The Sugar Quill
Author: Katinka (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Interwoven, or, The Seamstress and the Lovable Stray  Chapter: Chapter One
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Chapter 1

**

A/N: The following differs somewhat from the original “Interwoven”, which was posted in 2002. That story was my first fanfic – definitely a “learning curve” experience. As time went on, I found myself really wanting to revisit it, not so much to change the plot, but to polish up the writing, clarify some character motivations, correct some embarrassing gaffes, and incorporate a few tidbits from OotP. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the thoughtful reviewers and betas who have helped me with this story, both then and now. I hope you enjoy the results!

**

“Now, please turn a fraction to your left…yes, now back a bit to your right…yes…there, there, and there. Done!”

She circled the pedestal one last time, scanning for any loose threads. Locating an errant few, she clipped and tied them with a brisk wand wave. Her customer shifted in impatience, of which she seemed blithely unaware. If he had been more cooperative, they could have had this over and done with thirty minutes ago. But unfortunately for the manager of Gladrags Wizardwear in Hogsmeade, the more time she spent currying favour with Draco Malfoy, the better her purposes would ultimately be served. Drat.

“You’ve made an excellent choice, Mr. Malfoy,” she said cheerily, eying the hem of the fine black robes. “The sheen of this fabric is unparalleled, and I dare say the young witches of Hogwarts will find them rather pleasant, too.”

The young man looked down at her, annoyance in his pale eyes. “I didn’t ask your opinion,” he snapped.

“Of course, Mr. Malfoy. My apologies,” she replied evenly, removing the robes from his shoulders and turning to place them in the embossed Gladrags box that hovered behind her. Draco had already made it quite clear that he preferred Madam Malkin’s workmanship and was only patronizing her shop out of absolute necessity. Yet despite his rudeness, she noticed that he did look about the shop to gauge whether other patrons had noticed the compliment from a pretty witch twice his age.

After conjuring up a length of glossy gold cord, which twirled in mid-air to tie the parcel shut, she turned to the young man once more.

“May I ask, Mr. Malfoy, why you and your associates – ” she glanced at the bulky figures of Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle, who were edging each other for space on a nearby chaise lounge, “ – are in Hogsmeade today? I understood the students wouldn’t be visiting until later this month.”

Draco puffed his chest out slightly, the corners of his thin mouth twisting into a delighted sneer. “It’s not a Hogsmeade weekend for every student. I received special permission from Professor Snape to come, as I had personal affairs to see to in town.” He looked down at his robes, then over to a pile of parcels waiting near Crabbe and Goyle. “Potter and his mangy lot are probably sitting back at the school, wondering what to do with their pathetic lives,” he added under his breath. “This will show Krum who’s worth keeping company with at Hogwarts.”

She raised her eyebrows, nodding her head as if to acknowledge the great goodness of Professor Snape, yet wondering all the while if a swift elbow would be sufficient to knock Draco off the pedestal. Stifling the urge, she concluded that the pedestal was probably not high to do any significant damage.

This will not do…patience, patience. You may have to deal with his father someday.

To distract herself from the unpleasantness of Draco’s company, she gathered up the entirety of his Gladrags purchases and began to carry them to the front counter. He had frequented the shop a few times during the previous school year, but had always been helped by another assistant. Today, he had requested – no, demanded – that the head seamstress accommodate him.

“I’ll just place these aside, shall I? Please allow me a moment to make a note of your measurements.”

Draco shrugged, not even looking at her.

When she returned, he was still standing on the pedestal, appraising his reflection in the floor-to-ceiling mirror. When he finished preening his sleek, silver-blond hair, she spoke again.

“If I may, Mr. Malfoy, I’d like to show you a new selection of clasps we’ve just received from our Paris shop.” She paused slightly, before continuing on. “They’re not kept in the general display case, but in the back showroom that we reserve for our finer clientele.” She placing a delicate, yet deliberate emphasis on the final words.

Draco certainly seemed interested now. He looked back at his companions, who seemed to be engrossed in their shoelaces. “Crabbe. Goyle. Wait.”

He stepped off the pedestal and passed through the black curtain that she drew aside. Crabbe and Goyle grunted in unison, and then shifted their eyes to gawp at the photos of Gladrags spokeswitches that decorated the shop walls. Celestina Warbeck did not seem to appreciate the attention, as she quickly darted behind her gleaming frame.

Entering the back showroom, she pulled a burnished wood box down from a shelf and opened it on the table before her. Draco leaned greedily over the display. Nestled in the box’s rich, velvet interior were several ornate robe clasps, each obviously very expensive. She took in his reaction with discreet interest.

He looks as though he’s in Honeydukes, buying the sweets the other students can’t afford, yet which he doesn’t even really want.

