Drawing-Room Deceit

Tuesday 2 November 1982 – Monday 4 April 1983

Hogwarts, The Grampians; Halifax, Yorkshire; Malfoy Manor, Wiltshire; Giffnock, Glasgow.

Rated PG for low-level violence and high-level lies.

“Ariadne, have you been job hunting?” asked Hestia.

“Or do you just have about five new boyfriends?” asked Sarah.

“Alas, not even one.” Ariadne hung her cloak and sat down on the edge of Sarah’s bed. “Have you a new boyfriend, Sarah?”

“No, just the same old one. But look at all the owls that arrived for you this morning!” Sarah waved the packet. “If it isn’t boyfriends, have you been buying herbs on mail-order?”

“If you give her the letters,” Hestia interrupted, “she’ll be able to tell you who wrote them.”

“If she doesn’t go all secretive on us,” Sarah agreed. “Look at this one – it’s sealed with a crest. Miseris something… Well, something Latin.”

“Sarah Sticky-Beak, if you’d like to spy on Ariadne’s private and most intimate correspondence,” said Hestia.

“Of course I would,” said Sarah.

Ariadne took the crested letter and broke it open, knowing that a thank-you note from Aunt Macmillan would not contain anything very private. “Before you even ask, the fascinating and most intimate epistle reads as follows:

My dear Ariadne,

Thank you so much for your hard work and hospitality over the weekend. It was well worth the effort, for the food was delicious and the whole party was lovely.

I wonder if I could trouble you to divulge the recipe for your chocolate whisky gateau? Could you also tell me the title of the story that you read to Zelly and Ernie? They have been begging me to read it to them again.

Do not neglect your studies any further on our account, my dear. Take advantage of the peaceful days ahead now that Evil has been defeated.

Your affectionate aunt,

Margaret Macmillan.

“There, you can see that all my dark secrets are exposed. I have to betray my recipe.” As she had hoped, Sarah and Hestia were losing interest, and they did not comment when she read the rest of the letters silently. The notes from Manjula Patil and Amelia Bones were in similar vein. The fourth note was slightly different:

Dear Miss MacDougal,

It is my understanding that you were entirely responsible for the Strathbogie mist served at your parents’ soirée. It was excellent within its limits, although the luxury of Napoleon brandy would of course have improved it.

You made that faded old dress-robe look charming. Next time you are in Diagon Alley you should drop my name to Madam Malkin, and she will grant you discount on silk robes in the design of your choice. I understand she makes tartans to order.

You must ask your brother to share the spell he used to hollow out those pumpkins. Are they not a rather un-British custom? It is my understanding that jack o’ lanterns are traditionally carved from turnips. However, they were beautifully even.

With best wishes for your O.W.L. preparation,

Iris Parkinson.

But nothing rivalled the pale pink envelope, delicately scented with jasmine, that was sealed with the crest of Malfoy Manor.

Dear Cousin Ariadne,

Thank you for receiving us at your home on the 31st. Lucius, Linus, Letitia and I greatly enjoyed meeting your friends, and we thank you in particular for sharing your excellent culinary skills.

We rejoice with you over the downfall of Him-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and trust that you remain in good health.


Narcissa Malfoy.

The paper writhed like an adder in Ariadne’s hands, as if each copper-plated lie were leaping off the page to spit venom. Dear… greatly enjoyed meeting… rejoice over the downfall… sincerely… she would not, would not, let herself harbour up a mental record of Narcissa’s misbehaviour by reading the lies a second time. She would destroy the evidence and hope to wipe the words from her memory. She pointed her wand at the letter and murmured, “Incendio!” A feeble puff of grey smoke singed the Malfoy watermark and died.


“Honestly, Ariadne, can’t you do a fire-charm yet?” complained Hestia good-naturedly. She aimed her own wand at a point six inches above the foot of Sarah’s bed, and commanded, “Incendio!” A tongue of pale blue fire leaped into the air.

