The students shuffled back to their dormitories the next morning before breakfast, which was a very subdued affair. The gray, gloomy sky reflected the castle’s gray, gloomy mood. No one, students or staff, appeared to have slept. Clio would have liked to nap in a cozy chair by the fire all day, but had essays to grade. On top of that, Dumbledore summoned all staff to a meeting that afternoon on the topic of security.
"With some help from Professor Flitwick, I will be renewing the protective charms around the castle today. Professor Callimachus, would you be so kind as to lay some defensive runes over the entrances to the castle to add an extra layer of protection, Mr. Filch can show you around."
He didn't sound like he was asking, so Clio nodded to Filch, who looked especially dour. He grudgingly bobbed his head in return.
"And everyone needs to keep a watchful eye out for Harry Potter from now on, inside the halls as well as out on the grounds. He should not be going out after dark."
"What will we do about evening quidditch practice?" Professor McGonagall asked. "Potter won't want to give that up." Clio suspected that she was just as concerned about Gryffindor 's fast approaching match with Slytherin as the students.
"Surely quidditch isn't as important as Potter's safety," Snape said silkily from his usual spot in the corner.
Dumbledore sighed. "Perhaps an alternative can be worked out, but in the meantime you should have a talk with him."
"Yes, you're right, of course." McGonagall said with a shake of her head, aghast at her cutthroat thoughts. Snape's eyes gleamed, all the smile he needed.
Clio spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the castle from end to end with Flich and his malevolent cat, using her wand to draw swirling combinations of Algiz, Eihwaz and Isa around the many doors. He watched skeptically as she repeated the incantations that bound the protective runes to wood and stone.
“How long do you intend to go on mumbling to yourself?” he grumbled, earning a glare so fierce that he shut his mouth with a hard click of his teeth. His interruption having nullified the spell, she started from the beginning, shooting him a look that dared him to disturb her again. He didn't, but Mrs. Norris flicked her tail.
They had nothing to say to each other in between doorways, until Clio remembered Dumbledore having mentioned that Filch was responsible for restoring the Fat Lady's portrait.
“So, how’s the Fat Lady?” she asked.
He looked at her doubtfully before responding, "Slashed to ribbons. I won't be able to start on her until we're done with this nonsense. You can't just wave your wand and fix a centuries old painting like that."
Clio nodded. "I imagine it’s a long process."
He snorted. "First, I have to find the right thread to stitch the canvas, and then the right medium to fill in the details."
They paused before another door, this one used by the house-elves working in the kitchen. Clio drew and munbled, mumbled and drew.
"How will the elves get in and out, if this actually works?" Filch demanded when she was done.
"It's not designed to keep everyone out, just anyone who means to cause harm."
He fell quiet once more and Clio, fresh out of conversation topics, didn't attempt to talk to him again other than to thank him for escorting her around the castle once they were through. He grunted one last time as he stalked off, presumably to get back to the real work that she had been keeping him from.
Although she never class with Potter, their schedules were such that Clio saw him in the halls quite frequently, and made a point of trailing at a respectful distance. She soon learned that he spent almost all his time with Granger and Ron Weasley. The Weasley girl seemed to trail the trio whenever she had a chance. At first Clio thought she was just trying to stay close to her big brother, but by following her eyes and subtle body language, worked out that she had a crush on Harry. He seemed oblivious; unless he noticed and was just callously ignoring her.
She bumped into Remus, Flitwick, McGonagall and Snape trailing Potter on occasion and never passed up an opportunity to fall into step with Remus. While he was always polite, he'd been closed off ever since Halloween night, and try as she might, she couldn't get him to open up again.
After several frustratingly restrained encounters, she was beginning to think that she'd only imagined the connection between them. A couple of days before her birthday, she fell in step with him along a windowed first floor hallway, glancing sideways to admire his profile. The thin afternoon light illuminated the silver hairs scattered throughout the honey gold and brown. His cheeks glinted silver as well.
"Growing a beard?" she asked, pointing to his cheek, tempted to run her fingers along the line of his jaw, but brushing her own cheek instead for emphasis.
"No," he said, rubbing his cheek and chin with one hand, rather self-consciously. "Hmm, I can see why you thought that."
"Just a little one o'clock shadow?"
"Shaving around the full moon is a bit of a pointless endeavor, I've found," he said tiredly.
"Oh, yeah. Sorry, I forgot it was that time of the month," she said, wanting to sink into the floor.
