The Sugar Quill
Author: Mr Flying Fingers (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: School Day  Chapter: Chapter One
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

I’ve tried to clean things up a little, this is the new version with changes marked

Acknowledgments: moonette, ivy, prplhez8, and story645 each receive a merit badge for providing valuable insight, encouragement, and comments for this story in all of its various manifestations—it would certainly be a lot worse without them. Andy33 is an incomparable Brit-picker and history teacher. Thanks to deenas who beta’d at CM.

And Gufa gets a cookie for keeping me honest!

~

Rain pattered softly against the windows that allowed the pre-dawn light to filter into the room, casting a dim grey pattern on the ceiling. More awake than asleep and aware that the clock was beginning to sound, Ron turned to the bedside table and groped around the top. His wand rolled onto the carpet as his fingers closed around the alarm clock, which was gently humming a jazz tune.

“You can sleep another hour,” soothed the clock. “You were up late and it’s only five-thirty.”

“Can’t sleep.” He let go of the clock and grunted. “Might as well get up.”

“You should rest your eyes more. How about ten more minutes?”

“I can’t,” said Ron.

“It’s raining,” said the clock. “It’s five-thirty. It’s Monday. Come on, you can afford another ten minutes.”

“Ron,” Hermione mumbled. “Wake up. Shut off the clock.”

He addressed the clock, “I’ll just end up lying here, staring at the ceiling. Not productive.”

“A little more sleep would make you more productive,” said the clock. “It’s just ten minutes.”

“Off, Ron,” his wife groaned. “Stop arguing. Off.”

“Sorry, love.” He turned back to the nightstand. “No more snooze, clock.”

“Have a nice day. It’s five thirty-one.”

“Yeah, it’s starting out just marvellously, isn’t it?” mumbled Ron.

“Have a nice day. It’s five thirty-one.”

He slid his legs out from under the thick, patchwork quilt. The autumn chill breezed through his flannel pyjamas. Hermione turned over, pulling the covers with her, and murmured something unintelligible before snuggling deeper into bed. He groaned as his stiff muscles protested when he stooped over to swipe his wand off the ground. He deposited the wand next to a worn Auror badge (number 351) on the nightstand before he padded across the soft rug to the bathroom for a shower, a shave, and an early start to the morning routine.

On his way down the stairs and through the hall, Ron flicked his wand, leaving lit candles behind him and a crackling fire in the family room. In the kitchen, he directed a stream of scalding hot water from his wand into the teapot and dropped two pieces of bread into the Muggle toaster. Just as he set the tea to brew, the pitter-patter of rain was punctuated by a crisp tapping. Ron drew open the top half of the back door and gave a very wet barn owl a bit of toast. In exchange for a Knut, Ron took a copy of the Daily Prophet, Morning Edition, 1 September. As the owl flew off into the gloom, Ron inhaled the smell of wet earth before he closed the door on the chill.

The paper rustled as he looked through the headlines and sipped his steaming mug of tea—one sugar and no milk.

Hermione’s slippered feet shuffled through the kitchen door and over to Ron. She greeted him with a voice hoarse with sleep, “Morning, dear.” She pecked him on the cheek, filled up her own mug, and sat down next to him. “Kingsley knows you’re going to be off today?” She took a sip.

“Yeah. I told him.” He snapped his paper loudly. “In fact, I told you last Friday that I told him. He knows.”

“I was just checking.” She sounded a little hurt.

“Sorry,” Ron grunted.

Hermione sipped her tea in silence, reading the headlines on the paper he was holding. “It looks like there’s nothing new today.”

“McGuffin says here that it’s going to rain all day,” Ron said from behind the paper. “Be a miracle if the Warren doesn’t float away.”

“I see.” Hermione picked up a piece of toast and buttered it. “It is going to be a bit damp getting everybody to King’s Cross.”

“So we’ll be taking the car.” He turned a page.

They sat quietly, eating and reading. After finishing the sports section, Ron refolded the paper and put it on the table before starting on a piece of toast.

“I’m sorry,” Hermione said.

“What? For what?” He examined her face, and felt his own brow wrinkle in concern.

“For pushing you so hard about taking today off.” She leaned over and leaned her shoulder into his.

