The Sugar Quill
Author: Violet Azure (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Fumbling Towards Ecstasy  Chapter: Ch.3: And If I Feel a Rage, I Won't Deny It
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Chapter 3: And If I Feel a Rage, I Won’t Deny It

Chapter 3: And If I Feel a Rage, I Won’t Deny It

 

 

Max was gone by the time Rosmerta woke up the next morning.  The house seemed unnaturally still.  Even Fang was quiet, curled up in a sunny patch of the living room, dozing.  She washed and dressed in silence.  The cool September air caressed her cheeks as she flew to the tavern. 

 

He still loves her, she thought, her heart turning to lead.  Why else would he go see her?  But he didn’t sound very happy.  Maybe she won’t take him back.  But why would he have stayed the night then?   Rosmerta’s mind kept going around and around these thoughts like a Sneakascope at a Death Eater’s picnic.  She didn’t realize she was brooding until Russell Banges waved a hand in front of her face.

 

“Hey Rosmerta, did you Apparate to the moon and leave your body behind?  You’re acting quite peculiar today.”  He gave her a quizzical look as he shoveled a handful of crisps into his mouth and chewed rather enthusiastically, crumbs conglomerating in the corner of his mouth. 

 

“Oh,” Rosmerta said, shaking her head.  “Sorry, I didn’t get much sleep last night.” She offered him a feeble smile as she refilled his tankard. 

 

“Well, you don’t have to brag,” Russell teased, a slight edge to his words. 

 

“Beg your pardon?”

 

“You know, didn’t get much sleep…what sort of things prevent someone from getting a good night’s sleep…” Russell gave her a lusty wink before biting savagely into his corned beef sandwich.  Now the crisp crumbs were joined by a glob of mustard.

 

“Honestly,” Rosmerta huffed, pursing her lips.  She kept her eyes on the bar top, polishing it with a cloth until it gleamed.  She had to do something to occupy her hands, as the urge to grab Russell’s napkin and wipe the corner of his mouth was becoming rather overwhelming.  “Is that all you men ever think about?”

 

“Just teasing.  You sure look like someone who was tossing and turning all night—and not in a good way.”  Russell surveyed her over the brim of his tankard as he drank his ale.  “Trouble in paradise?” he asked mildly, toying with his remaining crisps. The hard edge was gone from his voice, replaced with a hungry curiosity. 

 

“No,” Rosmerta replied automatically.  “Yes.  I don’t know.  I don’t wish to discuss it right now.”  She closed her expression like a window before an impending rainstorm.  “Please excuse me.  I have to check something in the kitchen.”  She set the cloth aside and moved from behind the bar.

 

“Hey,” Russell said, swiveling on his stool as he finally wiped his mouth with a napkin.  He grasped her forearm lightly before she brushed past him.  “Anytime you want to talk, you let me know.  Just talk,” he reiterated, releasing her arm and holding up his hands.  “That’s all I’m going to say.” He turned around and resumed eating his lunch, but as she made her way to the kitchen, she thought she felt his eyes on her, watching every move she made.

 

The day wore on.  Rosmerta went home in between the lunch and dinner shift to take Fang for a walk.  She decided to make blackberry scones for dessert that night with the last of the summer’s crop.  It was his favorite and a part of her wanted to show Max just what he was missing if he decided to do something foolish.  All during the dinner shift, she looked up expectantly whenever the door opened, expecting Max to walk through it and join her for dinner, perhaps bearing a bouquet of “I’m Sorry” flowers. 

 

An owl arrived at half past seven with a note for her.

 

Ros,

 

I’m working late again tonight.  I need to use my computer, so I’m going to stay at my flat.  I’ll see you soon.

 

Love,

Max

 

Rosmerta crumpled the note and flung it into the fireplace.  She took a savage pleasure in watching the flames consume the parchment, reducing it to smoldering ash.  All of the calm acceptance she had amassed last night burned in time with the piece of paper.  He never stayed at his flat.  Working late again her right foot.  Love, Max.  Love.  He had some nerve using that word. 

 

By Wednesday evening, Rosmerta was so mad that she could barely perform the most routine spells without wreaking havoc.  Twice the stove spewed forth flames, singeing her apron, and when she tried to do the dishes, a small ocean of water and foam splashed over the sink and soaked her new purple suede heels, causing Rosmerta to swear so loudly that Cleo Belmar came running into the kitchen to see if she was all right.  To her patrons she projected a cool sort of politeness, but they must have sensed the vibe emanating from her because no one dared to complain that the gravy was lumpy or their chicken overcooked.  Even the night crowd that arrived to listen to the Wednesday night Quidditch broadcast could tell that the mood was less than festive.  No one protested much when Rosmerta closed the tavern at eleven, well before the game ended.

 

As Rosmerta approached her house that evening, she saw a light in the living room.  Came crawling back, did he? she thought nastily as she alighted from her broom and stalked inside the house, shoes squishing slightly.

 

He was on the couch reading from a scroll.  Parchment, inkbottles and quills were heaped on the coffee table in front of him.  When he saw her, a smile softened his rather exhausted looking features.  Setting aside the scroll, he stretched, got to his feet and crossed the living room.

 

“I missed you,” he murmured into her ear as he folded her into an embrace.  Rosmerta kept her arms by her side.  After a second or two, Max pulled back, his hands on her shoulders.  Rosmerta crossed her arms over her chest and looked up at him, a stony expression on her face.

 

“You’ll have to do better than that,” she said, each word falling from her lips like a snowflake, soft and cold.

 

“Ros,” Max sighed in a weary sort of way.  “Let’s not have a row.”  He leaned in to kiss her but she turned her head.

 

“Oh, I’m dreadfully sorry if this is an inconvenient time for you.” Her voice had taken on a dangerously pleasant quality of a psychotic game show hostess. 

