The Sugar Quill
Author: Rachael DuBois (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: A Hint of Shadow  Chapter: Sliver
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Sliver

Sliver

The thick red curtains had been drawn against a dark night when the DuBois family sat down to dinner. Rachael sat across from her brother and accepted the bowl of potatoes Julia passed her. “Thanks, Mum,” she murmured. Cassandra was chattering animatedly, the diamond on her left hand twinkling like the crystal in the chandelier above them.

“I’ll wear any color you choose,” Rachael replied to her. “It’s your wedding, after all.” Julia looked up and opened her mouth, so she quickly amended, “Except yellow.  Because yellow really does nothing for my complexion.” Appeased, her mother passed the salad.

“Not that I have any say in it, but I liked the blue,” Thomas told Cassandra, gazing at her adoringly. Cassandra lit up in response.

“That’s settled, then,” she announced, and finally noticed the roast on her plate. “Thank you for having me to dinner on such short notice, Mr. and Mrs. DuBois,” she said.

“You’re family now, darling,” Julia told her. “And, please, it’s Julia and Edward.” Rachael’s father was busy chewing, but he raised his glass in agreement.

“Gravy, please?” Thomas asked and Rachael obliged. The room was quiet for a moment except for the chink of silver on china.

“Mum,” Rachael asked suddenly, “do you remember Anna Hampton?”

“Of course, dear. She stayed for Christmas one year. Very sweet girl, as I recall.”

“Wasn’t she the one I tried to terrorize all holiday?” Thomas asked with interest.

“You tried to terrorize all my friends who stayed over,” Rachael retorted as Cassandra smirked. “I ran into her today while running errands in Granada.” Rachael chased down a loose pea and speared it with her fork.

“How is she, dear?” Julia asked.

“She seems okay, I suppose. She requested a list of purchases.”

“That’s lovely,” Julia replied in a tone intended to remind Rachael that business was not an appropriate topic of conversation for a family dinner. “We can discuss it tomorrow morning.”

“She married the banker, didn’t she?” Edward interjected.

“They have a two-year old now.”

“I thought she hated kids?” Thomas asked.

“No, you’re thinking of Marian.” Rachael almost didn’t continue, and she looked down at her roast as she did. “I think Anna’s a Death Eater.”

The announcement was met with silence. When Rachael looked up from her plate, she saw her family exchanging significant looks. “What?” she asked.

“Darling—” Julia began hesitantly.

“Don’t mince words, mother,” Rachael said crossly. 

“Dearest, you know we support your decision to help Albus Dumbledore by working with a former –er—one.”

“We all support the Headmaster,” Thomas said firmly.

Julia nodded. “But sweetheart, this is the third time this summer that you’ve come home claiming you’ve . . . well, encountered another one.” As Rachael opened her mouth to protest, Julia looked to her husband.

Edward cleared his throat. “We just want you to be careful, Rachael. Accusing people is risky business.”

“Professor Dumbledore believed me about the other two!”

“Rachael,” Cassandra said tentatively, “don’t you think it’s a bit of a stretch for Anna? I mean, she lives in Spain.”

“I’ve thought of that. But you weren’t there. You didn’t hear the way she talked!”

Julia frowned. “Darling, I know you mean well, but couldn’t you have made a mistake? You don’t know her very well now, do you?”

“No, but—”

“Rachael,” Edward interrupted gently, “it really won’t do for you to continue suspecting all of our clients.”

She gaped at him. “Dad, our clients are among the wealthiest in the Wizarding world. That means old money and old bloodlines. Of course they’re going to be suspects!”

“Yeah, but you’ve started jumping at shadows. Anna Hampton? She’s got a kid, for Merlin’s sake,” Thomas said.

Rachael rounded on him angrily. “Well maybe if you got your head out of the clouds for more than a minute at a time you might pick up on these sorts of things in addition to actually closing a deal for once!”

She knew at once she’d gone too far. Cassandra’s cheeks turned pink and Thomas’ eyes widened in anger.

“Enough!” Julia commanded. Thomas glanced at his mother and swallowed his angry retort. Cassandra continued to glare at Rachael. “Watch your step, young lady,” Julia warned sharply.

Rachael stabbed visciously at a roll. Her family had been hesitant to believe her before, too. It wasn’t fair. Dumbledore believed her, and that ought to be enough. She could feel the concerned looks of her family as she lavished butter on her roll. “Shh,” she heard Thomas say to Cassandra soothingly.

“Rachael,” Julia began gently.

