The Sugar Quill
Author: Eurydice (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Future Uncertain  Chapter: Chapter Two: One Day More
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"Future Uncertain"

by Eurydice

Chapter Two: One Day More

Most people, when you ask them whether they prefer excitement over boredom, will probably answer in the affirmative. Excitement, they will say, is much more, well, exciting. Boredom is all right every once in awhile, but most will nod fervently and say, Give me excitement anytime.

Whereas workers on a dragon reservation will look at you, smile, and say, Boredom. Because when exciting things happen on dragon reservation, there is usually danger involved.

Ingrid was currently enjoying a rare moment of peace, moments which are especially rare when one is sitting in the joint of a dragon's wing. Nonetheless, Ingrid was peaceful, muttering dictations to a nearby hovering quill and parchment. Nearby, over the leathery expanse of wing she could see a small group of wizards, standing at the ready just in case this particular dragon decided to wake up. One, because this is standard procedure, and two, because this dragon was a very nasty dragon indeed. Her name was Nadia, and she'd very recently caused a whole lot of trouble.

Ingrid tapped the quill with her wand, and it paused in its writing. "I think we can attribute it to motherhood," she called to the wizards. "She's simply a more volatile personality than the rest of the dragons, which is saying something." She hopped down, took the quill and parchment from the air, and headed to the group. "The dragons are used to seeing large groups of us at a time. Perhaps seeing only Modwin was enough to jar her, to make her think he was a threat."

One of the wizards, a thin, shy man named Vuselich, sighed deeply. "You're probably right," he said. "I admit, it is easier for me to think that she is... disturbed somehow."

"She's the newest addition," said another wizard, this one an almost preternaturally calm youth named Fallon. "And she is primarily a wild animal. And a mother. Modwin made a poor choice in approaching her alone."

A third, Nev, frowned. "I hope you're not in with Grushenko, Fallon."

"Of course I'm not," said Fallon mildly. "Don't be ridiculous. Modwin's an excellent supervisor and a good friend. But he did make a poor choice. No one's disputing his competence, but his common sense went on holiday at that moment. Unfortunately, Grushenko has ammunition now."

The four sighed in unison. Grushenko was arriving the next day to conduct a review of Modwin, who as far as Ingrid knew was still in the infirmary. Thinking of Modwin led Ingrid to another thought, which she voiced. "Has anyone seen Charlie recently?"

"Not today," said Vuselich. "He and Takuro are reviewing some material for Grushenko's arrival, I think. Earlier I believe he was in with Norbert, but he is extremely busy."

Ingrid nodded. Since Charlie had taken over Modwin's reponsibilities, he'd been everywhere at once. She'd caught sight of him only once or twice in the past few days. Ingrid was, of course, worried - he'd looked so tired. "Takuro, Nev, make sure Nadia's fed when she wakes up. I'll see you in the morning."

"Good night, Ingrid," they chorused, and Ingrid was smiling as she left.

She was tired, more than tired, but didn't think that sleep was in the cards for her at the moment. She paused, letting the wind tug at her cloak, and leaned against the wall of the paddock. A voice spoke in her ear, startling her. "Grushenko wants me to lead, you know."

It was Vuselich. He was cloakless, standing in the howling wind as if it were a summer day. As Ingrid looked at him, she realized with some surprise that he looked miserable. Almost haunted. "What do you mean?" she asked faintly.

"Grushenko approached me several years ago, before Modwin's appointment," Vuselich continued in his low, careful voice. His accent was undefinable; if she had to guess, Ingrid would say it was Eastern European, but she could be no more specific than that. "He said that I would be better at the job than Modwin, that I should put my name in and he would personally see that I was given the job."

"And you said no," said Ingrid.

"Of course I did." Vuselich laughed, but without much humor. "Can you imagine me running this place? I haven't the energy. And Modwin knew, certainly he knew, that Grushenko wanted me instead, but..." He sighed deeply. "Grushenko will almost certainly attempt to... what is the phrase... talk me into it again. If he does, I will tell only the truth."

"Good," replied Ingrid, watching him. He seemed distraught, as if he wanted to say more, but Vuselich did not. He simply turned and walked away.

