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Raven Black by shadowycat [Reviews - 4]

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Raven Black

In one of the Dark Lord’s classier hideouts…

The beauteous Bellatrix Black sashayed down the hall, paused artistically by a curtained alcove, and tossed her head alluringly. A self-satisfied smile hugged the double curves of her luscious lips as she pulled back the curtain and gazed at the rather prim looking old woman in the portrait that hung behind it. Fluffing her raven hair with an alabaster hand, she struck a pose and began her usual evening recitation of her favorite ritual verse.

“Portrait hanging on my wall, who’s the best Hot Toddy maker of them all?” she asked with the satisfaction of one who already knows the answer…Why, you are my dear, a Black is always the best, as we know so well.

Unfortunately for Bella, this wasn’t a usual day. Instead of giving the same comforting and expected answer, the portrait put her hands on her hips and began to screech.

“It would still be you, Bellatrix if you’d stuck to the Black Family Hot Toddy recipe, tried, true, and famous for eons, but oh, no, you had to experiment. You’re always sure that you know better than anyone else aren’t you, missy? You’ve disgraced the honorable name of Black. I can hardly stand to look at you, girl.”

Bella’s mouth fell open, and she simply stared at the portrait in dumbfounded shock. She’d always been the best! It was expected. It was a given. It was a fact of life. It just…was. Whatever could have happened? She was reasonably certain that Hell hadn’t frozen over because none of the demons she knew were complaining of frostbite, but clearly something catastrophic had occurred. The portrait continued on with its lecture at full volume, and suddenly something it said penetrated Bella’s shocked daze.

“What? What did you say?” she demanded angrily. She must have heard wrong.

The portrait put a hand on one hip and began to shake a boney finger in Bella’s face. “I said that it’s the Dark Lord’s Potions master who holds the title of top Toddy maker now, and what the heck are you going to do about it, hmmm? He’s a no account little upstart with no family or connections worth mentioning, while you are a Black! So get out there and uphold the family honor girl or we’ll have to have you disowned, disemboweled, discredited, disfig…”

Bella pulled the curtain closed and fumed. Disgusting! How could this have happened? She was always the best Hot Toddy maker. Her Hot Toddy had never failed to soothe the Dark Lord. How could anyone possibly do better? She tossed her hair angrily. This simply would not do.

Just then the door to the kitchen opened and Peter Pettigrew, the Dark Lord’s toady, came through it balancing a gleaming glass of Toddy on a silver tray.

Bella narrowed her eyes and snatched the glass from the tray as he came near. Then she peered into its warm creamy depths suspiciously. Could this possibly be the offending libation? She rather thought it was, particularly when Pettigrew began to whine.

“What do you think you’re doing grabbing the Dark Lord’s Toddy like that? You’ll get in trouble if you don’t put it back. I’ll tell!”

Ignoring the toady, Bella took a sip of Toddy. Damn! It was good!! No, not just good. It was better!! This wouldn’t do at all. Carefully she took another sip, trying to divine what made the Toddy so delicious. Was that Brandy? Wine? Nutmeg? A dash of pickled Herring? Why couldn’t she be sure? Well, there was only one thing to be done. The Potions master would have to be killed. Then she could ransack his room and find the recipe for this delicious concoction.

She took another sip and then another while the toady stood and blubbered. Finally, Pettigrew reached out and snatched the empty glass from her hand as she was vainly trying to extract the very last drop with her tongue.

“Now you’ve done it! You drank it all! The Dark Lord will be furious!” He couldn’t suppress a smirk; honestly he didn’t really try very hard.

Grabbing Pettigrew by the throat, Bella pushed her wand firmly beneath his chins and watched with satisfaction as the smirk vanished to be replaced by a much more appropriate look of panic.

“I drank it? Nonsense,” she purred as she took the glass from his hand once more, dropped it, and listened to the tinkling sound as it shattered on the stones of the hallway floor. “You tripped and spilled the Toddy. You really are horribly clumsy for a minion, you know.”

