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Until the Sun Falls by MrsDarcy

Format: Novella
Chapters: 2
Word Count: 7,162
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Mild violence, Scenes of a mild sexual nature

Genres: Drama, Romance, Action/Adventure
Characters: Dumbledore, McGonagall, Pomfrey, Lupin, Hagrid, Snape
Pairings:

First Published: 11/06/2019
Last Chapter: 12/03/2019
Last Updated: 12/03/2019

Summary:

(banner by me, MrsDarcy@TDA)

 

For waitress and witch Anne Clarke, life consists of little more than serving tea on a corner of Diagon Alley. But, when the war can no longer be ignored and the teahouse closes down, Anne is compelled to revive her dream of becomming a nurse – a path that leads her to the meandering corridors of Hogwarts, a genteel lycanthrope, and, most regrettably, a long-fingered sock thief.



Chapter 2: A Brisk Cup of Tea

The first morning of August found Anne slouched on her couch like a ragdoll without stuffing. She ate yoghurt from little plastic cups, writhing feet still sore from scuffing the kitchenette floor in loops until her socks shredded. The apartment lay secreted in shadows, the blinders shut but permitting small shafts of light. When they were promptly pulled, she tumbled from the couch, her feet and elbows enwrapped in a scruffy blanket.

 

Before her stood a plump woman dressed in red from top to toe, hair carefully parted and combed into a low bun. A silk-woven scarf adorned her neckline and in her breast pocket lay an embroidered handkerchief, always at hand. It was very mundane – and a muggle she was.

 

“What on earth are you doing?” asked Maude, her mother, when Anne stayed curled up on the ground.

 

“Dying…”

 

“I see.”

 

Anne rubbed her nose on her chemise, toes flinching as they touched the chilled floor. Maude slid her handkerchief from her breast pocket. “Use this and spare the dress, dear.”

 

She took it. “You could have called,” she eyed the landline on the tray table by the settee.

 

“I did call. You sounded a little peevish, so I’ve brought parsnip soup.”

 

“I’m not sick.”

 

“But you have been crying,” said Maude. “And it’s your favorite.”

 

Anne sat down, conforming to the shape of the couch, a market gem softened by age. She watched Maude step into the kitchenette on clicking heels that made a party of two feel cumbrous. She was a short, stout woman, but managed a poise in her demeanor. She slid off a pair of thin gloves – red like her suit – and heated parsnip soup on the hob next to a pile of neglected dishes.

 

“Posture, Anne,” Maude tapped Anne’s back gently, and, having placed the soup in her lap, drew in a seat. “You sit with the grace of a potato sack.”

 

“I really loved that job, mum,” muttered Anne, sitting up primly

 

“You hated that job, dear.”

 

“I did not.”

 

“Uncouth guests, lousy tips, chain-smoking shopkeepers, ghastly creatures collecting maggots in cups – who knows what else - is all I ever heard.”

 

“She collects maggots in mugs, not cups. A mug is taller and sturdier, without a saucer. The ones we have are hand-painted by Pierre Pon - outdated, but quite a bargain,” Anne blew on the soup her mother had poured. “Do you think I can impress employers with my knowledge on tea and china?”

 

Maude obliged her with a look of concern. “When’s the interview?”

 

“Tomorrow.”

 

“If it doesn’t work out, you can always come live with me. You could get a normal job. The bath market on the corner is looking for someone. They sell these Italian bidets, which I find quite exotic.”

 

“...”

 

Maude shrugged. She turned off the telly telling tragic tales and stacked bric a brac that lay scattered on the tray. She faced Anne, both their eyes an earthy brown speckled with lighter hues. “Have you heard from your father recently?”

 

“I got an owl last week. He’s riding dragons in Manhattan Zoo with his new girlfriend.”

 

“Is he now?” said Maude, visibly dismayed. “I suppose that would entice an impressionable young woman.”

 

Maude, although few would believe it, had grown up enthralled by magicians, those that drew rabbits from hats and flowers from cufflinked sleeves. Her fixation had led her charmed by Clarence Clarke’s magic tricks and he by her youthful gullibility. But it had soon withered, like all magic must, and all she did now was play bridge over luncheon with her companions while they knitted socks for grandchildren yet to be born.

 

Maude slid an envelope from a handbag perched neatly on her lap. “Speaking of letters, I thought this might cheer you up.”

 

A slight smile crept into Anne’s pallor. She turned the envelope in her palm, the note inside drenched in a pungent odor with leathery facets. It was not money, like she had thought, but a rhymeless verse carved in spruce letters.

