The Sugar Quill
Author: Grace has Victory (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Moons of Deceit  Chapter: 2 - Hiding from Hunter’s Moon
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Hiding from Hunter’s Moon

Saturday 30 October – Monday 1 November 1982

Kincarden Croft, Inverness-shire.

Rated PG for complex situations.

Remus spent the evening doing routine tasks. Since there were two Mr MacDougals, father and son, and the farm ran largely on magic, it needed only two hired men, himself and William. Some jobs could be overseen with a single spell, but any activity concerned with animals in motion demanded constant supervision until the whole sequence was completed. Remus had also learned that, in any task that was at all complex, he needed to focus a large part of his attention on William, who often sabotaged his own spells by forgetting the chain of events before it was completed. William was in the byre now, charming the milking equipment onto each cow in turn, but he was forgetting to check that the milk landed in the tank. Once they had collected the milk from every cow, William rolled the tanks to the front gate (he rarely remembered to use magic for this) and waited for the Muggle agent who bought it from them.

By the time the next morning’s routine tasks were finished, Mrs MacDougal had found more work for everyone. Remus was kept busy enlarging bedrooms and conjuring beds, since most of the guests would be staying the night. Mr Kenneth MacDougal was stringing up jack o’ lanterns and paper chains and placing amplification and equalisation charms over the Wireless. William was diplomatically sent to move sheep so that he would not upset the delicate spell-work in the house. Mr MacDougal was levitating crates of Butterbeer and Atholl Brose from the larder to the parlour, where he was setting up a bar.

Mrs MacDougal and her daughter hardly stirred from the kitchen: there was marmalade to be spread over lamb chops, corned beef to be shredded into soufflé, endless slices of salmon to be basted in rolled oats, orange rind to be grated into the carrot soup, leeks and courgettes and asparagus to be chopped (since the girl was doing this, without the luxury of enchanting the knife) and griddled, potatoes to be peeled, and three sticky toffee puddings to be rescued from the oven. They were also stirring a mysterious concoction of spearmint and yamwurzel over the kitchen fire; this, Miss MacDougal explained, was for her sister-in-law, who was still far from well. They had to care for the two-year-old granddaughter of the house until Mr MacDougal, having finished his complicated arrangements for the liquid refreshments, took her out on an extensive survey of the farm. After the spearmint potion was strained, Miss MacDougal stopped flaking smoked haddock for the cullen skink and began instead to feed chopped asafetida and wormwood into some kind of condensing machine. It was unmistakably a home distillery, and the combined stench of distilled asafetida and wormwood was so vile that Remus was not tempted to enter the kitchen again.

The guests began to Floo into the fireplace at four o’ clock in the afternoon. Remus, who had not mixed with wizarding society for the last year, was glad enough to hide outdoors. There were potatoes needing to be sacked and stacked, and he could always pretend that the Sacking Charm needed him to watch over it. But Miss MacDougal interrupted him within half an hour. She was wearing tartan dress-robes, black crossed over scarlet, and she looked weary, as if she had no energy for socialising.

“Mr Lupin, are you not wanting to go indoors? My parents are expecting it of you.”

“Are you sure?” He stopped the charm. “Thank you for telling me. It’s taking me a long time to understand what your parents require.”

“They are certainly expecting their employees to attend their Hallowe’en party. William is helping serve drinks.” She watched him glance down at his shabby work robes, and added, “They are not expecting you to look like anything other than an employee.”

He admitted, “I’m never quite sure what your parents do expect of me, Miss MacDougal. I can manage the robes. Pulvinexpulso!” With a flick of his wand, the dust swept away in a grey cloud and settled in a far corner of the shed. “But I’m never sure whether I’m welcome indoors or not. William and I eat at the family table nearly every meal, but we sleep in the out-buildings.”

“That’s nothing. The out-buildings were built generations ago, when all the farmhands were Muggles. It gave the family some privacy against betraying the Statute of Secrecy.”

