Fear shifted into an inexplicable giddiness as Clio made her way up to her room. She'd survived a close encounter with a dementor, and had a photograph to prove it. Now she couldn't stop laughing, and tossed and turned for most of the night; finally getting up once the sky looked more gray than black.
She dressed and went straight to the dungeon-level photo lab with her camera and music box. The windowless dungeons, while cold and gloomy, were ideally suited for a dark room. She'd mixed up fresh batches of developing potions after dinner the night before, and planned to develop a few prints before breakfast so that she could spend the rest of the morning reviewing her lesson plans. Then, perhaps, she would have time for a dip in the lake that afternoon.
There are two potions needed to develop wizard images, and both require many ingredients. She'd been pleasantly surprised to find the cabinets adequately stocked with supplies, including the large earthenware jugs that the volatile potions required for storage. Now she popped the cork on her first potion and took a whiff. Pungent; perfect. She turned up the music, extinguished the lantern on the wall, and set to work by feel.
Clio's taste in music ran the gamut from mournfully slow to hyper-frenetic. Today she was in the mood for Dragonhead: purveyors of drum-heavy, experimental trip-hop featuring instruments constructed from machinery salvaged from muggle junkyards. Soon she had a dozen finished prints fluttering about the lab like new butterflies drying their wings.
She had restored the light and was rinsing her tools when she heard someone pounding on the door. The music still screeching and thwonking in the background, she slid it open and found herself practically nose to nose with a surly black-haired, black robed wizard. They stared at each other for a moment, he with arms crossed against his chest, brow furrowed, and mouth drawn into a frown; she with her left hand clasping her wand at her hip.
His deep-set, black-brown eyes bore into her lighter brown ones. Her first thought was that Dream from The Sandman comics had come to visit, but then Charity's words "emo or goth" sparked recognition in her brain. He was shorter than she'd expected; just a couple of inches taller than herself. Charity had also neglected to mention the large schnozz. She relaxed her wand hand and one side of her mouth pulled back into its lopsided grin.
"You must be Professor Snape."
He regarded her coldly for a moment; of course Hagrid or Charity would have gossiped. How much did she know? On the surface, her mind was as still and reflective as a flat sea. His eyes flickered over her Doctor Who t-shirt and ratty jeans, then swept upwards to the prints floating above her head. To Clio he appeared momentarily distracted by something. A shrill metallic whine snapped him out of it.
"What is that ghastly noise?" He asked with a sneer. "I woke up under the impression that Peeves had decided to amuse himself by smashing the crockery."
"What noise?" Her smile dissolved. "Oh, that's Dragonhead. They are a bit of an acquired taste."
"Ah, well, let us hope that there is a cure for your affliction," he said silkily. "Tell me, will you often find it necessary to make my ears bleed at six o'clock in the morning?"
Clio's half-smile returned, "Is that a rhetorical question?"
He scowled, "My office is next door. The wall is thick enough to block many noises, but not, unfortunately, that," he snapped, gesturing to the spinning blue box with one long, pale finger.
"Oh," Clio's smile vanished again. Charity had told her that he lived in the dungeon, and she'd forgotten. He resumed staring at her with a glint in his eyes (of triumph, she supposed, at having flustered her). She silenced the music with a subtle flick of her wand, feeling doubly irritated at being disturbed and now at having to apologize.
"Well, I'm sorry for bothering you, but, obviously, I didn't know anyone was in the room next door or that they'd be able to hear my music. And, no, I normally won't be working this early, but I have a lot to get done today."
He glared at her, his eyes glittering, and Clio was sure for a moment that he knew she'd glossed over her insomnia. Then he murmured, "Shall I assume you found all the ingredients you need for your developing potions, and they were all satisfactory?" His gaze roved restlessly over the cabinets and work space.
"Yes, everything was fine," she paused, considering the implications of his question. "Do you do that, stocking everything?"
"I have been, but I'm more than happy to turn it over to you, provided you're up to the challenge," he said, lip curling slightly. He swept past her, uncorked one of the jugs of developing potion, and sniffed it.
"Of course," she said, irritation building. "I'm Clio, by the way."
"I know who you are, Professor Callimachus," he said, sneering again. "This smells strongly of silver bromide."
Clio rolled her eyes, "Yes, I find a higher concentration produces a richer image; it's a matter of aesthetic taste."
