The Sugar Quill
Author: Grace has Victory (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Banebrewer  Chapter: 2 Storms may Rudely Blow
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CHAPTER TWO

Storms may Rudely Blow

Sunday 1 July – Monday 16 July 1990

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

Life’s storms may rudely blow,
Laying hope and pleasure low:
I’d ne’er deceive thee;
I could never, never leave thee.
Ne’er till my cheek grow pale,
And my heart pulses fail,
And my last breath grieve thee.
Can I ever, ever leave thee!

– Scottish folk song: “I Can Never Leave Thee”.

Rated PG for scary parts.


Healer Smethwyck’s office was unnaturally silent. Through the open window, Ariadne felt she could hear the chaffinches’ wings flapping under the leaves of the beech trees. The blood rushing through her own veins seemed the loudest sound in the Hospital. She wished she could shut up all those noises. They were drowning out the thick, heavy silence that wrapped itself around Hippocrates Smethwyck himself.

“Lycaonia Tungsten is dead.” Her heart thudded as he broke the silence. “Only the five of us had anything to do with her treatment. Somewhere here, shared among the five of us, must be the knowledge of what went wrong.”

This time the silence was so profound that Ariadne’s heart forgot to beat, and her lungs forgot to breathe, until there was a pain in her chest, as if she were the one suffering from aconite poisoning.

“Althea,” said Healer Smethwyck, “this month I delegated the brewing of the Wolfsbane Potion to you. Tell me from the beginning what you did.”

“I opened the instructions,” recited Healer Valentine dully, “and I read them through. I took out my equipment and cleaned each piece with Bleecher’s Purgatio. While I was doing that, I sent Mr Borage down to the garden for the ingredients.”

“Thank you. Jason, remind us what you did in the garden.”

Ariadne shifted uncomfortably. Nearly two years ago, when her son Matthew had started to crawl, she had reconstructed the herbiary in her back garden. She had ripped out half her plants – anything that was remotely poisonous – and donated them all to St Mungo’s. It had broken her heart to dispense with the wolfsbane, which was so symbolic, and the monkshood, which had been a present from her cousin Severus, and the poison nut tree, which she had obtained at such trouble and expense. But obviously she could not forbid her bairn to play in his own back garden. She had moved the safe plants into half the original space, and Remus had Transfigured a pile of old lumber into swings and a climbing frame for the other half. She had never regretted the reconstruction. Healer Smethwyck had ensured that her aconites were cherished, and having them on the Hospital premises meant that he never had to spend Hospital funding on wolfsbane supplies. It had kept their brewing very secret.

“I picked the Quaker buttons first,” said Jason Borage. “Then I went to the store-room for yeast, and while I was there I brought out atropine and digitalin too. Then I went back to the garden for the wolfsbane. I brought it up – ”

“In your hands, Jason?”

“In a basket, sir. I wouldn’t touch herbs with my bare hands; I was wearing dragon-hide gloves the whole time. By the time I arrived back upstairs, Healer Valentine had juiced the Quaker buttons, and was beginning to distil them.”

“And did the wolfsbane look the same as usual?”

“This was the first time I’d brought up herbs from the hospital garden, sir, and I’d never seen wolfsbane before. But I checked the picture in Spore, and it looked exactly the same.”

“Exactly the same? Did you match the colour?”

“The illustration was in black and white,” Jason protested. “But the text said that aconites come in all colours – white, pink, purple, yellow – and that blue is the most common. So I brought up the blue ones.”

“Thank you, Jason. Althea, did you notice anything unusual about the aconites?”

Ariadne’s heart thumped as she saw that Healer Valentine still did not understand the nature of the mistake.

“No. They were just beginning to flower, which is the ideal time to use them. They have to be very fresh, so I taught Mr Borage how to shred them and to make the infusion.” Healer Valentine drew her brows together. “Really, he only watched. I did the work myself.”

“Slaíne, what were you doing all this time?”

“Nothing!” interrupted Healer Valentine. “That is to say… Madam O’Keeffe was attending to patients in the Dai Llewellyn Ward. She hasn’t ever assisted with brewing the Wolfsbane Potion; she only distributes the doses.”

