The Sugar Quill
Author: Sweeney Agonistes (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Faith  Chapter: Chapter One
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It was the middle of the Christmas visiting season at Mistraldol, and while Errol usually made at least an appearance while hi

A/N: Very huge thanks to Zsenya for being wonderful and beta-reading, as well as presenting me with a N.E.W.T. After the real, live deerstalker hat that my mother gave me, the N.E.W.T. is my second-favorite present. J

 

I would also like to thank Catherine for being so generous with her Klarions – because yes, the Klarions are Catherine’s – and letting them come out to play with me. Catherine, you’re the best Old Wizard I know.

 

 

 

 

It was the middle of the Christmas visiting season at Mistraldol, and while Errol usually made at least an appearance while his parents entertained, he had begged off. He’d had a bad day yesterday. Even though today was better, he didn’t feel like seeing anyone. So he sat in the library with a volume of children’s stories that, according to his mother, had been one of his favorites when he was younger. He settled into a chair, re-exploring tales that had once been his, but had since been lost.

 

Errol was aware of the door creaking open some time later, but he did not move from his chair. There would be nothing threatening in Mistraldol, and Isis, reposing comfortably at his feet, had not moved. He silently rested his book in his lap and listened.

 

There were whispers he could not make out – childish whispers. Footsteps. And then a boy’s voice said quite loudly, “There’s no one in here – why are we whispering?”

 

“’Cause it’s a liberry, Ned,” lisped another voice, this one a girl’s. “You whisper in a liberry.”

 

“Shut it, Madeline,” said Ned imperiously. “I’ll talk if I want – not that you can, with that lisp of yours – ” Madeline began to whimper.

 

Another boy’s voice intervened, “Come on, now – ”

 

Ned said, “You stay out of it, Jeremiah.”

 

“You were awful mean to her, Ned.”

 

There was a pause in which Errol heard more whimpers and sniffles from Madeline. Finally, Ned said gruffly, “Sorry.”

 

Isis had, by this time, stood up, stretched, and come out to investigate. Errol heard rapid footsteps. Isis came running back to Errol’s chair, followed by a lovely little blond creature who was surely no more than two years old.

 

Isis jumped in Errol’s lap. The little girl’s eyes followed the cat’s movement and widened as they took in Errol. He smiled and held a finger to his lips. She nodded and did the same, with a serious, rather conspiratorial air.

 

The matter of silence having been settled, Errol turned his attention back to the children behind his chair. Ned and Madeline had apparently made up, thanks to the interventions of young Jeremiah, and it was Jeremiah who said, “Where’s Ellie?”

 

Ned said, “She’s prob’ly just run off. Don’t worry about her.”

 

“But she’s the youngest, Ned – we’ve got to find her.”

 

Ned gave an aggrieved sigh. “Okay, then, Jerry. You take that half, and I’ll look about in this half.”

 

“What about me?” whined Madeline.

 

“You go with Jerry.”

 

Errol waited patiently to be discovered, as did Ellie. Jeremiah and Madeline soon passed hand in hand into Errol’s line of sight. Unlike Ellie, they had brown hair and looked very much alike, although Jeremiah was obviously a little older – perhaps about seven years of age. Madeline looked to be about five years old.

 

“Where could she be?” whispered Madeline.

 

“She couldn’t have left,” Jeremiah whispered back. “We’ll find her. Did you ever see so many books in your life?”

 

“No – oh, Jerry, I do wish I could read. I’ve been working so hard, and I just can’t do      it –”

 

Errol said, “It might take a bit more practice, but I’m sure you’ll get it.”

 

He was amused to see the two children freeze, stricken. Jeremiah was the first to recover. The boy said politely, “Forgive us, sir – we didn’t know anyone else was in here.”

 

Madeline blurted, “Ellie!” The little girl laughed.

 

Errol smiled at them. “This is your sister?”

 

The two spoke together, “Yes, sir.”

 

Ned came striding around at the sound of voices. He stopped short when he saw Errol. Blond like Ellie, he looked a very self-assured young boy of perhaps nine. He demanded of Errol, “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

 

Isis jumped off Errol’s lap; Errol stood and bowed. “Errol Klarion at your service. I live here.”

 

Jeremiah poked Ned, trying to get him to step back. Ned pressed on, “It was a pretty rotten thing, not telling us you were here.”

 

Errol raised an eyebrow, but only said, “I do apologize for that, young sir. Might I ask your names?” He knew his mother had told him the surnames of their guests, and he knew he was supposed to remember them from somewhere, but he had forgotten to write it down. Of course, his mother had told him yesterday – yesterday had been bad.

 

Madeline stepped forward. “I’m Madeline Garland, sir, and that’s Jeremiah Garland, and – ” she pointed to the little girl by Errol’s feet “—that’s Eleanor Garland, and that’s Ned Garland.” She indicated Ned with distaste. “He thinks he’s special ‘cause he’s the oldest.”

 

Over Ned’s indignant splutters, Jeremiah began to admonish Madeline. Ellie – or Eleanor – began to toddle after Isis, who did not look thrilled about being chased by a small child. Errol raised his voice slightly before the din got too unbearable and said, “Jeremiah!”

