A few days after the Quidditch match, Sarah had another Potions lesson with Snape. The walls seemed faintly warmer as she moved down below the castle. Maybe the warming charms were finally seeping through the rest of the stone, or maybe that was just a sign of winter loosening its grip.
So far as Sarah could tell, Snape's mood had only improved marginally since the match. He seemed approximately as ecstatic about not being a referee as he was disappointed he hadn't managed to create a Gryffindor loss.
He was waiting for her in the Potions classroom once again. For once, no instructions were on the board. He did have a text open on his desk, and nearly two dozen vials of some unidentifiable burgundy liquid scattered around him.
He looked up at her entrance, then looked back at the vials full of the unidentifiable potion.
"Williams. You will join me in grading the Second Year Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff assignments." He flicked a look at her, his voice once again soft and yet brooking no argument.
Sarah simply nodded and said, "Yes, Professor." She moved toward him and read the text at his side. "May I see your example potion?"
"Discern what you can from the ingredients, first." Snape replied.
There was no way that skill was OWL level. She bristled, but didn't argue. There was, occasionally, a method to his frustrating manner.
"Powdered moonstone — so the potion should have an opalescent surface — and diced gladiolus root, diced ivy vine, shredded alihotsy leaves, whole mermaid scales, and confection of hyacinthe? It'd be... purple and either shiny or glittery?"
Snape raised an eyebrow. "And?"
"Um." Sarah stopped to think. Alihotsy was dangerous somehow, wasn't it? "It would look like wine, smell like seawater, and make you laugh anyway," she said.
"Don't," he said, "forget that not only should it have an opalescent surface, it should have faintly luminescent flakes. If it does not glow, it's incorrect. Weed out the visibly wrong first. It would be unfortunate if the fumes of an improperly made potion affected you."
Right, that was the thing about alihotsy that had been niggling at the back of her mind. Its potential to cause what the potions texts labelled as hysteria — a word that set her teeth on edge — made it dangerous to mis-prepare.
"So once I've weeded them out visually... Will I have to brew a potion that reacts with alihotsy, or do you already have one?"
Since admitting she'd done a thing right was beyond him, Snape produced a glass ampoule and said, "One drop per vial."
Sarah reached out to take the ampoule. Snape looked her over for a moment, as if sizing her up, and then turned and swept out of the room.
"I'll be in my office," he said over his shoulder. "Half-listening for the sound of glass breaking."
Sarah once again wondered just how that awful man could swoop around. She'd had a friend with hair past her waist in high school, and the poor girl hadn't been able to pass a table or doorway without getting strands stuck. How did Snape manage those robes?
She found herself imagining him rubbing some sort of non-stick potion on them, so they'd simply glide over things that fabric would normally get snagged by, and had to repress a chuckle at the incongruous image.
She looked at the desk strewn with students' work, and sighed. Well, come on, feet.
The remainder of February passed almost sedately. Almost, because she was still working with students from both her classes, with Greengrass and Carrick in slightly-more-than-nominal leadership positions. Actually trying to herd teenagers into getting something accomplished was —
Sarah didn't have words for the hair-tugging frustration. Cam and Rolanda gave her sympathetic looks when students carried papers or records or, god forbid, long-standing arguments to her seat at the table. Snape would look up from his meal and narrow his eyes, though most likely not to hide his schadenfreude. (He wasn't hiding the schadenfreude, anyway; it showed up in plain view after the students left.)
On the evenings he sat beside her, Jareth watched with his head tilted so far to the side that a human neck would have snapped.
The third night a student interrupted their conversation — about Jareth's vacant principality and the suitability of a constitutional monarchy — Jareth's brows hooked down.
"Lecturer Williams," Carrick said. His eyes flicked to Jareth before he looked back to her.
Jareth leaned forward. "She is busy."
"And do you constantly interrupt the professors when they dine? Sarah is otherwise occupied. Settle your differences amongst yourselves."
"But Greengrass is still saying —"
Jareth's eyes narrowed, and Carrick closed his mouth immediately. The Goblin King stood, planting his palms on the table, and leaned until he was eye-to-eye with her student.
