The Sugar Quill
Author: Genesse (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Recipient  Chapter: Never Look Down
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Disclaimer: As much I would like to, I do not own anything that you would recognize in this story.

The Recipient is the second part of The Specimen and is about a few things referred to at the end of Consequences. It is not necessary to have read either.

A/N: This story is dedicated to my volleyball playing cousin Andrea; to my college friends Carrie, Sandy, Melanie, Gretchen and Mandy – who loved themselves in spite of appearances; to all the tall girls in the world who ever suffered the indignity of shopping in the Men’s Department for jeans long enough to cover their ankles; and, especially, to my “sister” Alisha, who sees not as man seeth, but looketh on the heart.





The Recipient




Part III: Never Look Down

Tell me all about your favorite human being
Tell me everything about yourself
The story is so terribly interesting
I wonder what’s so good about myself

--Face to Face, Velocity

‘So!’ Professor Umbridge was saying as she stood in the entrance hall of Hogwarts surrounded by students and teachers and ghosts. In the centre of the commotion were Fred and George Weasley, who were biting back grins.

Meredith Diamond, who was standing quite near the twins, knew those expressions on their faces and knew that this wasn’t likely to turn out well.

‘So … you think it amusing to turn a school corridor into a swamp, do you?’

‘Pretty amusing, yeah.’

Meredith was shocked at Fred’s – at least she thought it was Fred’s – daring. He looked at Umbridge without the slightest hint of trepidation, not even when Filch appeared saying something about forms and whips.

‘You two are about to learn what happens to wrongdoers in my school.’

‘You know what? I don’t think we are,’ Fred said. He turned to his brother and said, ‘George, I think we’ve outgrown full-time education.’

‘Yeah, I’ve been feeling that way myself.’

‘Time to test our talents in the real world, d’you reckon?’

‘Definitely.’

‘Accio Brooms!’

Meredith heard a clanking noise and looked up to see two broomsticks hovering above her head. Had she been on the stairs, the broken chain they were trailing would certainly have clunked her on the head. The brooms came to a stop in front of Fred and George.

‘We won’t be seeing you.’

They mounted their brooms.

‘Yeah, don’t bother to keep in touch.’

The first twin looked around at the students watching them. ‘If anyone fancies buying a Portable Swamp, as demonstrated upstairs, come to number ninety-three, Diagon Alley – Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes. Our new premises!’

‘Special discounts to Hogwarts students who swear they’re going to use our products to get rid of this old bat,’ the second twin said as he pointed at Umbridge.

They kicked off the ground as Umbridge screamed, ‘STOP THEM!’ But they were out of reach of the Inquisitorial Squad. They circled around the hallway at the ceiling, enjoying the fact that everyone – the students, the teachers, the ghosts – was watching them.

The first twin said, ‘Give her hell from us, Peeves.’

Then, most peculiarly, the poltergeist saluted Fred and George. Everyone – except Umbridge and Filch – cheered and the twins flew out the front doors.

~*~

In the following days, Meredith pictured the Weasley twins’ departure in the hazy orange light, reminiscent of the fading Muggle photographs that she had seen at her grandmother’s house when she was very young. She wondered if there was any significance to the halo of light she seemed to remember that circled their heads, like a heavenly spotlight telling her that this was something to remember.

Possibly there was a halo of light that encircled Fred and George’s heads. But more likely Meredith was forgetting that they had departed into the sunset.

As it was, the departure was something that occupied Meredith’s thoughts for some time.

All around her, Meredith’s classmates murmured over the status of things. The micromanagement of their lives had become unbearable. Lessons were unsatisfactory while exams loomed in the near future. Dungbombs and pranks were pulled in nearly every direction. Every day someone suggested that they just might get up and leave like Fred and George had. And students were being punted across the swamp in the fifth floor corridor by Filch.

No one tried to get rid of that swamp.

All in all, it seemed that the Weasley twins had left quite a legacy and it didn’t look like it would end any time soon.

Meredith wondered if she would be remembered by future generations of Hogwarts students, like the Weasley twins would be. She had a sharp suspicion that she wouldn’t, at least not for the reasons for which she hoped.

She wished she knew what those reasons were.

Reasons to be remembered are superfluous at this moment when there are N.E.W.T.s to study for, she convinced herself as she settled down at a table in the library amidst other weary Seventh Years.

She had just opened her Charms textbook when Natalie Hiersey plopped down in the chair next to Meredith and asked in an injudicious whisper, ‘Did you hear that Kenneth Maleodoruss fell in that swamp again?’

Meredith couldn’t help smiling a bit, grateful that she would not be remembered as Smelly Kenneth, as Kenneth Maleodoruss became known over the coming days and weeks, a name that stuck for the rest of his life, aided by the Weasley twins’ advert in The Prophet the next week.