The prints were now all dry, and she called them to her with an angry swish of her wand. They landed one by one on her outstretched hand, which she tilted so that he could see them as they came to rest. There were several photos of the hippogriffs, Hagrid slurping tea from a pitcher, Charity looking back over her shoulder as she walked along the wildflower-lined road to Hogsmeade, Nox and Fang play-wrestling, Mrs. Norris giving her the evil eye, Peeves pelting her with pistachios, and the last one on the pile was the spectral form of the dementor looming over her head.
Snape leaned in for a closer look at this one. The dementor appeared to lunge at the camera lens, practically popping off of the paper at them.
"I see," he murmured. His eyes darted from the photograph to her face. She was too proud of herself to conceal her thoughts about it, and they bubbled up to the surface without any effort from him.
"Was this your first encounter with a dementor?" he asked.
"No," she replied nonchalantly, not mentioning that the first time had been the previous afternoon with Charity.
"And has your curiosity been satisfied?"
She shrugged, "We'll be seeing a lot of them, I suppose."
His lip curled as he replied icily, "Dementors are not to be taken lightly. Hope that you never see one so close ever again, but if you do and survive with your soul intact, then eat a little chocolate, immediately."
"It looks closer than it really is," she murmured, "because of the zoom lens." Feeling foolish as well as irritated under his scrutiny, she backed away and dropped the prints into her portfolio. She felt his glare as she picked up her camera and plucked the music box from the air.
"What kind of music do you like?" she asked. When he just stared at her with his cold eyes, she continued. "The next time I'm working down here I can play something you'll find less annoying."
"I like silence."
"I'm not familiar with them," she said with a straight face, glancing around the lab to make sure she wasn't forgetting anything, then back at him, waiting for a reaction.
"Very funny," he said, voice dripping sarcasm. "Is there anything that you take seriously?"
"Another rhetorical question?" She asked, her crooked smile creeping back. He still wasn't showing any intention of leaving, so Clio walked out herself. He followed her into the hallway like a shadow.
"Fine," she said, breaking the uncomfortable silence. "How about I don't turn the music on before seven am, and promise to keep the volume to a moderate level?" Casting one last slightly less-hostile glance her way, he nodded curtly and disappeared into his office.
The staff table was mostly full when Clio arrived for breakfast an hour later. Professor McGonagall greeted her with a stiff, "Good morning," while eyeing her clothing critically. If she disapproved at least she kept it to herself. Clio made a point of not looking directly at Professor Snape, who was hunched over the Daily Prophet, but thought she caught him smirk out of the corner of her eye.
Professors Sprout and Flitwick both smiled and nodded hello as she made her way to the other end of the table. Hagrid always sat at the very end, because his great size made it the most convenient spot for him. Next to him sat Charity, and Clio after her. For some reason, Professor Binns insisted on floating around that side of the table despite the fact that, as a ghost, he never ate or drank anything. This was definitely the fun side of the table, apart from Binns. Dumbledore was seated between Binns and Flitwick today.
She was nervous about eating with Dumbledore, but quickly discovered that he took himself much less seriously than many other wizards she knew who were much less great than him. Charity was flipping through the fresh stack of photographs (all except the dementor, which Clio had left in her portfolio) when Clio mentioned that she might take a swim in the lake that afternoon to shoot the giant squid. Dumbledore swallowed a bite of sausage and chimed in.
"He especially likes the north end. You'll see him hanging just below the surface on a warm day like today."
"Thanks. Got any other tips?"
"Watch out for the grindylows, and have your wand ready just in case. And, say-" Here he produced an ear-splitting screech that caused everyone along the length of the table to whip their heads around, "to the merpeople for me."
"Merpeople, seriously? You just said 'hello,' and not, oh, 'bite me', right?"
Dumbledore chuckled softly, "Oh yes. They may appear hostile at first, but once they see you're just there to take pictures and not stealing their fish they'll leave you alone."
"Hmm, okay," Clio said, wondering now if a swim was such a good idea.
"How do you plan on diving?" Dumbledore wanted to know.
"Ah, excellent. It's a pity it doesn't grow around here."
"I stocked up right before leaving Alexandria, so I've got plenty if you're interested, Headmaster."
The old man laughed heartily and clapped her on the shoulder, "Not today, I'm afraid, but Professors Sprout or Snape may be up for it."
Clio and Charity exchanged horrified faces at the mention of Snape.
"Take Pomona with you," Charity said.
