The Sugar Quill
Author: Penpusher (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: A Most Ingenious Paradox  Chapter: Chapter Two: Mysteries and Discoveries
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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.

“A Most Ingenious Paradox”

 

 

“A Most Ingenious Paradox”

[A Harry Potter Fanfiction by Penpusher]

 

 

 

Chapter Two - Mysteries and Discoveries

 

 

“I think we should be a bit further to the left now.  Ouch!”

 

“Sorry.  We seem to have a bit of a problem here.”

 

“Don’t just whip branches back in my face, Fred, it hurts!  And besides I’m not really in a position to retaliate.”

 

“Conjure yourself some protective gear then - dragonhide ought to do it.”

 

“Great Merlin, this is some garden - more like a jungle!”

 

“Excuse me” plaintively. “You don’t have large predators as well as man-eating plants living here, do you?”

 

Colin Creevey was beginning to regret having taken up Hermione’s offer to look at the old outhouse.  Certainly he realised that none of the residents, current or historical, had bothered much with the garden for years uncounted, but it had never occurred to him that his first glimpse of the building which might eventually become his studio would be their first sight too.  He had envisaged a reasonably large piece of land, gracefully unkempt but still recognisable as a garden, with an overgrown but still passable pathway to a partially hidden but attractively dilapidated building whose full exotic promise would not become apparent until they had probed the mysteries within.  Right now he was wondering when Sir David Attenborough was going to turn up.  This garden was absolutely huge.  Massive for most semi-rural areas, almost impossible for St. John’s Wood.  Colin had too much to think about to give it serious consideration at the moment, but he had fleetingly wondered whether there was some kind of enchantment on it; some variant of the Everyday charm they often used to escape Muggle attention.  That was when he got his first sight of the old temple.

 

His first thought was that he had strayed into another continent.  India, perhaps, or Africa - he wasn’t sure, but definitely not Europe.

 

“Flamel’s Stone!” he breathed, in reverence or horror, uncertain as to which. “What in Merlin’s name is that?”

 

The others seemed to share his amazement and, after a long moment broke out into furious questions.

 

“Do you mean to say that this has been here all the time, and we had no idea whatsoever until now?”

 

“Who built this thing anyway, and what for?  It’s nothing like the same style as the house.”

 

“Hermione, did the estate agent’s details list outhouses as part of the deal, or are we in someone else’s garden?”  Hermione smiled at Lee, who had spoken last.

 

“Well, although I am the leaseholder and I did look over it with Harry before he decided to buy it, I am still as much in the dark as the rest of you,” she began. “However, firstly I can assure you that whilst this particular structure was definitely not listed in the particulars nor described at all in any way, there are no outstanding leaseholds, no easements, no rights of way, no other tenancy agreements.  There is nothing likely to cause any difficulty whatsoever with the ownership of this - thing.  I ought to know; I checked the Conveyancing very thoroughly.”

 

“Also,” interrupted Fred, holding up a hand against further questions, “also Harry and I made absolutely sure of the boundaries before he signed on the dotted line - we walked around the property to make sure the fences were intact.  That was some experience, I can tell you - we had to use a scythe!”  Hermione gave him an old-fashioned look.

 

“And I expect you used the access to set up wards for my safety, knowing that I was likely to be here on my own for some of the time?” The question was gentle, full of affection.  Fred spread his hands and looked slightly uncomfortable.

 

“It was Harry’s idea,” he told her. “He never intended you to be here alone, Hermione.  If things had worked the way he’d planned - but never mind.  The wards are still in place - I’ve made quite sure of that!” She smiled warmly and put a rather grubby hand on his arm.

 

“Thanks, Fred.” He gave her hand a quick squeeze.

 

“I don’t want to seem like I’m breaking anything up here,” a small voice protested, “but I for one would rather like to get out of this patch of thistles: I’m feeling like a pincushion!” 