Sarah snapped, "Mr. Carrick, that will be enough. Please don't interrupt my meals with His Majesty here. Jareth, please sit down. I can't have you intimidating my students."
Jareth resumed his seat. "You should find an unpleasant swamp you can toss that one into."
Rolanda snorted a laugh. "Around here, we call that detention with Filch."
On 4th April 1992, Sarah snuck down to one of the more-used staff rooms. It was the same one in which she had confronted Snape before Harry's first Quidditch match. Realizing that she was building memories here — real, lasting ones, as if this place was a home — startled her more than a little.
She hadn't thought about it, but Hogwarts itself, with all its seven stories and all its drafty staircases, was growing on her.
In any case, the staff room she crept into was the one with the enchanted radio. It looked ancient to her, like something the staff could have listened to radio plays on in the thirties and forties. But it still seemed to be in fair working order.
And it was already on. Cameron Rowe had plopped himself into a chair, hat over his eyes, with the cathedral radio on the table next to him.
A tinny, staticky voice informed the room, "The shells — that's boats, if you don't remember — are at Putney, rowing to the start —"
"You're listening to the Boat Race?"
Cam let out a deep, shuddering sigh. "A little quieter please, Sarah."
"You're listening," she asked, in a stage whisper, "to the Boat Race?"
He nodded without dislodging his hat.
"Good! Then I won't have to steal the radio. Who are you pulling for?"
"Cambridge," he grunted.
Sarah pushed one of the armchairs across the carpeted floor and sat on the other side of the radio. "I'm pulling for Oxford."
"Can we get the Oxbridge rivalry insults out of the way now, or are you going to call me a Tab for the rest of the year?"
"I'd say it depends on who wins," she said.
He grunted something else, but then the tinny voice said, "— never had an older cox for the Race than their cox today, Andy Probert — and nevermind that now, the shells are at the start!"
Sarah leaned forward. Cam twitched his hat slightly and re-settled himself in his chair.
They listened to the announcer in silence. Sarah didn't want to risk not hearing the route description and just who was where. Cam, she suspected, was both hung over and also trying not to risk not hearing.
"— Looks like the the Oxford blues are favoring Surrey this year — Oxford Blues just a few lengths ahead at the Mile Post, Cambridge quickly catching up — aiming for Hammersmith Bridge, look at both shells try to go for the lucky lamppost!"
Sarah closed her eyes, picturing the shells on the dark water. She'd waited at Quinton Hogg every year for three years, watching the boats come in. And yet sitting here, in the warmth of a staff room, listening with a co-worker, was both exciting and peaceful.
"Gardiner's doing wonderfully this year. He wasn't a steady pull last race — it's official, Oxford crew's got the deepest part of the river, it's not a shoo-in but if you're in the lead after Hammersmith Bridge, you've probably got it — whoah, what happened to Cambridge? Light Blues are rowing like demons, just cutting through the Thames like butter —"
She looked over to Cam. He'd finally set aside the hat and was listening intently, clenching his fists so tightly his knuckles turned white.
"From here?" He laughed. "Afraid that's not possible. Now hush."
"— Both shells are near neck-and-neck now at the Crossing. Oxford pulls ahead by just two lengths, crossing from Surrey to the middle of the river — on to the Bandstand, both boats trying to get toward the Middlesex bank. Cambridge pulls forward a length; I'm going to chalk the Light Blues' performance up to an experienced cox — and look at that, Oxford leading at the Barnes Railway Bridge —"
Sarah flung herself from her seat and pumped her fists in the air when the announcer said, "And the Oxford Blue Boat leads the finish by a length and change! The Oxford Blues have won the Boat Race for the sixty-eighth time today."
Sarah, on the other hand, was all but cheering. She tried to keep her excitement quiet — there was no need to make Cam's obvious hangover worse — but she was still grinning broadly as they went down to lunch.
"So what prompted the drinking?" She asked, just before they left the staff area. Looking hungover was one thing, but actually admitting to drinking in excess where students could hear it was quite another.
