Written in response to the fandom-wide anxiety over the possibility of more character deaths, just before the release date for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was announced.

Because...what if all the characters got together and just said...no. After all, Rowling hasn't finished writing the last two books yet; surely those Fictional Character Self-Preservation Instincts (tm) must be kicking into high gear right about now..

When the Muse Strikes
by Beth H.
(c) November 21, 2004

(with all due respect and affection and massive apologies to J.K. Rowling.)

J.K. Rowling walked along the main corridor of Hogwart School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, her footsteps echoing in the empty halls.

Where was everybody?

Yes, it was past curfew, but that never seemed to stop anybody before. There were always students out and about after hours. Not Hufflepuffs, of course; they were always tucked up in their beds early so that they could wake with the sun and...water plants or something, but where were the Ravenclaws scuttling back to their common room after a long night of swotting in the library? Where were the Gryffindors out for a bit of harmless fun? Where were the Slytherins up to no good?

Something must be terribly wrong.

The swirl of blue and green robes rounding the corner caught her eye. Finally! Somebody who could explain why the halls were so uncharacteristically vacant.

The owner of the robes approached, with what looked like a welcoming smile on his face, but when he drew close enough to see her clearly, his smile turned into a sneer.

"Oh, it's you," he said disgustedly.

Rowling frowned. Why would a stranger speak to her with that tone of voice?

"Pardon me, but have we met?"

The man stared at her in open disbelief. "Have we . . . you created me!"

"I'm terribly sorry, but I don't seem to recognize you. Are you certain that . . . ."

"I am Severus Snape, master of Potions at this school."

Rowling snorted in a most unladylike way. "I'm sorry, but that's quite impossible. Severus Snape would never wear anything but black robes, and in any case, you don't look . . . well . . . ."

"Freakishly hideous? Of course I don't! But . . . surely you meant for your readers to understand that your novels were written from the perspective of a young innocent boy who was sadly misinformed about my true nature?"

"A young innocent boy? Now I'm certain you're not Severus Snape. He'd never be so sympathetic to Harry Potter."

The man who was calling himself Snape smiled. "That's what you think. You'll find that quite a bit has changed in the past seventeen months. I bid you good evening, Ms. Rowling."

He inclined his head in a polite nod, then swept off in the direction of the dungeons.

Rowling shook her head. How could one of her own creations have become so entirely unrecognizable in so little time? It was a jolly good thing she had arrived when she did. There was no telling what her characters might have got up to if left too long to their own devices.

Perhaps, Rowling thought, she should pay a visit to Harry, just to make sure everything was as it should be. She walked down the chilly corridor, but as she took her first step up the stairs that led to Gryffindor Tower, she heard the sound of childish laughter coming from the direction of the kitchens (at least . . . she thought it must be the kitchens. She'd always been a bit vague about the location of rooms in this castle).

Oh, now that was reassuring! Harry and his friends must have snuck out for a little late-night snack.

Rowling tip-toed over to the kitchen doorway, then peeked inside.

There, sitting on one side of a small table and drinking hot chocolate, sat Dobby, Winky, and an unfamiliar House-Elf. All three were wearing little knit caps and were grinning broadly. Across the table from the Elves sat two witches with tea cups in their hands: Sybil Trelawney and . . . good Lord, was that Mrs. Black?

Rowling gasped, and as she did, all five turned toward her.

For a moment nobody moved, then Sybil glanced into her cup and smiled.

"Ah, yes, " she said. "I read in the tea leaves that we would soon be welcoming an unexpected guest."

Dobby leapt off his chair, his eyes wide. "Oh, Miss Jo Rowling! Dobby is honoured that you is visiting him in his kitchen! Is Miss Jo Rowling wanting a nice cup of hot chocolate? We is having marshmallows tonight!"

"No . . . um . . . no thank you, Dobby. I don't . . . is that Sirius Black's mother?" Rowling whispered.

"Oh yes!" Dobby answered, nodding his head energetically. "It is Mrs. Black who brought Dobby the marshmallows."

"House-Elves love marshmallows!" Winky said dreamily. "They is even better than Butterbeer!"

"Yes," Mrs. Black nodded. "I remember Kreacher here telling me that, many years ago."

"Kreacher?" Now Rowling was even more confused. This smiling, happy, hat-wearing House-Elf was Kreacher? None of this made any sense. "And you're . . . pardon me for saying so, but, well . . . you're not actually alive, you know."

Mrs. Black smiled. "Oh, yes . . . the portrait. I can see where you might have drawn the conclusion that we portrait subjects have no existence except as painted images on canvas. However, most people who aren't Mud . . . "

Sybil jabbed Mrs. Black sharply in the ribs with her elbow.

". . . Muggles know that it's simply not true. Like all fictional characters, once we've been created, we take on a life of our own, and a mere frame, no matter how solid, simply can't contain us."

Rowling started to back out the door.

"Are you sure you wouldn't like a cup of tea," Mrs. Black called after her retreating form. "You look like you could use one."