Pettigrew’s eyes bulged in his red face. “That’s a lie!” he exclaimed indignantly.

Bella’s nasty smile widened. “Which of us do you think he’ll believe? Hmmm?”

Pettigrew’s pasty face got even pastier. “I’ll be beaten.”

“Well, that certainly is preferable to being flayed alive and used as a wall hanging, isn’t it? These halls are far too drafty. Besides, if you scamper back to the Potions master right now, I’ll bet he’ll give you a second glass for the Master. He wouldn’t want to be beaten either, I’m sure. If you hurry, our Lord wouldn’t even have to know about your…mishap.”

Pettigrew nodded in agreement as Bella removed her wand from his throat. Then he looked at her suspiciously. It wasn’t like Bella to be helpful. “Why are you being so kind, Mistress Bella?” he squeaked, curiosity overwhelming good sense.

Bella smiled evilly. “I have a little job for you, Toady. After you deliver the Dark Lord’s Toddy, come and see me, and we’ll discuss it.”

In the Forbidden Forest…

Snape took a deep breath and let it out in a satisfied sigh. It felt good to be out in the forest collecting potions ingredients instead of being cooped up in the dungeon slaving over a hot cauldron. How suspiciously thoughtful of Bellatrix for allowing him the time off, even if she did insist on having the Dark Lord’s toady accompany him. What on earth was she up to?

Snape narrowed his eyes and watched as Pettigrew tromped obliviously through a nasty patch of poison styflower. He’d have hives as big as balloons by mid-afternoon if he didn’t rub a bit of essence of mugwort on his skin, and wouldn’t that be a shame, the cretin. Oh, well. Snape shrugged. It wasn’t his problem. He knew better than to walk through poison styflower. As for Bellatrix, he’d figure out what she was up to eventually.

Spotting a large patch of lovage, Snape bent over to harvest it. A good confusing draught was always of value and his stock of ingredients was running a tad low. Just as he reached for the last clump, he found Pettigrew’s big ugly feet standing in the middle of it.

“Pettigrew, you twit! Get off the lovage! I need that to replenish my stock!” exclaimed Snape in annoyance.

He looked up into Pettigrew’s leering face and found the toady’s wand aimed squarely at his heart. “You won’t need anything where you’re going, Snape,” said Pettigrew.

“Oh, dear. Is this where I’m supposed to wail and gnash my teeth before pleading for my life?” asked Snape blandly.

Pettigrew shrugged. “I’d certainly enjoy a good grovel, but it won’t do you any good. I have my orders. You’re a dead man, Snape.”

“Really? How unfortunate for me.”

Before Pettigrew’s leer even faded from his face, Snape pulled his wand up and blasted the toady off his feet. The next thing the officious little man knew, he was lying flat on his back with Snape’s knee in his chest and a wand jammed tightly under his second chin.

“I like a good grovel, myself,” purred Snape. “Care to indulge me?”

Pettigrew began to blubber. Why did all the big, powerful wizards abuse him so shamefully? He was just trying to be the best darned toady he could. It wasn’t fair!

Then he began to wail in earnest. “Oh, please don’t kill me! I won’t tell anyone you’re still alive. I’ll just pretend I did my job competently for a change. You can run off and live a life in hiding somewhere. I won’t tell!!! I Promise!!!”

Snape jammed his wand more tightly into the flaccid flesh and snarled. “Oh, for Merlin’s sake! I take it back! Even your groveling is pitifully irritating. Just tell me why Bellatrix wanted to have me killed.”

Pettigrew sniffled sloppily. “Because she’s jealous! She was always the Dark Lord’s top Toddy maker until you came along.”

Ah, so that was it. Well, Bella would simply have to get used to being second best. He was top Toddy maker and that was all there was to it. In the meantime, he had to deal with this sniveling toad.

“Well, at least I get to be rid of you, Pettigrew. Say good-bye, Toady.”

