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Chapter 3: Part Three
Xenophilius was leaning backwards, his chair balancing dangerously on two legs. His feet were thrown onto his bed, shoes still on, laces undone. They were muddy from the gardening finished moments before he had bustled up the stairs and lunged for his bottle of cherry tonic… the very same bottle which was now hovering over his eager lips, spilling its very last drop.
Xeno shook the bottle expectantly, but to no avail; it was empty.
This realization caused a frantic stirring deep within Xenophilius’s chest. A bizarre mixture of emotions overtook him. There was the disappointment of endings come all too quickly, laced with the anxiety of uncertainty, churned with the excitement of contacting Capria once again, sprinkled with the anticipation of their next meeting.
His eyes glazed over, his chair wobbled dangerously, and he was nearly pitched onto the mud-stained carpet.
Awkwardly recovering himself, Xenophilius placed the bottle on his pillow and kicked off his shoes, tossing them onto today’s copy of The Daily Prophet, which was lying crumpled on the floor. He wedged his hand underneath the mattress and retrieved the wooden box from its hiding place.
Once its intricately carved lid was removed, the crisp scent of fresh parchment teased his nostrils. It was the scent of intrigue, and of excitement. As he lovingly ran his fingers along the piece of parchment at the top of the stack, he imagined what it would look like filled with inky words. They were already flooding his mind.
They wanted out.
I’ve run out of potion. What happens now?
Xenophilius slipped the tip of his quill between his teeth and stared, head cocked, at the letter. The more times he read it over in his head, the more ungracious it sounded, so he quickly crumpled it up and tossed it across the room.
Wasting no time, he threw everything haphazardly onto his bed, creating an asymmetrical blotch of ink on his already stained quilt. Without even bothering to deal with his shoes, he padded down the stairs barefoot and headed towards the backdoor.
“Where are you headed?” asked a dazed Astrelius from the kitchen table.
Xenophilius cast his brother a brief glance, spotted the iridescent tendrils of sleep encircling him, and shrugged. He knew Astrelius would remember this moment only in cloudy stills, and therefore replied with an indefinite, “Outside” with the knowledge that it would not offend.
Sure enough, he received a sleepy head nod and that was the end of the interrogation.
Amused, Xenophilus headed outside with a fuzzy visualization of the bridge – his destination – playing against his memory. It was brighter than he remembered it, more exciting. Something had painted it with a shade that read, This is where you want to be.
And oh, how he wanted to be there.
Xenophilius was well on his way to the bridge – taking mental pictures of exotic-looking flowers to pick on the way back and wondering whether or not Capria would remain true to her word – when he stopped abruptly. A little cloud of dust sprang to life and danced about his feet for a brief moment, chaotic. But Xenophilius didn’t notice. His ears had picked up the distant sound of distressed whining.
Eagerly, Xeno tilted his head on its axis, rotating it about, tuning his hearing. And soon, he spotted it. A small creature with a bushy tail, wailing agonizingly. Its muzzle was raised in the air as it cried, caught in the metal bars of a man-made cage.
A pang of sorrow hit against Xenophilius’s chest, reverberating on his heartstrings. The gentle hum of emotion built, gradually, until he could stand it no longer. The poor creature deserved to be imprisoned just as much as a child deserved to be punished for imagining. Xenophilius knew he had to do something.
He hurried off the beaten path – marching to the inner tremblings of pity – into the tall grass which was punctuated with dandelions and an array of purple, pink and orange flowers. They swayed in the light, summer breeze, and he moved with them, among them, hurrying to the tall, chain-link fence that barred his entry into the Muggle prison guard’s backyard.
Lacing his fingers between the links of the fence, Xenophilius lifted a foot and wedged his toe into a metal groove. Carefully, cautiously, he began to climb the fence the Muggle way. He was wary of using magic in such close proximity to the watching eyes ignorant of his world.
He reached the top and swung a leg over, as though mounting a skeletal thestral. His brow was sweaty from the effort. He felt unbalanced, with nothing to cling to but the backbone of metal stretching out before him. Wobbling slightly, his arms shaking, he thought for one horrifying moment that he might fall.
But then, a sense of balance and warmth overcame him, and he knew he was safe. He steadied himself and looked down into the wide eyes of Capria Lindfield, her wand pointed directly at him, an ease in her posture.
“Go on, I’ll follow,” she instructed.
Xenophilius nodded, inching cautiously down the fence and jumping to his feet when he reached the bottom. Seconds later Capria landed lightly beside him. He smiled at the knowledge that her agility and grace far surpassed his own.
Capria held a finger to her upturned lips and pointed to the window. Xeno looked up, spotting the back of a balding head, tufts of gray hair growing sparsely around its crown. It was the Muggle who owned the house, seated at an armchair before an old, black and white television set; if he so much as turned around, they were caught.
