You are viewing a story from harrypotterfanfiction.com


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)

 

When Anne Clarke, who lives an extraordinarily dull life as a waitress at a teahouse, gets the opportunity to take on an apprenticeship at Hogwarts, she takes it.

 

In a world on the brink of war, we’ll follow her on her stumbling quest to find success, true love, and more than a few missing socks.



Chapter 1: It Begins with Rain
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

July 28, 1996

 

Rain poured in the street of Diagon Alley. Drops mixed with summer’s dust and filled up cracks between cobblestones. It did not take long for shops to fill. Mary’s Mugs, a small teahouse beneath Kat’s Cauldron Cosmetics, invited witches and wizards inside, each greeted by a mute house-elf’s eager curtseys. Perhaps they would have gone to the much more chic Le Grand Salon de Thé around the corner, if the rain had not forced them otherwise. Or maybe they would have taken their tea at home to save a coin. But Mary’s Mugs, although petite, proved a pleasant confinement. Candlelight permeated the room in orange hues and brews disgorged sweet-smelling steam, scents to lure and to lull. Not to mention the free biscuit per cup.

 

On the countertop, waiting to serve, a waitress sat cross-legged with her hand in the biscuit-jar. Her uniform was white on black, her stockings pink. She observed the guests, crammed into chaise percées, upholstered benches, and backless stools, their chatter a hum she had come to enjoy, their manners less so. On this particular day, they discussed the weather and the war, which, naturally, were subjects of equal importance.

 

“Anne, get yer buttocks off de counter an’ go butter sum more buns,” said Mrs. Mugs, the poodle-haired owner of the shop.

 

“Yes, Mrs. Mugs,” Anne slid down, brushing crumbs off her apron.

 

She preoccupied herself with the usual: waited on soggy-shoed guests, scrubbed stains off mugs, painted leaves in milk froth, and dreamed about better things; things she would never do. She had been at Mary’s Mugs five years. Naturally, her first year had only been temporary; she stayed another to avoid the grey of an office cubicle; a third due to life crisis. What was now simply called life.

 

By late afternoon, Anne took stealthy glances at the clock, willing the sun to set, when the doorbell chimed. Two guests trotted forth: one tall and ginger, the other small and mousy, both Ministry folks. The ginger gentleman let Anne know he was the head of the Cauldron-Thickness Unit, no less.

 

“What a dreary day,” he slouched into a cushioned chair that consumed him whole, propping a foot on his knee. “We would like a cup of slow-brewed cauldron tea,” he seemed contemplative, “with a hint of cherry and a teaspoon of centaur milk. Make it skinny. And a no-foam butterbeer with a pinch of cinnamon. But without the butter.”

 

“Coming right up, sir,” said Anne.

 

She returned a moment later with the tea, butter-free butterbeer, and two biscuits placed neatly on top of pocket-folded napkins. This usually helped with the tips.

 

“Miss,” he held the biscuit into the light. “Pray, what are these made of?”

 

“It’s Goblin Goldings, sir. Flower, sugar, goblin nail fiber... fair-trade naturally. And completely free from magically derived colors, aromas, and preservatives.”

 

“Do they contain goosegrass, gurdyroot, or ginger? Penny-bun is allergic.”

 

“We shouldn’t be eating such stuff anyway,” said the wizard’s companion, presumably Penny-bun.

 

“No, sir,” said Anne.

 

“My mum would always put ginger in her Christmas shortbread,” he mused with upturned brows. “Being allergic would be a crime in my house. A sugar-free diet a deadly sin.”

 

“Percy-bun, I thought we talked about that,” Penny-bun held a low-kept gaze, squirming in her seat like a worm amidst frothy cushions. “We don’t talk about them. And It’s not your house anymore.”

 

“You’re right. Of course you are, Penny-bun,” said Percy-bun, pinching the bridge of his nose. “But I very much doubt these are as good as Mother’s shortbread.”

 

The biscuits were store-bought, but Anne failed to mention it. She left the couple, before they could make further inquiries, to wait on a Mrs. Clawford and her kitten, both clad in knitted sweaters and partial to catnip tea with warm milk.

 

The afternoon mail would arrive at 5 o’clock, carried by a cantankerous owl proudly displaying a red collar with a golden seal. Anne took the letters and the Evening Prophet to the kitchen alongside her dinner – onion soup in a mug with cheese bread.

 

In the kitchen Mrs. Mugs stood abreast with Maggot, the house-elf, their arms halfway sunk into soapy dishwater. Mrs. Mugs did the talking, since Maggot could not, against which the elf tightened her bonnet to become deaf as well as mute.

 

“Yeh cheeky thin’,” Mrs. Mugs would say.

