The Sugar Quill
Author: Calanthe (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Vignettes 3: Endurance  Chapter: I
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Vignettes 3: Endurance

Vignettes 3: Endurance.

 

by Calanthe.

 

 

Disclaimer: All of the major characters, concepts and premises in this story are the inventions of J.K. Rowling and belong to her.  I do not have authorisation to use them and I am not making any money from doing so.  Damn.

 

This story was inspired by Cairnsy’s desire, expressed at Positively Percy, to see ‘Gryffindor Percy’ in action…because there are all sorts of ways of being brave.

 

Many thanks to Jedi Boadicea, my most helpful and encouraging beta-reader.

 

 

 

…The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet

Though to itself it only live and die;

But if that flower with base infection meet,

The basest weed outbraves his dignity:

For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds:

Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

 

(Sonnet 94).

 

I.

 

‘Will there be anything else?’

He propped his elbows on the counter, peered over the rim of his basket at a tangle of cartons and paper bags.  Butter, milk, oats.  Eggs.  Flour and tea.  Soap…  Loose strands of hair fell across his forehead; he put up a hand to tuck them behind his ear, and looked up.

‘Just a box of candles, please.’

Madam Priggitt sniffed, and tucked in her chins.  ‘Small box or large?’

He straightened, and gave the shopkeeper a patient look.  Her bosom heaved crossly; the floorboards creaked under her as she heaved herself around to the shelves that filled the wall behind her counter.  He tucked his hands into the pockets of his worn jeans, tilted his head to watch as the shopkeeper shuffle heavy-handed through packets and stacks of boxes.  Dust puffed around thick knuckles, drifted mustily from shadow into half-light, and sank…

Black type marching stolidly behind the fall of grey caught at the corner of his eye.  He turned his head, saw a stack of newspapers at the edge of the counter.  MINISTRY OFFICIAL DENIES DARK RISE…   His fingernails dug into the calluses on his palms; he stood for a moment, watching dust shift above the words.  Then his shoulders slumped.  He let his breath go in a silent sigh, shook his head, and dragged his hands out of his pockets to take a paper from the stack. 

On the front page, a middle-aged wizard looked out at him seriously from behind a banner-draped lectern, eyes direct beneath sternly combed dark hair.  He bent his head over the column of small print, and his brows drew together slightly: The Head of the Department of International Magical Co-operation last night dismissed rumours of You-Know-Who’s return as irresponsible scaremongering perpetrated by malcontents aiming to bring down the current administration.  In his speech at the opening of the International Confederation of Wizards’ Conference in Diagon Alley, Mr Morton Lackey stated that…

He shook his head again and snapped the paper back into its folds—

Wax rattled pointedly against cardboard, and he turned back towards the counter.  ‘One small box of candles,’ announced Madam Priggitt, dropping it into his basket.  ‘Will you be wanting that Daily Prophet too, then?’

He looked down at the paper again, and a corner of his mouth quirked in distaste.  ‘…I suppose I should,’ he murmured, and looked up.  ‘Yes, thank you.’

‘That will be five and twenty-one, then, thank you very much, Mr Lupin.’

Remus nodded, fumbled in his pocket and counted out six Sickles into her palm with a brief smile.  As the till keys began to clack, he reached into his basket, shifted the crumpled egg-carton sideways and settled the sack of flour flat, wedged the newspaper in between sagging hessian and dry wicker twigs—

Faintly, under the rattle of the till, he heard another sound.  He looked up slowly, and his brows drew together; after a moment he slipped his wand out of his belt and crossed quietly to the shop door.  Hard brass curlicues warmed under his fingers as he pressed the handle gently, eased the door open.

Nothing: only green hedges dusted with pale flowers, slate roofs warm with sunlight, and behind them pale-green fields and the far-off purple outline of the Welsh mountains blurring into a soft summer afternoon sky.  He drew back—

‘Oh God—oh, dear God!

