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Better Days Than These by Pixileanin
Chapter 2: Pure blood is pure blood, except when it's not and then it's... not.
Junior Lead Detective In Training, Terrence Spungen, had been woken from a peaceful sleep and had a portkey and a short file folder shoved at him at a quarter to eleven in the evening. He arrived slightly disoriented outside the Headmaster’s Office at shortly after midnight, and attempted to gather his wits about him before meeting his first real client. As he reviewed the file on the house elf death, a gruff voice called from within.
Terrence stepped into the Headmaster’s office and sat down, hiding a nervous yawn behind his hand. He’d never done field work before, but he’d memorized his father’s declassified files (and everything else he could get his hands on). Fortunately, the Headmaster’s long scowl didn’t look up from his sheaves of parchment as he addressed the detective.
“I wouldn’t ordinarily bother the Ministry for inconsequential matters. However, with recent reports of dissidence and due to the sensitive nature of this year’s curriculum reorganization…” The Headmaster paused for effect. “We cannot discount any anomaly.”
The detective nodded. “Certainly.”
“The serving staff was rightly put out by the elf’s demise. If the matter isn’t treated with sensitivity, things could go awry. Garbage cannot simply pile up and Hagrid’s low blood sugar will not allow him to miss a meal. The excessive lip twitching of the staff alone would cause my eyes to roll in the back of my head, and I need them to stay where they are.” The Headmaster’s own lip began to twitch and he sniffed abruptly. “And also, there are students here,” he added dismissively.
Terrence shuffled through his copious notes for something, anything that might be helpful. His father’s questionable discharge from the British Ministry had made many of his colleagues reluctant to look on the Spungen name as anything but a synonym for failure. Handling a simple house elf issue would be a good start in proving them all wrong… though he couldn’t deny his father’s warning that these days, uncovering the truth was a dangerous business.
“There is a student in Slytherin who might be able to help you,” the Headmaster finally offered when Terrence hadn’t been helped by his notes. “One of the Parkinson sisters seems to have made a friend with it last year.”
Terrence wrote the name down in his notes. “Where can I find her?”
The Headmaster put his papers down and stared at Terrence. “It should be rather obvious to you, Detective. Go out and detect her.” Then he added, “She’s the clever one with the annoying bird.”
Terrence expected the Headmaster to finish with “that will be all”, but after an awkward silence with the Headmaster’s head buried into his scrollwork, the detective saw himself out. He’d never been to Hogwarts (having spent his school years studying in Italy), but he was fairly certain that the kitchen would be easy enough to find. In his experience, they were generally two flights down and to the left of the Main Office. (At least they had been at his old school, and the Pantheon Bowling Alley in lower Rome, which didn’t have stairs, but followed the same principle.) How different could British architecture be? Unfortunately, he had no experience in appeasing house elves, although it couldn’t be nearly as difficult as negotiating a truce during the Goblin Rebellion of sixteen twelve (which he’d studied on his off time and found particularly fascinating). As he stepped onto the moving staircase, Terrence dug around in his notes from his detective-in-training workshops. Maybe he had a checklist for disgruntled house elves.
Terrence took the nearest left turn and stopped at the sight of two girls arguing, their shrill voices bouncing off the stone walls into the silent night.
“You called my mother a hag! After everything she’s done for you!” The ebony haired girl’s face was red like a beet.
The blonde with the ringlets was stunning, even when slightly flushed. “You exposed my underthings in public!”
Terrence’s eyebrows went up and he concentrated on absolutely not envisioning the fair-haired girl in anything less than her school uniform.
“How are you going to get by now, without your little helper, Miss Perfect?” The ebony-haired girl scrunched her face up. “I heard what she said yesterday. The Carrows probably used her for Dark Arts target practice!”
“Squiggles didn’t do anything wrong, and my corset is nobody’s business. You shouldn’t have opened your mouth!”
Pansy exploded. “You shouldn’t have been born!”
“Excuse me?” Terrence ventured. The argument was clearly getting out of hand and he had someplace to be. “Do either of you know the Parkinsons?”
Pansy shrieked in disgust at the interruption and stormed off. Peony turned to him in surprise. “So you heard all of that? Now everyone knows. Just to be clear, I’m rethinking the tassels.”
“It’s half past midnight, the two of you were very loud and… what?” Terrence hadn’t heard anything about tassels.
“That was Pansy, my ill-tempered sister. My name is Pe’onia Parkinson, but you can call me Peony. What can I do for you?”