"That's all right," he said, turning the full force of his silvery eyes on her for a moment to study her face. His gentle smile made a tentative appearance, the first time she'd seen it in days. She smiled in return, warm relief flooding her body.
"Here's my stop," he said, nodding to the entrance to his classroom just across the hall, which the Granger- Potter-Weasley trio had just entered.
"Right," she said, realizing that she'd missed her stairway several yards back. "I'll see you later, then?"
He nodded, still smiling as he strolled through the door.
That’s odd, she thought, dashing upstairs to her next class. Granger has Runes with me, now.
The weather worsened from gray and still to gray and blustery to, finally, gray and stormy. Towards the end of the week, a truly spectacular thunderstorm broke out. Clio led the photography club up to the owlry to try their hands at shooting long exposures of the lightning struck sky, and of the owls spreading their wings and snapping their beaks at the storm.
Later, in the staffroom, she caught Remus off guard. He was standing and gazing thoughtfully out one tall window, while framed by another. Periodic lightning strikes threw his careworn face into sharp relief.
"Don't move," she said, pulling her camera from her bag. He froze like a statue, and she smiled. "Okay, you don't have to stand perfectly still, but stay in that spot. The lighting is perfect," she said, then added, "please?" He responded by turning slowly to look at her, smiling with his eyes but not his mouth. Maybe it was just a trick of the light and not the approaching full moon, but she saw a bit of wolf in his face. She triggered the shutter and the camera whirred as he gazed at her, then turned again to look out the window. The lighting flashed on, then off. The shutter closed.
"Thank you," she said.
"For letting you take my picture?" he asked.
"It's going to be an excellent picture," she said, joining him at the window. She smiled up at him during a blaze of white light, then turned to face the window when she couldn't stand the force of his eyes. They stood silently, side by side, watching the rain. Clio felt the warmth radiating from his body like a magnet, drawing her metal body closer.
"I'm sorry I won't be able to join you on your birthday," he said.
"That's okay," she said. "You could invite me over for a drink, sometime, instead," she added a moment later.
He didn't answer right away. Stupid, she thought, I’m misreading him.
"All right," he breathed at last. She felt all the weight lift from her body and dared to look at him again. Whatever he'd been about to say next was lost when the door opened and Professor Flitwick walked in. Instead, Remus turned back toward the window, appearing to be very interested in the storm.
"Missing Egypt, yet?" Flitwick asked, gesturing to the trees whipping in the wind outside.
"I'll take this over a sandstorm, any day," was her reply.
Clio spent most of her time in the lab that night helping the students adjust their printing techniques to make the most of the lightning flashes. By the time the last one left, there were just enough developing potions for her to make a few prints of her own. She was just stacking her batch of dry prints, Remus on top, when there was a knock at the door. Some intangible quality of the ambient light perfectly captured the care in his face, and the sadness in his eyes. A lightning flash periodically lit up the entire frame, so that it switched on and off, light to dark, at regular intervals.
"It's open!" she called. Snape slid into the room, dark eyes gleaming. He was obviously pleased about something.
"Looking forward to the Gryffindor-Slytherin match this Saturday?" he asked, in his most unnervingly soft voice.
"Yes," Clio said warily, waiting for the cutting sarcasm that must inevitably follow this seemingly innocent question.
"I'm sorry to report that you won't have the pleasure of watching Gryffindor fall to Slytherin, then."
"What? Oh, so you admit that Gryffindor is going to win?" she said.
"Slytherin won't be playing this weekend. I'm afraid we're still without a healthy seeker. You'll be playing Hufflepuff instead."
"Seriously? After two months." Clio rolled her eyes.
"Still sore," he answered.
"Huh. Seemed well enough in Runes the other day."
"Because your 'class' is as strenuous as playing quidditch."
"I know a faker when I see one," she grumbled. "Is that everything you wanted to share, or did you have another reason to bother me?" She leaned back against the counter, crossing her arms over her chest. His eyes, darting around the room, fell on the stack of photographs near her elbow.
"Interesting," he said. He edged around her to stare closely at the first one for a few seconds before raising it. "This is a remarkable image," he said. "Do you know what would make it even better?"
She waited for him to complete his thought, knowing that since Remus was involved he would have nothing nice to say. He held one long, thin hand over the left side of the image, completely covering the subject, so that the lightning-filled window was all that remained.
She was already smiling and shaking her head before he said, "Cut it off, right here." Clio laughed; a sharp bark from her belly.