Madam O’Keeffe was nodding. Healer Smethwyck quietly laid down his clipboard. “Slaíne and Jason, you may take a tea break. But please understand that I don’t want you to mention any of this to anyone. All queries are to be referred to me.”

Madam O’Keeffe and Mr Borage still looked bewildered, but they agreed and stood up to leave. Healer Valentine also looked bewildered as she glanced from Ariadne to Healer Smethwyck. But the Healer-in-Charge looked quite unconfused. As the door closed behind the Medistaff, he commanded, “Accio, Spore!” A huge book sailed off an upper shelf and into his hands. He laid it on the table and opened it towards the beginning. Ariadne leaned in, and saw a perfect black-and-white line drawing of a flowering monkshood.

“‘Aconite.’” Healer Valentine hardly realised that she was reading out loud. “‘Also known as blue rocket, friar’s cap, helmet-flower, monkshood, old wife’s hood or wolfsbane. A flowering plant of the Ranunculaceae family. Has dark green palmate leaves; flowers most commonly blue, but can also be purple, pink, white or yellow. A hardy perennial found in damp alpine areas of Europe and Asia, though not native to the British Isles. Highly poisonous, to be avoided.’ And that’s all… Madam Spore has nothing else to say about the plant.”

Ariadne darted a glance at Healer Smethwyck, who was yet calm. He gave no sign that he had solved the puzzle, although Healer Valentine was watching them both questioningly. He took the book back in his hands and said, “You need a tea break too, Althea. But I still have a few things to say to Madam Lupin.”

It was typical that Healer Smethwyck’s first words alone with Ariadne were: “It’s all my fault. It never crossed my mind to check in Spore. She isn’t often wrong.”

Ariadne wondered how she could have taken Phyllida Spore’s One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi to school for seven years without ever noticing such a glaring error. “She’s a British expert. She’s maybe less interested in foreign plants.”

Smethwyck smiled grimly. “Ariadne, it’s safe to say that if Madam Spore was commissioned to write the standard Hogwarts text book, she would have grown her own personal samples of every plant in her compendium. And herbologists have been bringing aconites to Britain since the tenth century. So I hesitate to claim that Phyllida Spore doesn’t know the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane; she doesn’t directly state that they are the same thing. She just writes in a way that leaves the casual reader believing that they would be.”

“And nobody… in all the years that the book has been in print… has noticed?” But Ariadne knew they had not. Aconites were rare in Britain and – until four years ago – they had served no useful purpose. The only kind of person who cared about such fine distinctions as the different species of aconite was the specialist who no longer read school text books.

“So it would seem.” Healer Smethwyck sighed heavily. “Healer Valentine and Mr Borage are simply among the multitudes who have never needed to know the difference. I assumed Healer Valentine was competent to supervise Mr Borage because she had brewed the potion so many times before. I never stopped to think that she had never before brought up the supplies – usually you do that. I certainly assumed that she would double-check anything of which she was unsure.”

Ariadne shared his bitter smile. A check had been made, but the source-book had been misleading. “Now I’m thinking clearly,” she admitted, “aconites were not part of the Hogwarts syllabus when I was at school. I learned about them from my mother.” And Lycaonia Tungsten had died because Ariadne had never thought to discuss the Potion ingredients with Althea Valentine.

“Now I force myself to remember,” agreed Healer Smethwyck, “everything I ever learned about aconites I learned from your grandmother.”

Ariadne wondered for the thousandth time why her grandmother had married Cuthbert Macnair when it was so obvious that she had also had an option on marrying Hippocrates Smethwyck. Such speculations involved hypothesising her own non-existence, as well as that of Mamma, Morag, Severus and Aunt Keindrech. What if the wiping out of all those people nevertheless made no difference to the world, because a happier and longer-lived Grandmamma would in any case have discovered the Wolfsbane Potion?