 

“Ros, I’ve been incredibly busy this week.  Come off it, don’t be angry.”

 

So now he was ordering her around on how she should feel?  Somewhere in the back of her brain, a warning light was flashing.  Like a clabbert, it tried to tell her of the impending danger but she ignored it.  She knew Max was capable getting angry, really angry, and that little voice was telling her to stop talking before she found out what it was like being on the receiving end of that anger.  But like a child with a loose tooth, she couldn’t stop poking her tongue into that sore spot until she had nudged the damn thing out.

 

“Are you tired, darling?  Shall I sit quietly in a corner and keep my mouth shut and smile as if I’ve been hit with a bloody Cheering Charm until you are ready to bestow your attention upon me?  Would that please you, my love?”  She gave him a smile that curled her lips and showed too many teeth.

 

Max tipped his head back and looked at ceiling, most likely to disguise the rolling of his eyes.  He looked back down at her.  “What is the matter with you tonight?  You’re acting like a—”

 

“Like a what?”  Rosmerta shrieked back.  Bitch.  Harpy.  Shrew.  Fury.  She’d heard them all before but she thought she would die before Max said one of those words to her.  “Say it!” 

 

“Like—like you’ve been hit with a Cockamamie Curse.  All angry, illogical and …Wait,” Max’s expression cleared and the beginnings of a sympathetic smile appeared.  “Is it that time…with your lunar cycle…Do you need some chocolate or crisps or something…?”

 

Rosmerta wasn’t sure if she wanted to laugh or scream.  She made a noise that was somewhere between the two.  “I’ll thank you very much to stop patronizing me!” she snarled. 

 

“I’m not patronizing you!  I’m trying to figure out what you’re so hacked off about.  Is it because I was at my flat last night and didn’t let you know ‘til late?”

 

Were you at your flat?  Or did you lie to me again?”  Her shouting made Fang look up from where he was curled up in front of the fire.  The dog whined and slapped his tail on the floor a few times but she ignored him.

 

“Oh.”  He fell silent.  “I don’t want to get into this right now.  Ros, you’re getting all worked up over nothing,” he said as her face went from upset to apoplectic, “Just…can we please discuss it in the morning?  Come on now…” 

 

He began rubbing her shoulders and arms as if her tension would just dissolve under his touch.  He was so close, moving slowly to bridge the space between them.  His hands began moving toward her neck.  Most likely he was going to continue giving her a massage but the memory of an argument past, of a looming presence and of hands closing around her throat, of hands trying to knock her unconscious reared up so vividly she thought her heart stopped.  A cold surge of adrenaline flooded her body and all that mattered at that moment was survival.

 

“Don’t you dare touch me!  Don’t you ever touch me again!” she yelled, jerking from his grasp, knocking his hands away and backing up against the wall.

 

“I—” He advanced on her and in a panic she swiped at him, clipping him across the cheek.  He recoiled and stared at her as if she had been possessed.

 

Rosmerta paused for a moment, horrified at what she had done.  She took one look at his face and fled to the bedroom, slamming the door behind her.  At the sound of their arguing, Fang started barking. 

 

“Ros!” Max pounded on the bedroom door. 

 

Now I’ve done it.  Rosmerta cowered on the bed, clutching her knees to her chest, biting down on her knuckles as the bedroom door vibrated.  He’s going to kill me.  He’s actually going to kill me.  Fear had taken over her, but the small part of her mind that was still thinking clearly realized that she was the one who was angry, not Max.   

 

The knocking stopped.  “I can just use Alohomora,” he said in a rather practical, if slightly annoyed, tone over the sound of Fang’s barks.

 

“And I can use a Stunning Spell!”

 

“Fine!” came Max’s muffled shout from behind the door.  “Once you’re acting like a rational human being again, we’ll talk.”

 

Rosmerta buried her head in her pillow and quietly sobbed herself to sleep.

 

***

 

The next morning Rosmerta awoke, not quite remembering when or how she had slept.  Her mouth felt fuzzy and her head was pounding.  Peering blearily around the room with dry and itching eyes, she saw by the clock that it was nearly six in the morning.  She was still in her robes from the night before.  Feeling grubby and exhausted she replayed the fight she had with Max a few hours ago.  Damn it!  What was the matter with her? 

 

He’s not Ares.  He’s not Ares, she told herself.  He’s not.  He’s not.

 

Deeply ashamed of her behavior, she crept out of her room, intending to freshen up in the bathroom before facing Max.  She wouldn’t blame him if he had left during the night never to return.  A strange noise made her pause before going into the bathroom.  She peeked into the living room to find Max sprawled out on the couch, lightly snoring and partially covered with a blanket.  He hadn’t bothered with an Engorgement Charm and he was contorted into what looked to be a rather uncomfortable position. 

 

However, it was the noise of Queenie scratching up Max’s many scrolls and parchments that drew her attention.  It appeared as if the Fwooper had spent the better part of the pre-dawn hours clawing everything to shreds.  And any piece of parchment bigger than a Galleon, Queenie had used to do her business. 

 

Queenie saw Rosmerta and gave a little bob, looking quite pleased with herself, like a cat offering a dead bird to its master.  Fang cracked an eye and quickly closed it again, looking rather guilty about his poor performance as a guard dog.

 

“Queenie!  Bad girl!  Shoo!  Shoo!”

 

“Huh?  Wha’?” Max jerked awake and nearly slipped off the couch.

 

Queenie gave one last scratch with her talons and flew up to her perch where she strutted about before settling down. 

 

Max saw Queenie’s handiwork and swore, tumbling off the couch and onto his knees.  He was fully awake now, but he looked tired and defeated as he picked up bits of parchment, not quite believing what he was seeing.  The parchment fragments fluttered from his hands like pathetic confetti from a lousy party.  There was something so disheartening as he surveyed the damage that Rosmerta forgot to feel embarrassed or angry.  She rushed to his side and began helping him gather up the torn sheets.