“Oh. Well, that’s okay.”

Hermione patted his stomach as she spoke. “I was thinking you’d want to see the twins off.”

“Of course I do.” Ron’s shoulders tensed. “Never said that I didn’t.”

“You’re irritated.”

“Yes!”

Hermione withdrew her hand and stiffened her back.

Ron squeezed his eyes shut and shook his drooping head. “I mean,” he added in a much softer tone, “I’m sorry. I’m just tense for some reason. I dunno.”

With a hand, she softly rubbed circles on his back. “You’re just anxious, nervous about your children heading into their next stage of life. Maybe deep down you’re nursing concerns about how the family will change and—”

“Hermione. You’re doing it again.” He felt the corners of his mouth turn up into a smile. She would always be the know-it-all.

“Oh!” She returned his smile with some sheepishness. “Sorry.”

“But maybe you’re right.” He took a long sip of his tea before leaning over and smiling into her hair. “I suppose that’s why I married you. Somebody has to be right.”

“And that somebody isn’t going to be you.” Looking up at him, she smiled sleepily.

He put his hand on his chest. “Fair lady, you wound me!”

A pale streak of light flashed through the kitchen window and startled both of them. They watched the ghostly meerkat approach the kitchen table and stand up on its hind legs, staring at Ron with a cocked head.

He cursed and said, “Shacklebolt’s damned rodent of a Patronus.”

“No, Ron. No.” Hermione’s voice was quiet, but tense. “Don’t go in. Send it back.”

Ron shook his head as he touched his wand to the silvery form in his kitchen. He felt the power of Shacklebolt’s thoughts and ghostly words echoing in his head. Ron, I need you to come in immediately. Sorry, I know it’s your day off, but this is your case and it can’t be helped. One of M’s close associates was captured. The captive could possibly be a second-in-command or close aide. We need to move quickly before the rest are warned.

“You don’t have to go,” she muttered. “You’ve taken a day. Tell him you didn’t get the message.”

“Like he’ll believe that,” he snapped.

The meerkat bounced away through the window and back into the rain, returning to its master.

“What a nuisance,” said Ron.

“It’s your time!” she said. “It’s the first day of school for your first two children. It’s a day that happens only once in your life! And Harry is going to be off to Hogwarts for the first time since Dumbledore…” she stopped, looking at Ron with hurt in her eyes.

Ron felt his face flush and the familiar, choking, grip of guilt; years of living as Molly Weasley’s son did that to you. There was an empty space alongside the guilt—the helplessness to change things.

She said softly, “Can’t you just tell him to wait, whatever it is?”

He stood up with an irritated grunt and made his way to the closet for his cloak and hat. Duty was duty. The job came with responsibilities that nobody should take lightly, or they’d be better off hauling the magical rubbish in the Underground.

“Honestly! Can’t it wait?” she said.

“Hermione,” said Ron as he put on his rain things. “When the sodding Head of the Aurors tells you to jump, you jump.”

“It’s your day off!”

“It’s part of the job.” He shook his head. He dreaded leaving, but it was an Auror’s responsibility to respond when called. “Look, let’s not get into this argument, okay? It has to be an emergency. It always is. You know that. If it’s important enough for Kingsley to call me out this early, then it’s important enough for me to go.” He paused after pulling on his trench coat. “I’ll make it up to the kids at Halloween. Okay?”

After a few moments, Hermione spoke, resignation registering in her voice. “I know.” She was quiet and desperate. “I know.” She worried her robe’s belt. “But can’t Harry’s replacement cover. Du Sult, right? What about Alex? She’s new. Or how about Perkinson?”

“I don’t know what the story is, but Shacklebolt’s called me. I’m sorry, love.” He studied her, wondering if she could see how unhappy he was with this turn of events. “Maybe I can Apparate out just before the train leaves. Hopefully, I can see the twins and wish Professor Potter a good first term.”

“Yes, well,” she crossed her arms and dodged away from his attempts at hugging and kissing her, “I’ll believe it when I see it, Ron. But you make sure that you tell Kingsley exactly what I’m thinking about the whole situation, because I think it’s terribly unfair.”

