Chapter 6 : The Burning Man
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She had intended to do some reading before class, but was distracted by a very hairy and unique-looking spider spinning a web in the corner of one of the windows, and ended up using the last of her free moments snapping close-ups of it. She must have set her camera down at some point, because when she wanted to take a picture of Charity posing with the Love Spells book at lunch, she discovered that it wasn't in her bag.
She made a detour through the staffroom just after lunch to look for it. As she passed by the wardrobe where Professor Trelwaney kept her extra shawls, she thought she saw it tremble, and stopped cold. Someone collided with her back with a grunt of irritation. She looked over her shoulder and caught Snape sliding around her, scowling.
"Did you see that?" she asked.
"See what?" he groused.
"I think there's something in the wardrobe."
His eyes darted over it hastily, "I don't see anything," he sneered.
"There! It just moved again."
Now he watched it, too, brow furrowed, lip curled.
"You must be imagin-" he was saying, when it jiggled a third time. One of the hangers inside fell down with a clank.
"What do you think it is?" Clio asked.
"You could always open the door and find out," he said silkily, eyes gleaming. The wardrobe shifted again.
"You could open the door," she said.
"I don't care to know that badly," he said, crossing the room and sitting down in his favorite low arm chair. "You could leave it be and let Lupin deal with it. It is supposed to be his 'area of expertise.'" The sarcasm in his voice was not lost on Clio, who hesitated in front of the wardrobe. He drew the Prophet from his robes and unfolded it noisily, eyes darting from the paper to her to the wobbling wardrobe, sneering still.
Two things happened at once. Clio drew her wand, squared her shoulders and opened the door to the wardrobe, and Lupin walked in the door of the staffroom. The figure that emerged from between the dark folds of fabric hanging within the wardrobe puzzled the two men, but Clio was terrified.
He was a paunchy, balding, middle-aged man with a sour, reddened face. He was dressed in a sweat-stained t-shirt, flip-flops and cut-off jeans. He advanced toward her, a dreamy expression in his heavily lidded eyes. Clio backed away, wand hand faltering. The man's eyes suddenly widened and a high-pitched scream escaped his lips as his clothing burst into bright gold flames. He staggered, but continued to lurch forward as the flames licked over his flailing arms and legs, consuming his face. One hand stretched out before him, clutching at Clio's robe, but she backed away just out of his reach, feeling disgust now more than fear.
She watched him burn, mouth convulsing, tears springing to her eyes. The wizards watched the scene develop like a train wreck. Snape had set aside his paper and drawn his wand, but remained seated. His eyes darted between Clio, the monster, and Lupin; who stood just inside the door.
Clio still hadn't lifted her wand when Lupin found his voice. "Clio, it's a boggart," he said firmly but gently.
She nodded. "I gathered that."
"Can you take care of it, or do you want me to?" Lupin pressed, stepping forward.
She shook her head, raising her wand, then hesitated and lowered it. "I don't know how to riddikulus that," she said.
"It's okay," he said, pressing her shoulder gently to move her out of the way. She stepped aside, and as he took her place the boggart shrank and transformed into the full moon.
"Riddikulus," he muttered, and the moon shrank further, into the form of a cockroach. It skittered across the floor back to the wardrobe and disappeared inside. He slammed the door behind it. Clio stood numbly beside him, wand hand hanging limply at her side while she wiped her eyes with the opposite sleeve.
"Are you all right?" Remus asked gently.
She nodded mutely, mortified by what both of them had witnessed. Wanting to comfort her, Lupin raised a tentative hand toward her shoulder, but wavered for a second before dropping it again.
"Someone you know?" Snape asked coldly.
She glared at him, eyes suddenly blazing, considering how exactly to answer before saying, "You could say that."
He dipped his head slightly, looking toward the floor. It struck Clio as odd that he would avoid her eyes now, given his tendency toward penetrating glares.
"Sorry, I'm not usually so useless," she said to Lupin, returning her wand to her belt. Seeing that she'd recovered her usual composure, he turned away to check that the door to the wardrobe was secure.
"Boggarts can be a challenge when you aren't expecting them," he said, raising an eyebrow and turning a hard eye on Snape, who glared back at him.
"Are you going to leave it in there?" she asked.