 

“I am going to sell you to Scrivenshaft's,” Rosmerta hissed at her bird.  “See how you like your tail feathers pulled out for quills and sold for five Galleons apiece!”  Queenie stretched her feathers and settled her head underneath her wing, giving Rosmerta a haughty sort of look.  You’re welcome, you ungrateful human, she seemed to say.

 

While Rosmerta used a combination of Vanishing Charms and Scourgify to clean up the parchment, Max used a modified Reparo Charm to get the pages to become whole again.  They worked in silence except for the muttering of spells, avoiding each other’s eyes.  After twenty minutes they had managed to erase all of Queenie’s hard work. 

 

“I’ll make some tea?” Rosmerta quickly glanced at Max before returning her gaze to the rug.

 

“Coffee, if you have it.  Thanks.  I’ll take Fang out,” he added, since Fang was now awake and pacing around the back door.

 

Head down, Rosmerta went into the kitchen and busied herself with the coffee.  She heard the back door open and then close a few minutes later.  She returned to the living room with two steaming mugs to find Max, scratching Fang behind his ears.  In silence, she handed Max his mug.  Max opened his mouth, presumable to ask about cream and sugar, but one glance at his mug told him that Rosmerta had prepared his coffee exactly the way he liked it.  She settled on the loveseat and watched him on the couch.

 

“About last night,” Rosmerta began, glancing at his cheek.  She was relieved to see that she hadn’t left a mark.  “I never should have…reacted like that.  It was inexcusable.”

 

“You didn’t get me too bad.  I think I can find it in my heart to forgive you.” He gave her a crooked smile but then he shook his head at her.  “What got into you last night?”

 

Rosmerta took a deep, shuddering breath, feeling sick.  She opened and closed her mouth several times before the words could make their way out.  “It’s just that…well…your temper.  It…frightens me sometimes,” she said in a shaky voice to her coffee.  

 

My temper?  I wasn’t the one shouting and slapping people last night,” Max replied, sounding like he was trying very hard to keep the sarcasm in check but some of it leaked into his tone. 

 

Rosmerta flushed crimson and continued staring into her mug.  “No,” she replied evenly, mustering up every ounce of courage.  “But I’ve seen you get angry before and…well, last night I thought I was making you angry and I—I was…afraid,” Rosmerta shook her head, unable to form her dark thoughts into words.  She set aside her mug, sloshing coffee on her hand, burning it.  She pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes to stop the tears before they even got a chance to start.  After a moment she opened her eyes and look directly at Max.

 

“What?” Max squinted at her.  “Afraid?  No.  Oh…no, no, no,” he said. He set his coffee aside and crossed over to the loveseat.  Enveloping her in his arms, he rocked her as if she was a sick child.  She wrapped her arms around the back of his neck and buried her face in his shoulder, breathing the scent of him in through his t-shirt.  He was grubby and unwashed and yet the smell of him made her homesick, even though he was sitting right beside her. 

 

“I’d never do that, ever.  Ever.  Not ever.” he repeated over and over again.  He got one hand underneath her chin and tilted it up.  “How could you even think that?”  His hazel eyes searched her blue ones.  “Ros, you have to believe me and this is the last time I’m going to say this: I.  Will.  Never.  Cheat on you.  And I will never leave you either.  Never.”

 

How could she tell him what she was really afraid of?  To say it aloud…that would make it real instead of the bad dream she often pretended those years had been.  And what would Max think of her if she told him everything?  The Silencing Charms and confiscation of her wand when she talked too much or demanded answers for questions Ares didn’t feel like answering.  Hit with the Full Body-Bind and left on the floor in Ares’ study for a day or so to “teach her a lesson” after a row.  Jostle Jinxes, Stinging Hexes, Constricting Curses.  Suffocation Spells. 

 

Rosmerta didn’t want to argue that he had missed the point.  He had come close enough.  She just gave him a weak smile, shook her head and returned her cheek to his chest and stared across the living room.  “I hate fighting,” she said to his chest.  “I hate it so much.”

 

“All couples fight at some point.  Just because we have one row doesn’t mean we’re doomed.  Have a little faith.”

 

“No,” Rosmerta shook her head slightly.  “I don’t mean a little tiff over who put the empty pumpkin juice container back in the refrigerator or who was supposed to owl who.  I mean I hate yelling and shouting.  I hate it.  I hate it.  It frightens me to death.”

 

“Did your parents fight a lot?”

 

“No,” Rosmerta shook her head and gave a hollow chuckle.  “I never saw them in the same room long enough to do that.”

 

They both grew quiet for a while.  Rosmerta had almost dozed off when Max’s voice broke the stillness.

 

“Your father passed away several years ago, didn’t he?” he asked out of the blue.  “What did he die of?”

 

“Hmmm?  Liver cancer, quick and painful.”  Rosmerta frowned.  “Why do you ask?  Are George and Grace all right?”

 

A long pause followed and then Rosmerta felt Max’s exhaled breath ruffle her hair. “Alice’s mum is sick.  Breast cancer, end stage.  She asked me if…if I could help.  Thought magic could cure her.  I tried to explain to her that I’m not a Healer and even if I were, there are limitations to magical medicine and with the Statue of Secrecy I might not be allowed to help.  She wasn’t hearing any of it.  Accused me of not helping because I was still angry about the divorce.  It got ugly.  Really ugly.” 

 

Rosmerta looked up.  She reached for his hand and twined her fingers with his but didn’t say anything.  

 

“She shouted things…terrible things.  But the worst part was, she was right.”  He ran his free hand over her hair, absentmindedly winding a lock of it around his fingers. 

