Title: Trail of the Black Star
Author: Mundungus42
Email: mundungus42@yahoo.com Rating: An energetic PG-13 Category: Adventure, Humour, Romance Disclaimer: I got rhythm, I got music, but I got no copyrights. Oh well. Two out of three ain't bad. Author's Note: This is a lengthy and late response to the WIKTT Romance Novelist Challenge, but who's counting? Narrative nods to the films "Romancing the Stone" and "Adaptation," abundant allusions to Peruvian folklore, translation tips from "Le Ton Beau de Marot," and extrinsic examples from other fics and pop culture bits abound. Please let me know if I fail to cite something so that I may do so. More detailed notes and quotes at the end of Chapter 13.

Severus Snape - The Romance Novelist Challenge

1) SS is a secret writer of Mills and Boon type novels.
2) No-one knows this.for a while.
3) Hermione finds out.
4) HG can still be at Hogwarts as a student, or as a graduate.
5) There must be a reference to one of SS's novels. Title is up to the
writer..
6) The following phrases must be incorporated: "- alleviate the ennui which had overtaken him/her like Communism through Eastern Europe."
"May I convey how much I ardently admire and love you?"
"Your paper and your parts are pure crap."
"Abscess makes the heart grow fonder."
"You're off your chump!"
And some reference somewhere to a "heaving bosom". Characters may be OOC if required. Silliness is not a prerequisite, but it helps.



London, UK
21 June, 7:45 PM

There was no other word for it: the Aero Club was a dive. It was too close to Heathrow to attract any respectable local clientele and too far from it to attract anyone other than hordes of airport workers who descended upon London with the sole intent of getting blitzed. The drinks were cheap, the music was loud, and the atmosphere forgettable. It was perfect.

He sat in the corner doing his best impression of the invisible man. A pint of lager stood before him, untouched. The waitresses and shot girls knew better than to try to entice him to buy another drink. The story of the prat in black who ordered one drink and never tipped had been passed down from waitress to waitress for all the years that he'd come in. He was an institution. He'd come in a few times a year, buy a single beer, and then lurk in the corner for a few hours and bite off the head of anyone who spoke to him until the woman joined him. They'd exchange parcels, and then he'd disappear. Not literally- that was impossible. But nobody ever seemed to remember him coming or going. Then again, nobody ever got close enough to scrutinize, either.

She was late. She was always late. He often wondered why he bothered showing up precisely at 7:30 when she never made it before 9. Punctuality was his passing nod at courtesy; Merlin knew she never received any other shows of it from him. But she didn't care as long as he kept delivering. He absently glanced at the manila envelope on the table in front of him.

This one had come from a weekend in Italy, where he'd been researching a steel-curing potion from Agrippa's second treatise on swordsmithing. He found Tuscany quite charming with its ancient walled cities, hearty fare, and dark-eyed beauties with flashing smiles. And Violetta, the loveliest flower of them all had sought solace in his arms from her cruel Mafioso guardian. He forced the sun-drenched memory from his mind with a scowl. As soon as Meg showed up, he could get The Tuscan Riders off his hands and out of his mind. Then his life would return to normal for a while.

Some men's lives are the tales of heroes and battles hard won. Other men live in tragedy, their suffering giving agonizing beauty to their otherwise meaningless existences. And others dance their lives as if to an internal musical score. Severus would have settled for his life to have been written by a Bronte sister, for all that he looked the part. But men can no more design the structure of their lives than they can touch the stars. And so Severus was resigned to his own life as the hero of a romance novel, and it was endlessly tiresome.

It was Dumbledore who inadvertently gave him the idea to start writing down his adventures for publication. He'd just returned from a trip to India where he'd done some reconnaissance for Dumbledore and freed Siripadma the Siren from an arranged marriage to an elderly traditionalist by selflessly taking her virginity on the eve of her wedding. Fortunately, Severus had the foresight to introduce her to a dashing young mediwizard with a much more worldly philosophy before extricating himself from the situation. However, he still unwittingly sported a prominent love bite on the underside of his chin when he next visited Albus. Dumbledore twinkled at him suggestively and referred to an author with whom Severus was unfamiliar before healing the bruise and shooing him back to Hogwarts. But if the name Felicity Underalls was the name her parents had given her, he'd eat a flobberworm.