Quietly, Capria led the way. She danced before him, nimble, on her toes, straw hair loose and cascading down her back. It was so long that it appeared to Xeno as an extra garment, covering her back and her arms as she lifted them to conduct an invisible orchestra with her wand.
It all happened so quickly, and Xenophilius was so enraptured, that it might have been a trick of the light…
Capria had turned back to wink at him, the sun beating down on her, sparkling in her dreamy eyes. As she smiled at him, she stumbled over the uneven terrain. Emitting a petrified squeak, her arms began carving frenzied, off-balanced circles in the fresh, golden air.
Sparks emitted from the tip of her wand. The Muggle turned his head.
“No,” Xenophilius whispered, stopping in his tracks.
The Muggle’s eyes were mad. He flung the window open clumsily and began to yell at them, his voice gruff and angry, his teeth yellow and bared.
“Trespassers! Rotten kids! Get yourselves out of this here yard, or I’m calling the cops. Get!”
Xenophilius held his hands against his ears in an attempt to block out the man’s grating voice. He didn’t like the sound of it; it reduced him to a child as he stood, out of place, a rule breaker with no hopes of being rewarded with dessert after such unruly behavior.
Through guilty eyes, half-closed, he saw Capria. Her posture had not altered. It was with assuredness that she brandished her wand toward the cage, ignoring the yells of the enraged man in the window. The metal bars bowed outwards and the creature hurried out into the grass, heading for the safety of the hydrangea.
“What – how… You did something! What’s that yer holdin’?!”
The Muggle’s expression twisted, and, almost simultaneously, Xeno gripped at his stomach as a solid weight sunk to its depths. This fear… it was all too familiar; it was the fear of detection, of those in charge coming to hunt him, of being put behind bars that could not be manipulated by the gentle Capria Lindfield.
“Why’d you let the vermin go?! Damn kids!”
But as the Muggle man stood by, his great, fat mouth gaping open as he continued to shout, Capria looped back around, fit her hand around Xeno’s – like an old playmate – and began running for the fence. She was quick on her feet and Xenophilius stumbled behind her. His mind barely registered his movements.
Before he knew it, he was over the fence, stumbling toward the dirt path, Capria at his side. They were running, plunging deeper and deeper into the vast pool of relief, his senses returning.
They ran until their lungs ached. They ran until their sides cramped and the swirling dust was too much. Coughing and spluttering, laughing and shouting, they fell to the earth in a shuddering heap and lay there together, clutching their aching rib cages.
To fill the space between them was the deep buzz of silence, barely disguised by the faint wind or their greedy gulps of air.
When they had drunk their fill and their lungs no longer burned, Xeno turned his head to face Capria, his accomplice. She seemed peaceful, the glow of summer rich on her skin. It brightened her cheeks and reddened her lips, which were parted slightly as she gazed back at him.
Then, out of nowhere, Capria’s reaching fingers plucked a hair straight from Xeno’s head. The pain was there, but it was secondary. What he felt was mostly shock, surprise, curiosity. He watched as she held the strand in the air, examining it.
“It’s gray,” she said, finally, crushing the silence and the gap between them.
“W-what?” Xenophilius stuttered in response.
“It’s gray,” she echoed dreamily, thrusting it so close to his face that he had no choice but to gaze at it cross-eyed.
He felt suddenly self-conscious. She was so close.
“No, it c-c-can’t be m-mine, then,” he stuttered.
Capria sat up suddenly, and rose to her feet. Xenophilius mirrored her, and lagged behind as she swept toward the bridge – their original meeting spot. She tiptoed over wooden planks and leaned fearlessly over the water, resting her elbows against the faded wood of the railing. Her expression was one of vague interest as she gazed at the hair held between two fingers.
Xenophilius smilingly took his place beside her, the warm sun beating down the back of his neck. Once at her side, he noticed that he felt quite hot. The fabric of his cotton shirt was clinging to the sweat on his skin. He squirmed at the feeling.
“You’re strange,” Capria declared, out of the blue, a laugh in her wide eyes.
She pulled her fingers apart, and Xenophilius watched as the hair fell sideways, carried by the breeze.
“You are too,” he decided, smiling, as the hair blew out of sight.
They laughed together – as they had done moments before, rolling about in the grass – and Xenophilius imagined ripples erupting on the surface of the stream. He imagined the hair, his own, torn out strand, riding the surface like a water bug. Yet he didn’t tear his gaze from Capria’s, no matter how much his curiosity burned him, no matter how terribly he longed to check for himself.
Her eyes, narrowed and wet with laughter, were far more interesting than his imaginings.
Her eyes were cold when she turned on him.
“I can’t do this anymore Xeno,” she said, her tone betraying her disgust.
“W-what?” Despite the warmth, Xenophilius felt suddenly and piercingly cold.
“This,” she repeated, as though struggling to convey a difficult concept to an inept child.
