Eschewing Deceit

Friday 2 September 1977 – Thursday 29 June 1978

Hogwarts, the Grampians.

Rated PG because the bad guys behave badly.

There were more shocks for Ariadne in her first few weeks at Hogwarts.

It was shocking that nobody listened to Professor Binns in History of Magic.

It was shocking how long it took her to master a simple colour-changing charm for kindly Professor Flitwick.

It was shocking that Professor Pavo not only wore a midnight-blue, skin-tight sheath covered with silver spangles instead of academic robes, but actually spent the first ten minutes of their theory lesson talking about all the men who had admired her for wearing it before she began teaching them any Astronomy.

It was shocking that Ariadne fell off her broom in the first riding lesson (admittedly from a height of only six feet), for her brother had assured her that broomstick-riding was easy.

It was demoralising that, by the end of her third Transfiguration lesson, neither she nor Veleta had budged one molecule of their matchsticks, although Kingsley Shacklebolt had turned his into a perfect darning needle.

It was shocking that Professor Viridian punctuated every sentence with profane language. He spoke menacingly about the need for “tough revenge in these dangerous times,” and began by teaching them a hex to make radishes grow out of their enemies’ ears.

“Those radishes were funny,” said Wendy.

Perhaps they had been, but when her classmates looked at Ariadne for comment, she could not think of a polite way to describe how filthy her ears felt for hearing their teacher’s words. “I’m needing some carbolic soap to wipe out my ears…” she began. But she knew her shock was not really about vulgar words; it was about the malice that seemed to leak like poison out of Professor Viridian’s every pore.

Veleta understood at once. “No, you don’t need soap,” she replied swiftly. “It’s Professor Viridian who needs the carbolic – to wash out his mouth. And his heart.”

Wendy giggled all over again.

“Maybe he’ll teach us next lesson to have our enemies foam at the mouth,” said Sarah. “Radishes aren’t really a serious punishment. What kinds of enemies do wizards have? Does he mean people like the Muggle Prime Minister?”

Hestia’s bright smile faded for a moment. “You’ll find out soon enough, Sarah,” she said. “But never mind. We’re safe at school. Let’s go and watch the Quidditch try-outs – my brother’s a Chaser on our House team.”

Ariadne did not feel she could write any of these things to her parents. The surprise of being sorted into Gryffindor was, she felt, enough of a shock for any parent’s system.

* * * * * * *

Of all the adjustments to school culture, none took Ariadne as much by surprise as her Potions lessons. She had noticed in the first lesson that she found the work much easier than any of her classmates did, but she supposed that was because her mother had prepared her well.

Today’s task, the Forgetfulness Potion, was the first seriously tricky brew, and it seemed to go badly for everybody. Veleta chopped her parsley crookedly; David Berriman couldn’t produce a fire-charm to light his cauldron; Wendy McKinnon dropped poppy seeds on the floor, and Hazel Parkinson stuck out her tongue at her.

“Never mind, never mind,” said Professor Slughorn. “We all make our little mistakes. The important thing is that we practise.”

“Salazar!” exclaimed Kingsley Shacklebolt. “Sorry, sir. But I’ve just realised that I used jujube instead of lotos. Will that matter?”

“I’m afraid it will, Mr Shacklebolt. Never mind; I can give you fresh ingredients. Not even Glover Hipworth could brew without practice…”

“Just try to look busy,” Ariadne whispered to Veleta. “Weigh the lotos or something. I’m thinking I can save our parsley…”

After that she kept her eye on her ingredients. She did not trust herself to produce any kind of fire while the atmosphere was so tense, so she used a wooden spatula to steal a flame from under Ivor Jones’s cauldron and then kept her eyes steadily on the brew inside her own.

It was a long, long hour before Professor Slughorn sniffed at Ariadne’s potion and ladled some into a glass bottle. He held the bottle up to the light to check the colour, and then placed it on his desk. He turned around to face the class and cleared his throat impressively.