"Just long enough to share with my next class," Lupin answered, and she nodded. "Speaking of which, they're probably wondering where I'm at, right now."
"Shit," she muttered, looking at her watch. "I'm late as well." She fled the room, and was halfway down the corridor before Lupin caught up with her with his long loping strides.
"I can't even remember why I stopped in there in the first place," she said as they strode along the hall to the stairs.
"I was just checking to make sure that the boggart hadn't moved out. It's been there since yesterday, something Snape knew."
"Bastard," Clio muttered.
"The note Dumbledore posted on the door was obviously removed at some point. Sorry if it gave you a fright," he continued.
"I'm fine," she grumbled, running up the stairs to the second floor, while he turned down the corridor to his classroom. She paused outside her own classroom for a few moments, so that her heart had time to return to its normal rate before she entered. Her students were already seated and talking amongst themselves when she arrived.
He was certainly pale and blonde, but Clio recognized Draco Malfoy among her third-years by the sling on his arm. He drawled with an air of superiority that immediately got on her nerves, but this was tempered very slightly by the clashing fear of inferiority that he exuded.
She consternated the Gryffindors and Slytherins by forcing them to work together in mixed groups. Anyone who complained immediately lost five points for their house. Malfoy lost 30 points for Slytherin within the first ten minutes; five for griping about being put in a group with Hermione Granger, and another 25 for referring to her as a mudblood. From the dark look that crossed the girl's face, Clio guessed that this was not the first time she'd heard that derogatory term. She was astonished that someone would use it in her classroom; not even the Jolly Rogers (a house full of wannabe Death Eaters at Salem) would have been so bold.
"Professor Snape will hear about this," Malfoy muttered under his breath.
"Go right ahead and tell him," Clio snapped. "If he encourages that kind of language within his house then I'll be having a conversation with him, myself." This drew a mixture of titters and gasps from the class, and a grin from Granger that exposed her buck teeth. No more complaints were made.
When she displayed the runic archives and asked the group members to decide amongst themselves where they were, Granger's hand immediately shot up.
"Yes, Miss Granger do you have a question?"
"No, I have the answer."
She'd heard that Granger was clever, but Clio was taken aback by her sheer confidence.
"You're supposed to be discussing the answer with your group, Miss Granger." She watched the girl's smile fade with a straight face. She knew that working with Malfoy was the last thing the girl wanted to do, and despite her own irritation with the boy, she was determined for the class to follow her instructions.
"Why not just let her say the answer?" someone asked from the back of the room.
"Miss Granger is not the only student in this classroom," Clio said. "I want to hear everyone's ideas. Let me remind you all that a portion of your grade will be based on participation during class." This got everyone talking, and though the discussion began shakily (and Malfoy spent much of it sulking silently) it ended well. Granger's answer, as well as the reasoning behind it, turned out to be solid. Clio gave Gryffindor five points for her answers, and another five points apiece to the three other members of her group, so that Gryffindor ended up ten ahead and Slytherin only twenty behind.
Later, as she ran through the basic rune set she liked to start with, Malfoy drew her ire once again by raising his hand and inquiring when they would start learning "real" runes, like the sunwheel and thunderbolt.
"Neither of those are actual runes, Mr. Malfoy, although the thunderbolt is a bowdlerization of the eihwaz rune," she said, drawing it in the air in fire. There were a few scattered laughs at his expense, and Clio noticed his ears going red.
"My father said-"
"Is your father also a runemaster?" she asked, fighting to keep the snippiness out of her voice. He fell silent, mouth tightening into a paper-thin line. "There are examples of rune-based and rune-like symbols throughout our culture, and various muggle cultures as well," she said. "None of them are magical, however, and none of them have ever served as a true system of writing. One of the first things I want you to learn is how to recognize true runes." With that she launched into the explanation of her first homework assignment for them.
It was her most trying class yet, but she made it through.
"I need a drink," she said to Charity when she walked into her friend's office afterwards.
"I can help you, there," Charity replied, tossing her long blonde locks. "Want to hit the Three Broomsticks?"
"What about dinner?"
"We'll eat there."
"Okay, I just need to let Nox out, and … should I change?"
Charity's eyes flicked over her clothes, "Put on something less … just less. Uncover yourself a bit."