 

“See, the thing is,” Max continued, “you think I’m a good person.  And I like that you think that.  But the truth of the matter is that I’m not a good person—or at least, I’m not a very nice person.  I can be a real asshole.  I know that.  I thought by visiting Alice, maybe even helping, I could somehow make all the things right that I’ve done wrong in my life.  Make peace with her and…go out on a high note.  And that would balance things out that I’ve done in my life, make me a better person.  Because I don’t ever want to be an asshole to you.  But I guess it’s a little too late for that, huh?”  He gazed down at her, disappointment settling over his features.

 

Rosmerta glanced up at him, puzzled.  Whatever she was expecting from him, that certainly hadn’t been it.  “You’re not a…you know.  Or—why don’t we call it a draw?” she murmured, a feeling of exhaustion settling over her.  “Just promise me that if we ever argue again that you get angry with me…but not at me, all right?”

 

“Deal,” he replied, sounding a little confused.

 

“Mmmm,” Rosmerta purred, hugging him tightly.  “Now that we’ve made up, you know what I feel like doing?”

 

“What?” he chuckled.

 

“Taking a nap.  It’s only half past six.  We could get in a good two, maybe three hours of sleep…you could go into work late.  Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a little lie-down?”

 

“I thought you’d never ask,” Max groaned.  “That couch is no where near as comfortable as your bed.  I promise to never complain about your pink comforter again.”  He sat up, gently dislodging her, and scribbled something on a piece of parchment. 

 

“Take this to Ed,” his instructed Rosenkrantz as he tied the parchment to his owl’s leg.  “And I’m still annoyed with you,” he said to Queenie who was watching with one sleepy eye.  Queenie turned around and presented him with her rebuttal.

 

Yawning, Max trudged off to the bedroom.  Rosmerta paused to send the mostly undrunk coffee back to the kitchen.  She glared half-heartedly at her pet.  “He must really love me if he puts up with you,” she muttered, rubbing Queenie’s head before joining Max in a collaboration of sweet dreams.

 

***

Maddie looked around the kitchen at Grimmauld Place Sunday evening.  So these are the people I’ll be working with, Maddie thought.  What does Dumbledore have in store for us?

 

Besides herself and her girls there were Remus, Sirius, Tonks, Moody, and a young witch with dark hair.  Hestia, Maddie thought her name was.  They were waiting for Dumbledore and the American witch to arrive. 

 

Sirius had procured tea and after a flurry of requests to pass around the milk, sugar and lemon wedges, they all lapsed into an uneasy silence. 

 

“So…Tonks, dear.”  Maddie began.  “You’re an Auror, yes?  Have you caught many vampires over the course of your career?” 

 

“No, not really,” she said with a shake of her head.  Today her hair was bright pink.  “I only just qualified last year.”

 

“Needs to work on her stealth and tracking before she goes hunting down vampires,” Moody said in a low, admonishing tone, like a coach providing critique after a poor game performance.  Tonks blushed and looked at her bright purple fingernails.  There was another long, silent pause.

 

“And Remus,” Maddie continued, feeling like the hostess of a disastrous dinner party, “you taught Defense Against the Dark Arts.  Do you have a lot of experience with vampires?”

 

Remus gave her a thin smile.  Maddie thought he seemed less than pleased by Selena, who had managed to sidle into a seat next to him with an expression on her face like the cat that ate the augury.  “I’m afraid most of my practical applications in the Dark Arts is limited to fighting Death Eaters.  And, of course, being a dark creature is another one of my many qualifications.”  He gave her a lopsided grin.

 

“Oh, I didn’t mean to imply…” Maddie faltered, not sure what to say.

 

“What do you know about vampires, Miss Maddie?” Sirius asked abruptly, surveying her with curiosity.

 

“I’ve dealt with a few vampires in my day.  We get all sorts at the Lair,” Maddie replied, taking a sip of tea.  She was glad to get a chance to keep the conversation going.  “Customers as well as employees.”

 

“What sort of ‘types’ do you mean?” Hestia asked, wrinkling her nose.

 

“I’m part lorelei,” Selena drawled, tossing her pale blonde hair over her shoulder.  The rest of the table turned to look at her.  “Right now we have a banshee, two harpies, and a veela.  In the past we’ve had a couple of werewolves, a succubus, dwarves, hags, and goblins,” she said as if she was cataloguing a list of attractions at a zoo. 

 

“Just about all of them are mixed bloods, so some of the more dangerous instincts are…quelled,” Maddie quickly explained.  “Still, I have to look out for the safety of my employees and my patrons.  I make it my business to know how to handle various...beings.  Rose and Isis,” Maddie nodded at them, “and a few others are old hats and know what to do in case any situations arise.  I prefer to have the Ministry keep its nose out of our business as much as possible.  The villagers aren’t fond of the Lair, but they tolerate us so long as we keep to ourselves and there aren’t any incidents.”

 

“Have there been any incidents?” Remus asked with a frown.

 

Maddie sighed and stirred her tea.  “Yes, though they’re few and far between.  Since I’ve been running the Lair the Ministry has had to step in only once and that was enough.  We prefer to handle things…in house.”  Maddie gave him a tight smile and set her cup down with a delicate clink.  “Of course, given the clientele, it is in everyone’s benefit that all matters be handled as discreetly as possible.”

 

“What happened that brought the Ministry in?” Remus asked.

 

Maddie gave him a twisted smile.  “Ironically enough, it involved a vampire.  It happened a long time ago.  A vampire—one of my employees—bit and killed a client.  She had been good for months and then…” Maddie shook her head.  “He was with a group of friends, so there was no way of hiding what had happened.  To make matters worse, he was the nephew of a prominent Ministry member, so the punishment was swift and brutal.”

 

“What did they do?” Remus asked, leaning forward on the table.

 

“They tied her to a stake in the village square and waited for sunrise.”  Maddie said simply.   