 

In response to Colin’s plaintive request, they obediently resumed their progress towards the building, although it was quite some minutes before they could reach what had obviously once been the entrance.  There they stood, uncertain as to the next move, for in front of the doorway, blocking it totally, was a tree.  It was so thoroughly established that they could have been forgiven for suspecting it to have been planted there intentionally.  But who would do something as ridiculous as that, and why?  It was tall (about 20 feet high), strong and healthy: not an easy prospect.  Fred and Hermione approached it gingerly, and Fred sighed in resignation.

 

“We’ll have to abandon it for the day, folks.  There’s no way we’re going to get past this, unless we shrink ourselves to 50%, and we haven’t a hope of getting through it without an axe.  I suggest we try again tomorrow with the proper tools.”

 

“No, wait.”  Ginny stared at the tree thoughtfully. “It’s such a beautiful tree - a silver birch, you know.  They take a long, long time to grow, and I’d hate for it to be destroyed simply because we couldn’t think of any other way to get past it.  Look, do you mind if I just ...” 

 

She trailed off, gesturing helplessly in Hermione’s direction.  The other girl frowned in puzzlement then her face cleared.  Slowly, she reached into her sleeve and removed her wand from its pocket, offering it hesitantly to her friend.  Ginny’s fingers closed around the slim wooden rod and she took a deep, spontaneous breath like a swimmer breaking the surface of the water.

 

Closing her eyes, she concentrated, murmuring a number of incantations while the others watched her curiously.  For a while nothing seemed to happen, then as she drew in a sharp breath and gritted her teeth, the tree began to move.  It shuddered from top to bottom and the roots seemed to take on a life of their own, churning the earth and freeing themselves from its grasp. The tree rose slowly and majestically above the ground to hover, weightless in mid-air.

 

“Quick, Fred!” gasped Ginny. “I can’t hold it for long.  Help me!  Everyone else dig a pit to plant it in.” 

 

Fred whipped out his wand shouting “Wingardium leviosa!” 

 

Instantly, Ginny felt the tree stabilise and took a moment to regroup her powers.  Between them the siblings held the tree suspended until Colin and Hermione had excavated a deep enough trench to re-plant it, then Fred and Ginny moved it until it was poised over the channel. 

 

“Over to you.” said Fred, breathing heavily, as she began the delicate work of insinuating the roots back into the soil, finding the moist areas, guiding the long tap root down towards the water table.  Finally, as the job was completed and she sagged wearily against her brother, Ginny became aware of a number of curious eyes.

 

“And just where,” began Hermione, “did you learn that particular little party trick, Miss Weasley?”  Ginny looked up at her and grinned.

 

“You sound just like Minerva McGonagall,” she commented, and was rewarded with a blush from Hermione.

 

“Seriously, though,” this was Fred, “dealing with living things is quite extraordinary in comparison with inanimate ones.  That was an incredible feat of manipulation - I really don’t know quite how you managed it, particularly as you’re so out of practice.” 

 

It was the wrong thing to say.  Ginny flushed an angry red, clashing painfully with her hair.

 

“I think we can start exploring the temple now,” she said quietly. “Why don’t you lead the way, Fred?”

 

It proved very easy to enter the building now that the tree had gone.  Glancing at Fred and Ginny, who were both somewhat drained by their efforts, Hermione produced her own wand, muttered “Lumos,” and led the way inside.

 

“Great stars above, Hermione, can’t you get it any brighter than that?” protested Colin tetchily, not so much out of annoyance but because he was feeling vague stirrings of uneasiness.  Whatever this building was, he had more or less made up his mind that it was totally unsuitable as a potential studio.  Quite apart from its peculiar design, lack of natural light and complete absence of basic facilities, his magical antennae were picking up some very strange sensations indeed.  Hermione seemed to be similarly affected.  She moved to one side of the doorway, but made no further attempt to get into the building, merely standing silently, her expression oddly concentrated.

 

“Come on, let’s see what’s in here.  Hurry up, Hermione!”  Fred strode forward, whipping out his wand and shouting loudly for illumination.  Bright, white light seared forth, throwing the four corners of the building into sharp relief, revealing everything in one sudden flash of brilliance.  They stood stunned, then gasped in amazement bordering on stupefaction.

