The Sugar Quill
Author: Aeterna  Story: You Are With Me  Chapter: Chapter Two: Chill of Midnight, Warmth of Chimes
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You are With Me

You are With Me

by Aeterna

 

AN: Well, that took a lot longer than it should have!  This chapter has been completed since January, but I had some beta troubles coupled with an extremely busy semester, so I never got around to posting it until now.  Many thanks to my new beta-reader, Lady Narcissa, who is extremely helpful to me and my runaway punctuation.

 

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Part Two: Chill of Midnight, Warmth of Chimes

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“Keep your wand ready, Harry.”

 

“But I thought I’m not allowed to use magic outside of school, sir?”

 

“If there is an attack, I give you permission to use any counterjinx or curse that might occur to you.  However, I do not think you need worry about being attacked tonight.”

 

“Why not, sir?”

 

“You are with me.”

 

True enough.  I think my presence is sufficient to scare off your average Death Eater, scoff though he might about the notion that I’m starting to ‘lose it’, as he would so eloquently put it.  Perhaps Bellatrix Lestrange might attempt to attack us, but there again, she isn’t in any sort of position to openly challenge anyone in a public place.

 

“This will do, Harry.”

 

This darkness — thanks to my put-outer — should be enough to cover our abrupt disappearance.  And if that were not enough, this chill mist certainly would be.

 

“You have not, of course, passed your Apparition test.”

 

“No, I thought you had to be seventeen.”

 

“You do.”  Of course, there wasn’t an age limit when I learned, which made for some interesting accidents amongst my peers.  I myself developed the unfortunate habit of leaving my left pinky toe behind, and it was exceedingly tiresome to constantly have to go back for it.  “So you will need to hold on to my arm very tightly.  My left, if you don’t mind — as you have noticed, my wand arm is a little fragile at the moment.”

 

Harry obeys.

 

“Very good.”  A second or two for preparation – for myself as much as for Harry – “Well, here we go.”

 

Blackness surrounds me, a breathless, smothering void, ready to swallow me whole.  Over one hundred years of experience and still I cannot grow accustomed to that dreaded sensation.  Some surmise that death may be like Apparating.  For my part, I would not be surprised if that were the case.  I suppose I will have to see….

 

The blackness passes.  I breathe once more.  A ragged gasp to my left informs me that my companion has survived his first encounter with Apparition.

 

“Are you all right?”  He seems to be fine: no missing limbs. He is shaken, but I had anticipated as much; there is no good way to prepare for one’s first Apparition.  “The sensation does take some getting used to.”

 

“I’m fine,” he confirms, “but I think I might prefer brooms…”

 

Don’t we all.

 

“This way.”

 

If I have indeed managed to successfully locate my quarry — and if he hasn’t got wind of my coming and run — this should prove to be an interesting visit.

 

But not to neglect my companion—

 

“So tell me, Harry.  Your scar… has it been hurting at all?”

 

“No, and I’ve been wondering about that.  I thought it would be burning all the time now Voldemort’s getting so powerful again.”

 

A sensible deduction: incorrect, but sensible.

 

“I, on the other hand, thought otherwise.”  I, being the one who knows far more than I should of Tom Riddle and his fears… “Lord Voldemort has finally realized the dangerous access to his thoughts and feelings you have been enjoying.” Or not enjoying, as the case may be.  “It appears that he is now employing Occumency against you.”

 

“Well, I’m not complaining.”

 

As well he shouldn’t.  Voldemort’s mind is far more unpleasant than even Vernon Dursley’s (and I should hope never to have the opportunity to enter either of those two minds again).

 

“Professor?”

 

“Harry?”

 

“Er — where exactly are we?”

 

“This, Harry, is the charming village of Budleigh Babberton.”

 

Quiet.  Upper-class.  It is just the sort of place he would choose as a hideout, isn’t it?  I’m afraid that I know him far too well for his own good.

 

“And what are we doing here?”

 

“Ah yes, of course, I haven’t told you.”  It is a bit amusing, actually, if you think about it. “Well, I have lost count of the number of times I have said this in recent years, but we are, once again, one member of staff short.  We are here to persuade an old colleague of mine to come out of retirement and return to Hogwarts.”

 

If one might call this retirement.

 

“How can I help with that, sir?”

 

“Oh, I think we’ll find a use for you.” A use to which you would probably object were you aware of what it was. “Left here, Harry.”