“Well,” Terrence began, studying her in the dim corridor and noting her confidence and poise (and the finch, which matched the description that he’d been given). “Headmaster Snape said you might be helpful.” He pulled out a clean sheet of parchment and wrote “Parkinson” at the top. A girl like that deserved her own page. “So you and your, err, sister is it?” Terrence couldn’t believe they were that closely related. If he squinted, their facial features might be similar, except the blonde had an elegant, smoothness and the brunette who’d run off looked like she’d been smacked with the wrong end of a broom.
“Half sister, thank goodness,” Peony told him. “She thinks her mother deserved Father more, but the truth is that he married my mother first. She died when I was three, unfortunately. And then Father married her mother because it was the right thing to do. He was a very honorable man, and then he died too…” She trailed off, seemingly in a world of her own.
Terrence’s quill hovered over his notebook. The girl had such a sad look in her eyes that he couldn’t help but throw in an “I’m sure your mother was a lovely person, just like you.” Gah! She was so… pretty. ‘Talking to pretty girls’ was not on the checklist, unless they were suspects. He cleared his throat and tried to sound professional. “You must be the one who found the house elf.”
Peony nodded. “Water was all over the floor, and poor Winky sobbed into my robe!”
“Did you know the deceased very well?”
She sniffed. “Yes. My sister said she smelled like eggplant, but I happen to like eggplant very much. Squiggles didn’t deserve to die.” Her bottom lip quivered.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Terrence said. “I was wondering…” He scanned down the Junior Detective Checklist, but she seemed so upset. Maybe he could soften the blow… sit down with her later, over a cup of tea and cookies… no, Terrence corrected himself. The Checklist was clear. He put on his most convincing smile. “Could you show me where the kitchens are?”
Peony’s face turned a rosy pink and she smoothed her hair, putting a few curls back in place. “Of course.”
The next morning, sunlight poured into the Great Hall, casting its brilliance on the four houses of Hogwarts, but Peony’s heart was darkened by sadness and longing. Last night, she’d shown the nice detective to the kitchens and then couldn’t get to sleep, disturbed by Squiggles’ untimely death. She was still uncharacteristically gloomy that afternoon when she returned to the empty Great Hall and spun her Time-Turner back to attend the rest of her classes for the day. (Even though everyone knew about Peony’s impossible schedule, the Headmaster had sworn her to secrecy, or he would have forms to fill out and questions to answer and no one had time for that.) Peony closed her eyes and breathed slowly, trying to clear her head. She needed a glass of water with a lemon spritzer on the side. A dose of headache potion might make the day look brighter too. She almost called out Squiggles’ name, but stopped herself. Poor, poor, dead Squiggles. Peony suppressed a sob and stepped out of the Great Hall, getting swept away by the oncoming crowd of students heading to Muggle Studies.
“Alright class,” the Professor said as she took her seat at the front of the room. She tapped her wand on the display board. “Let’s pick up where we left off on the chart of Muggle-born hierarchy.”
Peony’s quill scratched away as the professor described the finer points of how Muggle blood affected a Wizard’s status in the new regime.
“One eighth Muggle on your grandparent’s side grants you privileges at Gringotts to rent a vault, but not in the restricted section.” Carrow drawled on and Peony scribbled. “One sixteenth Muggle grants access to St. Mungo’s express care services without the three-day waiting period. These persons,” she said as if they weren’t persons at all, “are also granted double rations.”
Angry murmurs rose from the Gryffindors in the room. Alecto tapped her wand on the desk in an impatient rhythm and the room fell back into silence, save the scribbling of quills and a few snickers from the Slytherins in the back.
Most of the seventh-years, particularly the Slytherins, were aware of their heritage. Still, Professor Carrow encouraged them to dig as deeply as they could to find the smallest hint of Muggle ancestry. Peony was paired off with Luna Lovegood and her sister had gotten Neville Longbottom. Pansy spent most of the class primping in her mirror while Neville did all the work, but he didn’t seem to mind.
“That’s right, Pansy Parkinson,” Pansy said to her hand mirror, gazing lovingly at her own reflection. “No one has a bloodline as good as you.”
Peony was in awe of Luna, particularly since she had managed to skip a year ahead in Muggle Studies and ended up in the seventh year class with Peony. The Lovegood line was difficult to trace further back than six generations, but Peony had found no Muggle blood anywhere. Likewise, Luna had found no impurities with the Parkinsons on her father’s side. It was a good thing that Luna was a Ravenclaw, because she had to trace Peony’s mother’s line carefully, being solid-sure that everything was correct. Peony leaned in to watch her, further impressed with Luna’s thorough research.
