The Sugar Quill
Author: Sweeney Agonistes (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Footprints on the Sands of Time  Chapter: Chapter Two
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Part Two

Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast,
To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.

-William Congreve

 

December 6, 1944:

Theron's cloak was a rich, thick blue. The blue of his eyes. Small paisley swirls danced over the brocade that tumbled down from the shoulders and fell into soft pleats that simply radiated confidence. The inside of it was lined with soft, warm fur - I thought it was rabbit, but I wasn't certain. The collar was brown fur that I was sure was mink. The clasp was silver and intricate - a Celtic pattern. The cloak smelled of leather and cedar. It fell nearly to the floor on me, and would have been about mid-calf on Theron.

In the six days that passed between our initial meeting and the day that I was to play with the Dumbledore family orchestra, I got to know that cloak rather well. I slept with it. When I read at night in my chair, I tucked it around me to keep warm. I wore it when I worked at Flourish and Blotts, which wasn't much warmer than our apartment upstairs. Medea saw, but did not comment - she knew that I did not want to talk about young Mr. Dumbledore. After her initial inquiries, she understood that he was very much something to be kept to myself for a while. I usually told her things in my own time and in my own way, when I was ready.

There hadn't been enough developments for me to think things over logically. I had not heard from him or Professor Dumbledore since last Thursday. There had only been the first meeting and the invitation. If it were not for the cloak, I would have taken it all for a dream. As things usually went, males simply were not interested in me. I was plain, intelligent, and quiet, and that did it for most young men.

However, Theron was quite decidedly not most young men.

On that Wednesday, I worked until three. Medea knew that I was going out, and she herself had a meeting with the man that she was seeing. You're not 'seeing' Theron, I told myself with disgust. Honestly.

I went upstairs and took a long, hot bath. Then it was time to get dressed. I had used part of my savings earlier that week to purchase some new robes. They were a deep green, and rather elegant. Green was one of the few colors that looked good on me, other than black. I liked black, but not for tonight. The Dumbledores were notoriously vivacious, and I did not want to appear stiff.

Medea came in as I was fussing with my hair, and she sighed as I began to pull at the unruly wisps that for some reason simply would not stay up. "Minerva, it looks better down, especially with those robes."

I said through clenched teeth, "I am performing. It goes up."

She laughed and picked up the brush. "Minerva, darling sister, you're not performing. You are going to play with an ensemble of friends and no audience. Your hair is going to be down, and it is going to stay down, and it is going to look marvelous."

"You know I never listened to those twits when they were giving each other makeovers in the common room," I said fretfully.

Medea tapped me on the shoulder gently, making me look at her reflection in the mirror, where she was grinning. "That's what older sisters are for. Relax."

I tried.

She twisted the hair at my temples back and joined it with a silver clasp, where it fell straight with the rest of my hair to the middle of my back. The mirror said, "You should listen to your older sister more often."

Medea laughed. "There now. Someone appreciates my styling skills."

Despite myself, I laughed too. "Medea, you're marvelous."

She put her hands on my shoulders. "Listen. It's not a performance. It's not a date. It's a family gathering - and you know the family. From everything you've ever written me, it sounds as though you're good friends with Professor Dumbledore, and everyone knows that the Dumbledores are friendly, if a bit strange. And you're doing what you know best - music. Don't worry about it."

I nodded and tried to smile. Medea hugged me. "Little sister, it'll all be fine. Just don't worry - and be yourself." Fetching her cloak, she settled it on her shoulders and her hat on her head. "I'm off to meet Finn - I'll catch up with you later tonight."

I found my voice. "Have fun."

She smiled. "You, too." And with that, she was out the door and gone. I was on my own.

It was five o'clock. Theron would arrive at six. I found my own cloak - green, but not fur-lined - and set it on a chair by the door with Theron's. Staring around the room for a moment, I then realized that it might be a good idea to change the strings on my viola. I had bought a particularly nice set on Monday, and they would do wonderfully tonight. I sat down at the table in the kitchen and set to work. After I finished, I rosined my bow and began to run through exercises. I had to do something to keep the butterflies in my stomach under control.

All too soon - and yet, not soon enough - the doorbell rang. In a quavering voice, I cried, "Just a minute!" I stashed away my viola and bow, shut the clasps on the case, and ran with it to the front door. I took a moment to pinch my cheeks, gather myself together, and take a deep breath. And then I opened the door.

