The Sugar Quill
Author: Katinka (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Piecework  Chapter: Default
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Piecework

By Katinka

A/N: This is a follow-up to "Beautiful Morning", which I'd recommend that you read first. To help acquaint you with the Black children, I should also say that Lucinda is 19, David is 17, Gavin is 14, and Cara is 12. The full story behind all of this can be found in "Interwoven".

**

Less than a week into the summer holidays, and already you’re spectacularly bored. Astoundingly bored. You’d-rather-watch-mould-grow bored.

You hadn’t planned to spend your time this way – in fact, you devoted most of the train ride home from Hogwarts to making a detailed list of the adventurous and quite possibly dangerous ways you might pass the next two months. Not one of these included sitting indoors while your mum showed you how to use her loom thingy.

“See, then you pass the shuttle through here…this is the weft you’re making…don’t pull that too tightly, now…”

It seems she got the brilliant idea somewhere that you were magically destined to make Invisibility Cloaks, just like her. A big "NO THANKS" is all you’ve got to say to that proposition, which holds as much excitement as a pile of Porlock droppings. Still, you’re humoring her today, in the hopes that she’ll let it rest for the remainder of the summer. This lesson might even be tolerable if your older brother wasn't camped out in the corner of the room, having a good laugh at you.

“You shouldn’t get so frustrated, Gavin,” Mum says as you twist the thread for the twelfth time. “You’ve got a lot of natural dexterity.”

You’re about to ask what in Merlin’s name that means, when David looks up from his Quidditch Today. “She means you’ve got girl hands, mate,” he smirks.

“Bugger off, David.”

“Downright dainty, if you ask me…”

“Are you listening to this, Mum?” you wail. David gets away with everything, just because he looks like Dad. And now that Lucy’s left school, she gets to do whatever she wants, and since Cara is the youngest, your parents just don’t expect her to get into any trouble yet. Bloody unfair. After all the destruction and detentions that you and David have accumulated so far, Cara could probably paint the Great Hall pink and Mum and Dad would find it just darling. She really ought to pay you for that kindness. Of course, you’ve been known to appeal to Mum’s sense of Hufflepuff solidarity when trying to get out of a scrape yourself, but that is an entirely different matter …

Mum looks up and sighs. “David, leave your little brother alone,” she says, trying to smooth and straighten your last row.

Oh bloody hell, did she really have to add “little” to that? Already, David is snorting as though a Cornish pixie is trying to make its way out of his nose.

“Shut your face, you stupid git,” you mutter in his direction.

Gavin,” Mum warns, handing you the shuttle again.

Your shoulders slump, seeing the clear, sunny sky taunt you from the window. Blimey, how much longer will this last? If Mum’s going to make you waste prime flying weather, the decent thing to do would be to keep Fwooper-brain out of the way. Or throw a Silencing Charm at his big gob, at least.

“You call Dad that all the time,” you point out as you scoot forward on the bench, resigning yourself to more weaving.

“I do not.”

“How about when he backed the motorbike over your herb garden?”

“And when he left his dirty socks on the kitchen table last night?” David adds.

Mum turns her head, pressing her lips together. “Those were isolated incidents,” she says loftily. Her face seems stern, but you know it won’t take much to make her break out in laughter.

“And in this isolated incident, my brother is a stupid git.”

“Gavin, you –”

“Careful, Gavin,” David interrupts, “or Mum just might have to wash your mouth out. She might even throw you clear in the tub.”

Mum had been peering down to check your feet on the treadles, but she looks up so quickly at those words, she knocks her elbow on a beam. You stare at David in begrudging awe. He’s still a total prat, but you’ve got to admire the cheek.