Suddenly there was a loud bang and a burst of bright light. Snape felt Pettigrew’s body shrink beneath his knee and before he could utter a word, a small furry form had scampered off into the shrubbery leaving a fading trail of slime behind.

Snape stood, dusted off the knees of his trousers, and considered his situation. Bella tried to have him killed. If he returned to the Dark Lord’s lair, she’d likely just keep on trying. There was nothing worse than a woman supplanted as top Toddy maker. On the other hand, he could run for it. Pettigrew was likely to do just as he said he would when groveling for his pitiful life. If he returned and told Bella that he’d failed, she’d hurt him…badly, so it was much more likely that he’d lie. He’d probably be sufficiently motivated to make it really good one. It was one of the few things the toady was truly proficient at, after all.

Snape frowned. What other choice did he have anyway? Go back to near certain assassination or strike out on his own to freedom. Not a particularly difficult choice when phrased that way. So Snape slid his wand into his pocket, lifted his collection bag onto a shoulder and struck off deeper into the forest humming a hopeful tune.

A Castle deep in the Forest…

Snape came out of the trees onto a broad expanse of lawn and looked up and up and up at a stone castle gleaming in the last of the evening sunshine. What a surprise to find such an impressive place so deep in the woods. Maybe they’d give him a bed for the night. It would certainly beat sleeping under a tree or in a convenient gully.

He began to wander along the castle wall until he finally came to a door. It wasn’t a very big door, considering the size of the castle, but then a place this size probably had lots of doors, and he was getting tired of walking.

He knocked. When no one answered, he tried the knob. It turned easily in his hand, so he opened the door and walked in. He found himself in a kitchen full of gleaming pots and pans. Dried herbs hung from the ceiling and a pot of something wonderful sat simmering on the hearth.

As he took a deep breath of the stew’s tantalizing fragrance, Snape’s stomach began to gnaw at him, demanding to be fed. He hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, hours and hours ago now, and he was suddenly ravenous. Since there didn’t seem to be anyone around to ask, and he didn’t really want to take the chance that they’d say no anyway, he grabbed a handy bowl, dished up some stew and wolfed it down with abandon. Damn but it was good!

When he finished, he realized with a sigh that he was exhausted. Defending your life against an idiot with a wand and tramping through miles of briar filled woods could really take it out of a man. Maybe he could just take a few minutes to rest his eyes before he went on into the castle and found whoever lived here. So he folded his arms on the table top, laid his head on them and drifted off to dreamland without a second thought.

When he opened his eyes again, he found himself surrounded. Seven tiny pairs of eyes stared into his over the top of the table. Sitting up abruptly, he saw seven dishcloth wearing house-elves watching him warily. Actually, six of them wore dishcloths and watched him warily. The seventh, wearing an odd assortment of garments in place of the usual dishcloth including a rather garish lime green bowler perched jauntily on his head, was smiling a slightly dopey smile.

“Welcome to Hogwarts!” squeaked the house-elves in unison. “How may we be of service?”

Well, since they asked…

Snape smiled politely. “I’ve been traveling through the woods all day, and I’m a bit lost. I need a place to spend the night. May I stay here in your castle?”

“Oh, it is not our castle, traveling person,” said the house-elf with the bowler. “This castle is in the charge of Albus Dumbledore, greatest of all wizards. You can ask him, if you wish. Though we is sure he’d let you stay.”

“Good. Because it’s been a very long day, and I could really use a good night’s sleep.”

“Dobby is just about to be making Dumbledore’s night time Hot Toddy. You can come with Dobby when it’s delivered to him and ask him if he is willing to let you stay,” said Green Bowler, whose name was apparently Dobby.

Snape’s eyes took on a thoughtful gleam. “I happen to be a widely esteemed maker of Hot Toddies. Perhaps you’d let me make the master’s bedtime concoction? It’s the least I could do in payment for a night’s hospitality.”