"I'm not joking," he said, black eyes boring holes into hers.
"I know, that's why it's funny," she replied, though she was no longer laughing.
He frowned, revulsion etched on his face. He dropped the photograph, eyebrows and mouth shifting as if he were fighting with himself over what to say next. Clio watched him, arms folded. Finally, he tossed a folded scrap of parchment on to the counter and slunk out as smoothly as he had entered.
She waited, heart pounding, until the door had slid shut before picking up the scrap and unfolding it. Written in a tight, spidery script were several names:
Burn after reading, read the smaller script below the list. No sooner had Clio performed a memory charm than the scrap of paper burst spontaneously into flames. She dropped it in the sink and watched it disintegrate into ash.
The sky was black and the storm raged on when Clio woke the next morning to urgent pecking at her window. A sopping owl stool on the sill, a package gripped in its talons.
Today was her birthday! She threw open the window, letting the bird flutter over to the fire to shake out its waterlogged feathers. Nox snored on in her bed. The wet wrappings practically disintegrated in her hands, revealing two bottles of her favorite wine from Archie and Zain in Egypt. “Favorite” meant that she had actually listened as Archie related its entire history to her. Zain must have noticed that her eyes hadn’t glazed over; he was perceptive like that.
More presents waited downstairs. Charity and Hagrid exchanged a conspiratorial wink when she sat down at the staff table for breakfast. She didn’t notice because she was focused on the muggle CDs that had just arrived from Jenn.
"Clio, you should drink some of this," Charity said, sounding much too enthusiastic for such a dismal morning. She was pointing to Clio's mug, which held an especially black sludge today. Clio nodded, barely looking up.
"Here's the milk," said Hagrid, sliding the pitcher toward her.
"Thanks Hagrid," Clio said. Something at the table smelled very good; it was a rich, nutty smell. She breathed deeply, catching hints of spices that she couldn’t quite identify. "What's that smell? Do you smell that?" she asked.
"Smell what?" Charity asked innocently, then laughed out loud.
Clio looked at the steam rising from her mug, then picked it up and sniffed hesitantly. "Holy fucking shit!" She took a deeper whiff, "It's fresh! Where did you get it?" She asked took a sip without bothering to add milk, sighing in bliss.
"We ordered it through a catalog. Dumbledore let us set up monthly deliveries," Charity said.
"School’s payin,’ since it’s a ‘foodstuff’," Hagrid added.
"Seriously?" Clio was floored. It was one of the nicest birthday surprises she'd ever received; certainly not one she was expecting from people who she'd only know for a couple of months.
"Thanks, guys," she said, hugging them in turn. Hagrid delivered a spine-cracking bear hug that lifted her off of her feet. She walked to the middle of the table to thank Dumbledore once she’d got her breath back.
"You're welcome, Clio," the headmaster said warmly.
"Where's Remus?" Clio asked then, noticing his empty seat.
"He's not feeling himself," Dumbledore answered, his eyes twinkling. "Severus is taking his classes today."
"Really. That should be interesting," Clio said.
"Yes, indeed," Dumbledore responded, a strange glint in his eye.
Clio's birthday plans had changed significantly since Halloween. Instead of going out, they'd stay in. Charity had saved the unopened wine from the party that never happened, and the idea now was to put it to good use. Clio thought that if she drank enough, then she wouldn't think about Remus curled up alone in his office.
They each carried a bottle up to the astronomy tower a little after 10:00pm: Aurora and her husband, Pomona, Flitwick, Hagrid; more than half the staff, in all. Even Snape showed up. Clio produced a bottle of Archie's exquisitely dry Assyrtiko and passed glasses to everyone. They cast shields around the tower to keep the wind from tearing the drinks from their hands.
She took a sip and then held out her glass. "ΥΓΕΙΑ."
"Yamas," they responded, then drank, some grimacing at the acidity.
"Wow, that's strong," Charity said, smacking her lips. "It's got kind of an earthy aftertaste."
Clio nodded. "That's from Santorini's volcanic soil. Who wants seconds? I've got another bottle."
The full moon would have outshone the stars that night if the sky weren't clouded over, but it wasn't stargazing that they had in mind. Flitwick had come toting a large sack of fireworks, which he arranged in intricate patterns
“Touch any of these, and I will jinx your fingers off,” he threatened. Hagrid immediately hid his hands behind his back.