Flipping through her wardrobe a few minutes later, Clio realized that she didn't have much in the way of non-work clothes. Everything she would wear out in Alexandria had been stored at her grandmother’s. She finally settled on a low cut black tee and her one pair of non-faded jeans. She switched from her everyday boots to a pair with heels and traded her loose robe for a scarlet dragon scale jacket
Just before going down to meet Charity, she thought to leave her camera on her desk so that she'd remember to finish and develop her latest film roll the next day. That's when she remembered why she'd gone to the staffroom earlier. She went to Charity's office first, figuring that by now she must be getting impatient. Instead she found her sitting at her vanity, fixing her hair and makeup in a large mirror on the wall.
"Ready?" Charity asked, inspecting her eyeliner.
"Sure, I just need to find my camera; I think I left it in the staffroom. Did you know there's a boggart in the wardrobe?"
"Yeah, there was a note," Charity replied, smoothing on lipstick.
"Not when I went in there after lunch today."
"I bet Peeves took it. Did you let it out?"
"No. Sort of. Remus put it back." She scowled then, remembering her encounter with the boggart.
Charity smacked her lips. "What's wrong?"
"Snape saw my boggart, and I was too flustered to do anything about it. He's probably still smirking to himself about it now."
"Well let's go have a drink then, and forget about nasty old Professor Snape," Charity said, breaking her train of thought.
"Does this look okay?" Clio asked
Charity appraised her for a moment, then fluffed out her hair and unzipped her jacket. "There, now you do." Clio looked down dubiously at her exposed chest, then hugged the jacket closer around her body.
"That defeats the whole purpose of unzipping it."
"Just till we get outside the castle; no one here needs to see that," Clio said. They stopped in the staffroom first. Clio eyed the wardrobe suspiciously, but for the time being it remained silent and immobile. Her camera was not on the side table where she had been certain she'd left it. Charity helped her go over the entire room, but it was nowhere to be found. Charity was past ready to leave, but Clio was distraught.
"It'll turn up, stuff goes missing all the time. Let's go have a drink, forget about it, and by the time we get back it will probably have turned up," Charity said, herding her toward the door. Clio allowed herself to be pushed out rather reluctantly.
They were almost to the front entrance when rapid footsteps approached from behind.
"Clio!" She turned to see Remus, eyes beaming. Both women halted. Clio tried to stealthily pull the ends of her jacket closer together to cover herself up, but abandoned her efforts after glancing down and realizing that this succeeded only in making what little cleavage she had more prominent.
He nodded to Charity, then turned toward Clio, "I found this in the staffroom during my class and took it for safekeeping." He reached a hand into his robes and pulled out Clio's camera, handing it to her with a sly smile.
"Thanks," she said, flooding with relief. "I must have left it there earlier today. How did class go, with the boggart?"
"Spectacularly well," he said, unable to suppress a wolfish grin. "Someone may or may not have taken a picture that you'll find particularly amusing. I hope the contents of said picture will justify the unauthorized use of your camera."
She cocked her head, "I guess I'll just have to develop it to find out."
"Thanks for going back for that book, by the way," he added. "You didn't need to do that."
"What book?" she asked coyly, one side of her mouth quirking upward.
His eyes fluttered down and back up, then, taking in her change of clothes, "Well it looks like you're headed out, I don't mean to keep you."
"We're just headed over to the Three Broomsticks," said Charity, "You could join us if you want."
"Oh, no, no thanks," he said, looking away and retreating towards the great hall, "I appreciate the offer, though."
Clio trailed his retreat with her eyes for a moment before following Charity out the door.
"If you're looking for a quick rebound then that's definitely not it," Charity said, as they walked across the grounds to the gate.
Clio rolled her eyes, flushing slightly. "Trust me, that's not what I had in mind."
"Mmm-hmm," Charity said, linking arms with her and practically dancing her down to the gate. They disapparated with a bang as soon as they'd passed the winged boars, reappearing a moment later in the center of town. The Three Broomsticks was practically empty when they ordered drinks and appetizers, but by the time their food came out a healthy crowd had started to gather.