He was there. He was really there, smiling at me - and looking tired. "Hello," he said.

"Hello," I said. Oh, this was going horribly already.

"Ready to go?"

I nodded, picking up his cloak and handing it to him. "I'm sorry - I forgot to give this back to you."

"Quite all right," he said, taking it, looking as though he was thinking. We stood there, him looking at me, me looking at the floor, and then he spoke. "Miss - Minerva? May I come in and speak with you?"

I nodded, showing him to what Medea and I liked to jokingly call the 'divan'. "Please - sit down. May I get you something to drink?" Etiquette was firm ground for me. I was grateful for that.

He waved a hand at me. "No, thank you - but sit. Please."

I did.

Theron brushed a hand through his hair. "Minerva, I feel like I can talk to you. Not just because you know Dad - this is about him, by the way - but because…there's just something about you that tells me that."

That was the greatest compliment that I had ever received. Others had dismissed me as unapproachable; Theron viewed me as someone he could talk to. I nodded and he continued. "Do you remember that first-year Ravenclaw that I told you about last Thursday?"

"Yes."

"She - she was found in an alley last night. And I had to work with her today."

I felt horrible. "Oh - Theron - "

He spoke to his hands lying palms-up in his lap. "She was raving. Positively raving. Wouldn't let anyone touch her - she just kept screaming. Hex marks all over her. Hair all singed off. It was evident she'd been submitted to the new Cruciatus. It…it was horrible."

Deciding to be bold for the sake of comfort, I reached out and took one of his hands, squeezing it firmly. He let out a long, shaky breath. "I haven't told Dad yet, and as far as I know, he hasn't been notified. I've asked for him not to be notified - I want to tell him myself. And - if you don't mind - I'd like for you to be there. He trusts you."

I nodded. How horrible. "Of course."

"Well." He cleared his throat. "If we're going to have dinner, I suppose we'd better get moving. We're due at Weathervane at eight."

We rose together, and he helped me into my cloak. Before we left, he rested a hand on my shoulder. "Minerva - I can't tell you how much this means to me, having you come tonight. Dad has always told me how solid you were, and now I really believe it." He smiled at me, and I smiled back. Like Medea said. Relax.

We left the building and went to Julian's, a small café near the end of Diagon Alley. Dinner passed quietly. We discussed music and little else. Theron insisted on picking up the check, although I felt badly about it. He then took me to a small alley that was generally used as an Apparition point by the visitors to Diagon Alley. He said, "Weathervane is a few miles outside of Oxford, so it's really not all that far. Just hang on to me - you'll be all right." I supposed that he picked up on my nervousness. I clutched my viola to me with one arm and his hand with the other and nodded. "On three, then. One…two…three."

And we were off, leaving behind Diagon Alley for what looked like a very odd bright blue manor house with twelve gables. On each gable, there sat a bright pink -

"Weathervane," said Theron. I couldn't help but laugh. Each weathervane was different, showing the twelve traditional animal Guardians. We went up to the purple plaid - plaid? - front door, and Theron lifted the ring on the phoenix-shaped knocker. Before he could let it loose, the door opened, and a small, rotund woman beamed up at me and Theron. "Allo, dearies!"

Theron swept her up into a hug. "Aunt Alyce, it's so good to see you!"

She laughed. "And likewise, young Theron. We're just about to get started - go on in and warm up the winds. I'll see to Miss McGonagall." It was startling that she knew my name, but then I figured that Theron probably told them that I was coming.

He clipped a smart salute. "Yes, ma'am." I laughed. This was a beautiful side of Theron - much better than seeing him worried about his job. He then swept inside, cloak trailing after him.

The woman said, "Now, dear, let me take your cloak."

I said, "Thank you…"

She beamed again. "Just call me Aunt Alyce. Everyone else does."

I smiled back and said, "I'm so sorry Uncle Angus couldn't make it."

"Uncle Angus?" she said, somewhat confused.

"Uncle Angus, the viola player who's in Majorca…" My voice trailed off as she got a very shrewd sort of smile.

"Is that what young Theron told you?"

I nodded.

"Well, dear, just between you and me," she said in a conspiratorial tone of voice, "the only Angus we've ever had in the family died in 1364, and he certainly never visited Majorca, much less played the viola."

I was dumbfounded. Why would Theron lie to me? "So there's never been a viola player in the family orchestra?"