Ariadne fed Narcissa’s letter into the flame until it was licked to ash. Then she tendered the envelope, then, as an afterthought, the letter and envelope from Mrs Parkinson. At another wave of Hestia’s wand, the flame and the ashes vanished.

When the next morning’s post arrived, a huge barn owl from the Kincarden owlery dropped onto Ariadne’s lap an unwrapped item about the size of a Quaffle. It took her a moment to realise what it was: it was a Transfiguration aid like the one that Remus Lupin had Conjured for her over the weekend. But this one was clearly not Conjured: it was constructed of straw, strengthened by some kind of paste, jointed so that the matrix could be moved into any shape, and charmed with some kind of flashing colour so that the vertices would change from red to blue after the vectors had been moved. Ariadne did not need to move the starting position into the basic dimensions of an elephant, or convert them back into the dimensions of a mouse, to know that this model would work even more perfectly than the crude Conjured version that had helped her on Saturday.

The ragged sheet of paper tied to the handle said only:

Dear Miss MacDougal, I hope you will do well in Transfiguration. RJL.

The owl hooted insistently, clearly requiring her to scribble a quick reply on the back of the note, so that it could set out on the return journey towards its busy working day. But some instinct caused Ariadne to stow the message in her school bag and rip a clean sheet of paper from her notebook. She wrote,

Thank you, Mr Lupin, it was most extraordinarily kind of you to take the trouble to build it for me. I’m hoping you remain well. Regards, Ariadne MacDougal,

and tied it to the owl’s foot. She really was touched that the farmhand had spent his limited free time thinking of her, particularly when he was so obviously distracted by some frightening secret of his own.

He really should have been a teacher.

* * * * * * *

Ariadne managed to avoid returning to Kincarden for the rest of the academic year. Her weekly letters to her parents carefully emphasised the long hours of homework, the frequent class tests, and the extra recommended reading, while glossing over the Quidditch matches, the trips to Hogsmeade, and the political and philosophical debates with her friends. Her parents were convinced, quite accurately, that academia kept her very busy, and they did not try to draw her away from school again until the Christmas holidays.

In the event, no part of Christmas was spent at Kincarden. Ariadne met her family at King’s Cross Station, and they all Flooed from the Leaky Cauldron to Manchester, where they passed four rather dismal days at Severus’s house in Spinner’s End. Ariadne finished all her holiday homework in that period; she spent nearly all day in the attic, listening to howling gales cutting through the chimneys, trying to bolster her mother’s Conjured fire without actually using magic, and lighting up her wand-tip to three hundred Watts to dispel the gloom. The archaic charms revealed by her Ancient Runes translations, the comfortably solid facts of her Herbology text, and the illuminating guidance of Remus Lupin’s Transfiguration aid were all far more enticing company than the family bickering that pierced through two flights of stairs into the attic floorboards.

Cousin Severus, although he never stopped brewing anti-nausea medications for Janet, disapproved of the way she was bringing up Morag. “Foolish indulgence. How will she survive the rigours of Hogwarts if you don’t teach her self-discipline now?”

He disputed with Ariadne’s mother on the correct way to brew every potion. “Stir deep and smooth, Aunt, and then add the catmint. If you shovel it in while you’re stirring, the juices draw out too quickly. Although they will anyway, if you keep chopping them so finely like that.”

He disagreed with Kenneth on Crouch’s policies. “He hunts down Death Eaters because they are still a threat to us. His son was guilty. Show mercy to them now, and they’ll show none to us when the Dark Lord returns.” Kenneth considered it very bad taste to suggest that the Dark Lord would ever return, and the political dispute took a noisy hour.

Severus even tried to tell Ariadne’s father the correct way to manage his farm. “Animals don’t need to be pure-bloods. You’ll get a hardier strain if you cross-breed your Highlanders with Merinos.” Her father resolutely refused to say more than, “You’ve maybe a point,” but it was obvious that he was not going to alter his pastoral policy on Severus’s advice.

