The Sugar Quill
Author: Silver Phoenix (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Interlude  Chapter: Prologue
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INTERLUDE

by Silver Phoenix

 

Chapter 1: Prologue

 

            Mildred Kent had an affinity for good gossip. In fact, this talent of hers had made her very popular at her weekly Ladies Bridge Club meetings - even more popular than Agatha Christie, who brought homemade sponge cake every week, or Gladys Levine, whose second cousin was dating a famous actress. Mildred’s love for gossip and scandal was the main reason why she enjoyed taking the London Underground to get to and fro. The Tube trains were always rife with the sort of strange people who were perfect subjects for Mildred to gossip about. At last week’s Bridge Club meeting, Mildred had described with relish two piercing-covered teenagers who, while publicly snogging on the Tube in an obscene manner, had gotten caught in each other’s tongue piercings. They hadn’t been able to get loose of each other and an argument about going to the hospital had ensued. It had been rather hilarious, as they had been arguing with their tongues stuck together.

 

            But Mildred had never seen, as far as she could remember, a fellow quite so strangely dressed as the one who had just entered her train now. Several heads swiveled as the man bumbled his way onto the train wearing a top hat, a pair of grey workman’s overalls, and overtop said overalls, a green and blue kilt. Mildred’s practiced eye was drawn to the man’s feet; to her amusement he was wearing pointy-toed, scarlet shoes with large silver buckles, which wouldn’t have looked out of place in the 18th century. Mildred practically clapped with glee. After all, she had thought that she would be hard-pressed to find a story that would top the tongue-tied teenagers. She watched as this bizarre man pulled a pocket watch out of the breast pocket of his overalls, glanced at it, and then clutched the pole nearest to him for dear life as the train gave a great jerk and started moving again.

 

            The advantage of being a quite plain, unmarried woman in your sixties, Mildred reflected, was that no one took any particular notice of you. People were rarely aware of the gaze of an old woman like Mildred, harmless-looking with her floral print blouse and curled grey hair. The bizarre man worriedly glanced around at the other passengers, who looked away quickly, embarrassed to be caught staring. But to Mildred, who was innocently gazing at an old piece of chewing gum stuck to the floor, the kilted man paid no attention. In fact, he seemed completely unaware of Mildred sitting on the hard plastic seats behind him, watching his every move out of the corner of her eye. Little did he know that Mildred’s sharp eyes took in everything, and that her sharper tongue would regale the ladies at the club with every detail of his unusual attire.

 

Finally, the man seemed satisfied that people were no longer paying attention to him. He glanced at his pocket watch one more time, and then tucked it away. Still clutching a pole tightly with one hand, he pulled a folded-up newspaper out of the lime green briefcase he was carrying (it clashed horribly with his kilt), and started reading the paper facing Mildred, with his back to most of the train.

 

            Mildred was disappointed that the man was doing nothing more exciting than reading a newspaper, but craned her neck to read the title of the newspaper anyway: The Daily Prophet. Mildred frowned; she’d never heard the name before. Perhaps he was a foreigner - that could explain the strange attire. Under The Daily Prophet, a headline screamed: Interim Minister Shacklebolt to stand for official election. A photo beneath this headline featured a tall fellow with dark skin, his hand raised to the public.

 

            In the photo, the dark-skinned fellow waved.

 

            Mildred blinked. She took off her glasses, rubbed her eyes, and then put them back on. The man in the kilt had turned over the folded newspaper, and the photo was gone. Mildred almost laughed at her own silliness; the light must have been playing tricks on her eyes. Funny, though, she hadn’t heard of there being an upcoming election. The man in the kilt was probably American, Mildred decided; after all, her niece had gone to the United States on business once and had said that the Americans had horrible fashion sense.