After breakfast, Clio spent three hours revising her lesson plans and grading rubriks. She hauled her books and music box up to Charity's office, and Aurora brought her books down from the astronomy tower. The three witches sprawled themselves over the couch, easy chair and floor. Clio felt out of place next to tall, elegant and refined Aurora, dressed in perfectly-ironed blue satin robes. As she listened to them talking and laughing together, Clio had to acknowledge that while Aurora wasn't someone she wouldn't normally hang out with, she was genuinely nice.
The day remained sunny, so that afternoon all three of them and Professor Sprout adjourned to the lake. Clio finally had a chance to ask her about the plants in her bathroom, which she had taken to calling the Garden of Babylon. The short squat witch was more than happy to come check on them and give her a "remedial herbology lesson" as Clio called it. Charity and Aurora swam in a warm sandy section while the other two swallowed clammy clumps of the wormlike weed and ventured deeper.
The lake water was both colder and murkier than the Mediterranean, and Clio was glad to have a diving partner who was already familiar with the terrain. The grindylows were also wary of Professor Sprout, and most swam hard for the deepest thickets of weeds as they approached. They easily deterred the few that charged them with a stinging hex.
Once they cleared the weeds, Sprout motioned for Clio to stop. They hung suspended in the water for several minutes, waiting for the squid. Clio began snapping images of Professor Sprout, whose legs had practically doubled in length with the addition of the magical fins the gillyweed produced.
She was just about to lower her camera when the already dim sun was completely swallowed by a dark veil. A gigantic pair of eyes peered down from the darkness, and several long sucker-spangled tentacles shot out. Clio triggered the camera shutter just as the tentacles enveloped her. She froze, sure for a moment that she had made a terrible mistake and that this was the end, unless Professor Sprout could save her. Then the tentacles patted her gently and pulled back. The suckers tickled a little, but left her skin unscathed.
Clio expended most of her film roll on the curious squid, which was only too willing to pose, sending a moire pattern of alternating colors rippling through it's skin. She moved in a circle around it, getting a panoramic view. She took a few shots of Professor Sprout with the beast for scale, and then handed the camera over so she could have a picture of herself with it, too.
Suddenly, the squid shot off, leaving a cloud of ink in its wake. Clio was puzzled as to what could have spooked him until she turned and saw half a dozen mermen approach, all brandishing spears. Despite their ferocity they looked young, perhaps adolescent. Clio glanced to Professor Sprout, who nodded that they were okay.
She smiled at them and held up the camera to get a picture, the very last one on the roll. Just as she released the shutter, the boys flashed them and swam off, screeching with what Clio guessed was laughter. Professor Sprout appeared to be laughing now too, as she gestured that they should surface. Clio nodded and started her ascent. The gillyweed would be wearing off very shortly.
Back on the water's edge, Professor Sprout laughed riotously.
"Did I just see what I think I saw?" Clio asked.
Sprout laughed harder, and Clio promised to share the pictures once they were developed.
The teachers all assembled in the staff room the next morning for their first official meeting of the year. Clio gazed about the room as everyone settled into the mismatched armchairs. She'd met everyone at that point other than Professor Lupin, who had yet to arrive, and Professor Trelawney.
Professor Dumbledore had just cleared his throat to speak when the door creaked open just enough to emit a frail woman wearing Coke-bottle glasses and shimmering orange robes.
"Ah, Sybill, you've decided to join us," Dumbledore said. "Please sit down," he added, as she wavered by the door."
"After noon would have been a more fortunate time for a meeting, I'm afraid," she said. "I sense that nothing productive will come out of this morning." Charity bumped Clio's arm with her elbow, and the two exchanged the slightest of smiles as Professor Trelawney walked up and down the room in search of an acceptable chair, finally settling into the one closest to the door – the very first one that she had passed a few minutes before. Clio noticed plastered-on smiles on several of the other faces in the room, and a vein pulsing on the side of Professor McGonagall's head.
"Nevertheless, we shall try our best. I intend to keep this meeting short," Dumbledore said. Clio continued to scan the other faces in the room as Dumbledore spoke.
"First of all, as I'm sure all of you are aware by now, the school is under the guard of dementors." A chorus of grumbles and sighs rose up in response. "The Ministry has insisted on their presence here to protect the staff and students from Sirius Black, who escaped from Azkaban over the summer." Many eyes rolled when Dumbledore said "protect."
