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 "witchs
little helper." Yet she couldnt 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 werent that exasperating.
Her fellow teachers, on the other hand, were.
Today was Tuesday, and Sophie was still recovering
from yesterdays 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. Grundys 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 wasnt 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. McGonagalls 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
Trelawneys 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 McGonagalls
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 weeks 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 Dumbledores 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 Pomfreys 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 todayshe must have
heard about the agenda ahead of time. Surely she wouldnt 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 Snapes
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