 

The children, in their various stages of noise, wound down to a stop. Errol continued in a normal voice, “Jeremiah, how did the four of you come here?”

 

Jeremiah blushed. “Well, sir, our parents are with your parents, and we were s’posed to go to the playroom after dinner, but Ned said we should go exploring, and we came in here – ” Jeremiah shrugged helplessly. Ned looked furious.

 

Errol nodded. He was quite sure he’d done similar things as a child, although he couldn’t remember doing them. “It’s quite all right, Jeremiah. There’s no harm done.” Errol turned towards the door. “I suppose I should take you to the playroom.”

 

Madeline piped up, “C’n we stay here? I want to try and read the books!”

 

Ned hissed, “Mr. Klarion is busy, you idiot!”

 

Errol held up a hand. “Not at all, Mr. Garland – in fact, I would prefer to have company tonight.” He was lying, but having company would no doubt keep him from being miserable. “I’ve no doubt been bored when I went visiting with my parents.” The happy, sheepish looks on the faces of the Garland children went a long way towards pulling him out of his black mood. “Have a look at whatever you’d like. I’ll requisition some cocoa and biscuits.”

 

When Errol returned with a laden tray, Ned was examining the bookshelves with a patrician air, Ellie was chasing Isis (who was being remarkably good-natured about it all), and Jeremiah was trying to comfort Madeline, who was clearly frustrated about something – Errol supposed it was about not being able to read. He set the tray down on a table, and the four Garlands came running.

 

He surveyed them as they partook. It was plain to see that he would have to find something for all of them to do. But what?

 

To give himself time to think – he didn’t allow himself to think that he’d have been able to figure out something without thinking about it four years ago – he went to the fireplace and started a fire. The room was filled with a warm light that no lamp could truly recreate. He had – there – a so very vague memory of sitting in this room in such light with a man – Father – telling him –

 

Telling him a story.

 

Errol stared into the fire, thinking – what story could he tell these children? One of the stories in his book, perhaps? No – stories meant more when the storyteller did not look at a book.

 

He called, “Come sit over here.”

 

The Garlands somehow managed to drag over three ottomans. Errol sat in his chair, and Ellie crawled up in his lap. He was surprised, but pleased.

 

The children looked at him expectantly, cocoa mustaches quite apparent.

 

Errol said, “Would you like to hear a story?”

 

The Garlands gave vigorous nods – even Ellie. Isis settled down beside Jeremiah and huddled, watching Errol closely.

 

“What sort of story?”

 

“A Christmas story!” said Madeline immediately.

 

“With adventure,” said Ned, definite. “Nothing smarmy.”

 

Ellie’s only comment was, “Storeeee!”

 

It was Jeremiah who said unexpectedly, “Not a happy one.”

 

The other Garlands and Errol looked at Jeremiah, who was sitting cross-legged on his ottoman and looking at Errol astutely. Errol, feeling rather uncomfortable, said, “All right.”

 

He exhaled. An unhappy Christmas story. There had been last Christmas, when he had had one of his bad days, and he made his mother let him stay in the library alone all day. That was bad – but it didn’t have adventure, which was Ned’s qualification. He didn’t remember anything much from Christmases before that.

 

Maybe he could make up something, and if he forgot the details, it wouldn’t be so bad. Yes, that was the way to go. But perhaps he should start with something he knew, or someone he had known. That would be the best way to make it an unhappy story.

 

He couldn’t face talking about Shari, and talking about her to a bunch of children…it wasn’t a good idea. But Severus…he thought he could do that.

 

Errol looked at each of the four Garlands in turn, saving Jeremiah for last. “You asked for a story about Christmas that has adventure and isn’t happy. I think I know one that I can tell you. It’ll be a bit long, and perhaps frightening.” He noted that Ned looked particularly happy at that prospect. “I believe that you are all mature enough to remember that this is just a story.” The children nodded. Errol continued, “Ned, I think you’re the only one who’s old enough to remember anything about Lord Voldemort.” The children winced, and Errol was angry with himself. He should have known that he was supposed to give the false name! “I mean He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, of course. Do you know what his followers were called?”

 

“Death Eaters,” said Ned. The boy looked as though he were repressing himself for the sake of such a sober topic, although he was eager to hear more.

 

Errol nodded. “Very good, Ned. And were all Death Eaters entirely bad?”

 

“Yes!”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

Ned bit his lower lip. Errol kept his face straight. “No,” the boy said finally.

 

“No, they weren’t. And the one I’m going to tell you about wasn’t really bad at all. You need to remember that.” He felt as though he was trying to convince them of a fact that really wasn’t true – but he hadn’t seen Severus since the night he’d had his accident. “He was a good man. Remember that as we go through the story.”

 

Errol had them hanging on his every word. He settled back into his chair and began to speak, haltingly at first, but slowly slipping into the rhythm of the story – so much that even he didn’t know which details he slid into the story were and weren’t true.

 

“It was Christmas Eve, and Sev – Stephen – was lonely…”

//
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