The Sugar Quill
Author: ilene  Story: A Touch of Moonlight  Chapter: Chapter 2: A Meeting Over Tea
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A Touch of Moonlight Chapter Two

A Touch of Moonlight

Written by ilene

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Chapter Two: A Meeting Over Tea

Remus walked down the alley toward Grapple’s establishment again, a few days after his successful interview. He was going to meet his partner, Silver, this afternoon.  He wondered where the code name had come from, and hoped it wasn’t a reference to jewelry.  Not that merely touching silver had that much effect on him, beyond a slight sensation of heat as if he’d been splashed with hot bath water, although it would start to burn his skin if he had prolonged contact with it.  The special protective cream that his mother sent him every month, which he rubbed onto his hands every day, meant he could handle Sickles with no ill effects.  Still, he wanted as little trouble as possible. 

He still felt lucky that the blade in Grapple’s office had contained no silver; if it had, the simple Remedio Healing Charm would have had little effect on the wound.  Not to mention I’d have screamed like a cat in heat, he thought, remembering a youthful accident involving the family silverware.  Not exactly a great way to impress your boss.

He knocked on the door, expecting Grapple to meet him again.  However, it was not Grapple’s face that he saw as the door opened.  It was a young witch, barely out of school, it seemed.  She had dark, cropped hair, and was dressed in black robes.  Perhaps it was a maid, or the secretary.

“Hello,” he said. “I’m the new…field worker.  I think Mr. Grapple is expecting me?”

“Mr. Grapple and I have both been expecting you,” the witch said.  “I am Silver.  It is a pleasure to meet you.” She held out her hand.  She wore no rings; in fact, she wore no jewelry at all.

“Nice to meet you, too,” Remus said, shaking her hand.  “Please call me…Rouge.” 

He felt rather ashamed at his earlier assumption.  He could just imagine what Lily would have said if she’d known about it.  Remus J. Lupin, are you saying women can’t be more than maids or secretaries? He smiled to himself.  The memories were still vivid, but perhaps, ever so slightly less painful.

“I have my own office here,” Silver said, as she closed the door behind them.  Remus followed her up a narrow, rather rickety flight of stairs to the second floor.

“I’ve prepared some tea,” Silver said, as they walked into a small, narrow room.  “Would you prefer cream or lemon?”  She gestured toward a round table at one end of the room.  Remus looked at it, hoping it wasn’t a silver tea service.  Unfortunately, it was. 

“Well, I hate to sound ungrateful, but…” Remus looked at some books that were piled on a small desk not that far from the table, as he quickly tried to think of an excuse. Touching the cups shouldn’t be a problem, but drinking hot tea brewed in a silver teapot definitely would be.  He didn’t particularly care to volunteer for severe indigestion. “I’m feeling a bit under the weather today, and I don’t think I should eat anything right now.  Or drink anything.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that,” Silver said.  “Are you sure you should be here?  I can meet with you another day, you know.”

“No, no, that’s all right,’ Remus said.  “I can stay.”

Silver looked at him rather doubtfully.  “Well, all right, if you say so.”

Remus realized that he probably did look “a bit under the weather”.   It had been more than a week since the last full moon, but it had taken a lot out of him, as most of his transformations did, now that he no longer had his friends to keep him company. 

“All right, then, will you at least have a seat?”  Silver herself sat down, and tapped the teapot with her wand.  Remus sat down at the table as the teapot poured tea into her cup.  He noticed a plate full of tea sandwiches, and suddenly felt rather hungry.  He hoped his stomach wouldn’t start to growl at an inopportune moment.

Remus put his hands in his lap, then felt something moist touch one of them.  He looked down, and saw what looked like a pale, pink ribbon, that had wound around a leg of the table.  The ribbon quickly curled away from him, then snaked up onto the table top, into the sugar bowl, and wrapped around one of the sugar cubes.

Silver noticed what was happening, and smiled.  “Please excuse Muffy.  I suppose she’s feeling a little hungry right now.” 

Muffy?”

“My Puffskein.  She has somewhat of a sweet tooth,” Silver explained.  “Though I’m not sure if she really has any teeth, come to think of it. Excuse me.”  She walked over to the other end of the room, and bent down next to a large wicker basket near the fireplace, which had a furry, custard-colored ball, about the size of a Quaffle, inside it.

“Now, now, Muffykins,” she said, in a high-pitched tone of voice totally different than the rather coolly polite one she had been using with Remus. “I have important work to do now.  I’ll play with you later, okay?"  As she said this, the Puffskein’s tongue retracted, moving away from the table, sugar cube still firmly in its grasp.