He was surprised to discover several of Felicity Underalls' books in his drawer of items confiscated from potions students over the years; usually items that the students were too embarrassed to request returned. Absently, he read a few pages of La Belle Dame of the Golden West. Utter tripe, naturally- full of the reinforcing stereotypes typical of the genre that led to expectations of handsome princes on white chargers.

It was then that he had the Idea. He dismissed it immediately, but it refused to stay dismissed. The next day he began writing. He had to change a few things, starting with the names of all persons involved. If any of the witches recognized themselves or their stories, he'd be wide open for a lawsuit, or worse, exposure as a paperback novelist. A month later he'd finished his first novel, Indian Summer, and sent it to a Muggle publisher. Two weeks later, he'd first met up with Margaret Mufflington at the Aero Club. Eight months later, he'd become the most popular author in the history of Scuppers and Hosepipe Publishing, and demand was growing. He'd written up nearly twenty "fictional" memoirs to date under the pen name Johnson Palmer, each more successful than the first. They all featured an international playboy named Thayne Meadows whom Meg initially feared was "too James Bond" -whatever that meant - to appeal to women. But his sales spoke for themselves; he was making overwhelming progress toward his goal of retiring in style before the age of sixty. Not bad for the greasy git, he reflected with satisfaction.

Severus' attention was drawn to a familiar-looking elbow shoving its way through the crowd, which had grown considerably denser since his arrival. When the rest of her short frame came into view, she gave him a wide grin.

"You're looking well," she remarked loudly over the music. "I take it Italy agreed with you?"

"Entirely too well. I find such relentlessly agreeable places the height of tedium."

She snorted. "Well, that explains why you keep dragging me to this god- awful place year after year." She glanced greedily at the envelope that Severus placed on the table. "What's the name of my next best-seller, then?"

"It's called The Tuscan Riders."

"Too Star Wars. We're not a sci-fi outfit."

He had no idea what the star wars were, but figured her dismissal was valid. "Very well, how about The Hinds of Rome?"

She laughed. "It would be wasted on your audience."

"Call it The Florentine Nightingale for all I care, just take it away and publish the damn thing."

"The Florentine Nightingale. I may keep that one," she remarked thoughtfully as she took the envelope. "I'll have a look through it before I decide on a title, of course."

"Of course."

"And I brought you a copy of your latest, and your check." She handed him paperback with a lurid illustration of a shirtless man in a cowboy hat entwined with a woman whose bosoms had practically heaved out of their token restraints. He removed the check from the book and turned it cover- side down on the table.

"How thoughtful."

"So," she took a deep pull from his beer, "do you have plans for a summer trip, yet?"

"By which you mean, where is the next book to be set?"

She nodded. "As your official spokesperson, I have to say something in your press releases. I must say, your fan mail have offered a variety of suggestions if you're short on exotic locales."

"That will be unnecessary. I have already booked a trip to Peru."

"Peru! That's fantastic! I can just picture it: the Lima nightlife, dancing 'til dawn, tropical beaches, it'll be an absolutely scrummy book! I can taste it now!" She closed her eyes and licked her lips for emphasis. "How long will you be there?"

"Five days."

"Only five?"

"I have some pressing engagements at home, or I would stay longer. It should, nevertheless, be adequate for my purposes. Well, Meg, it's been an experience, as usual, but I have a work function this evening."

"Always working, is my Johnny Palmer," she drawled, invoking his nom de plume. "So sad that he's always going and never coming. at least not for me."

"Really, Meg. With such subtle turns of phrase you should write novels yourself instead of slaving away on press releases."

"Oh John, you say the sweetest things. But one of us has to manage the business end." They both rose. "See you in a few months."

"I'll call you when I've finished the next."

"'Course you will, darling." She blew kisses at his retreating back and imagined the dirty look he would have given her if he'd seen. It gave her shivers. "Oh, John?"

"What?"

"You're not planning a happy ending for the next one, are you?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"For your next book, I mean. Will Thayne ever stay with one of the girls? In every one of your books, I get the feeling that this girl is the one for him. This one will make him stop wandering. But he always leaves in the end. I'm hardly complaining, mind you. It's earned you a Kleenex endorsement and allows for sequel after sequel, but as your publisher I'm entitled to know if and when you're planning to end the series."

A wry look twisted his features into a semblance of a smile. "As much as it pains me to say, I do not foresee a change in the formula anytime soon."

"Oh that's good," toasted him with the pint glass. "Have fun in Peru."

