The Sugar Quill
Author: Sweeney Agonistes (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Partisan Warfare  Chapter: Chapter Two
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A/N: Ted Brautigan is Stephen King’s creation

A/N: Ted Brautigan is Stephen King’s creation.

 

“The King is in his Tower, eating bread and honey! The Breakers in the basement, making all the money!”

 

-Stephen King and Peter Straub, Black House

 

Shiftlet brushed off his dingy black robes as he stepped out of the fireplace. He cursed broadly. Floo had never been his favorite method of travel.

            Dumbledore mildly looked up from his desk. “Hello, Sherrinford.”

            Shiftlet nodded brusquely. “Albus.”

            Dumbledore gestured to one of the two chairs in front of his desk. “Have a seat. Our other guest will be here momentarily.”

            “Other guest? Dumbledore, you know I can’t risk – ”

            Dumbledore raised a hand, halting Shiftlet in mid-torrent. “Sherrinford, he is not even a wizard, and he won’t know you from Voldemort. As a matter of fact, he’s never even heard of Voldemort – a most refreshing viewpoint.” He sighed, and Shiftlet didn’t say anything as he sat.

            At that moment, green smoke started to appear in the fireplace, and a tall figure fell out, coughing wildly. Dumbledore quickly got up from behind his desk and helped the figure to the other chair. As the smoke cleared, Shiftlet saw a man dressed in shabby dark gray robes that were much too big for him and had been patched several times. He had short – in comparison to Dumbledore’s, anyway – white hair that was rather sparse and combed back from his forehead. Shiftlet sized him up; his face was lined rather than wrinkled, and he looked positively exhausted. Not threatening in the least. Shiftlet relaxed a bit – but not much.

            The man’s voice was deep and slow. Thoughtful – but slightly querulous. Shiftlet thought it contained more than a hint of the man’s exhaustion. “Albus, are you quite sure there was no other way to get here?”

            Dumbledore, returning to his seat, laughed quietly. “I’m afraid not, Ted.” He took both the men in his gaze. “I apologize to you both for the method of travel, but as Mr. Shiftlet here cannot Apparate onto the grounds and Mr. Brautigan isn’t – from around here –” Shiftlet caught Dumbledore’s hesitation and filed it away for future reference. “– it was necessary to get you both here in a way that did not require performance of magic by the individual.” Shiftlet caught that last phrase, too, and his eyes narrowed.

            Dumbledore’s voice cut into his thoughts. “Sherrinford –”

            Shiftlet looked up.

            “This is Ted Brautigan.” He gestured to the other man. “Ted, this is Sherrinford Shiftlet. He runs a shop in a part of our world known as Knockturn Alley.” Shiftlet saw a small smile of recognition come over Brautigan’s face. “Sherrinford, Ted is an old friend of mine – in our terms, we would undoubtedly think of him as a Muggle. However, he is not without – how shall I put this – certain abilities of his own.”

            Shiftlet waited. There would be more. Dumbledore would not risk Shiftlet’s life for a meeting without a damned good reason.

            Dumbledore looked at Brautigan. “May I?”

            Brautigan nodded. “You can probably explain it better than I can.”

            “Sherrinford, Ted is not from this world.”

            Shiftlet raised an eyebrow.       

“I’m going to have to ask you to carefully consider this – bear with me.” At a brief nod from Shiftlet, Dumbledore continued. “There are countless numbers of worlds, all connected by one Tower. Imagine that this Tower – the Dark Tower – is the hub of a giant wheel, and it has twelve spokes, called Beams. They’re exactly what they sound like – Beams of energy holding up the Tower. The Dark Tower supports all existence. It is the gateway to these other worlds; it is what holds the universe in place.

            “There is a man –” At a disapproving look from Brautigan, Dumbledore amended his sentence. “There is a being who calls himself the Crimson King. He has dedicated all his resources and thought to bringing down the Tower.”

            Shiftlet interrupted, “Wouldn’t that destroy this Crimson King as well?”

