The Sugar Quill
Author: Grace has Victory (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Crown of the North  Chapter: 1 The Purple Flowers of Friendship
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Crown of the North


Part II of
The Moon-Cursers


Grace has Victory


Summary

Two years after Voldemort’s fall, Remus Lupin plays at teaching while Ariadne MacDougal prepares for a career in apothecarism. But what is the price of choosing what is right over what is easy? And is Caradoc Dearborn really dead?

Part II of The Moon-Cursers. Now updated to be DH-compatible.


For PETER,
my one and only,
who risked his heart on me.


Disclaimer

1. J. K. Rowling owns the Potterverse. And she has made a lot of money out of it. I don’t own anything. And I haven’t made any money at all.

2. Thanks to my alpha readers, Robert (age 12), Julia (age 9) and Benjamin (age 7) for encouraging me to write, even though they hated the parts of this story that were “too much like a love story”.

3. And thanks yet again to my beta reader, Spiderwort, for encouraging me to publish.

4. Love also to my gamma reader, shiiki, for lending her encyclopaedic knowledge of canon to the post HBP-version.



CHAPTER ONE

The Purple Flowers of Friendship

Saturday 4 June – Thursday 21 July 1983

Hogwarts, the Grampians; King’s Cross Station, London; Kincarden, Inverness-shire; Perth.

Rated PG for references to real-world issues.


As the rain beat against the windows, week after week, and the thunder crashed about Hogwarts’ towers well into third term, Hestia Dearborn sighed, “I think my summer holiday is doomed.”

Ariadne could not help agreeing that if one had not booked a camel in the Sahara, one might as well bide at home.

“Where were you planning to go?” asked Sarah Webster.

“I want to see Scotland.”

“What!” exclaimed Richard Campion. “Where do you think we are now?”

“We’re shut up in an Unplottable castle that can only be accessed by magic vehicles, and when I look out of the window, I don’t know whether I’m seeing the Cairngorms or the Grampians.”

“You’ve never cared about geography before,” pointed out Ivor Jones logically.

“Of course I care,” said Hestia. “My brother died in the Cairngorms. At least – we think he did. If he died at all. Now that the Death Eaters have gone, I want to retrace Caradoc’s last journey and imagine to myself… as nearly as anyone can… what happened to him.”

Ariadne accepted that desire with a respectful silence, but Ivor swiftly interrupted with, “Don’t go off doing something like that alone. Not in the mountains. Take your parents.”

Hestia shook her head. “I can’t do that. It would upset them too much, so I’m not telling them what I’m doing. But you remember Glenda Foster, who was Caradoc’s girlfriend? I’ve written to her about it, and she says she’ll come with me. I’ve told my parents that we’re going on a walking holiday to see Scotland. But they won’t swallow that story if the weather doesn’t turn kinder.”

Joe Fenwick moved a random chessman without really looking at the board. Richard sighed and checkmated him.

“To do a holiday like that,” said Kingsley Shacklebolt, “you’d need to take an Auror. Think about it, Hestia. Your brother was murdered. Someone out there is hiding a very guilty secret. Either you have no hope of ever finding out how he died – or else, as soon as you do find out, that Someone will put you straight in the firing line. Not counting ordinary problems like mountaineering accidents, snake bites, and being rained out. Do you really think two girls should try all that by themselves?”

Hestia shrugged. “You can come with us if you like. Why don’t you all come?”

Richard had a holiday job with Quality Quidditch Supplies that he could not cut short because he needed the money; Sarah was spending the whole summer in Spain with her parents; and it was too much to ask of Joe, sitting by the Gryffindor fireside as immobile as Niobe over the horror of his own brother’s death, that he spend his spare time trailing the fate of somebody else’s. But Kingsley and Ivor simply informed their parents that they would be spending the second half of July on a walking holiday in Perthshire. And that was that; the parents were not solicited for permission.

Ariadne was seized with a wild envy of her friends, together and unsupervised in the fresh air, saying what they liked and going where they liked… her parents would take it for granted that she was too young to do anything so dangerous.

“The invitation will have to come from your parents, Hestia,” she said. “I’ll only be allowed to go if they can sell mine the idea of safe walks under adult supervision.”

“Adult?” asked Richard. “Ariadne, you’re the only one who isn’t seventeen yet.”

“I am, but I’m not the only one who’s not forty yet. Can you fix it, Hestia?”