“So,” he said, “Miss MacDougal is a brewster.”

The class broke out into applause.

“Show off!” hissed Hazel Parkinson.

“Hazel, do not flatter her with your attention,” said Regelinda Macnair. “She’s just snooty about that grandmother of hers – as if Ankarad Macnair had been a person of any consequence!”

At these words Professor Slughorn’s eyes lit up. Ariadne stared at her cauldron, suddenly wishing herself invisible. She began to clean her equipment, determined not to meet Professor Slughorn’s eye.

He was in no hurry, however. He did not address Ariadne again that lesson. She had almost forgotten about him by four o’ clock, when lessons ended, and she and Veleta made their way to the library. A shadow fell across the returns desk, and Ariadne found herself cornered.

“Ah, Miss MacDougal!” Professor Slughorn beamed genially. “Do you know, I was devastated when I heard that your grandmother had died. Ankarad Murray was the most remarkable student I ever taught, and most of my best students since have been descended from her. I’m not ignoring you, Miss Vablatsky – but your famous grandmother is most happily still with us. Listen, I’ve invited a few students to dessert in my study at eight o’ clock this evening – won’t you both come along?”

Obviously a body did not refuse an invitation from a teacher. But after Slughorn had left the library, Ariadne and Veleta were left staring at each other in astonishment.

“What’s his game?” asked Veleta.

“I cannot say. He’s not a bad man, but I’m not trusting him.”

“How can you be so sure he isn’t bad? Lounging around in his chintz armchair, drinking port and stuffing himself with his crystallised pineapple… What’s he hiding?”

“Veleta, how are you knowing what he does when…?” Ariadne broke off the enquiry when she saw the horrified look on Veleta’s face. She changed the subject. “Professor Viridian, now – there’s a man who’s hiding something!”

* * * * * * *

It was shocking what her parents had never known – or, at least, had never told her – about the wizarding world. After Ariadne had covered an eighteen-inch scroll with a full account of her first month at Hogwarts, Sarah said, “I don’t see how you can write so much! Would you like to borrow Thangalaathil?”

“He’s a lovely owl,” said Ariadne, as she tied her letter to the feet of the huge, black bird. “I’ve never seen one like him before – what species is he?”

“A sooty – native to Australia. He was the only one of his kind in the Emporium, and I just fell in love with him on the day after my Hogwarts letter came.”

Thangalaathil flapped out of the common room window, large and grand, like everything connected with Sarah. Ariadne asked how she had chosen her owl’s name.

“I spent ages reading a book about Aboriginal magic,” Sarah said. “In one of those Australian languages, ‘Thangalaathil’ is the word for ‘message bird’.”

Wendy looked very impressed. “Croaker is not seeming a very clever name for my toad after Thangy-hill – whatever you said. My sister raises toads as a hobby; we’ve had this one since he was a tadpole.”

“You have – I mean, you must have scores,” said Veleta.

“Yes, we have. But we’re only allowed one pet…” She glanced meaningfully at the two kittens who were tangling in Hestia’s long curls.

“Oh, I’m sure that’s just a guideline,” said Hestia quickly, as she disentangled sandy-coloured Simba. “My Mum said it would be all right to bring both. They were litter-mates, so we couldn’t play favourites and separate them.”

Ariadne knew that Hestia was lying, that she must have sneaked both kittens into the travelling basket when her mother was not looking, but she could see why Hestia would refuse to leave either behind. Simba was just like a tiny lion, and there certainly was a hint of the Egyptian cat-goddess about Bast.

Hestia wanted to change the subject. “Do you have a pet, Veleta?”

The chocolate-brown eyes darkened. “Not any more,” she said. “I had a puffskein but it… it died. If you really want to know, a girl named Dragomira Macnair murdered it.”

“That’s just the sort of thing that Dragomira would do!” exclaimed Wendy, clutching her toad even more tightly. “Ooh, did you see her do it? Can you prove it? If you have proof, we can set my sister onto her. My sister’s in the Order, you know.”