Draco fingers ran over the clasps. He paused over an elegant platinum piece formed into the monogram “W.”

“No need for that initial,” he murmured. “I’ll be a Hufflepuff the day that ratty, overgrown, Muggle-loving family manages to have more than two Galleons to its name.”

Her previous urge to elbow him had passed, but it resurfaced again in a desire to kick him in the shin. She had been a member of Hufflepuff House many years ago. And she was quite fond of Arthur and Molly Weasley’s family, no doubt the intended recipient of his slight. Still, she continued to smile pleasantly, her expression unruffled. She contented herself instead by imagining the box crashing shut on the pale fingers that were now fingering a silver serpent. The creature’s diamond eyes glinted as Draco turned the clasp back and forth in the lamplight.

“That piece is magnificently cast, is it not?” she noted. “Several of our distinguished families have purchased this artisan’s work. His clasps make wonderful heirlooms for those who honor Slytherin house. The purity of the silver accounts for their beauty and value.”

Draco apparently agreed, as he set the serpent aside. He scanned the display again, choosing an emerald-studded letter “M.” She repented briefly of her previous violent impulses when he selected a beautifully carved mother-of-pearl piece, presumably for his mother.

If his gaze softened while choosing the final clasp, it soon returned to its usual state of overall disdain. “That will be all. You may prepare my bill.”

How very kind of you, Master Malfoy.

Her eyebrows rose slightly at Draco’s condescension, but she nodded her head and closed the box, all without bodily harm to her customer. Without another word, she followed him back through the curtain and into the main showroom again.

After wrapping the clasps in velvet squares and placing them in individual polished cases (across which the words “Compliments of Gladrags Wizardwear” scrolled in continuous gold script), she procured a narrow piece of parchment and a peacock quill from under the counter and began to tally his bill.

The total ended up to be quite a tidy sum with the clasps, yet Draco did not seem to notice. Nor did his moneybag seem much lighter after he tossed (You might have just handed them to me, Draco!) a good number of gold Galleons onto the counter. After stooping to retrieve two coins that had rolled onto the floor, she handed Draco his change.

“Keep it,” he said shortly. “I don’t bother with Sickles and Knuts.”

She willed herself to beam at his pale, angular face, acknowledging his magnanimity. “Enjoy your purchases, Mr. Malfoy, and please visit us again.”

Draco looked up from his moneybag and met her eye.

“I may.”

Moving across the showroom and shoving the door aside, he strode out of Gladrags. The door swung briskly shut behind him, rattling a small brass plaque that read, “Abigail Loomis, General Manager.” After only two steps he stopped, swore in exasperation, and rapped sharply on the windowpane. Abby ducked her head to stifle a giggle.

Crabbe and Goyle had missed their cue to leave, having been engrossed in a photograph of Quidditch star Meaghan McCormack (or her foot, rather – all that she had allowed them to see). Knocking heads more than once, they hurriedly gathered Draco’s parcels and lumbered from the showroom, their arms laden with the day’s shopping.

Abby watched the odd trio head down the High Street and leave her view before she dared a breath of mixed frustration and relief. She had dealt with all sorts of customers over the last eighteen years, and she usually managed to present a good-natured face, but Draco Malfoy certainly did test one’s patience. She must keep herself in better check, she thought – one day soon, she hoped to meet the elder Mr. Malfoy.

Yes, dear Draco, do come again. And please, tell your father about the properly deferential Gladrags witch and her appreciation for pureblood lineage.

**

The late October evening had a brisk chill. Abby pulled her wrap more tightly about her shoulders and quickened her steps. She had just locked up the shop, and she relished the thought of a warm butterbeer before the walk home. Besides that, she had been so occupied with the fall merchandise displays that she had not had a proper moment to speak with Madam Rosmerta for weeks. The crowd that had descended on Hogsmeade for the Triwizard Tournament was keeping all shopkeepers busier than usual. Raucous laughter from inside The Three Broomsticks told her Rosmerta might well be occupied tonight, but she thought she would try all the same.

Abby slipped through the pub door and wove her way through the boisterous crowd to the end of the bar. Gathering up the skirts of her well-made burgundy robes, she lit on a barstool and watched with admiration as her friend went about her duties. With seeming ease, Rosmerta was managing to see to seven full, levitating tankards and one noticeably soused bloke, whom she nudged out the pub door with a burst of red wand sparks. Rosmerta caught Abby’s eye and winked merrily. After delivering the tankards, she made her way down to Abby.

“All right there, Miss Loomis? A butterbeer for you tonight?”

“Yes, please. I had one of those sorts of days today.” She laughed, pausing to look around at the crowd that Rosmerta dealt with daily. “I’m sure there’s not much reason for you to commiserate with me, though.”