 

The first most remarkable thing was that the building was larger than it had appeared from the outside by an approximate factor of six.  That it was indeed some sort of temple was very obvious by the intricate marble flooring, the astonishing pictures on the walls, and the large, ornate altar made of wood and stone at the far end which was, at present, empty.  Everything was covered in the dust of decades.  Colin thought back to the size of the garden and wondered if this enchantment of scale was the only spellcraft he could sense here or whether, as he suspected, there was a good deal more.  He decided to voice the question.

 

“Hermione,” he whispered as quietly as possible, but the very air seemed to pick up and amplify the sound, “this place - it absolutely reeks of magic.  Really strong stuff, and I’m not sure how clean it is, if you know what I mean.” 

 

Hermione could only nod.  She seemed too shocked to move, but Fred took a determined step forward.  Colin noticed that his face was white and strained.

 

“That altar,” he muttered. “It – it reminds me of something …” Trailing off, he walked slowly towards it.

 

“Great Merlin!” whispered Ginny, who had moved to stand alongside Hermione. “It’s like some ancient Hindu temple, a really rich one.  But what on earth’s it doing here, and what was it used for?” 

 

Hermione shivered and seemed to emerge from her trance.  She glanced towards Fred then gasped in horror as she saw him approach the altar.

 

“Fred, no!” Her voice slammed sharply against the walls, and she ran towards him grabbing his arm to try to drag him back.

 

“I must see that altar!” he grated between clenched teeth.

 

“No, don’t go near it!” she pleaded. “You don’t know what it is.”  His face was set in a stubborn expression.

 

“Don’t I?” he glared. “The difference here, my dear Hermione, is that I have a very good idea what it might mean - you only think you do.”  Her eyes widened in horror.

 

“You think it might have something to do with …?”  He ignored her.

 

“Just let me go, there’s a good girl.  I’ll try not to touch anything, but frankly this is the first real lead I’ve had since it happened, and if you think I’m just going to walk away, you’re crazy.  I owe him that much, at least.” 

 

Hermione stood watching helplessly while Fred approached the stone table, wand held defensively before him.  To her relief, he appeared to cast no spells nor to be using magic of any kind.  He merely examined the sculpted legs and front closely, trying to read the inscriptions.  Somehow dissatisfied, Fred straightened up abruptly and moved behind the altar, bending down again to look at something near the floor.  She heard him cry out sharply then he looked up over the top of the table.

 

“Hermione,” he began, slowly and clearly, his voice betraying fear and suppressed excitement, “you must do exactly as I say, or we may not get out of here for a long while.  Go back to the doorway and stand under the lintel - you know, the big stone beam that supports the wall.  Take Ginny and Colin with you and, this is important, make sure you are touching each other - holding hands would be best - then wait for me to come to you.  Okay?”

 

“Fred, I don’t under…”

 

“Hermione, don’t ask questions - please, just do it, okay?” 

 

The tone of Fred’s voice was such that Hermione obeyed without another murmur.  So grave and serious was her expression that Ginny and Colin both complied with her instructions unquestioningly.  As they waited in the eerie brilliance of the temple, there came a sudden loud crack, a flash of blue lightening, and Fred came hurtling towards them.  He held something small in his left hand and was running like the wind.

 

“Stay where you are!” he bellowed, as the ground began to shake and pieces of plaster and masonry bounced off the floor behind him.  A gilt picture frame glanced off his arm, but he paid it no heed.  Instinctively, Ginny whirled towards the doorway, but to her horror it was totally blocked by something strongly resembling the smooth, silver bark of a tree trunk.  As she turned her frightened eyes back to Fred, he cannoned into them, enveloping all three in a tight, hard bear hug and held aloft what looked like a credit card.  White mist rose rapidly from it, curling around them, blocking out the sight and sound of the temple, and suddenly …

 

… they were somewhere else.

 

~ooOoo~

 

 

“Well, I guess we have to talk about it sometime, don’t we?” 