Dumbledore continued, "He hasn't been seen anywhere near Hogwarts, of course, but we must operate under the assumption that he will seek out Harry Potter. It goes without saying, of course, that I am to be notified at any sign of Sirius Black." Clio noticed Snape's eyes narrow when Dumbledore said "Potter." She looked away casually when he caught her noticing.
"Under no circumstances are the dementors to be allowed inside the school grounds. If you see one anywhere inside the gate, then alert me immediately; or one of the heads of houses if I cannot be reached. I trust that all of you have been practicing the patronus charm?" Clio nodded to herself.
"A successful patronus could literally mean the difference between life and, well, a fate worse than death for yourself or a student. Finally, I must discourage all of you from leaving the castle alone at night. If you go out after dark, then find someone to accompany you."
Clio's heart skipped a beat. Had Snape tattled to Dumbledore about her photograph? When she turned toward him, she caught Snape's eyes darting away. Her own eyes narrowed.
"Students, of course, will be forbidden from wandering the grounds after dark. Don't hesitate to use house point deductions in order to deter them from disobeying. Some of you need no reminder, there," Dumbledore added, directing his gaze at Professor Snape as he did. This drew chuckles from many of the other teachers in the room, including Charity, and Clio swore she caught the barest hint of a smile pull at his lips, his dark eyes gleaming.
"Now that we've got that out the way, you've noticed of course that we have new teaching staff with us." He gestured to Clio and Hagrid, who blushed and beamed as he was recognized. "Professor Remus Lupin will be arriving this evening on the train. I thought it best to have him there to protect the students on their way to us today, from the dementors more than anyone else. His condition is not to be be mentioned in any way to the students or residents of Hogsmeade,”
Many of the teachers nodded approvingly at this, but Snape scowled. Dumbledore paused to clear his throat. “No matter how much fire whiskey you have consumed,” he added, gazing at Hagrid over his spectacles. "Now, Minerva, I believe you have an announcement?" Dumbledore asked.
"Yes, thank you Albus," she said, standing up tall in her crimson velvet robes. "The house sorting will begin this evening at six o'clock, sharp. It will be followed immediately by the start of term feast. Everyone is expected to be there, on time," she emphasized, looking sharply at Professor Trelawney, then turned to look directly at Clio, "and properly dressed." Clio felt her face grow warm, and fought to keep herself from looking down at her jeans. Was everyone staring at her? She concentrated her gaze at a fixed point on the wall straight ahead. She felt Charity bump her arm, but refrained from looking at her.
"Thank you, Minerva," said Dumbledore, "Are there any other announcements? Discussion, then?"
Professor Flitwick piped up. "How long can we expect the dementors to remain?" he asked.
"Until Sirius Black is apprehended or leaves the area," Dumbledore responded.
"But what if he's never caught? They won't be stationed here permanently, will they?"
"I should certainly hope not," said Dumbledore. "I'm not comfortable having them here at all, even if they are kept outside the school grounds. None of you should become comfortable with their presence, either. I've allowed them here only at the insistence of the Ministry, and I'm afraid here they'll remain until the Ministry changes its mind." There was a lot of grumbling following his statements.
"Well, off with you then, enjoy your last afternoon of freedom before the students arrive."
Clio had risen from her chair to stretch, and was about to follow Charity over to the corner where she was talking to Aurora when Professor Trelawney caught hold of her arm.
"It's good to meet you, my dear, I'm picking up a very positive aura from you."
"Um, thank you."
"Tell me, when were you born? I'd be happy to give you a full astrological reading this afternoon to start you off on the right foot,"
"Oh, uh, actually I was going to--" Clio gestured towards the door, but was cut off before she could fabricate an excuse to get away.
"No wait! Don't tell me, you are obviously a Leo!"
"Actually, my birthday's November 5th."
Professor Trelawney's face fell, and she backed away. "Oh, oh, you're a scorpio?"
"Remember, remember the 5th of November..." Clio began to chant, and Charity chimed in with, "Gunpowder, treason, and plot." Dumbledore joined in for the second verse of the rhyme, "I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot."
Professor Trelawney skittered out of the room, muttering "scorpio," as she went.
"She takes her astrology way too seriously," Aurora scoffed.
A laugh like a rusty hinge from across the room. Clio turned to discover that it was coming from Professor McGonagall, who was also shaking her head. Maybe Clio wasn't at the top of her shit list, after all.
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