 

Her smile faded. “I don’t understand.”

 

“His name is Günter Goldschuh,” Maude rubbed her palms keenly. “His mother put his photo up on the World Wide Web. She’s a very nice lady and we’ve been corresponding for quite some time now.”

 

“Do you speak German?”

 

“Don’t be silly, she’s quite adequate in English. I admit they’re getting increasingly cultivated on the continent… Herr Goldschuh wrote you a poem, which seems a romantic gesture.”

 

Anne glanced up from the note, puckering her brows. “He’s comparing me with a delicately laced shoe.”

 

“He’s a shoemaker – or schuster as they say – of my world, naturally, and he makes a decent salary. You could cater customers in his shop in Gaumenkitzel and make a nice little life.”

 

“Have you,” her eyes alternated between slits and saucers. “Did you put my photo up on the World Wide Web?”

 

Her mother shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “Of course not, dear.”

 

Heaving a sigh, Anne got up and slid into a pair of slippers. “I need a shower.”

 

“Indeed,” Maude’s nostrils quivered. She caught Anne by the elbow on her way out. “You know I only worry that you’re lonely.”

 

“I know… don’t,” Anne pecked her cheek.

 

She withdrew to the hallway. Her bathroom was worn but ample. Its walls were plastered in peeled tapestry, floors overlaid by ornamental tiles, and on a stool lay a stockpot collecting leak from the upstairs lavatory. She turned on the brass faucet, water flushing into a tub with enamel chipped off the bottom.

 

Her mother returned presently, screeching the door ajar. “I’m going down for dish soap, which you seem to be missing. Do you need anything?”

 

“No, I’m alright,” Anne tossed her chemise onto the toiletry stall littered with cheap scents, hair scrunchies, and her pet plant Shrub (which was a cactus and not a shrub). “Perhaps a copy of Ozmopolitan?”

 

“What’s that, dear?”

 

“Vanity Fair then… thanks, mum.”

 

As Maude left, she sank in, watching her skin scald pink, thick steam obscuring the little window above. She curled her arms around her knees, tucking her feet in. Her thoughts rested on the interview – or, specifically, on excuses not to attend. It could be anything – a mortal ailment, a forged cold… If she compiled a list of excuses, it would likely trail from the bathtub and into the kitchenette, curl twice around her mother, then reel down the flight of stairs and plunge into the sewer in the street below.

 

She dwelled underwater till noon, her skin wrinkling like a withered daffodil flower.

 

___

 

The day thereon Anne stood diffident in a circular office, its oblong windows draped in curtains from top to bottom in a cascade of blue. Plainly visibly on every shelf lay an array of whirling objects, books that shed scents of mildew, and tin boxes filled with secrets and with sweets. By the hearth, a fire atop cinders and coal-shed flickered softly back and forth, and on the walls hung portraits who impeded the hush in a chatter of tongues and whose eyes trailed her with little gentility.

 

"Would you care for an Acid Pop?” Dumbledore proffered a box of lollipops. He sat sedately behind a claw-footed desk and spoke in a rich, unruffled voice attaining a serenity few possessed. "I bought them at Honeydukes on my last visit to Hogsmeade. I am rather fond of them."

 

Her throat felt tight, not amiable to the dry air. “Perhaps later?” she managed to say in a low-pitched voice.

 

"Excellent. Please sit, Miss Clarke."

 

She took the seat opposite, the chair cushion crushed into a heart-shape from an abundance of squirming bottoms. Her hair was combed neatly in a bun and her skirt felt tight around her thighs, too petite to be fashionable. She assumed a sedated pose, her chin held close to her neck.

 

Dumbledore pushed a cup of tea towards her, steam prickling her nose. “Our matron, Madam Poppy Pomfrey, wishes to lower her work load before retirement, albeit years away. In the meantime, she will need an assistant and we can offer an apprenticeship of four months with the possibility of employment thereafter,” he peered up beneath half-moon spectacles that lay crooked on his nose. “It will, naturally, require a candidate with superb sense of responsibility, with the patience to handle troublesome adolescents, paired with a deep-felt empathy to appreciate their plight and to act without verdict.”

 

Anne nodded, pushing her spoon in loops in her tea. If anything, her time at Mary’s Mugs had taught her patience, she thought, but thought without saying.

 

“Miss Clarke, feel free to interfere with an old man’s blabber at any given moment,” said Dumbledore gently.