You’re the one who told him the story, after all. You’d heard it from Cara first – she had imparted it as thanks for sharing the blame after she splattered Dad’s motorbike with Luscious Lilac nail varnish. (She’d been the one with the open bottle, but it probably wouldn’t have spilled if you hadn’t tripped her.) After two hours of scrubbing and a bottle of Mrs. Skower’s, the motorbike no longer looked like an advert for Lockhart’s Little Lady cosmetics, and you’d discovered some rather interesting things about your parents…

Seems there was a time when Mum tried to give a bath to Padfoot – your dad’s canine alter ego – before she knew he was an Animagus. And he wasn’t just any Animagus back then: he was Sirius Black, some scary escapee from that old wizard prison. It’s a little hard to believe now when you hear him down the hall, plunking on the piano with Cara, but supposedly, the entire wizarding world was chasing after him at one time. Anyhow, Cara had pretended to be asleep on the sofa one night while he and Mum had teased each other about the water and the bubbles and the dirt…something about a haircut, too. (As it turns out, Cara feigned napping quite a lot, finding out all sorts of interesting stuff in the process. A bit of a surprise, actually, that the little twerp hadn’t ended up in Slytherin.)

Perhaps it’s rather odd that you’d never wondered much about this before, but then, you’ve had a lifetime of annoying adults gasping “Gavin Black???” upon meeting you, their bug-eyed curiosity barely concealed. After the initial goggle, they pester and pry for details about your family life, Dad’s psychological state, blah blah blah… You'd got right tired of hearing about Dad’s past from them before you ever felt like asking him about it. Dad was Dad, Mum was Mum, and that was all you ever needed to know. Sure, he could be a bit of a nutter at times, and Mum can’t seem to walk across a room without tripping, but they’re your parents. Their story of meeting while working in the Order of the Phoenix had always been enough for you. Until now, that is…

Mum has been rubbing her elbow all this time, not saying a word. Her mouth hangs open, as though a question is poised to fall out of it, but she only gives her head a brief shake.

“Well, shall we take a break for tea soon?” she asks. “Let’s just finish a few more rows. Gavin, why don’t you describe the process back to me?”

You groan at the thought of the jolly fun in that, but you oblige, if only to make tea come sooner. “Okay, so first you hang the wart threads – ”

Warp threads –”

“ –then you mess around with the different pedals and throw the spittle thing –”

Shuttle thing –”

“ – yeah, you throw that thing back and forth about eighty-thousand times, dump some potions on it, and…Bob’s your uncle! You’ve got an Invisibility Cloak.” You flash a bright and winning smile, hoping your cleverness will inspire her to move on already.

Mum screws up her face as though plagued by a Headache Hex. “There’s quite a bit more to it than that,” she says, rubbing her forehead with the heel of her hand.

“Really? How long did it take to make Dad’s cloak?”

“Eighteen years.”

EIGHTEEN YEARS. The words sound like a death knell in your ears.

“So, you’ll really want to concentrate in Potions next year,” she continues, "especially with your O.W.L.s coming up."

Potions? You give her a look of disbelief, before scowling at David, who has been bringing up your mediocre mark in that subject at least once a day. “Yeah, and old Snape is really going to help me there,” you mutter.

“He’s not so dreadful anymore, is he?” Mum says, before shifting her gaze to your brother. “And the same goes for you, too, David. That Potions N.E.W.T. is not going to be easily earned.”

“Yeah, and I don’t fancy his daughter,” you interject with a sly grin, “so at least I stand a chance.”

David’s magazine almost slips from his hands, and you stifle a laugh of triumph. He hadn’t told you anything about this, but it looks as though your guesses were spot-on. You dearly want to torment him some more, now that you see that your comment has intrigued Mum, but a fit of conscience strikes when see his face blanch. Well, with any luck, he’ll be doing your chores for the next few weeks while you hold that little tidbit over his head. Maybe he’ll even throw in some Droobles’ Ever-Belching Bubble Gum – Mum would love that. But in the midst of these agreeable thoughts, a truly alarming idea occurs to you, one that makes your very blood run cold.

“This doesn’t mean I have to work for Gladrags, does it?” you whisper in sudden horror, trying to keep David from overhearing.

“Well no, but –”

“There’s always Madam Malkin’s!” David calls out with glee, earning a dirty look from Mum.

No,” she continues, quelling David with her glare, “but I have found it quite useful to work in the textile industry.”

“Forget that, then,” you say decisively, handing the shuttle back to her. “Why would I want to be some ponce with a pincushion?”