“No, I can’t prove it.” Veleta’s face shuttered down.

With a lump in her throat, Ariadne realised that asking, So was the poor little puffskein abandoned without justice? would be too distressing for a group conversation.

Fortunately, Sarah had lighted on a change of topic. “What’s the Order? Is that a kind of rule-book?”

Ariadne was glad that Sarah had asked first, because she had never heard of the Order either.

“She means the Order of the Phoenix,” said Hestia. “It’s a secret group that Dumbledore runs. No one knows what they do.”

“It’s not such a secret,” corrected Wendy. “They’re really just the opposite of Death Eaters. They try to stop Voldemort killing people. Only last week, my sister and her boyfriend stopped the Lestranges from blowing up practically the whole of Manchester. Of course, that puts them on the hit-list now. Voldemort will be after Marlene next.”

Ariadne noticed that Wendy did not seem at all embarrassed to speak the name of Voldemort. Perhaps Hogwarts was the kind of place where speaking the name was allowed.

Sarah looked as if she were about to ask what Death Eaters and Lestranges were, and why this Voldemort wanted to blow people up. But before she could open her mouth, Veleta was speaking.

“Don’t worry, Wendy; He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named isn’t thinking about your sister. He’s still after the Order member who exorcised his vampire in July – ”

“Can you be sure?” Wendy had to loosen her grip on Croaker, who was croaking painfully.

Veleta seemed to shake herself awake. “Merlin, did I say that? I mean, I read about it in the Daily Prophet. Yes, I must have read about it. And surely You-Know-Who must be more worried about losing a valuable vampire than about one botched Muggle-bait. He says he doesn’t know who staked the vampire, but when Mulciber finds out… I mean, I suppose Mulciber is the person he’ll ask, since Mulciber was – I mean, I read in the paper that he was – the only Death Eater who saw… Oh, dear, I only mean that I think Gideon Prewett is the person who needs to be worrying, not Wendy’s sister!”

Wendy was appalled. “Who told you that Gideon was the one who went to the vampire-raid in Birmingham? That was classified information. Now I’m going to have to write to Marlene to tell her there was a leak…”

“Wendy, calm down!” But it was hard to say which girl was more agitated. “There hasn’t been a leak. I know from a friend. Yes, a friend. Gideon Prewett knows my Granny; he must have told her that he was in Birmingham. But if that’s a secret, I won’t tell, and nor will Granny.”

Ariadne did not understand why Veleta was lying so hard about the source of her information, but she grasped well enough that the Order of the Phoenix was so active that Voldemort was finding it a serious threat.

“Are vampires real?” asked Sarah. “What about werewolves? Are they real too? No, don’t tell me – I don’t want nightmares tonight.”

Sarah, who had never even heard of Dark magic, lay down to sleep that night thoroughly frightened by the discovery the wizarding world was not the enchanting and happy place she had expected. But Ariadne lay down to sleep very comfortable, enchanted and happy to learn that there were people – including Dumbledore himself – who were willing to stand up to Lord Voldemort.

* * * * * * *

Professor Slughorn’s private parties were as tedious as Ariadne had feared. Her parents would be shocked at how eagerly she tried to avoid them. The formula was always the same. Ariadne, Veleta and half a dozen other students would enter his study to be served chocolate éclairs or strawberry shortcake. Slughorn would ask them questions about their families and career aspirations before turning the conversation to Quidditch or Potions. Then he would reminisce about the famous people who were his friends.

“He’s only interested in himself,” complained Veleta.

Slughorn’s favourite students were also the friends of famous people. There was a quiet and clever fifth-year named Barty Crouch, son of an important Ministry official. There was the rakishly handsome Regulus Black, scion of an ancient and wealthy pure-blood family. There was Claud Greengrass, only a greengrocer’s son, but champion of the fourth-year Charms class; he was almost frightening in his beauty, as chiselled and perfect as a Greek god. Ariadne could not warm to any of these people, except perhaps Greta Catchlove, who came from a modestly successful family of Somerset cheese-makers.

