The Sugar Quill
Author: Sweeney Agonistes (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Dreamscapes  Chapter: Chapter One
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Vignette 1

Note: This is the first of three or four vignettes about Snape. They likely won’t be interconnected. They’re semi-inspired by T.S. Eliot’s “Preludes” and other bits from Prufrock and Other Observations, if that’s any help. ::grin:: Much thanks and a friendly assortment of virtual cookies go to Zsenya.

Disclaimer: Just borrowing, despite what T.S. Eliot may have to say on that subject – “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” I filch things from Canto XXXIV of the Inferno here, and Sherrinford Shiftlet got his first name from Sherlock Holmes’s eldest brother – not Mycroft – and his last name from the protagonist of Flannery O’Connor’s “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”.

***

Despite what anyone else might have thought, he positively abhorred Knockturn Alley.

Severus wound his way down the dank, filthy street, wishing he could look up and see the stars. An image that had always stuck with him from the bits of Muggle literature that he had read was Dante and Virgil emerging from the Inferno to see the stars. Dante had freed himself from the Inferno, led by his mentor.

A bit too analogous for his liking.

But the sense of wonder he got from his mental image of Dante, surfacing and looking at the stars as though they were a breath of fresh air, was a feeling that he never lost. Sometimes he’d even go back and re-read the entire canto on the bad nights when he couldn’t sleep, and then he would go up to the Astronomy Tower and sit and try to think about better things.

Tonight, the buildings were too close together, and they leaned over the street. To add insult to injury, it was cloudy.

Severus turned the corner and came face-to-face with a hag. She hissed in his face; a foul reek of decay rudely invaded his nostrils. He shoved his way past her and continued.

He heard her throwing curses at his back. Let her, he thought. She wouldn’t dare try anything. If she did, then it would be a sore mistake on her part. He was not in the mood to be trifled with.

Dumbledore had asked him to run some papers down to Sherrinford Shiftlet at the Lethifold’s Lair so Shiftlet could verify the intelligence information listed there. Lucius Malfoy again, up to his old tricks. Severus allowed himself a brief sneer. The papers, among other things, contained an inventory of certain Dark Arts materials held by Lucius at Malfoy Manor. Sherrinford, having been a denizen of Knockturn Alley for years, could confirm or deny many things on the inventory. The old curmudgeon probably sold half those things to Malfoy himself, thought Severus irritably.

This minor errand was a detestable task, but not nearly so bad as the things that Dumbledore had had him do before the war ended.

And so Severus found himself in Knockturn Alley without – audible – complaint.

He stormed down the dark cobblestones, cloak billowing behind him. And then suddenly, the feeling that one always had of surreptitious eyes watching one in Knockturn Alley was gone – it was as though he was alone in the world, blessedly alone. The moon had come out; the stench of rot and mildew was gone as it was for a few fleeting moments after a rain shower.

Severus took a deep breath, savoring the clear, cool air. His mind cleared. He turned to his left and was faced with the dilapidated façade of the Lethifold’s Lair.

He stretched one hand forward, planting his palm on the smooth, age-worn wood of the door. The door swung open on silent hinges; he entered.

His eyes adjusted to the greater darkness quickly. He saw Shiftlet standing, gaunt as ever, behind his counter, eyes glittering.

“Mr. Shiftlet,” Severus said softly.

“Professor Snape,” Shiftlet returned in gravelly, gruff tones. He stepped into a square of moonlight that fought hardily to enter the shop from a rather dirty window. “You have something for me, I believe?”

Severus withdrew an envelope from an inner pocket of his robes and handed it to him wordlessly.

Shiftlet broke the seal on the envelope and scanned its contents quickly. “Tell him I’ll get back to him within the week.”

He nodded and turned to go. Shiftlet’s voice stopped him. “Professor Snape.” Severus turned and saw an odd little half-smile cross Shiftlet’s craggy face. “You might want to look up when you get outside.”

Severus looked at him mistrustfully for a moment. Seeing nothing more on the other man’s face, he left.

Once he was free of the shop, he stopped in the middle of the alley. Shiftlet worked for Dumbledore; he would not leave one of Dumbledore’s couriers a trap – even if that courier was an ex-Death Eater.

Severus looked up.

And he saw the stars.

The old, decaying buildings had somehow been pulled away from the alley, and the clouds had dissipated, leaving a clear, magnificent night sky.

Severus looked at his old friends among the stars – the Old Bear, Orion standing firm and strong, Cassiopeia in her chair, the Twins smiling down at him. A warm feeling spread from his chest all the way out to the ends of his fingers and toes. His friends, the stars.

He turned back to look at the Lethifold’s Lair. Sherrinford Shiftlet was standing at the window holding a candle and giving him that same half-smile. Shiftlet raised a hand in salute and blew out the candle.

Severus raised his own hand in return, suddenly feeling more light-hearted than he had in a long time.

Placing his hands in his pockets, he left Knockturn Alley, fighting a smile the entire way.

//
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