He inclined his head in the slightest of nods before sweeping off in the direction of the loo.

Meg took another drink from his abandoned beer and took out the manuscript. If the first few pages were any indication, this was going to be his best to date. It wasn't until she was wiping away the tears for Mimi, the abandoned lover, that it occurred to her that she never saw him leave.



Lima, Peru
24 June, 1:34PM

Severus found Lima, apart from the magical library of Universidad Mayor de San Marcos, to be rather banal. The city was crowded, dirty, and entirely symptomatic of the expansionist mania that had gripped fifteenth and sixteenth century Muggle Europe. Spanish tile, Spanish architecture, a church on practically every corner smugly dismissing signs of any sign of the bloodthirsty native culture that conquered the area first. Hardly his preferred poison, though the ambient irony almost rendered it palatable. His first day in Peru was spent brooding in a dark corner of the library, studiously avoiding the nightlife, the beaches, and the knockout librarian who had been trying to catch his eye. Even though the library's collection of scholarship on 15th Century Incan magic was breathtaking, it was not the primary, nor even the quaternary reason he'd come to Peru. As a result, he was in an overwhelmingly foul mood.

The draconian customs officials had confiscated his international apparation license for no reason other than that he refused to give up bribe money. So much for Plan A, which had been "take care of business quickly, extricate beautiful witch from sad situation, reluctantly accept her affections for a short time, go home." Broomstick use required a permit in Peru, as well. He would have applauded such a sensible measure if it had not been so damnably inconvenient, especially when the Magical Government offices were open intermittently, at best. So much for Plan B, which had been, "take care of business, be seduced by beautiful witch, go home, invent the rest for the book." Muggle transport to Cusco seemed to be a logical solution. However, it turned out to be a two-day wait for a flight, and only marginally better for trains and passenger buses. He grudgingly bought the plane ticket and mentally cursed the incompetent Peruvian airlines that made him wait two days for a 55-minute flight. So he was down to Plan C: take care of business, go home, painfully pull romantic plot from insufferable trip, be in bad mood until next trip.

It wasn't until lunch the following day that he discovered the reason for the delay. He had originally attributed it the holiday season combined with the world's most popular eco-cultural tourist trap, the ruins of Machu Picchu. However, after a second procession of revellers invaded his peace and strewed confetti in his tea, he stalked to the nearest newsstand. The headline elicited a loud groan. The Festival of the Sun. Of course. The day when all of Peru paid homage to its bloodthirsty roots. The day when hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world descended upon Cusco to watch some actor in a silly costume pretend to sacrifice a llama. Absurd! And it left him with only two days to locate, secure, and harvest one of the rarest species of orchid in the world.

After a day and a half of twiddling his thumbs in Lima, he was seriously considering Plan D, which was "bugger all, go home." However, his stubborn temperament had gotten the better of him and so he stayed in his dark corner of the magical library, radiating menace.

At least he had managed to avoid any romantic entanglements, which would only have compounded his ill humour. The witches who sought him out all had the same ideas, the same kind of depressing situations, and were all aesthetically tolerable in a generously breasted, narrow hipped, full lipped, and pertly nosed kind of way. But behind the wide, outlandishly lashed eyes there was nothing that gave pause- no scintillation of mind, no depth of knowledge, and, most frustratingly, no skill at self-preservation.

When the librarian caught his eye again, he took it as his cue to leave. She had almost worked up the courage to approach him, and the last thing he felt like doing was hearing her life's story, her abundant charms notwithstanding. She had 'emotional baggage' written all over her. He shot a quelling look in her direction and managed to suppress a smile as he saw her pretty face fall into a petulant pout.

Typical, he thought as he gathered his things. She would wait in her ivory tower to be carried away, without doing a thing to help herself. If circumstances were different, he would have heard her out. He would even have helped her, partially to help pay his debt to the world for the mistakes of his youth, and partially because such women typically expressed their gratitude in a most satisfactory fashion.

But that was where the fairy tale ended.

He told himself that leaving them was the best way to help them break the dependency cycle, but privately, he knew that he could never have put up with any of them for very long. But there was no time for that sort of thing this trip. He had real work to do.



End Notes: So the story is finished, but I'm updating on consecutive days in a puerile attempt to garner reviews. If you feel compelled to do so, indulge me!

Next Chapter: Enter the Dragon. A ruthless mercenary, rare plants, and drugged tea. Oh, yes- Hermione too!