The house-elves muttered amongst themselves. It was, after all, their job to make the Headmaster’s Toddy, but they didn’t want to offend a guest either. That was a good way to get themselves cursed.

“All right, traveling person,” said Dobby. “You may make the Headmaster’s Toddy this evening.”

“Excellent!” exclaimed Snape as he rose from the table. “Do you happen to have any pickled Herring?”

In The Headmaster’s Quarters…

When a knock sounded on his door, Dumbledore, seated by the fire, rubbed his hands together in anticipation and got to his feet.

“Come in, come in, Dobby! I hope you have my Toddy with you.” Straightening his paisley dressing gown, he stared toward the door.

The door opened and in popped the elf with a glass of gleaming, frothy Toddy on a silver salver followed by a man dressed in black whom Dumbledore had never seen before.

“Excellent, Dobby! The very thing I’ve been longing for!” He snatched the glass from the tray and eagerly sniffed at its contents. “Mmmm and it’s particularly fragrant this evening. Is that Brandy I smell?”

The elf nodded. “I believe it is, oh, Headmaster mine, but Dobby cannot say for sure. This glass of Toddy was made by a visitor from the forest who is seeking a place for the night. He offered to make the Toddy in return, saying it is his specialty.”

Dumbledore peered at Snape over the glass of creamy Toddy. “Ah, that would be you, I suppose.”

“Yes, sir,” Snape said with a bow. “I am the Dark Lord’s former Potions master and top Hot Toddy maker. I’m on the run for my life and was hoping I could spend the night.”

Dumbledore nodded pleasantly. “I imagine we can spare you a bed, my boy. Anything to frustrate the desires of the Dark Lord, you know.” Then he took a sip from the gleaming glass. Immediately his blue eyes began to sparkle like stars in the heavens.

“My word! I’ve never had such an excellent Toddy,” exclaimed the Headmaster as he drained the glass in one great gulp, smacking his lips in delight. “And you made this?”

“Yes, sir,” said Snape smugly. Take that Bellatrix!

“Well, well,” said Dumbledore thoughtfully. “And you’ve left the Dark Lord’s employ? Gone into hiding? Fearing for your life, eh?”

Snape winced and nodded. He really didn’t need reminding of his situation.

“Excellent! Yes, excellent indeed. It just so happens that I am in need of a Potions master for my school here, and from this sample of your work, I would say you’re more than qualified for the job. Promise to make all my night time Toddies and the job is yours, what do you say?”

Snape gave it a bit of thought. He was darned tired of walking, and he didn’t relish the thought of going out again and plodding through the countryside in hopes of finding a better hiding place. The castle was comfortable and strong, and it did sound as if he was well suited to the work.

“All right, it’s a deal. I’ll stay.”

“Wonderful, my boy! Just dandy. Do you have any more of this most excellent Toddy, perhaps?”

Snape nodded. “I made an entire cauldron full in case you wanted a bit more.” He smiled to himself, they always wanted more.

“Superb!” exclaimed Dumbledore as he took Snape’s arm and led him toward the door. “Dobby, rouse the staff and tell them to meet us in the staffroom and bring glasses of that marvelous Toddy, too. It’s time for them to meet our new Potions master. What did you say your name was, my boy?”

“Severus Snape, Headmaster.”

“Welcome to Hogwarts, Master Snape.”

In the Staffroom…

As Dumbledore and Snape entered the staffroom, they encountered a group of very grumpy looking people in various states of rumpled undress, headed by a tall women wearing a tartan hairnet and matching robe.

“Albus!” she exclaimed sharply. “Why have we all been roused from our warm beds and brought here? I hope it’s important and not simply that you’ve had a bad dream again. There are things you can take for nightmares, you know.”

“Yes, yes, and I’ve taken them, Minerva, but after what I tasted tonight, I can’t imagine ever having another nightmare again.”

“Oh? Pray enlighten us,” exclaimed Minerva interestedly. If whatever it was meant a good night’s sleep for the Headmaster then it meant a good night’s sleep for the rest of them, too, and that could only be a good thing.