Soon Veleta was looking for an excuse to refuse the invitations. “Let’s say we haven’t finished our homework.”

“But we have,” objected Ariadne.

“But we can say we haven’t… Oh dear, there’s no protection for people who insist on telling the truth! Well, we can say we want to watch the Quidditch practice. Wouldn’t you rather do that than go to the Slug Club?”

Ariadne agreed that she would, but she knew the excuse sounded feeble. “When are you thinking the next party will be? We could take care to leave some homework unfinished for that night.”

“Or we could just say, ‘Sorry, can’t make it.’ Our reasons are not Slughorn’s business. Ariadne… what are you thinking?”

“I’m hoping we will not hurt Professor Slughorn’s feelings… No, that’s not right… It’s not us whom he likes, it’s our possible importance; so there are no feelings to be hurt. But my parents would be horrified that I’m so willing to disoblige a teacher!”

“And mine would be horrified that I nearly lied to one. Thanks for reminding me not to. Come on, we’ll be late for Astronomy.”

It was a shock to Ariadne that Veleta and Hestia disagreed with one another so openly. Hestia did not believe in prophecy and said that Seers were frauds.

“But my grandmother is a Seer,” said Veleta.

“She’s just picking up cues and telling people what they expect to hear,” said Hestia.

“No, she predicted the rise of Him-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named ten years before anyone had heard of him,” said Veleta. “She predicted that Dumbledore would be Headmaster of Hogwarts, and she says that a man called Fudge will one day be Minister of Magic.”

“I’ve never heard of any Fudge. I’ll believe it if I live to see it!”

But the really extraordinary thing was how friendly both girls were about the exchange. It did not sound at all like the Macmillans bickering with the Malfoys; Hestia and Veleta could actually present opposite points of view and still stay friends. What was more, Wendy had giggled at the whole dispute, as if disagreement were somehow funny.

Ariadne was surprised by Hestia Dearborn’s directness. One afternoon she was carrying her two kittens down a corridor when Professor McGonagall emerged from the opposite direction.

“Here – take Bast!” she hissed, dumping the tortoise-shell into Ariadne’s arms. “If McGonagall asks, she’s your cat.”

There was absolutely nothing polite about the request: no, “Could I trouble you…?” or, “Would you be so kind…?” nor even an indirect statement of need: “Oh no, Professor will be angry if I’m caught…” Hestia had simply handed over the kitten and expected Ariadne to take control, even to lie about the situation. And yet there was nothing bossy or threatening about it; Hestia simply expected her friends to help her out and told them so directly.

Ariadne’s parents would have been horrified by the lack of manners; they would have summarily refused a lass like Hestia with a line such as, “Dear, keep your cat, and have a think for next time about the correct way to ask somebody a favour.”

Yet Ariadne quickly recognised that Hestia never refused a request for help. She expected her friends to ask for whatever help they needed, just as she expected that people would always give help on demand. What she did not expect was that anybody should be left guessing about what was required.

The MacDougals considered it ill-mannered to demand favours, but they did tend to oblige other people who asked favours of them. Even if a request were extremely unreasonable, even if the requester had to be written off as “ill-bred” and thereafter held at a distance from the family, they never gave a direct refusal to people who asked politely. So it was yet another shock to Ariadne how easily her friends could say “No”.

Sarah and Wendy were both obsessed with clothes. Students were supposed to wear school uniform at all times, but that had not discouraged either of them from bringing a trunkload of weekend clothes to Hogwarts. Wendy had twenty robes in all the colours of the visible spectrum, and Sarah had piles and piles of Muggle togs. They spent Saturday afternoons rifling through one another’s wardrobes and trying on each other’s garments.

“Oooh, a trouser,” said Wendy enviously. “I’ve seen Muggle men wearing those.”