Charity charmed a pair of youngish Ministry workers over to their table, and a second round of drinks was soon purchased. They were pleasant enough company and became more interesting the more Clio drank, but she quickly decided that she was fine with never seeing either one of them ever again. Charity, meanwhile, seemed to like the slightly wittier, handsomer one of the two. This left Clio with his slightly duller and less handsome friend. At some point during the third round, Charity pulled her to the ladies room for a conference.
"So what do you think?" she said, checking her hair in the bathroom mirror.
"Oh … ehhh," she said, "What about you? You seem to like whatshisname."
"Aidan. He's asked if I want to meet him here next Saturday night."
"So do you?"
"Maybe, haven't decided yet," She swept a stray eyelash from her face. "He wants to double with his friend, Nigel."
"Oh," Clio considered this, frowning slightly.
"There'll be live music," Charity said, dangling the one carrot that she had correctly guessed would sway Clio's decision.
Clio sighed. "Okay, but if the band sucks I'm leaving early."
"Great," Charity said, smiling. "We can always say that you're not feeling well."
Charity set up the date, while Clio did her best to make it clear to Nigel that she was just supporting her friend without coming right out and saying it. He seemed just as apathetic about their date as she felt.
The two witches were still tipsy when they appeared back at the school gates. When the dementors guarding it didn't back down immediately, Clio sicked Domino on them, delighting in his antics.
"Oh darn, we saw a dementor," Charity said as they walked back to the castle, "Guess we'll have to break into the chocolate."
They leaned against the fountain in the courtyard, sharing a bar of extra dark chocolate while Nox took her late night perambulation.
"So, what are you looking for?” Charity asked. “In a man," she clarified, after Clio looked at her strangely.
"A 12 inch wand," Clio quipped.
Charity laughed. "I'm serious. Have you dated a lot? What kind of guys do you like?"
Clio considered her question carefully before answering. "I guess I've had three actual relationships, plus one that doesn’t really count.”
“Just say four.”
“Fine, four relationships. There's never been any sort of pattern or rhyme or reason to any of them. They all just sort of happened. I don't know that they even had much in common with one another."
Charity's eyes widened, "Wow, so you don't even know what you like, yet."
Clio frowned. "I've never thought of it that way. All I know is he needs to have the right sense of humor and appreciate music. Good music."
Clio shrugged. "How many guys have you dated?"
"Fourteen, and I didn't really figure out what I really wanted until number eight. I need someone who’s dependable and caring, who shares my goals and has a sex drive that’s equal to mine.” She sighed longingly.
Clio nodded slowly. “What are your goals?”
“Other than raising a family? Improving muggle-wizard relations. We need more cooperation. And understanding. That’s why I teach Muggle Studies. Hopefully this generation will be the one to make some real changes. If not, well, then I’ll have to work on their children.” She laughed.
Clio nodded again. “That’s really admirable.” If only her own motives for teaching could be so pure, she thought.
"Have you ever dated a muggle? I'm just curious. I don't have anyone else to talk about this stuff with! It drives me nuts," Charity said, savoring another bite of chocolate.
"Tell me about it."
"It was just for a summer, between sixth and seventh years. I started advanced training in runes that summer, and found a cheap sublet with a university student. That was my first boyfriend. He was really dorky, but sweet."
"Ooh, an older man. So what happened? How did it end?"
Clio shrugged. "I moved back to school at the end of the summer. I couldn't imagine dating him long-term; never even told him I'm a witch. I kept one of his t-shirts, though."
Charity sighed. "I've dated several muggles. None of them worked out, obviously, but I still don't want to limit myself."
Clio zapped the pile of poop that Nox had just left under one of the rosebushes so that it disappeared, reappearing in the compost pile by the side of the greenhouses. They walked back inside and said their goodnights. Clio was halfway up the stairs to her room when she remembered the camera, which she'd concealed in a pocket of her jacket, and turned back downstairs to the dungeons. She was very conscious of her boot heels clicking on the stone corridor, especially as she passed Snape's office. The barest hint of light crept out from under his door.
Clio developed negatives and took a look at them using one of the projectors she kept in the lab for the students. She scanned through the whole roll, looking for the one that Remus had taken. It was at the very end, and she did a double-take when she saw it, then let out a great guffaw. She pulled out several sheets of paper and developed first one print, then another, then another, chuckling the entire time. She stared at the finished prints and laughed some more, then packed them in separate envelopes and scribbled notes on each one, chuckling still. She cleaned up the lab, hoping that if she stalled long enough Snape would be asleep by the time she left.