No. It was simply not to be believed. These were her characters. She'd brought them into existence, and for them to be willfully ignoring her plans for them, well . . . it was just unacceptable, that's all. They had to do what she wanted them to do! That's how these things worked.

Ignoring the sneaking suspicion that she was beginning to sound a little too much like He Who Must Not Be Named for comfort, Rowling climbed the stairs, more determined than ever to speak to Harry. He was her protagonist. Surely he, at least, would still be recognizable as the boy she'd created.

A few minutes later, Rowling stood in front of the portrait which usually housed the Fat Lady and tried to remember the last password she'd created for the Gryffindors. She tried a dozen with no success before the Fat Lady dashed back into her own frame from a neighbouring portrait of a farmer during haying season, and - breathing heavily and picking bits of straw out of her hair - said "Oh, you can just turn the doorknob and go right on through, you know. We're all friends now. No need for silly things like passwords."

With some trepidation, Rowling stepped, unnoticed, into the Gryffindor common room, and instantly breathed a sigh of relief. The room was full of cheerful young people. She recognized Ron Weasley immediately, not only by his bright ginger hair, but also by the fact that he was playing a game of Wizard Chess with Lavender Brown. Hermione Granger was sitting, curled up on one of the leather chairs, reading a book, and Harry was sitting on the floor with a group of youngsters who looked to be first years, teaching them how to play Exploding Snap.

Yes, it looked like everything was all right with her world, at least in Gryffindor Tower.

"Harry!" a voice called from the other side of the room. "Do you have any more of those Malteasers? You were right . . . they were pretty good."

Harry smiled. "Notice how I'm not even saying 'I told you so?'"

Draco raised an eyebrow. "Yes, yes . . . I noticed."

"Excellent! In that case," Harry said as he threw a small red bag across the room, "you may have my last bag."

Six years of playing Seeker for Slytherin had honed Draco's reflexes enough so that he was able to grab the package of sweets out of the air. "Thanks! I'll have my father bring some more for us the next time he comes to visit."

Harry stopped playing for a moment and tilted his head to he side. "Um, you do know that he can only buy these in the Muggle world, right?"

"Yes," Draco said. "But Father's a Slytherin, and he's realized that it's in his own self-interest to . . . adapt."

Rowling walking into the middle of the room, her hands on her hips.

"All right, I think I've heard just about enough. I leave you people alone for seventeen months, and when I return, it's bedlam! What's a Slytherin doing in the Gryffindor common rooms? What's Lucius Malfoy doing planning trips to the Muggle world to buy Muggle sweets for his son? What's Professor Snape doing wearing blue and green robes?"

"I love what Snape's new robes do for him," Neville whispered to Ginny.

Ginny nodded. "I know! They make him look so hot!"

Rowling stared in horror at the two Gryffindors, then continued. "And what's the most malicious House-Elf in the Wizarding World doing chatting happily in the Hogwarts' kitchens?"

"Oooh!" Ron said, looking up from his game. "Kreacher's here? Did he bring marshmallows?"

"Would someone kindly explain to me what in the world is going on here? Harry? Please tell me what's happening."

Harry nodded. "Yeah, well . . . we know you meant well and all . . . ."

"Speak for yourself," muttered Draco.

"...but we had to do something. I mean, if we didn't, more of us were going to die."

Rowling frowned. "Where did you hear that?"

Hermione held up her book. "I read it in Hogwarts, A History.

"But that's impossible," said Rowling. "I haven't even finished the sixth book yet."

"Oh no, it's all quite true," Hermione replied. "It's all there in black and white in the Future Appendices. You did know this was . . . a magical book, didn't you?"

"Anyway," Harry said, "Ron and Hermione and I were talking about it one night, and we thought that the next to go could be anyone. I mean, you said you really liked Sirius and look what happened to him!"

"But that was important to the story-line. I didn't do it lightly. I cried when he died."

Harry nodded. "I know, but . . . look, I don't want to be disrespectful, but these are our lives we're talking about, not yours. We decided the only way to keep anyone else from dying was if we all signed a pact not to do anything that might even possibly lead to more tragedy."

Hermione nodded. "So I drafted a contract."

Ron shook his head. "Scariest contract maker in the entire Wizarding World."

"And everyone agreed to . . . .well . . . "

"Become friends," said Draco, with a slightly sick expression on his face.

Hermione nodded. "Yes. And not to roam the halls at night."

"Or rush off without first thinking about what we're doing," said Harry.

"Or hold onto old prejudices," said Ron.

"But . . . but . . . what's going to happen to the rest of my book series?" Rowling said.

For a moment, nobody said a word, then the silence was broken by the distinctive sound of Albus Dumbledore, Minerva McGonagall, and Tom Riddle singing a rather drunken chorus of "Ninety-nine bottles of Butterbeer on the Wall" down in the courtyard.

Harry stood up, and patted the stunned author on the shoulder.

"Honestly, we're all awfully sorry. I'm sure you'll come up with another book idea. Sometime."

J.K. Rowling wept.

Comments, critiques, chit chat: beth-h @ mrks.org

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