 

She had found the house-elf dismal at the threshold one overcast afternoon. She named her Maggot due to a peculiar hobby of collecting maggots in mugs, kept away in the cupboard beneath the stairs. They were like little, unctuous pets of morbid malignity, and, naturally, Anne did not dare to enter their lair.

 

“You’ve got a letter,” Anne tossed a crinkly envelope onto the littered kitchen table, its seal put on top of another, as if picked from a bin. It bore no name, but Anne knew who it was from. “It’s from Rolf.”

 

“From Rolf?” Mrs. Mugs furrowed her brows, her complexion marred by perturbed lines. “I’ve not heard a word from dat boy since May.”

 

Mrs. Mugs had little family expect a nephew whom she rarely spoke of and only exchanged letters with. He would ask for money and Mrs. Mugs would give it to him, no questions asked. Anne had wondered if, perhaps, he was addicted to troll-grown opium.

 

Mrs. Mugs put on a pair of winged glasses and tore open the envelope, hands still drenched in dishwater. While reading, she lit a cigarette, filling the kitchen with a stale odor and a pall of smoke that made Anne’s eyes tear up.

 

“What does he want?” asked Anne, expecting the usual handful of galleons.

 

“Nuthin. He’s not asked for a dime. He says he’s been employed by sumone, but doesn’t say who. How very peculiar. Apparently, dis employer of his is wun of his kind.”

 

“One of his kind? What do you mean?”

 

“Nuthin’, dear,” said Mrs. Mugs, tapping ashes into an empty cup. “Nuthin’ at all.”

 

“Why don’t you invite Rolf over for a cup of tea? Now that he’s employed. I mean, I’d love to meet him.”

 

“No, dat won’t do. I wouldn’t trust Rolf to piss in a pot withou’ supervision. Besides, folks don’t take time for a good cuppa no more,” Mrs. Mugs lowered her voice to a near-whisper. “It’s all cause of dat Yeh-Know-Who.”

 

It had been a long time since clatter and clamor filled Mary’s Mugs, which some days served fewer than ten. Mrs. Mugs had acquired the place in 1978 by a snuff-toothed Northman, who spoke little English and she nothing but. Jævla kvinne, he would say and Mrs. Mugs would blush. It had begun a simple dream about a simple teahouse, serving earl grey and lady grey, but had since warmed up to japanese brews and café au lait, sweetened with milk derived from magic beans (those that grew beanstocks into the clouds), everything served in mugs and cups, even the soup and the porridge. All to stay competitive with Le Grand Salon de Thé.

 

“How many did we have today?” Anne asked Maggot. Maggot held up two pairs of hands, thrice over, and seven more fingers. “Thirty-seven!”

 

“It’s wretched all de same,” Mrs. Mugs folded Rolf’s letter into a small square and stuffed it into her apron pocket. “An’ there’s sumthin’ we ought ter discuss.”

 

But she said no more. Her lower lip hung immobile in a half-moon faced downwards, as if there was not enough air for her to speak. The only sound emanated from Anne’s chewing and Maggot’s tripping bare feet.

 

“Will yeh two stop it?” Mrs. Mugs jibbed at last. Anne swallowed while Maggot crossed her legs in a neat braid.

 

“What did you want to discuss?” asked Anne.

 

“Nuthin’. Who says I want ter discuss anythin’? Silly goose,” Mrs. Mugs crushed the cigarette butt into the cup saucer. She rose, her apron so tightly fastened it caused fat rolls above and below the belt.. “I’m goin’ out for sum air. I expect yeh’ll dust de sills and count de till ‘fore I’m back.”

 

“Certainly, Mrs. Mugs.”

 

Anne exchanged looks with Maggot. Though Mrs. Mugs was a usually lucid woman, even she had her mysteries. Anne shrugged it off and dipped the remainder of the bread into her soup, picking up the bottom glob.

 

 

Nightfall crept closer. Street lamps lit up the dark in Diagon Alley, deserted but for a yellow Volkswagen, parked with one wheel on the sidewalk, and a handful figures, clad in charcoal cloaks, trotting through muddy pool water. Smoke ceased to puff from pipes and chimneys and curtains were drawn in the windows overhead: it was a street on its way to sleep.

 

Anne lugged a bag of litter outside. The rain fell in steady despair: it sogged into her strap-shoes and made her stockings cling to her thighs like sticky starfish.

 

“Miss,” a stranger stepped forth. He held out a black umbrella to shield her, his face half-way hidden behind the brim.

 

“Thank you, sir,” she crept closer.

 

She glanced up from beneath smudged lashes and into a pair of insomniated eyes, rimmed with pink, as if he had avoided sleep in a fortnight. He had one hand burrowed deep into a duster pocket and his feet wore oxford-shoes – the leather outworn by the toe box and the laces knotted into clumsy loops as if to keep them from falling apart.