“Your mother didn’t seem to mind at all when she found me in the parlour with you yesterday, yet at other times I have the distinct impression she doesn’t like us to dirty the house.”

“It’s not about dirt. It’s not about you at all. They only keep you out of the house to be fair to William. And the only real reason they’re wanting him out of the house is because of Morag. You could not be sure a baby would be safe around William. I know my parents are wanting you to – to remember that they employ you. But as long as you do remember that, they’re wanting you to feel welcome on their property.”

They had reached the threshold. There was not a whiff of yamwurzel left in the kitchen, only the broad competing aromas of chicken-in-the-heather, green pea soup and rhubarb crumble. Strains of Loch Lomond and Bonnie Doon were wafting out from the Wireless, barely audible above the laughter of some loudly-spoken guest. The lanterns, winking with candles, were swinging from the kitchen rafters, and all through the parlour – now a grand hall – beyond it. A shrieking child in a pumpkin-gold dhoti and turban raced through a knot of middle-aged wizards, leaving their Firewhisky to spill all over the carpet, then threw out his hands to save himself from colliding with the kitchen architrave. Neatly avoiding a red-kilted playmate in hot pursuit, the child hopped backwards towards the Conjured chesterfield, and landed in the lap of an elderly witch, who recovered from her surprise in time to ask his name. Remus learned that the turbaned child was Pradeep Patil, the kilted child was Zelly Macmillan, and the surprised witch was Esmeralda Cornfoot, before he followed Miss MacDougal into the hall.

And he found himself staring straight into the face of a person whom he had never expected to see again.

He had known, all along, that one of the problems of working for an ancient pure-blood family like the MacDougals was that it could only be a matter of time before he did meet someone who recognised him. He had held the job for exactly eight weeks, and already he was looking right at someone who had once known him only too well.

Greasy hair that grew faster than it could be cut. Large hooked nose. Hands that moved like a twitching spider.

There was nothing to say except, “Good evening, Severus.”

“Remus Lupin.” The words were spat out like an asafetida mouthwash, but with no suggestion of beginning a conversation. The beetle-black eyes narrowed, but with no suggestion of looking away.

Miss MacDougal, having realised that they knew each other, seemed uncertain whether to volunteer a topic or not. It was up to Remus to think of something to say. He managed the uncreative line:

“What is your connection with the MacDougals, Severus?”

“Didn’t anyone bother to tell you? Mrs MacDougal is my aunt. What’s your excuse for being here, Lupin?”

“I’ve been working on the farm. What about you: are you working?”

“For some of us, Lupin, the question is not whether to earn an honest living, but merely how. For your information, I teach. At Hogwarts.”

“Severus.” Remus thought he detected a flicker of horror on Miss MacDougal’s face. But perhaps it was just a trick of the candle-light from the jack o’ lanterns. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but Mr Lupin has had no drink yet, and he’s wanted over in the far corner. You can perhaps continue your conversation later.”

Remus followed her across the room, noting that the far corner was inhabited mainly by children. When they were out of earshot, she said weakly, “I’m sorry. I do not know why my cousin would… I mean, I’m used to him, of course…”

“It’s all right, Miss MacDougal. You couldn’t have known, but Severus Snape is a man whom I have greatly wronged. His attitude is not at all surprising. I can only confess my utter astonishment to learn that he is your cousin.” He studied her face for a moment. Her eyes were surprisingly blue, because she had Gaelic ancestry intermingled with the Pictish, and there were light freckles across her nose. He supposed she was pretty, in a bland, forgettable way, but he was satisfied that he could not detect any resemblance to Snape.

“It would not have been a one-sided wrong,” she observed shrewdly. “But as to our being cousins – Severus’s grandmother was my mother’s eldest sister. I’m related to half the people in this room. Do you know any of them?”

He glanced around, rather surprised at how many he had met before, and even more surprised at the combination of guests. He did not like to ask about the tactlessness of inviting Amelia Bones to share the room with Lucius Malfoy, or of seating the Macmillans so close to the Parkinsons. Whatever did these people have in common? Suddenly he knew. With the sole exception of Severus Snape, all were pure-bloods.

