The Sugar Quill
Author: Rugi (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: A Model  Chapter: Very Little Good News
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The fire in the Gryffindor Common spread a cheerfully warm glow across Ron’s chessboard

Chapter 2

Very Little Good News

 

The fire in the Gryffindor Common spread a cheerful, warm glow across Ron’s chessboard.  Harry was frowning worriedly at his friend, who was frowning at his pieces. 

 

“Nice to have Professor Lupin back isn’t it?” Harry said cautiously. 

 

“Yeah.  Nice.”  Ron continued to stare at one of his pawns.  Harry sent a tense look Hermione’s way and cast about for another topic.  He had been trying to draw Ron into some sort of speech since they had left Platform nine and three quarters.  Before they had boarded the train, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had pulled Ron aside “to discuss the next school year.”  Ron returned to his friends utterly subdued and Harry was finding his silence a little frightening.  For, although Ron had tried to pass the long talk off as a lecture about proper behavior and his lack of a Prefect’s badge, Harry was willing to bet that Ron’s vagueness wasn’t rooted in parental disapproval.  He had spent the trip to Hogwarts alternating between ignoring and snapping at Harry and Hermione’s attempts at conversation, finally being so rude to Hermione that she had withdrawn to the window for the duration of the trip.  Even the Feast had been a bust.  Ron’s plate had returned to the House Elves virtually untouched. 

 

But worst of all, he had been darting nervous looks at Harry the entire time.  The complete lack of information during the summer and secret talks added up to one thing in Harry’s mind and he was tired of being the last to know when his enemy was planning something.  Harry was sick of being inadequately protected and partially informed.  And he didn’t like to think that his best friend had joined the mob of people keeping him in the dark for his own good.  I know I was upset because of Voldemort, but who wouldn’t be?  Haven’t I proved to them that I’m not going to collapse at the slightest hint of danger?  Have they decided that I’m so delicate and unbalanced that I can’t be told what’s going to happen to me?  And even if they think so, Ron should have told me anyway.  And what are they thinking?  Is Ron going to save me from Voldemort? 

 

Harry’s darkening expression had obviously begun to alarm Hermione, who jumped into the conversation a little heavy-handedly.

 

“I think it’s wonderful!”  Her tone was warm and encouraging.  “Though I wish that he was teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts again.  It would be lovely to see Malfoy’s reaction to having ‘the werewolf’ back.”  The last remark was spoken almost directly to Ron, but failed to produce much of a reaction.  Concern was making Hermione’s voice slightly higher, “Not that I’m upset about having Professor Figg.  You should read her work with Viking Runes, Ron.  I am sure you would be fascinated!”

 

“Uh huh,” he said abstractedly and proceeded to move a wailing knight into the path of Harry’s queen. 

 

Hermione set the schedule she had been pretending to admire down with a huff.  “Oh for heaven’s sake Ron, you haven’t an iota of interest in Viking Runes and even I can see that move was idiotic.  What is wrong with you?  And don’t say you fought with your parents because we all know that isn’t true!” 

 

Ron’s mouth pulled into a tight line and he looked at them both unhappily.  “I want to tell you.  But … but … its complicated.   I can’t say certain things.  I can’t.” 

 

Hermione began to look annoyed, “You were furious with me when I kept my time-turner promise and now…”

 

Ron waved his hands frantically, “You don’t understand!” His mouth worked, it seemed as if he was struggling inside himself, “They made it so I don’t have much choice.”

 

The seed of suspicion Harry had been struggling with began to take root, “What do you mean, no choice.  And who’s “they”?  Your parents?”

 

When Ron tried to answer, nothing but a sort of extended squeak left his mouth.  His lips twisted furiously only to produce a sound somewhat reminiscent of a whoopee cushion.  His next words sounded intensely annoyed, “Well now we know that’s off limits.  Ask something a little bit less specific.”