 

Ginny stood facing Fred and Hermione perched on her sofa, drinking cups of hot restorative coffee.  Their clothes were dirty and disheveled, even their hair and faces were dusty and grubby, although both had made some attempts to clean up.  Ginny was aware that she looked equally bad.  Although in her own home, she had refrained from changing clothes and had merely indulged in the most cursory ablutions, so as not to put the others at a disadvantage.  Hermione glanced at Fred, but encountered no reaction.  She shrugged and put down her coffee cup.

 

“Ginny, I don’t know what to say,” she began. “I’ve never come across anything like that before, I have no idea what it was or what was powering it.  All I know is that I was scared witless.”  Ginny gave her a searching look then turned to her companion. 

 

“Fred?” she said.  He shrugged.

 

“Like Hermione said,” he began, “it’s not something within my personal experience …”

 

“Balderdash!” returned Ginny, frowning mightily. “You did something in that temple, Fred, don’t try to deny it.  And how did we get out of there anyway?  You can’t Apparate out and take three of us with you - we’d all get splinched.  So how was it that we ended up in the Harrods Food Hall, halfway between the hand-made Swiss and Belgian chocolates and the Sushi bar?” 

 

Hermione rolled her eyes and totally failed to control a slightly hysterical giggle.

 

“Did you see that man’s face?” she said to Fred. “You know, the one with the strawberry blonde perm who was eating teriyaki chicken?”  Fred gave an outright laugh.

 

“I think he thought Christmas had come early when Colin landed in his lap,” he replied with an evil grin.  Hermione grimaced.

 

“I’m not sure Colin was of the same opinion,” she said.  Fred shook his head.

 

“I think he was at the end of his tether by then.  He’s certainly not going to have very much to do with us in future, and I think it would take a tranquillising gun to make him set foot in Harry’s House again, let alone the garden.”

 

“Will you two be serious!” Ginny was almost jumping up and down in fury.  She rounded on her brother.

 

“Fred, that was a Portkey you used - don’t try to deny it!  I may have been out of magic for a while, but I’m not totally stupid.  Now, what’s a jokeshop owner cum freelance spellbook publisher doing with Ministry equipment, eh?” 

 

Fred looked rather awkward, but he did not answer.

 

“And Hermione,” Ginny turned to her best friend. “Why were you so concerned when Fred went to look at that altar?”  Hermione rallied with difficulty.

 

“I thought the whole place was remarkably peculiar, and rather scary,” she began. “My magical senses were on overload as soon as we got inside the door.  When I focused in on the altar, I realised that much of the magic I was sensing - was dark.”  She swallowed back bile as the true horror of the memory seeped over her once more. “I was scared Fred was going to disturb it in some way, that’s all.”  Ginny’s full lips thinned and compressed in irritation.

 

“Well, unlike Fred, at least you tried to explain yourself,” she glared at Hermione, not at all mollified, “although most of that load of twaddle would provide enough organic matter to fertilize a rose bed for the next several years.  What’s going on here?” 

 

Ginny looked from Fred to Hermione in growing exasperation at their silence.  With a wordless exclamation, she turned and stomped over to the patio doors, glaring out over the city in frustration.

 

“Why won’t you level with me?” she demanded. “You obviously know much more about this than you’re letting on - I was there too, you know.”

 

“We know that!”  Fred burst out, unexpectedly vehement, his eyes hard and bright.  He propelled himself up from the sofa and grabbed Ginny’s shoulders, turning her round to face him.

 

“I can’t be sure what we’re dealing with here,” he said in a gentler tone. “To be honest, I can’t be sure of anything, and I’m just not prepared to commit myself to any kind of answer where you are concerned.  Not yet, at any rate.  Okay?”  He exchanged glances with Hermione and Ginny saw her almost imperceptible nod.  He looked back towards his sister.

 

“In fact,” he went on in a slightly calmer voice, “we’ve decided to bring in the SAS.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“We think we should tell Harry,” Hermione translated.  Ginny sat back down in astonishment.

 

“Harry?” she queried, her jaw slack. “Harry!  What in Merlin’s name makes you think he’d have any interest in this?  For goodness sake, he’s made another life for himself a whole world away from us here.  The last thing he’s going to want is to be bothered with a peculiarity involving some arcane structure in the middle of his back garden; a back garden, I might add, which he hasn’t set eyes on for four years!  Can’t we just - I don’t know - exorcise it or something?” 