 

The nights as of late — and the days for that matter — have been unnaturally cold, and tonight is no exception.  Certainly, I know the reason for this chill, a reason that I would prefer not to dwell on, but such knowledge does not stop this dank atmosphere seeping through my heavy cloak and straight to my weary bones.  Were it a blustery, tempestuous sort of cold, I might be able to stand it better, or even feel invigorated, but this icy, creeping stillness… it seems almost a state of mind.

 

“Professor, why couldn’t we just Apparate directly into your old colleague’s house?”

 

Ah, conversation.  Perhaps this will keep my mind off the weather.

 

“Because it would be quite as rude as kicking down the front door.  Courtesy dictates that we offer fellow wizards the opportunity of denying us entry.  In any case, most Wizarding dwellings are magically protected from unwanted Apparators.  At Hogwarts, for instance—”

 

“—you can’t Apparate anywhere inside the buildings or grounds.”

 

A textbook definition and not what I would expect from Harry.

 

“Hermione Granger told me.”

 

And that would be why.

 

“And she is quite right.” As always.  “We turn left again.”

 

The church bells chime, their melancholy, metallic tones and overtones blending into the atmosphere, as if such bells were meant to chime on a night like tonight.  Still, the sounds offer to me a certain amount of warmth and respite, as only music can.

 

“Sir, I saw in the Daily Prophet that Fudge has been sacked…”

 

“Correct.”  He is on a quest for information, which is to be expected.  Perhaps this time I can give him more satisfactory answers than in times past, but that will depend on the nature of his questions.  “He has been replaced, as I am sure you also saw, by Rufus Scrimgeour, who used to be Head of the Auror office.”

 

“Is he… Do you think he’s good?”

 

“An interesting question.” And a difficult one to answer.  “He is able, certainly.  A more decisive and forceful personality than Cornelius.”

 

“Yes, but I meant—”

 

“I know what you meant.”  Here, I must choose my words carefully.  “Rufus is a man of action and, having fought Dark wizards for most of his working life, does not underestimate Lord Voldemort.”

 

Whether I can agree with him on a course of action — which is what I surmise Harry is getting at — is an entirely different topic of conversation, one which is better left untouched at the moment.  Harry is better left to make his own judgment on Rufus, and my opinion on the matter would be too persuasive in his estimation.

 

“And… sir… I saw about Madam Bones.”

 

“Yes.”  The temporary warmth sustained from the sound of bells fades from my body.  “A terrible loss.  She was a great witch.  Just up here, I think — ouch.”

 

This wretched hand…

 

“Professor, what happened to your—?”

 

“I have no time to explain now.  It is a thrilling tale, I wish to do it justice.”

 

He may feel he has stepped over a line.  I turn to smile at him; he may rest assured that he has not.

 

“Sir — I got a Ministry of Magic leaflet by owl, about security measures we should all take against the Death Eaters…”

 

Ah yes, I remember that leaflet.

 

“Yes, I received one myself.”  I wonder … “Did you find it useful?”

 

“Not really.”

 

“No, I thought not.  You have not asked me, for instance, what is my favorite flavor of jam, to check that I am indeed Professor Dumbledore and not an impostor.”

 

“I didn’t…”

 

I sense the uncertainty in his voice.

 

“For future reference, Harry, it is raspberry…”  I am quite fond of orange marmalade as well, but, strictly speaking, that isn’t a jam.  “Although of course, if I were a Death Eater, I would have been sure to research my own jam preferences before impersonating myself.”

 

Would you like a map to that sentence?

 

“Er… right.  Well, on that leaflet, it said something about Inferi.  What exactly are they?  The leaflet wasn’t very clear.”

 

Inferi.  Not a subject I would prefer to broach in this sort of weather, but Harry should know.

 

“They are corpses — dead bodies that have been bewitched to do a Dark wizard’s bidding. Inferi have not been seen for a long time, however, not since Voldemort was last powerful….  He killed enough people to make an army of them, of course.”

 

But enough of this unpleasantness: we have arrived.

 

“This is the place, Harry, just here….”

 

And it appears as if my dear old colleague has prepared a proper welcome for me.  How very like him.  Let’s see… door off its hinges… footprints through the front lawn… ah, but he has forgot the most important part!  Though, I am fairly certain that only Death Eaters would know how…

 

Still, had this particular colleague not had a boy-who-cried-wolf reputation when it came to these things, I may very well have been worried for his well being, or perhaps even his life.

 

A glance toward my young companion tells me that he must still be lost in his morbid musings on Inferi.  Should I inform him of the practical joke?  Perhaps I could play along with it, keep Harry in the dark for just a little while longer… yes, that would be immeasurably more enjoyable.  Certainly, no harm could come of it.