“Because, er…you could meet lots of women?” Mum suggests with a hopeful look.

“Yeah, but would they want to meet him?” David mumbles under his breath, pretending to have returned to his reading.

David…” Mum cautions. Her nostrils are beginning to flare, but in typical Gryffindor fashion, Fwooper-brain presses on…

“Still, I suppose he needs all the help he can get, as short as he is –”

DAVID, WILL YOU PLEASE JUST GO AWAY!!!” The look in her eye and the tone of her voice stop you both. David sticks his nose hastily back in his magazine, but you fear that the both of you might have gone too far. Merlin, don’t let her start crying, or Dad will flay you alive. You peer at her anxiously, but then she gives you a small, sad smile, alleviating some worry.

“David, it’s a beautiful day,” she says with a measure of calmness. “Why don’t you just go outside so that we can finish this?”

“I’m waiting for Gavin,” he replies. “I need to practice scoring, and he’s a better Keeper than the others.”

Your brother's unexpected compliment causes you to stare blankly for a few a seconds. Huh. It’s a nice thought, but you’re still going to do your best to see that he gets a Quaffle in the gut.

Mum sighs. “You have plenty of time to think about all of this, Gavin,” she then says to you. “I only wanted to introduce you to the loom today. There...aren't many of us left, you know.”

“Okay, Mum,” you say, trying not to think too hard about the implications of her last comment. She pats your arm, and you pick up the shuttle once more.

“I’m sorry,” she goes on. “I realize that weaving sometime seems as exciting as –”

“ – as flobberworms at a discotheque?” you finish glumly, causing her to giggle.

“And just how would you know what a discotheque is like?” she asks.

“I wouldn’t,” you reply offhandedly. She seems mollified now, so you hate to risk her ire again, but you can’t resist one last dig at your brother. “David might, though.”

Mum’s eyebrows rise sharply at that, but David cuts in before she can say a word. “Dad dropped me off,” he says in a rush, as though dodging a Bludger.

“He didn’t stay there with you, did he?”

“No.”

Mum remains silent for a moment, her face twisted up in obvious displeasure. You, on the other hand, are quite pleased to see David fidget in his seat. “Well…your father and I will certainly discuss this later,” she says grimly.

“I was going to mention earlier that Gladrags’ Merchandising Division provides uniforms and fan apparel for over half the Quidditch teams in the League,” she says next, turning back to you. “Did you know that?”

“Really?”

“So if you were to work in that field, you’d have to attend a lot of matches to gather feedback, gauge response to new products, liaise with the distributors, and so on…”

Your mind begins to whir at the thought of the concepts of “work” and “Quidditch” being combined. That actually sounds…interesting, although you don’t want to appear too enthusiastic just yet. Mum might take that as a go-ahead to spend all summer inside, faffing around with the loom. And, there's still the (admittedly unlikely) chance that the Kestrals will sign you to play starting Keeper in four years.

“Really?” you reply casually. “Because the Kestrals’ fan jerseys last season had these naff shoulders patches that would’ve looked much cooler on the elbows...”

David snorts so forcefully at that, his Quidditch Today falls to the floor. “Gladrags!” he says in a muffled cough. Mum, startled by the sound, manages to bump her elbow yet again. You simply sit and scowl at him, resolved to see that a few Larvae Lozenges make it into his pumpkin juice at dinner.

“So, a dozen or so Quidditch free matches a year…” Mum says a minute later, after incanting “Ibuprofus!” toward her elbow. “That wouldn’t be so bad, would it?”

You shrug your shoulders, still trying to look non-committal.

“You could take me, too!” David ceases from his laughter long enough to say. You fix a cold stare on him.

“I would take Cara and every one of her little girlfriends before I’d take you.”

Turning your nose up at David, you return to the loom again. You’re almost getting the hang of the ruddy thing, as a matter of fact. You work silently for several minutes, surprisingly pleased to see the scant, yet noticeable progress that you make. Amazingly, David manages to keep quiet.

“That’s excellent, Gavin,” Mum says after a time. “Shall we take a break now?”

