The Sugar Quill
Author: Grace has Victory (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Banebrewer  Chapter: 1 Trod by the Gallant and True
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The Banebrewer


Part IV of
The Moon-Cursers


Grace has Victory


To the Alphas –
ROBERT, Arch-Mage among the Hex-Wizards;
JULIA, Light of the Heart’s Labyrinth;
BENJAMIN, Master-Pragmatist and Engineer –
with my love.


Disclaimer

1. J. K. Rowling owns the Potterverse. And she has made a lot of money out of it. I don’t own anything. And I haven’t made any money at all.

2. Thanks to my alpha readers, Robert (age 13), Julia (age 10) and Benjamin (age 9), for allowing me to write and for caring what happened to Ariadne.

3. Thanks as always to my beta reader, Spiderwort, who knows her job and is a great writer in her own right.

4. Thank you to my amazing translators, St. Row-a-Check and Ana Christina, who can always find just the right word (especially if it’s Hungarian or Romanian).




CHAPTER ONE

Trod by the Gallant and True

Saturday 30 June – Sunday 1 July 1990

St Mungo’s Hospital, London; Old Basford, Nottingham.

Oh, proudly they walk, but each Cameron knows
He may tread on the heather no more;
But boldly he follows his chief to the field,
Where his laurels were gathered before.

– Scottish folk song: “The March of the Cameron Men”

Rated PG for death.


A large gangling man stalked down the sterile corridors of St Mungo’s. If he was trying to look inconspicuous, he wasn’t succeeding. Although his long cloak was pulled up over his face, the thump of his enormous feet, the slouch of his shoulders, the simple fact that nobody else was wearing a cloak indoors, all guaranteed that he would be noticed.

Having ignored the Welcome Witch and visitors in the reception area, he strode past a Mediwizard who was guiding a Splinch victim into a ward, and spared no glance for a Healer who was trying to Charm a teapot off an old lady’s nose. He propelled himself up the stairs, not even pausing while he pulled his hood further over his face, and ignored the Burns Ward. He paused for as long as it took him to read the plaque “QUONG PO WARD: Outpatient Treatments” and then burst through the door. A Healer in a lime-green robe was supervising a Mediwitch as she measured a potion.

The man threw back his hood to reveal his matted grey hair and dirty face. “I’ve tracked you down,” he rasped. “Give me my share now.”

“You need to wait your turn…” began the Mediwitch. She spoke with an Irish brogue, and a badge proclaimed her name to be Madam Slaíne O’Keeffe.

“You’ll have to wait for Healer Smethwyck,” interrupted the Healer sharply. She was several years older than the Mediwitch, and her eyebrows now drew together in a thick, forbidding line. “He’s in charge around here, and he’ll need to take your details. But he’s at a meeting at the moment. It will be quite a wait.”

“That isn’t friendly,” rasped the man, poking his fingernail up his nose as he spoke. “I’ve travelled a long way to see you all, and you don’t even know who I am. You should be more welcoming to your patients.”

Madam O’Keeffe looked disconcerted, but the Healer reminded her, “Ignore him. Smethwyck will make him follow procedures, and we shall follow them too. Sir,” she said to the stranger, “you can fill out this form now, but only Healer Smethwyck can authorise any treatments.”

The big man chewed at his yellowing nails while he read with a furious frown on his brow. “This is none of your business!” he exclaimed. “You can give me the potion without knowing my name. Same as you can treat an unconscious emergency victim without knowing names!”

“No, we can’t,” said the Healer firmly. Her badge showed that her name was Althea Valentine. “We can only distribute this particular potion to patients who can prove that they really suffer from the relevant condition. Once we have your name, we can check it on the Registry.”

A silvery steam began to rise from the cauldron. Madam O’Keeffe stirred it again, then ladled some into a measuring glass. “Miss Tungsten, Mr Dewar, the potion is now ready to drink.”

Two patients rose from hard-backed chairs in the corner. The freckled young man in smart Muggle-style denims reached the cauldron first, but he politely stepped back in order to allow the elderly witch in mauve house-robes to be served. Madam O’Keeffe squinted at the measure, then poured the potion into a goblet. She began to measure for Mr Dewar, while Miss Tungsten took a ladylike sip.

