Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Drought is (Apparently) Over...

...or to put it another way, my muse has finally come back home, busted in the door, dropped her bags in the livingroom and demanded to know what's for dinner. So here's what I'm cookin':


AUTHOR'S NOTES: Yes, I'm a bad writer. I should be finishing The Healer's Apprentice or Well, Done My Good and Faithful Servant or, for any Superman fans still out there, Love's Divine. But in case you haven't figured it out by now, I am my muse's bitch. She whips me, beats me and takes away my charge card at will. Hence my erratic output. On the other hand, she does like to fill out a universe. This story takes place between the events of The Healer's Apprentice and Well Done. The rest you can figure out from the text.


We can’t all go to Hogwarts you know.

Doesn’t mean we want to wind up making change on the Knight Bus.

We’re not squibs. Thank gods. We might not have much magic but we still have some.

We never eat in the Great Hall, where even Hagrid gets a regular seat. That’s because we’re higher than the house elves and lower than the students. Unless you were really paying attention you’d never know we were there. Which makes it that much easier for the faculty to pretend that we aren’t. Still, Filch doesn’t eat with them. We’re above Filch. I suppose that’s some comfort.

We do have our own staff room which doubles as a dining room. It’s 50-50 whether we sleep over or not. Some of us have quarters and some of us come in from Hogsmeade everyday. I think the Hogsmeade folks have a better lot. After so many years I’ve started to feel like the spinster aunt in the attic.

I did have greater ambitions than this. I had hoped to work at Gringotts. The goblins seem to prefer us. Outside of the curse-breakers they really don’t like to have much truck with humans. When they can’t avoid hiring us, they like to pick those of us who are just this side of squibs. Unfortunately, I was beat out by that witch from Leicester. I’d been certain I’d come in first! But she beat me by 2 points.

Yes we take OWLS. Not NEWTS though. After OWLS we take another year in our specialty and then we’re free to make our way. My specialty was Magical Administration and Accounting. I’ve always loved numbers. They have their own magic. You could manipulate them as dexterously as a wand and create effects just as powerful.

I liked that feeling of power. When you don’t have enough magic to get into Hogwarts you take every little advantage you can get.

But as I said I didn’t score high enough for Gringotts. Wretched goblins.

But I got lucky. Uriah Sands, who’d grown up in Hogsmeade, told me that Hogwarts needed a new bursar. The old one apparently had had too much to say about staffers spending habits as he paid the school’s bills and especially when he handed out the bags of galleons that constituted the faculty’s monthly salaries. After getting himself hexed – they suspect it was a potion in the coffee; he’d have known to duck if he’d seen a wand – he was persuaded to take early retirement and a replacement was needed. Uriah had been at Cornwall with me in the stonemasons’ course before moving on to become a fellow of the Pythagorean College so he owled me. We’ve always been friends.

It was manna from heaven.

The interview was nerve-wracking but I survived – and even impressed the Deputy Headmistress with my no-nonsense attitude, which happily mirrored her own. The Headmaster was the final arbiter though. How I survived that audience I’ll never know. He is as fey as Minerva McGonagall is practical. He gives the impression of not knowing a knut from a Muggle nickel and seeming to believe that the castle runs on air. Of course it doesn’t. Even if the elves are all but enslaved to the school, there are still salaries to pay; storerooms to fill; plumbing, stone and windows to maintain. Somebody has to know when to order classroom equipment, medical supplies, and replacement Quidditch brooms. Somebody has to reconcile the accounts when the faculty overspends their budgets. No, it’s not transfiguration, or “foolish wand waving” or a “simmering cauldron.” But it keeps the candles lit and somebody has to pay attention to these things. Magic can’t do everything you know. I suspect the Headmaster knows this but likes to pretend he doesn’t. It makes it easier to play innocent with me when I have to negotiate with a creditor thanks to some extravagance of his or provide cover when the Board of Governors complains about an expense. If I never have to be in the same room as the oily blonde slick known as Lucius Malfoy it will be too soon!

But I don’t care about the Headmaster’s peccadilloes. He could dance on the ceiling with Peeves and charge tickets for all I care. It’d probably be a great fund-raiser if he did and maybe I’ll casually drop in conversation the next time we meet to do the budgets. For now though, it’s all about pleasing him. Keeping him happy is a small price to pay for the security of employment at Hogwarts. Other than Gringotts’ there’s no safer place to be. I have free room and board, which – if I watch my sickles – leaves me with plenty of money to salt away.