Healer Smethwyck interrupted her thoughts. “Ariadne. My negligence has caused a death. This is a very serious issue, and we need to contain the damage. First, we need to keep brewing the Wolfsbane Potion. It means the patients will be weakly dosed this month, and we shall have to watch over their Transformations more carefully than usual… but missing the first day of the dosage isn’t as serious as missing the last. Ariadne, I want you to be the one who supervises every aspect of the brewing for the rest of this week. Second, we need to explain to Althea and Slaíne and Jason exactly where the misunderstanding lay and be very certain that they can never make any such mistake again. Third, I’ll need to write a report of this incident, and you’ll all be helping me. Fourth, I must caution all of you to silence. The press has already become too interested in this case, and it’ll be a race against the clock to have any kind of report ready before the Aurors arrive. I want a very firm understanding that I am the only person with whom outsiders may discuss the matter. Ariadne, do I have your solemn word on that?”

His tone frightened her. “Healer, you’ve never tried to extract a promise from me before. Why are you… binding… me now?”

“Because this business hasn’t room for any more interaction of errors. From now on, any mistakes must be made personally by me. So I can’t allow any of you the luxury of independent judgment. Will you give me your word?”

He looked so stern that she murmured, “I will.” It was a very foolish thing to sacrifice her own freedom of conscience, but she had always trusted Healer Smethwyck in the past. So she agreed to play his game.

But she was already aware that her promise would cost somebody dearly.

* * * * * * *

RETURN OF THE HOWLING

by Rita Skeeter

The air was unmistakably filled with canine keening. Low growls gathered pitch, rose in crescendo, and reached the long, slow, climactic screech. The first voice was joined by a second, then a third, and then a cacophony, so disordered that I had no way of counting how many beasts were in the pack.

Was I in the Tundra of Russia or Canada? No, this was the heart of London.

I shivered as I walked through Holborn, although it was one of the warmest nights of the year. Since wolves have been extinct from England for nearly six hundred years, why could I hear them so clearly? Was this some kind of noise simulation for the theatre or a fancy dress party?

Then I saw. A huge pair of yellow eyes was gleaming from a first-floor window of St Mungo’s Hospital. The full moon was shining overhead. By the time the next chorus of howling swelled, I knew that I was hearing werewolves.

Ariadne lowered the newspaper. She had spent the night of the full moon at St Mungo’s monitoring the werewolves, and she knew that they had not howled. They had no need to howl while they were thinking with human minds.

But some journalist had nevertheless noticed that they were there. Somebody, presumably tipped off by Lycaonia’s death, had loitered on Hospital premises to find out whether the Healers would still dare to brew the Wolfsbane Potion after their cover was blown. Or else somebody had merely guessed.

“It becomes worse,” said Remus. He was jiggling Elizabeth on his knee as if she were the only person in his world.

Why have Britain’s werewolves forsaken the forest glades in favour of the anti-septic hospital? Since the Daily Prophet never withholds the important news from its readers, I was soon flying up the stairs of St Mungo’s without a thought for my own welfare, determined to reassure myself that this treatment or research was being conducted in safety.

The blood-curdling howls quickly led me to their source: the bright lights of the Quong Po Ward. The noise was deafening, but one glance around the ward dispelled any lingering hope that it was artificially produced…

“I notice Madam Skeeter does not say how she saw into the ward,” said Ariadne. “Nobody could have entered, not even in an invisibility cloak, and places like St Mungo’s are usually resistant to Transparens charms.” Perhaps the story was fantasy, but the journalist clearly wished to give the impression that she had conducted a full-scale interview.

… for lined up and down the ward were wolves of all colours and sizes. I saw an old red one with broken teeth, a gigantic black shaggy one, a yellow pup who was almost cute. I counted twenty-four in all.

Oh. Ariadne met Remus’s eye.

“She counted. She was somehow knowing… She lied about the howling, but she certainly made some kind of investigation.”

“She lies about Healer Smethwyck, too,” said Remus. “He certainly never spoke to a reporter that night – or to anyone, except the werewolves and his staff.”

“Healer Smethwyck,” I beseeched the person in charge, “how can you invite all these Dark creatures to prowl about among the invalids at St Mungo’s? You aren’t still brewing that illegal werewolf potion, are you?”