Rosmerta smiled, giving her left earring an absentminded tug. Abby nodded imperceptibly, taking in the signal.

My fire – nine tonight.

She laughed again, twisting the gold bracelet on her left wrist. “Well, we do what we can, don’t we? The joys of business…”

Rosmerta chuckled and placed an open, froth-topped bottle before Abby. “Drink up, dear – you’ve got another day of it tomorrow. I’ll send something home with you from the kitchen.” She swished off, gaily humming a wizard folksong while levitating a madly spinning bottle of Ogden’s Old Firewhisky in the air above her.

Abby was truly enjoying her butterbeer when a loutish voice from a nearby table interrupted what little reverie she could find in the pub.

“You gents see that Gladrags witch over there? There, at th’end of the bar? Reckon she’d like a bit o’ company?”

Bugger. Not again.

The speaker pushed back his chair and swaggered over from his table – whether the swagger came from bravado or inebriation, she could not tell – and perched himself on the neighboring stool.

“Evenin’, miss!” he greeted her. She smiled wanly in return, belied only by her tight clutch on the bottle of butterbeer.

“Not the chatty type, are yeh? S’okay, miss.” He leaned in closer, the stench of his breath making her stomach turn. Definitely inebriation. He grinned back at his companions. “Maybe we can have us a talk, you and me, ‘bout some alterations I'll be needin’…”

Abby kept her face impassive, but inwardly, she seethed with anger and revulsion. This had happened before, more times than she cared to count.

I’ll help you in the shop, but I’m not bloody well about to cater to any other need you might have, you nasty –

Biting her tongue, she kept her gaze on her drink and found herself desperately wanting, for the second time today, to injure another person. She might have to settle for a vicious Pinprick Hex. It started to become a losing battle, and she sighed in relief when the bright red silk of Rosmerta’s robes came into view again.

“Might I suggest you leave the lady be, Lawson? She’s a valued customer, unlike yourself, and I’d like her to enjoy her drink in peace. All right now, off with you…” Rosmerta fixed her gaze on the offender and smiled broadly, her gold bracelets rattling as she made slight shooing motions with her hand. Lawson, struck dumb by the undiluted effect of the landlady’s charms, managed a lop-sided grin before he turned around and staggered back to his rowdy chums. Rosmerta watched his retreat with amusement.

“’Tis sad, all that a woman can do just by smiling at the poor chaps,” she said. “He shouldn’t bother you anymore, dearie. He’d better not, not unless he fancies a drop of Loo-Lingering Liquid in his next drink.”

Abby swallowed quickly, to avoid spraying Rosmerta’s clean counter with a mouthful of butterbeer. She lifted an eyebrow.

“Sorry?”

Rosmerta’s bright eyes twinkled. “Trust me, you’d rather not know. It’s something those Weasley lads brought by.”

Ah yes, the Weasley twins. Abby snickered. She had never known their brother Percy well, but Bill and Charlie had come by Gladrags often enough during their Hogwarts days. Even their antics, impressive as they had been, paled next to the sheer magnitude of misbehavior generated by Fred and George. The twins had even owled her earlier in the week, asking if she knew how to make robes fire-repellent. She did, but felt certain that the Hogwarts faculty would not care for the boys to possess that information.

Rosmerta continued talking, her eyes scanning The Three Broomsticks’ many booths and tables for empty glasses. “It looks rather nasty, but it does wonders for ridding the room of the belligerent ones…” Her voice trailed off as a booming growl from across the room called for several more pints of mulled mead.

Abby gave an appreciative nod, and the landlady left once more. Rosmerta had been a good friend over the years, and moreover, she had passed on a few tricks any woman working in trade ought to know – ways of charming customers with wide-eyed, attentive smiles; methods of gleaning information from the slightest clues in speech, manner and appearance; and yes, modes of inflicting revenge (mostly harmless revenge, of course) on the occasional difficult customer.

Downing the last of her butterbeer, Abby chuckled as she recalled the Waistline Charm she had once placed on Gilderoy Lockhart’s beloved lilac robes. After a particularly long fitting and its accompanying prattle, her nerves had frayed. Apparently her robemaking, while very fine, could not compare to the exquisite tailoring he had learned “after rescuing the Clothier of Copenhagen from certain death”.

Lockhart had left the shop none the wiser, but from that day on, his robes began to shrink half a centimetre with each self-serving remark he made. The effects had been quite amusing, until Abby realized that the charm only sent him back to Gladrags for more alterations. Between the weekly visits and frequent demands for color consultations, Abby was amazed that she made it through the school year with her sanity intact.

Er…perhaps that’s not the best choice of words.

Poor Gilderoy. At least the hospital gowns at St. Mungo’s were tolerable – available in several hues, they sported a rather spiffing Closure Charm at the back.