She had taken two or three mouthfuls when suddenly she gasped in pain and clutched her throat. A wild look came into her face, and she choked out, “Don’t drink, Connell! Something’s – ah – wrong!”

Connell Dewar set down his goblet, while Madam O’Keeffe grabbed at Miss Tungsten’s wrist, and exclaimed, “There’s no pulse! Oh… there is… Healer, it’s extremely slow.”

“Incompetent!” jeered the man in the cloak. “Haven’t a clue what you’re really doing, have you?”

Ignoring him, Healer Valentine waved her wand, and a shower of blue stars raced towards a side door to give the emergency signal. Then she Summoned a heart-shaped tool from the wall and held it against Miss Tungsten’s shuddering ribs.

“Her heart is racing,” the Healer murmured. “Lurching all over the place. Miss Tungsten, are you in pain? Where?”

Miss Tungsten tried to indicate, but it was difficult to see where; she seemed to be having trouble making precise movements.

The side door burst open and another Healer raced into the ward. He was about a hundred years old and neatly bearded. He took one look at Miss Tungsten, and waved his wand over her. “Animum Pulsaro!” he commanded. “Petrificus Emancipo! Healer Valentine, Madam O’Keeffe – whatever you do, don’t allow a cardiac arrest. This is a bad case of aconite poisoning.”

A young woman had followed the Head Healer into the ward. She was dressed in the rust-red cap and robes of an apothecary, and at the sight of the Healers half-carrying Miss Tungsten to the nearest bed, her face became as white as milk. The pit of her stomach froze as she watched them cast cardiac-pumping spells over the elderly patient.

Respiro!” ordered the Head Healer, trying a new spell. “Healer Valentine, do everything you can to keep her breathing. Her respiratory centre is paralysed, but if you can use magic to keep her breathing, she should live. Madam O’Keeffe, you concentrate on her heartbeat. Don’t stop work, whatever you do.”

“Oh, so you’re killing patients, are you?” leered the cloaked man.

The patient named Connell Dewar turned to the apothecary. “Errryednee,” he said to her, “E’m thinking something went wrong today. The megic potion’s hurrrting Leckownia.”

“Con, did you drink any?”

“I did not; Eh stopped meself in tem. Because Eh saw that Leckownia was gone rrrrong.”

The apothecary drew a deep breath. “Thank goodness for that, Con.”

“Trying to poison them all, were you?” sneered the stranger. “Sorry to have picked off only one of them?”

The apothecary took a long slow look at the stranger. She swept her eyes over his slouch, his dirty hands, his uncombed hair, the curl of his mouth, the furrow of his brow. She knew already that it would be a waste of time to appeal to either his reason or his compassion. Instead, she was left with the curious suspicion that this man was the root of all their problems.

“If you’re wanting a potion,” she told him levelly, “it’s seeming that we have none today.”

“You never heard me say that I wanted a potion,” growled the stranger. “You weren’t here when I said why I came. I should report you all to the Aurors for malpractice.”

“Do so,” said the apothecary coolly. “They’ll probably be wishing to make your acquaintance.” Then she turned back to Connell Dewar. “Con, were you here early enough to see who brewed the potion?”

“Eh did not see,” he said, “because Eh was at worrrk oontil an hourr ago. End then Eh hed to go soomwherrre prrrevet to take the Porrrtkey withoot anywoon seein’ the megic.”

The apothecary moved over to the cauldron. She noted, as she sniffed at the vapour, that the Healers and the Mediwitch were still casting desperate spells over Miss Tungsten. The potion smelled the same as usual. It was the right colour, and it was gently simmering at what appeared to be the correct temperature.

Nobody had ever been damaged before, not even her own husband, who had recklessly volunteered to test the potion when it had been yet at the experimental stage. And they had been brewing the potion safely now for nearly four years.

Yet Lycaonia Tungsten had been poisoned.

She scooped up a ladleful, poured it over a platter, and commanded it, “Specialis Revelio!