The Healer looked embarrassed to be caught out, but he ignored me and carried on giving orders to a Mediwitch.

A wolf near me snarled, saliva dripping unhygienically from his filthy teeth. Was this Fenrir Greyback himself? I didn’t wait to find out. I fled the hospital premises, wondering how anyone would ever again feel safe there.

Ariadne leafed through the pages, too sickened to read any more. It was full of editorial columns and celebrity opinions, but the gist was clear. Healer Smethwyck had been abusing his powers as physician to train werewolves to attack society. He belonged in Azkaban.

And she had promised to keep silent.

Remus stood up to go to work, so Ariadne folded the paper and asked Matthew if he had finished his breakfast. She was in no hurry, as she was not going to work until the afternoon – she rarely worked more than fifteen hours a week unless it was the brewing week. It was Remus who had to appear at work on time, clean-shaven and with briefcase impressively bulging, for Remus’s job was currently insecure.

“I’ve ironed your shirt, dearest,” she said. “Are you wanting a sandwich?”

“No, I’ll eat a school dinner.” He picked the ironed shirt out of the basket and began to button it on. “But I do have to bring in that hamster.” The class hamster had escaped through a hole in its cage last week, and, after catching the renegade rodent, Remus had promised his tearful pupils to repair the cage. He had done so using magic, and now he had to carry it back to school, balanced on top of the newly-marked science projects. Obviously he could not Apparate into a Muggle building and, unlike the Muggle teachers, he did not drive a car.

“You cannot carry the cage all that way,” said Ariadne. “I’ll bring it in for you later this morning.”

He nodded, without protesting that it was too much work for her, which meant that he really was worried about his job. His original contract with Willowgate Primary School had been for only one year. The year had grown into two, and then into three, but the headmaster had no real control over his staffing: he had informed Remus that it would not be possible to renew the contract for next year. With only two weeks of the academic term left to run, Remus was close to unemployment.

After he had gone, Ariadne bathed the children and cleared the breakfast table. She had just begun to wash nappies in Cloacina Solution when the fireplace rattled.

Matthew looked up from his model Hogwarts Express to tell her, “Mummy, Floo!” He took it for granted that she would not notice the arrival of a caller unless he informed her.

Ariadne lifted the heavy bucket into the sink, covered it with a lid, and washed her hands. Green flames were flaring in the hearth, and by the time she was able to pay attention to the visitor, her own mother was stepping out into the living room.

“Mamma, how are you? What’s wrong?”

“Oh, my darling!” Mamma, who was not usually demonstrative, enfolded her in a tight embrace. “My poor, poor sweetheart! If only we’d known… what a terrible, terrible prison for you!”

“Mamma?” Ariadne managed to loose her mother’s hold. “Mamma, it’s all right. I did it with my eyes open, and if I’m arrested… but it’s not happened yet.”

“Hush, everything will be all right now. You will not be arrested, everybody will understand. Is – is he at home?”

The venom with which Mamma referred to Remus alerted Ariadne that they might be talking at cross-purposes. Despite the lurid newspaper report, it was possible that Mamma had forgotten that Ariadne had first discovered the Wolfsbane Potion, and that she was here for a different purpose entirely.

“Remus is at work,” she said. “Mamma, what’s wrong?”

“Those poor wee Muggle bairns!” Mamma almost spat the words. “He would choose that kind of job, would he not? The Muggles will never guess, so he’ll be free to wreak what chaos he might on defenceless innocents!”

“Mamma.” Ariadne struggled to hold her mother at elbow’s length. “I’d prefer that… you’d not speak of my husband like that. He’s very good at his job, and the Muggles are very happy with his work.”

Her mother relinquished her hold, sighed and sat down. “Dear, you’ve been so hugely, hugely brave. But there’s no need to pretend any more. After those sensational pieces in the newspaper, we Flooed dear Severus, to ask him if such a thing as that werewolf potion were possible. He told us everything.”

Ariadne’s stomach turned over, as she realised what Severus might have seen fit to include in “everything”. She picked up Elizabeth and said: “This has to be a great shock to you, Mamma. But it’s all right.”