 

The man looked up from his newspaper. He took out his pocket watch again and glanced at it. Then he stared past Mildred and out the window at the dark tunnel through which the train was hurtling. Mildred quickly dropped her eyes and became very busy rummaging through her purse. The man returned to reading his newspaper and Mildred carefully closed her purse, daring to look up again. She caught another headline in the man’s newspaper: Harry Potter returns to Britain. Probably some new young pop star, Mildred thought darkly. She strongly disapproved of new young pop stars, especially those ridiculous girls with their Union Jack mini-skirts. Squinting, Mildred managed to read:

 

After reportedly being abroad, Harry Potter has once again been spotted in England. Sources at The Leaky Cauldron confirm that Potter and friend Ron Weasley visited Diagon Alley yesterday, on 14 July, at approximately 10:00 a.m.

 

“He looked taller, and a bit more muscle-y. Broader in the shoulders, you know?” said an anonymous source.

 

This description could lend credibility to the rumour that The Chosen One spent the last few weeks battling vampires in Slovakia.

 

Incidentally, collectable Potter figurines can now be purchased at Mory’s Memorabilorium in Diagon Alley…

 

            Mildred returned to the beginning of the article and scanned it again, just to be sure she’d read it correctly. Yes, the word ‘vampires’ was indeed there. Well, ‘vampire’ was most likely some kind of new teenage slang for drugs or something of the like. Mildred sniffed; her disapproval of new young pop stars increased.

 

            The man in the kilt turned a page and then folded the newspaper over again, glancing over his shoulder as he did so. Mildred could make out the headlines Problems continue at Azkaban and Hogwarts Headmistress vows to re-open school this year. Mildred hadn’t the faintest clue what Azkaban was and had never heard of a school called Hogwarts, although the latter sounded revolting. Mildred smiled gleefully, already picturing the reactions of the women at the club when she told them about a school named after porcine warts. She eagerly read:

 

Despite ongoing reconstruction, Hogwarts Headmistress Minerva McGonagall has vowed that the school will re-open this year.

 

“It may be overly optimistic to hope to commence in September as usual,” McGonagall told The Prophet, “But as long as there are students willing to learn, there will be teachers at Hogwarts willing to teach.”

 

McGonagall faces many challenges, including the replacement of several staff members, and the massive re-construction of the castle, much of which was destroyed in what historians have now coined ‘The Battle of Hogwarts’…

 

Mildred was abruptly forced to stop reading as the train came to a stop and the man turned around, searching the crowd of new passengers who were entering the train. A tired-looking woman with messy brown hair separated from the crowd of incoming passengers and made her way over to the man in the kilt, who looked happy to see her. She seemed slightly less eccentric than her friend; the only odd thing about her appearance was that her green blouse was wrinkled far beyond being presentable, and furthermore, was quite clearly inside-out.

 

“Glad to see you, Delilah,” the man in the kilt said in a relieved voice. “Thought for a moment I’d missed you.”

 

“Sorry, Hubert,” Delilah replied, sounding somewhat breathless. She glanced around the train and lowered her voice. “I was supposed to get on with you, but I messed up and got on the wrong bloody train, and then I had to Disapparate in the loo, it was a mess…”

 

Mildred listened intently while pretending to read a sign advertising toothpaste. She noted that neither of them sounded American, or foreign at all for that matter. Furthermore, ‘Disapparating’ in the loo sounded downright appalling.

 

“Anyway, I didn’t even get a chance to read the ruddy memo. What’s the problem down here?” Delilah asked wearily.

 

“I guess there’s an infestation of Bundimuns in the tunnels. Thankfully they haven’t completely destroyed the tracks, but they want us to get rid of them before they start breeding and eat away the entire Muggle Underground.”

 

Delilah groaned. “Perfect. And how exactly did the little buggers get down here?”

 

“Well, it’s the same as with everything else this month, isn’t it? They reckon…well, that You-Know-Who put them down here to make a muck of the Muggle transportation system. Could have been a mess, with them eating away at the tracks… ”

 

“Hubert,” Delilah said, frowning. “We’re supposed to call him by his name, now, remember? Ministry employees especially.”

 

“Oh, right, right,” Hubert muttered, taking a handkerchief out of his overall pocket and wiping his brow. “Well, you know, force of habit…”

 

            Hubert replaced the handkerchief and pulled out his pocket watch yet again. He inspected it carefully, head slightly tilted to the side. This time, Mildred noticed that the pocket watch did not have a face and hands as she had expected. Instead, there was only a black needle in the centre, with a spectrum of colours arching over it. The spectrum began with white and ended at red. Currently, the needle was hovering at a dark yellow colour.