At that moment, several house-elves popped into the room and began handing around glasses of gleaming Toddy. Dumbledore made sure he snatched a glass before going on. Just because he’d already had one glass was no reason not to indulge in another.

Before anyone could take a drink from their glasses, Dumbledore held up a hand and cleared his throat. “My dear staff, I want to introduce you to our new Potions master, Severus Snape.” He gestured for Snape to step forward and beamed at the assemblage.

“This is why you got us all out of bed!” exclaimed Minerva as she took a glass from the proffered tray. “Couldn’t it have waited until morning?”

Dumbledore smiled benignly. “Of course it could have, but I didn’t want to deprive you all of this wonderful Hot Toddy that our new Potions master created for our enjoyment. Drink up, drink up! I know you’ll love it.”

Still a bit dubious, but always willing to give her Headmaster the benefit of the doubt, Minerva took a sip from her glass. Her eyes opened very wide, and she shot Snape a speculative glance. “You made this Toddy?”

“I did indeed,” he answered patiently. Really, wasn’t the woman listening?

A broad smile crossed Minerva’s thin face and she nodded appreciatively. “Welcome to Hogwarts, Professor Snape. I hope you enjoy your stay here. I have a feeling the rest of us will.”

Suddenly, to his immense satisfaction, Snape found himself engulfed in the good wishes of the happy, Toddy guzzling staff. As a rather small man called enthusiastically for more Toddy, a warm, pleasant voice murmured softly in Snape’s ear.

“You really know how to make an entrance, don’t you?”

Turning around, Snape found himself face to face with a tall, thin man with tousled brown hair and the most enticing pair of bedroom eyes that he’d ever seen or hoped to. The man smiled a friendly smile and held out a hand.

“I’m Remus Lupin, Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Welcome to Hogwarts. I hope you enjoy being here with us.”

Snape took Lupin’s warm hand in his and shook it firmly. Then, as Lupin didn’t appear to be in any hurry to reclaim it, he held onto it for a bit longer. It hadn’t been the best of days, what with losing his position, having someone try to kill him and hiking through miles and miles of overgrown forest, but suddenly Snape knew that despite all that, it had been worth every minute. He smiled into Lupin’s amber eyes. Yes, sir, things were definitely looking up.

Meanwhile, back at the Dark Lord’s lair…

Bellatrix wandered down the hallway on the way to her nightly visit with the family portrait. It had been such a good day. Not only had the toady done his job competently for a change, but by the time the man had dragged himself back to the castle, he’d been absolutely covered in hives. Without the help of the Potions master’s ointments, he’d spent the evening scratching himself bloody and bemoaning his lot. Simply delicious! She snickered softly at the memory. Ah, life was good when you were once again top Toddy maker to the Dark Lord.

Pulling back the portrait’s curtain, she gazed up at the woman and recited her verse.

“Portrait hanging on my wall, who’s the best Hot Toddy maker of them all?”

The portrait glared at Bella and put a hand on her hip. “What are you, slow witted as well as incompetent? Oh, the shame!! Nothing has changed since the last time you asked that question, Bella.”

“What do you mean nothing has changed!” said Bella indignantly. “I had the Potions master killed this very afternoon. How could he possibly still be the best Hot Toddy maker of them all?”

“Give it some thought, dear, I’m sure you’ll figure it out eventually,” said the portrait.

Bella stomped a well shod foot. “He lied! That miserable excuse for a toady lied, may he scratch himself to death!!”

“No kidding. It is what toadies do best,” said the portrait. “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself, Bella. Surely you’ve learned that by now. I know we taught you better than that.”

“Hmmpf,” sulked Bella. “And here I thought butt licking was the toady’s sole claim to fame.”

Suddenly she looked suspiciously up at the portrait again. “How do you know the Potions master is still alive anyway?”