 

Harry was completely stunned.  He looked at his friend helplessly, not sure what to do with this new and totally unexpected development.

 

When he realized Harry wasn’t going to say anything of use, Ron slumped back in his chair and ran a hand through his hair, “Look, nothing terrible has happened.  I … I just can’t tell you what’s going on right now.”  His voice brightened slightly, “But they said I might be able to explain later.”  He smiled weakly, “I really can’t talk about it with you.  My lips are sealed.”

 

Hermione’s had looked away since Ron had started speaking, a frown line stood between her brows.  Suddenly her eyes began to shine with understanding, “Os Obserare,” she whispered. “Ron, why would someone put that spell on you?  What did you do?”

 

Harry blinked.  Hermione had once more managed to enter the realm of the uncannily well informed.

 

Ron gave her a look of deep disgust. “I think I’ve sounded like a squeaky idiot enough today, thank you.  Let’s keep the questions nice and vague okay?  It’s not a bad thing; it’s not permanent; and I might be able to tell you later.”  He began to sound rather more cheerful, “Right now I am trying to pretend that it’s not happening at all, so could we save the interrogation for another time?”  

 

Hermione still looked a bit alarmed and now slightly offended, but she couldn’t help but smile back when Ron’s lips began curling at the corners.  His mood had improved with his confession and hers had to as well.  Hermione might be overflowing with curiosity, but no one was more doggedly patient than she.  Ron would be more ready to talk later.  She settled back in her chair and began to mentally compile a list of innocent sounding questions that might outflank the spell.

 

Harry, however, couldn’t stop himself from asking, “Does whatever it is have something to do with me??”

 

At this Ron turned to him.  His eyes gleamed with amusement and he shook his head incredulously, “Harry, something secret and strange is happening at Hogwarts.  Of course it has something to do with you!  Now stop acting like I’m holding out on you and let me slaughter you at chess!”

 

When the discontented look refused to leave Harry’s face, Ron sobered slightly.  “Harry, I swear to you, I’ll tell you as soon as I can.  I’ll tell both of you.  I wanted to tell you before.”  He grimaced, “Now is just another one of those times when we all know just enough to get in trouble.”  He picked up a captive pawn and tickled it gently.  “You’d think we’d be used to it by now.”

 

* * *

 

The rooms that had been presented to Academic Merriman for her private use were situated in one of the more obscure corners of Hogwarts castle.  This meant that most people could find them on most days but nobody would find them easily.  Except of course by accident.  Thus Atropos had been careful to ward them against dark wizards and lost First Years alike.  One could never be too careful in a school full of curious children.

 

The least accessible of these rooms was chosen to house the Pettigrew model.  It had no windows to spy through, only one door to escape through, and no right angles to stick a desk in.  Upon first viewing the chamber, Merriman had called it a tortured trapezoid and pronounced it ideal for the model she needed to make. 

 

During the week before school, Atropos had begun laying the groundwork for the model and Remus had accustomed himself to fulfilling the often-quixotic requirements that laying that groundwork entailed.  He had purchased magical chalk, hung rocks suspended by twine at varying levels about the room, and answered nonsensical questions about Peter Pettigrew’s eating habits.  He had also repaired a smashed vase and soothed a terrified House Elf who had made the mistake of neatening up Academic Merriman’s desk.

 

And he convinced Atropos to apologize to Bunkly after the two had calmed down.

 

The early hours of the morning of the first day of school saw him alphabetizing a recruitment list and finishing off one of Atropos’s endless Peter-questionnaires.

 

At least I am learning more than I ever thought I would about model making.

 

She had drawn what looked like a wheel on a huge piece of parchment spread across the floor and was allowing her protractor and quill to record the angles of spokes and cross bars in the corner of the paper.

 

While her instruments worked, she nibbled at an apple and read over what Remus had managed to so far write about Pettigrew.

 

“Are you sure you didn’t miss any names?  Something worse than what I already have here?”  She said sardonically.