            Brautigan said quietly, “If the Tower falls, the universe and its inhabitants will be plunged into chaos, or what is called din-tah in the High Speech – literally, ‘the furnace’ – to wander for all eternity. The Crimson King loves chaos. He loves disorder. He is fire, he is flame, and he is din-tah.” He fell silent, brooding.

            Dumbledore gave Brautigan a quick, worried glance, and continued, “The Crimson King knows that in order to bring down the Dark Tower, he needs to break these Beams. To do that, he employs –” Brautigan gave Dumbledore another disapproving look, but Dumbledore did not heed him this time. “– he employs males called Breakers. These Breakers all possess a brand of magic; the Muggles call it telekinesis. We would undoubtedly call it wandless magic – like when a toddler lowers a biscuit tin off of a high shelf. The Crimson King has a large group of these Breakers; he makes them use their mental powers to chip away at the Beams. And of the six total Beams – they all run together, and their center is where the Dark Tower is located – only one is still fully intact. One died thousands of years ago, two are barely holding together, and two have been destroyed by the Breakers.”

            Shiftlet did not like the sound of that. He found the story a little hard to swallow, but as it was Dumbledore telling it, he did not question its veracity. “Is there no one who is trying to stop the Crimson King?”

            Dumbledore looked at Brautigan.

            Brautigan exhaled slowly. “A very, very long time ago – by this world’s reckoning of time, anyway – there was a sort of warrior-cum-coppiceman –” At Shiftlet’s blank look, Brautigan paused. Dumbledore threw in, “Aurors.” Shiftlet nodded; Brautigan continued. “There was a sort of warrior-cum-coppiceman group known as gunslingers. They came from a special barony all of their own; it was the cultural and political center of their world. These gunslingers generated a sort of psychic force that reinforced the Beams. They righted wrongs, they policed the entire country. And then chaos overtook their world because of the Crimson King – we have a phrase to describe it: their world has moved on. Their world has ended.

            “There is only one true gunslinger of Gilead left, but he is an incredibly powerful gunslinger who has made it his quest to keep the Dark Tower from falling. He has since made three other gunslingers, and if it were not for these new recruits, the Tower would long since have fallen. I do not know what this ka-tet is doing right now, but they are all still alive, and they are drawing closer to the Tower. For good or for ill, this matter of the Dark Tower will be decided very, very soon.” Brautigan fell silent.

            Shiftlet had several questions, but he stuck to the simplest one: “What’s a ka-tet?”

            Dumbledore said, “In the world of the gunslingers, there is a concept called ka; it roughly translates to what we would call fate or destiny. It rules all things. A ka-tet is a group of people – usually a small group – bound together by destiny to accomplish some task. This group of gunslingers is a ka-tet, brought together by ka to defend the Dark Tower from the Crimson King.”

            Shiftlet moved on to his next question. “How does the Crimson King get these Breakers?”

            Brautigan started, then slowly sat back in his chair. Dumbledore answered quietly, “He has creatures – monsters, really – that serve as sort of scouts. The Breakers are mostly small boys. The scouts kidnap these boys and take them to the Crimson King. If the boys show signs of being Breakers, the King puts them to work with the rest of the Breakers. If the boys do not, he enslaves them.”

            Shiftlet could not stop a shudder. He waited a moment – not quite out of respect – before asking his next question. Directing his question to Dumbledore, he said, “If the Breakers use wandless magic, then why hasn’t anyone been taken from our world?”

            Dumbledore said, “Their magic is not magic as we know it. It’s a different brand that is channeled differently and used differently. In the world of the gunslingers, it is much harder to find a wizard than it is here, and these wizards do not use magic for everyday things as we do. In short, even if one of these monsters that the Crimson King employs can use magic, they could not even see the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron, much less gain access to any part of our world, because their magic is much more arcane than ours. Mr. Brautigan, for example, is quite helpless in our world – which is why he had to travel by Floo.”

            They had arrived to his next question. “And who is Mr. Brautigan?”

            “Mr. Brautigan, would you like to answer Mr. Shiftlet’s question?”

            Brautigan said softly, staring at the inkwell on Dumbledore’s desk, “I am the Crimson King’s Chief Breaker.”