"Not since Cousin Anselm died twenty years ago." She saw my surprised - and hurt - expression and said, "Take it as a compliment, Miss McGonagall. If I know young Theron, he was too shy to ask you outright. He hasn't brought a young lady to the house for years."

I nodded, rather stunned. I would certainly have a lot to discuss with Medea later tonight. The ramifications of this development could be enormous.

Aunt Alyce said, "Now, dear, I think he's finished warming up the brass - " we heard a resolving B flat come out of the cacophony at the end of the hall - "and he'll be tuning up the strings now. Run along - it's Handel tonight."

I thanked her and went down the hall, opening the old, lime-green oak doors to find a ballroom with pink-and-white-checkered tiling, a yellow conductor's podium, and about forty people warming up and tuning various instruments. I saw a sousaphone, several recorders of various timbre, a flugelhorn, a trombone, a set of tympani, two piccolos and a fife, four flutes, and lots of violins. There was a string bass, what I thought was a contrabass clarinet, a piccolo trumpet, a marimba (and marimbist), several clarinets, a soprano saxophone, and a very familiar viola da gamba. Professor Dumbledore waved me over to the empty seat beside him, and Theron nodded at me as I took my seat. As Theron tried to get everyone's attention, Professor Dumbledore whispered to me, "Glad you could come, Minerva. We'll start off with a scale or two as an ensemble, and then we'll just run straight through the program. Handel's 'Water Music', and something relatively new by that nice young Gershwin fellow."

I nodded as I opened my case and made ready to play. Theron said, "F concert scale, please, one octave, up and back, in half notes." He set the tempo with his free hand and then brought us in. After the first few notes, he let us play the rest of the scale on our own, making us listen to each other, making us play together. It was subtle, and very much like what I was finding Theron to be. I liked it - and him. I decided to take Aunt Alyce's advice and see Theron's little white lie as a compliment.

The Dumbledore in question cut us off at the end of the scale and said, "All right, then. Let's open up the Handel and take it straight down. No stops."

A querulous voice cried from the back, "I need a drink of water!"

Aunt Alyce stalked in the room and thrust a mug in an old man's hand, despite the trombone slide the hand was occupied with. She put a look on the rest of the winds. "Do all of you have water?"

They all nodded vigorously. I hid a smile.

"All right, then." She took up a chair on the other side of the room.

Theron said, "Er - thank you, Aunt Alyce. If you're ready…" He raised his arms, gave us the tempo, gave us a downbeat, and we were off.

I was familiar with the piece, so that gave me the opportunity to study the players around me. Professor Dumbledore stared straight at his music with an air of concentration, oblivious to everything but his instrument, the sound of the ensemble, and Theron's baton. The principal violinist simply played. Because I was sitting on the front row, I couldn't see anyone else but Theron. And Theron? He was fully in sync with the orchestra, pulling in the various parts, using his beautiful hands to keep a strict time and yet keeping everything light and intense. He was an excellent conductor.

I wondered at the orchestration. 'Water Music' was not precisely written for a flugelhorn, or recorders, or a marimba. I could only assume that the flugelhorn was playing the trumpet part and the recorders were alternately playing the oboe and bassoon parts, as was the soprano saxophone. As for the marimba, I thought it was echoing the string bass part. It was quite interesting.

We finished the Handel and moved on to the Gershwin. It was a piece entitled "Rhapsody In Blue". I was not familiar with this piece, and I flipped through it as the marimbist put up his mallets and began to roll the grand piano in the corner in front of Theron's podium. Shaking his long blond hair out of the way, the marimbist propped up the top cover and opened up the keyboard. In a deep voice, he called out, "Anyone have a ribbon?"

Aunt Alyce rose and gave him a delicate lilac ribbon that she pulled out of her pocket. She tied his hair back and said, "Good luck, Aelfric."

Aelfric grinned at her and then looked up at Theron. "I'm ready when you are," he said.

Theron nodded and brought up his hands once more. We all settled into our instruments, and Theron cued a young clarinetist, who immediately set up a huge wail that evolved into a rather catchy theme. And before I knew it, we were off on the most amazing symphonic ride I had ever taken. It was classical, but it had definite elements of the stuff that Muggles listened to - the music that they called jazz. It was incredibly beguiling, and not dull at all. Aelfric was a first-class pianist, and it was hard for me to remember to count measures because I was listening to him so closely. In the corner of my eye, I saw Professor Dumbledore watching Aelfric as well. All too soon, it ended in a flourished sforzando-piano with a beautiful crescendo, and I heard a crash of cymbals at the end.