She was saved from having to look up when the house elf appeared next to her chair with a letter.

“Marsky is sorry to interrupt, but a letter has come for Ms. Rachael, and is marked important.”

“Thank you, Marsky,” Rachael said and hastily snatched the letter. She scanned it and frowned. “Sorry, mother,” she said briskly, rolling the letter up. “My potions consultant is in need of his ingredients”

“A delivery? At this hour?” Edward asked.

“Apparently,” she replied as she rose. “Cassandra, lovely to see you again. Don’t wait up for me, mother. I may be late.”

She swept from the room with only a pinch of guilt for not apologizing to Thomas. It really wasn’t his fault that his client list had slowed recently. It was even less his fault that he was madly in love with his fiancée. Rachael still didn’t feel it made up for their accusations that she couldn’t handle herself anymore. Her work for Dumbledore was not interfering with her grasp on reality.

In her study, she unlocked the top desk drawer with her wand and pulled out a gray pouch. Opening it carefully she checked that the contents were still intact and summoned her traveling cloak. It was indeed unusual to have appointments at this time of night. If it hadn’t been the perfect excuse to avoid her family at an awkward moment, it would have been infuriating to be ordered around in such a manner. 

She Apparated directly outside the door to his labs. It was rude, but so was summoning someone in the middle of dinner. She tossed the door open, announcing, “I’m here,” and let it fall shut loudly behind her.

The thin man with greasy black hair didn’t even glance up from his cauldron. “Do not barge in here like that again,” he said in a low voice.

“Mr. Snape, I do not meet with clients at this hour under any circumstances. It is highly irregular to rearrange a meeting on such short notice.” 

“Nevertheless, Ms. DuBois,” he said, looking up for the first time, “there are sensitive works being done here, and I’ll not have you ruin them to fulfill your taste for dramatics.” He turned back to his cauldron.

Rachael frowned. A taste for the dramatics indeed! With a purposefully exaggerated flourish, she produced the gray pouch and set it on the work bench. “Your requested ingredients, Mr. Snape. And may I ask what prompted this late night call?” But the apothecary had swooped down on the pouch and pulled the crystal vial from it. He held it up to the light of his shimmering cauldrons to examine it. 

“You got this from Giralde?” he asked.

“Yes, and it wasn’t cheap, either. Warn me next time if I’m going to have to carry a small fortune with me.”

Snape paid no attention to her sarcasm as he gently lowered the vial and crossed back to the fire. “Giralde is world renowned for the most potent rendering processes. To pay the going rate for lesser products would be an insult.”

“Well, now I know,” Rachael said, still a bit cross, and pulled out a stool from under the bench.

Snape glanced up sharply as it scraped across the floor. “There is no need for you to stay, Ms. DuBois.”

She scoffed. “I am not your courier, Mr. Snape, to jump at your beck and call. You wanted to move tomorrow’s appointment to tonight. I am amendable, but I want my books before I leave.” 

He waved an irritated hand toward a bench across the room. “They are finished. Load of rubbish, except the top one.” He pulled a silver knife from his belt and proceeded to cut thin slices of lovage.

Rachael drew her wand and summoned the books. When the stack of five had settled on the work bench, she opened the faded and cracked cover of the one on top and pulled out several sheets of parchment. Tilting them to catch the dim light better, she began to look over his critical review of the books she had found.

“Wouldn’t you rather do that where there’s better light? Or anywhere else at all?” Snape asked without looking up from his work.

“I prefer to go over reviews with the consultant present in case I have questions. For instance, what does ‘sinmer in rozol’ mean?”

“What?” he asked, exasperated.

“This,” Rachael replied and pointed out the offending scrawl.

“That’s ‘simmer in rose oil’—it’s a medicinal drought that needed correction. Didn’t you ever study Potions?”

“I got a N.E.W.T. in Potions. But I never studied unintelligible writing.”

He slammed down the knife with such force that Rachael jumped. “If you must stay here, you must do so in silence. If you cannot do that, I cannot allow you to stay. I have work to do tonight.”

Normally Rachael did not prolong her visits to Snape’s apothecary, but tonight she was anxious to avoid home for a while. She quietly turned the parchment over and focused on her work. A moment later she heard the knife resume its cutting. 

Usually, she found it relaxing to wade through a detailed analysis of the Potions books she hoped to sell. However, the hiss of ingredients entering the cauldron became more frequent and she found herself more and more distracted from her task. For a while, she just watched as his dark silhouette moved against the yellow flames while he worked. A gentle, silver vapor began to rise from the surface of the cauldron. She imagined she could see pixies in the shapes it formed.