“I know you’re surprised,” she said. “My parents see nothing odd in gathering all their friends together. Nobody here – officially – ever did anything wrong, so all of them – officially – are glad to celebrate You-Know-Who’s downfall.”

Remus did not know how she could speak so softly about her parents’ obtuseness.

“Our family is tolerant,” she said. The choice of word sounded rehearsed, as if she had had to explain this oddness before. “It’s been that way for generations. My father has two sisters. One married Abraxas Malfoy, and the other married Alex Macmillan. My sister-in-law was born Janet Cornfoot, and my father takes financial advice from Titus Nott. But I do understand, Mr Lupin, if you do not care to associate with all these people equally. There has to be somebody here…” He followed her eyes across the room. Her mother was approaching, unquestionably with an extra task for her. “I cannot abandon you to Severus. If you were at school in his time, would you not also have known Manjula Chandak? Now Manjula Patil, of course.”

She led him over to a group of younger couples seated on his plush conjured sofas. Even as he was reminding the Patils of his name, he could hear the dulcet voice of his hostess: “Ariadne, darling, have you a moment to check the shortbread?” It would be more than “checking”, he knew. But it was still difficult to imagine the gently bossy Mrs MacDougal as a relation of Snape.

The party, which lasted all afternoon and all evening and through the night, was unremarkable. There were plenty of rumbledethumps and Dundee chops and griddled greens and oat-crusted salmon steaks, followed by enough chocolate whisky gateau and Strathbogie mist to sate the sweetest tooth, and the Butterbeer and Gillywater and redcurrant rum flowed until the adult guests were joining their children in the queues for nettle tea or pumpkin juice. There were soft lights and soft music, enough space for a dozen children to run around, and enough seats for their elders to gravitate to whichever conversation interested them. Nor did anyone find an excuse to behave badly, for the MacDougal politeness was contagious. All the guests expertly threaded their way to their own kind of people, politely ignoring anyone whose real opinion on the downfall of the Dark Lord might be different from their own. Remus spotted Severus Snape at various times, chatting to the Parkinsons, the Macmillans or the Cornfoots, apparently with equal enjoyment each time. Unsurprisingly, Snape pointedly avoided Remus.

As the evening wore on, children were put to sleep in the sleeping bags that Remus had conjured in the spare bedrooms. The Malfoys, pleading urgent but undefined “business at home”, gave their excuses at five minutes after midnight, but no one else asked for Floo powder. It was one o’ clock before Mr MacDougal began to hint that plenty of spare beds were available, and two o’ clock before the last guest had settled.

“It wuss a guid parrty, do ye no sunk?” said William, not quite certainly, as he and Remus walked back to the out-buildings.

“It was a good party,” agreed Remus. Indeed, several people had spoken kindly to William. Perhaps Mrs Parkinson had only been patronising him, but William would not have been able to discern that. And there had been nothing patronising about the way the Macmillan children had wrestled him to the floor and demanded he swing them from his ankles. William had every reason to be contented.

But Remus did wonder why such an arbitrary social occasion justified pulling a sixteen-year-old girl away from her N.E.W.T. preparation to act as house-elf.

* * * * * * *

At six o’ clock the next morning, William began shouting that they were needing to see to the “kye”. By the time they had finished the milking, Remus saw through the kitchen window that the guests were being fed a leisurely breakfast and decided to keep well away from them. He had plenty to do, for he needed to clear his workload before the light faded. Today he had a problem.

Fortunately, the farmhands were not needed in the house. Indeed, with tours through the outbuildings and rambles through the farm, the party was in a fair way to continuing throughout the morning. It was not until lunch was finished that the final guest departed, with warm congratulations on celebrating the happier times so thoroughly, and William and Remus were called indoors to receive their instructions for tidying up. In Remus’s case, this meant Vanishing what had been Conjured, charming down what had been thrown up, sweeping up what had been dropped down, scouring out what had been stained, and shrinking what had been enlarged. The women, he knew, did not leave the kitchen; even the daughter-in-law was shakily charming the mountain of dirty dishes into the sink.