At the end of the hour, Luna announced to the class that Peony’s birth mother was a direct descendant of Bridget Wenlock and, not only that, but she was the seventh generation of Wenlock’s seventh son. Peony was pleased as pumpkin juice and the class let out impressed murmurs all around her.
“I knew it!” Draco whispered to Crabbe next to him. ” See how her eyes are two-tone, hazel with the green on the outside and brown towards the center? Clear sign of ancient power.”
Crabbe snickered. “Sure is more attractive than Goyle’s sixth toe!”
Pansy, on the other hand, was horrified when Neville uncovered her mother’s great-great Aunt as the infamous hag, Malodora Grymm.
Peony almost smiled that day as Pansy’s mouth opened and closed like a suffocating fish and the boys all around her made rude noises. Luna leaned over to Peony and whispered, “I imagine that explains her fascination with the mirror.”
Professor Carrow rapped her wand on the desk and launched into another lecture on “One sixty-fourth Muggle restrictions”. Right about the moment that Peony’s quill hand started to cramp up, the professor stopped and asked for questions.
Neville Longbottom’s hand shot up. “Professor Carrow,” he said. “I’m having trouble with my ninth generation chart. There’s no Muggle blood anywhere. Maybe you could give us an example and show us how much Muggle blood is in your blood line.”
Peony looked up, hoping to see an educational demonstration. “Good question, Neville,” she had expected. “I’m point seven percent Muggle, twelve generations back, so I fall on the chart right about here,” or something of that nature.
Instead, she was shocked by the stone cold rage in Alecto’s eyes as Neville was wordlessly dragged into the next room by his shirt collar. Peony caught snatches of the commotion in the next room. “How dare you! You will pay for that insolent outburst!” There was a flash of red from the window. Peony and her classmates wordlessly gathered their things and hurried on to their next class.
Later in the Common Room when she was trying to explain the finer points of Charms work to Astoria, she overheard the other Slytherins laughing and saying that Neville was as good as dead.
“Even his pure blood won’t save him now!” cackled Pansy to her friends.
Peony put her head deeper into her textbook. She was starting to feel uncomfortable about the new rules and how a student could be punished for not even breaking them. Did the Dark Lord allow people to break his rules at their convenience? Peony shuffled through her copious notes, reading and rereading them from start to finish. Was there an addendum that she wasn’t aware of?
A noise by the Common Room door caught her attention and she looked up in time to catch sight of a boy disappearing into the hall. It looked like Roderick! Peony leapt from the table, ignoring the call of Astoria and ran right out of the Slytherin Common Room.
He turned slightly and Peony rushed to catch up, hoping that he’d offer comfort and reassurance after the horrible things that she’d been through in the last twenty-four hours. He’d obviously seen her – his eyes nearly bugged right out of his head, he looked so excited!
There! He must have ducked around that pillar. Peony’s spirits soared as she hurried onward. Roderick would tell her that everything was going to be alright. And maybe he’d hold her hand again. She rounded the corner and stopped short in the spot she had seen him but the only other person there was Peeves’ ghost who floated above her and cackled at her confusion.
Roderick was gone.
Peony’s elation had been short-lived. She dragged her feet through Prefect rounds that evening. Even her little finch couldn’t put a smile on her face. Squiggles was dead and Roderick had disappeared. It was hauntingly familiar somehow, the loss and abandonment she felt. She was following the faint sound of voices that were out after curfew and needed to be punished. Peony would feel so much better once the perpetrators were set straight. They might even thank her later for making them realize how important it was to follow the rules. Peony rounded the corner with purpose in her stride and almost rammed straight into Draco Malfoy.
She took a stumble backwards. “Oh my,” she said awkwardly. “What are you doing here?”
“Same as you,” he said. “Prefect rounds. We’re paired up, remember?”
“No, I…” Peony was taken by the arm and swept down the hall, apparently now on patrol with the Head Boy. She thought back to the whirlwind of Prefect meetings and was positive that she’d have remembered being paired off with Draco Malfoy. But with her double load of classes, perhaps it was possible that she could have missed a detail or two.
Draco dropped Peony’s arm at the double doors to the West Wing and made a big show of holding them open for her.