“I’ll… oh, don’t tease her, Richard! I’ll have my mum write to your mum. Glenda wrote this morning that she’s bringing a couple of Caradoc’s old friends from the Order of the Phoenix. Not Aurors, Kingsley, but they’ll have seen active service against the Death Eaters. They’ll know what they’re doing, so that does reduce the danger problem.”

On balance, Ariadne felt it was wiser not to invite her parents to think about danger at all. She primed Hestia to use phrases like “established tourist routes”, “walking guides”, “advance bookings”, and above all, “adult supervision”. Her own letters were full of words like “revision” and “summaries” and “mnemonics” because she knew she had no hope of gaining special privileges unless she first convinced her parents that her head was full of her exams.

“Well, it is,” said Ivor. “We’d be mad not to be thinking about exams right now. The teachers are taking these jolly sixth-year exams almost as seriously as the O.W.L.s.”

“They were the palmy days,” said Kingsley, “when we only had ten subjects to worry about.” Kingsley was by far the ablest student in their year, but he complained that taking six N.E.W.T.s was like taking sixteen O.W.L.s.

Sure enough, it was not until the exams were over that Ariadne’s mother mentioned the holiday in Perthshire. And Ariadne found herself surprised by the news that her parents were granting permission.

Mrs Dearborn has invited you to join Hestia and a few others on a hiking holiday in the Cairngorms in July. I think this will be a good opportunity for you, darling, as it is not really very far from home (if anything goes wrong, we’ll receive your owls within minutes), and at your age you must not be nervous about occasionally venturing out without your parents.

The hike is being organized by a very respectable lady, a Miss Vance, who was a member of the Order of the Phoenix. I visited her yesterday, and she does seem very responsible. It turns out that Remus Lupin was also in the Order, and that Miss Vance knew him quite well. (Do you remember Remus? He has worked for us for nine months now.) So we have instructed Remus to accompany you.

Ariadne, we want you to pay most particular attention to whatever Remus requires of you since we have placed your safety in his hands. You have to treat him as your guardian rather than a farmhand for as long as the excursion lasts.

But enough of warnings since we expect you to have a wonderful time with Hestia and the others, and in the meantime you should be thinking about your exam results…

“Are your parents really so concerned about safety and responsibility that they’re sending you off into the wilderness under the protection of a young man?” asked Sarah shrewdly.

Ariadne thought it unkind to dwell on the fact that her parents probably had not noticed that their mere farmhand was a man. They evidently considered Mr Lupin to be a Responsible Adult, and herself to be a bairn who was just beginning to be an adult, but was certainly not a woman. If they began to notice otherwise over the next few weeks – well, she knew they did not find it easy to think of her as growing up; they might easily change their minds about letting her go.

“It will be all right, Sarah,” she said. “Mr Lupin is the teacher-type.”

Her reply home said no more than:

I’m sure we can trust Miss Vance’s judgment since Hestia also thinks her a very sensible lady.

The rest of the letter focused on the range of available sleeping-bag thicknesses and their efficacy against night temperatures in the mountains, and the viability of using weightless charms on rucksacks and the cost of climbing boots. These were problems with solutions. Too many words about bee stings and sprained ankles would only lead to a veto on the whole holiday.

* * * * * * *

Finally the exam results were published, trunks were packed, and Ariadne made the long train journey from the Grampians to London, where her mother escorted her to the public Floo in the Leaky Cauldron so that she could make the swift transition from London to Inverness-shire.

By late afternoon, she had exchanged her school uniform for the MacDougal working robes and was out in the fields, where her brother Kenneth was directing the fly-treatment of sheep. The repellent was already mixed, and the application charm was so simple that William the farmhand could do it, but each sheep had to be individually treated. She watched as William cradled lamb after lamb in one arm, holding the bucket above its head and joyfully shouting, “Dissemino!” Unfortunately, he kept forgetting to update the written record. He could write, Ariadne knew, but he generally avoided doing so.

She picked up his clipboard and said, “Let me help you, William. What’s the number on that lamb again?”

William grinned guiltily, read off the serial number, and pretended that he had been waiting for Ariadne all along. She noted that the other farmhand, Mr Lupin, had placed his quill under a Scribo charm and was efficiently dictating information to it. Kenneth was grateful for her arrival, but he only nodded briefly to acknowledge her assistance with William and then turned to his own portion of the sheep field. The weather had turned kind, and the work was mindless. Ariadne longed to throw off her robe and work in her petticoat. She wished home could always be this way, with no need to pretend that what was happening in front of them was in any way different from reality.