“But, mo chridhe, how could you endure… that vicious, vicious brute… in your house… living off your money… eating your food… breathing on you… and worse… And you’ve been so brave, so loyal, so determined to protect his mean-spirited interests… we never dreamed. Not until we read the newspaper this morning and decided to ask Severus about it half an hour ago. He told us that our daughter should be knowing the full story. ‘After all, you already know that her husband’s one of them,’ he said. But we were not knowing; that was our first inkling!”

Severus promised Professor Dumbledore that he would not not speak of it. But of course she had never seriously trusted Severus to keep his promise. He had only needed sufficient provocation.

Her disapproval must have shown on her face, for her mother found it necessary to defend her cousin. “Dear, Severus did not do it deliberately; he was most apologetic, and told us that he’d assumed we already knew. It all makes sense now. Those illnesses – so regularly spaced… his inability to hold a job… the simple fact that dear Severus never could stand him… how could we not have realised? I’ve been crying ever since, thinking of how terrible it must have been for you, that first month after you were married… realising that his quaint manners were all for show, and that you were shackled to a Dark creature when you ought to have been yet on your honeymoon…”

“Mamma. You’re not needing to cry any more. You’re maybe surprised, but it’s nowhere near as bad as you were fearing. Remus has an illness, that’s all; and he told me all about it long before he asked me to marry him.”

“Oh, my poor, poor darling!”

Ariadne gave up trying to reason, but she found herself clutching Matthew’s hand as she waited for Mamma to run out of words. Her mother was deaf to everything except the voices in her own head.

“But never mind,” she said, rising. “You can tell me afterwards how he forced you into it. The important thing is, the nightmare is over now. Pack your things, dear, and you can tell us everything after we get the bairns to Kincarden. Your father is looking up the divorce laws. We’re nearly certain that you can divorce a werewolf instantly, without citing reasons. And once we have you home, we’ll block the Floo so that he cannot come looking for you. Would you like me to take the bairns now, and you can follow with the luggage?”

This time an answer was required. Ariadne felt her voice drop several decibels, not troubling to hide the anger that her soft tone betrayed. “Mamma, it’s not as you’re thinking. Remus is not dangerous. He and I are very happy together. Today is a bad day for us to visit Kincarden because I have to work this afternoon. But if you’re wishing to invite us for the weekend, then Remus will be coming too.”

Her mother recoiled. “Dear,” she gasped, “you’re taking this too far! I’m unable to help you if you will not admit to having a problem.”

“We’re wanting no help, Mamma. If… if you’re not wishing to think kindly of Remus, you should maybe leave his house.”

Mamma flushed with more vivid anger than Ariadne had ever seen. She actually looked as if she would like to raise her voice. Instead, of course, she spoke very softly. “To think,” she almost hissed, “that you married that – person – at a time when Claud Greengrass, Mahavir Chandak, George Twilfit, your cousins Linus and Steadfast – even your cousin Severus too – were all still single! Or we could have asked Lucius to help you find a husband. Had you no aspiration to happiness in marriage? Ariadne, you may bring the bairns to visit Kincarden as soon as you’re ready to apologise.”

As Mamma disappeared in a swirl of green fire, Ariadne found herself on the verge of laughter as well as tears. Matchmaking by Cousin Lucius? He had encouraged Lavinia to marry Valerian Crabbe, who had punched her up more than once. He had pressured Lucretia to marry Gordius Goyle, who had already drunk away half her fortune. He had been pleased to have Letitia marry Claud Greengrass, who had had seven adulterous affairs in five years. He had approved of Linus’s choice of Hazel Parkinson, although Hazel spent half her life groaning on the sofa with imaginary illnesses, while Linus devoted such long hours to Quidditch and cards that he was rarely home while their daughters were awake.

As Ariadne began to load Matthew, Elizabeth and the hamster cage into the pram, she found herself laughing again at the reminder of her own good fortune.