 

“Oh dear.”  I can be ever so melodramatic when I have a mind to be.  “Oh dear, dear, dear.”  And now is just the time for all the melodrama I can muster.

 

Harry surveys the scene.  His eyes widen in horror.  I make a show of looking this way and that for the cause of this disturbance.

 

“Wand out and follow me, Harry.”

 

Prepare yourself for a sight, Harry.  If my capacity for histrionics can be considered quite sizeable, then my colleague’s is absolutely gargantuan in comparison.

 

Lumos.

 

I light the way to what just minutes ago must have been a respectable-looking parlor.  The old chap has really outdone himself this time.  The fallen chandelier is an especially nice touch, and — certainly that blood isn’t human?  No, it’s too thick….

 

Harry gasps.

 

“Not pretty, is it?”  I must not smile. I must not smile. I must not…. “Yes, something horrible has happened here.”

 

Something horrible has happened, all right: that piano will be terribly out of tune when we repair it, and he knows just as well as I do that neither of us has the ear to tune it ourselves.

 

“Maybe there was a fight and — and they dragged him off, Professor?”

 

So it would seem.

 

“I don’t think so.”

 

That armchair… it looks peculiarly intact.  Might it be…?

 

“You mean he’s—?”

 

“Still here somewhere?  Yes.”  In fact, unless I am sorely mistaken, he is directly in front of me.  There is only one way to find out….

 

“Ouch!”

 

Checkmate.

 

“Good evening, Horace.”

 

Horace Slughorn, having thrown off his disguise as a velvet-cushioned seat, glares morosely up at me.

 

“There was no need to stick the wand in that hard.  It hurt.”

 

But he is not truly angry with me.  As he stands, I recognize the sportsmanlike twinkle in his eye, though I’m not sure he even realizes it is there.

 

“What gave it away?”

 

“My dear Horace, if the Death Eaters really had come to call, the Dark Mark would have been set over the house.”  Not to mention the fact that I’ve been through this exercise far too many times to count.

 

“The Dark Mark,” he claps a hand to his forehead.  “Knew there was something… ah well.  Wouldn’t have had time anyway, I’d only just put the finishing touches to my upholstery when you entered the room.”

 

An admirable attempt, nonetheless.

 

“Would you like my assistance clearing up?”

 

“Please.”

 

We each take one side of the room and set about our business.  I scan my half of the room, taking brief note of each damaged object that must be repaired, assigning each to a different part of my mind, pushing them all together once more, then—

 

Omnis Reparo.

 

A very handy little spell.

 

“What kind of blood was that, incidentally?”  I address Horace over the milieu of objects in the midst of repairing themselves.

 

“On the walls? Dragon.”

 

Yes, that would have been my guess.  Dragons have singularly viscous blood: most other kinds of blood would have dripped more than that.

 

The piano is the last to mend, and the last plunk has a telltale wobble to its tone; it is indeed severely out of tune.

 

“Yes, dragon.  My last bottle, and prices are sky-high at the moment.”  I locate the bottle of dragons’ blood sitting on a low shelf of the bookcase in the corner of the room and surreptitiously levitate it to the sideboard just feet from where Harry stands.  Neither Harry nor Horace are any the wiser.  “Still, it might be reusable.”  Horace scans the room for the bottle I just moved, finds it, and ambles toward it.  “Hmm,” he lifts it to eye level and examines it with a studious eye.  “Bit dusty.”

 

He sighs, but soon finds something to make up for the necessity of having to find a former student willing to give him a discount on dragon’s blood.

 

“Oho.”  He finds Harry.  Oho!

 

I move to stand beside Harry.  “This is Harry Potter.  Harry, this is an old friend and colleague of mine, Horace Slughorn.”

 

Horace turns to me; he has caught on, but I would have expected no less of him.

 

“So that’s how you thought you’d persuade me, is it?  Well, the answer’s no, Albus.”  He sidesteps us, and the issue, though there is a certain amount of reluctance in the sidestepping.

 

“I suppose we can have a drink, at least?”  He would not want to be accused of being an inhospitable host. “For old time’s sake?” Especially to an old friend.

 

“All right then, one drink.”

 

The game begins.

 

I waste no time in ushering Harry to a seat by the fire, whence he will be extraordinarily well lighted — I’ve always thought firelight to be the most flattering sort of light — and directly within Horace’s eyesight once he returns form preparing the drinks.