“Women wear them too,” said Sarah.

“It’s beautiful,” said Wendy, stroking the blue denim. “It’s so rough… so strong… oh, Sarah, could you possibly let me borrow it for a few days to send home for Marlene to have a look? She’d send it straight back. It would be a huge favour. Please?”

That was a request so politely framed that Ariadne could never have refused it. But Sarah quite calmly replied, “Sorry, Wendy, but I promised Mum not to go sending my stuff off school premises.” She did soften her refusal with, “You can borrow them for yourself, that’s fine. But Mum nearly killed me a couple of years ago because I lent clothes to friends who never brought them back, so I had to promise her faithfully that none of this stuff would ever leave Hogwarts.”

Ariadne felt that, while Sarah was not actually lying about her mother’s attitude, she was rather glad to be able to bring in a mother to strengthen her case. But the really interesting point was how comfortable Sarah felt in being so disobliging, quite in addition to how well Wendy took the refusal.

Wendy did look strange wearing the Muggle trouser, somehow undressed and un-magicked; she looked nowhere near as natural as Sarah looked in a wafty dress-robe.

“Where’s Hestia?” asked Ariadne.

“Down in the library with the boys,” said Veleta. “She and Ivor Jones are looking for something in the Quidditch section. But they haven’t noticed yet that the book they want is on the top shelf and – oh!” She clapped a hand over her mouth.

“Is that a secret?” asked Ariadne. “Why did you not just tell them where the book was?”

“I promised I wouldn’t talk like that,” said Veleta, as if she were remembering a lesson. “It unnerves people. Even people who know my grandmother is a Seer don’t like it when I talk about things I’m not supposed to know.”

Ariadne began to grasp the situation. “I’m not unnerved, Veleta,” she said. “Are you a Seer?”

“Not exactly. I’m a – a Locospector.”

Ariadne knew she had read the word somewhere, but she had completely forgotten what it meant.

“I can’t foresee the future,” Veleta explained. “I just See the present – that is, I see things that are happening in a different place, places where my eyes can’t reach. And my mother told me not to let people know that I can spy on them – because it is a kind of spying.”

For a moment the blood crawled into Ariadne’s face, as she imagined what might happen if Veleta could see what she was doing at every minute of the day. “How does it work? Are you forced to look – like prophets who cannot help having visions – or can you choose?”

“Mainly I can choose. But I have to know the person, or the object I’m Locospecting, or the place.” Veleta blushed this time, and lowered her voice. “When I was six, I used to Locospect my brothers going to the toilet. Honestly, I promise you, that became boring after a few weeks. Once you know you can at any time, the mystery is gone, and toilets just aren’t interesting any more. When I was eight, my cousin’s broomstick was stolen, and I was able to Locospect the thief selling the broom on the Dark market. Then I Locospected the purchaser until he was in a place where I could find out his name and address. My cousin was able to reclaim her broomstick, but I never found out the thief’s name, so the Aurors never caught him.”

“There have to be people who would pay hundreds of Galleons to have you tell what you can See,” said Ariadne. “But it could be dangerous too. Does that not frighten you?”

“I’m more worried about how easily I can invade other people’s privacy. Ivor and Hestia are only looking for a book – well, they’ve actually found it now – but one day I might find out something that I really shouldn’t know… You’re right, though, one day I might See too much, and that could get me into trouble.”

* * * * * * *

“Professor Viridian is late again,” said Richard Campion. “Doesn’t he care about teaching any more?”

Once again Veleta had light in her eyes and a firmly-closed mouth. Ariadne waited until the rest of the class was busy with hangman and Gobstones before asking, “Where is Professor Viridian?”

“Waiting outside Dumbledore’s office. But there’s no one to let him in, for Dumbledore’s teaching a Transfiguration class, because McGonagall had to… Well, never mind. Every time Viridian’s been late recently, it’s because he’s been skulking around Dumbledore’s office. What do you think he wants?”