“Are you going to make scones?” you ask, rising from the bench. You’re just about to sprint out of the room when David’s earlier insinuations to her come suddenly back to mind. There had been a little something that you had wanted to bring up with Mum, too... “How about some with raisins in them?”

Mum shivers in disgust. “Raisins? No, you know what I think of those nasty little things.”

“Well,” you say, taking a deep breath before plunging onward, “you could always pick them out…throw them out, even.”

Fortunately, Mum manages not to injure herself upon hearing those words.

“Just what do you mean by that?” she asks warily, her eyes narrowed.

You smile sweetly in return. “Nothing. Hey, can we get a dog?”

“We already have a dog,” she says. “His name is ‘Your Father’. Now boys, help me tidy up this mess and we’ll go downstairs.” You notice that she is still giving you a sideling glance, and as you turn to David, he flashes you an approving grin.

It had only been last Christmas Eve when you and he had heard strange sounds coming from the back garden. Despite the cold and the late hour, you’d taken it upon yourselves to do a bit of sleuthing, expecting to perhaps find a hungry knarl or an indisposed gnome. Instead you’d found Dad, who had lashed together what were to be your Christmas presents – two Nimbus 3500s –for some stunt flying.

At first, you and David had been too enthralled by the new brooms (the acceleration! the aerodynamic tail twigs!) to be properly ticked off at Dad for flying them first. But then he had coughed sheepishly and asked if you could refrain from reporting the incident to your mother. Seems Mum had made him promise to stay away from the brooms until after you’d unwrapped them on Christmas morning. He didn’t want to upset her, he said, or he’d be bruised by raisins from head to toe.

You’d heard more than one cryptic reference to raisins over the years, and this time, you couldn’t just let it slide. After some pressuring, Dad spilled the story of how she’d once chucked bits of scone at Padfoot in a fit of anger. David asked if he’d insulted her cooking, but it seems she hadn’t known he was an Animagus yet. He’d just been lolling around her house, pretending to be a nice doggy.

And they still expect you to believe that they met in the Order of the Phoenix? Yeah, right.

Mum is calling for Dad now, still keeping a cagey eye on you. After a moment, he pops his head in the doorway, looking quite a sight. He and Cara had been painting her room earlier, and he’d missed a spot of periwinkle on his nose.

“Sirius, have you been talking to the boys?” Mum asks, looking grouchier than Headmistress McGonagall after a Gryffindor loss.

“About what?”

“About…things.”

Dad snickers. “Like the birds and the Billywigs? Yeah, we covered that ages ago.” You hide your face in your sleeve to muffle a guffaw. That had been quite the discussion. “Why do you ask?” he continues.

She opens her mouth to speak, but then Cara appears in the doorway next to Dad.

“Never mind,” Mum says, pushing in the bench. “However, we do need to discuss David and discotheques.”

“Hey, how was that, son?” Dad starts to ask, before falling quiet at Mum’s scowl. He hangs his head in a lousy attempt to look contrite.

“I’ll see to you later,” she grumbles, before giving the bench one last irate shove.

Dad cocks an eyebrow and grins. It’s a look that might almost look suave and cool, if he weren’t nearing on sixty. “You will?”

At first, Mum just glares at him in exasperation. But then she starts to give him some sort of pouty look, and suddenly, your stomach wants to climb up your throat and heave itself out of the nearest window. Bugger, can’t they remember that there are other people living in the house again? They have ten months out of the year to get this out of their systems. Bloody inconsiderate, that is. They’ve really got to stop, or you’ll have no appetite left at all for the scones.

“Hey, is it true that you two eloped?” you say, bringing their soppy eyes to an effective halt.

“Where did you hear that?” Mum asks, startled.

“Lucy.” Supposedly, Mum had shared this with her in some mother-daughter bonding moment. Lucy had passed it on to keep you quiet after you and David had seen something truly nasty (her and Tom Abbott, kissing) out in the woodshed.

“She wasn’t supposed to tell that to all of you.”

“Why not?” David protests. “We’re your kids, too.”

Mum’s cheeks are turning pink, a sure sign that she’s getting flustered, but Dad only leans against the doorframe, looking amused. “Are you that fascinated by the details of mine and your father’s wedding?” she asks David.