Clio had brought her music box. Snape drained his glass with a heavy sigh when Elphaba + Her Boyfriends poured forth.
"How did you describe her voice the other day?" Clio asked, refilling his glass, "Like a kneazle in heat?"
"Something like that," he said.
“Kneazles screech a bi' more,” said Hagrid.
The fireworks began at 11:00, accompanied by raucous whooping and cheering. The music transitioned to Fiendfyre, and drunken dancing began soon after. Snape refused to join in, shaking his head and folding his arms across his chest whenever anyone tried to pull him up from his leaning spot. Clio alternated between being pulled around in a circle by Hagrid and spinning and dipping Charity to the general amusement of all the males present.
"What was your objection to Fiendfyre, again?" she asked, too intoxicated to be bothered by the countless things about him that usually irritated her.
"Aside from their name?"
"Yeah, Fiendfyre would seem more appropriate for a Swedish black metal band," she said, nodding along to the entirely non-metal blend of accordion, organ, hurdy-gurdy and mandolin. "I think it's supposed to be ironic."
He scowled. "Everyone tries to be ironic, very few are successful."
She laughed. "Some day I will find a band that you like."
"I think that is highly unlikely," he said, sipping his drink.
"Care to place a wager?" she said, eyes flaring. His stony glare suggested that no, he wasn't interested; but he stroked his lips with one long hand, as if he was contemplating what would make an appropriate bet. "I know," she said, "If I can find a band that you like, then you have to go diving with me."
"That's it? That's your bet?" His eyes glittered in the glow of a distant lightning flash.
"Yep, that's it," she said. "For fun."
His lip curled. "Fine. And when you fail? What then?"
"What do you mean, 'when I fail'? There's no time limit on this bet. I have until, well, I suppose until one of us is dead," she said with her devious half-smile.
His face went blank. "That might come sooner than you think," he muttered icily.
Clio wanted to ask him what that was supposed to mean when Charity grabbed her arm and pulled her back into the dancing circle.
The party went on well after midnight, breaking up only once the thunderclaps began to drown out the music. Laying alone in her bed (which insisted on spinning around her), Remus was very much on Clio's mind. Despite all of the alcohol coursing through her blood, sleep was a long time coming.
All of the excitement Clio had had at watching her first Hogwarts quidditch match died when she woke up on Saturday morning with a pounding headache, and saw the rain lashing against the windows. She loved thunderstorms, just not when she was hungover and had to be outside. She dressed and whistled for Nox to come with her for a walk. The dog lifted her head just long enough to look at the rain-streaked window before curling back into a ball.
"Sorry, dog, you're going out to pee whether you want to or not," Clio said, throwing on her cloak and scooping the dog up in one arm. Nox squatted just outside the door, under the shelter of Clio's raised cloak, tucking her tail between her legs and raising one paw in supplication when she was done.
"You barely even got wet," she chastised the shivering dog as she pulled the door closed behind them to keep out the rain. Snape was just emerging from the dungeons for breakfast when Clio turned toward the main stairs.
"Great day for a quidditch match," he said with a sneer.
"I like the rain," she retorted. Something about his smooth-as-silk voice made her head throb more intensely.
"Enjoy yourself, then."
"Does that mean you won't be there?" she asked.
"I have no reason to be, since my team won't be playing," he replied.
"Well then, I will enjoy myself," she snapped, her temper threatening to get the better of her. That seemed to be exactly what he wanted, because he wore a smug little smirk as he continued on into the great hall.
The quidditch pitch was practically a swamp by the start of the match. The charm on Clio's cloak kept her body dry, but the wicked wind blew the rain sideways into her hood, so that her face soon stung from the force of the water. Charity carried a large yellow umbrella that kept threatening to lift off into the wind. The two witches clung to each other to keep from being pushed over as they ran to the quidditch stands. They found seats in the front row next to Professors McGonagall and Sprout. Charity and Pomona both wore bright yellow cloaks for Hufflepuff. McGonagall's was scarlet for Gryffindor, and Clio felt conspicuous in deep blue. She would have to go to Gladrags for a hat, scarf and gloves one of these days; perhaps they would have them in red and gold.
Gryffindor Lee Jordan sat nearby, using his post as color commentator to rant about the Slytherin team's cowardly decision to skip out of the match. McGonagall scolded him for his bias, but Clio laughed out loud. This earned her a stern glare from the assistant headmistress.
"I agree with him," Clio whispered.