 

Hermione looked at Fred.

 

“You know when all is said and done, that might not be the worst idea anyone’s come up with.”  A grim smile twisted her strong features. “I wouldn’t like to attempt it at the moment, but plain old Muggle superstition might just be what the doctor ordered in the end.”

 

“Hermione, you’re tired, you need rest.”  Fred laid a hand on her arm in a patronising fashion and for once she did not rise to it, merely smiled and leaned against his shoulder.  She looked directly at Ginny and sighed.

 

“We’ll leave you in peace shortly,” she said, quietly. “We need to go home to clean up, just as soon as I’ve taken a quick fire talk.”

 

“Who with?”

 

“Harry, who do you think?  Sorry to borrow your fireplace, but I’ve left an urgent message - a real SOS.  He should be appearing any minute - oh, yes: right on time!” 

 

The fireplace obligingly burst into orange flames, parting in the centre to reveal a man’s head.  Hermione gasped.

 

“My owl!  Harry, you’ve gone blonde!”  The man in the fireplace irritably brushed his wayward hair out of his eyes and scowled.

 

“Trust you to notice that, Hermione!” he replied.  “It’s not as if it’s particularly dramatic.  Only a couple of shades lighter on the surface.”

 

“Well, it was rather a surprise,” said Hermione, apologetically. “And you’re very suntanned.”

 

“What do you expect?  It’s par for the course when you live in California.”  The face grinned broadly.  “What’s the weather like with you?  It’s scorching here, and most people are covered up from their necks to their toes, terrified of skin cancer.” 

 

“It’s a typical English summer,” replied Fred, matching the grin. “Warmish, wettish and cloudy.”  Harry grinned.

 

“So, children,” he began. “What’s the crisis?  I’m supposed to be lecturing a group of 2nd Year Advanced Students on the Unforgivable Curses with particular reference to my recent travels in China, but when I got your Mayday, I figured I’d better answer it immediately.” 

 

Hermione leaned forward again.

 

“We’ve got what might be a serious problem, Harry, and I really think you need to see it.  In fact, it might need a little of your time to unravel it, so I suggest you take some leave and come home as soon as possible.” 

 

It was out and she couldn’t unsay it. Ginny held her breath while all his possible replies went through her head: I can’t just abandon my students in mid-course; I’m supposed to be giving a lecture right now, call me back later with the rest of this nonsense; aren’t you old enough by now to sort things out yourselves?; call in the Ministry: they’ll know what to do.  To her surprise, he said none of these things.

 

“Can you elaborate on the problem any further?” he enquired calmly and quietly.  Hermione opened her mouth then shut it again.

 

“It’s – difficult,” she began.  Fred pushed his sister into view.

 

“Ginny’s here, Harry,” he began, apparently apropos of nothing. “She knows a little about this.  We’ve used her fireplace for this call, but we’ll have to be quick because her Muggle partner could return at any time.” 

 

Ginny stared open-mouthed at Fred for this seemingly totally gratuitous and ridiculous outburst of unnecessary information, but Harry seemed to understand.  She wondered if he and Fred had developed some kind of secret code, some means of communicating relevant information buried within a flurry of small talk.  Harry’s next words only seemed to confirm that surmise.

 

“I see.” He spoke quietly, stroking his upper lip with an index finger.  He considered for a short while then he looked up again.

 

“In that case, you can save the details for later,” he said decisively. “I’ll use my old room in the West Wing then, shall I Hermione?  Or is someone else occupying it at the moment?”

 

“No, it’s empty,” replied Hermione, unable to hide her overwhelming relief at his decision. “I’ll put it to rights for you, don’t worry.”  He inclined his head in thanks.

 

“Well, I’ll see you very shortly - probably tonight for dinner.  I’ll just have to do something about taking leave, that’s all.  See you later.” 

 

The flames died down and the fireplace returned to normal.  Hermione sighed with satisfaction and turned to Fred.