“Not really.”

“Well, there you go.”

“So, did you?” you repeat, starting to snicker at Mum’s frustration yourself.

“It wasn’t exactly an elopement,” she says, looking pained, “there…just weren’t any other people there.”

Cara pipes up for the first time. “How long have you been married, Mum?” she asks with deceptive innocence. Mum breathes a sigh of relief, apparently certain that Cara won’t beleaguer her.

“Twenty-two years,” she answers.

“But according to the year that Sordid Scandals and Salacious Stories gives, Dad has only been pardoned for twenty years,” Cara says.

“Er…it was all around the same time.”

“No, I added it up – there’s a difference of at least nineteen months,” Cara persists, beaming when you and David both give her thumbs-up signs of approval. “And after David spilled butterbeer on it last Christmas, didn’t Dad say that he’d had his Invisibility Cloak for twenty-four years now?”

“Oh dear, maths…” Mum mutters. She buries her face for a moment in her basket of weaving supplies, as though searching for a terribly, vitally, crucially important pair of scissors. “Remember,” she says upon surfacing, “those publications take a lot of liberties with your father’s story.”

“And what are you reading that rubbish for anyway?” Dad asks with a laugh, not seeming very perturbed at all. “It wasn’t on the course-list for first-years, was it?”

“I found it hidden under Lucy’s bedside table,” Cara answers. “Oh, you’d like it, Dad,” she adds, upon seeing his expression of surprise. “It says that you were ‘dead sexy’ back then.”

Mum was already blushing, but she turns bright red at those words, and you begin to fervently hope and pray she doesn’t still think he’s ‘dead sexy’. Eww. Now you really need to play some Quidditch.

“They’re not very nice to you, though,” Cara goes on, giving a sympathetic look to Mum. That almost makes you want to stop teasing her – some of the old bats in Hogsmeade still talk to Mum in slow sentences, avoiding big words. Brilliant way to skive off of your O.W.L.s, though.

“Abby, don’t you think there are a few things we need to share with the children?” Dad is saying now, still grinning.

"No," she answers, sounding like she’s just been asked if she would like to have her appendix non-magically removed. “And Lucy’s not here, so it would have to wait for another day, anyway.”

Dad walks over to stand next to Mum at the loom. “We can fill her in later. Would you like to begin, or shall I?” he asks, ignoring her discomfort.

Squirming, Mum avoids all of your eyes. “It just won’t sound right,” she finally says to Dad. “They don’t know how things were at that time.”

“I can always give them my version,” he says with a wink.

Mum’s mouth turns down in a frown, but she gives a small, resigned nod. She clears her throat, looking as though she’s swallowed a Puking Pastille that is just about to take effect. “Children,” she says with a solemn voice, “your father was a very deceitful man.”

“What sort of a beginning is that?” Dad turns to her, mildly indignant.

“What should I say?” she huffs. “‘It was a dark and stormy night’?

Dad throws back his head and laughs. “Well, it was, wasn’t it?” he replies.

Mum pauses, and then her face seems to soften. She moves toward Dad, leaning against him, and he puts his arm around her waist. For a moment, your stomach is tempted to embark on yet another upward journey, and you begin to wonder if this story is even worth all the effort it’s taking. You’re about to ask if this can all be conducted over tea, but before you can open your mouth, Dad leans over and whispers something in Mum’s ear. She smiles back and puts her hand on his face. Surprisingly, you’re not revolted this time. You see David and Cara watching them curiously too. As Dad puts his other arm around Mum and pulls her closer, putting his face in her hair, the wild thought occurs that perhaps the things you don’t know about your parents…aren’t as important as those you do.

There’d better still be scones, though.

**

A/N: Appreciation and chocolate go to Alkari, soupytwist, Spartina, Gwendolyn, and Melyanna for beta-reading. I’m also grateful to Yolanda, who allowed me to reference a certain Miss Lily Snape. For more on her and David Black, I direct you to Yo's “Unicorn Girl”.

Apologies for the cheesy fandom references -- I couldn't resist! Thanks for reading!


//
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