"Oh, so do I," McGonagall admitted with a scowl. Clio glanced over her shoulder towards the color-coded students behind her. Most of the school had turned out despite the weather. The green-clad Slytherins didn't look so smug after being called cowards.
Dumbledore, Snape and Flitwick sat directly behind the four witches. Dumbledore looking cheerful in bright purple, apparently not minding that a small waterfall ran off the sodden end of his beard. Flitwick looked quite content inside a climate-controlled bubble. Snape was barely visible within the shadows of his black cloak.
"I thought you weren't coming out," Clio taunted.
"Oh, I convinced him," Dumbledore said cheerily.
Remus was absent, of course. Most likely still curled up in bed, she thought. She imagined curling up with him for a moment-
Charity bumped Clio with her elbow, passing her a flask of firewhiskey. The flask made several rounds around the group, remaining blessedly full on each circuit.
The players were soaked by the time Madam Hooch blew her starting whistle, which Clio could barely hear over the wind and thunder. Once the players leaped into the air on their brooms it became difficult to see anything, either.
"How much is the snitch worth again?" Clio asked, scanning the sky through her binoculars for the tiny winged ball.
"150 points," Charity said, then jumped up screaming as one of the Hufflepuff chasers scored. "You're not even paying attention," she complained, as Clio continued to scan the sky for the snitch.
"Until they get to 150 it doesn't really matter what the chasers are doing," Clio said. "Oh shit! Potter almost took a bludger to the head."
"That's not the point! The chasers make it exciting," Charity argued.
"The bludgers are cool," Clio countered. "Let me know when either team gets to 100."
Clio had only barely caught a flash of the snitch when the first lightning struck. Madam Hooch blew her whistle for a time out, and the players all splashed to the ground, kicking up muddy water. Clio was just taking another swig of the firewhiskey when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned and found herself facing Granger, whose hair was not bushing out for once, but flattened against her head from the rain.
"Professor Calli! I was just curious, how do you keep the rain off your cloak?"
Clio swallowed the alcohol, suppressing a cough as it ran the wrong way down her throat. "Tap it once with your wand and say impervius," she said.
“Yep,” she said, as Charity thumped her on the back.
"Right. Got it, thanks!" the girl called over her shoulder, running out to the pitch where the Gryffindor team was huddled. Curious, Clio watched through the binoculars as Granger tapped Potter's glasses with her wand. Gryffindor's keeper looked so happy that he might throw himself on her.
"Got it the first time, no practice," Clio said to Charity, who shook her head and whistled.
"Tsk, tsk, Professor Sprout, doesn't that sound like interference with the match?" Snape's voice oozed out from the depths of his cloak, now leaned in close behind them.
"You've no right to point fingers there, Severus," McGonagall said testily.
"I didn't hear interference, I heard a professor instructing a student who was not directly involved," Pomona said, taking another slug from the flask. Clio turned her head slightly and pretended to scratch an itch on her cheek with her middle finger.
The time out ended and the players leapt back into the air. Clio was still having no luck spotting the snitch, and began cutting back and forth between the seekers and goals. Gryffindor was 50 points up, and she hoped that the snitch would be caught sooner rather than later. Hufflepuff 's seeker had just gone racing after a tiny gold speck when Clio felt a wave of ice hit her belly. This wasn't from the wind. Charity screamed, pointing toward the field, and Clio swung the binoculars down and right into a seething mass of grey and black. Dementors, dozens of them, had congregated on the pitch.
She jumped to her feet, pulled her wand from a hidden pocket and sent Domino racing across the field with an exhilarated bark. McGonagall's patronus, a large cat, sprung out right on the border collie's tail. Clio felt robes brush against her neck and shoulder, and saw Dumbledore leap to the ground in a flash of purple. He was moving faster than seemed humanly possible, projecting a silvery phoenix that flew circles around the dementors.
A collective gasp went up from the students high up in the stands. Everyone looked up. Time stretched out as Potter plummeted from his broom. Only Dumbledore seemed to be moving at regular speed. He pointed to Harry with his wand, and the rules of gravity no longer applied. The boy's fall slowed and Clio thought his descent might stop altogether; until he landed on the spongy ground with a sickening thud and splash of mud. A great splintering crash followed immediately as his broom, which had continued moving without him, was pulverized by the whomping willow. McGonagall was the second to run down to the field, with Clio and the rest of the staff following behind.