“I will, but if he sacks me,” Ron said as lightly as he could, “It’ll all be your fault.” It came out sounding wrong. Hermione stood silent, watching through the window as raindrops splashed into the puddles on the garden path.

“Okay, fine,” he said. “I’ll call when I can.” He raised his wand and watched the back of her robe as she turned to clear the kitchen table.

“I’m sorry, love,” he whispered hoarsely. A loud crack sounded in the kitchen as Ron left home.

***

At Auror Headquarters in the Ministry of Magic (level two), Ron took off his rain things, put them on the hook in his office, and made his way through the grey-walled room full of grey cubicles in search of a cup of coffee. Flying overhead was a scattering of Ministry memos, flitting here and there; occasionally, one would dive into a cubicle. In the kitchenette, Ron lifted the pot shaped like a griffin’s head and tipped the beak-spout into his empty mug. A few, mocking drops slipped into the ceramic and he looked into the tank of the large, ornate copper coffee maker.

No coffee was being brewed. None.

Loudly and unable to hide his ire, Ron announced, “When the coffee runs out, people should make some more for the rest of us!”

He set about filling the maker with hot water from his wand and putting a filter into the basket. Next, he searched for coffee grounds.

“Where’s the coffee?” Ron poked into the cupboard, looking around for more grounds. Finding no coffee, he turned to the rows of neat cubes behind him and cried out, “Why are we all out?”

An Auror poked his head out of his cube and shrugged. “Dunno.” He disappeared.

“Nobody refilled?” said a passing receptionist in purple robes and owl-like glasses. She held a stack of manila folders with ragged parchment sticking out of one of the ends. A mouse-tail dangled, lifeless, from the other.

“No.” Ron pointed at her mug. “I see you’ve taken the last cup. Shouldn’t you have refilled? Or is that something that’s too difficult for a receptionist to handle?” His voice was acrid.

“Somebody’s snippy.” Judging by her frown, Helen had taken great offence. She took a loud sip. “Besides, the pot was full when I filled up.”

“Helen H. Cromwell! Where are you?” boomed a voice from the other side of the office. “Where are those files?”

The receptionist pushed up her glasses and cursed at Kingsley under her breath. “Ronnie, there wasn’t enough money in the can for the five pound bag.” She turned to leave. “That’s why there isn’t any more.” Her voiced trailed away as she walked down the row. “And it’s no use getting mad at the receptionist.”

Don’t call me Ronnie!” He grumbled to nobody in particular, “I need my coffee!”

“Get lost, Ron!” called a disembodied voice from somewhere deep in the cubicle farm.

“Well, sod it all, you’d think Aurors could be honest enough to put money in for their morning cuppa.” He addressed a junior Auror, new to the job and seated in the low walled area next to the small kitchenette. “You. Alex. Did you pinch the coffee this morning?”

Startled, she looked up. “What? N-No, Mr. Weasley!” She herded her tall, thin mug closer and turned away, avoiding eye contact as she hunched over a training manual on Spanish magical customs.

Next, Ron turned on Du Sult, the new Auror who transferred from the MLE vice squad to replace Harry while he was on leave to teach at Hogwarts. She walked down the aisle, dressed in a set of low cut black robes—apparently, she thought she was still working vice. He pointed a finger at her, “What about you?”

“Weasley, get a grip.” She stared at him from two cubes away. “You’re losing it. It’s just the lousy coffee fund.” She disappeared into her cube with a haughty swish.

“Hey, it’s important,” he boomed to the office at large. “There’re rules around here. Rules are meant to be followed. If we don’t follow the rules, all of civilization will collapse and we’ll be plunged into anarchy. Anarchy and chaos. Followed closely by destruction. And death. And then you bloody well would have wished you paid up, but you didn’t, and it’ll be all on all your heads. You wouldn’t want that to happen over a cup of coffee. Why don’t people follow the rules?”

“Ron, if you don’t shut it, I’m going to come over there with my wand and show you some anarchy and chaos!” cried the disembodied voice.

“Yeah? You and what army, Jenkins?”

Another Auror passed by with a steaming mug in her hand. He opened his mouth to ask her where she had got her coffee.