Cam winced. "OWLS and finals are coming up soon."
"Don't you only proctor OWLS?"
"Still stressful," he grumbled. "I've got fifth years in my office every minute I'm not in class. They're queuing up outside the door. And now I've got to move forward in the syllabus, so I don't miss anything, while making sure I didn't miss anything last semester."
Sarah winced in sympathy. She'd learned how easy it was to get sidetracked, or how sometimes one had to spend more time on a topic than the syllabus had allowed for. She could only imagine the sense of oncoming doom that having to handle that on top of trying to teach to a standardized test would bring.
"Don't tell me, all that on top of writing your final?"
Cam shook his head. "No, I write those in advance, thank Merlin. Now I've just got to make sure I cover everything on it. It's enough to make me beg Poppy for some Pepperup. If it doesn't actually make me feel better, the steam coming out my ears will at least warn the students."
Students passed them, darting through the halls, as they entered the main areas of the castle. Sarah ignored them, while Cam squinted at the added brightness and noise.
"There are actually potions that can make steam come out your ears?" She had to chuckle a little, imagining Cameron Rowe slouched in a chair, gray eyes narrowed, with clouds of white steam puffing out from beneath his dark hair.
"Oh, of course. That one's a great cold remedy. There's another, supposed to turn your eyes red, too — Merlin only knows what that's supposed to cure — but when I brew it at home, I only end up growing a dewlap."
Thankfully, Sarah's imagination balked and refused to provide an image. She forced a smile and switched subjects. "So what's Hogwarts' policy on field trips?"
Cam looked up, thoughtful. "Well, we allow Hogsmeade trips. I suppose you could take a small class out, provided you'd cleared it with Dumbledore."
"Do you think this time next year will be too hectic to take some of the older students to see the Boat Race? I'll have the new third and fourth years, leaving you with, what, just fifth years?"
"I think Minerva's going to split the third years evenly between us, so I'll have half the third and all the fifth." He paused, thinking some more. "The Boat Race doesn't happen on a class day, so we could hold a sign-up for the fourth-years and older."
"Do you think it could work?"
"If Dumbledore approves it, I don't see why not." He grinned. "Well, that's something to look forward to. Even if I'll be chaperoning teenagers with an Oxonian."
"You're siding with the wrong university, Tab," she said, though without any real rancor.
April slipped away. The honeymoon of spring sunshine ended, and the weather returned to what Sarah had come to think of as the island's natural state: drizzly and overcast. As May approached, the air at least grew warmer — perhaps thanks to a kind wind from the sea, the south, or both — and the sun warmed the gray clouds in the early afternoon.
And, all the while, Carrick and Greengrass led their classmates as they toiled. Sarah helped where she could, retrieving from non-magical stores what the students couldn't, hauling supplies into one of the castle's former chapels, and agreeing to handle the actual playing of music. But the students painted fliers and cut streamers, set up tables and chairs around the perimeter, and cordoned off the dance floor.
Flitwick supervised — and corrected her faulty Technothaumatergia Charm — while Sarah cast Sonorous charms on her record player and boombox.
The night before the dance, Sarah went to bed with a throat that felt faintly scratchy and a light cough. She set a glass of water by her bed. Naturally, she woke on the thirtieth with a headache that not only threatened to fry her eyeballs in her skull, but also seemed to have travelled down to her throat.
She heaved herself upright, wincing at how it felt to change position, and pulled her thick cloak from its place at the foot of her bed. Her bones ached as she wrapped it around herself. Between the fire in her marrow and the way her head and eyes twinged with every step, the walk down to the hospital wing felt like self-flagellation.
Poppy Pomfrey took one look at her and said, "Well, you've let the cold and damp crawl right into you. Pepperup and some rest will fix you up."
"Will it get rid of the headache by tomorrow?" Sarah asked, and had to stop and marvel at how unlike herself she sounded. She sounded like she had sandpaper in her throat right about where her vocal cords should have been.