Clio's head spun as she ran, looking out for the dementors. They had all fled, chased away by a veritable menagerie of patronses. Chaos reigned. The entire Gryffindor house stormed the field, and McGonagall attempted to shoo them inside. Meanwhile, Dumbledore conjured a stretcher for Harry and floated him toward the castle. He was trailed by the Gryffindor team, Granger, Weasley and the Hufflepuff seeker, who tried repeatedly to hand the snitch to Harry despite his unconscious state.
"Congratulations Professor Sprout, Hufflepuff has won the match," Snape said. Pomona stared at him for a moment, white-faced, before turning and shouting for her house to follow her inside. Clio hung around the field, helping to herd in the stragglers. Domino loped long slow circles around her until she reached the door to the castle; where he charged her at full speed, jumped into her arms and dissolved.
Once inside, Charity offered her a piece of chocolate. Clio didn't realize how shaken up she was until she reached for it and saw her hand trembling.
"Thanks, I never can remember to pack any," she said.
"Well, who could have expected the dementors to show up at the quidditch match?" Charity asked in a small voice.
Clio shook her head, taking a bite of the candy and letting it dissolve on her tongue. "I bet the Ministry will hear it from Dumbledore. Maybe he'll be able to get rid of them."
"I wouldn't bet on it, not with Black still on the loose."
Charity shook her damp curls, "The Ministry isn't known for common sense. Hey, why don't you come on over to my office, I have a lesson plan on pop culture I want to run by you."
"Maybe later," Clio said, glancing toward the stairs, "I have some research I need to do."
"Werewolves?" Charity whispered, following her gaze.
"No, for class. I really need to go to the library. What about after dinner?"
"Fine, be that way," Charity pouted.
"You don't believe me?" Although Charity had guessed wrong on the topic, she was right that it wasn't for class.
"It doesn't matter. I'll see you at dinner," Charity sighed, turning and walking toward her office.
Clio paused on the second floor, tempted to wander by Remus' office but ultimately deciding that it was better to leave him be until he felt up to venturing out on his own. She continued to the library and, the names from Snape's list burning in her mind, went straight to the Daily Prophet archives to begin her search.
Clio spent most of that foul weekend poring through the Hogwarts archives. After finding the Prophet's coverage of the wizarding war lacking in depth, she moved on to the alternative press. From what little she'd previously seen of The Quibbler, she'd dismissed it as a glorified supermarket tabloid aimed at the tinfoil-helmet-wearing crowd. However, it's coverage of murders and disappearances from the 1970s were both in-depth and fascinating. If only half of its contents were true, than the Prophet was hiding so much as to be complicit with Voldemort's regime.
Her search overall was both fruitful and frustrating. Fruitful in that she learned a great deal about the First Wizarding War and Death Eaters, originally called the Knights of Walpurgis; frustrating in that the names Snape had given her led in circles, never connecting with her grandfather. The closest she came to him was confirming that Voldemort had vigorously recruited ministry employees throughout his rise to power, ruthlessly eliminating any who refused him – most often leaving the dirty work to another, but sometimes carrying out the deed himself.
Snape was right about one thing: two of the Death Eaters on the list, Dolohov and Rookwood, were imprisoned in Azkaban and the only way to learn more would be to talk to them directly. Of all the names on the list, Rookwood drew her attention. He worked for the Ministry, had spied for Voldemort there, and was responsible for multiple murders. For the time being, however, she could do no more.
In the meantime, she scribbled a note in runes to the one contact she had in the British press, and sent it out with one of the school's barn owls. He was very annoyed to be rousted from the owlry on such a blustery day, even after she promised him a treat on his return.
The storm blew itself out by Monday afternoon, but the temperature had dropped, sending a cruel reminder that winter was on it's way. Clio had just sat down in the staffroom with a hot cup of coffee and fresh stack of translations to grade when Snape skulked in with the Daily Prophet tucked under one arm. Clio barely looked up as he settled into his favorite low arm chair. She kicked off her boots and tucked her feet under her on her favorite soft, velvety chair. The warmth emanating from the coffee and crackling fire made up for the chill seeping in from outdoors and from his countenance.
"Just make yourself at home," he said, frowning at her stockinged feet.
"They're clean," she muttered, her quill flying over the essay in front of her. "Hey, I looked up a couple of those names-"
"I have no idea what you're talking about," he said coldly.