Remus worked swiftly, but he knew that time was catching up with him. He could finish the rooms, but there was always the danger that more would need to be done. At half-past three Mr MacDougal wandered into the last bedroom to ask if Remus were needing help. This, he knew, was the MacDougal way of hinting that there was work elsewhere on the farm that needed attention.

“I shall be finished in five minutes, sir. What else needs doing?”

“We’re needing a bonfire to burn the remaining rubbish, and one of the irrigation machines is requiring repairs.”

As he had feared: legitimate jobs, and he had no legitimate excuse for avoiding them. The irrigation machine could surely wait until tomorrow, but Mr MacDougal wanted it fixed today. And he needed to be away from the farm – well away – by four o’ clock.

“Tell Mrs Kenneth to give you some soup before you go outdoors,” said his employer. “And, if Mrs MacDougal asks, tell her that I am seeing to the bull.”

That meant the orders were final. There was no way he could plead an appointment. He had asked three weeks ago if he might take today off, and they had told him, very charmingly, that he could take any day later in the week but that today would be out of the question. They had brightly announced that they were sure his appointment could be postponed.

He would have to become sick. But they already knew that he had wanted the day off. A sudden illness now – an illness with no visible symptoms – would look too convenient. Even if they were only mildly annoyed by his stubbornness this time, he did not know for how many months he could suddenly fall sick, with no symptoms, before he aroused suspicion. He had been “ill” last month. If he had to be “ill” again next month, he would be well on the way to losing his job.

All the women were in the kitchen. Mrs MacDougal was singing lullabies to her granddaughter; her daughter-in-law was stirring soup over the fire; and her daughter was tidying the larder. Remus did not bother asking for soup. He made straight for the back door. William was outside, building a bonfire that looked as if it could become very dangerous if left unsupervised. He did not know for how long he could supervise William before his time ran out.

Miss MacDougal set a bucket of scraps, intended for the pigs, down beside the pyre and asked, “Mr Lupin, is anything wrong?”

He knew she had followed him out on purpose. Was his desperation really so obvious? “Miss MacDougal, I know this is very bad timing – but I can’t be here this evening.”

“Do my parents not give you any days off?”

“They do in general, but the farm cannot be stopped simply because we are clearing away a party. As you know yourself. But, unfortunately, I can’t cancel my appointment either. I have to be gone by four o’ clock.”

Surprisingly, she did not ask where he was going or why he thought it more important than his employer’s business. She only said, “Tell me what you were meant to be doing here. I’ll try to make Kenneth and William cover for you.”

He listed his tasks, and she repeated the list back to him. “Fine, I have it,” she said. “Go now, while they’re not looking. Apparate.”

“Miss MacDougal, I… I’m not expecting a problem. But in case anything goes wrong…” It wasn’t fair to add this burden to her weekend, but the whole situation was unfair. “Let’s say, if I’m not home by eight o’ clock tomorrow morning… perhaps William could come and look for me by the shepherd’s hut?”

She still did not ask for an explanation, but she nodded briefly, and he Disapparated. He didn’t know whether it had been wise to involve William, but who else was there? The girl would be going back to school; there was a good chance that something would go wrong before tomorrow morning; and William did not expect to understand other people’s business.

He closed the door of the shepherd’s hut on himself, and cast a Locking Charm. The hut was sturdy and only used in lambing time, but there were sheep in plain view from the window. He hoped the sheep would be safe – he didn’t know if the glass would hold. He pushed his wand out through the crack under the door and looked around. There was no furniture, only a few old wooden boxes. It was bad luck for the boxes. It was altogether a risky situation. But where else was there to go? The sun was already setting. It was only a matter of minutes before the full moon rose…

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