When she finally tip-toed out as quietly as she could in her boots, the light was gone from the crack under Snape's door. She paused and listened, and after not hearing anything for a few seconds slid one of the envelopes through the crack. On the outside of the envelope she'd scrawled, "Is this your boggart?" Inside was a glossy print of what appeared to be Snape in old-lady drag, surrounded by laughing students.
She scampered off as soon as the envelope had left her finger tips, not wanting to be anywhere nearby when he discovered it. She taped a second print to the inside of the now boggart-free wardrobe, to be discovered by whoever opened it next. The third she slid under Remus' office door. Nox sniffed at the door suspiciously, and had to be carried, growling, back to the stairs.
The sky was uncharacteristically clear the next morning, and the sun pouring in through the window woke Nox early. The dog stared up at her until Clio rose to take her outside. As she returned to the castle, she was greeted by Snape's snarling face. His eyes bored coldly into hers. His hands clenched and unclenched by his sides, but otherwise he remained startlingly calm for someone who was so obviously seething with rage.
"Hey," she said, moving around him to run up the stairs at her usual clip. He sprang forward himself, running deftly up the stairs and easily keeping pace alongside her. Nox wagged her tail as she ran with them, thinking that this was a brilliant game.
"I suppose you think you're clever?" he spat.
"Come on, even you have to admit that it's funny."
"Funny? Did you and Lupin have a good laugh over it together?"
"Have you ever laughed at anything?" she asked, ignoring his question.
They reached the second-floor landing, and she paused for a moment, taking a menacing step toward him, "That picture wouldn't have been taken if you'd told me about the boggart in the first place." She whirled around and continued up the stairs, carrying on the conversation when he persisted alongside her, "Wasn't that your idea of a joke? Did you enjoy the little show you set in motion?"
"It wasn't what I expected," he said softly, cold eyes completely unreadable.
"The way I see it is that we're even, now," she said.
They'd reached the third floor landing, and still he shadowed her up the stairs.
"What I want to know is, what did you do to that boy to make him so afraid of you?" she asked.
"Longbottom is afraid of his own shadow," he sneered.
"His shadow didn't pop out of that wardrobe."
"I treat him the same way I treat all of my students."
"Really? I hear Draco Malfoy gets special treatment." They'd reached the fourth-floor landing now, and instead of waiting for a response, Clio ran on. To her consternation, he kept up with her.
"His father is on the Board of Governors."
"So? Do you crawl around licking all their boots?"
"You don't understand the precarious position … you have no idea..." he was so angry now that he couldn't complete a coherent thought.
"What?" They were on the fifth floor now, and Clio strode furiously down the corridor to her office. He looked around, apparently just now realizing that he'd followed her all the way up to her rooms.
"I don't have time to school you in British politics. If you cannot handle the political machinations in Britain then you should go back to America," he said. Then he turned and stormed back down the stairs. She watched him retreat. Nox, standing by the door, wagged her tail and barked.
Remus Lupin discovered the envelope she'd shoved under his door that morning as he was about to depart for breakfast. Curious, he lifted it up and read the single line of text scrawled on the front.
"You were right, definitely justified."
Smiling, he turned it over, opened the unsealed flap, and slid the photograph out. It had come out even better than he'd hoped; the sunlight streaming in through the windows catching the confusion etched on boggart-Snape's face as it cringed away from the circle of laughing students, backing away from Neville Longbottom, who cracked a smile and began to laugh.
Chuckling, he placed the photograph carefully in a desk drawer that held other private papers.
The third photograph was discovered later that day by Pomona Sprout, who had stashed one of her extra greenhouse robes in the wardrobe before the boggart moved in two days before and had been waiting patiently to retrieve it. She leaned in close to peer at the very ugly woman in the photograph, then broke into a series of giggles as she realized what it was. She took the photograph to Professor McGonagall, who shared it with Professor Flitwick. By the end of the day it had made its way through the hands of most the staff.
Remus and Clio shared knowing smiles at dinner. Snape scowled at them both, but said nothing more.
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