            Shiftlet was stunned. “Then what in blazes are you doing here?”

            “I make a habit of escaping the Crimson King on a regular basis. I go to different places almost every time I escape, but because I’m safest here, I usually spend at least a few weeks in this world before I go anywhere else.” He gave the inkwell a twisted smile. “They can’t find me here, you see.”

            Dumbledore said, “I met him when I was still a young man – I was in Muggle London, browsing through the fiction stacks at Waterstone’s, when I bumped into him. I took him into the Leaky Cauldron for a drink and ended up hearing his story. I showed him around, and he can find his way into the Leaky Cauldron on his own now, although he still needs a bit of help getting into Diagon Alley.”

            Brautigan said, “I stay at the Leaky Cauldron while I’m trying to figure out where to go next. But frankly, Albus, I wouldn’t mind staying longer than three weeks this time – it’s been a while since my last escape, and I am incredibly tired.”

            Dumbledore nodded. “That’s what I wanted to speak to the both of you about. The Ministry of Magic, since Voldemort’s return, has started to monitor who stays at the Leaky Cauldron and who goes in and out of Diagon Alley. They still won’t admit that Voldemort has returned, but they’re tightening security everywhere.” Seeing Brautigan’s confused look, Dumbledore said, “Voldemort – he’s a Dark wizard much like that Randall Flagg fellow you were telling me about. He had a reign of terror back in the 1970’s, but he was defeated in 1981. He wasn’t destroyed, though, and he’s recently reappeared and has started gathering strength.” Brautigan nodded. “Sherrinford, the safest place for Ted would be in Knockturn Alley – the Ministry doesn’t dare monitor who goes there.”

            Shiftlet balked at that. “Dumbledore, the regulars would spot him in an instant. One does not simply walk into Knockturn Alley without being noticed – in the daytime, at least.”

            Dumbledore said, “That’s why I’m sending him to stay with you.”

            Shiftlet rose angrily. “That’s out of the question, Dumbledore. I can’t.”

            “You will.”

            “Besides the fact that the flat’s too small, it’s a risk to my cover. I can’t have one of your strays staying with me and still manage to get information from Malfoy and his little band of gits. It’s not possible.”

            “Ted will not be in communication with me. Or rather, he can send messages back and forth with your communiqués to me and my couriers to you. There will be no contact between us that is over and above what contact already exists between you and me.”

            Shiftlet sat stonily still.

            Dumbledore fixed Shiftlet with a firm eye. “Sherrinford, please do not make me invoke your debt.”

            But he’s already said the word ‘debt’, and he knows I’ll have to do it, thought Shiftlet, silently fuming.

            “Fine,” said Shiftlet. “Fine.”

            Dumbledore sat back in his chair. “All right, then. Ted, you’ll go back to Sherrinford’s flat with him. I’ll send Severus along with your biweekly report as usual, Sherrinford, and my instructions will be included with it.”

            Shiftlet rose from his chair. “Fine, Dumbledore.” He threw Brautigan a rather unpleasant look. “Come on, then.”

            Brautigan got up and looked at Dumbledore. Dumbledore gave Brautigan a benevolent smile. “It’ll be all right, Ted. You’re safe with Sherrinford.”

            Brautigan managed to return Dumbledore’s smile. It occurred to Shiftlet that Brautigan had a good reason to be nervous – he was heading into a world that he knew nothing about with a Dark wizard dancing the tango all over the place, and all on the say-so of one man that wouldn’t even be able to speak with him once Brautigan left Hogwarts. Shiftlet de-iced a bit towards Brautigan.

            But not much.

            Shiftlet grabbed a pinch of Floo powder off the mantelpiece and handed the pot to Brautigan, who did the same.

            Dumbledore said quietly, “Thank you, Sherrinford.”

            Shiftlet gave Dumbledore the darkest glare he could muster and tossed his Floo powder into the flames. “Sherrinford Shiftlet’s flat, Knockturn Alley,” he snarled, and walked into the flames. He didn’t really care if Brautigan followed him.

//
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