 

Remus glanced up from the questionnaire he had been painstakingly completing and arched his eyebrows, “I’m sorry?”

 

Atropos smirked, “I was just wondering about a suitable nomenclature for my nasty little specimen: Peter Pettigrew, Wormtail, Scabbers … his mother didn’t call him Flabby-poo or something did she?” 

 

His lips twisted into something between a grimace and a smile, “Well if she did, he certainly never told us.  I think Snape called him “the rat-faced little git” if that helps.” 

 

Her pale eyes suddenly sharpened on his and her fingers that had been casually toying with a quill froze.  “Regularly?”

 

Remus blinked at her sudden intensity, “Fairly often,” he said slowly, “It was his insult of choice.  How important is this exactly?”

 

She bent over the paper and began writing “rat-faced little git” neatly next to Scabbers.  “Names are always important.  I like to use them as constants since people’s names generally only change a few times in their life.  And even then, they only sort of … morph.”  She sighed unhappily, “With so many unrelated names and being an Animagus as well, pinning this model down is going to be difficult.  He is hiding from me.  He lacks any true and constant form.”

 

He lacks any true and solid form.  Remus shuddered and instinctively glanced around for a window.  This close to the full moon he liked to be able to assure himself of the time of day.  His movements sent a stack of papers sliding to the floor, which he dove after.  When he saw Merriman staring at him with a frown in her eyes, he froze and tried to look relaxed.  He didn’t want to discuss his … problem with her more often than was necessary and, with the full moon bearing down on them, he was already dreading having to discuss his “sick leave.”  When she seemed on the verge of speech, he swiftly bent to gather up her question sheets, behaving as if “What did the subject do when fidgeting?” was the most important topic on his mind.  He glanced up briefly only to meet her eyes, which held the assessing look he remembered from Dumbledore’s office.  Lupin desperately racked his mind for something to say.

 

A soft tap on the door broke the uncomfortable silence.  Dobby quietly entered carrying a tray of food and the Daily Prophet.  Dobby had been elected to serve Academic Merriman after the Bunkly incident.  The other house elves had decided that he was fierce enough to handle the volatile new guest. “The Academic asked that she be told when the breakfast it is starting,” squeaked Dobby, “She will need to be there to be introduced to the students.  Dobby is here to say, the breakfast it is starting soon.”

 

Atropos smiled gently.  She had been heartily ashamed of herself after she had seen the cringing unhappiness of Bunkley.   She was making every effort to be polite to the house elves as amends for her previous temper.  “Thank you Dobby, I’ll be down directly.”

 

After he had left, she turned to Remus, “Aren’t you joining the rest of the staff?” and she indicated the tray.  But Remus’s answer was forestalled by the horrified expression that spread across her face.  She was staring at the Daily Prophet headline:

 

Dark Mark!

Mother of Two Missing!

Country Calls for Capture of Black!

 

He snatched up the paper, rapidly scanning the cover story.  The newspaper slipped to the floor from suddenly nerveless fingers.  “They’re blaming him,” he whispered, “Sirius Black’s less scary than Voldemort so they’re blaming him.  How could Fudge be this much of an idiot?  And Sirius!  The entire country will be out for his blood again!”

 

Atropos had bent to pick of the newspaper and stopped, arrested by an unpleasant thought, “Does Black know?”

 

When he only looked at her in irritated confusion, she grabbed his arm, “Does Black know that we’re not making this model to exonerate him?  Does he know that Pettigrew needs to stay alive and free?”

 

Beginning to feel sick, he struggled not to understand what she was saying, “What do you mean?”

 

Atropos spoke very slowly, fighting against what she had only now begun to realize, “If it’s known Pettigrew is guilty, Voldemort will kill him and our subject will be gone.  If Pettigrew is captured, he’s not near Voldemort and our subject will be useless.  We need him alive and we need everyone else to think he’s dead.” Her voice shredded, “I never realized … Oh God, this isn’t fair!”