Kenneth did not speak to her until he asked her to collect the records. Mr Lupin did not notice her until she took his clipboard, when he startled at the sight of her and seemed altogether disconcerted. He did not seem to hear when she thanked him again for having sent her the Transfiguration model last November, but she felt he was pleased rather than otherwise to see her, so she took the clipboard to Kenneth and left Mr Lupin to his own thoughts.

Ariadne was the centre of attention for that first dinner. Her parents wanted to know every detail of every exam, and the state of health of every teacher. The conversation had only flagged a moment before Janet, her sister-in-law, was asking about every Quidditch match and whether there were any alterations to the buildings in Hogsmeade. Her niece Morag kept asking “Why?” and William wanted to know whether Professor Sprout still grew biting plants and whether Professor Slughorn still ran that special club – he found it very difficult to grasp that Professor Slughorn was no longer teaching. Only Kenneth and Mr Lupin were completely silent: Mr Lupin was politely listening to every word, while Kenneth’s attention was devoted entirely to his bashed neeps and bacon stovies.

The first three weeks of the school holidays were all alike. The weather was scorching, and July was the easiest month of the year on the farm. Every day Ariadne climbed the hills to the sheep paddocks, usually taking Morag with her (Janet was busy with baby Aidan and grateful for the intervention), and they helped with whatever the farmhands were doing. Often they could not help much. Remus Lupin managed the raspberry crop single-handed by ranging the barrels in a row in front of the canes and commanding, “Decerpo!” The berries all flew off the bushes and rained into the barrels within ten minutes. Then they had to call in William to help with the tedious business of guiding the full, slightly levitated barrels back to the barns. For the rest of the day there was nothing to do except watch the sheep, help Morag pick bunches of purple heather, and sit in the sunshine reading postcards from Sarah and Richard or pretending to read a textbook.

“Do you not ever read?” Ariadne asked Remus.

“I haven’t any books.”

She did not hide her shock at this appalling statement. “Do you not own anything?”

“A house in Nottingham, which is no good to me in the Highlands. I can’t really lug trunkfuls of books to every farm where I find a casual job.”

“Are you not starving for the printed page?”

“Yes,” he admitted.

“Will an Astronomy text do?” She held out hers.

“Very well, since I dropped Astronomy on the night of the O.W.L. and haven’t ever seen the N.E.W.T.-level text.” He flipped it open to the third chapter and ran his eye down a diagram.

“Do you not like Astronomy?” she asked.

“I like it well enough, but I was advised to drop it. For a start, the theory classes clashed with Potions, which seemed more useful in those days. Professor Slughorn was horrified when Dumbledore advised him to accept me into his N.E.W.T. class because my Potions marks were abysmal. But you, I am told, are doing rather well in that field.”

“You love to change the subject, do you not?” she teased, wondering why he had been advised to drop Astronomy in exchange for a subject in which his marks had been abysmal.

“No one ever made subject-changing as difficult as you do. Most people jump at the chance to switch the conversation to themselves. You’re the first person I’ve ever met who doesn’t.”

“You’re doing it again! You’re so anxious to change the subject that you’re talking about changing the subject.”

“You’re the only person around here who wants to discuss abstractions. It makes a refreshing change.”

She had no idea why Remus was not wanting to talk about his schooldays, but it seemed safer to discuss Astronomy. William and Morag pretended to listen as Ariadne and Remus took turns reading out loud. In the end Morag became bored and interrupted: “Aunt ’Radny, I have brought flowers for you.”

“They’re lovely. Are you wanting me to play with you now?”

“I have flowers for Mr Looping too.”

“Flowers from a lady are a Great Event,” said Remus solemnly. “Do you have any for William?”

“You have to come with me to pick some for William.”

Ariadne stood up and began to pick. After a while, Remus closed the book and followed them.

“But William must not pick. The flowers are for him,” said Morag.

So William sat while Morag passed over fistfuls of purple heather. “The’ll be wested,” said William. “I canna carrry all thirr hame. Unless I levi-tet them. Can the Mooggles see levi-tetted flowerrs, Rremus?”

“Not if you aim low,” said Remus with a perfectly straight face. “But what shall we do with so many flowers when we are home?”