~*~

Meredith Diamond spent three days bumping into the students of Hogwarts. She also spent much of those three days tripping over her own feet and inconsistencies in the floor of the castle that only she seemed able to find, and – most embarrassingly – getting caught in that trick stair she had learnt to skip over on her very first night at school.

Meredith was normally not a clumsy person, nor a forgetful one, but she had just sat for her last N.E.W.T. (Care of Magical Creatures), and was having a hard time believing that it was over.

Over.

Her time at Hogwarts had ended (or would in a week) but she wasn’t ready to leave. There were things that she felt she needed to accomplish before she could leave, and a week wasn’t long enough to achieve anything. ‘Anything’ meaning ‘notoriety’, which she had unwisely convinced herself would be just the ticket late one night while revising for her Potions N.E.W.T.

She made the mistake of then writing it down and affixing it to the small mirror on the wall next to her bed where she would be sure to see it every morning. She swore that it was taunting her into doing something that would get her a week’s worth of detentions. But she couldn’t decide what exactly that something should be.

That is why Meredith could be found at the pebbly shore of the lake the Friday after her last exam. In desperation, she came up with the foolish idea that swimming with the Giant Squid would make her memorable to future Hogwarts students although there were several students who had been swam with the Giant Squid before. (One of Meredith’s regrets was that she was never very high on creativity, which Meredith felt must disappoint her parents – the artist and the journalist – greatly.)

Clearly, Meredith had not properly applied to Morgana to give her sense.

After breakfast that morning, Meredith had joined most of the students outside to enjoy the very fine weather. Meredith’s dorm mates had all settled down in the shade and had continued planning their summer holidays and watching some boys playing a clumsy game of Quidditch. But Meredith had wandered down to the lake, inspecting it, wondering alternately if her plan would really work or if it was just stupid. So intent was she in debating against herself, she didn’t hear the shouted warning and was knocked out by a stolen Bludger before she could turn around.

~*~

It was widely agreed upon by those in attendance that if Meredith had been just a little shorter, the errant Bludger wouldn’t have hit her at all but would have passed over her head safely and into the lake. Meredith, however, was unconscious and unable to defend herself, but either way she would not have been able to stop all the talk and speculation.

When she came to, and found herself in bed in the Hospital Wing, she wished she had been killed rather than having the mortification of being known as the girl who got knocked out by a Bludger.

Madam Pomfrey insisted that Meredith stay abed through the weekend. Too humiliated to return to the Ravenclaw Common Room, Meredith agreed. But she was not alone in the Hospital Wing.

Not long after she woke, Professor Dumbledore arrived with a disheveled Professor Umbridge. Meredith was surprised to see Umbridge being led so complacently, but she was more surprised and overjoyed to see Dumbledore again. The last few months since Dumbledore had been absent from Hogwarts had been horrid and not a good reflection on Professor Umbridge. His return could only improve the status of things. Improve greatly, Meredith thought, so high an opinion she had of him although she had never been able to bring herself to say more than “Hello, Professor” and “Good Morning, Professor” in the seven years she had walked through the Hogwarts corridors.

More fascinating, though, to Meredith were the four beds occupied by the two remaining Weasleys, Hermione Granger (who seemed to be fairly injured), and Neville Longbottom. She knew Neville a little, as their fathers were cousins of some sort and her family was always being asked around by his grandmother. Meredith wondered why these four Gryffindors were in the hospital wing and she wondered, bitterly, why Harry Potter – the most reckless one among their group – wasn’t with them.

Later that night, amid gentle snores from Umbridge, Meredith heard the Weasleys and Neville whispering to each other. She couldn’t hear much. ‘Veil’ and ‘Lupin said’ and ‘godfather’. And then, ‘I can’t believe that Sirius is dead,’ and Ginny crying.

Meredith didn’t try to listen to them after that, but who could blame her. She had spent the last three years scared to death that Black would murder her in her bed, and now he was dead.

She could hardly think. Much less listen.

Meredith tuned the Gryffindors out, relieved but very confused as to why Ginny Weasley would cry over an escaped, convicted murderer.

~*~

Meredith had an arduous night’s sleep. She tossed and turned and was alternately haunted by a memory of the notices the Ministry had posted in the shop windows in Hogsmeade during her fifth year and a vision of a young, handsome, dark-haired boy delightedly crossing sticks with an equally handsome, dark-haired girl on the stairs of some ancient ruin in the bright summer daylight.

She awoke at the first morning light more confused than ever.

After Madam Pomfrey had checked her over and was preparing the Weasley girl and Neville to leave the infirmary, Meredith silently slipped out of bed, grabbed her dressing gown, and raced out of the Hospital Wing. She hastily put on the dressing gown as she got a hold of her bearings. She made a beeline to where she believed Dumbledore’s office to be. It took several moments for her to find a stone gargoyle that looked promising, but was stalled by the apparent need for a password.