Bursts of raucous laughter broke through Abby’s train of thought. The crowd was still particularly lively, and she did not want to chance another scene. She swiveled on her stool to leave and glanced back at Lawson’s table, where his drinking partners were thumping him on the back. Their slurred words carried back to her easily.

“You don’t want a bit of stuff like her anyway, mate. Heard she couldn’t even pass them O.W.L.s up at Hogwarts…”

Her eyes hardened as she continued her exit.

Well, you’re right there, mate. I didn’t pass my O.W.L.s, but only because Albus Dumbledore asked me not to.

Abby paused in the doorway and gave a small wave goodbye to Madam Rosmerta, who levitated over a packet of food in return. Clutching her wrap once more, Abby stepped out of the pub and continued her walk home, deep in thought.

**

Abigail Loomis had been a happy Hufflepuff in her Hogwarts days. A hapless Hufflepuff, if you were to ask a Slytherin, but no matter. Despite the implications, she loved her house and all it stood for. Her childhood home had always been full of books and learning, and she had eagerly awaited the day when she could attend Hogwarts and study magic in its fullest.

A deep, hidden corner of her mind always feared what Headmaster Dumbledore might say in the conversation that she knew would someday come. Snippets of overheard conversations between her parents and grandmother made it quite clear that Dumbledore knew more about her family than even most of their closest acquaintances. But she had always suppressed the increasing worry, even throughout most of her fifth year, when letters from her mother had become less and less frequent. So many things begged her to stay in the present, rather than fret about the future. Right now, she had her studies, her friendships…and Will, the first tender, all-consuming love of a fifteen year-old girl.

A fellow Hufflepuff, William Lowby had been in her life since her first year. She had seen his brown hair and shy smile over countless Potions cauldrons, study tables, and dinners in the Great Hall. And while she had never given him much of a second thought, she and most all other female Hufflepuffs certainly noticed when Will returned from the holidays after fourth year looking much, much differently. His shoulders were broader, his voice was deeper… Occasionally, Abby saw his still-shy glance in her direction, and she desperately wished that she might look much, much differently to him, too.

One evening, about a month into the school year, Will had approached her near the common room fire. A button had come off his Quidditch robes, he explained, and he wondered if she might be able to sew it back in place. He had tried himself, he said, but with little luck.

Abby’s first thought had been to ask Will if he knew about the mending station that the house-elves ran in a room to the left of the castle laundry. But then, as he sat beside her on the sofa, she decided that she did not care to disclose that particular piece of information just yet. When he gave her the robes, touching her hand for two and a half seconds longer than necessary, she decided the house-elves could run for Muggle Parliament for all she cared.

As they were in the same house and year, Abby and Will already shared many classes together. After a certain post-Quidditch match celebration (Hufflepuff had beat Slytherin, a rare and momentous occasion), they also shared visits to Hogsmeade, Sunday afternoon walks around the lake, and furtive kisses in the quiet of Hufflepuff Turret.

That setting had offered a beautiful view of the forest, but the décor was sparse and the stone walls held little heat. Fortunately, Abby excelled at Cushioning Charms, and Will had a talent for, erm, Heating Spells. With a myriad of other, more comfortable rooms to choose from, few other students sought out the turret.

Abby remembered well the giddy feeling of tapping six times the stone head of “Helga”. The statue of the house’s badger mascot would slide aside, allowing her and Will to slip past and climb the narrow stairs leading to their haunt. There in the stillness, Will would tell her of his hopes and plans for the future. He wanted to work in the top levels of the Ministry of Magic, and he was willing to work hard toward that end. Although he never said so implicitly, he wanted Abby with him. The both of them understood that much.

On too many occasions, Abby had come very close to telling Will her own most deeply guarded secret. Mum and Grandmother had never explicitly told her not to tell anyone, but their images and voices always halted her lips before she spoke the words –

“Will, have you ever seen an Invisibility Cloak?”

In April of that school year, Professor Sprout kept Abby back after a Friday Herbology lesson to inform her that Professor Dumbledore wished to see her. She provided a map to the headmaster’s office, hastily drawn on a Grozupp Foliage Food bag, and advised Abby not to inquire further about the password of “Noxious Nougat.”

Abby remembered well the shaking of her hands as she knocked on Dumbledore’s door. He had rarely spoken to her during her five years at Hogwarts, but the occasional direct look the headmaster gave her in the Great Hall conveyed more than words might. He knew what she was meant to do in the wizarding world, and he meant to prepare her for it. And while Abby was not exactly certain of the words he would say now, the pit of her stomach felt very certain of what those words would concern.