When Severus’s next words were, “Get that brat away from my atropine powder!” Ariadne hurtled down the two flights of stairs into the kitchen and swept the sobbing Morag into her arms. It was clear from the smouldering glares around her that all the adults had plenty more to say, so Ariadne carried Morag upstairs to the attic.

Morag stopped crying and said, “Tuzzin S’ape is never ’appy.”

“Hush, you’ll be in trouble if they hear you say things like that. That powder was poisonous; he was not wanting you to hurt yourself.” She lit her wand and tried to distract the bairn by making different coloured lights.

“But he’s never ’appy,” persisted Morag.

“Cousin Severus has had a sad life. It makes him even sadder to hear people talk about it.”

When Ariadne went down to the bathroom at night, she heard her mother weeping with frustration behind the guest-bedroom door. “Why can he not, just once, drop the controversial topics and speak pleasantly to people? Did he not learn anything from his own childhood? And why do Kenneth and Janet have to rise to the bait every time?”

“My dear, if it upsets you so much,” her father’s murmur returned, “why do you insist on visiting him?”

“He’s my only nephew, Malcolm. We cannot abandon family.”

* * * * * * *

Ariadne’s parents were relieved to Floo from Severus’s house to Malfoy Manor for a grand and glittering Christmas celebration. Morag was enchanted by the holly wreaths and helium balloons, the ceiling-sweeping pine tree lit with real fairies, the piles of rosette-decked presents, and the endlessly available bowls of sugared almonds and chocolate snowmen. But her fingers had hardly touched the nearest tempting bowl when Cousin Lucius’s son, Draco, who was about the same age, ordered:

“Don’t touch! Those are my sweets!”

Morag replied that she would touch, and the cousins were quarrelling tooth and nail before they had been acquainted ten minutes.

The scenario was repeated that afternoon, when Cousin Narcissa hostessed a matinée party for a dozen pure-blood toddlers. After a puppet-charmer had presented a marionette performance of Puss in Boots, half the children clambered onto the stage, wanting to know if the puppet-cat had really eaten the puppet-mouse. Morag murmured to one of the Patil lassies her opinion that they should “wait forra tarmer-man to tell us if we can p’ay wiv his puppets,” and young Draco instantly interrupted with:

“We don’t wait, we take puppets, because it’s my party.” He grabbed the King-puppet, shook it roughly, and ordered, “Dance!”

“It will brrrrreak!” Morag’s voice had risen several decibels. “Put it down!”

Draco promptly clonked the wooden marionette onto Morag’s head. She screamed in pain. The Patil twins both pushed at Draco, tiny Pansy Parkinson and her friend Daphne pushed back at the Patils, and Draco’s cousin Gregory took advantage of the general disruption to shove randomly at Janet’s nephew Stephen. Stephen landed on top of the Zabini boy, who landed on top of the Puss puppet that he had been trying to charm, and at this point a puppet really did break. Pansy was grabbing at Morag’s hair, Draco was urging Gregory to finish up the Patils, and order was only restored when Dobby the house-elf brought round a tea tray of chocolate éclairs.

Morag spent a great deal of that week in time-out, learning not to speak her mind in polite company because it caused fights, to the delighted triumph of her Cousin Draco.

Mr and Mrs MacDougal seemed completely at home among the polite pure-blooded company that flooded through the manor-house.

“I haven’t seen the Macmillans in Society for a while,” said Mrs Parkinson.

“Goodness, no, that family has no sense of its proper place,” replied Cousin Narcissa. “We invited them here, Iris, and they pleaded a prior commitment. They are spending Christmas with the last remaining dregs of the Longbottom family, if you please!”

Cousin Narcissa’s friends tittered, while Ariadne kept her eyes to the floor, knowing that she could not expect her parents to speak a word in favour of the Macmillans.

“And Margaret’s had yet another baby, I believe?” prompted Mrs Parkinson. “Isn’t she your sister-in-law, Bethoc? You must know about this baby – the seventh, or the eighth, or the ninth?”