Silver wasn’t that tall a witch, and Remus thought she looked very young as she bent beside her pet.  For some reason, that thought made him slightly uneasy, and Remus found himself suddenly becoming very interested in a small green pennant hanging on the mantle.  It had some gold writing on it, but he couldn’t quite make out the words.  The moon was a mere crescent now, and his eyesight was as weak as those of other wizards, as were his other senses.  In a few days it would be a new moon, and he would actually feel normal – as normal as he ever could be.

**********

“Now, then, let us get down to business,” Curie said, as she returned to the table.  She hoped Rouge wouldn’t suddenly collapse on her, or worse.  The sunlight pouring through the windows made him look even paler than when she had seen him on the night of his interview. 

She again wondered what had made her uncle choose him.  Sure, she’d heard him speak that name, of the One-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named, and calmly pierce his thumb with the point of a dagger.  Her uncle had definitely seemed impressed by his bravery.  But she wasn’t sure how much all of that counted, if he was too sickly to work.  She supposed that might be why he was satisfied with a part-time position.

“Since you’re not going to eat, let me clear these away.” She picked up the plate of tea sandwiches and placed them on her desk, being careful not to knock any books over in the process.  She couldn’t help feeling a little annoyed, though she supposed Rouge couldn’t help being sick.  If she’d known, she’d have used the time she’d spent making those sandwiches to catch up on reading about Magical Pest Control.  If I were him, she thought, I’d be polite enough to at least take a few sips of the tea.  It’s not like I poisoned it or anything.  She stifled a sigh as she picked up a roll of parchment that had her week’s schedule written on it.

Curie managed to summon a polite expression by the time she sat down at the table.  “So, Rouge,” she said, “I understand Mr. Grapple has told you about how jobs are assigned.”

“Yes,” Rouge said, “All of the cases that come in by owl are read into the main fireplace at sunset, and anyone who’s free can take whatever jobs are available.”

“Have you met Madam Nichols?”

“I haven’t had the chance to meet her, unfortunately…but I know she’s in charge of giving out all the jobs.”

“She is in charge of the cases that are read at sunset.”  Curie corrected.  “But there are many cases that are not.  Mr. Grapple himself reviews the most serious cases, especially those that are brought to him in person.  There are also emergency cases that require an immediate response.”

“Serious cases…I suppose those cases involve Ministry of Magic Class Five creatures?”

“Known wizard killer, impossible to domesticate?  More or less,” Curie said.  “Class Four cases too, depending on the circumstances.  Class Four and Class Five require at least two wizards…sometimes more.  A few months ago we had a case of a Gringotts guard dragon that escaped into the Underground.”

“But the Gringotts vaults are underground already…”

“Not that kind of underground, Rouge,” Curie said. “The Muggle Underground…where the Muggle trains run in tunnels under London.  That case had to be handled by ten of us, including Mr. Grapple himself.”

“Ah,” said Rouge.  He seemed to look at her with newfound respect.  Curie wasn’t sure if that was for her knowledge of Muggle trains, or because of her involvement in the dragon case.  She supposed it was just as well that he didn’t know that all she’d done was guard the tunnel the dragon had escaped into, to make sure no Muggles wandered into it.  She hadn’t even seen the dragon herself. 

“So, Mr. Grapple personally assigns the most serious cases.  He also usually reads the emergency cases that come in at night, when Madam Nichols is not on duty.”

“So Madam Nichols gives out emergency cases that come in the day?”

“Yes, Rouge,” Curie said, trying hard not to sound impatient.  “She reads those into the fire, of course.  Let me demonstrate.”  She took a small bottle out of her pocket, shook out a bit of Floo powder onto her palm, and flicked it toward the fireplace.

The fire flickered for a few moments, then with a slight “pop” the head of a middle-aged witch in a mobcap appeared in the midst of the flames. 

“Oh, hello, Miss Cu…er, Miss Silver.” Madam Nichols said, speaking very quickly.  “I have a case that just came in over Floo, if you’d like.  Young Danny Baddeley just saw his Muggle neighbor put out a dish of food for a Knarl, wants someone to come catch it quick, before it can rip up her prize tomatoes again.  Seems the last time it happened, he wound up being taken away by the Muggle please-men, who thought he was the culprit.” 