The portrait rolled her eyes and rearranged the skirt of her black silk gown. “Deus ex machina, Bella. It’s my job to know these things. Now you’ll find the Potions master at Hogwarts castle. Deal with him if you truly want to reclaim the title of best Hot Toddy maker of all and stop wasting my time.”

Bella yanked the curtain closed in a huff and considered her options. As much as she hated to admit it, the portrait was correct. If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

Turning away from the portrait, Bella hurried off to her room. Once there, she began to toss ingredients into her cauldron with a practiced hand. Soon she had a sickly green brew bubbling briskly over her hearth. Then she summoned a house-elf and gave it instructions. While the elf was off doing her bidding, she rummaged through her trunk, removing several items of clothing that she hadn’t worn in…well, quite a while.

By the time she had the clothing sorted, the elf was back with a bright shiny red apple. He handed the apple to her reluctantly. “We was keeping this apple for Master Snape, Mistress Bella. He is always wanting his apple before he goes to his bed,” the elf said.

“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll see that Severus gets his apple,” she said with a smile.

Nodding doubtfully, the elf left the apple in her care and vanished back to the kitchen. After all, what else could he really do, he was only the enslaved help, she was the one in charge.

Beaming at the apple, she polished it gently with the sleeve of her robe and crossed to the hearth. Once there she carefully dipped the succulent piece of fruit into the bubbling cauldron and, as the gloppy green mess glided across the apple’s skin, the fruit began to seem even riper and more luscious than it had a moment before. Yet now within its heart, it was as rotten as Bella. Which just goes to show how deceiving appearances can be, but I’m sure you all know that already.

Bella held the poisoned apple high and watched it gleam dazzlingly in the candlelight.

“Enjoy your last night as best Hot Toddy maker of all, Snape. By this time tomorrow, I’ll have reclaimed my rightful title, and you’ll be nothing more than a little lamented memory.”

She tossed her hair with glee, and her exultant laughter echoed madly through the corridors and across the countryside, causing all who heard it to shiver in the dark.

The Next Evening at Hogwarts castle…

Much pleased with himself, Severus Snape strode down a corridor at Hogwarts and thought back on his first day as a teacher of annoying children. All in all, it hadn’t been half bad. That morning he’d awakened in a bed with clean soft sheets, a comfortably plump pillow, and a terrifically sexy Defense teacher.

Snape had never believed in love at first sight before, considering it to be the optimistic drivel of small, unrealistic minds, but after last night he was quite willing to reconsider his position. And several other positions as well. Lupin had offered to show him to his new quarters last night after the Toddy ran out, kept him up for hours with interesting conversation then finished off the night with the best sex he’d had in years, if ever.

If he could repeat the experience tonight, having to spend his days instructing a bunch of pimple-faced children with less than impressive intellects would almost be worth it. Most of the rest of the staff had been pleasant and welcoming, of course, but Lupin had gone above and beyond…not to mention below and behind. The man was talented, no doubt about it. He could really get to like living at Hogwarts.

Snape glanced out the corridor window. The sky had faded to a deep indigo and stars were beginning to pop up and twinkle madly. Time to go and make the Toddy. Then hopefully, he and Lupin could spend a bit more quality time together getting to know each other even more intimately. It was good to have goals.

Grinning contentedly, he rounded a corner and came face to face with a student tugging on the hem of a skirt that was far too short and much too tight. The girl immediately stopped tugging on her skirt and, tossing her head in a way that seemed somehow familiar, she smiled broadly at him and held out the most gorgeous ripe apple that he’d ever seen.

“There you are, Professor Snape! On behalf of the student body, I’d like to welcome you to Hogwarts! Please accept this apple as a token of our appreciation.”

Snape took the apple and nodded his head. Now this was the way to welcome a new teacher. “Thank you. That’s very thoughtful. I’m quite fond of apples, and this one looks particularly delicious.”

The girl smiled invitingly. “I picked it out especially for you. Please, go ahead and try it. It would be a shame to wait; it looks so juicy and sweet.”