"Right, never mind, then," she sighed, returning to her grading. He said nothing else, and for a while the only sounds in the room were the occasional snap of a log in the fireplace, the scratching of her quill, and the soft clinking of her coffee cup as she lifted and lowered it to and from her mouth. When she heard the rasping sound of a second quill, she glanced over at him and noticed him scribbling into the paper. Curiosity eventually won out.
"Is that the puzzle page?" she asked.
"Where else would I be writing in the paper?" he answered dully.
"The personals? 'Missed Connections?' 'Post Confessions?'" she asked. "They're fun to read aloud. Readers theater style."
His eyes glittered at her for a moment before returning to the puzzle he was working on, and the room was quiet once more. The silence lasted for maybe a minute before he asked, "Yes?"
"I didn't say anything."
"You're thinking of asking something," he said.
"How do you know?"
"What is it?"
"What is what?" Clio said, taking another sip of coffee.
"Your question," he answered crossly.
"Oh, that. Are you working on the crossword or the rune puzzle?"
"I finished the crossword this morning."
"I know the guy who writes the rune puzzles. Vincent-"
"Lisica. Yes, a former student. Not skilled at potions, I'm afraid."
"Oh yes, I forget how old you are sometimes," she said, her mouth twisting up on one side. "That doesn't surprise me, about the potions."
"His puzzles could be improved as well, I'm done with this one already."
"I'll be sure to let him know he should make them more difficult, the next time I speak to him," she said, wondering whether Vincent had received her note.
Their fragile conviviality ended abruptly when the door to the staffroom opened, and Remus walked in, looked around, spied both of them, and strode up to Snape, nodding to Clio in passing.
"Hello, Severus," he sighed. "I've just been informed by some of my students that you assigned them an essay on werewolves when you filled in last week."
Clio had been taking another sip of coffee when she heard this. She dropped her cup in her lap and had to evanesco the coffee to keep it from soaking her pants.
"You didn't leave any record of what you'd covered, so I simply chose the most logical lesson topic," Snape answered haughtily. "It seemed only fitting that it coincide with the full moon."
"You know very well that I left notes on hinkypunks for you."
"I must have missed them."
"I also left a hinkypunk in a glass box in the classroom. Didn't you see it?"
"Ahh, that's what that was for. I thought perhaps you'd gotten yourself a pet."
"From now on, stay out of my classroom."
"I was only there to begin with at the Headmaster's request."
"I've spoken to Dumbledore already, you won't be asked to fill in, again." This seemed to enrage Snape. Clio thought his head might explode, but instead he responded in his smoothest, most maddeningly icy voice yet.
"You don't intend to skip werewolves forever year, do you? Sooner or later you're going to have to get around to them, and then what will you do?"
A muscle jumped in Remus' jaw. "Since I'm the resident expert on that topic, how and when it's taught should be left up to me."
Clio's mouth turned up as he stalked back toward the door. He paused as he passed by again, acknowledging her with a polite, "Professor Callimachus," before walking out. Clio pulled on her boots, gathered her papers , and stood abruptly to leave.
"And there you go, off to console him," Snape scoffed at her.
"Why do you have to be such an asshole?" she snapped, then turned and strode out before he could respond. Remus had a substantial lead on her, and she had to run to catch him.
"Hey," she called. He turned back, slowing once he saw that she was alone. He looked a bit haggard, but his eyes shone bright.
"How was your birthday?" he asked.
"Ehh," she shrugged. "All right. Listen, I need to collect wood from the forest for amulets, and I figure you must know your way around..."
"Of course I'll go with you. That's what you're asking, isn't it?" he said.
"This Saturday?" she asked, heart racing. "If you're not too busy."
He smiled. "I think I can fit it in," he replied, "especially considering you've already given up two of your Saturdays to help me."
Vincent's response arrived the next day. After going on at length about how limited the paper's archives were, how reluctant the older employees would be to talk to him, how dangerous it would be to try and get them to talk, why she should just move on with her life, and warning her repeatedly not to get her hopes up, he said that he would see what he could dig up. He signed his note with the same little fox doodle that he always used, then added:
P.S. When are you going to meet me for a drink? You can't make the excuse that it's too far, like you did when you were in Egypt.
Clio's hastily scribbled reply consisted of:
Thanks! You're the best. I promise to get together with you for a friendly drink over the Christmas holidays.
P.S. Professor Snape says to make the puzzle harder. If you stump him I will buy you dinner.
Clio paid attention whenever she saw Snape with the paper after that, but if he found the puzzles any more difficult he didn't let on.
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