Xenophilius leaned in closer to her, reaching a hand to place against her stiff arm.
“Don’t touch me,” she hissed.
His arm fell to his side, stiff, rigid like a soldier at attention. He frowned and gazed up at the brilliantly blue sky. It smiled down at him, a friend, but he could not return the favor.
“I’m done with your ridiculous stories and your… your collection, and your stupid ideas about, what are they, nar-somethings. I don’t need a child in my life, Xeno. I’m not your mother.”
She rose from her chair, setting down her glass of ice water, one of the pair that Astrelius had brought out for them. The ice clinked against the side of the glass at the disturbance.
“No, Xeno,” she interrupted, before adding, rather roughly, “You’re just too strange.”
And that was that.
Xenophilius watched as she spun on her heel and walked off, past the hedges, around the side of the house, and out of sight. Her unexpected absence made him shiver.
Setting his own water glass down upon the mosaic table top, Xenophilius sat perfectly still, allowing the seconds to trickle by. He didn’t move for five long minutes, then ten, and soon twenty. All the while, the birds called overhead, the insects buzzed in the sticky humidity, and the clouds rolled across the sky.
How strange it was that the world had not yet stopped turning. He could not understand it.
Xenophilius thought, and thought, and thought. And then, it struck him.
Rotating around and around in his mind’s eye, gaining fervor all the while, was a memory of Capria. He saw her eyes, gentle, accepting, as she said that very same word that had sounded so ugly moments ago: strange. On Capria’s tongue, though, it was different, as though she was living in an entirely different sphere, a whole other world.
Xenophilius couldn’t imagine why the two wouldn’t unite.
The sky wasn’t so blue today. It was an indistinct swirl of gray, large and threatening.
Xenophilius watched the storm clouds churn overhead, his back resting against the rough bark of an apple tree. He could smell rain on the wind, and had glued his eyes to the heavens, waiting for the first drop to fall.
Instead of rain, the heavens dropped a single Jonathan apple. It came hurtling into his vision, a great red splotch, growing larger and larger, until it hit him square in the chest with a whoosh of expelled air.
Capria rushed over to him and knelt down, gazing apprehensively into his eyes.
“Does it hurt?”
“I’m fine,” he assured her, smiling toothily and picking up the apple. “Thanks.”
At his smile, Capria’s frown broke. She giggled to herself and popped up, wandering over to her portable, wooden ladder. It had been placed directly beneath a tree plentiful in large, deep red apples, all of them simply screaming to be plucked. As she raised herself onto the first rung, the ladder visibly sunk into the damp earth.
Xenophilius rubbed his gifted apple against his shirt to clean it and took a bite. It was crisp, tart, and delicious, just as he’d imagined. A trail of juice ran down his chin, which he wiped away with his sleeve, smiling contentedly.
“It’s delicious,” he called to Capria.
She beamed at him over her shoulder.
“You’ll have to be careful for the rotten ones, though,” he warned. “They could be poisoned by Nargles.”
Giving an unrestrained and sudden gasp of surprise, Capria briskly released the apple she had been holding. It hurtled to the earth and rolled jerkily toward Xenophilius. He watched it nervously, but it stopped several yards away from his muddy trainers. All was silent for a moment as they gazed at the traitorous apple.
“It was bruised,” Capria finally said, grinning sheepishly.
“Nargles,” Xenophilius declared, before taking a determined bite of his own apple.
Capria began her work again, falling easily into her natural rhythm. Her delicate hands reached up to pluck each apple, gently, as though she were rescuing a dove, caught in the branches. The apples were then transferred to a wicker basket at her feet. Her store was growing, each apple unique, their coloring unmatched by any other.
And as she worked, she sung. Xenophilius felt his eyes droop at the sound of her voice – so smooth, like the rolling of distant waves put to music. He was feeling sleepy, kept awake only by the sheer electricity in the air, the telltale sign of an oncoming storm that pulled at his excited nerves.
Groggily, Xeno took another bite of his apple. The juices leaked down his chin, but this time, he did nothing to stop them. His attention was monopolized by something else, now, something disturbing… the dark, asymmetrical brown spot discoloring the red skin of his apple.
“Capria,” he breathed, beginning to panic.
She hadn’t heard him. Her velvety voice continued, undisturbed.
“Capria!” He shouted, now; his frantic yell a witness to his fear.
Her singing stopped. A golden head whipped around and Capria gazed at him, through him, a mixture of shock and intrigue splattered across her face.
All he could do was hold up the apple, breathless. With the pads of his fingers he raised it up for her to see. And as she stared at it, squinting her eyes slightly for a better view, Xenophilius felt his heart begin to race. It was booming in his chest, like a distant drum beating in time to a tribal ritual in which he, Xenophilius Lovegood, was about to be offered as a sacrifice.
