The Sugar Quill
Author: Molly Neaux (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Sinistra's Sinister Sweets  Chapter: Default
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***

The woman smiled and gestured enticingly. Sophonisba Sinistra struggled to keep her eyes on the article she was reading about how to winterize your broom. She forced herself to read on about Endurance Warming Charms, Spectacle Defogging Fields, and ways to avoid Airway Hypnosis. Then her eyes strayed back to the advertisement. Really, the things Witch Weekly would print! It was shameful… practically a "witch’s little helper." Yet she couldn’t help but read: "Ever need a pick-me-up? A quick break from work? Try Sabbatiquills! Seven minutes of vacation in each one!" The woman in the add acted out a little drama. First she was working frantically, scribbling on parchment, receiving owls, and dashing off replies. She looked miserable. Then she got a bright idea, winked right at Sophie, and opened her bottom desk drawer. She produced a bright fuschia candy quill. She smiled and waved it about, and, as the next owl flew into the photo, nibbled the quill thoughtfully. The entire advertisement went pink and a little misty. The woman stretched out in her chair and smiled blissfully, the quill drifting out of her hand. Then it spelled out ordering information.

No! thought Sophie. I do not need some kind of short term cheering charm to get me through my day! A few sweets to perk her up were enough. After all, it was difficult; trying to design lessons that would engage and challenge all her students, both the ones who were truly committed AND the ones who were only interested in the extracurricular activities that went on in her Astronomy Tower. But she remembered what it was like to be a Hogwarts student, and they weren’t that exasperating. Her fellow teachers, on the other hand, were.

Today was Tuesday, and Sophie was still recovering from yesterday’s staff meeting. She liked almost all of her fellow teachers as individuals, but the whole group was a nightmare. Tempers seemed to shorten visibly when everyone filed into the staff room. Professor Binns was always bemoaning the breakdown of rules and order at staff meetings, and waxing nostalgic about Headmaster Dippet and his predecessor Headmistress Grundy. Flitwick, who had been a student during Mrs. Grundy’s tenure, would again try to explain to Binns that there was such a thing as too strict an adherence to rules of procedure. Gilderoy Lockhart would take any opportunity to talk about himself, and frankly, after he had offered to "show her a thing or two" about her own Astronomy Tower, it was all Sophie could do to keep from voicing her opinion of him. Snape shared her opinion, and wasn’t too polite to say nasty things about Gilderoy, but, alas, the comments usually went over his head. Trelawney would pester Sprout about growing her some new varieties of tea, and Sprout, none too sweetly, would suggest that Trelawney transfigure herself a windowbox and grow it herself. McGonagall’s look of disapproval would worsen until her lips were pressed together so tightly as to disappear. And to top it all off, Albus Dumbledore, though helpful, knowledgeable, and good natured, was invariably late. So by the time a meeting actually started, everyone had either picked a fight, had a fight picked with them, or watched other reputed adults and role models of the magical community pick fights. Then meetings went downhill. They became interminable battles of sweet-talking siege warfare as professors attempted to revenge themselves on anyone who had offended them before the meeting by blocking their requests, and trying to turn school policy decisions to their own best advantage. Even the usually equitable Professor McGonagall was not immune to the universal bad behavior. Just last summer, she railroaded a proposal for Professor Trelawney’s tower room to serve as a temporary Owlery while the usual one went through repairs through the approval process. None had dared oppose her. At the Leaving Feast Trelawney had seized McGonagall’s teacup and announced her impending senility. Minerva was livid, and Professor Trelawney had plenty of time to rue her actions when she returned from the summer-long Sensitives’ Retreat at Glastonbury to find her housekeeping in the care of none-too-tidy owls.

Sophie sighed. Her head ached already at the thought of attending next week’s staff meeting. Grimly, she noted down the price of the largest package of Sabbatiquills and Summoned her owl.

--*--

Severus Snape settled into his favorite chair in the staff room, across from the portrait of Deputy Headmistress Wroth-Wrotherington, whose comments on meetings, when she chose to make them, were the very tartest. The sleepy, dignified Headmasters and Headmistresses whose portraits hung in Dumbledore’s office appeared in the staff room painted during their terms as Deputy Heads. Snape preferred the younger, more vocal Deputy Heads. They sometimes took an interest in the tedious discussions of school policy, and were the best able to silence Professor Binns.

Snape watched the rest of the faculty arrive. Flitwick and Sprout were looking strained as Lockhart lectured them on his future line of hair-care potions. McGonagall was listening, and as Lockhart burbled on, she would the bun she was fixing ever tighter. The force she used to jab hairpins into it was surely enough to give her a scratch that would require Madam Pomfrey’s attention. Smith, the Muggle Studies teacher, and Professor Vector both arrived at the favored seat nearest the door at the same moment. They were performing a dance of confrontation disguised as solicitude that did not bode well for the meeting. Snape was pleased to not Sophie Sinistra bustle in, discard some package wrap in the bin, and hurry to a sear nest to his. She shuffled the contents of her bag, eventually plopping it on the table in front of her in order to sort it out. Just as Smith and Vector had come to terms over their seats, Dumbledore arrived and called the staff meeting to order. The agenda, he announced, would include progress reports on students whose work was unsatisfactory, congratulations on those students whose work was satisfactory, cheers for those students whose work was outstanding, a few words on mischief makers, a report from Filch, and the election of a committee to decorate the Great Hall for Halloween. Snape stifled a yawn. Every month when progress reports were given, every student in the school with the exception of Hermione Granger, Percy Weasly, and several Ravenclaws, had an unsatisfactory mark in History of Magic. Only Professor Binns could make a dramatic history full of secrets, violence, alliances made and betrayed as boring as his litany of unsatisfactory students. If he were o avoid falling straight to sleep, Snape knew desperate measures were in order.

He took a quick peek at the supplies Professor Sinistra had now set out in front of her. She sat to his left, and had placed her extra-quill case conveniently within his reach. Snape knew Sinistra usually brought two or three sugarquills to sustain herself through staff meetings. The candies blended right in with her spare writing quills, and he doubted that anyone else knew that she brought them. He glanced again at her quill case. It was unusually full today–she must have heard about the agenda ahead of time. Surely she wouldn’t miss just one. Deftly, Severus Snape plucked an ultramarine blue candy quill from the little case. With studied nonchalance, he brought it to his lips.

--*--

Sophie was not the only one to notice when Snape’s usually stiffly upright form snuggled back into the cushions of his chair. She was not the only one to stare in shock as his eyes closed and he smiled a genuine smile!

Professor McGonagall cleared her throat. Sophie looked up guiltily.

"I see," said McGonagall, as resigned as though she were addressing Fred and George Weasly, "that you have been ordering novelties out of Witch Weekly, Sophonisba."

Sophie had not been so embarrassed since she was a seventh year and Professor McGonagall had confronted her and a fellow Ravenclaw on the way out of the Astronomy Tower late one very cloudy night.

"Since we can clearly not go on with the meeting until Severus has recovered from your Sabbatiquill," said McGonagall coldly, "I only hope you have brought enough for the rest of us."

 

 

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