The Sugar Quill
Author: A.L. de Sauveterre (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Harry Potter and the Society of Orpheus and Bacchus  Chapter: Prologue
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Prologue

DORIS CROCKFORD was having a devil of a day making preparations for the arrival of the master and mistress of the manor. ‘The Manor,’ she mused, just a modest nickname for the Pevensie castle and estate. With a weary sigh, Mrs. Crockford rested on the bottom-most step of the circular marble staircase in the vast entrance hall. She had just finished rubbing the large brass knockers on the twelve-foot oak doors and sat back to admire her handiwork. Pushing back a lock of short, mousey hair, she craned her neck and raised her eyes towards the vaulted ceiling. There was enough of a glow to illuminate the tapestries Peter Pevensie had accumulated over the years. Mr. Pevensie and his wife were very proud of them, particularly one depicting a scene on a hill above a deep wood, featuring four young children and a large lion.

A slapping and swishing noise from behind announced the arrival of a tall, wispy girl named Ivy, mopping her way across the stone floors.

“Oh, do hurry up, Ivy,” urged Mrs. Crockford, impatiently. “You still have the tapestries and the draperies. Maybe you can share the work with Gerry and Ewan. The mister and missus will be here within the hour.”

“Yes, ma’am,” nodded Ivy, obediently picking up speed with her mop.

Both Mrs. Crockford and Ivy, like the rest of the servants of the castle, thanked themselves every day for the good fortune of having a master and mistress who treated all those under the roof like family. They never wanted for anything that went unprovided by the Pevensies. The couple had one child, a girl called Lily, just turned five years old and currently too ill with the flu to have joined her parents on the annual trip to inspect Mr. Pevensie’s aircraft factories in Birmingham and Cardiff. In fact, Mr. Pevensie loved making and flying planes so much that he would have preferred to go by air. But for factory visits, he always took trains, as Mrs. Pevensie found them “rather quaint and amusing, if old-fashioned.”

“Oh, my goodness!” started Mrs. Crockford. “Three o’clock! Mr. McClanahan will have already picked them up from the station and they’ll be here any minute. Tell Cook to have the tea ready. Oh, nevermind, I’ll do it.” And at this, Mrs. Crockford cupped her hands around her mouth, projecting her voice down the long corridor to the kitchens. “Cook! COOK!”

The hurried scuffling of feet could be heard in the passageway and a tall, reedy-looking man in a soufflé-shaped chef’s cap appeared in the doorway. “Yes, Mrs. Crockford?”

“Yes,” she said to Cook, whose real name was Roger Brown. “The tea must be ready, because the Pevensies will be back at any moment.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Cook said. “I shall alert the house-elves.” Cook was just about to turn and disappear in the direction of the kitchen when a loud pounding on the front doors made them all jump.

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! The noise reverberated through the hall. Then the muffled sounds of masculine sobs came at them through the wood. Mrs. Crockford flung a worried glance over her shoulder at Cook and Ivy before cautiously pulling open the door.

Standing in the rain outside, soaking wet and… sobbing was the Pevensies’ chauffeur Gerald McClanahan. His thinning grey hair clung damply to his face, his eyes blinking through rivulets of rain from his creased forehead.

“Good God, man!” exclaimed Cook. “What’s ‘appened to you?”

“Cook! Do be quiet,” ordered Mrs. Crockford sharply. Then, she turned to Mr. McClanahan, ushering him in, “Gerald, what on earth’s happened to you? Where are the master and missus? Why haven’t you picked them up at the station?”

Mr. McClanahan leaned on the doorframe, looking as if he needed it for support, taking a short moment to compose himself. Cold raindrops fell from his slicker into a puddle on the threshold. Shaking, he dried his red eyes on the sleeve of his wet jersey.

“Oh, God,” he said, choking back more sobs. “S’ terrible. Terrible! They’re… they’re…”

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, she thought to herself, feeling the onslaught of panic. But she managed quietly to order him to continue.

“I ‘rived at the station. They were waitin’ fer me at the end of the… the platform. Mrs. Pevensie looked up an’ waved. But jus’ then I saw a train comin’… on the op… opposite track. It was goin’ too fast… too fast to stop. I could see it. The train… it tilted an’… an’ swerved off the track. There was an awful screeching, and I saw ‘em both… both turn ‘round. They saw it comin’ towards ‘em, an’… an’… it was too late. In seconds, it hit the end of the platform. It was goin’ so fast. So fast. They was thrown backwards an’… disappeared with the crash… with the front of the train… into the… the station....”

“Oh dear God,” breathed Mrs. Crockford, clutching at her chest and dropping onto the step, clinging to the banister for support.

The room was silent apart from the occasional sob. After what seemed an age, Cook asked tentatively, “Was anyone… else… hurt in the accident?”