Relief came along in a moment: Dumbledore, in resplendent charcoal grey robes. ‘Miss Diamond, to what do I owe this pleasure?’

‘I need to speak with you,’ she said without preamble.

He looked at her carefully. His gaze was so penetrating that she suddenly felt the immense impropriety of appearing up at the Headmaster’s office, unwashed, in her dressing gown, demanding an audience. She smoothed down her hair nervously and was mortified to find it tangled and unbrushed.

‘Er, please?’ she asked hesitantly.

‘At once,’ he answered with a smile. The stone gargoyle sprang aside immediately and they rode a spiral staircase up to Dumbledore’s office. Meredith anxiously tried to take in her new surroundings, aware that her curiosity was not going unnoticed (there were several portraits peeking through their eyelashes at her) and wondering if one could be too curious while in Dumbledore’s company.

But before her thoughts could get too deep, he asked, ‘What is it that you would like to speak to me about, Miss Diamond?’

She stared at her hands in her lap. ‘Er, last night in the Hospital Wing, I … er, I overheard the Weasleys and Neville Longbottom say that Sirius Black died.’

Dumbledore took a moment and then answered, ‘Yes, that is true.’

‘Please, Professor Dumbledore, how did it happen?’

He gazed in that piercing way that he has. Embarrassed by the scrutiny, she nervously patted down her messy hair. Maybe he understood the earnestness in her voice because he told her the truth, though in a way that would make her think about the situation she had placed herself in.

‘Shortly after Sirius Black escaped from Azkaban,’ he began, ‘I had the pleasure of speaking with your mother, and she informed me of the precautions which she and her father and the Ministry had taken to protect your family from him. At the time, I agreed and, in fact, I made a few suggestions of my own. We all believed that the estrangement, however secret, between your extended families warranted those weekly visits by Aurors and the Magical Law Enforcement Squad.

‘But I want you to know that we were all wrong. Sirius Black was and is innocent of the crimes that sent him to Azkaban and he helped to uncover a falsehood that helped Lord Voldemort regain the use of his body.

‘Sirius died last night trying to prevent Voldemort from gaining further access to information that could have lead to the death of Black’s godson, Harry Potter, and maybe to the deaths of many other people. Fortunately, that information was destroyed. You needn’t fear Sirius Black anymore.

‘Oh,’ she said lamely.

‘You might be interested to know that he died at the Ministry of Magic. In the Department of Mysteries, to be exact.’

She flushed at the name. She knew her parents hated that department of the Ministry and therefore she did, as well. The reasons why didn’t matter much.

‘Tell me about your family, Meredith,’ he said, delicately changing the subject.

‘Well … I have three sisters, and the elder two are married –’

‘No, if you will, please tell me about your namesake and your father’s aunt, Ronnie.’

‘I – I never knew my aunt Meredith. My father thought I was too young to visit her at St. Mungo’s, and then she died. Aunt Ronnie died not long after her. I was almost three, but I remember her. She spoke to me once, in the Floo.’

‘I knew your father’s aunt well. She was a pupil of mine. She would come to speak to me much more often than I had time to give to her. She loved to talk and she loved people. A natural healer, she was.’

‘I didn’t know that she was a healer.’

‘She was. I see much of the same talent she had in you. Tell me, what are you planning on doing after you have left Hogwarts?’

‘I thought that I might be an apothecary.’

‘But not a healer?’

‘I – I –’ here Meredith blushed ‘– only received an “Acceptable” on my Transfiguration O.W.L. Professor McGonagall said that I didn’t do well enough on the theoretical to continue with it.’

‘No, and she was correct, but you did very well on your practical, if I remember correctly.’

‘I –’

‘I could make a recommendation for you to enter a Healer’s course at St. Mungo’s and Professor McGonagall has offered to prepare course work more suited for you if you are inclined to take my offer.’

‘Yes, sir, I am.’

‘Very well. Your great aunt Ronnie would have been proud. In fact, there are many ways in which she would have been proud of you. I remember she had a particular talent – if you would –’ He held his hand out across his desk to Meredith and indicated that she should take them. ‘Now, concentrate.’

Slowly, the lines and wrinkles in Dumbledore’s aged hands smoothed out and the spots and blue veins disappeared.

‘How …?’

‘A long time ago, the Diamonds were known as healers. They all seemed to have a magic touch with those who were ill or unhappy or who were lacking in something we all seem to lack – time.’ He drew his hands away from Meredith’s and the skin slowly returned to their former state. ‘But only a few possessed this gift – one in a generation. It is my belief that Ronaldinette Fawcett had that gift, and your Aunt Meredith, although I don’t think she had this gift with time for very long before she was – taken, I will say – by the Department of Mysteries. Her gift involved time as well, but it was more capturing time rather than extending it or reversing it.’

