The Sugar Quill
Author: Alchemilla (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Midnight Musings  Chapter: Default
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Bludger took her eyes away from her task and looked at the sleeping form beside her. It seemed a shame to wake him. He was deep in sleep, and for the first time in three days, she had gotten a glimpse of THE scar. His woolen stocking cap had been tugged back when he had shifted down his makeshift pillow a few minutes ago, and now she could see, in the pool of moonlight on his forehead, the beginning of a jagged cut striking out from under the thick wool rim. Interesting. It was smaller and sharper (and more frightening) than she had imagined.

But what really distracted her from her job was not the appearance of his forehead, but the fact that he was snuggled right up against her. He was a right cuddler, this one. It happened every time he slept. He started out a respectful distance, maybe a foot and a half or so, burrowed under their shared scratchy wool blanket. But within fifteen minutes of falling asleep, he would close the gap. Right now, he lay flat on his back, and she could feel the contact all the way down the side of their bodies: his solid shoulder and his elbow jabbed her ribs a little uncomfortably—but it was worth it, for she got the warmth of his hip, and the full length of the outer side of his long leg. Even his foot flexed toward her, and if she stretched out, she could sort of rest her toes on the top of his heavy boot.

She resisted a wild thought to kiss him right now. His face wore shoe-blacking and three day old stubble. Kissable, nonetheless. She could plant a very light one—maybe he wouldn’t wake up. Oh well, she sighed. We’re not supposed to get involved with colleagues. She was a professional after all. Eyes to the task, Auror! she reminded herself. Patience. Persistence. And one day, I will have my revenge, she thought. Your days are numbered, Lucius.

She had lain on her stomach for two hours now, since midnight, peering through the night scope. No movement whatsoever. Even the sheep were motionless, asleep and huddled up against the south side of the beautifully built dry-stacked stone wall that lined one side of the field. No secret meetings. No Death Eaters. Her eyes were tired and her concentration was flagging—she should wake him up.

He stirred a little and turned on his side, pressing a knee into her hip and resting his forehead and the bridge of his nose against her forearm. Bludger smiled and wondered if she should tease him that he subconsciously snuggled with male colleagues, too, on overnight surveillance assignments. She wouldn’t cuddle with Mad-Eye even if the temperature dropped to sub arctic levels. Padfoot, definitely. Mad-Eye, no.

“Greenhorn,” she whispered, nudging him a little. “Wake up, it’s almost your shift.”

“Okay. Okay. I’m up,” he mumbled, rolling away from her and feeling for his glasses. She heard him fumble in the darkness, the soft whoosh sound of the tea canister being opened and water pouring. “Tea?” he asked her groggily.

“No thanks.”

“Calor maxima,” he murmured at his teacup, and she could hear the water come to a boil. “And don’t call me ‘Greenhorn’. I told you, that’s not my code name.”

As if a code name would conceal your identity. “I know, but everyone else calls you that. And it irritates you so. Gotta do something for entertainment around here.” She shifted herself into the warm patch of ground he had just vacated, and readjusted the blanket. The cold seemed to pierce the very weave of her clothing. She placed a quick warming spell on the blanket.

“Well, it’s a leftover from my teen Auror years—a nickname. Don’t use it,” he ordered firmly. He settled in beside her on the mossy slope, on his stomach, in the depressions their bodies had created in the soft soil over the last three days. Cradling the tea mug in both hands, he lifted his head to the scope. “I take it nothing’s happened.”

“Three days and three nights now of nothing.” She shook her head. “Either our insider gave us a bad tip or they’ve sent us here too early. You’d think if the Death Eaters were going to act, it would be tomorrow, on the solstice—when the circle’s magic is at its most powerful.”

“Yeah, but then there would be all those Muggles around: Druid-worshipers or Paganists or whatever they call themselves.”

“Perfect spot for a mass killing of Muggles, then.”

“Maybe. They could kill Muggles en masse any time, though. I think this is something bigger. Maybe Lucius has found somebody who knows how to harness the magic from these stone circles.”

“Then shouldn’t we all be covering Stonehenge, instead of this obscure one in the middle of Cumbria with all its wimpy stones? Surely Stonehenge is a far more powerful circle.”

“Believe me, Stonehenge is covered. Mad-Eye’s put about ten Aurors on that job.” He looked over at her for a moment. “I’ve got a theory, actually. Castlerigg is the only circle that is supposed to have all its original stones. The more well-known circles have been partially knocked down, and the stones have been broken or even stolen over the years. This may be the only one with its magic still intact. So…anyway, I talked Padfoot into sending a couple of us up here, to protect this circle.” He turned back to the scope.