The liquid obligingly separated itself out into piles of powder, which in turn swirled into the shapes of various plants, visual representations of the original ingredients. The forms produced by the Specialis Revelio charm were not very solid or long-lasting, but they were quite precise in shape and colour. She could distinguish the large purple bell of a foxglove. The tiny petals of nightshade. Leaves of cassia. A Quaker button, fruit of the poison nut. A chain of yeast – presumably representing the alcohol in which the tincture had been brewed. Drops of plain water. And a small hooded flower…

Immediately she knew what had gone wrong.

She did not know how such a terrible mistake had been made. But the glowing blue petals told her the whole story.

Somebody had substituted monkshood for wolfsbane.

* * * * * * *

Hippocrates Smethwyck checked that Healer Valentine had Miss Tungsten’s breathing steady and that Madam O’Keeffe was maintaining a regular heartbeat, then he Summoned a bezoar from the store-cupboard. He had to choose the moment carefully, when Miss Tungsten’s bodily functions were all temporarily operational, but he found the opportunity, and plunged the bezoar down her throat.

Miss Tungsten gave a spasm that nearly tossed her in the air, then cried out in pain before lying still. Her breathing became regular and natural, and after a couple of minutes, Healer Valentine declared her pulse to be normal.

“That deals with the direct poisoning,” said Healer Smethwyck. “But it’s been a huge strain on the system for a woman of her age. Make sure she’s warm, Madam O’Keeffe, and keep up her fluids. And now…”

“Now you’re going to have to disappoint all your clients,” sneered the cloaked stranger.

“Now I’m going to have to clear this ward,” said Healer Smethwyck. “If you’re well enough to stand up, and you don’t work here, it’s time to leave.”

Connell Dewar looked very subdued, but he obediently picked up his Portkey from the serving bench, and instantly vanished. At that moment another patient entered the ward, this one also clutching a Portkey, and Healer Valentine was left with the unpleasant task of explaining that there was no potion for tonight.

Meanwhile, Healer Smethwyck approached the stranger. “Patients may find sanctuary in a hospital,” he said, “but you, sir, have neither diagnosis nor prescription. Will you leave now, or will I call the Aurors to escort you out?”

The stranger snarled something, but he made his choice, and slouched out of the door.

“And I have twenty more of them to see off,” said Healer Valentine wearily. “That’s a lot of people to disappoint. What time are we expecting your husband, Madam Lupin?”

“It should be at any – ” began the apothecary. But she did not need to finish, for the door opened again, and it was her husband who entered the ward. He was carrying their children – the little boy astride his shoulders, the baby girl in his arms – and he was cheerfully explaining why Healers have to wear green.

“It’s because the grass is green, and Healers make healthy things grow, just like the grass.”

“But why is the grass green?”

“Because it grows under a blue sky and a yellow sun.”

“But why doesn’t Mummy wear green?”

“Because Mummy is an apothecary.”

“But why do pock-frees – ?”

There was no limit to the number of times Matthew could ask why, or to his father’s inventiveness in replying to the questions, but they both fell silent when Madam Lupin stepped forward. Her husband was not needing to ask whether she had had a bad day. He listened quietly, shifting their daughter to his other arm, while she explained that there would be no potion today. Healer Smethwyck walked up behind her, looking as if he were about to send her home, but she knew she could not leave without raising the all-important issue.

“Healer, who organised the supplies this month?”

“I believe Healer Valentine sent that new trainee – young Mr Borage.”

“We’re needing to ask Mr Borage about the aconites. Somebody brought up monkshood instead of wolfsbane, and somebody else managed to add it to the potion without noticing the difference.”

“Good gracious! How could anything so crass – ?”

But Healer Smethwyck’s pondering of the malpractice was cut short by a cry of alarm from the Mediwitch.

“Quickly! Her blood-pressure is all over the place!”

They were too late.

Healer Smethwyck’s stride was long, but by the time he had reached the patient’s bedside, Lycaonia Tungsten was dead.