Mrs MacDougal shook her head. “I’m afraid I’ve lost count too. It’s a long time since I’ve seen the family.”

Ariadne stared at the green-and-silver Persian carpet until the pattern blurred before her eyes. Mamma knew every detail of Aunt Macmillan’s nine children, and it was less than six months since the two families had met; it seemed such a daft lie to pretend otherwise.

“Altogether too many children,” Cousin Lucretia Goyle was saying. “One is my limit. Or perhaps two, at the outside. I don’t know how Aunt Macmillan manages so many. Aunt MacDougal, do you think she’d like to buy a couple of house-elves? I have two young ones ready to sell.”

“I’m not knowing anything about Margaret’s domestic arrangements,” lied Mamma. “As Iris reminded us… the Macmillans have not appeared in Society for a long time. Having so very many bairns has to keep them busy. As you say, the family is perhaps too large.”

Ariadne clamped her teeth on her tongue to prevent herself saying, But the Macmillans are not needing a house-elf because they all take care of each other. She even wanted to say, They are better people than anybody in this room! But talk like that would expose Mamma as a liar and hurt her deeply.

Cousin Lavinia Crabbe passed around a plate of mince pies as she pressed the point. “But I expect you MacDougals will be seeing the Macmillans soon. Aunt MacDougal, why don’t you find out about those house-elves and owl Lucretia about them next week?”

“I’ll be glad to owl Margaret this evening, rather than later” – Ariadne already knew that a thundering lie was to follow – “for in fact I will not be seeing her at any time soon.”

Ariadne only hoped that Aunt Macmillan would never find out that Mamma had as good as disowned their friendship in order to appease the Malfoys.

Cousin Narcissa already knew that the MacDougals would be staying with the Macmillans for Hogmanay, so she knew that Mamma had lied; she raised her eyebrows triumphantly when Lavinia and Lucretia were not looking.

But Narcissa could play the game better than anybody; she said nothing but, “Do have another cup of tea, Aunt MacDougal. Talking of breeding creatures, we have a dozen of last summer’s owl chicks to give away. I’d like all of you to put your heads together and give me the names of people who’d like a new eagle owl. Pass your cup too, Iris.”

“What a quiet, well-behaved little thing that Miss MacDougal is,” observed old Madam Greengrass.

“Yet she speaks so intelligently in her own home,” puzzled Manjula Patil.

* * * * * * *

Mamma did in fact have an attack of conscience about the way she had sacrificed Aunt Macmillan. That evening, away from the inquisitive ears and ratting tongues of the Malfoys’ friends, she asked Ariadne, “Darling, are you thinking I did wrong to fib about our plans like that to Cousin Narcissa? After all, it’s not her business how we spend Hogmanay.”

It’s not about our holiday plans. It’s about whether we care about the Macmillans enough to tell their enemies that they are our friends. But Mamma looked so anxious, so contrite, in such desperate need of reassurance, that Ariadne smothered her anger and tried to say something comforting instead.

“Nobody here is likely to mention it to the Macmillans,” she soothed, “and what they are not knowing will not hurt them.”

Ariadne and Morag were both relieved to Floo from Malfoy Manor to Glasgow to celebrate Hogmanay with the Macmillans. The Macmillans always managed to be polite without worrying about politeness, and Morag made herself so inconspicuous playing with Zelly and Ernie that she was not put in time-out once. Ariadne and the older cousins ventured out for a few dismal walks around Glasgow, but they invariably returned home soaked and chilled, so for most of the time, they played at sardines and charades until they were exhausted and then at chess and snap and Gobstones until it was dark. On Friday night they welcomed in the New Year, and Kenneth was sent out to the front gate to chap on the door as the clock struck midnight so that they could all be sure of shaking hands with a tall dark man as the New Year entered.

