The Sugar Quill
Author: Murasaki99 (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Sugar and Soots  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.

J.K. Rowling owns Harry and his kindred, many thanks to her creative mind! This is a not-for-profit work of fan fiction created purely for the amusement of fellow-fans.

Neville peered into the cauldron, chewing absently on the sugar quill he'd snuck into class. Professor Snape made him nervous on the best of days, and this was definitely not turning into even a marginally good day. His cauldron foobled sullenly, its contents a vile brown in color. It emitted the faint odor of dirty socks.

"Mister Longbottom." Professor Snape materialized out of the gloom in that disconcerting way he had, to glower down at Neville's efforts. He sighed with a mixture of resignation and disgust. "Didn't you read the recipe completely? The ingredients must be added within 10 seconds of each other and the final color should be light green. Light. Green." He stabbed a long forefinger down at the cauldron. "What do you call that?"

"Uhh…" Neville dithered while the Slytherins snickered and the Griffindors gave him looks of long-suffering sympathy. He chewed the end of his sugar quill vigorously.

Snape snatched the quill from Neville's mouth, gave it and Neville a knowing sneer. "Perhaps if you spent more time studying and less time chewing your cud." Snorting in disdain, he flicked the quill over his shoulder. A stray draught caught it up, spinning. It fell gracefully into Hermione's cauldron. Instantly her properly light green potion turned the color of charcoal and vanished with a rustle, as if the contents had somehow managed to scuttle off.

"Augh!" gasped Hermione, staring at the clean and empty cauldron.

"Is something wrong, Miss Granger?" purred Snape, half turning to look across the chamber at her.

"N-no, nothing. Nothing at all, sir." She managed to keep her voice sounding almost normal while behind her back Harry and Ron quickly ladled in shares of their own potions into her cauldron. By the time she turned back to her brewing, all appeared to be normal to Snape's sharp gaze. She breathed a soft sigh of relief. "Thanks," she whispered to her friends. "I don't know what happened to my potion."

"I've never seen a reaction like that, either," Harry agreed. "I wonder where it disappeared to?"

"Snape's bedroom, I hope!" muttered Ron. "It's all his fault. If he hadn't tossed that feather into her cauldron…"

"Shhh," Hermione's warning hiss made them all turn back to their cauldrons to avoid attracting Snape's further attention.

The rest of the class passed without further mishap, although Neville's attempt at Transparency Syrup never did jell.

Professor Severus Snape strode into chambers of his dungeon living quarters, pushing the heavy door closed with a flick of his wand. "Incendio." The fire burst into cheerful flame and he settled himself into his chair by the hearth with a sigh of relief. At least the evening was his, and he could absorb some of the peace and quiet he craved to soothe his irritated nerves. His eyes closed and he concentrated on slowing his breathing. Soft rustling tickled the edges of his hearing.

He opened his eyes. Nothing. His room appeared totally normal. Mice? Peeves? There was no sound of laughter or breakage, so it couldn't have been the roving poltergeist. Probably mice, he decided. Snape let his eyelids drift closed again.

Again, he heard the sounds of rustling, quick and furtive and oh so light. It was barely audible above the crackle of the fire. He stood up, wand at the ready.

His chambers looked as they normally did, except… was that a tiny movement that had caught the corner of his vision? He turned quickly, staring at the closet that held his spare robes. Something small had just scurried under the door. The closet looked perfectly ordinary, but Snape was aware of the many spells of concealment that could make it seem so. His skin crawled at the thought that persons or entities unknown may have breached his apartment.

Running through the spells that he would use for attack and defense, he moved to stand before his closet. At his sharp command the door banged open. For a long moment he stared at what seemed to be nothing. His closet was full of blackness, which was not unexpected. Then he frowned. Why can't I see my robes? The room isn't that dark. Alert for any attack he stepped closer, trying to see into his closet. It can't be a boggart. I haven't been psychically assaulted.

Blocking the doorway with his body, he reached in his hand to feel for his clothing.

With a soft susurration hundreds of tiny eyes opened and stared at him with expressions ranging from concern to wild panic. Snape's eyes attempted to mimic that of his unknown visitors.

"Wh-what in…" Without thinking he grabbed at a handful of the darkness.

Rustling like cellophane, they fled the closet en masse.

Snape howled in fright as the world went black.

"Severus! Are you all right?" Professor McGonagall pounded on the apartment door of the Potions Master. His scream had echoed so loudly in the hall she knew the situation had to be serious. That hadn't been the scream of someone merely angered by a student prank. "Severus can you hear me?" For a moment, she regretted the fact that Hogwarts had been enchanted to prevent wizards from Apparating in and out. Muttering a potent curse at the doorknob, it flared blue and vanished. McGonagall pushed her way in, looking about for the unknown menace. The only one standing in the room was Snape himself, rubbing his eyes with one hand.