* * * * * * *

Remus and Ariadne Lupin took their children home by Floo. Ariadne did not speak. She knew that the image of Lycaonia’s face, contorted with agony, was branded into her memory forever. She did not understand how the mistake had been made, but clearly both she and the Healers had placed too much trust in their Mediwizards and suppliers. One of them should have noticed that the wrong flower was being pulverised. It was not so hard to tell monkshood from wolfsbane – in the simplest of layman’s terms, monkshood was blue and wolfsbane was yellow.

“Sweetheart,” Remus reminded her, “you warned them about this again and again.”

She Banished her working overalls upstairs and put on an ordinary household apron. “Evidently not often enough. Somebody today made a mistake, and nobody else was alert enough to notice.”

Remus handed the baby to her and began to take vegetables out of the froster cupboard. “I’ll cook; you’re the one whom the children haven’t seen all day. Ariadne, you weren’t even in the ward when the distribution began. What was it that Smethwyck wanted to discuss with you, before all this happened?”

“He was wanting to talk about my masterpiece.” She savoured the irony, as she swung her baby into the air, and then sat down on a kitchen chair. “He said it’s time I chose a project – a respectable one that will be patented without question – large enough to qualify as my masterpiece. He had three ideas, but of course a Healer’s not qualified to supervise me. Healer Smethwyck’s wanting to liaise with an apothecary… he was wondering if we should go to Mr Belby again.”

Remus set one knife to chopping onions and another to paring carrots. “Does Belby ever supervise anyone? I thought he left such mundane tasks to menials like Jigger.”

Matthew was climbing up into his mother’s lap. “My turn! No more Lily-beff. Daddy, what’s a meany-all?”

“A less important person who ends up doing the more important job.”

“But, Remus, this is not about whether I complete a Masters, or even about whether I was the person who was negligent today.” She managed to balance both children on her lap, one in each arm. “It’s about somebody… a man – a stranger – who asked for Wolfsbane Potion today, just before the accident occurred.” No words could explain the revulsion that shivered through her bones at the thought of the stranger. “He was dirty and unkempt, and he insulted the staff, and Healer Smethwyck had trouble making him leave. When I spoke to him, he denied wanting anything, but Slaíne O’Keeffe told me that he’d asked for the potion. A character like that… if he were a real werewolf at all… what was he really wanting?”

Remus shrugged as he placed a lump of frozen vegetable stock into the pot and then lit the stove. “Perhaps a Sylvanian who had decided to turn respectable, but had forgotten the bourgeois understanding of polite manners.”

“Perhaps. But he was so aggressive… and so eager to depart once Healer Smethwyck threatened to call the Aurors… that I was left feeling that I’d just met Fenrir Greyback himself.” The baby whimpered. “Yes, yes, we’re knowing. Elizabeth’s hungry. Daddy’s making soup, but it’s not ready yet.”

“Greyback, or one of his minions, it doesn’t make much difference. Plenty of werewolves have guilty secrets, and plenty would resent polite society enough to demand the potion for the wrong reasons.”

“But Remus… the werewolves – especially the Sylvanians – are not supposed to know that the Wolfsbane Potion exists. Obviously the secret was bound to leak out one day. But does it not strike you as a steep coincidence that, on the same day as some Sylvanian finds out that we have the treatment, we also suffer our first casualty?”

Remus frowned as he poured the chopped vegetables into the pot. “I see what you mean. There’s been a lot to process today… are you suggesting that the two events are linked?”

She sighed. “I’m not knowing, dearest. I’m only saying that everything has been smooth these three years past. And now two things have gone wrong at once.”

Before Remus could reply, the clock struck eight. It was time for their invariable evening ritual, the time when Veleta Vablatsky would be Locospecting them to find out whether they had any news for her. They rarely had any, but they could not let Veleta feel they had forgotten her, so once again Ariadne spoke into the empty air.

“Veleta, are you Watching us? We’ve had an eventful day. A patient died in hospital, and the Healers had to throw out an intruder who was disrupting procedures. But…” She swallowed painfully. This part was becoming monotonous, because she had had to say it every evening for nearly three years. “We have not learned anything new about blood magic, or found any clues in our Ancient Runes texts. The book I finished reading this morning was just as unhelpful as all the others.”