“Sorry, Madam Nichols.” Curie said, cutting her off before she could go on further, “I’m not looking for any cases right now.  I just opened the fire to demonstrate our system to my new partner.”

“Oh…sorry about that, Miss Cu…Miss Silver, I mean.  Of course, your new partner, Mr…Rouge, I believe?  Please, have him come over! I’d love to meet him.” 

Rouge shot Curie a quick look, of something like amusement, before stepping over to the fireplace.

“Yes, I do see him now, quite a handsome young man, I see!  Very pleased to meet you, Mr. Rouge.  Mr. Grapple is quite keen on you, you know.  Please, stop by my hearthside later when you have time.”  

“Pleased to meet you too, Madam Nichols,” Rouge said politely. 

“Oh, please call me Hetty, everyone else does.” 

I don’t, Curie thought.  She supposed that she was the only worker who called her Madam Nichols.  Childhood habits die hard, I guess.

“Thank you,” said Rouge.  “I’m in a meeting with Miss Silver right now, but I’d be happy to meet with you afterwards.”

“All right, then, Mr. Rouge,” Madam Nichols said, “I look forward to seeing you!”  There was another “pop”, and Madam Nichols’s head disappeared, though her voice remained connected to the network.  Curie could hear her offering the Knarl job to a witch named Pearl.

“So, that’s how it works,” Curie said, flicking another bit of Floo powder to silence the fireplace, then turning back to Rouge. “With the cases that come by Owl, Madam Nichols Floos the letter to whoever accepts the job.”

“I see,” said Rouge. 

“For non-urgent cases, Madam Nichols contacts the client and tells them to either owl or Floo us.  For emergency cases, we usually Floo to the scene right away.”

“Or Apparate?”

“Not every wizard can Apparate, Rouge,” Curie said, trying to sound as polite as possible.  “And with Floo, Madam Nichols can quickly send us through.”

“Of course, I understand that,” Rouge said. 

“I suppose that is about all.  We collect the payments from the clients ourselves, and drop the company’s share into the large cauldron in Madam Nichols’s office.   Did Mr. Grapple give you the sheet for calculating the amount of payment?”

“Yes,” Rouge said.  “Two Galleons for Ministry of Magic Class One; Five for Class Two; Ten for Class Three; Twenty-Five for Class Four; and Fifty for Class Five.”

“That’s per worker, of course.  Minus any damage to client property…”

“Damage?” Rouge asked.

“Well, of course, sometimes it’s very hard to properly dispose of dangerous creatures without, uh, some degree of damage to surrounding objects…”

“What kind of damage?” Rouge asked.

“Oh, you know, sometimes a misdirected spell can cause, say, a brick or two to fall out of place…” She could feel her cheeks warming. 

“Yes, I suppose,” said Rouge.

“When do you start work?” Curie asked, hoping to change the subject.

“Mr. Grapple said I could set my hours after consulting with you,” Rouge said.

“Oh?” Curie said, feeling a little better. “Well…my schedule is rather full this week, but if you want you can come along and observe a case or two this week.  Then we could start accepting two-worker cases next week.”

She pushed the teapot out of the way, and unfurled her parchment schedule on the table.

“It’s mostly Magical Pest Control work,” she said. “Here’s one: tomorrow, at noon.  Job: Chizpurfle infestation of Crup and...hmm…various magical objects.  Client: Fabrianne Grant. That should be fun.  Here’s another one. Job: Gnomes and Jarveys invading Muggle neighbor’s garden.  Client: Mrs. Baddeley.  Honestly, why don’t they just put up an invisible fence?”

“Well, if they did, then we wouldn’t have any more work from them, right?”  Rouge asked.

“Actually, you are right,” Curie said, smiling.  At least he has a sense of humor.  “As you may have guessed, we do get a lot of work from the Baddeleys.  They have this huge garden, but they’re not exactly skilled at pest control...their pests keep invading their Muggle neighbor’s prized tomato patch.  That should make for a lot of exercise.  Why don’t you come along on that one?  It’s a case of two species, so we’ll be charging double anyway.  The Chizpurfle case, too.”

“But we’re not out to defeat the Crup, are we?  So it’s actually only one species, the Chizpurfle…”

“Honestly, Rouge, have you ever tried to catch a bunch of Chizpurfles?”

“I wouldn’t say a bunch of them, but I have handled Chizpurfles, yes.” 

“Well, were they at full strength?  Because when they are, Class Two does not begin to cover it. I’d want to charge double anyway. They swell up to the size of golf balls!”