 

Sirius gave snort of disgust into his teacup but Remus and Tonks exchanged worried looks. 

 

“Who was the Ministry member?”  Hestia asked.

 

“She was the Assistant to the Head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures—Temperance Palltree.”

 

“Palltree?”  Moody growled.  “I knew her when she was Head of the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures.  Had to deal with her on a few cases.  Real enthusiastic about her job.  Ministry forced her to quit around ’70, ’71 after she ordered the beheading of several prizing winning show-hippogriffs.”

 

“Short, unpleasant woman with curly blonde hair?  Looks like the love child of a slug and a toad?” 

 

Moody suppressed a snort of laughter and nodded.  “That’s her.  She had a sister who was a file clerk in the Spirit Division, Ruemara.  Must’ve been her kid what was bit. ”

 

“That Palltree woman sounds as pleasant as Dolores Umbridge,” Sirius interjected. “Harry’s written about her.  Says she makes Mum look down right sweet.”

 

“Dolores Umbridge is a horrible, narrow-minded hag,” Remus burst out with uncharacteristic venom.  “Who won’t be happy until she exterminates every non-magical being with human or near human intelligence.”  He turned his teacup around and around in circles as if trying to calm himself down.

 

“She’s sneaky about it too.  First, it was all the anti-werewolf legislation, ‘for your own safety and protection’,” Remus mimicked in a mincing falsetto.  “She formed a law that reduced the number of acres of forest for centaur herds, ‘oh deary me, budget restrictions!  Wouldn’t want the Ministry to raise taxes that people pay to take care of a few horsies ’,” he said in that same falsetto.  “And I heard the last thing she was working on before she left office was something to do with rounding up and tagging merpeople, as if that wasn’t a waste of good gold.  And now she’s at Hogwarts—teaching!  Spreading her poison to the students is more like it.”

 

“Well, she certainly does not live up to the high standard that you set, Remus,” Dumbledore said from the foot of the stairs.  “Then again, she has only been in the classroom for two weeks, so perhaps she should be given the benefit of the doubt. However, I must confess that my optimism is rapidly dwindling.” 

 

Dumbledore stepped into the kitchen, followed by a woman around the same age as Sirius and Remus.

 

“Wonderful, everyone is here.  This is Miss Diana Waxwaine.  She just arrived this afternoon.”  Everyone assembled introduced themselves in turn.

 

“I left my trunk in the entrance hall; I hope that’s all right,” she addressed Sirius.

 

Sirius heaved a disgusted sigh.  “I’d better make sure Kreacher doesn’t—”

 

“Creature?” Diana asked.  “What sort of creature?”

 

“Kreacher with a ‘K’.  He’s the house-elf.”

 

“Oh.” Diana’s eyes widened with interest.  “I’ve never seen a house-elf before.  We don’t have them in the States.  Could I meet him?”

 

“Trust me, you’d be better off avoiding that annoying little toerag at all costs,” Sirius grumbled, ignoring Dumbledore’s frown.  “I’d better move your trunk before Kreacher chucks your clothes out the window on the pretext that he’s putting them away.  You are staying here, right?” Sirius cast a hopeful look at Dumbledore.

 

“I’m sorry, Sirius, but Diana will be living in Hogsmeade,” Dumbledore replied, with just a note of apology in his voice.  “It is not that I fear for Diana’s virtue were she to share living quarters with you and Remus, but it makes much more sense for her to be stationed in the village.”

 

Sirius looked like he was about to argue, but he shrugged his shoulders instead.  “All right.  Excuse me while I make sure your trunk is out of the way.” Shoving his hair off his eyes, Sirius swept past them and bounded up the stairs.

 

Dumbledore and Diana settled themselves at the table and Remus offered them tea.

 

“Oh, you do drink tea over here, don’t you?” Diana said in an amused voice, looking into her cup as if she was trying to read the leaves.  

 

While they waited for Sirius to rejoin them, Maddie looked over the new member.  She was of medium height and her body was compact; it was the sort of sinewy thinness that was cultivated by discipline rather than deprivation, like a greyhound in top racing form.  Everything about her appearance was in soft, neutral earth tones, from her light brown eyes flecked with green and gold, to her shoulder-length hair the color of toffee, to her crisply pressed khaki trousers, white button down shirt and polished brown boots.  Except for the lovely faun-colored traveling cloak she wore, Maddie would have taken the woman to be an ordinary Muggle.

 

“Diana is a highly regarded barrister in the States,” Dumbledore began when Sirius returned to the kitchen.  “She specializes in non-human rights, particularly laws pertaining to vampires.  She used to teach at the Salem Academy of Magic— Beasts and Beings was the name of the class, was it not?”  Dumbledore looked over at her and Diana gave a quick affirmative nod.

 

“Diana is currently involved in a vampire social program, which I am sure she will tell you all about much more eloquently than I could.  Diana,” Dumbledore yielded the floor to her.

 

“Right.  Thank you,” Diana nodded, getting to her feet.  She placed an elegant, well-used, brown leather briefcase on the table, opened it and pulled out a stack of parchment.  She distributed what appeared to be a small booklet to everyone assembled.  Maddie flipped through it idly; it contained a lot of numbers and charts and looked quite boring.

 

“Let’s begin,” Diana said crisply.  “These pamphlets explain the history and work to date of V.A.M.P., as well as our future aims and goals.  I’ll leave you to peruse them on your own time and if there are questions, they can be asked at the end of the meeting.  I have a short presentation that summarizes our organization quite well.”

 

“Vamp?” Moody asked, sounding suspicious.

 

“Yes, V.A.M.P.—the Vampire Assimilation and Management Program.”  Diana tapped her wand three times against the table and a beam of light shot at the opposite wall, forming what looked like a screen with the letters and words spelled out.  She flicked her wand and the next slide appeared. 