The silence rushed into her ears. Every evening she gave the news to Veleta. But she did not really know whether Veleta could hear her.

Remus took a step towards her and pulled Matthew off her lap. “You haven’t kissed me this evening.”

She obliged him.

* * * * * * *

The owl flew in through the bedroom window carrying the morning paper. Remus rolled onto his back, thinking in the moment before he opened his eyes that the bed was rather crowded. Ariadne was feeding Elizabeth, and Matthew was bouncing between them.

“Owl, Daddy. Wants money.”

Remus pulled a handful of Knuts from the change dish beside the bed and gave them to the owl without actually looking at the world. He knew he would have to wake up soon, because Ariadne had to go to work again. The brewing week – that is, the week of the waxing gibbous moon – was like that; Ariadne worked long hours, and he was in charge of the children.

“Read it, Daddy! Read the paper!”

“Daddy’s tired,” said Ariadne gently. Her tone was drowsy, as if she were in no hurry to begin the day.

Remus pushed his eyes open and accepted the newspaper. Matthew crawled into his arms and repeated, “Read it!”

The headline read: FUDGE ELECTED MINISTER. That was no surprise; everyone had been expecting it.

“Dat man, Daddy?”

“His name is Mr Fudge. He’s our new Minister.”

“Silly hat.”

“Yes, it’s a silly hat.” Remus skimmed the predictable paragraphs about Cornelius Fudge’s welcome entry to the leadership of the wizarding community. (Who would have guessed that last month the press had been begging Albus Dumbledore to take the helm?). He saw no evidence that Mr Fudge would make life easier for werewolves, and there was certainly nothing beyond the silly hat that would interest a two-year-old, or a thirty-one-year-old for that matter.

Remus turned the page. DEATH BY MOONSHINING, read the next headline. A cheerful photograph of Lycaonia Tungsten waved from the top of page 2, and a grave Hippocrates Smethwyck blinked from the middle.

“Dat lady, Daddy?”

“That poor lady died yesterday.” He didn’t know how he could translate the rest of the article into something suitable for Matthew, but he was aware that Ariadne, beside him, had raised herself on her elbow.

“What is it, Remus?”

“The press has become a little too interested.” He couldn’t read the article out loud in front of Matthew, but he propped it so that Ariadne could see.

An elderly patient was killed yesterday at St Mungo’s.

Lycaonia Tungsten, 95, came to the Serious Bites Ward for a routine treatment. She died within minutes of drinking a wrongly-mixed potion.

“It has never happened before,” protested Healer Hippocrates Smethwyck, 94. “This well-tested potion has no known side-effects. We are currently investigating the mistake.”

Obviously the public will not accept such “mistakes”. Miss Tungsten was a werewolf, and a St Mungo’s employee has confessed: “The potion was a treatment for her lycanthropy. It enables werewolves to keep their human minds and think rationally.”

Investigations with the Patent Office have indicated that no such lycanthropic treatment has ever been authorised. The potion, if it worked at all, would have been illegal.

“It is definitely illegal,” confirmed Dolores Umbridge, Head of the Beast Division of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. “I am appalled to think that St Mungo’s would either brew or distribute such a dangerous poison. This Department has clearly and specifically forbidden that kind of experimentation.” Madam Umbridge, 59, wiped her eyes as she added, “It is so sad that a helpless old lady was sacrificed to unscientific experimentation. Given the social prejudice against werewolves, it is even possible that she was deliberately murdered.”

Few wizards have shared Madam Umbridge’s soft-edged approach.

“Rational werewolves are no blessing to public health,” pointed out Walden Macnair of the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures. “Are we wanting criminals like Fenrir Greyback to prey on our children in a rational state of mind?”

It is evidently time to crack down on illegal “medicines”. Safety must be our highest priority.

Remus didn’t see when Ariadne finished reading, because she stared at the page for a long time, cuddling the baby closely. But finally she turned to stare at him. Her eyes were wide and blue and completely clear of confusion.

“So the law has caught up with me,” she said. “I broke the rules. Now it’s time to pay.”

//
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