it was that Potter would have to pay for it -- just as soon as he figured out where the infuriating boy was keeping the rest of the gold. High time he were compensated for all the work and money he’d put into raising his wife’s nephew.

A brilliant flash of lightning, followed by a loud thunderclap interrupted his ruminations. Vernon frowned when the table lamp flickered uncertainly. “Petunia, love, go and check the fuse box.”

“I’m sure it’s all right, dear,” his wife answered from over her needlework.

Dudley, go and fetch a flashlight in case the lights go out.”

“Do I have to?” Dudley grumbled, not wanting to move from his place playing video games on his little gameboy. He wasn’t happy anyway, since neither of his parents would let him use the expensive game console on the telly during a thunderstorm.

“I’ll fetch it,” Petunia said, and Vernon nodded approval. He could always depend on Petunia to take care of the things that would inconvenience Dudley.

Just then a fusillade of knocking came at the front door.

“Places!” Vernon ordered, superfluously, tucking the coin into his vest pocket. Dudley had already abandoned his game and was running for the kitchen, his mother in close pursuit. Vernon took a deep breath and went to the chiferobe, where he had a shotgun waiting. The knocking came again, impatient and angry sounding. It was horribly nervous-making, and Vernon fumbled putting shells into his gun. “I’m coming! I’m coming!”

He was almost to the door, intending to look out through the peep hole, when he heard a cry of “Alohamora” through the grumble of thunder and the door burst open. He barely had enough time to get a good look at the tall black-cloaked man with the pale face and black, angry eyes when the lights flickered and died.

“Where… is… Potter?” The voice was exaggeratedly patient, and cold with distaste. For the first time, Vernon Dursley lent some credence to the wild stories that Harry told about the man who had killed his parents coming back to kill Harry.

To his astonishment, it cost him a pang to give the boy away. But he had his wife and child to think of, and the shadowed figure was already starting to raise a wand. “Upstairs,” Vernon squeaked. “Upstairs, second door on the left.”

“Thank you,” the figure growled and swept past him up the stairs.

Grateful to be let off, Vernon Dursley scuttled back to the kitchen and waited with Petunia and Dudley, listening for an explosion upstairs.

******

Severus Snape’s temper was fraying badly. He’d Apparated under a tree that had been struck by lightning moments after he’d walked out from under it. Dursley had met him with a shotgun in his hand. Now Potter had locked the door. If he’d come all this way because Potter had messed up a Potions assignment and was trying to hide it from the very family that was protecting him, Gryffindor was going to be at negative points until Christmas.

“Alohamora,” he growled again, and the lock clicked over. He turned the knob and opened the door. The room was dark, and he paused in the doorway, wishing that the storm hadn’t knocked out all the Muggles’ lights. It was a small room, lit only by the street lamp outside the single, barred window. He could make out a bed, and shelves piled with oddments. And in the corner… “Potter.”

“Professor Snape.” Potter stepped out of the shadowed corner, wearing nothing more than his underwear, and holding a length of what looked like bent pipe. “Did you bring the antidote?”

“You wrote it was urgent, Potter. But you don’t look much like you’re dying,” Snape said drily.

“It’s not for me.” Harry tossed the piece of pipe under the bed – it was bicycle handlebars, Snape decided as it went past the light from the window. “It’s for Hedwig. My owl.” He went over to the corner closest to the door, and crouched next to a blanket draped cage. Snape stepped into the room to keep an eye on him. This didn’t make sense yet, and he waited to see if Potter could possibly explain. “I bought her some mice in Hogsmeade before I came here. She hates the frozen mice in Muggle pet shops, and sausage and things aren’t good for her. But somehow they got poisoned. I didn’t realize it until after Hedwig had eaten two of them. I’ve managed to keep her alive so far, but…” the even, neutral tone cracked and Harry looked up at Snape with green eyes that were brimming with tears. “You did bring the antidote, didn’t you, sir?”

Damn the boy for having his mother’s eyes! Snape bit down on a sigh of exasperation. To have risked coming here for a mismanaged pet was infuriating, but he was here now and if he didn’t take care of it, Potter would only interrupt the work of another wizard – probably Dumbledore. “I am the antidote, Potter. Move aside,” he ordered gruffly. Harry scrambled back and stood back to let Snape sweep in and settle himself down by the cage. The cage was much to small for a snowy for a start. And wasn’t it just like the boy to think that the floor was a convenient place to tend a sick animal! “What have you been doing to take care of her?”

“Trying to keep her warm, making her drink a lot of water. The mice sort of… dried up…” Harry’s voice was still a little unsteady, but Snape could hear the boy taking himself in hand now that he had a question to answer. “I’ve fed her bread, mostly. Aunt Petunia opened a tin of cat food and gave it me when she first got sick, but Hedwig couldn’t eat much of it, and after a day it started to go off.”

“How long ago was that?” Snape asked, listening with one ear while he waved his wand carefully over the bird. The owl, a snowy, was at least all right enough to clutch her perch, although she’d settled down over her feet as if it were midwinter instead of a warm July night. Her eyes were pinning in a way that bespoke illness, but they were focussing, too, and when he reached a tentative hand out to run along her feathered body he found only slight sensitivity, and only over the area of the liver.

“Uhm. I think…about six days?” Harry answered. “It was at three before Pigwidgeon showed up and I sent him off with the message to you. And it’s been two nights since then, and we’re coming up on the third. Why did it take so long for you to come?”

“I wasn’t at Hogwarts,” Snape said. He glanced over his shoulder. Harry had wrapped his arms around his thin torso and he was shivering. “For heaven’s sake put on some clothes, Potter.” He snapped. He had enough to think about with the owl for the moment. Six days… Well, the owl certainly had been poisoned, but…

“Aunt Petunia’s got them,” Harry said as Snape tried to think through the owl’s symptoms. “I’m confined to my room until school starts for punching Dudley. He laughed when he heard that Hedwig was sick. So Aunt Petunia’s taken my clothes so I won’t bother to try to figure out how to get out the window.” He sighed, and fell silent. Snape was grateful for the reprieve. Why did all fifteen-year-olds have to be such whiners? But then he sighed again and went on. “Not that there’s any point in going out the window. I heard Voldemort say he can’t attack me here, but if I went to Ron or Hermione’s houses he’d find out and then they’d get killed just like Cedric was. I wouldn’t care if it weren’t that Hedwig’s been so ill. Oh, I wish it were me that had been poisoned instead!”

Suddenly the bird’s symptoms made sense. Snape jumped up and turned in a single motion, catching Potter by the chin. “Lumos!” he ordered, and his wand cast a bright light throughout the room as he ran a quick, diagnostic hand over the boy.

Eyes dilated…skin clammy and cold… sensitivity of the liver and kidneys… pulse slow…

“Idiot boy!” Snape came as close to shouting as he dared. “You’ve magicked the poison into yourself!”

^^^^^^^^^^^end of chapter 1

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