“Umm, thank you?” Peony would expect that kind of gesture from Roderick because he loved her, not from someone like Draco Malfoy, who was rumored to do everything with girls except hold doors open for them. She wanted to remind him that she was already spoken for and also that he should be doing chivalrous things for her sister, the girl he’d supposedly been dating for the last year or so (off and on, she had lost track). She and Pansy barely got along, but she was clear on the rule against poaching boyfriends. Not that she would ever be interested in Draco Malfoy.
Their footsteps echoed in the deserted hall as she thought of an appropriate way to phrase her question. “Do you remember Roderick Spinks? My boyfriend?” she ventured.
“Yes.” Draco smiled knowingly at her.
Peony swallowed uncomfortably. That was a silly question. Of course Draco knew who Roderick was. They had been on the same Quidditch team all last year.
“I’m sure he’s been really busy this year, doing things that older boys do when they leave Hogwarts. I hope I get to see him soon, because I miss him very much.”
She stopped herself from continuing on. It was one thing to babble on about Roderick with Daphne and Astoria, but this was Draco Malfoy. He wasn’t going to squeal delightedly about her long-distance beau with her, no matter how great Roderick was. So far, he hadn’t said much at all. His silence was making her insides jittery.
Maybe this was what Draco Malfoy was like with everyone. Maybe he was completely unaware of how his sideways glances were making her nervous. The silence was making her nervous. Being in this hall with him… she was a nervous wreck. Nervous warmth spread behind her ears and she wished for anything to break the thick layer of nervousness that had built up around them.
Finally, he spoke. “Lovely finch.”
“Thank you,” Peony said, still unnerved, but quite flattered at the same time, which was even more confusing. Draco didn’t sound like he was making fun of her. And most boys didn’t normally comment on her birds. They mostly talked about Quidditch and… err… more Quidditch…
Her internal monologue was interrupted by the voice of Luna Lovegood drifting from up ahead. “What are you doing? The Carrows have been waiting for an excuse to take out a couple of Gryffindors. Now get back to bed... quickly. Before they catch you!"
Peony and Draco approached the small group of students. Luna, her Prefect badge shining in the torchlight, seemed to have taken control of the two boys. Next to her, Ginny Weasley was trying to blend into the stonework.
“What’s she doing here?” Draco pointed an accusing finger at Ginny. “She’s not a Prefect.”
“She’s with me,” Luna told him. “Prefect-in-training,” she added with an unusual air of authority. “Professor Flitwick told us to give it a go before he brought it up at the next meeting.” Luna dug around in her pocket, whispered to a broken quill and tucked it behind Ginny’s ear. “There. Now she’s labeled.”
They all stared at the glittering words, “Prefect In Training” above Ginny’s head for a long, silent moment. Peony thought this was a brilliant idea.
“Are… you going to turn us in?” one of the boys asked.
Ordinarily, Peony would give the boys a well-deserved detention, but the rules weren’t clear on who was in charge if more than one Prefect arrived on the scene. Draco had started picking at his well-manicured cuticles out of boredom and didn’t seem concerned at the oddity of the situation. “Luna found you first.” It was only fair, Peony decided. “She gets to decide what to do.”
“This is your only warning,” Luna said to the boys, and quickly glanced at Draco, who merely shrugged. “Get back to your Common Room!”
“We will!” The boys bobbed their heads up and down. One of them looked straight at Peony. “We promise. We won’t do it again!”
“You did a kind thing,” Luna told her after the culprits scampered away. “I suppose we’ll be on our way.” She took Ginny with her back down the hall.
Draco made one of his I’m-in-charge faces and said, “It wasn’t what I would have done. If something bad happens, I won’t be taking the blame for it. There were witnesses.”
“Hmm…” Peony considered. Being Head Boy came with an immense amount of pressure. She was sure he meant that it was nice to have other people to share the responsibility.
They were well into their second patrol of the same hallway when they spotted the fresh graffiti on the wall. Peony was so put out by the blatant disregard for school property that she almost missed Draco’s blanched face. He rubbed at his arm. “I have to go,” he told her.
Those doors had looked awfully heavy, Peony remembered. Perhaps he’d strained something earlier. The words, “Dumbledore’s Army FTW!!!” glowed green in the dim light of the hallway. She squinted, wondering if the initials spelled “for the win” or “fight the world” or one of many other definitions she’d heard. Just last week, she’d glanced over Astoria’s shoulder at the new Teen Witch Weekly, where Sunshine Sue had written “I got new body piercings, girls, FTW!” Peony was still confused. Maybe it simply meant “ouch”.