 

Remus felt as if the floor had dropped out from under him.  He fought to find his voice, “If Sirius doesn’t know, he needs to be told.”  Lupin shut his eyes, “He needs to be made to understand.” 

 

“Well, where is he now?  I mean you can’t just call him through the fire can you?”  Her voice was high and panicky.

 

“No I can’t, but I can contact someone who will know where he is.”  Remus forced himself to take deep breaths.  He needed calm right now.  “If I have to, I can reach him though my replacement at the Brocklehursts.”

 

He turned to her, “I have to know what he knows. Go to breakfast, make your appearance, and find out from Dumbledore how much Sirius’s been told.  I have some thinking to do.”  He laughed bitterly. “Quite a lot of thinking actually.” 

 

She seemed about to say something but one look at the expression on his face sent her rushing out the door.  If his mood hadn’t been so dark, he might have been amused by how quickly and unquestioningly she left.  As things were, he was only grateful to be alone.

 

* * *

 

 

Rain was pouring down outside the unassuming house where Walden Macnair went calling.  The door creaked open and a tall slender man in gray robes ushered him inside.  The interior was almost devoid of furniture with only two chairs sat in front of a boarded up fireplace.

 

“Have you decided to renounce all bodily pleasures Crowlet or are you just dirt poor?”  His words were heavy with a sort of horrible satisfaction and he ostentatiously examined the seat of the chair before allowing himself to sit.  “And why the locked up hearth?”

 

His host laughed gently, apparently unoffended.  “What guests I have all want to see me enough to come through the front door.  Which is why I was surprised when you contacted me in person, Walden.  Most of your kind would be more anxious to leave a Dark Mark at my door than a request for an invitation.”  His hoarse sibilant voice took on a note of anticipation, “What could the Dark Lord’s own want with a half-Muggle they didn’t deem fit to enter their ranks?  Why do you come here after you denied me what was promised?”  Although his words were calm there was a disquieting glitter in his eyes. 

                           

Macnair snorted, “Only after you proved yourself incapable of being of any use to us.”  When his companion twitched unhappily, all former assurance slipping away, the executioner began speaking more slowly, savoring every word,  “You failed with James Potter and you followed that up by getting yourself expelled from the Academy.”  Macnair traced a delicate finger over his heavy signet ring, the emblem of his centuries old wizarding family.  “Hardly good reasons for us to over-look the sludge that passes for your bloodlines.”

 

All previous calm forgotten, Selim Crowlet’s face flushed red, his words came out in a choked rush. “He promised.  I put everything into the Potter model.  No one could have taken it as far as I did.  The man was unmodelable!  I destroyed two laboratories.”  He was almost spitting with rage, “And the Academy!  Those milksops were nothing but cowards unwilling to take the art to its logical conclusion.  Expel me!  Only because they lacked any sort of intellectual spine!  I …”  His rant continued for some time.  Macnair waited, finally allowing Crowlet to surrender to a fit of coughing.  “Macnair,” his voice was despairing, “Lord Voldemort promised me purity!  He said he would cleanse me!  I tried so hard to give him what he asked.  But it was impossible.”  He looked like he would weep, “Impossible.  And I am as I have always been.”

 

Macnair leaned across to him, a superior and disdainful smile on his face, “Because you failed and were of no use to him.  But now that he has returned, there is a need for you again.”  He reached into his pocket and pulled out a book.  The cover read Arithmancy and Metaphor but a wave of his wand and a muttered word made these words melt away.  Crowlet gasped and reached for the book with shaking hands. 

 

“The Council said they destroyed these when I was expelled!  I looked everywhere for a copy.  It took me years to write.  My life’s work!” 