 

“V.A.M.P. is a non-profit group and our mission is to provide the resources vampires need to become viable members of the magical community.  We accomplish this in the following way.” Diana continued flicking her wand so that new slides kept appearing at a brisk pace. 

 

“First, we provide them with counseling, both individual and family, so that they can come to terms with and fully understand their condition.  We also have a peer-mentoring program where we match a newly created vampire with an older one.  There are also job placement services, so that vampires can regain a sense of autonomy, and a legal division, which I head up.  Our organization helps vampires see that just because they’re dead doesn’t mean that they still can’t have a productive, fulfilling life.”

 

“Second, we set up arrangements for alternative blood sources so they don’t have to obtain it from living humans.  We have agreements with Gully slaugh—“

 

“Gully?” Sirius asked.

 

“You know…Gullies.  Non-magic people.  What do you call them over here?”

 

“Muggles,” Dumbledore supplied.

 

“Oh, charming,” Diana said, eager to press on with her presentation.  “As I was saying, we have arrangements with Gully slaughterhouses through our—“

 

“Wait,” Rose blurted out.  “You kill Muggles?”

 

“No,” Diana said shortly.  “Animals.”  Rose appeared not to hear her and just continued to stare horror-struck at Diana. 

 

“You know…animal slaughterhouses?” Diana explained as if trying to teach a toddler that cows say, “moo.”  “Gullies kill animals for food and we have agreements with people who work at the slaughterhouses to collect blood.  It’s all detailed on pages six and seven.”

 

Rose narrowed her eyes, a skeptical expression on her face.  After a moment, she flipped open her pamphlet, but didn’t appear to be reading it as Diana plowed on.

 

“We also hold blood drives because vampires do need to drink human blood from time to time in order to survive.  We believe that by providing vampires with food they will be less inclined to seek it on their own.  This achieves several objectives, which are detailed on pages ten through twelve.  Third—”

 

“What’s a blood drive?” Rose interrupted again.

 

Diana stopped, looking slightly annoyed.  “A blood drive…you know, where people donate blood.”

 

“They what?” Rose’s mouth hung open.  “People don’t jus’ give someone their own blood!  What kinda sick, twisted, dark magic are you playin’ at?”  A few murmurs of agreement broke out.

 

“Ah…” Diana looked around the table, utterly taken aback.  “It’s not dark magic,” was all she managed to muster up as a counter-argument.

 

“Sounds a little fishy to me,” Moody muttered, his magical eye now whizzing around in its socket, taking in Diana and the pamphlets more closely.

 

“I think I know what Diana means,” Hestia offered a bit hesitantly.  “Muggles don’t have blood replenishing potions.  If a Muggle is injured and needs blood, their healers actually administer blood that other people have donated for such a purpose.  I’m not sure how…I think needles are involved.”

 

“That’s disgustin’!” Rose shouted.  “Muggles put blood from one person into another person?  What the bloody hell’s wrong with them?  I think I’m gonna be sick!”

 

“Rose, stop interrupting,” Maddie hissed.  “I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical explanation.”

 

“It does seem like a bizarre idea,” Sirius offered.  “I mean, blood is used in all types of Dark magic.  No witch or wizard is going to willingly hand over their blood to strangers, especially if they know their blood is going to feed vampires.”

 

“Sirius is right,” Moody growled.  “I don’t fancy the idea of willingly giving up my blood to anyone.  Too many possibilities for sabotage.”

 

Diana looked around the room bewildered as if she had no idea why the room was turning against her.  “I had no idea people over here would be so unfamiliar with non-magical concepts,” she said slowly, as if realizing for the first time exactly what she was getting into.  She turned to Dumbledore for help, but he seemed rather interested in his pamphlet. 

 

“We’re not a bunch of ignorant trolls if that’s what you mean,” Tonks said pleasantly.  “It’s just that some people know more about Muggles than others.  And besides, we’re all pretty fast learners.”  She smiled at Diana. 

 

“Well said, Nymphadora,” Dumbledore interjected, folding his pamphlet shut.  “Perhaps we can debate the merits of magical blood donations at a later time, after everyone has had a chance to read your informative pamphlet.”  Dumbledore smiled and nodded, indicating that she should continue.

 

Diana paused for a minute.  She shook her head slightly and then resumed speaking.  “As I was saying,” she said, working herself back into her groove, “the third goal of our organization is to lobby for legislation that is anti-discriminatory and which supports and protects vampires and their families.  I would be very interested in learning more about vampire laws in Great Britain as well as initiating a similar V.A.M.P. program here.  What sort of support system for vampires do you currently have in place here?”  

 

“Well, there’s the Society for the Tolerance of Vampires in London.  They’re quite small,” Remus supplied.  “Do we know anyone with their organization?”

 

“I am not currently involved in the goings on of the club, but I do get their newsletter.  Sturgis is a member though,” Dumbledore sighed.  “I believe one of his childhood friends is a vampire.  We should make it our priority to work with the S.T.V. this year.”

 

“Why are we working with vampires again?” Rose asked.  “Do we jus’ wanna make sure that they don’ join You-Know-Who?”

 

“Yes,” Dumbledore replied.  “That is one of the main reasons.  Voldemort has already begun recruiting for his army.  I had word from Hagrid that Voldemort’s emissaries to the giants over the summer were, unfortunately, successful.  He is also determined to bring the Dementors to his side as well as the werewolves, goblins, trolls…any group that has been marginalized by wizarding society.  The vampires are one such group.”

 

“The second reason is that no one has been able to determine the reasons behind Voldemort’s apparent immortality.  Our intelligence has come up empty so far.  I have been working through several theories, one of which is that one or more of Voldemort’s earlier experiments involved vampires and possibly zombies since both beings possess the quality of immortality, at least theoretically.  I am especially inclined to lean toward the vampire theory in light of what Harry told me regarding Voldemort’s appearance after witnessing his rebirth a few months ago.” 