On Sunday afternoon, Kenneth accompanied Ariadne, Steady, Mercy and Felicity onto the Knight Bus back to Hogwarts. He never spoke a word to them – she always felt he resented being pulled away from his real activities in order to babysit – but he glowered at any stranger who was foolish enough to come near them, and the pupils were all deposited safely at Hogwarts before dark.

When her friends asked if she had enjoyed her holidays, Ariadne was still glowing with the warm memories of the Macmillan household. She replied without thinking that she had had a wonderful time with her cousins, and what had her friends done?

Sarah had been skiing in the Austrian Alps and sightseeing in Vienna, and the enthralling account of her holidays deflected all interest from whatever Ariadne might have done.

* * * * * * *

The spring term was very hard work. Ariadne used Mr Lupin’s Transfiguration aid every day, and so did most of her classmates. Her charm-work was still clumsy, and Kingsley and Hestia spent hours tutoring her in practical work. They only pretended to grumble about her ineptitude, for they knew they would need her help in Herbology and Potions.

Nothing Ariadne said about Severus ever inspired Kingsley or Hestia to feel any sympathy for him. They hated his lessons. He never devoted any time to theory; they were supposed to absorb the theory naturally as they worked on the practicals. He did not tolerate students helping one another; his lessons were always conducted in dead silence. Biting sarcasm, docked house points and extra homework descended on any student who was caught out in a mistake. Even on a day when everybody worked well, Severus could be trusted to sneer and snap, never to explain anything more than once, and to mark hard. But Hestia ruined a potion at least once a fortnight because she lost her nerve when Severus hovered twitchily over her cauldron.

The weather was uniformly horrible, so nobody was surprised when Ariadne announced that she would be biding at school for the Easter holidays.

I do not blame you,

her sister-in-law wrote on Good Friday,

because we are now banked up in snow up to the windows, and it’s so overcast that you would not know the Equinox had passed. You are certainly happier at the school, where there is less to distract you.

Despite the cold, the farm has had a successful lambing season, due to a great deal of patience and many sleepless nights from all the men. Remus never spares himself when we’re needing him to be busy. It’s odd that such a hard worker has such peculiar personal habits. On Monday night he was off again to wherever it is he goes each month – he never says where, but it’s presumably to some kind of schoolboys’ reunion, since it’s quite regular but always on a different day of the week. Kenneth thinks these “friends” of his drink him under the table because he’s always very sick and fit for nothing the next day. But his symptoms do not look like a hangover to me, so I’m wondering if the reunion is not some kind of duelling club in which the members hex one another into oblivion. We do not mention his evenings off to your parents (who have yet not noticed) because if they decided that Remus was too irresponsible to keep his job, it would go very hard with Kenneth. Your father literally notices nothing, and your mother is thinking that Remus’s “illnesses” are some kind of body-rhythm allergy.

Talking of sick, I’m finally well again, just very large and always exhausted, wondering if I’m carrying triplets. I cannot wait for June, when I’ll have a chance of feeling normal…

For Ariadne, June always meant exam time. Sixth-year exams were supposed to be a minor interruption, the lightweight practice exams between the O.W.L.s and the N.E.W.T.s, but Professor McGonagall told them that she would not tolerate any slacking off in case slacking became a habit, while Severus informed the class that he would be marking to N.E.W.T. standard so that they would all see how far short they fell of their required goals.

Under such pressure, Ariadne had no time to wonder about the personal habits of her parents’ farmhand. She would have staked her Potions exam that his problem was neither alcohol nor a hexing club, but “body rhythm allergy” did not seem quite right either. She wondered if his mysterious “enemies” were untracked Death Eaters who bore a personal grudge; the dangers of that kind of situation would account for his unwillingness to explain himself. Whatever the exact nature of Remus’s problem, it seemed to Ariadne that his safety – and perhaps other people’s too – was best ensured if she discouraged the discussion.

She did reply to Janet, but she confined herself strictly to commiserations about pregnancy, enquiries about Morag, the stresses of homework, and the glories of Hogsmeade in the spring snow.

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