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Chapter 6: Part Six
The letters trickled in slowly at first, one a week if he was lucky. Then suddenly, unexpectedly, they began flooding in. Offers to lend parchment, quills, typewriters, ink; to clean out attics and spare rooms to use as headquarters; to become investors, printers, advertisers; to write an article for the first edition, which was to be released at the end of the month. He would’ve apologized to the owls for the excess of envelopes, but he wasn’t sorry… he was ecstatic.
He was going to be editor of his very own magazine!
It started as a means of earning money for a flat, to give Astrelius and Daphne some privacy in the cottage. But as it gained momentum, as his brother and sister-in-law urged him forward, something inside of Xeno began to thrum, like a grand instrument nervously beginning its first symphony to discover that this is what it was made for all along.
He’d enthusiastically advertised in the Daily Prophet, put hundreds of posters up in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, and mentioned the magazine in his farewell article for Nature Strikes Back, hoping for a reaction from his fans. He’d written his friends and family, and Capria had done the same.
At first, the magazine’s name was advertised lovingly as Wrackspurt, after the series of articles that had earned him the title ‘Journalist.’ But after some thought and a telling conversation with Capria, he settled on a new name: The Quibbler.
“You know, you’re not much of an arguer,” she teased him one day.
“What do you mean?” His back was to her, hands occupied with dinner preparation for the two.
“I can’t stir up debate in you,” she answered. When Xeno didn’t respond, she added, “What would you rather have – a perfect life that was all made up inside of your head, but you were completely mad and believed it was real… or a sad life, in which nothing went your way, and you were terribly lonely all the time, but it was real.”
Xeno flicked his wand toward the stove, turning it off, and shrugged.
“Both seem lonely,” he responded.
“I suppose,” Capria agreed, “but which would you rather have?”
He thought about it for a moment, moved to sit with her at the table, and asked, “Do you think I’m mad?”
“Then why ask?”
“That, right there,” she said, her face lighting up. “That’s what I mean. You don’t argue, Xeno. You’re a quibbler.”
Xenophilius wasn’t sure what she meant, and yet her final word seeped into him, flooding his awareness until he found himself repeating it like a parrot all day. Quibbler. Quibbler. Quibbler.
And thus, The Quibbler was born.
Making the name switch brought the torrent of mail. Not knowing where to put it all, Xeno had shoved some haphazardly into kitchen drawers, spread some out on the table, and slipped a few into unused coffee mugs.
“It suits you,” Capria had said, taking in the mess. “You’ve finally broken into your new flat.”
Now, as Xenophilius stood surveying what was officially his, he didn’t see the peeling 1950’s wallpaper, or the cracks in the wainscoting, or the misshapen carpet stain in the corner, or the window that didn’t open more than an inch. He saw himself, hunched over the coffee table, scribbling away at his next article. He saw his contributors, sitting in the kitchen, sipping tea and swapping ideas. He saw Capria, lovingly tracing his outline into the carpet as he lay, splayed out and exhausted from a long night of indulging his magazine.
Out of nowhere, Xenophilius spun on his heel and hurried out of the flat, his face pulled taut with purpose.
As Xenophilius walked home that evening, after having spent more money than he had saved up, everything was painted in the aching color of anticipation. He longed to pick wildflowers to calm his nerves, but downtown London offered little greenery. So instead, he marveled at the fresh wonders that cities offered.
He tapped his toes to the tune of street performers, hopped out of the paths of bicyclers, inhaled the distinct spice of corner cafés, tossed a Sickle into a bubbling fountain, peeked through the sea-glass windows into antique shops, and, ah! A plant nursery!
It was wedged between a café and a bar. Life surged on either side, and he felt its vague pull as he ran straight through. The tinkling of a bell sounded when he pushed the door open, reminding him of a child’s laugh. He paused, the scent of damp earth overwhelming him. It was then that he realized how sorely he’d been craving that smell, without knowing it.
To avoid the threatening tears that constricted his throat, Xeno made an abrupt right and began perusing the rows of flowers. The blues and oranges and yellows and greens blurred together in frantic clarity before the shop owner stepped beside him and offered to help. Xeno nodded.
“Wildflowers,” he exhaled. “Yellow ones. They look like… sunbursts. White tips.”
Ten minutes later, he was back on the streets of London, carrying a bouquet of neatly-wrapped wildflowers under his arm. And his heart was back to thumping, even louder than before. He made it home only by losing himself in daydreams of The Quibbler’s success, of the crowds gathering to shake his hand, to congratulate him for proving the existence of the Snorkack, to thank him for the tips that saved them from a Nargle invasion, to ask advice regarding the use of gnome saliva.
After walking into his flat, Xenophilius breathed a sigh of relief and collapsed onto the moth-eaten sofa, cupping his face in his hands. After several minutes of stillness, he peeked through his fingers at the clock, and sighed again. He laid the wildflowers gently beside him. He scratched at the beginnings of a five o’clock shadow on his chin. He hummed quietly under his breath. Then he spotted the envelope.
It was apart from the others, lying on his coffee table, labeled St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries.
Mr. Lovegood, it read,
I am writing on behalf of Miss Capria Lindfield. She has gotten into a bit of an accident but would like to assure you that she is fine, only lonely. She wonders if, when you are done with your work for the day, you would come to visit her at St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, Ground Floor: Artifact Accidents.