Dumbledore had been alone in his office, reclining behind an ancient wooden desk. His half-moon spectacles glinted in the firelight, and in his mouth was what looked to be, Abby noted with mild disgust, an eagle feather quill. She had toyed with quill nibbling as a youngster, but a colleague of her father’s had put a quick end to that habit by Transfiguring the quill into a live, squawking chicken the moment the it had entered her mouth.

Dumbledore rose to his feet as she entered the room, and beckoned her to be seated in the brocade armchair across from him.

“You wished to see me, sir?” she asked. Her timid voice seemed to echo throughout the space.

“Ah yes, I did, Miss Loomis.” The quill, still lingering in his mouth, muffled his words. He smiled and held out a similar quill to Abby, which she accepted quizzically.

“Please, do give it a try,” Dumbledore urged. “The Sookers were kind enough to send a large box up. It might have been larger, but I shall not complain.”

Abby’s brow furrowed in mild confusion. The only Sookers of whom she knew of ran the Honeydukes Sweetshop. Perhaps the quills were a “thank you” for the business Dumbledore gave them by way of allowing Hogsmeade visits. He was the headmaster, after all, and writing implements would be a fitting gift.

Well, one can always use another quill, I suppose.

Pulling parchment and ink from her bag, Abby readied her hand to test the quill. She wondered if she had misinterpreted his reasons for meeting. Surely Dumbledore was not interested in her penmanship, but his methods never really had been what one might call conventional. After an incident at the last Christmas dinner, in which he reputedly led the group in something called “the limbo”, a few cheeky seventh years even began referring to him as a “barmy old codger”.

Dumbledore chuckled gently. He reached across the desk to stop her at the precise moment when the nib would have met ink. “This is a sugar quill, my dear – meant to be eaten. They are Rose Sooker’s latest concoction, and quite a delightful one, at that.”

Flushing with embarrassment, Abby turned her head and focused her attention on the tapestries hanging from the room’s circular walls. They were beautifully constructed, she could not help but notice, and seemed rather familiar.

Glancing back, she saw that the headmaster was watching her expectantly. She felt a bit silly, but his words had not been patronizing. After hesitating for a moment, she touched the tip of the quill to her tongue and tasted at once the strong flavour of blackberry syrup. It seemed to coat her entire mouth in seconds. Delighted, she met Dumbledore’s eye with a bashful smile.

“Tasty, are they not? And they come with none of the dreadful guesswork that accompany other sweets,” he said. “I find myself rather partial to the banana flavour.”

A moment passed while they sat quietly, savouring their quills. At length, Dumbledore spoke.

“Is there anything that might set you apart from other students here at Hogwarts, Miss Loomis? Any ability, any skill in your family line?” he queried softly.

His question caused Abby to let out a small gasp. Perhaps he really did not know. She did have a knack with needle and thread, but that might not necessarily mean much. There might be a chance. Perhaps she could dissuade him. Dumbledore sat silently, awaiting her answer.

“Well, my mum is…well, she’s a Weaver,” Abby began. It seemed so strange to say the words out loud. “She makes Invisibility Cloaks. My grandmother and her mum were also Weavers, I know.” The next words tumbled out in an unconvincing rush. “I might be really awful at it, though. I might not even have the gift at all. I’ve only had a few summer holidays’ worth of training.”

The headmaster leaned forward, resting the legs of his chair on the floor. He peered at Abby over his gleaming spectacles. His gaze was kind, but his voice was frank. “Miss Loomis, you and I both know that you are a Weaver…one of the last we have in England, as a matter of fact.”

Abby stared at her shoes, ashamed. She had not meant to be fully duplicitous with the headmaster; she was just fifteen and a little scared of whatever he might ask of her.

At this point, Dumbledore’s face took on an uncharacteristically somber cast. “Miss Loomis, I must ask also you if you have noticed any changes recently in your mother.”

“My mother?” The question startled her, and her mind began to race. Well yes, her mum had acted a bit odd over the Christmas holidays. Absentminded, perhaps a little distant. But it had been a busy time, and she had been preoccupied. She was preparing for the finishing of an Invisibility Cloak, one destined for Alastor Moody, the aforementioned Ministry chum of Abby’s father. She had been working on that cloak for as long as Abby could remember.

“She hasn’t written me much lately, but I know she’s had things to do. She’s not unwell, is she?” Abby asked.

Lightly stroking the length of his beard, Dumbledore continued his concentrated gaze.

“Have your Muggle Studies courses acquainted you with a medical condition known as ‘Alzheimer’s Disease’?”

“Well, yes…we covered diseases last term. I believe it’s called Hesternus Syndrome among wizards. Sir? Why – why do you ask? Oh…” Abby fell silent as the unwelcome realization sunk upon her. Her mind and heart had been suppressing this very possibility for months, and she was no more willing to acknowledge it now. Yet here, in Albus Dumbledore’s office, she knew that she had no choice.