Cold to the bone now, Ingrid hurried across the field to a small building attached to the dining hall. Most of the workers called the building the social hall, for lack of a better term; it was a place where they could relax without being in their barracks. There were chairs, sofas, a fireplace, bookshelves, any number of things to keep people occupied. At the moment, it was largely empty, and Ingrid was glad as she hung her cloak on a hook in the corner. She was glad of company, but didn't think she'd be very entertaining to anyone this evening.

She walked aimlessly around the hall for awhile, not really looking at anything, letting her hands skim the rows of books and the tops of chairs. Eventually she chose a book called Dragons of the South, flopped onto a sofa near the fireplace, and started to read.

Some time later, she heard the door open and felt the cold blast of air as it swung shut again. Heavy footsteps thudded toward her. "Mind if I join you, pretty girl?"

Ingrid blushed mightily - his flattery was still new enough to fluster her - and looked up into a pale, freckled face topped with red hair. "Please do."

Charlie sat down next to her and let his head rest on the back of the sofa. "It's good to see you," he said. "It's been crazy, hasn't it?"

"That's putting it mildly," Ingrid replied. His hands were red and cold to the touch. Wordlessly she lifted one of them and pressed it to her neck, which was warm. "How are you holding up?"

For a moment, he didn't answer. His hand slid off her neck and he leaned sideways, letting his head come to rest on her knee. "How does he do it?" he said hoarsely. "Two days of this and I'm all but insane."

She resisted the urge to play with his hair... and then gave in and did it anyway, smoothing it back from his forehead and flicking the snowmelt away with her fingers. "People keep coming to me with questions," he continued with a bemused little laugh. "Me! I never realized how much he has to do, how much he has to know. People ask him questions all day long, and he has the answers right at his fingertips. It's incredible. I know a lot, I'm no slouch when it comes to knowing about dragons, but he makes me look like I just started." He paused and rolled onto his back. "And the man hasn't stopped smiling for three minutes together in ten years."

"Maybe he's just good at covering," said Ingrid. "One of the people I knew in Norway, Grette, her name was - she was the most relentlessly cheerful woman I'd ever met. Smiling, laughing all the time. And one day, she exploded - shouting at everyone, near tears. She'd been bottling everything up for so long, it was just too much for her."

Charlie shook his head, and his eyes reflected the flickering firelight. Looking at them from this angle was making Ingrid a little dizzy. "I don't think that's it. Not with Modwin 'Heart-On-His-Sleeve' Banks. He can't hide anything - have you ever seen him try?"

Ingrid thought about it. "No," she admitted. "He's pretty open."

Charlie laughed and sat up, curling his legs underneath him. Ingrid suppressed a smile - it was an oddly delicate posture for someone so decidedly undelicate. "I remember the day he got accepted here; it was back at school, and he got the owl and was over the moon about it. He grinned all through the day's Potions lesson. It made the Professor furious - Snape doesn't encourage mirth in the classroom - and he told Modwin to pay attention, to stop that foolish grinning and pay attention. And Modwin tried, but he couldn't. He was happy, and he'd be damned if he was going to hide it." His smile faded and left him looking weary. "I've never seen him so upset as when he got that letter," he said. "He loves it here. And if he has to leave..."

"He won't," Ingrid assured him. "He's got you to back him up."

"But I wasn't there," Charlie reminded her. "I didn't see it happen."

Ingrid frowned. "Did anyone?"

There was a shout from outside, and then another, and another. They were indistinct, and whether of joy or fright or something else, Ingrid couldn't tell. Eventually she could make out words: "He's in there!"

"Who's in where?" said Charlie, and the door slammed open. Loose snow swirled in, adding to the small footstep-shaped puddles on the floor. Charlie and Ingrid stood quickly as a crowd swarmed in, still shouting, and grinned hugely as they saw who was leading it. His eyes were too tired, and one side of his face was sporting a strange, shiny scar, but the smile was the same.

"Trying to take over, eh, Weasley?" said Modwin, and the assembled crowd went quiet. He took a step forward and winced, and Ingrid wondered fleetingly if his injuries had been even worse than they'd looked.

"Good Lord, no. If this is your job, Modwin Banks, you can have it." He gestured to the people surrounding their returned leader. "Look at them. The prospect of another day under my rule was too much for them to bear. Don't worry, friends, your captain is back." There seemed to be more he wanted to say - how frightened he'd been, how worried, and how relieved he was - but then again, Ingrid reflected, Modwin probably already knew.

"For now," said Modwin calmly, still smiling. "For now."

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