I can even to splurge on the occasional treat. I prefer to indulge in a little shopping in Diagon Alley or visit a day spa in the lush, green serenity of Mint Alley. But Uriah has been pressuring me to spend time with him in Hogsmeade. His parents still live there on their tidy little farm with the snug house. Uriah’s father was a stonemason too. Uriah Sr. built the house so it’ll take an attack from You-Know-Who himself to bring it down. I know what Uriah wants. And I should accept. What are the chances that I’ll do better?

And yet…

The thing none of the students or faculty ever say about Cornwall is that it’s the last refuge of diminished expectations. If Muggles have their Harvards and vocational schools, the wizard world has Hogwarts and Cornwall. Money never stops one from going to Hogwarts. I should know. Every year, I dip into the school’s treasury for the scholarship students myself. Always under Dumbledore’s orders of course. As I said we’re never allowed into the Great Hall to eat but we’re allowed to watch the Start of Year Feast and the Sorting Ceremony. Why we’re not allowed to stand unobtrusively along the walls and observe I’ll never know. Perhaps they fear we’ll leach the magic from the room. Perhaps they think the envy and frustration will finally get the better of us and we’ll pounce on the little First Years like vampires, sinking our teeth into their tender little necks and sucking the magic out of them. Ha. If only…No it’s not money that keeps students out of Hogwarts. It’s magical power levels. I and my kind are simply not good enough to enroll here. Full stop. Perhaps we were at one point, generations back along our family lines. But somewhere along the way, the magic started diminishing, decade after decade until, unlike grandpa who got into Hogwarts by the skin of his teeth, we are simply barred. That’s the story of my family anyway.

So we never say it out loud at Cornwall. Why? It depends. Cornwall students come in two flavors: those from families like mine where the magic is slowly leaking away and those from families of squibs whose magic is finally renewing itself. That is, some students come from families that are on the way up the ladder and others come from families that are on the way down. You’d think we could meet civilly somewhere in the middle. Instead the ones on the way down look down upon the ones on the way up. Not that I feel that way about Uriah. I’ve never had a truer friend. But his mother and his grandparents on both sides are squibs. And my mother made it clear the day we finally accepted that the Hogwarts letter was never going to come that I had a responsibility to marry as well as I could. That means finding someone stronger than me magically. And Uriah is strong. He’s a Pythagorean Fellow for goodness’ sakes. And although membership depends more on technical competence and mystical knowledge more than raw magic, it’s still prestigious.

But he’s not THAT much stronger than I. And a stonemason could never compare to a potions master.

Yes, I know, he’s completely out of my sphere. Even more than the Headmaster he looks like a mage from the dark ages, still basking in the afterglow left by Merlin’s departure. He could be a magical Mordred himself. He’s cutting and cruel and an absolute terror to children and colleagues alike. But the power ripples off him in waves. I can feel it prickling along my skin when I come into the Headmaster’s office and he’s still there. For all his surliness, they are close, he and the Headmaster.

He has no lover in Hogsmeade. Or if he has I haven’t heard of it. And I’ve kept watch. I’ve discreetly asked around. Never directly myself of course. Even though Uriah travels often and his parents are often overloaded with work on the farm, it’s just too risky. I can’t be caught. I can’t even be seen.

Because as I said, he’s out of my league.

If he has needs, he’s getting them met in Diagon Alley, although with his dark power I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Knockturn Alley. I don’t care. No I do care. If he’s trolling Knockturn Alley for his pleasures he won’t be able to do it forever. No matter how much he hates it, he’s still a teacher and can’t afford to let himself be seen as morally corrupt. From what I hear about his past, he can’t afford another mistake. In fact it’s his past that opens the door for me. If he truly was, as they say, a follower of You-Know-Who, it doesn’t matter that he switched sides and was pardoned. No decent witch of his class will have him. Otherwise he’d be married already. Because I’ve seen the way the other witches look at him, the female faculty members and the women in Hogsmeade. They don’t let him know they’re doing it but they look all the same. He’s magnetic. And he has no more control over it than he does over the color of his eyes. Clearly, one of them would have made a move after all these years if they weren’t afraid of being tarred by his reputation.