“Your father did not wish to burden you with this hardship quite yet,” Dumbledore went on. “He wished for you to happily enjoy your studies and friends here at Hogwarts. Your mother was able to finish her last cloak, but the disease set upon her rapidly and her mind now lives primarily in the past, child. Your father plans to hire a carewitch to help see to her at home, yet the possibility exists that in time, she may need to relocate to St. Mungo’s Hesternus Research Facility.”

Abby kept her head bowed and tried to control the shaking of her shoulders. She could not meet Dumbledore’s eye, and so she focused instead at the moist spots gathering on her robes and the brocade arm of her chair.

Not Mum, not Mum…

The refrain circled over and over in her head, even while her mind told her it was true. The headmaster’s voice remained calm, but it carried an undercurrent of intensity as he continued speaking.

“Alas, Abigail, you know the world in which we now live. Voldemort gathers allies daily in his quest to ‘purify’” – he said that word with the most harshness Abby had ever heard from his mouth – “the wizarding people. He has made several attempts in recent years to discern the identities of our Weavers, as he would like to exploit any good and noble skill to further his purposes. He has already threatened the Demiguise population – imagine the result if Invisibility Cloaks were made available to his Death Eater followers.”

“Sir,” Abby said, her voice quavering as she finally raised her head, “Sir, surely he doesn’t know about my mother. Nothing has ever happened to my family. We live outside the city, in a quiet area. We – we keep chickens.” Her eyes implored him for one last hope.

The headmaster gave a tender half-smile. “Miss Loomis, is Alastor Moody not a friend of your father’s? Is he not often in your home?”

Tears spilled onto her cheeks as she bobbed her head. Dumbledore fixed his eyes on her.

“What is his profession, dear?”

“He’s an Auror,” she whispered.

“Yes, he is,” Dumbledore replied pointedly. “One of our best. There are reasons other than friendship that keep him close to your family.”

Abby stared at the tapestries again as the enormity of this newfound knowledge overtook her. Tears stung her eyes, and her heart thudded dully until she dared to turn and face the headmaster once more. His face softened, and Abby thought for a moment that not only his glasses were gleaming.

“I have something to ask of you, Miss Loomis,” he said. “Something difficult, I must say, but I believe that the ruse will keep you and your magical calling safe from harm. Have you visited the Gladrags Wizardwear establishment on your trips to Hogsmeade?”

She nodded her head slowly. Of course, any fifth-year girl would have been to Gladrags.

“Madame Bussell, a great friend, has agreed to take you on as an apprentice. You will work there during the day, spending your remaining hours developing your skills as a Weaver. Unfortunately, you will not have the benefits of your mother’s instruction or any written materials. The ancient originators of this magic, in some flight of fancy, decided that any written descriptions of the cloak making would become invisible themselves. In such a way, their Weaver secrets could not be corrupted or exploited. A bit of ingenious thinking, yes, but rather inconvenient for you.”

Her mouth began to parch as she breathed in and out, her eyes hurting too badly to focus. Was he asking her to leave Hogwarts? To work at Gladrags?

“Professor Dumbledore? What about – How will I – My studies, sir?” she asked.

“My dear, I think you will find that the greater lessons of life are not always learned at Hogwarts. I shall arrange for advanced study materials to be sent to you on a regular basis, but I am afraid our Hogwarts staff will not be able to assist you much beyond that. You will be largely responsible for your own learning. I have no worries on this point, however. There was a reason you were made a Hufflepuff, Miss Loomis.”

“But…” she faltered, unable to continue. Dumbledore spoke instead, answering her silent question.

“Mr. Lowby is a fine young man, Miss Loomis. I fear, though, that he is not ready to understand the demands – and yes, the sacrifices – your gift may require. The time will come when he, too, may be ready for this knowledge. He will finish his own education in only a few short years. Until then, I must ask you to wait.”

A distinct numbness settled over Abby. Finally, she voiced the only articulate thought she could gather:

“Sir, am I expelled?”

He shook his head softly, his long, white beard swaying back and forth, and let out a heavy sigh.

“You must understand that I cannot compel you in this matter, my dear. I will, however, ask it of you all the same.” Dumbledore paused. “Are you familiar with a certain tree on the Hogwarts grounds by the name of the ‘Whomping Willow’?”

**

And so it happened. After her tears had tapered off, Dumbledore explained his plan for Abby’s departure from Hogwarts. Close and dangerous encounters between students and the Whomping Willow were becoming more commonplace; another “accident” would come as no surprise. (Abby wanted to ask why he did not just magically relocate the tree to, oh, Finland, but she did not dare.) The headmaster allowed her a few days’ time to think, but her father was too distraught to offer much additional guidance, and in the end, seeing little alternative, she consented to Dumbledore’s proposal.