Ariadne could not imagine; a teacher who wished to speak to Dumbledore only had to write a note.

When Viridian charged into the classroom, ten minutes after the hour, he made no apology. “Salazar, don’t you kids do a second more work than you’re forced to? Books out, everyone! Who bothered to learn the incantation for the Curse of the Bogies?”

Professor Viridian was always abrupt and rather rude, but Ariadne knew that today he was assuming a defensive attitude so that nobody would ask him any questions. What was he hiding?

“I’ve a feeling you should keep watching Professor Viridian,” she said to Veleta.

“I think so too,” said Veleta. “Well, he’s off to the staff room now – no secrets there.”

But that evening, Veleta sprang up from the study table in the common room and exclaimed, “Ariadne! Why would Professor Dumbledore keep a sword in his office?”

“A sword? Is it a – a kind of decoration?”

“Perhaps. But why would Professor Viridian be alone in Dumbledore’s office – taking the sword away?”

Ariadne dropped her quill. “We have to tell Professor Dumbledore. Where is he?”

“In the staff room. But perhaps he instructed Viridian to bring the sword… We’ll look really silly if… No! Viridian’s taken the sword into to his own office.”

“This is no time to worry about tattling,” said Ariadne. “Perhaps we’ll look daft. But if this is something Dumbledore’s not yet knowing, then he certainly ought to be told.” She lifted the communal jar of Floo powder down from the mantelpiece and threw a handful into the fire. “The staff room! Veleta, if you’d rather not tell, I will.”

“But I’m the witness, so I suppose I must.” Veleta knelt down timidly in front of the hearth. “Er… Professor Flitwick? Professor Viridian has just taken a sword out of Professor Dumbledore’s office, one with huge rubies in the hilt. I’m just checking that… er… that Professor Dumbledore knows about this, and that there’s some good reason why Professor Viridian needs a sword in his own rooms…”

“Emergency, Albus!” squeaked Professor Flitwick. “Thank you, Miss Vablatsky – I assure you, the Headmaster does not give random permission for teachers to remove the Sword of Gryffindor. Albus, I think we’d all better go to Vindictus’s room – I’ll explain as we go…” And his head vanished from the fire.

The next day, Veleta was late for dinner. “I was called up to Professor Dumbledore’s office,” she explained. “Ariadne, you’ll never guess what. Professor Viridian – he was a Death Eater all along! That sword was once the personal possession of Godric Gryffindor, and Viridian was trying to steal it for Him-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. We don’t really know why You-Know-Who wanted it, but Viridian’s been sacked, and I have fifty points for Gryffindor. Oh, and you have twenty too – I told Dumbledore that I’d never have dared tell tales on a teacher if you hadn’t kept telling me that you knew Viridian couldn’t be trusted…”

An owl fluttered above them and dropped an elegant note into Veleta’s potatoes.

“Bother,” she said, “it’s from Slughorn. His next party will be in my honour. ‘I always knew you were a prescient young lady,’ he writes. What’s ‘prescient’? I suppose I have to go to this one – thank goodness it’ll be the last one before the exams!”

Veleta had managed to avoid most of Professor Slughorn’s parties, while Ariadne had been too truthful to talk her way out of more than half of them. By the end of the school year, she was firmly ensconced as a favourite student.

“She knew the difference between wild chamomile and corn chamomile in her first week – that’s more than you knew in your first year, Crouch! As for her exam result, we won’t publish the percentage too loudly, but it was in three figures. Miss MacDougal, you are the most gifted Potions student that Hogwarts has seen for seven years.” He filled her glass with something dark red; she decided not to try drinking it. “I trust you will remain faithful to your future career as an apothecary. The other staff may well try to lure you away to their disciplines, but your true vocation is unquestionably with Potions. Miss Catchlove, will you give us your opinion on the Frinault cheese?”

A/N. My beta suggested the best parts of this chapter’s dialogue. So when you leave a review for me, be sure to leave one for Spiderwort too.

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