Yes, I know magnets repel as well as attract. But a determined woman with a critical need and a persistent attitude wouldn’t let that stop her. It’s snobbishness, plain and simple, that has kept him alone.

Well I can’t afford to have that kind of pride.

Even if I’d had it before, Cornwall would have beaten it out of me. It’s not that the teachers are cruel. In fact, I think they coddle us a little too much. They’re oh so eager to remind us that we’re all equal, that it’s the mage’s spirit and not his or her magic that counts. Well of course they’re lying – with good intentions but still lying. That’s not how the wizard world works. After all, not even Cornwall admits squibs. And while Hogwarts shelters in a powerfully warded castle fortress as students arrive on their dedicated train line, Cornwall students occupy a modest manor house in the shadow of the ruins of Tintagel and make their way there as best they can by portkey, floo, or even Muggle transport. It’s only the first years who take the Knight bus. Once they’ve had a year for the naivety to wash off, they follow the manner of the older students who take the Knight bus only when they have to and only at night. It’s bad enough that we have to spend five years scrabbling around the remains of Camelot dreaming of a glory our families will never have or will never have again. But the Knight Bus is just too much. We may not have gotten into Hogwarts but none of us wanted to become Stan Shunpike.

Uriah never seemed to care though. He’s always been too laid back for his own good. Truthfully, he really shouldn’t be wasting his time with me. He doesn’t have to. He’s a Pythagorean Fellow. It’s not a Hogwarts certificate but it’s close enough without actually having attended. There’s a certain delicacy in the magic it takes to erect stone buildings, a certain subtlety, believe it or not. Not every wizard can master it. Those who do are quite respected. Still, I never see him casting a wandering eye over the seventh year girls when he comes for his annual inspection of Hogwarts’ foundations. He only ever seems to have eyes for me.

Such a romantic.

When he comes he always manages to meet me for lunch. And always before he goes he manages to get me to his parents’ house for dinner. His parents’ house is so…different. They’re no richer than my family, yet somehow they manage to be…happy…

I fear I will never understand Uriah.

But the sour lines on Severus Snape’s face striking face bespeak of anger; resentment; deprivation; and pain. Not just of dark, nefarious deeds but of scrabbling for far too much although equipped with far too little. The grinding frustration of years of laboring under scarcities too big crammed into rooms too small.

Him I understand.

So forgive me Uriah but I have to try. Perhaps you won’t have to. But if you never have to that means I’ve failed and I don’t intend to fail. Some needs are basic: the need for food and rest; the need for respectability and sex. The last two are the hardest to find to any satisfaction. And for this man, they’re nigh on impossible. Good. That means he’ll need me. I’m not a Hogwarts girl but then he was never going to get that anyway. And he’s too proud to be with a squib or a Muggle, not openly, not for any reason other than physical gratification, to scratch an itch. I’ll let him scratch and I’ll keep him from looking like a letcher while he does it. After all, that’s what wives are for isn’t it?

Oh yes, he’ll resist. But I’m willing to wait. And negotiate. I took a whole course on it. It was taught by a Gringott’s goblin so I learned from the best.

What’s his alternative? Prey on the seventh years? I’ve seen his eyes wander more than once to a girl in his own house. I’ve heard the faculty talking. She’s one of his favorites – apparently innocently because the faculty would never be able to sit on such a bombshell. I don’t need their corroboration though because I know two things. First, he worships the Headmaster so he’d fear to lose his trust. Second, he’s too cunning to court the headmaster’s wrath. Add in the fact that he can’t make a habit of going to Knockturn Alley and that leaves me – just a few floors above his dungeon and with a fireplace connected to the castle’s internal floo network.

Oh yes, I’ll wait as he winds himself up tighter and tighter. And I’ll look good while I’m doing it. The epitome of respectability. That was the whole point of the charitable witches and wizards who put up the donations that established Cornwall back in 1628. They had to do something with the children who had just enough magic to avoid being called squibs but not enough to go to Hogwarts. They needed to be disciplined, taught a trade, socially groomed on how to properly relate to their betters. They needed respectability.

I can’t do a simple wingardium leviosa but damned if I aren’t respectable.

Don’t hate me Uriah.

You of all people should understand.

You were at Cornwall too.

1 comment:

Cattrix said...

I had read this on Fanfic.net and you are such a good writer. I am begging you to finish this.
Best Regards