 

“I guess I’d better summon the gang for a dinner party.” She turned to Ginny. “You and David are invited, of course.  We won’t be discussing business until tomorrow, I suspect.  After all,” she shrugged tiredly, “it’s not exactly urgent; I’m sure that temple’s been there for at least a century - a few more days won’t hurt.” 

 

Famous last words, Granger.  Hermione stamped firmly on her inner voice, but could not entirely banish its impact.  Ginny made a wry face.

 

“I can’t make it, unfortunately,” she sighed. “I’ve got a gig, and I really can’t back out, not after - well, I’ve just got to do it, that’s all.” 

 

Hermione’s face fell then suddenly her eyes lit up.

 

“How about we come to your gig - all of us, Harry too - then we can all go back to Harry’s House for dinner, or a take-away, or even out to a restaurant if we’re feeling flush!”  Ginny smiled with real pleasure.

 

“That’s really kind - I could do with the support at the moment.  It’s at the Café Royale in Balham - I’ll leave you some tickets on the door if you like.  I think I’d better call a rain check on dinner though - at least until I’ve okayed it with David.” 

 

Fred pulled a face, fortunately behind Ginny’s back, and Hermione shot a very old-fashioned look at him until he mended his manners.

 

“Don’t worry,” she said soothingly. “You can decide tonight after the gig whether you want to come with us or not.  Now,” she shot a glance at Fred and started to look round for her handbag, laughing when she remembered how abruptly they had left home. “I think it’s time we went home to clean up.  I, for one, am hungry.  It’s well past lunch and I want a little time to make up Harry’s room for him.”  Fred groaned and leaned back on the sofa.

 

“You go ahead, Hermione,” he said. “I don’t want to walk like this: I’ll Apparate back when I feel up to it.” 

 

She gave him a sharp look which he returned innocently enough, but as she made her weary way home she wondered if she had done the right thing by leaving him there with Ginny: after all, David was due home at any time.

 

After the front door had closed on Hermione, Ginny rounded on her brother, hands on her hips, brown eyes flashing dangerously.

 

“Well, Fred?” she demanded. “Are you going to come clean about this, or am I going to drop-kick your butt from here to Putney Bridge without bouncing?” 

 

Fred stared at her in surprise then gave way to uproarious laughter.  Ginny’s anger abruptly drained away and she sank down into the squashy sofa.

 

“You are completely hopeless,” she muttered, in defeat. “I never could get a straight answer out of either you or George - Ron’s become just as bad.”  She looked at him. 

 

“You can’t blame me for worrying.  I know you two are always plotting something, but recently I’ve just been a bit, well, concerned?” 

 

Fred looked up sharply.

 

“Why?” he returned, rather too quickly.  She shrugged.

 

“Well, it’s just that you don’t seem entirely yourself, Fred.  I can’t put my finger on it, but you’re not quite - well, right somehow.”  She shook her head. “Don’t ask me to explain it any further.”  She looked at him.

 

Are you okay?”  Fred uncrossed his legs and shifted to the edge of the sofa, not meeting her eyes.

 

“You’re preparing to lie to me, aren’t you?” she said.  He sighed.

 

“Yes, I’m afraid I was,” he replied sadly.

 

“Then don’t answer.” Her face was serious. “Tell me when you can, but don’t lie to me.” 

 

He took her hand and squeezed it gently.  She met his eyes.

 

“Prawn and lettuce sandwiches do for lunch?”  He grinned broadly.

 

“You bet!”

 

 

Author’s Notes

 

The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Disclaimer: this is a non-profit enterprise.  Everything belongs to J.K. Rowling, except the plot and David Markland, both of which belong to Penpusher.  Tribute to: Susan Cooper’s incomparable “The Dark is Rising” sequence for use of the “High Magic”; Dennis Wheatley for a plot device; and many, many other fanfiction writers whose works of all kinds and in very differing genres have been an immense inspiration to me.  The quotations used as chapter titles are too numerous to credit here.  Full details available on request, but Shakespeare and The Bible should yield most of them.

 

And all the thanks in the world to Becky (aka williara) for being a superb beta.

 

 

 

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