The shop-bell clattered brassily behind him as he stepped out onto the footpath, and saw…

‘Ah.’ 

In the middle of the road a hand clawed frantically at the air, trailing flexing bones, the ghost of skin.  An empty sleeve clutched a battered leather satchel hard against gleaming bone, faint shadows that pulsed like heart and lungs.  The air trembled, and a chin lunged out of elsewhere, pulled a cheekbone and a staring eye, a tracery of beating veins, behind it.  Pinstriped skirts flapped suddenly, outlined one wavering leg and a knee straining forward without a shin below to finish the step... Remus winced sympathetically.

‘Somebody call for a—an ambulance—’ 

‘Oh, no.’  Remus squinted past the splinched shape, saw the vicar backed against the rectory wall, a hand full of weeds clapped against her mouth, wide eyes darting as if she could find help in the bus shelter, a shop-sign, a garden fork. 

‘Yes—I’ll—I’ll call an ambulance—’  She wheeled and stumbled away, gardening apron flapping urgently in her wake.

Remus closed his eyes.  ‘Come on, Twite, you should be here by now…’

‘Don’t look, Mikey—’ 

His breath hissed through his teeth.  He shot a glance down toward the green; a grey-faced woman clutched her shopping in one hand, pushed her little boy’s face against her thigh with the other as she lurched back through the butcher’s door—

Somebody gasped, choked.  Remus swore and wheeled around: a chubby teenage boy crouched at the bus shelter, retching into the gutter—

‘Somebody ought to do something.’  An old voice, shrill and shaking.  Remus’ teeth closed hard in his lip.  He swung back toward the green.  An old man sagged over his walking-stick, sank onto a bench with one hand scrabbling at his chest.  ‘It oughtn’t to be allowed.  Someone ought to—’

‘Yes,’ murmured Remus tightly, ‘but unfortunately he’s not here.’  He let his breath go sharply, closed his eyes for a moment; then he straightened, and stepped into the road.  Sunlight shifted warmly over his face, sank through his shirt to his skin as he lifted his head and swept his wand through an arc of Encompass that took in the whole of the village, and said quietly,

Avertoculae.

Stillness.  The pub sign creaked faintly.  Leaves rustled.  His wand hand sank to his side.  A breeze rippled the worn cloth of his shirt, tugged at the hair bound at the nape of his neck; he shivered, and bowed his head.  His fingers tightened on his wand…

Slowly, at the edge of his sight, staring eyes clouded.  Foreheads pinched, furrowed, eased.  Heads shook, uncertainly, then briskly; and faces began to turn away from the road.  The chubby boy swiped at his mouth, picked himself up and propped himself against the bus shelter in a bored slouch.  The vicar stopped fumbling with the rectory door.  The old man steadied himself against his walking-stick and leaned back.  His chin nodded down against his chest.

Remus lifted his head, and shrugged.  ‘It may not be as impressive as charging in yelling Obliviate! the way those idiots from the Ministry do it,’ he said, ‘but it’s much more effective.  Now.’  He brushed a hand over his forehead thoughtfully.  ‘Let’s just hope nobody’s trying to do this from the other side yet, or you’ll really be in trouble…’  And he brought up his wand.  Fis totus!’

Air billowed; he rocked back a step, and his throat closed on a sudden reek of sour sweat.  He clapped a hand over his face, blinked through a haze of tears at a tall trembling shape that stood  swaying in the middle of the road, clutching a satchel against its chest with both hands.  The wizard stumbled forward a step, stopped, swayed and buckled at the knees, and crumpled into a heap of heavy charcoal skirts in the middle of the road.  Remus dusted his eyes clear with the heel of his hand and peered down at short rust-coloured hair, the dark rim of a pair of battered spectacles—

‘Percy Weasley?’ 