“Artifact Accidents?” he said aloud, puzzled.
He looked around the room, noticing a sudden change in the color of his world. It was no longer flushed with hope. The steely blue of panic was bleeding in at the edges, and Xenophilius was running, out the door and down the rickety staircase, feeling the weight of the small velvet box in his pocket with every clamoring footfall.
“Sh-sh-sh-she wrote me a-a-a-a-a letter,” he stammered, brow sticky with sweat. “No, sh-sh-she didn’t write it. Why didn’t she wr-wr-wr-write it? S-s-s-something’s wrong, I–”
“Patient’s name, please.”
He pressed his palms into the counter, swallowed hard. “Lindfield.”
“Okay, one moment, please.” The witch ran a manicured finger down a list of patients. Xenophilius’s stomach curled at the sight of her too-white uniform, at the scraping of her nail as it ran down the list. “Ah, here it is. Room 16.”
Xenophilius was gone before she looked up.
His first thought upon entering the sanitized room was that it didn’t smell like her. It smelled of strong antiseptic and a slight undertone of burning. And blood. Xeno curled his fingers into a fist.
“Xeno, you’re here.” Her voice was gossamer thin, and rugged.
He edged closer to her bed, noticed the white bandages wrapped around her right arm, how they matched the pale skin of her face with horrid exactness. Dark circles gouged her eyes, leeched their sparkle. She smiled at him through the fog of painkillers.
“It’s good to see you,” she whispered.
“Capria,” he repeated. “Capria.”
Through her daze, he saw the understanding in the curve of her lips, in the wrinkle of her brow. She knew he couldn’t say more. And that was okay.
Without thinking, he crawled into bed with her, gathering her in his arms. She fit flawlessly into the hollow of his chest. The blankets bundled around them as Xeno buried his face into her thick hair and wept. The fear and confusion emptied onto the white sheets in evaporating pearls, and in that moment he understood why Capria had never stopped waiting for her mother to come home.
“Good morning, sleepyhead.”
His eyes felt sandy as he blinked them open to the stinging of hospital white.
“You look terrible,” she sighed. And he felt it.
Capria was sitting cross-legged beside him, reading. But as he tenderly rubbed at his eyes, she laid her book aside and snuggled up against him.
“How are you?” he asked groggily.
In response, she held her arm up for him to see. The bandages were gone. The only evidence of her ‘accident’ was a series of jagged scars running from wrist to elbow.
“All fixed!” she replied happily. “The Healer’s here are great. Healer Léon wrote you for me, because my hand was all bandaged. And he brought me that flower over there.” She pointed to a yellow flower with white tips sitting in a vase. “I told him they were my favorite. I said, ‘Xeno would’ve brought some for me already, but he’s working on his magazine.’”
Xenophilius ran his finger gently along the pink of her scars. The knotted skin felt strangely soft.
“My cauldron exploded,” she said matter-of-factly, burrowing herself into his chest. One of her legs slipped in between his. “I was making a new potion. I think it got too hot. The cauldron exploded and I couldn’t stand the blood. I passed out.”
Xeno squeezed his eyes shut. “Who found you?” he murmured.
“I don’t remember much. I’m sorry.”
He nodded and her hair tickled his chin. Something inside squirmed and twisted as the gruesome scene unraveled in his mind’s eye. He could see pewter bits of cauldron embedded in her marred skin, the spilled potion pooling at her feet as she fell, afraid and alone, to the earth.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, reaching up to press her palm against his face. “You’re shaking.”
“I just… I d-d-don’t want you…” He stopped. He couldn’t bring himself to say it, to tell her to stop experimenting. Not after he had seen the magic of her potion making, the way she lovingly stirred her creations, her joy...
“How close were you to finishing the potion?” he asked instead.
Her face lit up. “So close.”
She moved her hand from his cheek, and the sun glinted off the ring resting on her fourth finger. Shards of light fell upon the white sheets, moving in a kaleidoscope pattern, and Xeno felt his heart jump into his throat.
“When did you… ? You’re wearing the –” The ring. His ring. The ring he had bought with all of his savings. He was supposed to kneel down. He was supposed to slip it onto her finger. And here she was, wearing it.
Groping at his pocket, he felt its emptiness. The box was gone. And the ring was on her finger.
He felt numb.
“You were asleep, so I put it on for you,” she replied demurely.
“Oh,” he murmured, breathless.
Sensing his unease, Capria leaned close and pressed her lips to his. Their familiar warmth brought feeling rushing back. Unable to grasp what had just happened, he relinquished all to her, existing only through the molding of her lips against his.
When she pulled away, cheeks flushed, hair mussed and spilling about her shoulders, Xeno caught her whispered “I love you,” and without thinking, just feeling, he easily returned, “I love you, too.”
Capria’s lips twisted into a toothy smile. She seemed to glow as she fit her fingers into the empty spaces between his. “You didn’t stutter at all,” she noted, beaming. “Xeno, you finally got it right.”
A/N: It’s over. I can’t believe it’s over. It’s such a bittersweet feeling. Anyway, thank you so much for reading. And if you left a review, I can’t thank you enough. Your support means so much to me.
And with that, Xeno and I bid you farewell.