* * * * * * *

It was another full week before Hippocrates Smethwyck was arrested, a week in which everything pretended to be normal. Remus looked for a job; Ariadne studied Ancient Runes; when neither of them could be home, the children played at Madam Alma’s Sunny House in Diagon Alley. Ariadne’s parents said no more, but it was a fair surmise that – unlike Severus – they experienced no temptation to broadcast the news of a skeleton in the family closet.

When the arrest was finally made, Madam Skeeter scooped both the headlines and the centrefold of the Daily Prophet.

WOLF-DOCTOR FINALLY RESTRAINED

After many years of brewing the illegal Wolfsbane Potion, Hippocrates Smethwyck has finally fallen under the long arm of the law.

In direct defiance of the Ministry Patents Office, Healer Smethwyck was feeding werewolves a potion that allowed them to keep their human minds despite having Transformed bodies. As many as twenty-four werewolves are thought to have accepted the lethal medicine each month.

“It’s a panacea for werewolves,” said Minister Cornelius Fudge, speaking on behalf of the Ministry of Magic, “but it’s a deadly threat to the rest of us. It’s just inviting the wolves to plan out their attacks.” While there has not yet been a documented case of a werewolf making a deliberate bite under the influence of Wolfsbane Potion, this is sheer luck. “It’s very likely to occur in the future,” warned the Minister.

Healer Smethwyck, 94, was unrepentant. Speaking from his cell at Azkaban, he said, “I’ll tell you everything at my trial, but I won’t say anything without my lawyer present.”

Despite nearly an hour of interrogation, we could not make him understand his duty of exposure to the community. We can only surmise that the poisonous Wolfsbane Potion serves no useful purpose.

One member of Smethwyck’s medical team admitted: “I was only doing my job. I didn’t really understand what Healer Smethwyck was telling us to do.” Jason Borage, 19, a Trainee Mediwizard at St Mungo’s, has not yet abandoned his career ambitions. “I applied for Mediwizard training because I wanted to help people,” he said. “It didn’t occur to me that medicine can also be abused to set monsters loose. I’m less naïve now.”

We wonder how many St Mungo’s staff were involved in this scam, which was costing the wizarding taxpayer an estimated ten thousand Galleons a year.

“There is definitely no need to lose faith in the whole medical profession,” Mr Borage assured us. “There were just the five of us – two Healers, two Medistaff and an apothecary.”

Although your intrepid reporters from the Daily Prophet quickly identified the whole miscreant team, its other members have guiltily closed ranks. Healer Althea Valentine, 49, would not meet our eyes as she insisted, “I have nothing to say about this.” The Mediwitch, Slaíne O’Keeffe, 31, was on leave with her family in Cork. The apothecary, Ariadne Lupin, 23, claimed, “This story is not mine to tell.”

With refreshing frankness, young Mr Borage confided, “Healer Valentine and Madam O’Keeffe are both very nice people, but they keep their working lives professional. They wouldn’t question an order from a senior Healer like Hippocrates Smethwyck. I think Madam Lupin joined the team out of some kind of personal interest. I’m fairly sure she once mentioned that she has a friend who’s a werewolf.”

Mr Borage couldn’t remember the names of the numerous werewolf patients who lined up each month to drink the deadly Wolfsbane brew. However, society beauty Letitia Greengrass was Madam Lupin’s classmate at Hogwarts. (See page 5 of this edition for Mrs Greengrass’s stunning entry to the Ministry St Swithin’s Ball.) She suggested that the werewolf in question might be none other than Auror Kingsley Shacklebolt.

“Ariadne [Lupin] was very close to Shacklebolt,” confirmed Mrs Greengrass, 24, “and he’s very good-looking. At school they denied being a couple, but I did wonder. They certainly went away together on an unsupervised holiday in the summer after sixth year. It’s all clear now. Ariadne couldn’t bring herself to commit to a wild animal, so she married someone else. But she was fond enough of Shacklebolt to fool around with that potion.

“Ariadne has always been soft and impulsive. She wouldn’t have stopped to consider that if Shacklebolt kept an Auror’s mind inside that wolf’s body, it would be ten times easier for him to slaughter all of us.”

//
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