Rachael shook her head to clear it. She suddenly realized that Snape might be able to answer some questions for her. “I met an old friend today,” she said hopefully. Snape tipped a pale liquid into the mix and did not acknowledge her.

“Her name is Anna Villa. She invited me to her house, and we talked for a while.” Rachael ran a hand along the spine of a book absently. “I was wondering if you knew if she was a Death Eater.”

Snape stiffened visibly for a moment before returning to the smooth routine of his work. “I am not privy to the loyalties of all the witches you may happen to meet.” His tone carried a finality, but Rachael wasn’t satisfied.

“But surely there aren’t many women? Perhaps you do know her.”

Snape turned, and in the dim light she felt rather than saw his glare. “I do not know more names than I have already confided to the Headmaster.”

“No, I didn’t mean—” She hadn’t realized she was insulting him.

The vein on his temple stood out on his oily skin. “You should go now.” 

She rose, quickly pulling parchment toward her. “Please, Mr. Snape, she used to be my friend. I haven’t spoken to Professor Dumbledore yet, and I only wanted to know—”

“I asked you to leave.” His voice was ice.

Rachael gathered her books with trembling hands and the words spilled out of her. “She lives in Granada and she has long, dark hair—”

“A housewife?” It came as a whisper, almost to himself. Then, a low chuckle. Rachael had never heard the dark man laugh before, and she did not like it.

“She is,” Rachael said, breathlessly.

Snape returned to his cauldron, and tapped the flames until they turned blue. Since he wasn’t ordering her out again, Rachael stood frozen, hoping he might say something more.

“Your friend may be a Housewife,” he said softly at last.

Rachael wasn’t sure how to reply to this. “Well, yes, she is. She has a daughter—”

“I mean,” he clarified, “one of the Housewives of Granada. A group of women.” He paused. “Death Eaters.”

“Do—does that mean you know her?”

Snape shook his head. “Only by reputation. Very talented witches,” he said with what could have been envy. “They are favorites, for their devotion and tendency for success.”

Rachael tried to swallow, but her mouth was dry. “She must be one of them.”

Snape shrugged. “If you say so.”

“But—she has a daughter. How could she become something like that when she loves her daughter?”

Snape’s lip curled into a sneer. “Every man has his reasons. His price.” He scraped flakes of nutmeg into a bowl.

Before she could stop herself, the words tumbled out again. “What was your price?”

She knew he was going to throw her out again. It would be even worse this time. But instead he tipped the flakes into the cauldron and began to stir. His mouth twisted into another smile. “You want to know my reason?”

Unsure, she nodded. She took a step closer. The silver fumes formed butterflies now.

“Do you know what this is?” he asked with a careless wave to the potion in his cauldron. She had to admit that she did not.

He picked up the vial of erumpent fluid and examined it again. “I didn’t think so. It isn’t taught at Hogwarts. At least, not under the current Headmaster. I wouldn’t expect you to recognize it.” He indicated the vial. “Do you know, at least, what this is used for?”

“Exploding potions,” she replied.

“Correct. It also has other uses, when certain force is needed.” Carefully he uncorked the crystal and tipped two drops into the potion. It hissed and boiled violently, and Snape quickly recorked the bottle. He watched the cauldron carefully until it had calmed.

“Erumpent fluid shouldn’t be mixed with lovage,” Rachael said, recalling a long ago class.

He smirked. “Perhaps someone did earn a N.E.W.T. after all. And why not?”

“It generates hallucinations in the drinker.”

“Precisely. Feelings of euphoria, beliefs of strength and abilities not actually owned.” He paused to stir it again. “There are some potions where such a side effect is exactly the desired one.” 

“You’re making euphoria?” she asked tentatively.

“Not quite,” he said softly, his dark eyes glittering. He grasped a silver blade and extended his right hand over the cauldron. “Now, Ms. DuBois, pay careful attention. This is the important part.” 

She understood only when silver flashed and it was too late to stop it. She raised a hand, but he had already drawn the knife across his palm and was counting drops of blood as they fell.

“This is Dark Magic,” she protested in a whisper.

Snape waved his wand and the wound on his hand healed instantly. “Everything not rightfully earned has its price.”

But she didn’t hear him. The potion had become very still. She caught a glimpse of a reflection on the surface, and she wanted to see it again. She wanted to know what it was, to take it in and make it part of her. The reflection called to her with something she hadn’t realized she needed.