Theron brought down his arms with a grin, and Aunt Alyce immediately broke into wild applause. The members of the ensemble all looked horribly pleased with themselves, and Professor Dumbledore stood up. "After such a performance, we should reward ourselves with some cheesecake!"

A minor stampede occurred, with the majority of the ensemble running out of the room. I stared after them. An interesting bunch.

I felt a hand on my shoulder. When I turned around, I found that it belonged to Professor Dumbledore. I hugged him. "That was simply wonderful!" I exclaimed.

His shoulders shook as he laughed with pleasure. "Wasn't it, though? Young Aelfric did a fantastic job. Gershwin would be pleased if he was here."

Theron suddenly said, "Dad - can I talk to you?"

Professor Dumbledore released me and turned to Theron, raising an eyebrow at the look on Theron's face. Theron glanced at me, and I knew what the subject was to be. Professor Dumbledore said, "Of course, Theron."

Other than the three of us, there was no one left in the ballroom. All the same, Theron said, "Let's go out on the terrace. Minerva - you, too."

We went out the French doors - turquoise - at one end of the hall onto an Italian-style terrace. The night was cold, and I wrapped my arms around myself.

Theron faced his father. "Dad - Iona Westhaven - "

The moonlight shone on Professor Dumbledore's suddenly grave face. "What about her?"

Theron passed a hand over his eyes. "She was found last night. I worked with her today."

I saw Professor Dumbledore clench his fists. "And?"

Theron looked at the rough-hewn flagstones at his feet. "She…isn't coherent. Hex marks. The whole bit."

Professor Dumbledore sank down on the stone wall beside him, head in his hands. Theron was beside him in a flash. I sat on his other side, unsure what to do. And then Professor Dumbledore would do something that I would remember for the rest of my life, especially considering the events to come: he said, "I must go after him."

Theron said, alarmed, "Dad! Don't be insane! He's too well hidden - too powerful - wait for him to make a mistake, and then the Ministry will get him."

Professor Dumbledore immediately leaped up and faced Theron, those usually placid blue eyes blazing. "How many more children must be taken before you realize that Grindelwald must be stopped at all costs?"

"Dad - "

"Do you think that this is something to be trifled with? A mere petty thief to be watched and waited on until he is caught red-handed? He is decimating the future of the wizarding world. How long before he finds out how to get through the Hogwarts defenses? How long before he takes another? How long before I - before I - "

Theron picked up his slowing sentence quietly. "Before you make another mistake, Dad?"

Professor Dumbledore fell silent.

"Dad, this isn't your fault. You had no way of knowing that Iona would be taken. Her mother was sick. What were you supposed to do, keep Iona from her mother? You couldn't. You did what you were supposed to do. Grindlewald - Grindlewald just interfered. It's not your fault." Theron fixed his father with an intense, searching look. "It's not your fault."

Professor Dumbledore closed his eyes briefly, then gathered Theron to him in a tight embrace. Theron hugged his father just as tightly. I slipped inside in order to give them some time alone.

I put my viola in its case and brought it over to Aunt Alyce's armchair, where I curled up and began to think.

The way that Professor Dumbledore had gone from euphoria from the music to such a grieving guilt was disturbing. I wished, for his sake, that we could play "Rhapsody In Blue" one more time.

Thinking about our last piece made me think about Theron. He was good with people. He worked with people every day who needed help, and he gave of himself without question, as he had given himself to the orchestra tonight. As he was giving to his father right now.

Living in such parlous times as these made everyone treasure their families and friends more. The shadow of Grindelwald's atrocities had fallen on most of the wizarding world, and people closed in on their own circle of family. Theron was one of those rare people who had fallen under the shadow and still managed to let people in.

To let me in.

At least, that was what I assumed that he was trying to do. Why else would he have tried to deceive me in order to get me to come visit the Dumbledore family? I needed to talk with Medea. I needed…

The euphoria wore off; the concern and grief wore off as well. I was just tired.

I saw Theron's cloak on the ottoman; he must have put it there before assuming the podium. It was cold in the ballroom. I threw it over me, rested my head on one of the soft wings of the chair, and went to sleep.

//
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