 

“I’m just headed for the teahouse,” said Anne.

 

“I’ll follow you in.”

 

The sign on the door was a small one of a smug teacup, hung with braided ribbon from bars in between square panes. They stepped inside, Mary’s Mugs vacated but for empty chairs and freshly pressed tablecloths. The gentleman shook his umbrella twice and it dried on impact. He hung its curved handle on the back of a chair by a wall tapered in faded yellow flora.

 

Anne raked a couple of fingers through soaked, dark hair, before she drew pen and paper from her apron. “Would you like a cup of tea, sir?”

 

“I was hoping for a cup of something. I won’t be long.”

 

“What will it be?”

 

“Just coffee, thank you,” he said, seemingly hesitant. “With a few sugar cubes, if it’s not too much trouble. I have the misfortune of a sweet tooth.”

 

“I’ve heard worse. Besides, you look like you could use it,” she dropped her eyes, instantly repentant. “I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t mean to-.”

 

“I’ve heard worse,” he cut her off, the corner of his lip twitching upwards, if only faintly. “And I could use it, as it happens.”

 

Anne curtseyed. She went to mortar a fresh batch of beans and pour water to boil in the cauldron by the hearth. She eyed the stranger. He sat lightly hunched, scribbling notes into a leather-bound book, brows knitted in solemn musing. He looked nothing like the typical guests - those who took their daily tea before work at the office.

 

“Here you go, sir,” she brought him the coffee and a small piece of chocolate, having nothing but that and piece of stale confetti fudge left in the jar. Swiftly, he bookmarked his page and put his book on the table, faced downwards.

 

“Sorry, we’re out of biscuits.”

 

“Thank you, Miss. And I much prefer it,” he nipped a piece of the chocolate.

 

As Anne emptied the tray, the stranger eyed at the back door. She followed his eye to a shadow stretched up the wall and a pair of protuberant, yellow eyes behind the door ajar. They leered at the man, briefly, before they vanished.

 

“That’s just Maggot, the house-elf,” shrugged Anne. “She’s usually not that shy.”

 

The stranger said nothing, but picked a crinkly piece of paper from a slit inside his coat pocket. “Actually, now that I’m here, I was wondering if you’d take a look at this photo for me. The quality is poor, I regret.”

 

She narrowed her eyes at the photo. It was a man, still young - perhaps thirty, caught unaware in an alleyway. He had a sharp chin and hair ruffled onto his forehead, his eyes encircled by black shadows in plain disparity to his pale skin. Not very unlike the stranger before her, although much more obscene.

 

“What am I supposed to look for?” asked Anne.

 

“I was wondering if you’ve seen him around here, recently.”

 

“No, I can’t say I have. At least not that I recall.”

 

“You’re quite certain, Miss?”

 

“Quite certain,” she handed it back. “Are you an Auror, sir?”

 

“No, far from it. I’m simply looking for an old friend.”

 

But the photo was not one you would keep of a friend on your settee sidetable. It had clearly been shot for probe purposes.

Anne picked the tray back up, about to withdraw. “You know, I could ask -,” she turned, but knocked the edge of the tray into his shoulder. The stranger slung his elbow into his cup, which spilled onto the notepad before both plummeted to the floor with a thump and a clatter, the book spine facing upwards, yellow pages soaked in liquid and porcelain splinters. 

 

“Shit,” she knelt to retrieve it, the coffee acting as a glue that stuck one page to the other. She turned it. The letters inside were delicate but sharp, the spacing irregular, as if it could not decide whether to be neat or visceral.

 

Her curiosity caught alight. The letters made up what resembled a family tree, names transversely linked by arrows, more than a few crossed out by thick ink. But two names stood out from the others:

 

Rolf J. Murray and Marianne J. Mugs

 

Anne lifted her chin, the man now standing, towering above her, his eyes a little surprised, but otherwise impossible to read. She shut the book, shook it to dry, and wiped its surface in her palm. Her finger caught onto a piece of glass, drawing a drop of blood. She rubbed it in her apron while the stranger watched her queerly beneath a longish nose, faint scar-tissue brushing its bridge

 

“I’m so sorry, sir, as good as new,” she handed it back, its pages still sodden in coffee.

 

“You look staggered, Miss. Did something startle you?”

 

“No. I didn’t read a word, sir,” her voice was quiet, pitched lower than usual. “Is it your diary, Mr?”

 

“Lupin,” he paused. “And no, not a diary. I’d call it calendar, work journal, and dreary research notes. Tedious scribbles I’m afraid.”

 

Mr. Lupin slid his wand from his sleeve. He flicked it at the floor and at the notebook, spotless again, before he hid the book inside his coat.