“Hmmph. That’s a lightweight theory, I’d say.” Bludger shivered and pulled the covers up under her chin. “You know, it’s a lot warmer down south at Stonehenge. We could be getting a lot more sleep if we were taking shifts with ten other people, maybe even Apparating home for a bath. Remember baths?” Her partner chuckled softly. She continued, “And then we’ll miss all the action when the Death Eaters show up.”

“Come on, Bludger.” He grinned good-naturedly. “Who wouldn’t want to spend three days in this gorgeous mountain setting: no tourists—just the occasional Muggle fellwalker and lambs playing in the fields. Anyway, it isn’t a lightweight theory.”

He gave her a brief lesson on what was known about stone circles, and how scholars had tried (and failed) to better define the magic that resulted from the relative positioning of the stones with the sun. Little was known—the ancient wizards of the Druidic cultures didn’t leave records, written or pictorial. Castlerigg Stone Circle, however, was the only circle where the magic was strong enough to register a pattern on wizard instruments.

“So how do you know all this rubbish? Your hoity toity Hogwarts education? They didn’t teach us that tosh at vocational magic schools, you know.”

“Watch out, Bludger, you’re revealing personal information about yourself. And I didn’t learn it at Hogwarts. I happen to have a friend who’s a walking encyclopedia, a proper academic. It’s her theory that sent us here. She told me all about it just before we left on Sunday.” He smiled to himself.

“Okay,” she challenged. “So, what if you’re right, or she’s right. And twenty Death Eaters show up here instead. Are you prepared to take them all on?”

“I am if you are.” He spoke grimly. Bloody hell, she thought. Fine. I’m game.

“Unless,” he continued, “we call for back up.” He smiled at her then, with an expression like he was going to surprise her with flowers or something. “With this.” He pulled out of his robes a small rectangular silver container. It glinted dully in the moonlight, and she could see it had a flip top and a hinge.

“I don’t get it.”

“It’s like a mobile fireplace,” he said wondrously, and handed it to her. “This is just the prototype.”

She turned it over and opened the flip top. “It looks sort of like a Muggle cigarette lighter.”

“Except it’s magic—there’s powder in that little wheel,” he reached over and pointed to the tiny, rough edged cylinder that would be flicked with the thumb. “You can talk to any wizard’s fireplace in the country. Supposedly.”

“Is this ministry-issued equipment?”

“No. It’s being developed privately, by a clever bloke who tinkers with Muggle stuff.” He said it proudly, as if he were the clever bloke.

“Isn’t that against the law?”

He coughed as if he were trying to keep from laughing. “Yeah. Well, it’s inspired by a Muggle product, and apparently that’s allowed.”

Bludger flipped the top open again and flicked on the flame.

“Whoa! Stop.” he cried softly, turning from the scope and moving his hand to close it. You’ll wake my friend.”

Too late.

“Every…Everything alright?!” came a sleepy male voice from the lighter.

Bludger looked over at Greenhorn, and he nodded. “Go ahead,” he said, “put your lips into the flame and speak.”

The flame was green and cool when her lips touched it. She spoke: “Sorry to wake you. Everything is A-okay. Over.”

“Who the hell is this?” came the voice, fully awake now, and Bludger could just see the chin, mouth and tip of a longish nose moving in the flame of the lighter. Cool.

She brought the flame close again, eerily imposing her own lips upon his image. “Uh…my partner was just demonstrating your new gadget.”

“At…2:30 in the morning? Dammit, let me speak to him.” Bludger smirked guiltily and passed over the lighter.

Greenhorn cleared his throat, and leaned into the flames, while keeping one eye focused steadily through the scope. “Sorry, mate. Just wanted you to know that we’re out here, making the world safer, so you can sleep at night.”

The face let out a breath of relief. “Oh, bugger off. I thought you were in trouble. Who’s the woman, and why are you awake right now?” The mouth–in-flames spread into a roguish grin at the second question. Bludger thought she could see freckles on his features. He was cute (at least the part she could see was cute).

“I’m working, thank you. And watch your language. She’s a colleague.”

“Oh-ho. You’ve never told me there were female Aurors. And this one looks young and attractive—she’s got good lips anyway. Where do I sign up for your job?”

Greenhorn snorted. “When your Significant Other gives you permission.”

“Yeah, well… when I’m coherent I’ll come back with a crushing reply.” The mouth yawned. “Don’t wake me again, you idiot, unless it’s an emergency. Have fun with Miss Lips.”

“She can hear you, you know.”

“Oh.” The mouth went sheepish. “I guess I need to develop a volume control on this thing. My apologies to Miss Lips. And…be careful, mate. Alright?”