Deciding she was right, Snape took a big bite and promptly fell to the floor as the apple rolled away from his boneless fingers into a corner.

At the very moment that Snape took his fateful bite, Lupin came around the corner and watched Snape fall apparently lifeless to the floor. He leaped to his lover’s side and pressed a hand to Snape’s throat, but he couldn’t feel any pulse. He looked up at the now smirking girl. “What happened? What did you do to him?”

“Nothing he didn’t deserve,” Bella sneered. “Now I’m the top Toddy maker of them all.”

Lupin sprang to his feet and reached for Bella, but she was too nimble for him, slipping beneath his grasp and running off down the hall, laughing hysterically. Without wasting a moment, Lupin took off after her, and the chase was on.

They ran through the castle corridors, up and down the staircases, and finally out the front doors of the castle, neither gaining an advantage over the other. Bella was halfway across the lawn and finally beginning to lose some steam when the clouds parted overhead and a full moon shown down to illuminate everything in dazzling silver. Suddenly she heard a terrible cry behind her and, being endlessly curious and rather winded, she paused and looked back to see a horrifying sight.

Lupin was lying on the grass and writhing like a snake trying to shed its skin. And he was changing! One moment there was a wizard in horrible pain rolling around on the lawn, and the next, there was a crouching wolf, snarling at its prey. And to her horror, Bella suddenly realized that she was the prey. Damn, and it had all been going so smoothly, too.

Turning away from the snarling wolf, Bella fled into the woods as quickly as she could possibly go. Why hadn’t she brought a broomstick with her? Or even a portkey? Next time she’d be better prepared, if there was to be a next time. They continued on, predator and prey, through woods and fields, splashing across streams, until suddenly Bella found herself balanced precariously on the top of a very high cliff, unable to run any further.

The wolf crept closer and closer while Bella frantically tried to pull her wand from the pocket of the much too tight school girl’s skirt. While the uniform, a size too small for polite society, might be good for fooling Potions masters and fulfilling the fantasies of prepubescent boys, it lacked a great deal as practical attire. Finally, just as the wolf was about to pounce, Bella managed to extract the wand from her clothes, but as she turned to use it, the flimsy ledge beneath her feet crumbled and she lost her balance, pinwheeling into the abyss with a dreadful shriek.

Back at the castle, the sad inhabitants, in mourning for their lost Toddies, I mean, Potions master, heard the lonely cry of a wolf echoing forlornly out of the darkness.

The Next Morning at Hogwarts castle…

Remus Lupin dragged himself through the front door of the castle and headed off toward the little chapel at the back of the ground floor. Here he found the body of his lover, skin pale as alabaster against the ebony silk of his robes, lying in state in a coffin made of crystal.

The house-elves had all gathered around the coffin in sorrow. Dobby had even removed his bowler and was twisting it back and forth in his tiny hands. Dumbledore stood to one side mournfully shaking his head. He looked up when Lupin entered the chapel and came down the aisle to stand beside him.

“A sad, sad thing, Remus,” said the Headmaster with a heavy sigh. “No more bedtime Toddies, and now I need to find a new Potions professor, too.”

Lupin patted the Headmaster’s arm consolingly. “Don’t give up just yet, Headmaster.” Then he turned to the weeping elves who were all wiping their streaming eyes on their little dishcloths, except Dobby, of course, who was using the hem of the Headmaster’s robe.

“Dobby, when Master Snape fell I noticed something drop from his hand and roll away. Did anyone happen to pick that up?”

Dobby nodded and let go of the Headmaster’s sodden hem. “Yes, Master Professor Lupin, sir. Dobby picked it up and took it to the kitchen. Would you like Dobby to fetch it for you?”

“Please,” said Lupin with a nod.

Dobby was back almost as soon as he had gone with a blindingly ripe, red apple on a silver salver which he held out to Lupin. “Here is Master Snape’s apple.”

