Disclaimer: The inhabitants of Hogwarts are the property of JK Rowling.
Games of Skill and Chance
Part 10 - Take the Cake
December arrived, bringing with it an atmosphere of anticipation. McGonagall’s decision to celebrate Hogwarts’ religious and ethnic mix, rather than just marking the traditional Yule meant there were all the more festivities to look forward to and even with three weeks to go before the end of term, sparkly decorations started to appear. A Winter Ball was planned, as was a Christmas carol service, while Professor Sinistra put out an audition call for a pantomime.
Lupin, who called for a firechat to check a detail of the Wolfsbane process before submitting his paper, suggested Snape might try out for the role of wicked magician in the panto. For a moment Snape was almost offended – then suggested he would have to offer coaching in ‘especially menacing walks’ to whoever did get the role. He was rewarded with a roar of laughter from the fireplace.
For Snape however, December brought with it the anticipation of freedom. He could almost scent it on the nippy winter air and the smell was not entirely sweet. Of course, he was still looking forward to it, was ticking the days off almost like an advent calendar of teaching. But he still didn’t have a plan. And that worried him.
Thursday evening found him shirking his nightly marking of homework in favour of jotting down a list of increasingly ridiculous ideas for going into business by himself.
He had just scratched a thick line through ‘market own range of bath elixirs’ when he realised that the two Grote girls were standing beside his desk, waiting to catch his attention. Behind them the rest of the gamers rolled dice or pushed pieces around a variety of boards. It seemed that once a student had turned up one Thursday, they never stopped turning up – usually with a pal from another house in tow.
"Sir," said a small blonde girl, whose Hufflepuff badge was the only clue that she was Sally rather than Bridget. He wondered if they ever swapped houses and classes to see whether their classmates noticed. "Our mum sent this tin to school for our birthday, but there’s a note attached to it for you to read before we can open it."
He took the tin and note from her hands. It wasn’t entirely unusual for parents to send gifts care of the various housemasters and mistresses, especially if they were not certain whether the item was permitted in the school. However, he was only housemaster to one of the pair.
He slid one of his ingredients-slicing knives under the wax seal and popped open the note.
Dear Professor Snape,
The tin contains a perfectly ordinary birthday cake, but I know the girls would rather have one cake at the games club, where they can share it, than have one each in their own common rooms. I hope you will give them permission for them to open it and share it out among the other students.
I would also like to take this opportunity to express how grateful I am that you have given the girls this weekly chance to get together. When they first wrote to tell us they had been sorted into different houses it was clear that they were devastated – they have always been close friends as well as siblings. Although I am glad to hear that both are making friends of their new dorm mates, it is good to know that the old inter-house tensions will not destroy that bond from their childhood. I remember all too well from my own schooldays (you may recall that I was a few years above you) that many brothers and sisters were not even permitted to speak to each other in case they revealed some all-important quidditch tactics or the like.
Please do take and enjoy a slice of the cake, with my thanks,
The two girls looked at him expectantly as he finished reading the note. He coughed, testing his voice, for he was unexpectedly moved by Mrs Grote’s words.
"Do open the tin, Miss Grote, Miss Grote. I will find a suitable knife."
Within a few minutes everyone in the room was chewing on the moist, delicious fudge cake. Snape turned back to his list but, unable to come up with any further ideas, found himself doodling a triangular wedge shape instead. Once again he studied the scene in front of him. Students from all four houses, playing games and eating cake together. In all his long, tedious years of teaching, such a thing had never happened before.
He felt a twinge of guilt that his coming departure would put an end to it.
He was weary. After full day at the Wizengamot, reliving memories he would have preferred stayed buried, all he wanted to do was curl up with a book and imagine himself somewhere, anywhere, else. No matter how hard he scrubbed at his teeth, the unpleasant aftertaste of poor quality ministry veritaserum still lingered. And there was nothing he could scrub at to remove the bitter recollection of the words that had been thrown at him, not by his former Death Eater colleagues, but by their lawyers.
That was their job of course and he had been expecting it. But it still stung.
He was just settling into his chair when there was a brisk triple-knock at his door.
Yanking the door open he was about to launch into an annoyed recitation of his office hours when he noticed who the visitor was.
"Lupin?" he blinked. "What are you doing here?"
"I’ve just been to see Madame Pomfrey, about, um, those tremors." He sounded embarrassed to mention his condition. "She was very helpful actually, referred me to a specialist in London."
"Oh," said Snape. "Well, good."
"So I thought I’d drop around to say hello. And, er, thank you – since I wouldn’t have gone to see her if not for your visit."
"Right," said Snape. "You’re welcome." He moved to close the door, but Lupin had sneakily wedged his foot in it.
"What do I have to do to get an invite in? Faint on your doorstep?" Lupin mock-swooned, keeping his foot firmly wedged in position.
Snape snorted. "Fine, come in. I’ll warn you that I’m not good company though. I’ve been giving evidence all day."
"Just a quick drink then," said his visitor, nodding his understanding as he strolled into the room. "Actually, I wanted to show you this. I picked it up while I was presenting that paper in Brussels."
It was a jobs listing paper for positions within some international Muggle political body. Snape shrugged. "Muggle jobs… Why?"
"Tap it with your wand," said Lupin, pouring out two glasses of brandy. The most expensive stuff on the sideboard, noted Snape, amused. The man might live like a pauper, on corner-shop pasta sauce and cheap Chilean wine, but he obviously had refined tastes when given half a chance. He tapped the newspaper.
In an advert on the top left of the page, the words changed shape, eventually settling as:
The International Confederation of Wizards (Europe) requires an intelligent individual to head a five-year large-scale independent review of potions theory and practice throughout Europe, looking at issues ranging from quality control in medicinal potions to the variability of teaching and examination standards. The job would be based in Strasbourg but would involve travelling to various wizarding centres. Salary commensurate with experience.
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