“No!” Capria squeaked, nearly toppling off her ladder in realization.
Xenophilius dropped the apple abruptly and held a hand against his chest, counting the seconds between pounding heartbeats. The time between each beat was slipping away, until it felt as though the beats were connected by an invisible string of sound, a constant thrumming.
A soft hand fit itself against the curve of Xenophilius’s forehead. He looked up and saw Capria leaning over him, frowning and biting her bottom lip in concentration.
“Capria,” he whispered, just as she left his side to fetch her bag.
He watched her rummage through her things, tossing out crumpled up pieces of parchment, broken quills, wooden spoons, and countless empty bottles. Her eyes appeared wild, frenzied.
“Here it is, the little bugger!” she cried.
Finally, the search was complete.
Xenophilius sat back, feeling distinctly light-headed and warm, as Capria hurried to his side, a potion bottle in her hand. It was a milky white color. Liquid pearls.
“Drink this,” she said, shoving it into his hand.
Her eyes were wide as she watched him loosen the cork and bring the potion to his lips. As the tonic trickled down his throat, its coolness easing the over-zealous beating of his heart, Xenophilius let out a soft sigh. Closing his eyes, he leaned his head against the trunk of the tree, holding the bottle slackly in his fingers.
“How do you feel?”
Capria’s lips were at his ear. Her words reached him in a whisper, and he could’ve sworn it was the wind speaking to him.
“I’ll be fine,” he replied. And he knew it to be true.
He heard a soft rustling, and opened his eyes to see Capria leaning backwards against the cool grass, relief evident in her every subtle movement.
“You saved me,” Xeno said; his version of ‘thank you.’
“You save people, too,” she responded. From her new, horizontal position, she began staring up at the storm clouds smirking overhead.
“What do you mean?” Xeno asked.
He re-corked the potion Capria had given him and held it close to his face, examining it.
“I read your articles,” she responded, running her fingers through the grass as she lay there, perfectly at ease. “I like them. I’m grateful that you write them. It’s very… valiant of you.”
Xenophilius was taken aback. No one had ever called him ‘valiant’ before.
“Oh,” he breathed.
“I always search for them,” she continued. “I’ve got a subscription to Nature Fights Back. So I can always save the copies when they’ve got an article by you.”
Xenophilius smiled to himself, and set the bottle aside to look, instead, at Capria. Even in the pale, shifting light, she was glowing.
“I think that’s why I jumped out of the tree for you. Because I already sort of knew you,” she admitted, distantly. “I usually just stay up there and watch people.”
Capria shrugged, and, at that precise moment, a gust of wind blew through the orchard, catching her golden hair and shaping it into a flowing S.
“I learn more that way,” she responded, simply.
Xenophilius nodded. The smile had not faded from his face, nor did it fade when the first drop of rain hit his pinky finger, nor when the second fell onto the fabric of his trousers, darkening the material.
“You’re talented, Xeno,” she said, her eyes closed as she basked in the rain that fell upon her exposed skin.
Xenophilius laughed quietly. “So are you,” he responded.
“Me?” she asked, twisting her arms up into the air, grabbing at the water droplets.
“You sing,” he replied.
“It’s just a hobby,” she told him.
Xenophilius nodded, frowning slightly. “I wish I could sing,” he whispered.
“You could sing with me,” Capria suggested, having heard his whispered desire. “We could make up a song about… about the rain. And it’ll help with your stutter!”
Capria sat up suddenly, excited by her idea. Her eyes were round and sparkling, her lips pulled into a wide, toothy smile, glistening with the tear droplets of the heavens. She clapped her hands together once, ready to start.
“Wait,” Xeno stopped her, mortified. “I c-c-c-can’t sing. I c-can’t even c-c-c-carry a t-tune!”
“But it’ll help with your stuttering,” Capria offered.
The rain had begun to pick up now. Xenophilius could hear it pounding against the treetops, the grass, could feel it hitting his arms and legs, dampening his clothing, making his hair stick to his forehead.
“It’s raining. We should g-go back,” he said, looking away ashamedly.
Capria didn’t respond. She was staring at him intently, through the pouring rain. The look on her face told Xenophilius that she had seen through his suggestion, had read him as easily as though he were an open book.
“Okay,” she replied. Her tone was bright; if she was disheartened, she didn’t show it in the least.
Xenophilius stood up, pushing his rain-drenched locks away from his eyes. He took a single step in the direction of his house, toward the murky, muddy distance, before Capria’s hand was on his shoulder, holding him back.
He spun on his heel to see her holding a potion bottle, a familiar red-tinted tonic inside.
“Don’t forget your stuttering potion.”
A/N: Good news! My New Year’s resolution is to write every day. So updates will be faster. Also, I’ve put three of my WIPs on hiatus until I finish this story. So updates will be way faster. :)
As always, reviews are greatly appreciated!