“Golf balls?”

“You know, those little white balls Muggles use when they play golf,” Curie said, tracing a circle in the air with her finger to indicate the size.

“Golf?” 

“It’s a game Muggles play,” Curie said, rather exasperated.  He really knows nothing about Muggles, does he?  “They take these long sticks and hit the golf ball with it. They hit it into a hole at the end of a field.  The fewer number of times you have to hit the ball to get it into the hole, the better your score is.  My fa-”  Curie suddenly cut herself off.  No, I’m not going to talk about him.  Not with this wizard I just met.

“Anyway, my point was, Chizpurfle infestations can be really hard to fight.  So, if you wouldn’t mind helping me with this case, I’d appreciate it.  I’ll even split the money with you, okay?  Same goes for the wonderful garden menagerie at the Baddeleys.”

“Well, then…okay,” Rouge said.

Curie noticed for the first time that Rouge’s robes were patched at the elbows, and seemed a little small for him.  He probably needs the money, she thought.  And from the way he looks, he might have Mediwizard bills to pay…

“Good, then.  Did Mr. Grapple give you a schedule sheet?”

“Yes,” said Rouge, pulling out another roll of parchment, and a quill.  He licked the end of it, and started reading the cases from her paper, as the quill began to write.

“Ah, you have a Quick-Quotes Quill? I’ve heard they come in pretty handy.  Rather expensive, though.”

“Yes,” said Rouge.  “A…friend of mine gave me a set.”

“You write a lot, then?”

“No, it’s not that.  I…injured my writing hand once, and my…friend thought they would help me in class…I was still at Hogwarts, then.”

“Oh, so it’s not like you got hurt fighting some terrible monster?”

Curie was quite surprised to see Rouge’s face turn even paler; she hadn’t thought that was possible.  “No, of course not.  Not too many terrible monsters run around inside Hogwarts, you know.”  He suddenly grabbed the quill off the parchment, as if he’d just realized that it was still writing, and quickly rolled up the parchment.

Maybe it was some kind of beast, she thought.  After all, that Forbidden Forest is pretty notorious for having everything from centaurs to werewolves running around in it.  But she supposed that whatever it was, Rouge wasn’t in a mood to discuss it.

“So,” said Rouge, “Is that all?”

“Yes,” said Curie, “I suppose that’s all for now.  Let’s say we meet here again tomorrow…around fifteen minutes before noon?  Then we can just Floo over to the Grants’ fireplace. ” 

“All right, then.”  Rouge tucked his quill and parchment away.  “I suppose I’ll be going, then.”

“You really should stop over at Madam Nichols’s office,” Curie said.  “She might have more to tell you…and her hearth-baked bread is delicious.  You can take it home, if you don’t feel like eating now.”

“Sure,” said Rouge. “Thank you.”

It seemed to Curie that, for whatever reason, Rouge wanted to get out of her office as quickly as possible.  She was too perplexed, though, to feel that insulted.  Strange, she thought.

**********

Remus left the Grapple establishment a few minutes later, a loaf of Hetty Nichols’s banana bread tucked under his arm.  He was painfully aware of the parchment in his pocket, as if it was burning a hole in it.  You’re an absolute idiot, he thought.  Like you didn’t think Sirius wouldn’t get you the most top-of-the-line Quick Quotes Quills out there?  Of course it would write down what you were really thinking.  He was pretty sure Silver hadn’t read the parchment, and he was quite relieved.  He definitely didn’t feel like explaining to her what the quill had written… 

I bit myself on my writing hand once when the moon was full, and Sirius thought they would help me when taking notes in History of Magic, especially since I tended to fall asleep in that class anyway… 

At least he’d managed to stop the Quill before it wrote down that soon after that, his friends had finally succeeded in becoming Animagi.  He’d have to copy the schedule again when he got home, by hand this time.  At least he had something extra to eat, to tide him over until tomorrow. 

He dipped his hand in his pocket and clutched the Quick-Quotes Quill in his fingers.  He’d almost thrown it away, once, along with everything Sirius had ever given to him, but somehow, he hadn’t been able to go through with it.  When did you turn, Sirius? I know you weren’t always what they all say you were.   Questions came to his mind, unbidden, questions that had plagued him for three years.  What did Voldemort promise you?  Or did he trick you?  Did you blurt out the secret without even realizing what would happen, like you did with Snape…but then, why kill Peter, Sirius?  Why? 

Stifling a sigh, he Disapparated

//
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