"Severus, have you been hurt? You… good heavens, what did you get into?" McGonagall stared in open amazement. Snape looked as if he'd leapt headfirst into a coal scuttle, then rolled in the dust. The whites of his eyes glared out of his soot-blackened face.

"I don't know, but I've trapped one of them!" he announced in grim triumph. "Come on, let's find the Headmaster." Black robes wafting clouds of ebony dust, he strode off toward the upper levels, with McGonagall trotting behind.

"Come in, come in," Dumbledore's cheerful voice welcomed the two professors into his study. "Have some tea?" He wandered into the room balancing his own cup on a saucer crowded with scones. He paused as he got a good look at his Potions Master. "Why Severus, the elves will clean the chimneys, you know."

"It wasn't the chimney or the fireplace, Albus." Snape flung himself into a chair, raising a cloud of dust.

Professor McGonagall seated herself with more grace nearby, waving the dust away with her wand.
Dumbledore offered Snape a clean washcloth and towel summoned from the bath, which Snape used to wipe the worst of the soot from his face and hands. He looked at the besmirched cloth and grimaced.

The Headmaster of Hogwarts passed them each a teacup. "Well then. If levitating up the chimney did not put you in your current condition, what did?"

"This!" Both Dumbledore and McGonagall leaned forward to get a better view as Snape pulled a small globe from his robes. The globe was a containment spell, which glowed soft green. Inside floated a small round-bodied creature that seemed to be made of black lint. It stared at the humans with wide, unhappy eyes. With every quiver it shed particles of soot into the air.

"Well, well, what have we here?" Dumbledore adjusted his glasses for a better view.

"Severus, it's adorable!" cried Professor McGonagall.

"Adorable?" Snape looked offended. "You haven't been run over by an entire flock of the filthy things."

"But, what are they?" asked McGonagall. "Why were they in your apartment? How did they get in?"

"In my hall closet to be precise. It was full of them. When I opened the door, they panicked and stampeded right over the top of me. And I haven't the slightest idea how they found their way into my quarters. I'd blame the students, but I don't think many of them would have the skills required to get in past the wards or to conjure up some unknown creatures to occupy my closets."

"Not unknown, Severus, although I must admit I've never seen a Kurokurosuki in the dusty flesh, so to speak." Dumbledore smiled at the creature in the bubble. "They're quite harmless. If you so much as touch them, they vanish into a pile of soot, hence their English names: Black Soots."

"Black Soots! It suits them. But… that doesn't explain what they are." McGonagall wiggled a finger at the one specimen. "Poor little beastie."

"Poor beastie!?" Snape shook his head in disbelief. "I don't want pets - I want the foul things out of my rooms!" He whacked at his robes, producing more dust by way of argument.

McGonagall coughed.

"Ahem." Dumbledore looked at his two professors over the top of a large volume he had pulled down from the shelves. The leather cover bore an image of a frolicking ki-lin and the title Lesser-Known Magical Creatures. When he had their attention, he read:

"The Japanese Kurokurosuki, or Black Soot, is a small, harmless manifestation which comes into existence due to the excess mana which collects in old manor homes and farm houses. The mana combines with the dust of ages to form the bodies of these shy, quaint creatures…"

"Quaint. How charming." Snape glowered at the small prisoner in the spell-globe. "Does it say how to get rid of them?"

"Hmm…" Dumbledore scanned ahead in the book. "Aha, this looks promising: 'the Black Soot is easily dispelled by the simple act of cleaning the affected rooms.'"

Snape frowned for a moment, then nodded. "Yes, I can do that. The house elves can help as well. It shouldn't take long, if that is all that is needed?"

"Might I keep this one, Severus?" McGonagall nodded at the floating globe.

"Certainly," Snape agreed graciously. "Soon enough all of mine will be gone. It will not hurt to keep one as a souvenir." He sounded much calmer now that he knew of a way to exorcise his unwelcome visitors. He looked up at Dumbledore's bookshelves and his face suddenly froze. "Albus."

Dumbledore and McGonagall followed Snape's stare. A row of small, round, black fuzzy creatures stared solemnly down at them from the middle shelf. More soots scampered with soft rustlings among the upper shelves as well.

"Em… they live on dust and magic, you say?" asked McGonagall calmly.

"I'm afraid so." Dumbledore peered down at the yellowed pages. "Yes, yes, that is what it says here," he chuckled.

"But… Hogwarts is ancient! It must be full of dust! As for magic!" Snape's face changed from an expression of disgust to one of slowly dawning horror as the full import began to sink in. "This place hasn't been clean since the first millennium. We… we'll never be rid of them!"

###

A gracious thank-you to Hayao Miyazaki, who is the creator of the Black Soots, which can be found in the wonderful movie "My Neighbor Totoro" - or if you prefer the Japanese title: "Tonari no Totoro". Also doomo arigatou to Judi'san and Andy'kun for beta-reading.

 

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