 

Macnair smiled toothily.  “No doubt the other copies have been destroyed, but a rare book collector and follower of my Lord thought that a copy of Triumph Over the Will would be a jewel for his collection.  It was he who brought this to Lord Voldemort’s attention.  And I too have read it now.  Your claims are … intriguing.”  His eyes caught and held Crowlet’s, “Can you put into practice what you have posited in theory?”

 

Crowlet’s whole form seemed to quiver, trembling with passionate desperation, “Not with the Potter boy.  I won’t even try again.  He would be the same as his father.  Explosive.  And not Lord Voldemort.  He’s implosive.”  Thinking that his chances were gone, he began speaking feverishly, “But anyone else.  Anyone Macnair!”

 

Macnair paused, enjoying the tension, and only relented when he realized how long he had spent with the fool already, “Then we have a subject for you to work with.  And if you deliver as well as Triumph claims…”

 

“I will get what I was promised?”  Selim’s eyes shown with a fanatic light.

 

The Death Eater nodded, already getting his bearings for Apparation.  “You shall have your Purification spell.” 

 

He was already gone when former oneiromancer Selim Crowlet began weeping with sheer relief.

 

* * *

 

Macnair apparated directly to the ruin on a windswept moor that Voldemort now called home.  He moved swiftly to kneel before his leader who had been reading his own copy of Crowlet’s work.  Voldemort carefully marked his place and looked inquiringly at his follower, “Well Walden?”

 

“He agreed, Great Lord.  Indeed he practically begged to be allowed to begin.”  Macnair cursed inwardly as he saw Nagini begin to make her way towards him.  The snake seemed particularly fond of him, making every personal summons a trial of nerves.  Macnair could never allow the Heir of Slytherin to know that he, one of the scions of that proud House, was deathly afraid of snakes.

 

Voldemort laughed hissingly, his white fingers clenching on the spine of the book, “Is he aware of the honor I am doing him?  To my knowledge, the only one who has been allowed to use my purification spell is, well, me.”  He set the book down and fixed his servant with ruby eyes.

 

The executioner restrained the urge to flinch.  Voldemort liked to remind the Death Eaters of his formerly mixed bloodlines Some thought he was trying to catch any signs of disrespect or disgust.  He apparently passed whatever test there was though, because the Dark Lord leaned back grinning wolfishly, “No Walden, don’t answer that.  I have no doubt that he was oppressively grateful.  Crowlet was always so … zealous in his pursuit of purity.”  He rose from his seat in a fluid motion waving an opened letter bearing the Malfoy crest.

 

 “Lucius tells me that the Academy sent an oneiromancer to Hogwarts.  A recruiter.  Or so Dumbledore is claiming,” his thin lips twisted into a snarl, “I do not enjoy being considered a fool.  Though I may console myself by thinking that the excuse was intended for Fudge’s benefit.”

 

“Do you want her removed, my Lord?  To neutralize the threat?”

 

Voldemort’s eyes narrowed, “Walden, when I send agents into Hogwarts, they won’t be there to murder an Academy recruiter, I can assure you.” 

 

Macnair shifted uncomfortably on his spot on the floor, Voldemort waved a negligent hand, “Oh get up.  And get out.  You’ve done well enough with the task I set you and I obviously don’t need you to advise me.  Besides, I know that you need to return to your respectable home.  Even with an idiot like Fudge around, one must keep one’s nose clean mustn’t one?  And don’t worry, I’ll have Wormtail deal with the rest of the arrangements with Crowlet.” 

 

As Macnair rose to leave Voldemort spoke up again is voice dangerously sweet, “I expect you to be working on our next strike Walden.  Be sure that you have time off from killing savage beasts won’t you?”

 

He looked over at his master, who had now returned to his book, and again felt the heady nervousness that came from serving the most deadly and brilliant of megalomaniacs.  “I always have time to serve your purpose, Lord.”

 

* * *

 

AN:  Thanks to Yolanda whose wonderful editing keeps this story from being unreadable and Gwena who read it and told me to change my opening scene.

 

//
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