It was her O.W.L.s preparation parchments that would blow away one windy day and entangle themselves in the Willow’s lower branches. Abby rushed to the tree – without thinking, apparently – and scrambled to retrieve her papers. A study mate, Davey Gudgeon, was rushing to her aid when a particularly brutal limb struck them both. Davey would have lost his eye, had it not been for the enchantments Dumbledore had placed on the tree the day before. Abby ended up with only a mild headache, but guilt over Davey’s injury and the pain in her own heart helped her feign a much worse affliction.

At first she complained of headaches, then of trouble in concentrating, then of the inability to cast what had once been simple spells. By the time the O.W.L.s approached, rumours that the head blow had left Abby permanently addled were in full force. Exam results were not customarily released until after the fifth years had left for the summer holidays, but after a few carefully placed words with some loose-lipped students, all of Hogwarts soon knew of her predicament. Abigail Loomis had not received passing marks on her O.W.L.s, and she would not be coming back.

Will had been so tender and caring after the accident, yet when she became increasingly sullen and uncommunicative, he had not quite known what to do. The gossip escalated, acting like a weed pushing its way between two cobblestones. By the time the carriages arrived to take the students to Hogsmeade Station, Abby knew she had little right to ask if Will would still visit her over the holidays. He kept his lanky form angled towards the window for the duration of the ride, offering no conversation except for a few halfhearted comments about the weather and the state of the road. Finally, on the platform, she swallowed her scant remaining pride and asked.

For a moment, a trace of the sweet, funny boy whom Abby loved flickered across Will’s face. But then he looked at his feet, explaining that his cousin Patrick had asked him for a visit. They had already made numerous plans, and he did not know if he would have time left for anything else. Abby looked at her own feet, trying to choke back the sob in her throat. Will then gave her hand a fleeting touch, but by the time she had lifted her head, he was gone.

Abby had hoped that he only needed to time and space in which to sort things out, and that at the end of his stay with the McKinnons, they might have a chance to talk. Perhaps Dumbledore would even let her confide in Will as soon as that. In the end, she never got the chance to ask. The Death Eater attack on the McKinnon farm was in the papers before she even had time to send an owl. Years later, Abby felt an odd sense of gratitude that Dumbledore had asked to leave Hogwarts when she did. She doubted that she would have wanted to return anyway; even now, the sight of her and Will’s old haunts caused her a heart a sad, dull pang.

The Hogsmeade villagers had already known of her tragedies by the time she arrived in town. In awkward sympathy, most people skirted around her with delicate silence, creating an unforeseen blessing – Abby had been able to settle into her new surroundings and occupation with little interruption or interrogation. She heard the whispers, of course, but at that point, even the thoughtless gossip could not cut through the depth of her hurt.

Though they never fully departed, the feelings had ebbed in time, and Abby began to find interest in life again. And although progress in her self-directed Weaver training had been slow in the beginning, she did have thrilling moments in which real breakthroughs were made. An Invisibility Cloak took fifteen to twenty years to make, her mother had told her, and that far-off goal helped Abby to detach herself from her present heartbreak.

Taffeta Bussell had been a kind friend and mentor. While not a Weaver herself, she had knowledge of and respect for the practice. When she retired five years ago to breed enchanted silkworms, she entrusted the running of Gladrags to Abby. Madam Rosmerta, as Dumbledore’s chief Hogsmeade intelligence liaison, had also become a confidante. Abby often imagined how the pub patrons would fall off their barstools if they had an inkling of the secrets that Rosmerta kept.

Abby herself still wondered if Walter and Rose Sooker, the proprietors of Honeydukes, were part of Dumbledore’s network. She had seen the countless stacks of edible candy boxes in his office. There was no use asking Rosmerta on that point, however. She always met alone with Abby and never discussed any other meetings, which was just as it should be. As far the rest of Hogsmeade knew, Abigail Loomis was no more than a pleasant witch, if not a slightly dim one, who wielded a good needle. (She also had to concede that Dumbledore was just as likely doing product testing for Honeydukes.)

A gust of chilling wind then brought Abby back to the present, causing a violent shiver. She cursed herself for not bringing her winter cloak, but it would only be a minute or two before she reached the end of the High Street and entered the lane that ended at her small cottage. As she increased her pace, she started at the abrupt sight of a large black something crouching in the space that separated her home from that of her neighbors, the Boormans. A fearful moment passed as Abby peered sharply into the darkness.

Oh, it’s only that dog.

She had seen the shaggy, lumbering beast at play with the Boorman’s children before. Letting out the breath she had been holding, she picked up her feet and arrived shortly at her welcome front door.