"Ah, yes, you've that student-led ball to supervise, don't you?" Poppy's expression told Sarah precisely how poorly the older witch thought of student-led activities — probably because she expected them to lead to injuries. Considering that cauldrons occasionally melted even in first year Potions classes (never mind the horrible accidents in Transfigurations or Charms) and the students' habit of hexing each other in the hallways, Poppy probably had a point.
"I'm the one playing the music," Sarah said, tone conveying misery at the thought of enduring flickering lights and loud noises with her current headache.
"Your head should be fine by tomorrow. I'd just stay away from enchanting any violins with a self-playing charm."
Sarah took the offered Pepperup Potion and declined to correct Poppy's misunderstanding of the music issue.
The headache was back, just beginning to spread over the edges of her skull, by the time the dance started. Sarah elected to ignore it as much as she could, and keep the record player going.
By the time the dance had ended, she was ready to ask Snape for the draught of living death. Or possibly plain cyanide. The fever chills and joint aches made it hurt to have bones, much less do something as terrible as use them.
She tried to ignore it in favor of cleaning up after the students. Only Greengrass and Carrick had remained, and they both seemed baffled that Sarah was picking things up, even if she was using her wand. Eventually, Greengrass said, "But doesn't Hogwarts have house elves?"
Sarah tried to smile reassuringly. She really did. A smile would have gone a long way toward softening her tone. But she couldn't really manage it — her whole body hurt too much. And house elves —
They weren't what Greengrass thought they were.
"There's no reason not to be considerate," she said, and Carrick and Greengrass both took a look at (what was probably) the death grimace on her face and didn't argue.
Eventually, Carrick and Greengrass made their ways back to their common room, and Sarah returned to her little neighborhood in the castle.
Jareth was standing outside her door, and that itself told her that something was wrong. If he'd just wanted to see her, he'd have met her further away from her rooms, or he'd have been leaning in the doorframe like the ridiculous creature he was. Not standing stiff, with his back to a wall, staring watchfully into the corridor.
"Ronald has been injured, and Harry and Hermione are in disgrace."
"Oh, for god's sake," she said, and reached out, grabbing him by the wrist, marching back to the hospital wing like she hadn't been there just yesterday. His skin beneath her fingertips was almost burning hot — in a human, she'd have worried about a fever.
They found Ron lying still in a hospital bed. It was after hours, so it shouldn't have surprised her that neither Harry nor Hermione were staying with him, but it did. He looked even paler than usual, washed out in the mix of low gaslight and soft white moonlight that lit the hospital wing. There were dark smudges under his closed eyes.
"Ron?" Sarah asked, softly enough that Poppy wouldn't hear her. Hopefully.
He woke up slowly. His whole face brightened when he realized that one of his visitors was no less than the Goblin King.
Jareth, for his part, looked down at Ron with a kind of distance that she recognized from her run of the Labyrinth. After a long moment, he asked, "And how did you come to be here, young Ronald?"
Ron's expression darkened. "Malfoy," he said, like that explained everything. Then again, if she was remembering the right kid, it was just about sufficient.
Except not to Jareth. "He injured you? Do you perhaps require lessons in tactics?"
"Jareth," she said, a little sharp. He looked over at her, and if his voice had been glib and passive aggressive, she could see the concern in his eyes.
"We were doing the right thing!" Ron said, hotly. "It's just…"
But what it just was, he didn't seem able to say. He finished with an abortive gesture, mouth and face twisted up in anger and disgust.
"I was all set to tease you about getting bitten by Fluffy," Sarah sighed. But honestly, he looked too pathetic. "Do you want to tell me about what happened?"
Ron opened his mouth, and then closed it. His pale, drawn expression turned nauseated, and then his jaw firmed. "'S a long story," he finally said. "And I don't want to get anyone in trouble."
A dry, cracked smile. "'Cept him, yeah."
She shook her head, but she knew better than to keep trying to dig. She'd just become The Enemy to him, relegated to the same role he applied to the other adults in the school. She looked toward the door, but Jareth's mouth curved into a deep frown — over Ron's head, where he couldn't see — and she inclined her head.