 

“Sorry, sir,” she put her tea down, dripping into the cup saucer. “What was the question?”

 

“To begin with, why don’t you tell me a few words about yourself?”

 

Her breath quivered slightly as she called in the words rehearsed in her bathtub. “My name is Annabelle Marie Clarke (my parents could not decide), although I prefer Anne. I'm 26 and live in London with my pet plant (and occasionally my mother). I graduated St. Mungo's Academy in 1991.”

 

On the wall overhead, a portrait with a pointed beard and black button-eyes yawned and arched his back like a cat, spine cracking perturbingly by the effort. His frame was cast in silver, slickly woven like a cluster of mingling snakes.

 

“Don’t mind Phineas, Miss Clarke. Please continue,” urged Dumbledore.

 

“Well, that’s it, sir.”

 

"As I can see from your NEWT credentials,” he flipped a wetted finger through a stack of parchment before him. “You did particularly well in Care of Magical Creatures and Muggle Studies.”

 

"I have the advantage of a muggle mother. And I'm not exactly considered the wits of the family," she said, but said without thinking. "My dad once called my half-sister his pride and I his heart, which I assume isn’t too wretched?”

 

"Ah, I see. The heart has reasons which reason knows not. And reason is, as we all know, a perpetually unreasonable asset,” Dumbledore rose and went to a cluttered shelf, picking out a dust-filled book with a threadbare spine. The portrait eyes followed him and his tall shadow creeping up the wall in the light of the fire. "Pascal was a fascinating man. A scientist, a philosopher, and a muggle,” he put the book before her. “It’s an excellent read, its dull moments few and far in between.”

 

Anne touched the book with the edge of her fingertips, its surface softened by age and damp air, its pages so brittle they would dissolve by the touch of soft wind.

 

“My point, I suppose, being that I would much rather be the heart,” Dumbledore resumed his seat. He detained her gaze, nets of lines thronging the corners of his eyes. “But enough of Pascal. I assume that, after your graduation, you intended to become a nurse?"

"I did. But I struggled to find employment.”

 

“Yes, that is unfortunate. Even times of peace can cause misfortune to some, I have no doubt. Can you tell me what you achieved during your time at the Academy?”

 

“I wrote my thesis on the use of bat fangs for medical purposes,” Anne rummaged through her knitted bag by her feet. She heaved her car-keys, unlocked lipstick, knitted mittens from winter, and a stale biscuit with tooth-marks onto the desk. “I’m sorry, sir, it’s here somewhere.” She drew a roll of parchment from the bottomless pit of litter. A smear of pink lipstick daubed the edges and she wetted her finger to rub it off. “There.”

 

Dumbledore let his spectacles slide to the tip of his nose. "Fascinating, Miss Clarke, very fascinating,” he glanced up. “Were you, by any chance, inspired by Professor Snape's essay on the forensic uses of bat remains?"

 

"I was, but I found he failed to consider the ethical aspects of using animal resources in medicine, and how only bats succumbed to a natural death should have their fangs removed,” Anne jutted out her chin that had been glued to her neck.

 

"I must read it sometime then. Perhaps Severus would be interested as well,” he said, while Anne bit her lip, humbled by the thought of Snape construing her thesis. “In your resumé, it says you have been working five years as a waitress at Mary's Mugs, owned by Mrs. Marianne Mugs. She's been an acquaintance of mine for many years now and I find her to be a heartfelt woman,” he unfolded a short note. “In her letter, she says your various responsibilities included serving tea and brewing tea?"

 

“It did.”

 

"Is there anything you would like to add to it?”

 

“Not particularly, sir.”

 

Dumbledore held her gaze gently but fixed. “Miss Clarke, the previous candidates had all finished their training with the highest possible marks – one spent six months abroad to help unfortunate orphans suffering magical maladies, another won the Gobstone Cup at age 12, and a third received the Student Potion Prize for her essay on the treatment of Scrumptious Scratch Syndrome… My question is, why do you think you’re the better candidate and what would you say qualifies you to be a nurse? Experience aside.”

 

“I,” her words dwindled and drops of sweat beaded her forehead despite the dry air, her pits sticking to the cloth of her shirt. She edged her seat further from the fire and spoke, "I'm a very caring person with a positive outlook and I'm never late… except when I am late – but that is rare,” she paused. “I’m willing to work hard – until I perish – and I also make tea – of all sorts – in case you’re ever in need of a brisk cuppa, as Mrs. Mugs would say.”