“Heather is a good antiseptic,” Ariadne pointed out. “And a cholagogue. A vasoconstrictor. A diaphoretic. An expectorant. A diuretic… ”

“Aunt ’Radny, what’s a die your tick?”

“A medicine,” she said evasively, but she felt the blush invading her cheek.

“All right, I take the point,” said Remus. “Some of us here listened to Professor Sprout.”

“Powdered heather is mixed with the clay of some evil-warding amulets. Infused heather is the base of most good-luck or protection potions.”

“And some of us listened to Professor Slughorn too.”

“And decaying heather compost is scattered in an ancient Celtic rain-making ritual.”

“I can’t imagine that any Hogwarts teacher would – You made that up!”

She sauntered on ahead, cradling armfuls of Morag’s heather, and never looked back.

Finally William agreed to keep all of the flowers in empty jam jars that he had been storing under his bed. “I’ll Soommon wa’er,” he said.

Aguamenti!” Remus intercepted adeptly. William was likely to be drenchingly good at a simple Water-Transferring charm

As the jam jars filled, Ariadne asked, “Mr Lupin, are you worried about this trip to Perthshire?”

“What makes you think that?”

“You had to have known I was coming home this week, but when I walked into the field the other day you looked as if you’d seen a ghost. And it was hours before you spoke to me.”

“Yes… yes, I suppose it was. Miss MacDougal, I don’t relish the thought of being appointed anyone’s watchdog. And I can’t imagine that you think the post very necessary either.”

She nearly laughed at the thought of Remus-the-giant-bulldog, standing in front of her to growl at stray highwaymen and giants – or at random amorous advances from Kingsley or Ivor, if that had been what really worried her parents. “Mr Lupin, I’m wanting to go to Perthshire. Do you really think I’m going to be a difficult prisoner to guard? I promise I will not make any trouble for you.”

“I was more concerned that my presence would make trouble for you.”

“I doubt it. But you have to make me a promise too.” She looked around, but Morag and William were both concentrating on arranging the flowers. “Promise that once my parents are out of earshot, you’ll drop the ‘Miss MacDougal’ nonsense and call me ‘Ariadne’ like all my other friends.”

By the time they all walked into the kitchen for dinner, Ariadne could truthfully say that they had finished the chores and started on next year’s studies, which put her parents in a very good mood.

* * * * * * *

The sunlight was still blazing strongly on the third Thursday, when Ariadne and Remus hoisted charmed-weightless rucksacks onto their shoulders and took the Knight Bus to Perth. There was no public Floo in Perth – indeed, as far as they knew, there was not a single wizard – so the Knight Bus was the only option.

“I do hope it will be safe,” said Mamma. “There are strange types on the Knight Bus. And there will be no way of alerting us if there is trouble.” Since it would attract too much Muggle attention to have Ariadne walking around Perth with an owl on her shoulder, one of the Kincarden owls had been instructed to fly on ahead and wait for her in a tree, so there would be no way of sending a message from inside the bus.

“That,” said Papa firmly, “is precisely why Remus is going along too. Remus, you are not to allow anybody on the bus to speak to Miss MacDougal.”

The bus was not crowded; the only stranger who spoke to them at all was the conductor, an aged Cockney who kept complaining, “I’m too old for vis, shoulda retired years ago, but Ernie says ’e can’t do nuffink wivout a conductor, and does vat vare Minis’ry give penshuns for bus conductors? Oh no, not vem… ”

The Knight Bus rolled right up High Street, which was strictly for pedestrians, and screeched to a halt outside a Muggle café. Ariadne followed Remus, who hesitated at the bus door before apparently deciding that his babysitting duties did not require him to help her down the steps. The Kincarden barn owl hooted softly from a nearby tree. Ivor and Hestia were waiting for them inside the café, looking strangely under-dressed in jeans, T-shirts and sun-hats.

“Honestly, Ariadne,” said Hestia, “I always dress this way at home. No one under thirty wears robes when they don’t have to.”

Ariadne thought fleetingly of the trussed-up little pure-blood children at the Malfoys’ Christmas party, and of the workday robes that she wore on the farm, and decided not to comment. The Macmillan children certainly dressed Muggle in the school holidays, but the jeans felt strange to her, and they looked stranger still on the dignified Miss Vance, who walked through the door a moment later.