“Thanks, I will.’ Greenhorn snapped the lighter shut, and pocketed it.

“So, who was that exactly? I mean, what is his name?”

Greenhorn shook his head. “I can’t tell you. He’s wanted by the Death Eaters, just as much as we are.”

“Oh,” she sighed, resignedly. Bludger was occasionally irritated by the ‘no-exchange-of-personal-information’ policy of the Underground Auror League. It was for their mutual safety, of course. Some Aurors had families, children even, and a captured Auror could endanger everyone if tortured into revealing information.

“He’s cool,” concluded Bludger, as she burrowed back under the blanket.

Greenhorn nodded. “He’s a good bloke. And a good friend.”

They fell silent for a while, and Bludger lay on her side, watching her partner’s profile through her half-closed eyes. He had not been what she had expected, this Boy Who Lived. She had expected a cocky, egocentric celebrity, or a haunted and brooding cynic. But he was so damned nice—quiet, serious most of the time, but generally easy-going.

She found it difficult to believe he was the one who had destroyed You-Know-Who at age nineteen. Nineteen! She reminded herself of his reputation among Aurors: he was quick-thinking, fearless and ferocious in a fight, and could suddenly exhibit the most extraordinary powers. She would like to see that.

Bludger shifted uncomfortably in the mossy hollow. She could not sleep, despite her exhaustion. She knew she was approaching that stage of fatigue that bordered on delirium. Turning on her back, she clasped her hands behind her head, and deliberately rested her elbow against his arm. Why not? she thought. He had cuddled up with her (okay, so he wasn’t actually conscious of it). Besides, the comfort of human contact is so infrequent in this business. Worse, he had not flirted with her, not one bit in the last three days. She couldn’t let him get away with that.

Usually, Bludger discouraged flirting from her male colleagues—it was their respect she wanted. But this young man…he was 21, right? Most young men flirted with her like a house on fire. Either he had more than enough female attention in his off hours or he was utterly devoted to someone. She suspected it was the latter. Yes, thought Bludger, remembering his private smile just ten minutes ago. That’s the object of his devotion, the walking encyclopedia. Bludger felt a trace of irritation, alongside her exhaustion. She wanted to ruffle his even-tempered exterior, to mar his unspotted fidelity to this witch, whoever she was.

“So what is your code-name, anyway?” she asked, though she already knew.

“Quickie. You know that.”

“And that is because of… your timing in the bedroom?” She was being shameless now. And delirious.

He turned his head ever so slightly in her direction, away from the scope. “It’s because I’m fast. A fast draw, a fast flier, fast deliverer of multiple simultaneous hexes.” Then he added wryly, turning back, “And that joke is entirely unoriginal—I’ve heard it a dozen times already.

“Hmmph,” she answered again, withdrawing her elbow from his arm. He was impossible. He refused to flirt, even with such a blatant opener.

“So what’s the story behind your code name?” he asked, after a moment.

“My Stupefy slams into you like a bludger from hell,” she spoke defiantly in his direction. She’d like to hit him with a Stupefy about now. “The Death Eater who gets hit with that doesn’t get up for a looong time.” Then, without skipping a beat: “So, is she your girlfriend?”

“Who?”

“The babe with stone circle theory—the academic.”

“Oh! No. She’s seriously attached…has been for ages. Anyway, if she were, do you think I’d be telling you?”

“No. I suppose it would be endangering her life, to tell me about it.” Her voice dripped with sarcasm. She knew she should shut up and go to sleep, but she plunged forward recklessly: “Who would want to be the girlfriend of Harry Potter anyway? That would be like signing your own death warrant.” She gave a short bark of laughter.

She saw him wince—his brows furrowed behind the eyepiece of the scope and his mouth hardened. She had done it now: found a sore spot. Bludger immediately regretted her joke.

“You’re exhausted, Bludger,’ he spoke curtly. “You just used my real name. Go to sleep before you violate Auror protocol again.”

She could hear the hurt in his voice: a genuine profound pain. Oh bollocks, why had she said that? Perhaps he didn’t allow himself a girlfriend for that very reason. Perhaps he had even lost a girlfriend to the Death Eaters. She knew all about the pain of losing the love of your life. It was why she became an Auror; it was why she was here: to avenge the horrible death of her fiancé.

She rose on her elbow. “I’m sorry,” she almost whispered. “I shouldn’t have said that. Not just your name. I mean…about being your girlfriend.”

He didn’t answer right away. She saw him blink once or twice into the scope. “Okay,” he said softly. “Now go to sleep.”

She lay back down. “Goodnight, Greenhorn.”

“Goodnight, Bludger.”

 

 

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