Jareth wasn't willing to leave just yet. It might have been his function as a guardian or metaconcept or whatever he really was, or it might have been because he happened to like Ron and simply didn't want to leave.
She waved her wand, conjuring up a comfortable chair, and settled herself in. "You should probably get some sleep. But we can keep you company until then."
Ron eyed her from beneath his covers, but the suspicion relaxed as quickly as it had darted across his face. He closed his eyes for a moment, collapsing even deeper into his pillows. When he looked up at her, his blue eyes were alert and interested.
"What's your favorite quidditch team?"
Overnight, Harry, Ron, and Hermione all became pariahs within their House. More than once, Sarah found herself stepping in regarding intra-House bullying, at least when she saw it in the halls. Ron and Hermione seemed to have accepted their loss of status, though both were bothered by the cold treatment from other students, but Harry regarded it with a sort of seething apathy.
At least so far as Sarah could tell, he wasn't about to admit out loud that he cared. But the retreat into his close bonds with Ron and Hermione, and the way his shoulders stiffened when older Gryffindors made pointed comments, suggested that it did bother him. A lot, in fact.
Of the three, Hermione seemed to handle it the best. But then, she'd been a very distinct outsider at this school already. It probably seemed less like a loss to her.
The preparation for finals swept the issue — and just about everything else — out of Sarah's head. The conversation about the Boat Race had somehow awakened Cameron Rowe to the fact that he had a real, live, actual colleague who had come from a non-magical family, and he sought her out to help with extracurricular OWL and NEWT reviews.
She tried hard not to laugh when she realized that OWL and NEWT were the actual exam names. Cam didn't seem to notice; he was too busy trying to come up with suitable bribes.
Sarah herself revised and re-revised her final exam, checking through her syllabus and course plan, trying to make sure nothing was on it that hadn't been talked about. After that, it was grading journals, with the weekly phone call home and scattered visits from Jareth. Her private lessons were suspended until the end of term, just as they had been in December.
Cam never did come up with a decent bribe. She helped out with OWL and NEWT reviews anyway. It was never a bad thing to build up good will, and, honestly, she didn't mind.
None of her trio of Gryffindors had been forgiven by the time final exams rolled around, but they were in better spirits.
Sarah administered her final exam, then proctored the Transfiguration finals for the first years, and then was loaded down with final essays for Potions second years. That last wasn't much of a surprise; she doubted Snape would ever believe her competent enough to proctor one of his exams.
As if she hadn't had enough doubt in the past year, grading her exams left her with still more of it. Some students — Carrick, Greengrass, a few others — did exactly as well as she'd hoped all of them would. Others struggled. Did that mean the exam was right? Was it hard enough? Too hard?
"Don't worry about it," Cam said, settling himself into one of the chairs in the staff room. He leaned backward at an angle the chair shouldn't have been able to accomodate and then dropped one of the NEWT study guides down onto his head.
Honestly, how much time did that man spend napping?
"Didn't you? Your first year, I mean."
"I leave the worrying to the wife. She's better at it. Folk from Innsmouth usually are."
She shook her head, laughing a little. "I'd imagine. Isn't there some kind of weird elder god cult there?"
Cam lifted the papers off his face for a moment. His expression, when he rolled his eyes to look at her, was a fifty-fifty split between skepticism and puzzlement. "Cult? They're not that uncivilized up north."
"Then what do they have to worry about?"
"What do they worry about in Godric's Hollow? Besides the Death Eaters, of course. Mostly-wizard sort of towns are always worried about losing people — the young don't come back — and getting too many muggles in."
As she'd never heard much about Godric's Hollow, she couldn't comment. "Was it really founded by Godric Gryffindor?"
"Not founded, no, but he was born there. I suppose it was called something else at the time, probably changed its name after he founded Hogwarts."
Cam dropped the exam review back onto his face and propped his feet on the table. Sarah laughed again, and went back to her grading.