 

Dumbledore sat hushed, a mild curiosity the only sentiment his eyes evinced. Anne tapped the edge of the saucer with her knuckles. Perceiving the interview to be at its end, she thought of her mother’s terraced house with its blend of browns and its plush, white settee no one was allowed to eat in, let alone sit in. She thought of the curtain-twitcher Mrs. Pryton next door, a pious pharisee, and her flat-nosed dog that barked at the moon. Perhaps that was truly what it would come to – she would return to Soap Swale.

 

 “I suppose there is more to nursing than rolling marbles, wouldn’t you agree, Miss Clarke?” Dumbledore spoke at last.

 

She nodded keenly. “I would, sir.”

 

He slid his wand from his sleeve and flicked it at the kettle that poured tea into her unfinished cup.

 

“Can you unwrap the elements in the tea before you? I assure you it is not a trick, but I encourage you not to take it too seriously either.”

 

“It’s black tea, sir,” she paused. “I’d say plain earl grey, if it wasn’t for the cardamom and…” she took a sip. “Something bitter. Is it moondew?”

 

“Very good. Perhaps your mark in Potions should have been more forgiving, if I may be so bold.”

 

“I doubt Professor Snape would agree with you.”

 

“No, he can be unreasonably harsh.”

 

“Please,” said Phineas, the portrait, in peevish displeasure. “The girl can’t even dress properly. I would advise her to fire her house-elf promptly.”

 

“I don’t believe Miss Clarke has a house-elf, Phineas,” said Dumbledore.

 

“No house-elf? How very… proletarian. The ladies in my days had several. The elves would dress their ladyships in floor-length gowns that handsomely tethered their figures and enabled them to carry themselves with such an exquisite grace it would make a rock blush with acute admiration.”

 

“Tethering frocks would, however, inhibit them in their work, which, after all, is what this is about.”

 

“I doubt she can work in that thing,” spat Phineas.

 

Anne glanced down at her pencil skirt that had wormed its way mid-thigh; swiftly, she tugged it into place. “If you will follow me, Miss Clarke,” said Dumbledore as he rose. Anne trailed him to one of the oblong windows where she lightly leaned against the pebble sill, damp from the leak in the frame.

 

Outside, the castle grounds lay tranquil. Winding paths snaked through lands the color of shadowy moss near indistinguishable from the sky overhead, the perimeter clustered with black trees that blew tender in the wind.

 

“Do you see the Whomping Willow, over there,” Dumbledore pointed, his finger black and wilted like a scorched piece of paper.

 

“I do, sir.”

 

“In that part of the forest, moondew grows by the roots of a crooked pine, and we may pluck its delicate petals ripening in the light of the full moon. I suppose it would be a perk of the job, moondew tea, which possibly outdoes the rest this old place has to offer.”

 

“In all honesty, sir, I don’t find the taste very pleasant,” admitted Anne.

 

Dumbledore faced her, his lips convulsing in a subtle smile. “Do you know what moondew is used for? Apart from bittering tea.”

 

“Wiggenheld potion, Draught of the Living Dead,” she dwelled a moment longer. “Several antidotes…”

 

“You’re quite right, Miss Clarke. I am sorry to test you like this, I promise you that was the last of it.”

 

Anne released a breath and arched her shoulders to assume a more lenient stance. Her eyes wandered the photographs that cluttered the sill. Lightly, she trailed a finger along the edges of the glass, so frail it might burst beneath her touch. One photo stood tilted, framed in thinly forged brass. It was a photo of Dumbledore waist to shoulder with Mrs. Mugs, her poodle hair a bright red and her complexion less spoiled by lines.

 

“You two really are friends… will this be to my advantage, sir?” she asked boldly.

 

“I suppose it would not hurt. I once helped Marianne’s nephew out of a sticky situation and she thanked me with a year’s supply of lavender tea – my personal favorite,” he leaned in to see the photo, his eyes catching the light of the flickering fire. “But that’s not why I keep it. You see, I wore my best robes that day and thought to myself, I looked at least ten years younger.”

 

She smiled, putting the photo back in its place. They stood by the sill until the portraits grew restless. A flicker of faith flounced through her chest - a warmth no longer caused by the fire or her foolish nerves – although she knew the headmaster’s demeanor could be deceiving. Ready to depart, she kneeled to retrieve her bag by the chair.

 

“Ah – and before you leave - don’t forget your Acid Pop.”

 

Anne shook his crisp palm and slid a lollipop in her coat pocket.



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