The Sugar Quill
Author: DMCourt  Story: Betrayals  Chapter: Chapter One
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Not Slytherin, not Slytherin, please not Slytherin.

"Not Slytherin, eh?" the tiny voice whispered in my ear. I had been sweating and trembling, waiting for the Hat to speak, and the brim, which had been caught on my ears, slid further until the hat was resting on my shoulders. "You'd do well in Slytherin. A lot of cunning in that head, and a fair bit of ruthlessness for one your age. Not Ravenclaw no, not clever enough. Hufflepuff, told you that'd be your House, did they...

"Too many take loyalty and hard work for granted." Its tone changed; I never imagined a hat could sound sad. "They're wrong, you're not Hufflepuff at all. Courage, yes, not what many would consider courage...but...better be...GRYFFINDOR!"

The last word was shouted out for everyone to hear. I was glad to leave the Sorting Hat behind, scuttling as fast as I could toward the Gryffindor table without breaking into a run. Eyes down, which saved me from being tripped as I passed the Slytherins. I saw the foot come out in plenty of time to avoid it; silly ass should have waited til I was almost abreast of him.

My cousin Eustace had told me about Hogwarts and the House System. He usually didn't lower himself to notice my existence, but he enjoyed the rare chance to parade his knowledge.

I had been so happy to receive my letter I didn't even mind when my mother whispered it might be a good idea for me to go up to the big house and show it to our cousins; Peter Danby, and his son Eustace, were second cousins on my mother's side. Peter allowed us to reside in a small cottage on the outskirts of Danby manor. In gratitude for this charity, I was named after him. My father had died a few months before my birth, leaving my mother a small income, enough to cover food and basic necessities. Housing would have meant my mother finding work; even when I was very young I knew that was hopeless. I used to wonder how anyone so timid had ever been proposed to. Later I found out her parents had approached my father, a common enough practice among purebloods, though one seldom observed this last century. My mother hadn't been young, and my father, a widower, older still. He and his first wife had no children.

My mother didn't join me, naturally. She seldom left the cottage even when I was a boy; the past fourteen years, I've heard, she never goes outside. I wasn't exactly afraid as I made my way to the manor. My mother always preferred we be noticed as little as possible, and I didn't see why that should change now even if I was going away in a few months. Those musty cluttered rooms with their heavy furniture held no happy memories.

We were invited to dine up at the manor a few times a year. It never failed to be awkward, sitting around the table, usually just four of us. My mother, her watery pink eyes bright with a false cheerfulness, barely hiding her panic, wiping her sweating hands on the napkin in her lap when she thought no one was looking. Trying to find something of interest to say when all she did was cook or knit or read. Our cousin was a large, loud man; mostly she just had to introduce a topic, and he'd be off. We only had to nod and say 'yes' occasionally. At Christmas we had the extra treat of listening to carols on the Wizarding Wireless Network, after which Cousin Peter would give my mother an envelope, me a few coins, a book, and a hand-me- down toy or two from Eustace.

That last year I'd received Eustace's old broom. I was thrilled at the months of practice I'd get in before school. I cradled it in my arms on the walk home picturing my first flying lesson at Hogwarts where I'd soar off, execute a few complicated rolls before landing gracefully to the praise of the professor and the envy of my classmates. The first thing my mother did when we arrived home was lock it away in a cupboard.

"I'm sorry, my dear, but it isn't possible, really it isn't. I know Cousin Peter has Muggle Repelling Charms all about the estate, but you could fly too high, and it's too easy to fly past the boundaries and be seen. We have Muggles, dear, Muggles all around us! If we're not careful, we'll be exposed. It was very kind of him, but I'm sure he won't notice if you don't use it; he's away so often on business."

That was that. I swallowed my anger and disappointment. For such a little mouse, my mother could be very stubborn when she thought our lives were in danger. I thought of sneaking it out, but she was always around, always watching. Several years later I found out the closest Muggles were about two miles away. I spent my first term at Hogwarts falling off my broom or crashing into walls, trees, and the occasional student.

When I went up to the manor with my letter and the house-elf showed me into the drawing room, Eustace was standing by the unlit fireplace. He was as tall as his father, with a hint of the broadness that would be overtaking him in a few years. He'd finished his seventh year with a decent number of NEWTs (four), and the confidence that came from knowing his career was set in his father's prosperous business.

I took a deep breath and held up the envelope. "Got my l-letter from Hogwarts." Dammit, why did that have to happen, when I'd tried to stay calm and talk slowly.

Eustace smiled. "Got your l-letter, did you? Lucky I'm not a b-betting man, would have wagered a year's Galleons you were a Squib. Never seen you do magic, none of us have. Dad's been talking about it you know. Worried you won't be able to take care of your mum in her old age."

I had a lifetime's practice holding my temper. My mother was afraid of the uncontrolled magic children do when they're scared or angry, something that might cause us to be noticed by the dreaded Muggles. Some of my earliest memories are of her lecturing me on control, control no matter what. I was glad to be going to Hogwarts where I would be far from the hated Muggles and the hated Eustace. Meanwhile I kept my face blank and listened to his advice.

"Now there are four Houses at Hogwarts, and the Hat'll Sort you first thing. My House was Slytherin where the children of the best pure-blood families usually go. You'd have to be shrewd and tough, though." He left off leaning against the mantel to bend down until our eyes were level then poked me in the stomach.

"They'd eat you alive, boy," he hissed, his eyes narrowed. Poke, poke. "Eat you for lunch with enough left over for tea."

Eustace should talk, the lard-arse. Control, control. Smile, hope Cousin Peter will turn up soon.

He straightened up and took a few steps back. "There's Ravenclaw, but that's for the brains. Lets you out. Gryffindor, mix of pure-, half-, and mudbloods, utter disgrace. Supposed to be the House for bravery... LOOK OUT! LOOK OUT!"

He'd suddenly screamed the last, his eyes bulging out and staring over my shoulder. I started and wrenched around trying to see behind me. Nothing there of course. When I turned round, Eustace was back at the fireplace smirking.

"Well, I think that lets you out. Can't believe you fell for that, but we'd already worked out you weren't for Ravenclaw. You're lucky Hufflepuff takes whoever's left. Once you've got your Letter you're in. They'll have to put you somewhere."

Cousin Peter came in, and I was glad Eustace decided to stroll out after letting his father know my big news. Peter boomed his congratulations, gave me a hearty slap on the back, got me on my feet again, and picked up my letter for me.

"Good going, boy, good going! We'll have you up to London one of these days, get you to Diagon Alley to buy your supplies. No need to bother your mother, hey?"

I had a vision of my mother trying to take me, only to get as far as The Leaky Cauldron's fireplace and balk. Cousin Peter's offer solved that problem. Only one thing made me happier: his offer gave me an excuse to run home. Mum would be so happy, I told him; I just couldn't wait to give her the good news.

//
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