 

 “We’re getting closer to the infestation,” Hubert said solemnly. “I figure we should get off when the DMC reaches magenta.”

 

“Then we’ll have to Scour an entire tunnel filled with Bundimuns, without any Muggles seeing. Oh joy,” Delilah said unenthusiastically.

 

A bewildered Mildred was having difficulty following the conversation. She had heard strange discussions on the Tube before, but this one was just plain nonsensical. Her face suddenly grew hot as a thought occurred to her: perhaps they were aware that she was eavesdropping, and therefore were speaking in some kind of code?

 

            “ - and our department’s first on the scene?” Delilah was saying. “They didn’t have to call the Obliviators in?”

 

“No, I guess they didn’t think it was necessary. The Obliviators are swamped as it is, you know…still trying to clean up the mess that the Death Eaters made.” Hubert glanced down at his pocket watch. “Detector’s at burnt orange.”

 

“But haven’t the Muggles seen the Bundimuns?”

 

“Well, Amos reckoned any Muggle that saw one would probably just think it was normal fungus. You know Muggles, they probably wouldn’t even notice the eyeballs, or wouldn’t believe it if they did…”

 

Mildred suddenly caught on. She sat up very straight, feeling indignant.

 

“You know,” she interrupted loudly, “that’s not very nice.”

 

            Both Hubert and Delilah jumped. Their heads whipped around to look at Mildred, whom they seemed to both notice for the first time. Hubert’s face had turned scarlet, and Delilah looked uneasy. Well, Mildred had caught on to their little ruse and she was going to give the two of them a proper telling off.

 

“Sorry…are…are you speaking to us?” Hubert asked weakly.

 

 “Think it’s funny to play with an old lady’s mind now, do you?” Mildred said huffily. “You knew that I was listening in and thought you’d get a rise out of me, hm? Talking about ‘Muggles’ and ‘Bundimuns’ and fungus with eyeballs!”

 

Mildred’s embarrassment at being caught eavesdropping was overridden by her indignation that the two strangers had known it and had strung her along by making up nonsense for her to overhear. Mildred abruptly stood, clutching her purse tightly; her stop was coming up.

 

“You two should be ashamed!” she snapped.

 

The train slowed, and Mildred stalked over to the doors, waiting for them to open. Behind her, she was pleased to hear that the bizarre duo had been shocked into silence.

 

“Should I…?” Hubert finally said in a hushed voice, which Mildred’s sharp ears picked up anyways.

 

“No…I don’t think you need to,” Delilah whispered back. “She thinks we were pulling her leg.”

 

“I…I didn’t think anyone was paying any attention to us.”

 

“Well Hubert, really, your Muggle disguise is terrible…”

 

Mildred held her head high as she got off the train and marched out of the station. As she emerged from the Underground, blinking in the bright sunlight, she ran over the ridiculous conversation between Hubert and Delilah again. Oddly enough, she found herself unable to recall exactly what they had said. The strange words they had used seemed to have slipped away from her. Frowning, Mildred slowed in the street until she came to a stop all together. Come to think of it, the bizarre articles she had read in Hubert’s paper had also faded from Mildred’s normally excellent memory. Something about…warts? A cure for warts?

 

Mildred shook her head to clear it. No matter, she had plenty of material to share over today’s bridge game. She chuckled to herself. A man wearing overalls and a kilt!

 

 Mildred Kent cheerfully started down the street again, blissfully unaware of the two officials who, in the tunnels below her, were now using their wands to Scour away an infestation of fungus with eyeballs.

 

***

 

Author’s Notes: This is my first story after an extended vacation from fanfiction, so reviews would be wonderful! Many thanks to my beta, nundu. Your dedication and hard work are greatly appreciated!

 

Bundimuns, according to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, are walking fungal creatures whose secretions rot the foundations of houses. They look like green fungus with eyes when at rest.

 

“DMC” stands for Detector of Magical Creatures, and is entirely made up.

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