 

After a few terse clinks of glasses and the gurgle of them being filled, Horace returns to our company, bearing drinks.

 

Hmpf.”  He turns his gaze forcefully away from Harry.  “Here—”  He hands a drink to me, and then to Harry and sits down with his own, bearing the expression of a man awaiting execution by one of the more excruciating methods of dismemberment.

 

“How have you been keeping, Horace?”

 

“Not so well.”  He answers far too quickly.  “Weak chest.  Wheezy.  Rheumatism too.  Can’t move like I used to.  Well, that’s to be expected.  Old age. Fatigue.”  An exhaustive response, but none the more convincing for its length.

 

“And yet you must have moved fairly quickly to prepare such a welcome at such short notice.  You can’t have had more than three minutes’ warning.”

 

“Two.  Didn’t hear my Intruder Charm go off, I was taking a bath.”  He catches himself.  “Still, I’m an old man, Albus.  A tired old man who’s earned the right to a quiet life and a few creature comforts.”

 

A few creature comforts he may have, but if the past few minutes (and years of my own experience with Horace) are any indication, his life is anything but quiet.  And aside from that, he is forgetting one rather important detail.

 

“You’re not yet as old as I am, Horace.”

 

“Well, maybe you ought to think about retirement yourself.”  I cannot count the number of people who have made a point to inform me of this over the past fifty years or so.  “Reactions not what they were, I see.”

 

He looks pointedly at my injured hand, which has drawn a great deal of attention from a number of people lately.  The expression on his face betrays deep-seated feelings of surprise, sadness and fear mixed with a vague horror; it is an expression with which I’ve grown all too familiar since sustaining this injury.

 

“You’re quite right.  I am undoubtedly slower than I was.  But on the other hand…”

 

This should get his attention.  And if I’m not much mistaken, Horace should have some idea of the significance of this ring.  If I’m not much mistaken, he should be able to help me with a certain… quest….

 

Moving on.

 

“So, all of these precautions against intruders, Horace… are they for the Death Eaters’ benefit, or mine?”

 

“What would the Death Eaters want with a poor broken-down buffer like me?”

 

They might want your memories, or rather, Lord Voldemort himself might want to safeguard your memories against certain persons who are visiting with you at this very moment.

 

“I imagine that they would want you to turn your considerable talents to coercion, torture, and murder.  Are you really telling me that they haven’t come recruiting yet?”

 

He regards me a moment before removing his façade.  “I haven’t given them a chance.  I’ve been on the move for a year.  Never stay in one place more than a week.  Move from Muggle house to Muggle house — the owners of this place are on holiday in the Canary Islands — it’s been very pleasant, I’ll be sorry to leave.  It’s quite easy once you know how, one simple Freezing Charm on these absurd burglar alarms they use instead of Sneakoscopes and make sure the neighbors don’t spot you bringing in the piano.”

 

“Ingenious,” if I do say so myself.  “But it sounds a rather tiring existence for a broken-down old buffer in search of a quiet life.  Now, if you were to return to Hogwarts—”

 

“If you’re going to tell me my life would be more peaceful at that pestilential school, you can save your breath, Albus!”  And so I shall, once Harry enters the conversation.  “I might have been in hiding, but some funny rumors have reached me since Dolores Umbridge left!  If that’s how you treat teachers these days—”

 

“Professor Umbridge ran afoul of our centaur herd.”  He is nearing the end of his supply of excuses: that last was particularly weak.  “I think you, Horace, would have known better than to stride into the forest and call a horde of angry centaurs ‘filthy half-breeds’.”

 

“That’s what she did, did she?  Idiotic woman.  Never liked her.”

 

Harry, who has thus far been silent, emits a chuckle.  Perhaps he will say something?

 

“Sorry.  It’s just — I didn’t like her either.”

 

Well, my work is done for the moment.

 

“Are you leaving?”

 

“No, I was wondering whether I might use your bathroom.”

 

“Oh.”  Surely he didn’t think he would get off that easily?  “Second on the left down the hall.”

 

I leave Horace to converse with his (knock on wood) future student and make my way quickly to the bathroom.  I close the door behind me with enough force for it to be heard from the sitting room.  For a moment, I consider casting a listening charm — or perhaps seeing if I might have one of those ingenious Extendable Ears in my pocket (upon further inspection, it turns out that I don’t) — but in the end, their conversation is their own.  Not to mention the fact that Horace undoubtedly has some sort of protection against such spells.  I could easily end up suspended from the ceiling by my toes if I were to attempt—

 

Are those knitting magazines?

//
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