Seeing the fire in his eyes, she cut him off, “Look, I paid. Okay?” The tall, curly-haired brunette with fine features pointed to a big sign that read, ‘Coffee, 25 Knuts’. She rolled her eyes and kept walking. “I can read. We all can read,” she muttered, casting Ron an evil look that spoke of volumes of irritation. “Somebody got up on the wrong side of the bed.”

“Look here, Moonette,” Ron grumbled, using the Auror’s nickname, “I did not wake up on the wrong side of the bed, thank you.” He turned and stalked down the side aisle before entering his office, slamming the door after himself. “I just want my coffee!” What a lousy day this is shaping up to be

***

Ron had spent five hours in a gruelling interrogation before he returned to his office. Sitting there, he reviewed his notes on the transcript, scratching reminders and comments in the margins. The shadow of Kingsley Shacklebolt’s large bulk filled the doorway as Ron’s boss leaned on the doorframe. “Well? Did you get anything useful?”

Ron looked up and worked a kink out of his neck. “Oi. Nothing direct. He was pretty evasive and the really useful information is probably kept under a Fidelius charm”

“Likely. But was it a productive session?” Kingsley came in and closed the door. He pulled up Harry’s empty chair, turned it around, and sat down in front of Ron’s desk, leaning his arms on the seatback.

“Yeah, I think so,” Ron looked at his file and then handed it to his boss, who flipped through the file. “I eliminated a number of locations and started working around non-Fidelius’d information. Malfoy might be thorough, but he can’t keep everything hidden.”

“Who’s the suspect?” Shacklebolt looked at the moving mug-shot on the inside of the folder’s front flap and looked at the top parchment. “Gregory Goyle?” The picture of a heavyset man with a scruffy beard grimaced and sneered back.

“Malfoy’s right-hand goon. Usually a bodyguard, also runs some of the smaller confidence schemes and illegal gambling operations. Y’know, Goyle and this other guy, Crabbe, were like Malfoy’s appendages the whole time they were at Hogwarts. Like they had permanent sticking charms cast on them. They were best mates until Malfoy…disappeared.”

Shacklebolt rubbed his upper lip with a finger and nodded thoughtfully as he watched Ron, as if Kingsley was trying to read his mind.

His boss finally spoke. “You don’t say? What did they do then?”

“They disappeared later that year. The lot of them haven’t been seen since. Not until this morning.” He took the folder from his boss and read aloud, “We’re going to go before the Wizengamot to charge Goyle for burglary, illegal gambling, kidnapping, living off immoral earnings, trafficking in dark artefacts five charges of using of Unforgivable Curses, demanding money with menace, and…” Ron hesitated, stumbling across the pain of an old memory.

“Well, you’re charging him with everything in the book, what’s left?”

Ron’s eyes focused on his boss. “And accessory in the murder of Albus Dumbledore.”

There was silence.

The large man’s voice was a gentle, rolling growl as he spoke slowly. “Before or after the fact?”

“Does it matter?” said Ron, softly. The chair scraped on the floor as he sat back. “Both.”

“I see.” Shacklebolt took back the folder and flipped through the interrogation transcript. “It’ll be good to get a wretched snot like this locked away in Azkaban.”

Ron muttered, “It’s a shame there aren’t any Dementors there anymore.”

Shacklebolt examined Ron’s face for a few moments and nodded. “You did a bang up job. Another interrogation session scheduled?”

Ron checked his watch, wondering if lunch was near. “Tomorrow, early in the morning.”

“Any concerns so far?” asked Shacklebolt.

“No, nothing out of the ordinary. Just the usual personal threats and promises of terrible, horrible, and painful retribution.” Ron laugh sounded flat. “Goyle was never very creative.”

“Are you prepared?”

“For Malfoy?” Ron snorted. “Yeah. Always.”

“I meant for the interrogation.”

“I will be once I’ve been through the transcript a couple of times. Need to figure out what the next moves are going to be.” Interrogation required strategy. Strategy required planning. Planning required time. Overtime. Ron silently cursed.

“Right, carry on, then.” Shacklebolt tossed the folder down and then walked out. He paused at the door and looked back. “Good work, Weasley. Thanks for coming in.”

“No problem, Kingsley.” Ron set his jaw ever so slightly. “Anytime.”

~

//
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