 

“As you know, vampires drink blood.  They can survive for a while on the blood of animals, but they must occasionally drink human blood in order to survive.  The older the vampire, the more people they have most likely murdered to maintain their immortal status.  Over time, a vampire’s appearance changes from resembling a pale, malnourished human being to something more demonic.  It is thought this gradual change in appearance occurs in order to reflect the evil in their soul that killing has wrought, an “Essence of Evil” if you will.  Anyone who has ever seen a really old vampire—five hundred years old or so—will note that the skin has moved beyond pale to pure white, the eyes have turned red, all of the hair on the head and face has fallen out, the ears become pointed, the fingers elongate and large wings have sprouted.  Such beings are quite rare, so rare in fact that they are more legend than truth.  I do not think Voldemort is a true vampire, but he may have perverted their condition to suit his own purposes.  We are facing the complete unknown.”  Dumbledore’s worried look was not comforting.  A chill seemed to go through the room.

 

“Great,” Sirius muttered.  “I think I liked it better when Voldemort was just an evil wizard instead of some sort of giant, demonic vampire bat.” 

 

Diana started to laugh, but cut it short immediately when she saw everyone’s reaction.  “So, where do we begin?”  Diana asked briskly.  “If I understand you correctly, Professor Dumbledore, our mission is threefold.”  She counted the points on her fingers.  “Stop the vampires from joining Voldemort—why does everyone keep shuddering?“ she asked, rather impatiently.

 

“We don’t like to say You-Know-Who’s name,” Hestia explained apologetically. 

 

“That’s ridiculous.”

 

“I quite agree, Diana,” Dumbledore said, a smile twitching at his lips.  “I hope others will soon follow your example.”

 

“Right.  As I was saying, we need to prevent the vampires from joining Voldemort, recruit them to our side, and work on reforming vampire law.  A helpful little acronym to keep our goals in mind is PEAR: Prevent, Enlist, And Reform.  I suggest that we use that as a sort of codeword amongst ourselves, don’t you agree?”  Everyone stared at her for a second before nodding.  Maddie wondered how much longer this woman was going to talk.  She was exhausted just listening to her.

 

“I have some ideas as to how we should get started, but I’d like to hear what everyone thinks.”  Diana tapped her wand against the wall three times and the light went out.  She took a seat and produced a quill so quickly she might have conjured it.  Holding it poised over a pad of parchment, she turned to Dumbledore expectantly.   

 

“Why don’t we begin with the first order of business, namely seeking out vampires and persuading them not to join Voldemort?  Hestia, Alastor, I believe you can be of assistance with this,” Dumbledore looked over at Moody.

 

“Vampires were never my specialty, but I caught a few in my day.  The first thing to do,” Moody growled, “is to get your hands on all the newspapers you can.  Every little village rag you can find.  Muggle too.  Look for funny deaths, mutilated animals, or livestock going missing.  Chances are it’s the work of a vampire.  That’s where you should start.  Or I could just pay a visit to an old friend of mine.  Used to hunt vampires in Romania.” 

 

“Hunt?” Diana said sharply.  “We don’t want to hunt them.”

 

“I know that, missy, but he may have some tracking suggestions.”

 

“I’ll check the records at St. Mungo’s,” Hestia volunteered.  “Of course, we need to maintain the strictest patient confidentiality, but based on patterns of deaths and new infections, I will be able to tell you general locations of where to begin searching for a vampire colony.”

 

“What sort of treatments do you give to people who have been bitten?” Diana asked.

 

Hestia looked sadly at Diana.  “I am a Healer, but I mostly work in the morgue.  I examine people for cause of death.  In the case of those bitten by vampires, if they don’t appear to be fully dead we call in Aurors who…complete the job.”

 

“You mean…you stake them through the heart?” Diana said accusingly, getting quite worked up.

 

“It’s policy,” Hestia said apologetically.

 

“Policy!”  Diana exploded.  “It’s barbaric is what it is!  Are you people still living in the Middle Ages?  We need to change this ‘policy’ pronto.  Do vampires have any rights here?”

 

“Well, as Mad-Eye alluded to, vampire hunting is illegal,” Tonks explained.  “Aurors are allowed to track and…dispose of a vampire if it’s suspected of killing a human.  Since vampires are dead, they’re not classified as beasts or beings.  Or spirits.  Same goes for zombies, although they’re quite rare this far north.  Too cold.”

 

“That’s why the hospital has to notify the Aurors whenever we get a newly created vampire,” Hestia explained.  “After a person is bitten, they have that twenty-four hour period where they transition from human to vampire.  During that period they’re legally “dead”, so by staking them we’re not technically killing them.  We are just preventing the completion of the vampire cycle.  However, if a vampire were to come to St. Mungo’s, possessing consciousness, then we don’t…terminate it.  It’s a tricky policy.” 

 

Diana closed her eyes and shook her head, trying to digest all this information.  “I’d like to see everything you have on the treatment of vampires in Europe.”

 

“I believe Alastor and Tiberius Ogden will be able to supply you with the necessary information,” Dumbledore said.

 

Diana gave Dumbledore a curt little nod and glanced down at her notebook.  “All right, now the people who will be approaching the vampires are myself, Remus, Moody, and Selena—correct?”  Diana looked around the table, matching faces and names.

 

“And Nymphadora Tonks, when she is available,” Dumbledore added. 

 

“So,” Diana continued consulting her notebook.  “Moody, you’re a retired Auror…that’s law enforcement…Remus, you taught Defense Against the Dark Arts, so you’re knowledgeable…and Selena…you’re a lorelei?”  Diana peered at her.

 

“Yes,” Selena replied.  “I suppose it’s to set the vampires at ease.”