After a moment Percy’s shoulders twitched.  He lifted his head; Remus stared blankly at several days’ worth of grimy beard, shadows dark as bruises under pale eyes… 

Percy blinked.  His eyes shifted dazedly behind dust-streaked lenses until they found Remus’ face.  Bloodless lips moved faintly, shaped a whisper: ‘The shadows are alive.  They’re hunting me—’

And then his eyelids dropped, and his head slumped, and Percy folded up over the top of his satchel and toppled sideways, slowly, to slump unconscious in the gutter.

‘God…’  Remus shoved his wand into his belt and dropped to his knees beside the sprawled shape.  Stone dug through thin denim into his skin; he winced, braced his hands on his knees and leaned forward.

‘—Hey!  You there—Lupin!  What d’you think you’re playing at, eh?’

Remus lifted his head.  ‘You took your time,’ he said mildly to the stout bowler-hatted shape glaring at him from the top of the street.  ‘Keep your voice down, please, or you’ll break the charm I used.’  He bent over Percy again, nostrils pinching against the stench of old sweat.  A gentle push on one shoulder rolled the young wizard onto his back; his right hand kept its grip on cracked leather, but the left slackened and flopped loose across the bitumen—

And Remus’ breath stopped in his throat.  Slowly he reached out, pushed Percy’s sleeve up and angled his arm to the light, and…there, faint as an old bloodstain on wax-cold skin, a skull glared up at him malevolently out of empty eyes, a serpent lashing tonguelike between gaping jaws.

Remus’ stomach clenched.  His fingers knotted sharply in cloth; after a moment, he took a breath, tugged Percy’s sleeve down again, leaned forward and pressed his fingers lightly across Percy’s throat. Blood beat against his fingertips, faint, but regular.  Remus nodded.  He pushed Percy’s glasses straight on the bridge of his nose, picked up his left arm by the wrist and folded it neatly over the top of the satchel, then straightened and reached for his wand—

Lupin—’  A thick hand descended onto his shoulder; broad fingers dug through cloth to skin and shook him hard.  For a moment Remus’ shoulders stiffened; then he let his breath go and looked up. 

‘It’s all right, Mr Twite,’ he said calmly.  In the shadow of his hat-brim, Twite’s jaw bunched ominously.  ‘An ordinary splinching, no complications.  He’s fainted; the shock, I suppose.  He used to be a student of mine,’ he added in an explanatory tone.  ‘I’ll take care of him.’

Dull red flooded Twite’s face; his brows snapped together, and he leaned down and shoved his face close.  ‘You’ll do no such thing!’ he hissed.  Remus raised a questioning eyebrow, and Twite’s neck swelled.  ‘I’ve had enough of you and your airs, Lupin!  I don’t care what fancy names you choose to give yourself, you’ve got no business charging into delicate situations in this high-handed fashion, casting unauthorised charms on Muggles and unsplinching people without so much as a by-your-leave!  There are procedures to be followed!  I’m going to be days undoing the mess you’ve made here, so you just—’

‘Really?’  The corner of Remus’ mouth quirked faintly; he tamped it straight, murmured, ‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ and turned his face away.  He pulled his wand free of his belt, shifted to flick it at Madam Priggitt’s shop door.  Accio.’  

In the shadows, something shifted.  He heard a faint brassy clatter, a clunk; then his basket creaked and settled onto the road at his side.  He looked at it, and the corner of his mouth twitched sharply. 

‘I’ll have my change too, if you don’t mind, Madam Priggitt,’ he said, heard the clipped drawl of his childhood suddenly clear in his voice.  There was another, sharper clatter, a glint of copper, and a handful of Knuts tumbled themselves into the basket.  He dropped his wand on top of them, closed one hand around sagging wicker handles and rested the other over Percy’s clammy knuckles.

Twite’s fingers closed on bone; Remus flinched, drew a breath, closed his eyes. 

‘Now don’t you try anything, Lupin.  You’re coming with me—you and this—’  Remus bowed his head, and let his breath slip from his throat; and the grip eased from his shoulder, and the voice faded from his ears, and the world shifted around him.

//
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