Sarah turned her gradebook in with Minerva McGonagall. Minerva flipped through, and then she looked up, offering a rare smile. It was mostly just a curve in the corner of her mouth, but her blue eyes were surprisingly bright.
"It would seem that you've done quite well with the task we set you. And I know it wasn't an easy one." A pause, an incline of the head, and the smile was gone. "Will you be staying on over the summer?"
"No reason not to. I might need a week or so off, here and there — my brother's birthday is in earaly June — but otherwise…" She shrugged. "Do teachers usually leave?"
"Some of the professors do. Rowe almost certainly will, and I believe Quirinus has requested another summer sabbatical. As no ridiculous misfortune has befallen him yet, I do wonder what will happen to him before August."
Sarah must have looked as confused as she felt, because Minerva sighed and waved her wand. The motion summoned the tea tray, carrying it to the table by the window. It seemed like years ago that they'd sat at that table, watching, shocked, as Harry pulled into a Delacour dive, but at the same time, it felt like it had been only days.
"I do not generally bandy this about, Sarah. You know I never wish to encourage nonsense. But there are rumors that the Defense Against Dark Arts position is cursed. Certainly, those who obtain it never last more than a year."
"So does that really mean it's cursed?"
"'Cursed' is relative. But I do know that Dumbledore and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named once argued over that very position, and misfortunes have been befalling its applicants ever since. Is there a spell in this world that Albus Dumbledore cannot break?" Minerva looked at her from over the rim of her teacup. "That riddle is the only answer I can offer."
"I feel like there's a joke about a Sphinx I should be telling, but for the life of me, I can't find it," Sarah said. "Thank you for the warning, I guess. That's a position I don't need."
"Truth be told, it hasn't all been misfortune or malady. But what misfortune there has been has always been quite grave." A pause, and another cunning look. "You intend to remain with Hogwarts even past the Ministry requirements?"
"I'll be here for as long as Hogwarts will have me. I think this castle needs a radical or two like me on the staff. Who else is going to teach your students to bake cakes the non-magical way?"
Another smile that flickered in the corner of Minerva's mouth, while her eyes warmed up. "I think you'll see that Hogwarts will always find a place for its students, even once they've left it."
Sarah was in the process of picking out her dress robes for the end of term feast — a day early, but her only dress robe left was a deep green, and with how smug the Slytherins were being, she couldn't face the idea of wearing it — when somebody started pounding on her bedroom door. She turned for a moment, checking the clock.
The hand was a bit past dinner. Not exactly helpful.
She tossed her braid back over her shoulder and slid the door open.
Quirinus Quirrel stood in the hall, and while he usually looked pale and on the verge of passing out, he looked flat-out panicked this time.
"S-Sarah-ah-ah," he said, and she tried not to groan inwardly. Was whatever was wrong going to make his stuttering worse?
"Professor Quirrell. Is everything alright? You look… You don't look well."
Maybe it would have been politer — certainly kinder — to open the door and invite him in to sit down. But she didn't want him in her space.
"It's the ch-children," he said, breathless and high-pitched. "Harry Potter and his l-little friends."
She felt her brow furrow. "What about them?"
"They — they're con-n-nviced that Severus is trying to steal Dumbledore's treasure. Th-the on-n-ne on the third floor."
For crying out loud. She didn't realize she'd actually said that, rather than thought it, until Quirrell replied, "K-k-quite. We've g-got to stop them!"
Sarah tucked her wand in the belt around her robes and stepped out the door. "Especially before Snape finds out. What a mess, and I don't even know what's in there. Something about a three-headed dog?"
"Be-between the two of us," Quirrell said, still breathless as he followed her, "we should be just fine."
As they made it to the third floor, Quirrel pulled something from a pouch on his belt. A tiny harp, she realized, squinting. Why did he need a tiny harp?
He looked over at her, and the expression that spread across his face was not one she would have called a smile. It was too blank, more a relaxation from the naked fear that he'd been wearing than anything else. Except the way he held his mouth, the way the lines around his heavy-lidded eyes softened —
He was smug about something.
He raised his arm, wand extended toward her, and said, calmly, "Stupefy."