 

That seemed to satisfy Diana.  “And Sirius, what will you be doing?” she asked quite pointedly.

 

Sirius gave her a rather twisted smile.  “Nothing, apparently.  Staying in and making tea.  I’m the host with the most.”  He gave a short bark of laughter.

 

“You can help with research,” Moody said in a low growl.

 

Diana arched her perfectly groomed eyebrows but made no further comment.  “And Miss Harrison…what is your role in all this?  Dumbledore said I’d be working with you as well.”

 

“Miss Harrison runs an establishment in Hogsmeade with a rather…eclectic collection of employees,” Dumbledore said with a smile.  “Selena works there, as do Rose and Isis.  If we are successful in persuading some of the vampires to join us, we will offer them the choice of living in the village.  This will be the outreach portion of your program.  In Hogsmeade they will have a place to stay and arrangements will be made for food.  Hogsmeade is also an excellent place to overhear gossip.  As I said to Sirius, you’ll be staying in Hogsmeade where you will appear to be nothing more than an American tourist passing through.”

 

Maddie glanced over at Dumbledore.  “Technically, after that business with the Ministry, I’m not allowed to employ vampires anymore, but there’s nothing in the decree about letting them live on the premises.  We can ready the basement in case any of them decide to relocate.”

 

“And how do the villagers feel about this?” Remus asked.  “They weren’t exactly happy with the events of two years ago.”

 

“What happened two years ago?” Diana asked. 

 

“There were Dementors patrolling the village,” Isis said, speaking for the first time.

 

“They were looking for me,” Sirius chimed in with a grim expression.  “Supposedly I was going to murder Harry Potter and the Dementors were sent to capture me.”

 

“Certain safeguards will be put in place, but I think it best if the villagers remain largely unaware of our plans,” Dumbledore explained.  “There are some in Hogsmeade who are sympathetic to our cause, but we do not want to cause unnecessary panic.  Part of the purpose of our mission is to show that not all vampires are bad and with proper treatment, there is no reason why they should not be an integral part of wizarding society.”  He looked at Diana, who nodded with satisfaction.

 

“I expect you all to meet at your discretion and to provide periodic reports at Order meetings,” Dumbledore said.  “Remus, Maddie, Diana, and Alastor— please keep me informed with written progress reports.  I think we are adjourned, except for Maddie and Diana.  I will be contacting the Order this week to inform them of Diana’s Patronus after I instruct her how to use it for communication.”  Dumbledore nodded at everyone and waited for the kitchen to clear.    

 

“’Bye Remus,” Selena cooed, waggling her fingers in a suggestive good-bye.  “Looking forward to seeing you again.”  Remus gritted his teeth and gave her a brief wave before marching out of the kitchen, Selena’s throaty chuckle following in his wake.

 

Maddie looked Diana up and down when the kitchen had been vacated.  “Please don’t take this the wrong way, dear, but you’re a bit refined for the Lair.  We’re going to have to tart you up a bit if you’re going to work for me.  You’ll be waitressing, of course.  Unless you can sing or dance.”

 

“Actually,” Dumbledore interrupted, sounding slightly apologetic, “I was thinking that Diana could work for Rosmerta at the Three Broomsticks.”

 

“Rosmerta?”  A look of concern came over Maddie’s face.  “She’s not part of the Order, is she?”

 

“No, but—”

 

“Then I think she should be kept out of things,” Maddie said firmly.  “No sense in mixing her up with this business.”  Out of the corner of her eye Maddie could see Rose and Selena exchanging smirks.

 

“Rosmerta does not need to know the details of the Order’s mission, but I think it would be wise to have a member of the Order at each of the village’s three taverns.  Aberforth will send reports from the Hog’s Head, you and your employees will be at Lorelei’s Lair and Diana will be at the Three Broomsticks.  I also think that Diana will assimilate better with the clientele at the Three Broomsticks.”

 

“What exactly do you do at Lorelei’s Layer?” Diana asked her voice tinged with suspicion.

 

“Oh, a little of this and a little of that,” Maddie replied vaguely. 

 

“I think it is time Diana retired.  She has had a long journey.  I have made arrangements for her to room at the Hog’s Head.  I wish to speak with Rosmerta myself, so I would appreciate it, Maddie, if you would not let on that you know Diana,” Dumbledore said.

 

“All right,” she sighed, reluctantly.  “I won’t say anything until Rosmerta mentions her ‘new waitress’ to me.  Just—keep an eye on her, will you?”  Maddie addressed both Dumbledore and Diana.  “For the first time in a long while, she’s happy and I don’t want to see her in harm’s way.”

 

“Duly noted,” Dumbledore said politely.  “And now, I’m sure Diana would like a hot meal and a chance to freshen up.  Ladies,” he tipped his hat and headed up the stairs.

 

“Pleasure meeting you.”  Diana shook hands with Maddie, and nodded at Isis, Selena and Rose in turn.  She gathered up her briefcase and swept up the stairs.

 

“So, “ Maddie asked when the four of them had Apparated back to the Lair.  “What did you ladies think?”

 

Isis shrugged but Selena grinned, her eyes sparkling with excitement.  “I can’t wait,” she murmured.  “This is going to be fun.”

 

“Rose?” Maddie turned to the redhead who had remained silent since asking her many questions at the meeting.

 

Rose grimaced and appeared to think for a minute.  “All’s I know is, I ain’t givin’ my blood to no one,” she said firmly.  “Mad, Dark Muggle magic,” she muttered, shaking her head.

 

There were murmurs of agreement from the others but Maddie had the feeling that blood was just the beginning of the sacrifices Dumbledore was going to ask them to make.

 

 

 

A/N: Thank you to the women of workshop for help with this chapter! 

 

This chapter’s title comes from the song, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy by Sarah McLauchlan.

 

//
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