**

It was a lovely night, Abby thought as she laid out her things on the stone bench and set into dinner. She found herself particularly thankful for the No-Chill Charm Dumbledore had placed on her back garden at the end of last year, in gratitude for her Christmas gift. A few words, and the blustery October cold gave way to pleasant warmth.

He must have really liked those socks.

Abby knew she stood a good chance of mussing up her robes, but she was hungry and Rosmerta’s chicken was quite good. Besides, she had already treated the robes with Stain-Away Solution, a recent collaboration between herself and Madam Malkin. (It was a wonderful discovery, but one they had mutually agreed to keep it under wraps at present, recognizing it could hurt business if made available to the general public.) A copy of the Daily Prophet was spread before her, acting both as reading material and a makeshift tablecloth.

As Abby skimmed the advertisements, a rustling sound drew her eyes away from the paper and to the garden’s cast-iron gate. As she focused on the black outline, she recognized again the same stray dog. For such a hulking thing, he seemed to have a lovable demeanor. He tolerated the poking and prodding of the Boorman children, no easy feat. Abby wondered if he was cold, despite the thickness of his coat.

“Hullo there!” she called out. “I do see you, you know.”

The dog moved from vision, but the sound of his low breathing gave away his presence.

With a quick wand wave, Abby magicked the gate completely open.

“Here, would you like some chicken? By way of introduction and such.”

The dog padded tentatively into the garden, looking around in animal confusion as he took in the temperature change.

“It’s nice isn’t it? Find yourself some knitting needles and a nice Scottish wool, and Professor Dumbledore might cast an enchantment on your coat, as well.”

The dog advanced further, and Abby laughed as he seemed to peer over the low wall into the Boorman’s garden. “You’re not worried that those horrid children will see you here and drag you back home, are you?” she asked. “Don’t worry, they can’t see in. Dumbledore took care of that, too.”

The dog wagged his tail happily. Abby placed a chicken wing on the ground before him, which he bit into with unfeigned enthusiasm.

“Now, do you have a name? An owner?” She looked around the dog’s neck as best she could, but she could not discern a collar in the dense mat of fur.

“Right, then – I shall have to name you. Let me think…how about Spot?” The dog growled playfully, wagging his tail. “Rover? No? Let me try something more interesting.” She looked upwards. “Hmmm…Midnight? Comet?”

He growled again, causing her to laugh.

“That’s fine, boy. I gather you’d like a name of greater depth and sophistication. Well, I can’t fault you there. Let me have another try at it – my marks in Astronomy weren’t all that bad…”

She cocked her head and looked upwards once more.

“Perseus? Orion?”

Her eyes alit on a certain patch of the night sky.

“Sir – ” she began, her gaze on Canis Major and one star in particular. Her mind inadvertently drew up the image of a tall, confident boy she had once watched at Hogwarts. She did not notice that the dog had ceased growling and was staying motionless at her feet.

“No, that name’s been taken, I’m afraid.” She blinked her eyes rapidly, pulling herself out of her wandering thoughts. A name, a name. The memory of her childhood Puffskein came suddenly to mind.

“Snuffles?” she then proposed, giggling. The dog snorted, as if in laughter, covering Abby’s shoes with a good amount of drool. Her Puffskein had done that on occasion, too – perhaps this was a sign.

“Decided, then – Snuffles it is!” she cried delightedly. She reached forward her hand, and the dog allowed her to pat his head.

She smiled, remembering her former pet. “I certainly hope you don’t share any more Puffskein habits, or I may have to end this acquaintance right now.”

The dog wagged his tail again and gave a longing whine, looking at the chicken.

“You are direct, I’ll give you that.” She tore off a chicken leg. “Here you are, Snuffles.”

The pair sat for a space of time, enjoying the warmth and the chicken, until Abby interrupted the silence with a sharp gasp. Her eyes darted to her watch. Rosmerta would be in her fire in two minutes for a debriefing. Without another word to the canine in her company, she snatched her wand from the bench and turned to leave, managing to stub her toe soundly in the process. The dog stared as Abby hopped and howled her way back to the cottage.

When she returned later to retrieve her things, her newspaper and the rest of the chicken were gone.

**

A/N: Say “Sooker, Rose” ten times quickly. ;)

Will Lowby was originally intended to be much less nice to Abby after her accident, hence his name (think Jane Austen). But then he spoke up and told me that he really was a decent fellow, thank you very much. He was just confused.

My sincere appreciation goes to Catherine for her encouragement, to Lallybroch for her initial guidance, and to Alanna Granger for her numerous insights. I’m also very grateful to Arabella and Ciircee for allowing me to reference their ideas of Hufflepuff house from “Before the Beginning” and “To Be Hufflepuff”.

//
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