‘She was an artist, that’s what my father said.’

‘Yes, she was. A very good one. Shortly before she was taken, I commissioned her to paint my portrait, which will some day reside on these walls when I am no longer the Headmaster of Hogwarts.’

Meredith looked up sharply. ‘You don’t mean, Professor, that –’

‘I, just like my esteemed colleagues before me,’ he said, gesturing to the portraits on the wall, ‘am subject to time, as evident by these hands. But you, Miss Diamond, have the gift of time.’

Meredith held her hands before her eyes.

‘Not that gift that your aunts had before you. You are about to embark on the mysterious adventure that is life after Hogwarts. You have all the time in the world to accomplish many things, great and small, and to make a name for yourself – not “The Girl Who Got Hit By A Bludger And Passed Out” – and you will have more than a mere week to do so.’

‘I’m afraid that by then … it would be too late.’ She looked at her hands again. ‘I don’t want to go through the rest of my life doing things – whether they be great or small – and not have anyone know about it.’

‘But you are wrong. You will know about it. You have the power to make yourself into more than you could ever imagine, and I would have you respect yourself for that. When you look in the mirror, Meredith, I want you to learn to not look down on yourself or to look up to others but to look straight ahead and see yourself as the equal of those around you.’

Meredith nodded, tears streaming down her face. Dumbledore let her cry for some time, smiling gently at her when she happened to look up. And when she was quite done, he said, ‘You head injury seems to be much better. You may return to your dormitory today. I’ll speak to Madam Pomfrey, not to worry.’

‘Thank you.’

‘And I want you to think a little more about how you would like to be remembered. Your sister Faye may some day learn that beauty will come and go, but a brave face in adversity strengthens not only yourself but those around you. Your sphere of influence may yet be much larger than you have ever imagined.’

‘Yes, Professor Dumbledore.’

They both stood up and walked toward the revolving staircase.

‘I would also recommend that you not speak of your family gift with anyone. Not even your parents. There is a reason why the Black family wanted it, a reason why your aunt was cruelly studied and tested at the Ministry and eventually driven mad, and a reason why Ronnie Fawcett was murdered by Death Eaters. You do not seem to have this gift in abundance as Ronnie did, so you may pass unnoticed.’

‘Unnoticed?’ Meredith asked, afraid that it meant that she would have to live in seclusion.

‘Unnoticed by those who will manipulate and torture you because of this gift. But do not live in fear and do not hide yourself, for there are those who would know you and the loving, generous and beautiful young woman you will become.’

‘If only I could be certain of that,’ Meredith said aloud unwittingly.

‘There are no certainties, Meredith. But I am here if you should ever need me, and I am here if you should not need me but just want to talk.’

~*~

I am pleased to relate to you that the rest of Meredith’s last week at Hogwarts went on as it should: late mornings and late nights, lazy afternoons on the grounds by the lake and evenings in front of the common room fire, which did not burn but merely gave off nothing more than a breezy, magical glow. The evening of the Leaving Feast, Luna Lovegood once again put up fliers requesting that her property be returned, and Professor Flitwick had lovely things to say to Ravenclaw House and, personally, to each of the seventh years.

When Meredith boarded the Hogwarts Express, she was not eager but neither was she disappointed. She would most certainly miss the greenhouses and the West Tower and the Great Hall’s enchanted ceiling, but she knew with certainty that her time at Hogwarts was over and she could never go back to it, at least not go back to what she was used to. And in an odd way, that thought comforted her.

She sat in a compartment with her dorm mates, reliving silly adventures and old jokes with whomever happened by, and there was a never-ending trail of Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs, Gryffindors and – surprisingly – a few Slytherins who stopped to add an anecdote (of which Meredith was always a part) and to wish her good luck.

With that, she disembarked the train a bit teary-eyed. Whereas a week ago she had felt that she would be forgot, the entire train ride showed her that she would be remembered. “I remember one time when you…” had been the opening line to many a tale which never included any mention of her height.

Maybe I’ve underestimated everyone, she thought as she found her arms claimed by classmates and housemates for departing hugs and finally by her sister Faye as they prepared to go through the barrier at Platform 9 ¾.

‘Are you ready to face what’s waiting on the other side?’ Faye asked. They both knew that their parents and sisters and brothers-in-law and a very young nephew were waiting for them.

‘I think I am.’

_________________________________________________________________


Fred and George Weasley’s departure from Hogwarts is from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling, published by Scholastic, pages 673-675.

It's the season of Thanksgiving. Appreciation, as always, goes to Chary, my lovely beta reader, to magicaljules and Norwegian Blue for their pre-beta comments, and to grover53, whose enthusiasm, friendship and support I do not deserve.
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