 

“Is there a reason why you think he’s been here?” Anne bit her lip. “The man in the photo?”

 

“No. I simply saw you in the rain by that muggle vehicle parked ineptly outside, and thought I might as well ask around.”

 

“Actually, that’s my car. The one parked ineptly outside...”

 

His gaze dropped somewhat. “You’re a squib. I’m sorry, Miss, I did not realize. How foolish of me.”

 

“I’m not a squib!” jibbed Anne. Not that she could blame him the assumption, honestly. “But I do sometimes feel like the world’s worst witch, which might as well be the same.”

 

“I beg your pardon. Truly. It seems my foolishness is without end.”

 

Anne shrugged. They stood still amid the silent walls while rain prickled the panes in a steady rhythm that foiled the silence.

 

“You’re hurt,” he said at last.

 

She followed his eye to a trail of blood on the inside of her right ring finger, split open by the porcelain splinter.

 

“May I?”

 

When Anne said nothing, Mr. Lupin took her palm in his, faced upwards, his touch barely there.

 

“I once attempted to fix my hair with my left hand right before a party, back when I was sixteen,” said Lupin, his voice cautious. “My right arm was… in wretched shape. I ended up with hairy pits. Or, that is, more than before. With no means to repair the damage, I stayed locked inside my room the remainder of the evening.”

 

“Do you still have hairy pits, sir?” asked Anne. Damp strands of hair stuck to her cheek, the wetness dispersing from their warmth. Perhaps it was the light, but she thought she saw something fiercer beneath the doleful grey in his eyes.

 

“You’re cold,” she noticed.

 

“You’re burning.”

 

He let go, but her hand lingered mid-air.

 

“Thank you,” she dug it into her skirt pocket. Not knowing where to look, she decided on his shoes with its knotted shoelaces, which seemed the least intimate choice.

 

“I should get going,” Mr. Lupin seized his umbrella from the back of the chair. “Thank you for your time, Miss. And for the chocolate.”

 

He tipped her a few Knuts and left before she could think to ask any more questions. Crisp wind from the doorway caught her apron, shifting it softly sideways. She could not remember where to be, so she just stood still.

 

 

“What did he want?” asked Mrs. Mugs, her brows a pair of painted lines pushed into half-circles. Once Anne had regained her senses, she had found the owner’s helmet of curls peaking up from the too-tall desk in her office. She read the Evening Prophet with her winged spectacles poised on the tip of her nose and the habitual cigarette hanging sloppily from her lower lip. “Dat man before?”

 

“I,” Anne paused. “I don’t know. He wanted me to take a look at a photo.”

 

“And what’d yeh tell him?”

 

“Nothing.” Anne blinked, adjusting to the dim lighting that came from a candle in a mug. “Mrs. Mugs, Is there something you’d like to share? Do you know him?”

 

“Know him? Course not. What a silly thin’ ter say.”

 

“But it was Rolf. The man in the picture. At least, I think it was.”

 

“An’ yeh told him nuthin’, did yeh?”

 

“I didn’t tell him anything.”

 

“Good. I don’t know dat man and I don’t care to. Now, no more questions.”

 

Mrs. Mugs licked her finger and turned the page in the Prophet. It covered all from the Flabbergast-Bomb in Witchmund Square, set by rebels feigning Death Eaters, to an article of the danger posed by cauldrons with too-thin buttoms, penned by Percy-bun himself.

 

But that wasn’t what Mrs. Mugs wanted to show Anne. A photo of Professor Dumbledore graced the last page, standing erect in majestic purple robes. To his right, it read:

 

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Witchery Seeking Nurse Apprentice

 

“What about it?” asked Anne.

 

“I jus’ thought it might interest yeh. They offer five more galleons a month dan here an’ I know Mr. Dumbledore, he’s a very dear man. I’ll give yeh a nice reference,” her lips screwed into a grim line as she cupped the back of Anne’s hand. “I was goin’ bout it in the kitchen when yeh an’ Maggot cut me short. I can’t afford it no more, dis place, an de street ant safe,” she paused. “I have a cousin in Wench Hampshire I’ll go to an’ I want to know yeh’ll be alright as well. Now, don’t make it harder dan it needs be.”

 

Anne’s throat tightened like a warped cloth, lights glistening into starry eyes that were not quite wet. Maggot crept out from behind a coat-rack that had not concealed her in the first place. Se cinched herself to Anne’s waist, her little ears saggy.

 

Mary’s Mugs was closing down and what had otherwise begun a wonderfully normal day had ended terribly abnormal.

 



Chapter 2: A Brisk Cup of Tea
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

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.



http://www.harrypotterfanfiction.com