Miss Vance had so thoroughly impressed Mamma with her respectability that Ariadne was surprised to realise that she was only Remus’s age; they had been in the same year at Hogwarts. She lowered her weightless rucksack onto the floor as if it weighed a ton, pulled several pound-notes out of her wallet to pay for everybody’s drinks, and slid a photograph onto the table.

“That’s Caradoc!” breathed Hestia.

“I Charmed the picture still in case we have to show it to Muggles,” said Miss Vance. “It was taken just a few days before he went missing.”

They were interrupted by the jangling of the door, which swung open to admit Kingsley (looking very Muggle in mountaineering boots), Glenda Foster (whom Ariadne vaguely remembered from being a couple of years ahead of her at Hogwarts), and a lanky, square-jawed, straw-haired wizard whose red-checked shirt clashed with his khaki-splotched army trousers. He did not look at all like a Muggle, and Hestia looked as if she were fighting the urge to tell him so, but Ivor laid a hand on her arm and said, “Mr Podmore, I presume?”

“We took the Muggle bus from Dundee,” said Mr Podmore. “They’re strange people there, Emmeline. They couldn’t stop staring at us.”

“You clash, Sturgis,” said Miss Vance coolly. “You’ll have to go to the gents’ and change your shirt for something less – garish – before we leave here. Don’t worry, there are Muggles who make the same mistake. Glenda was just about to tell us about the day Caradoc disappeared.”

“It was exactly three years ago,” Glenda said. “The last Sunday in July.”

Remus frowned briefly. Everybody else was looking at Glenda, but something made Ariadne ask, “Remus, do you remember what you were doing on that day?”

“As a matter of fact, I do,” he said. “But continue, Miss Foster.”

“Glenda,” she corrected. “Caradoc Apparated to Perth that morning. He couldn’t Apparate any further because he had never been in the area before and didn’t know any of the landmarks. So he had to walk the rest of the way. He sent me an owl from Pitlochry to say that the white man had sent him to meet some friends – that was standard code for saying that Dumbledore had sent him to spy out a Death Eater meeting. He didn’t say where the meeting was, only that he was ‘going out into the wilderness’. And that was the last anyone ever heard of him.”

“Did Dumbledore know where the Death Eaters were meeting?”

“Not exactly. It’s wilderness for miles around Pitlochry, and the Death Eaters would have been meeting outdoors. It doesn’t make any sense to me why they would choose such an isolated location, but… ”

“It does to me,” said Ariadne suddenly, and everybody looked at her. “There’s no wizarding community anywhere near this area, except… ”

“Yes?” urged Sturgis Podmore.

“… Except for Macnair Castle.”

There was silence. Finally Sturgis Podmore broke it with, “Trust a Scotswoman to know Scotland. I didn’t know that the Macnairs lived in these parts.”

Ariadne forced herself to remember that nobody here would lock her up all day for speaking her mind. “I know Walden Macnair was cleared by the Ministry, but I’m sure he was a Death Eater. His castle is… oh, show me a map… somewhere along the River Tummel here. Unplottable, and probably invisible to Muggle eyes, but almost certainly a Death Eater stronghold. There – Foss. I’m sure the Macnairs once owned Foss. If Caradoc had been sent into Macnair territory… but how could Dumbledore have sent one man alone on such a dangerous assignment?”

“He had an Invisibility Cloak,” said Hestia soberly, “and he was an Apparition expert. And, as Glenda says, I’m sure the meeting would have been outdoors, not in the castle itself. There was no real danger unless someone detected him and moved very fast.”

Which somebody presumably did.

“I’d always thought that ‘going into the wilderness’ meant going north to the mountains,” said Sturgis. “But what if Caradoc was going west, to a suspected Death Eater stronghold? If we’d thought to ask Dumbledore he might have told us… ”

“If we’d thought to ask Dumbledore… he would have told us not to go,” said Glenda. “He certainly wouldn’t have handed out the clues.”

“Going as far as Macnair’s personal territory is out of the question in any case,” said Emmeline Vance firmly. “We’re here to retrace Caradoc’s last hours for our own satisfaction, not to bring his assassins to justice.”

Kingsley looked as if he wanted to argue, but said nothing. Sturgis pushed back his chair and led the way to the door. Hestia stepped out into the sunshine and began singing, “It’s the far Cuillins are puttin’ love on me…”Ivor joined her song with a spring in his step.

//
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