“Other passengers on the train, I s’pose. It wasn’t just a freight train. The driver must’ve been killed as well. I can still see ‘is face. ‘E looked young, like a boy. Dark ‘air, dark eyes. Pale.” Gerald shook his head mournfully. “’S no wonder. ‘E must’ve realized it was all too late, the poor sod. ‘E looked so calm.”

Cook wrung his cap anxiously in his hands. Ivy clutched her throat, looking pale. They joined Gerald in his sobs and soon the news was conveyed to the rest of the staff. As Mr. McClanahan was in no fit state to inquire after the bodies, Cook, drying his eyes with his apron, went to the site to help with the police enquiry. Mrs. Pevensie had informed Mrs. Crockford of what was to be done in just such an eventuality. The Pevensies’ lawyer and executor of the Pevensie estate, Jacob McGovern, was notified. Only the most difficult task remained. Someone would have to tell Lily.

**********

Jacob McGovern peered over his wire-rimmed reading glasses at the child in front of him. His vision had slowly worsened with age, but he could still see that young Lily Pevensie was uncharacteristically still for a five year old. She sat motionless in the chair in the lawyer’s little office, gazing blankly out the window. In profile, she took after her father, the same cheekbones, the same narrow nose, turning up ever so slightly at the end. But her other features belonged to her mother: the curly red hair and the green eyes, which McGovern had before seen so full of life, but today, deep and mournful. Understandable, he thought, especially for a wee orphan.

The will of Peter A. Pevensie and Nan R. Pevensie lay soberly in his hands. The couple had been very specific. Pevensie’s aircraft parts empire would be sold to the highest bidder and the millions in revenue put in a trust fund to provide for their daughter’s education and other needs. The castle and its contents would pass to Lily alone at the age of majority.

Custody over the girl, in the event of the death of both of her parents, would go to Mr. and Mrs. Frank Evans. The Evanses, close friends of Mr. Pevensie, had always welcomed the young couple into their home and both adored Lily. Mr. McGovern on one occasion ventured nevertheless to express some doubt about them as a surrogate family. While the Evanses themselves struck him as a nice, decent couple, he noted that their only child, a girl slightly older than Lily, seemed a haughty, spoiled and jealous type who would surely harbour deep-seated resentment upon discovering that she would have to share parental affections with a stranger.

But the Pevensies had been insistent. The little girl’s next of kin would have been Nan Pevensie’s wealthy uncle Thomas, notorious as an elitist class-conscious snob, as well as a miser and absentee parent to his son. His wife was no different. What’s more, Nan Pevensie swore she could already detect signs of a certain unsavouriness in Thomas junior, already in his teens. Unwilling to allow her daughter to be brought up with such an influence, she was adamant that the Evanses take in Lily. Mr. McGovern, as their lawyer, could only follow the couple’s wishes.

The servants, as beneficiaries, had also gathered at his offices for the reading of the will. They, too, had been well-provided for. It was clear that their quiet tears were not due to any limitations in their bequest, but out of grief and sympathy for the little child. He squinted slightly at the blurry images of two of the shortest kitchen servants he had ever seen, hovering timidly behind Cook’s knees. (He thought for a fleeting moment that he saw large flapping ears pop out from behind their chef’s caps, but realized his myopia was no doubt worse than it had ever been.) They had been secured positions with a boarding school in the north, while the other servants had accepted positions with other households. Now surveying the assembly of Pevensie servants, he saw them waiting with subdued grief for him to conclude the will reading.

Mr. McGovern finally put down the will and nodded at Mrs. Crockford. He sighed sadly for a single unguarded moment. It was surely a sign of his age that he had lived long enough to see some of his dearest friends to the grave.

With a start he remembered the box on his desk. In his grief, he had forgotten to give the child Mrs. Pevensie’s specific bequest. When he had inspected it the night before, he could not detect an opening, although upon shaking it, it was obvious that it was by no means empty. The old lawyer peered at it more closely now. It was made of metal, perhaps silver, with the inlaid mother-of-pearl and platinum figures resembling small people with wings. Given his generally pragmatic disposition, Jacob McGovern would scarcely have identified these as the fairies that they were—even if his eyesight had been 20/20. Winged people he found odd enough, but what troubled him most of all was that they appeared to be… moving. Their wings swung to and fro and he fancied that some of the grinning figures waved at him.

He cursed silently, furrowing his thick white brows and rubbing his lined forehead, feeling the early signs of a migraine. Damn, he sighed, I must pay that optician a visit. And having mentally resolved to do so first thing in the morning, he leaned forward and laid the box in Lily’s tiny hands. The girl numbly accepted it, without the merest flicker of curiosity, before allowing Mrs. Crockford to lead her to the door.

In the corridor, her new family was waiting: Frank and Jane Evans and, scowling unpleasantly in the corner, their daughter Petunia.

//
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