“Thank you, Dobby.” Lupin took the apple and sniffed at the bite mark, which, despite all the time that had passed, remained dazzlingly white and fresh looking. Grimacing at the acrid scent he detected beneath the apple’s sweetness, Lupin set the fruit back on the salver and told Dobby to dispose of it.

Turning to Dumbledore, he said, “It was poisoned, Headmaster, as I already surmised.”

Dumbledore nodded. “Poison, yes. Such a shame!”

Lupin smiled. “Did you notice how fresh and sparkling the apple still appeared?”

“Why, yes, I did,” said Dumbledore. “Apple poison tends to do that, you know. The better to deceive the victim.”

“Yes, indeed,” agreed Lupin. “However, most apple poisoners tend to overdo their poison dosing. They want the apple to be as tempting as possible, but if they would just use a bit less poison, the apple would still look good and their victim might actually get the chance to swallow what they bit off, thus ensuring their demise.”

Dumbledore turned to the still body of the Potions master in his crystal coffin. “You mean…”

“Precisely! Severus fell as soon as he tasted the apple. I doubt he had the chance to swallow.”

Striding over to the coffin, Lupin pushed back the lid and leaned over Snape’s body. First he touched the pale cheek. It was warm and pliant beneath his fingers, an excellent sign. Then he gently pried open Snape’s mouth and inserted a finger, finding the piece of apple he sought between tongue and cheek. As he removed the small piece of fruit from the Potions master’s mouth, color flooded back to the man’s face immediately, and his dark eyes opened to stare up at his rescuer.

“Welcome back, Severus. Did you enjoy your little nap?” Lupin grinned in relief.

Snape grimaced in annoyance and sat up. “That girl with the apple was Bellatrix, wasn’t she? I knew I recognized that coy toss of the head. I can’t believe I fell for that old dodge. Poisoned apples are so clichéd. From now on I’m eating nothing but bananas, and maybe grapes…or strawberries dipped in whipped cream or chocolate, but definitely not apples.”

As Lupin helped Snape out of the coffin, Dumbledore came forward and beamed at them both. “Excellent, Remus, excellent! I knew those Dark Arts correspondence courses would come in handy! Welcome back, my dear boy! Everyone will be so pleased to hear that you aren’t dead after all.”

“Thank you, Headmaster,” said Snape with a smile.

“Dobby! You and the elves should get back to the kitchen immediately! I’ll want a lavish spread for breakfast today. We have something to celebrate!”

Dobby and the elves snapped to attention and saluted. “Yes, sir, Headmaster Professor Dumbledore, sir!” they squeaked in unison before disappearing with a series of loud cheerful pops.

“Splendid!” exclaimed Dumbledore. Then he turned to Snape with a hopeful look. “Now if only we could have Hot Toddies to go with it, we’d have ourselves quite a celebration.”

“I’ll see what I can do, Headmaster,” said Snape resignedly. Having your work be in constant demand was the price of remaining the best Hot Toddy maker of them all.

“Thank you, my boy, thank you!” Then with a smile for them both, he left the chapel to assemble the rest of the staff and shepherd them in to breakfast.

Now that they were finally alone, Snape turned to Lupin and raised an eyebrow. “I’ve always been under the impression that the officially approved remedy for poison apple induced sleep was a kiss from one’s lover, not rooting around in the victim’s mouth for the offending morsel.”

Lupin blushed. “Well, yes, but I wasn’t sure you’d want me to kiss you in front of an audience.”

A smile tugged at the corner of Snape’s lips. “We don’t have an audience now.”

Lupin made a show of looking around as if only now discovering that everyone else had left. “Why, you’re right! So we don’t.”

Slipping an arm around the Potions master’s waist, he drew him in close and smiled enticingly. “Welcome home, Severus,” Lupin murmured as he bent to kiss him.

“It’s good to finally be home,” responded Snape in kind before losing himself in his lover’s kiss.

And They Both Lived Happily Ever After… As They Should…

Finite Incantatem

Raven Black by shadowycat [Reviews - 4]

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