Only then did she realize she was Petrified and standing much closer to the cauldron than she remembered. Snape was laughing again. He unfroze her and she backed away, frightened. “What is that?”

He was watching her closely now, and she didn’t like it. “That, Ms. DuBois, is Fame.”

“Fame?” She just wanted to get out of there. She fumbled with her books and looked around for the exit.

“Yes, Fame. The hallucinogen is so strong it affects not only the drinker but also those close to him. You inhaled only the fumes.” He tapped a long, yellow finger to his lips. “Imagine if you had tasted it?”

She stopped stacking her books abruptly and stared at him. What if she could taste it? “Is this why you went to You-Know-Who? To make Fame?”

He snarled. “Fame is nothing, girl! Do you still not understand?”

She glared at him and did not reply.

“Fame is nothing,” he hissed sharply. “But to the one who can bottle it, there is power that makes all fame pale in comparison.” He extended his hands to the fire, his right hand perfectly healed.

She watched him for a long moment with the fire flickering odd shadows across his face. It was hard to believe that this fiercely intense man was the same awkward boy a year beneath her at school, but for a moment she thought she could understand him and she shivered. For him, of course it would have been about power.

“Why did you change your mind?” she asked.

He started, as though he had forgotten her for a moment. “What do you mean, change my mind?”

She frowned. “Well, Dumbledore said—”

“I changed my allegiances, which is something altogether different.” He pulled a tray of glass bottles from a shelf and Rachael tried not to look at the potion in the cauldron.

“Does the Headmaster know that you still make this?” she asked quietly.

He only looked at her with that unfathomable expression and did not answer. Finally, “It is time for you to go, Ms. DuBois.”

She found she was more than ready to leave by then, but as she tucked her books under her arm, she had to ask, “How do I save my friend?”

Snape looked up at her, surprised. “You don’t.”

“But what she’s doing is wrong. I can’t let her keep going like this.”

“You aren’t letting her. She made this decision on her own.”

“But you came around. You must be able to tell me how I make her change her mind.”

Snape scowled and turned back to his work. “Until she decides the price is too high on her own, there is nothing you can do. Good night, Ms. DuBois.”

With her books firmly under her arm she opened the door. A last glance back at Snape showed him bottling Fame without a glance in her direction. She closed the door softly and Apparated home.

A sliver of moon was sinking below the tops of the trees that lined the pathway to the front door. The air still held a hint of warmth from the unusually sunny day, and Rachael realized she was very happy to be going home.

The light in the front sitting room was on and spilling onto the porch when she opened the door. Rachael smiled and shook her head as she stepped into the archway to the cozy room. “I told you I would be late, Mum,” she called.

Julia looked up from the book she was reading, as she had every night that Rachael or Thomas came home late. “Who says I stayed up for you, darling? I haven’t been able to put this book down since dinner.” She drew her feet up and patted the sofa next to her. “Did your meeting go alright?”

Rachael set the books on the end table and curled up next to her mother. “Sort of, I suppose. He’s a very hard person to get along with.”

Julia smiled and stroked her daughter’s hair. “I don’t think Dumbledore would have asked you to meet with him if he didn’t think you could reach out to him.”

“Perhaps,” Rachael mumbled. She watched the flicker of flame in the oil lamps over the mantle. “Mum, I was right about Anna.”

“You’re sure, dearest?”

“Pretty much. He seems to think it’s likely.”

“Ah,” Julia murmured, and Rachael caught a fleeting look of sadness cross her mother’s face. She squeezed her mother’s hand and smiled. 

“It’ll be okay, Mum. You’ll see. Someday this will be over.”

Julia looked as though she was thinking of something far removed from the present conversation, but her gaze came back to her daughter. “Of course, Rachael. I’m sure it will.”

Rachael yawned and sat up. “I’d better get to bed. I have an appointment tomorrow in Bristol at eight.” She stood and took up her books again. “I’ll apologize to Thomas tomorrow. Is he still mad at me?”

“I think we’re all more worried for your safety than anything else, darling,” Julia said as she opened her book again.

Rachael sighed. “I’m careful, Mum. As careful as I can be, given the circumstances.”

Julia gave a small, wan smile. “And that, my dear, is why I stay up at night reading.”

It wasn’t until Rachael was crawling under the covers in her apartments that she realized Snape had been wrong about one thing. There was something she could do for Anna, and that was to not believe that this was the end. Anna had been a good person once. There was always hope.

As she drifted off to sleep with these thoughts, the splinter of moon dipped below the horizon and starlight alone was left to twinkle through her window.

 

 

 

 

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